Academic journal article McNair Papers

3. A Marriage of Convenience: The Mexican Indigenous Movement and the Zapatista Rebellion

Academic journal article McNair Papers

3. A Marriage of Convenience: The Mexican Indigenous Movement and the Zapatista Rebellion

Article excerpt

Since the startling emergence of an armed insurgency in southern Mexico in January of 1994, much ink has been spilled attempting to explain the roots of this rebellion, the implications of its emergence during a time of slow democratization and rapid economic modernization, and the likelihood that such a movement could emerge in a similar context. Most analysis has focused on the relationship between the rebellion and economic adjustment in Mexico and, in particular, on the modernization of agriculture. Other analysts have tied the rebellion to the glacial pace of Mexico's democratic opening, which the rebellion in Chiapas has accelerated immensely. (1)

Easy explanations have been confounded by the complexity and mutability of the demands of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). Is it social movement'? A revolutionary socialist movement? An Indian movement? While all these tendencies are present, it is the significant participation in the leadership and ranks of the EZLN by Mayan Indians, and the qualified support of the country's established nonviolent indigenous movement, that distinguishes the Chiapas rebellion from other revolutionary movements in Latin America and the Caribbean. At the same time, the presence of nonindigenous forms of organization and political rhetoric distinguishes the EZLN from other Indian movements in the Americas.

The indigenous movement advances a distinct political agenda that envisions a comprehensive reform of the Mexican Constitution that would redefine the relationship between the state and indigenous nationalities. It is imbued with the ideology of indianismo, a continental intellectual movement that crystallized in the 1970s as a result of an intense dialogue among anthropologists and Indian leaders in the Americas. Indianismo emphasizes the cultural values of Indian civilization--not to sustain or reconstruct pre-Columbian models--but to differentiate Indian culture from that of the national societies of Latin America. Since the mid-1970s, it has emphasized self-determination, autonomy, the rights of nations in international law, respect for traditional authorities and customary law, and community-directed economic development. (2) While indianismo is a continentwide movement, the goal of the protagonists of the movement--the thousands of indigenous communities and organizations throughout the Americas--is the recuperation of local autonomy and the exercise of authority over traditional territories. Indianismo is an explicit rejection of indigenismo, the prevailing state policy since the 1940s, which seeks to "improve" Indians through assimilation into the dominant culture. It also explicitly confronts revolutionary Marxism, which denies the salience of culture as the defining motif of the Indian-state struggle, emphasizing instead the class solidarity of all subaltern groups.

The EZLN is representative of the Marxist school. While its revolutionary project is rooted in the injustices suffered by the indigenous population of eastern Chiapas, the EZLN calls for the reorientation of Mexican economic policy along traditional socialist lines and the transfer of political power from elites to the mass of poor Mexicans. This essay will compare these two contemporary political forces and trace the relationship between them from the emergence of the clandestine armed movement in the early 1980s to the present time.

This essay distinguishes the formation of the organized nonviolent Mexican indigenous movement from the Chiapas insurgency, showing how the two forces came together for their mutual benefit after the spectacular ascendance of the Zapatista movement in 1994 and how both movements were ultimately eclipsed by the financial and political crisis gripping Mexico after the collapse of the peso in December 1994. The distinction between the Zapatista and the Mexican indigenous movement is important for two reasons. First, as peace talks limped along in summer 1995, the EZLN was in a position to negotiate Indian demands on behalf of the Indians of Mexico. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.