Understanding the Chiapas Rebellion: Modernist Visions and the Invisible Indian

Understanding the Chiapas Rebellion: Modernist Visions and the Invisible Indian

Understanding the Chiapas Rebellion: Modernist Visions and the Invisible Indian

Understanding the Chiapas Rebellion: Modernist Visions and the Invisible Indian

Excerpt

Over the Christmas and New Year break of 1993–1994 I sat in a cold and damp cottage on the outskirts of St. Andrews, Scotland, writing up my master's thesis. I was trying to make sense of the fact that a war between two Marxist-inspired rebel armies in eastern Africa had concluded with the establishment of two democratic states. I remembered a conversation with one rebel–turned–government minister during my fieldwork in the region some months earlier. He had expressed frustration and shock at discovering that if a new state, such as Eritrea then was, wanted international financial support, it had to adopt both freemarket economics and multiparty democracy. At the time, this financial conditionality was promoted by the donor governments of the West under the policy of “good governance.” Just as I was coming to conclude that the role of nongovernmental relief organizations had been central to the success of this policy, I heard the news that a rebellion had erupted in southern Mexico.

What caught my attention about this latest rebellion was that the rebels were mostly indigenous Maya Indians and their struggle claimed to fight against the very type of “good governance” being so reluctantly embraced by the former rebels of East Africa. Calling themselves the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), they claimed that Mexico's latest “development,” the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), was “nothing more than a death sentence for the indigenous ethnicities of Mexico, who are perfectly dispensable in the modernization program of Salinas de Gortari “the Mexican president at the time”.” Their appearance seemed to raise several important questions . . .

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