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For me, the New Year is always about collective liberation: My experience with the Zapatistas in Mexico

December 31, 2022

During four different trips to Mexico, I had the opportunity to do accompaniment work with the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional (EZLN), also known as the Zapatistas. 

The EZLN began organizing in response to Neo-Liberal Globalization in the early 1990s, which was disproportionately impacting Indigenous communities in Mexico. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a trade agreement made between the governments of Canada, Mexico and the USA, would escalate the Neo-Liberal war against Indigenous communities, so the Zapatistas made the day that NAFTA went into affect – January 1st, 1994 – the day they went public with their uprising. 

The Zapatista uprising is documented well in John Ross’s book, Rebellion from the Roots: Indian Uprising in Chiapas. Ross and other chroniclers of the EZLN uprising all recount how the Zapatistas targeted the colonial city of San Cristobal. They particularly targeted the government buildings and destroyed many government documents, specifically land title documents, which the EZLN believed were bogus documents because they legalize the theft of Indigenous land. San Cristobal was also a popular tourist destination, so there were numerous European and US tourists in San Cristobal on New Year’s eve that day. The EZLN uprising disrupted the tourists’ plans and it is said that at one point some of the tourists who were looking down onto the central park from their hotels were complaining about the EZLN rebellion. In response, Sub Commandente Marcos replied, “Sorry for the inconvenience, but this is a revolution.”

The first time I did accompaniment in one of the Zapatista communities was in 1997, the in community of La Realidad. Our work was two-fold. We were to have a presence to deter Mexican military violence against the Indigenous communities, and we were there to document what the Mexican military was doing, which included collecting data on the number of soldiers, weapons, communications systems and how often US supplied army helicopter flew above the community. 

I went to Chiapas the following year, also to do accompaniment work, this time in the community known as Oventic. I returned to Oventic again in 2000 and 2005, always doing accompaniment work and always at the invitation of the EZLN. You can read about my time in Chiapas, Mexico and Guatemala, in the book, Sembramos, Comemos, Sembramos: Learning Solidarity on Mayan Time

The 6 minute video here is an excerpt from my documentary called, Reversing the Missionary Position: Learning Solidarity on Mayan Time. 

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