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Zapatistas Return to the Public Eye in Mexico

The indigenous Zapatista Army of National Liberation of Mexico broke their public silence in December to announce a 6-point outreach project and manifesto as well as to commemorate two significant events.

The events were the much-heralded December 21st that was the 15-year anniversary of the massacre of indigenous Tzotzil residents in the town of Acteal (with mentions of honoring the Mayan ancestors) and January 1 that was the 19th anniversary of the first appearance of the Zapatista Army in Chiapas and the beginning of their takeover of the region.

The first gathering involved their silent occupation of five towns in Chiapas, where 40,000 masked Zapatistas walked quietly in the rain and stayed in the town squares of Palenque, Altamirano, Las Margaritas, Ocosingo and San Cristobal de las Casas for a few hours and then left. (When the Zapatistas began their first military campaign on January 1, 1994, they occupied those same municipalities in southeastern Chiapas, one of the poorest areas of the country.)

Just before the Zapatista founding event, the group issued a press statement on December 30th that featured a 6-point plan aimed at outreach to other social movements and a public return to working with the Indigenous National Congress of Mexico.

In the first part of the "Communique of the Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee," signed by Subcomandante Marcos, the Zapatistas asserted their presence and their return to public communication.

"Ours is not a message of resignation, nor of war, death and destruction. Our message is of struggle and resistance," the Communique asserted.

"After the media coup that brought a poorly disguised and worse made up ignorance into federal executive power, we made ourselves visible," the statement continued, "to let them know that as they never left, neither did we."

The Zapatistas were referring to the recent election of President Enrique Peña Nieto and the return to power of the PRI political party of Mexico, the same party that had been in control of the country for most of the last century as well as during the time of the Zapatista uprisings.

Following the long introduction, which asserted among other things that Zapatista run schools were doing a good job and included indigenous history in their courses, the group introduced their 6-point plan for the future:

"First - we reaffirm our belonging to the National Indigenous Congress (NIC), the meeting place for the original peoples of our country." The NIC was founded in 1956 and has attempted to represent and advocate on behalf of the millions of Indigenous Peoples in Mexico.

"Second - we renew our contact with our friends from Mexico and throughout the world who signed on to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle (2005)." The Zapatistas issued this declaration as part of a strategy to connect with other liberation movements worldwide and to re-state their national strategies.

"Third - we intend to construct bridges necessary for connection to the social movements that have emerged and will emerge, not to direct or supplant them, but to learn about them, their history, about their efforts and destinies." To achieve these goals the Zapatistas said they had developed "support teams" of people throughout Mexico to help them communicate with allies throughout the country and the world, people who "...have maintained their conviction and obligation to the construction of a non-institutional leftist alternative."

"Fourth - to maintain our critical distance from the political class of Mexico that, as a group, has thrived while the needs and hopes of the humble and simple people have been ignored."

"Fifth - with respect to the bad federal, state and municipal, executive, legislative and judicial governments, and the media that accompany them we say the following:

The bad governments from across the political spectrum, without exception, have done everything possible to destroy us, buy us, and conquer us. The PRI, PAN, PRD, PVEM, PT, CC and the future RN Parties have attacked us militarily, politically, socially and ideologically. The big media companies intended to make us disappear, with first their servile and opportunistic attacks and then afterwards with their sly and complicit silence. As is evident from December 21st, all of those efforts have failed." The fifth point section continued by exhorting the various governments to renew their obligations to comply with the San Andres Accords, which the PRI run government signed in 1996 and sought to include rights of Indigenous Peoples in the Mexican constitution.

"Sixth - in the coming days the Zapatista Army will, through their commissions, publicize a series of peaceful, civil initiatives so that we can continue walking with the other first peoples of Mexico and of all the continent and along with those, in Mexico and the whole world, who resist and struggle from below and from the left."

While there has been little public reaction from the ruling PRI officials, one leader of the opposition PRD Party, Alejandro Sanchez Camacho, asserted on December 31st that the government "and all of us who have influence in this country, we declare, should deal with the issues of indigenous rights, immediately."

Camacho also asserted that, "they have developed better living conditions for the indigenous groups by the efforts of the autonomous groups and in particular of Chiapas, by the organizations of communities that form the base of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation."