What is the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN)?

The Zapatistas are both an Indian and a campesino, or peasant movement. The EZLN and its social bases of support, the Indidenous communities of Chiapas, are composed almost exclusively of Tzeltal, Tzotzil, Chol, Mam, Zoque and Tojolobal Indians. Mexicans from other social backgrounds and different states are involved in the movement as well. The Army is an army of farmers. Troops rotate between the fields and military duty. One-third of the combatants are women. Women make up 55% of the Zapatista logistical support base. Comandantes Ramona Petra, Ana Maria and Susana led battalions into the war. The EZLN's structure is based on traditional indigenous forms of organization and governance. The communal assembly guides and directs its decisions.

What is the organizational structure of the EZLN and who con- stitutes its leadership?
The Zapatistas' organizational structure is based upon traditional indigenous forms of organization and governance. The communal assembly is integral to each Zapatista community and based on the equal participation of women and men. Each assembly within the Zapatista indigenous villages selects its own officers: a "responsible" to secure the communal safe house, education and health commissioners who meet regionally. They also select delegates to one of six Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committees (CCRIs), each of the six Zapatista language groups having its own. Each CCRI has sixteen to forty members depending on the regional population. Eleven delegates are chosen to sit on the ruling CCRI-General Command (CCRI-CG) of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. The overall consensus reached by the sum total of the Zapatista village assemblies guides and directs the decisions of the EZLN's leadership. Consultations are held with these village assemblies on a regular basis with regard to the decisions concerning everything from the decision to go to war in January 1994, the position of the EZLN within the negotiation process for indigenous rights, to the Zapatistas' recent rejection of the Mexican governments counter-proposal to the San Andres Agreements on Indigenous Rights and Culture.

Who is Subcommandante Marcos?
He is the official spokesman and leader of the EZLN's military wing. He is not Indian,. and is one of three ladinos, a person of mixed decent, who remain in the EZLN. He came to Chiapas in 1983 when the Zapatistas first becan to organize themselves. The Subcomandante serves under the CCRI-General Command and was chosen spokesperson because of his "facility with castilia" (Spanish), English and French.

What proportion of the population is Indigenous and what is their current social, economic, status in Mexico?
Mexico has the largest indigenous population in Latin America. Forty percent of the continent's 40 million native peoples inhabit the territory known today as Mexico. Clustered into 56 distinct cultures and a hundred languages. the Indian population is estimated to be between 8-12 million, or 10 to 14% of the total population of 86 million in Mexico. Twenty of the groups have less than 1,000 members, and are in danger of extinction. Some groups, such as the Tojolobales in Chiapas, are practicing Catholics and have little recollection of their history, culture or religion. The natives have the highest indices of poverty, disease, marginalization and levels of malnutrition and illiteracy. Of the 32 states in Mexico, 6 have a high percentage of indigenous people; Chiapas is one them. Despite the fact that Chiapas has enormous industrial and agricultural wealth, it remains one the most impoverished states in Mexico. For example Chiapas produces 55% of Mexico's hydroelectric energy, 20% of the nation's electricity, and the estimated oil potential of Chiapas and Guatemala combined could exceed that of Saudi Arabia. Yet 7 out of 10 homes are without electricity; over 50% of the work force earns less than US$3.32 per day; 80% of the children suffer from malnutrition; on average 1,500 deaths occur each year from curable diseases.

