14 August 2008

otro mundo es posible

Of course the real reason we came to San Cristobal is its connection to the Zapatista movement.

On 1st January 1994 in response to the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, widely seen as being extremely detrimental to the already impoverished rural Mexico, lightly armed revolutionaries of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) occupied San Cristobal and started an insurgency that lasted for 12 days. While they failed to ignite a national revolution, they focused the world's attention on the poor and marginalised in Mexican society, especially the indigenous population.

Drawing mainly from these indigenous peoples, the Zapatistas succeeded in securing a number of semi-autonomous areas of control, and through the charismatic balaclava-wearing, pipe-smoking, children's story-writing figure of its chief spokesperson, Subcomandante Marcos, it allied itself to the wider alter-globalisation movement. In 2006 Marcos returned to San Cristobal and kicked off a new non-violent campaign, "La Otra Campana", taking his calls for social, democratic and economic change on a tour throughout Mexico, and sending his message to the world beyond.

San Cristobal took this all in its stride. Already a backpackers hotspot, it has opened its arms to the new wave of alter-globalisation tourists, eager to taste a bit of Zapatista magic for themselves. The markets are full of indigenous people selling Marcos t-shirts alongside silver crosses and amber 'Maya' jewelry. The bars, while not wishing to openly support EZLN for fear of recrimination, proudly display Cuban flags and pictures of Che and Fidel to catch the attention of the hip young European backpackers. The walls of the organic veggie restaurants are plastered with flyers advertising 'Revolutionary' tours, book now for a trip to see real indigenous peoples in their villages!

But all is not just for show, scratch the surface and the atmosphere of political unrest and social awareness is real. In the many small bookshops political discussion groups are common, the shelves lined with Chomsky, Marx and the many writings of the Subcomandante himself. Autonomous women's groups advertise their collectives on lamp-posts, and last night we spent the evening in Cultural Centre run by EZLN, with great food and beer, meeting rooms and libraries, craft shops that allow a route to self-sufficiency for local indigenous groups, and above all else a genuine atmosphere of pride, equality and community.

This trip has been an eye-opener. After marching (admittedly somewhat accidentally) with a transsexual EZLN brigade in Mexico City, then seeing first hand both the poverty amongst the indigenous population that they are campaigning to overcome and the way in which they are working at community level to do so here in Chiapas, I see the movement in many more dimensions than can be gleamed from the writings of the Subcomandante alone.

The luxury of primary sources is something not lost on me.

enlaceZapatista - amazing EZLN home page (In Spanish)
Zapatista.org - in English, not offical


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