Zapatista TimeLine Since January 1994 (brief)

On New Years Day 1994, the day of NAFTA's inauguration, a group of mostly indigenous Mayan rebels, calling themselves the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) after the Mexican Revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata, rose up against the Mexican Government. The fighting between the Mexican Army and the Zapatistas only lasted about 10 days (with an estimated 150 people having been killed), and then there was a cease-fire. Negotiations began soon afterwards. The first round of talks ended in March of 1994. The Zapatista communities rejected the loosely defined agreements, because it did not address the main causes of the rebellion. In December of 1994 a new president took office, his name being Ernesto Zedillo.

In February of 1995 Zedillo launched a large military offensive against the EZLN. Talks resumed in late 1995, called the "Law for Peace in Chiapas". Out of the first session of these negotiations came the signing of the San Andres Accords, which gave indigenous peoples the right to govern themselves in autonomous communities within Mexico. Once the second round of talks began, the government decided it couldn't agree with the results of the first round of talks. Many critics said that the accords would make Mexico fall apart, because it granted too much autonomy to the countries Indian populations.

In August of 1996, the EZLN suspended talks with the government. They said they would not go back to the negotiating table until the government complied with the already signed San Andres Accords and it stopped the military expansion in the state. The rise of paramilitary groups that were pro-PRI (the ruling political party in Mexico for 70+ years) began to quicken. Some believe they got money and weapons from governmental organizations. The war then changed from a direct confrontation between the EZLN and the Mexican Army to one of intimidation by the Mexican Army and the pro-government paramilitaries imposed on the civil Zapatista sympathizer communities. The fighting slowly intensified, and the government kept bringing in more troops and setting up more checkpoints (which were outside of the entrances into Zapatista communities).

On December 22, 1997 a pro-governmental paramilitary group (ironically called PAZ y JUSTICIA - "Peace and Justice") entered the refugee community of Acteal and killed 45 praying members (most of them women and children) of Las Abejas (THE BEES), a group devoted to non-violence. After this, the militarization once again picked up in Chiapas, now over one-third (70,000 troops) of the Mexican Army was stationed there. Attacks on pro-Zapatista communities have risen. The Mexican Army has raided several villages, prisoning people on nothing more than their political party affiliation (for instance, people were jailed for supporting the PRD, a left of center party).

In June of 1998, two more massacres occurred. Since then, the community to which I visited just received a threat from the Mexican Government to dissolve or be invaded. Meanwhile, President Zedillo maintained his innocence, proclaiming that he only wanted a peaceful resolution, while he sent troops to kill and imprison Zapatista sympathizers. Civil Society has decided not to depend on the Mexican Government anymore, and on November 20-22, 198 the EZLN dialogued with coalition of 3,000 people from different organizations to bring Liberty, Democracy and Justice to Mexico.

In March of 1999 the Zapatistas held an international indigenous rights Consulta, in which 3,000,000 Mexicans from Mexico, the US, and elsewhere around the world voted. It was a big success and the results of the vote were handed over to the Mexican Government, though they ignored it. There was heightened military activity almost immediately as a result.

In the Presidential campaign for 2000, yielded an alternative to PRI political machine. An ex-Coca Cola executive who was media savvy captured the PAN (National Action Party) nomination for their presidential candidate. With a former Proctor & Gamble exec in charge of his "image" and defying the policies of his right wing political party - he promised widespread reforms, lack of corruption, and to solve the conflict in Chiapas in 15 minutes! (Huh?) On this platform he soundly defeated the PRI totalitarian regime in July of 2000. So, in December, Vicente Fox became the symbol of hope for change in Mexico. The Zapatistas didn't immediately trust him, after all, words are just words. They eventually released three demands that had to be met before they would go back to the negotiating table:

  1. Release of all Zapatista Political Prisoners - federal and state
  2. Shut down 7 key military bases outside of Zapatista strongholds and hand the bases over to the Indigenous Communities
  3. Implementation of the San Andres Accords or the COCOPA proposal

Fox did pretty quickly order the release of federal prisoners (but not all) and closed 4 of the 7 requested. He asked for time on the accords as it takes on act of Congress to change the constitution.

After a while, with no more releases of prisoners or the shutdown of the remaining 3 military bases, the Zapatistas again made their demands, and this time they wanted to make their case along with the CNI (Indigenous National Congress) to Mexican Congress in person! The ZapaTour was planned, it would leave and begin its journey throughout much of southern and central Mexico on February 24th, 2001 and enter Mexico City on the 11th of March. Along the way the Zapatistas made several stops and were greeted along the roads and in plazas by hundreds of thousands, their larges reception was upon arrival in Mexico City. The Zapatistas were infuriated that they and thousands of indigenous peoples from 40 of the 52 nations, as well as their supporters, had marched from Chiapas and the CNI Congress to Mexico City and they couldn't even address Congress, the remaining prisoners hadn't been released and the bases weren't closed. So, they stayed in Mexico City for several days waiting. Finally, they threatened to march back out of Mexico City. Fox responded immediately closing the 3 remaining bases and pressuring Congress. At the last minute Congress was willing to allow the address. So, tons of indigenous flooded Congress, demanding their autonomy to Congress. Then the Zapatistas headed home. (video available on the march, email for more info!)

Congress reformed the San Andres Accords and passed the "Indigenous Rights Bill" which excluded the meat of the SAA and the COCOPA proposal. The Zapatistas and the CNI have rejected this version as most of the autonomy is missing. Currently the Zapatistas have confirmed their struggle continues and they aren't dialoging with the government. President Fox is currently working on Plan Puebla-Panama, an effort to expand free trade zones from the Mexican State of Puebla to the country of Panama. During his campaign tour through Central America, he's been very negative about the Zapatistas ("Zapatismo is in deactivation" and "there is not conflict in Chiapas... both sides are at peace), probably because they refused the reforms by Congress. This peace that Fox is talking about, let's examine it. At about the same time he's making this statement - there are military incursions around the communities of San Isidro el Ocotal and San Jacinto Lancanja; an increase of military intimidation, roadblocks, and army patrols between the communities of Laguna Santa Clara, Francisco Leon, Cintalapa, and Palestina; reinforced military encampments throughout the region; the disappearances and presumed kidnapping/assassination of a young Zapatista supporter in the northern municipality of a young Zapatista supporter in the northern municipality of Tila; an ambush of a police patrol in Coapilla which left one policeman dead and one civilian wounded; and an attack by presumed "common criminals" on a military patrol which resulted in two dead assailants near the community of Nueva Palestina. Stay tuned...

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