What is the indigenous peoples' current political status and relationship to the Mexican state?
Officially Mexico recognizes its indigenous peoples within Article 4 of the Mexican Constitution. Indigenismo is the name of the government policy towards indigenous peoples. This policy is manifested through guardianship and is welfare oriented and paternalistic. The National Indigenous Institute (INI), a Government agency similar to the US Bureau of Indian Affairs, carries out health, education, cultural development, and defense of indigenous peoples' citizenship rights. However INI has been criticized for using education as a tool for assimilation and health care is spotty. It has become increasingly unclear in Mexico just who is Indian, from the state's perspective. Today, the state recognizes as "indigenous" only those who speak indigenous languages. There exist no commonly understood juridical categories for the Indian peoples. Demands for collective rights are made to a loose interpretation of what might constitute a "people" or "pueblo" or "ethnic group," suggesting that Native groups do not always view themselves as nations." They are typically classified according to socioeconomic class (especially campesinos). The majority of native peoples live on ejidal or communal land that, prior to 1994, was constitutionally guaranteed to both canipesinos and indigenous peoples. Since the amendment of Article 27 and 1994 rebellion, indigenous peoples have increasingly begun to organize socially and politically under their own structures. In 1996, representatives of the 56 groups formed the National Indigenous Congress, a body closely involved in the San Andres Agreements.

What is significance of Article 27 and NAFTA to the Zapatistas'struggle?
The Zapatistas have referred to issues of land and agriculture as fundamental to their struggle. The changes made by former PRI President Carlos Salinas de Gortari to Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution and the implementation of NAFTA were stated to be "the death sentence for the indigenous peoples of Mexico" by the Zapatistas in their 1994 declaration of war. Article 27 was adopted during the Mexican Revolution by the government as a result of the organized protest and demands of revolutionary campesinos such as Emilano Zapata, the leader of the original Zapatistas. Article 27 proclaimed the Mexican people as owners of the lands and waters of the nation. It established an agrarian reform to redistribute land to campesinos, and provide for communal ownership of that land. In the 1930s further agrarian reform provided the constitutional basis for the distribution of 20 million hectares of land or ejidos to indigenous and non-indigenous agrarian communities. President Salinas amended Article 27 just prior to the 1994 rebellion in order to permit the privatization of communal land holdings. The changes were meant to "modernize" the Mexican countryside and more significantly intended to bring Mexico's property laws into line with their partners in NAFTA, the United States and Canada. Ejido lands now have a market value and as was demonstrated under the American system of allotment of Indian lands in the 1880s, that alone was enough to destroy an Indian land base.

These reforms were made to pave the way for NAFTA, about which the indigenous and non-indigenous peoples were not consulted, and affected 3.5 million people living and working on ejidal lands in Chiapas, and millions of other campesinos throughout Mexico. Many are concerned about losing land they already occupy, and many have already been violently evicted by large cattle ranchers, landowners and the government, who typically employ private militias or "white guards" to conduct the removals of the indigenous campesinos. The Zapatistas as well as many others groups in Mexico have voiced their concern that the elimination of tariff barriers and quotas would flood the Mexican market with US and Canadian corn and lead to the economic ruin of small-scale Mexican farmers. These concerns, first voiced in 1993 and 1994, have increasingly become a reality.

What is the significance of natural resources within the conflict?
The reforms made by the Mexican government with regard to the privatization of not only ejidal lands but to the formerly state-owned petroleum and natural gas industries are significant with regard to the issue of indigenous rights. Official reports by oil experts indicate that the proven oil reserves of Chiapas are second only to Venezuela in the Western Hemisphere. Eight important unexplored oil sites are located on ejido land under Zapatista control. Officials from PEMEX, the Mexican government oil company, also reportedly informed the US Department of Energy and Commerce negotiators during the final phases of NAFTA negotiations in 1993, of other large petroleum and natural gas sources near Ocosingo, which is located in the conflict zone. In order to secure a $50 billion bailout package from the US to stave off the collapse of the Mexican economy, the Mexican Government put up its oil reserves and the proceeds from Mexican crude oil, oil products and petrochemical exports for collateral.

Mexico has also signed several agreements concerning investment and development projects with US and other transnational corporations. Many of the lands and resources in question are located on indigenous ejidal lands. For example, in November 1996 Hydro Quebec International signed an agreement for the development of natural gas resources with Mexico's Federal Electricity Commission, the Quebec Association for Energy Efficiency, and Mexico's Trust for Energy Savings. Furthermore, less than one month after the President Zedillo rejected the proposed legislative initiatives regarding indigenous rights, the Environmental Minister announced a large World Bank loan for "forestry" and commercial plantations. In relation, it has recently been made public that the Zedillo Administration signed an agreement  in June 1995 for the establishment for a Mexican forestry industry that would be supported by commercial plantations. At that time, President Zedillo committed to an initial project of 50,000 hectares in the state of Chiapas. The lands in question are primarily inhabited by indigenous peoples who have historically occupied them.

