Fox and EZLN: The Zapatista Rebellion in Mexico

By Lupher, Antonio | Harvard International Review, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

Fox and EZLN: The Zapatista Rebellion in Mexico


Lupher, Antonio, Harvard International Review


Since Vincente Fox was elected president of Mexico in July 2000, the Zapatista rebellion in the Mexican state of Chiapas has received little attention from the international media. The tension between the government and the rebels, however, continues to affect regional stability today. Founded in the southernmost state of Mexico on November 17, 1983, the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) advocates the interests of Mexico's indigenous people, a group that historically has been politically isolated and poorer than the average citizen of Mexico and includes roughly one tenth of the country's total population of 100 million. If real progress is to be made toward improving the living conditions of Mexico's indigenous rural poor, confrontation must be replaced by dialogue, and the government will need to fulfill its unmet promises to remedy the plight of its citizens.

The Zapatistas have repeatedly called for increased autonomy from the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), so that indigenous people can preserve their traditional style of government while receiving outside support. EZLN captured international headlines on January 1, 1994, the day that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect, when EZLN members opposed to globalization occupied several communities and participated in armed conflict. Twelve days of bloody firefights ensued between the Zapatistas and the Mexican army until a cease-fire was finally signed on January 13, 1994. Since then, the EZLN has periodically clashed with the Mexican government, including a bloody massacre by government-associated paramilitary forces in the town of Acteal in 1997. Nevertheless, the EZLN has managed to maintain a certain level of autonomy from the Mexican government.

Fox's platform for the 2000 presidential election included many promises to relieve the tensions in Chiapas. He vowed to solve the problems "in 15 minutes." Once in office after defeating his PRI opponents, he immediately removed troops from key army bases in Chiapas, released Zapatista prisoners, and one year later introduced several constitutional changes that would guarantee indigenous rights, an action that spurred the well-publicized March 2001 peaceful demonstration by Zapatistas in Mexico City in support of the legislation. The non-violent nature of this so-called "Zapatour" movement illustrated the shift toward peaceful political activism in the rebels' tactics.

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