The Mexican government has also made agreements with US companies, Simpson Paper and Louisiana Paper, to buy all the wood products from a project to produce 6 million cubic meters of wood material per year. President Salinas made the agreement on the project with the company Interfin in 1993), to establish commercial plantations for rapid growth on a surface of 300,000 hectares in the states of Tabasco, Campeche and Chiapas-states with some of the largest indigenous populations and who live on much of the land in question. However, as Mexican constitutional law now stands, there are no provisions or rights which would require that the government or private financial interests consult indigenous peoples about leasing and sales of their lands or agreements made for foreign investment and development projects regarding the resources on these lands.

What are the San Andres Agreements?
The San Andres Agreements are accords outlining the fundamental demands of Mexico's indigenous peoples. These minimum standards were agreed upon at the National Indigenous Forum in January 1996. Representatives of the 56 indigenous peoples met with the Zapatistas to express their needs and demands. Fundamental points include: 1) Recognition of indigenous people's right to self-determination. 2) Autonomy as a means sought to achieve self-determination: as a collective right to have diversity respected, control over native territories and resources within them. 3) Recognition of the "community" as a public entity with a legal character, not only in the agrarian area, but in all municipalities, rural and urban. At this time only municipal agencies have official recognition; urban neighborhoods, un-incorporated villages and rural centers do not have any type of representation. 4) The indigenous peoples propose to reinforce the municipality as an institution that must be adapted in a realistic manner to the particular situation of indigenous peoples. They should have the right to designate freely their representatives as well as their organizations of municipal government. 5) The indigenous peoples propose the right for municipalities to become associated among themselves as indigenous communities in order to coordinate their actions. 6) In order to solve the national agrarian problem it is necessary to reform Article 27 of the Constitution. This article should recover the spirit of Emilano Zapata summarized in the basic demands: the lands should be owned by those who work them.

What is the difference between the original agreements of San Andres that were signed by both the EZLN and the government in February 1996, and the document of the COCOPA on constitutional reforms regarding Indigenous Rights?
The original agreements of San Andres were the Constitutional proposals that resulted after several months of debates and negotiations between the EZLN, several hundred indigenous leaders and the government negotiating team. They were signed by the Zapatistas and the Mexican government in February 1996. The agreements were based on the concepts of indigenous autonomy, as expressed through self-determination, territory and community. The government however refused to convert the documents into law. In November 1996, the COCOPA intervened and the EZLN and the government entrusted the COCOPA to draft a new proposal. The constitutional proposal was among the most important conditions which were being dealt with for a resumption of the dialogue. The COCOPA document proposed many far-reaching changes for indigenous rights but lacked many elements of the original agreements of San Andres, particularly the issue of land reform and distribution. On November 29, 1996 the EZLN accepted the proposal of the COCOPA while the government responded on December 19th with a counter-proposal.

Why are the agreements important?
Currently the indigenous peoples have no constitutionally guaranteed rights as "peoples." Their "historic significance" is recognized in Article 4 of the Constitution but they have no collective rights to self-determination or over their homelands. If the San Andres Agreements were converted into Constitutional law indigenous peoples for the first time in Mexico's history would have the rights to: self-determination; autonomy as a collective right, have their diversity respected, control over the resources within their lands: recognition of the "community" as a public entity; right to organize the municipalities in their territories according to their traditional forms of governance; to elect their own officials and tile right of these indigenous municipalities to become associated in order to coordinate their actions.

Why did the Zapatistas reject the government's counter-proposal on Indigenous Rights?
The Zapatistas stated that their "particular considerations" for rejecting the document were: "In Article 4, three central aspects of autonomy are nullified:
 1) The capacity of the indigenous peoples for self-government.
 2) The capacity to apply internal normative systems.
 3) The collective access to the use and enjoyment of natural               resources on their lands and territories.

 The Zapatistas also stated that the counter-proposal "reduces indigenous peoples to secondary status"; "is based upon an ethnocentric, discriminatory and racist conception;" and "reveals clearly an ignorance of indigenous peoples, of legal techniques, of the Constitution and of Mexican laws."

What is the "low-intensity war?"
Low-intensity war refers to the Mexican government's policy of militarization, repression and violence against the indigenous communities in Chiapas. The strategy employed by Federal Army troops is to build walls of hunger, isolation and fear in order to undermine the Zapatistas' social base of support. The low-intensity war has been going on since 1994 after the official cease-fire. In the last three years there have been countless reports filed by international human rights groups like Amnesty International as well as by Mexican organizations. There is an alarming rate of human rights violations by the military in the conflict zones. These violations include: summary executions, rape, torture, beatings. kidnappings, mutilation, threats, destruction of property, theft of food and animals, arbitrary searches, arrests, and imprisonment without trial. Currently there are now 60,000 Mexican troops stationed in the state of Chiapas, 25,000 of which are located in the areas deemed as conflict zones. There have also been numerous reports of human rights abuses by the military since the Zapatistas' rejection of the govemment's counterproposal on January 11, 1997.

What is the current status of the crisis?
Little has changed with regard to the crisis-the low-intensity war continues. The Government has remained firm in its resolve to pursue a military as opposed to a political solution to the demands and needs of the Indigenous peoples. Instead, state-sanctioned violence against the Indigenous Zapatista communities and sympathizers has escalated in recent months leaving tens of thousands murdered, disappeared or displaced from their lands.

In response to the rapidly deteriorating situation in Chiapas and the Govemment's unwillingness to work towards a peaceful solution to the conflict or to respect the rights of Indigenous peoples, the Zapatistas have decided to send delegations of representatives out of Chiapas. The first delegation, comprised of one Tojolobal man and woman, traveled to Spain in July in order to attend the Second Intercontinental Encounter for Humanity and Against Neoliberalism. Felipe and Dahlia, addressed more than 3,000 people from all over the world. They shared their testimonies concerning the effects of the low- intensity war on their communities as well as their stories of resistance and vision for a new Mexico. In sum they told supporters, "Never Again a Mexico Without Us." Felipe and Dahlia asked on behalf of the Zapatistas' social bases of support for civil society to organize and mobilize for the immediate end the low-intensity war; the demilitarization of Chiapas and other states in Mexico; implementation of the San Andres Agreements on Indigenous Rights and Culture in its entirety; and the Mexican govemment's full compliance with international human rights laws.

In the beginning of September, the Zapatistas sent another delegation to Italy. The two representatives at one rally near Rome were met by more than 50,000 supporters. Days after in Mexico, 1,111 Zapatistas marched to Mexico City in order to protest against the low-intensity war and the failure of the government to implement by the San Andres Agreements, as well as to attend the founding Congress of the Zapatista Front of National Liberation (FZLN). The FZLN is a new civilian political force, based on principles of Zapatistismo.

The Zapatistas were met in the Zacalo, Mexico City's central plaza and main political stage, by more than 200,000 supporters. Following the rally, and the four-day inaugural Congress, the Zapatistas returned to their communities in Chiapas. The overwhelming public support generated by national and international civil society was successful in dismissing the public posturings of the Mexican government and mainstream media about their fading support. In addition, the march was relatively effective in creating more energetic support for the San Andres Agreements by the opposition parties in the Mexican Congress. Members of the PRD stated recently that it is their intention to push an emergency measure regarding the implementation of the accords in their entirety, through the Congress. Zedillo however has dismissed the undeniable and overwhelming, success of the Zapatistas' march and has made no overtures towards implementing the Agreements nor towards ending the low-intensity war and restarting negotiations with the Zapatistas.

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