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Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional (EZLN), the Mexican Zapatista Movement, presents "a challenge to the entire Mexican political class, which they view as promoting the interests of large corporations at the expense of Mexico's workers and peasant farmers, and especially at the expense of the country's indigenous people. The group is named for Emiliano Zapata, a hero of the 1910 Mexican Revolution who fought for the rights of landless peasants.

"The Zapatistas are fiercely critical of the turn toward free-market, free-trade policies on the part of Mexico's main political parties, the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico continually for more than 70 years, and the pro-business National Action Party (PAN), the current ruling party." [1]

"We don't have relations with governments, whether they are good or bad" said spokesman Subcomandante Marcos in January 2006. "We have relations with the people." [2]

January 1, 1994 Revolution

At midnight on January 1, 1994, the Zapatistas seized four towns in Chiapas, Mexico: San Cristobal de las Casas; Ocosingo; Las Margaritas; and Altamirano. The worst fighting took place in the city of Ocosingo. By January 2, 60 people were reported dead.[1] After bloodlessly taking San Cristobal de las Casas, the rebels cut electricity to the area and attacked a nearby military base.[2] Ten days after the fighting began, 105 were reported dead, mostly rebels.[2]

""We know the war we are declaring is an ultimatum, but it is justified," the group said in a statement. "The dictators have been conducting a non-declared genocidal war against our native populations for some years."
It appealed to the Mexican people to support the Indians' demands for work, land and better health care and education."[3]
"A communique faxed to The Associated Press in Mexico City from the attackers said, Yes, we are the people to whom are denied the most elementary education.
"For (the government) it doesn't matter that we possess nothing, absolutely nothing, not a home, not land, not work, not work, not education.
"The communique was titled, Today We Say Enough."[4]

Causes of the Revolution

Historic Injustice in Chiapas

In 1994, at the time of the revolution, 30 percent of the 3.2 million people of Chiapas were illiterate, and one quarter spoke indigenous languages but did not speak Spanish. "Twenty percent of its children do not attend school, partly for lack of enough teachers who speak both Spanish and Indian languages. Roads are scarce and bad."[5] Infant mortality was 94 per 1000 births, and 60 percent lived below the poverty line.[6]

One newspaper at the time wrote: "While the rest of the country is busy dismantling the 80-year-old revolution, Chiapas is still waiting for it to happen."[7] It continued, saying:

"Seventy-three years after Emiliano Zapata began raising his rebel army, land and the need for agrarian reform remain the two issues for the majority in the state.
"Land reform was given some impetus under President Lazaro Cardenas in the 1930s, but in Chiapas it was fiercely resisted by a feudal elite. Control of the plantation economy remains based on the colonial occupation of indigenous peoples' ancestral land to ensure cheap labor.
"The "ejido", a communal farming system which sprang from the demand for land during the revolution, failed to take root in Chiapas and Oaxaca, Mexico's most populated Indian states. In 1980, the last year for which figures are available, nearly half the arable land in Chiapas was in private hands. "That is a staggeringly high proportion in Mexico and probably an underestimate," says Roger Plant, an International Labour Organization author.
"The result has been an endless cycle of evictions, land occupations, disappearances and killings as peasants -- many of whom have waited for decades for title to their land -- have grown more militant while they try to assert their rights...
"Activists from the Campesino Organization Emilio Zapata (OCEZ) say there may be 200,000 landless families in Chiapas working on coffee and cocoa estates for as little as 2.5 new pesos per day -- a quarter of the legal minimum wage.
"Since the early 1970s this minimal livelihood has been threatened by the growth of cattle ranching, logging and oil developments. Roads like the dirt-track path that runs through the mountains to the north of San Cristobal de las Casas to Ocosingo, scene of some of this week's fiercest clashes, have opened the interior.
"Logging of what remains of the Mexican rainforest is intensifying, despite its theoretical protection. Cattle ranching, the major cause of deforestation, has become the state's biggest agricultural activity, growing 14 per cent a year...
"Chiapas produces half Mexico's hydro power, yet half the population has no access to drinking water or electricity. Its dairy and beef industry make the state the biggest source of protein in the country, but its people have the highest protein deficiency."


Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, which went into effect the same day as the Zapatista revolution, Mexico dismantled its system of ejidos, or communally held farms. The government called this "the modernization" of the agricultural sector. At the time, there were about 20 million communal farmers on 28,000 ejidos.[8] Under the changes put in place due to NAFTA, they can now sell land, hire labor and form joint ventures with the private sector. The dismantling of Mexico's ejidos has led to increased landlessness and land consolidation into fewer and fewer hands.

Articles and Resources

Related SourceWatch Articles


  1. Anita Snow, "Rebels Clash With Government Soldiers, Keep Control of Three Towns," Associated Press Worldstream, January 02, 1994.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Susan Hayward, "Rebels Have Mexico on Edge With Bombings, Shootings," The Associated Press, January 10, 1994.
  3. "Mexican Indians seize government buildings in four towns," Agence France Presse, January 01, 1994.
  4. Joseph B. Frazier, "State Where Indians Attacked Plagued by Isolation, Backwardness," Associated Press Worldstream, January 01, 1994.
  5. Joseph B. Frazier, "State Where Indians Attacked Plagued by Isolation, Backwardness," Associated Press Worldstream, January 01, 1994.
  6. Philip Wearne, "'The Revolution Will Continue,'" Calgary Herald, January 9, 1994.
  7. Philip Wearne, "'The Revolution Will Continue,'" Calgary Herald, January 9, 1994.
  8. Philip Wearne, "'The Revolution Will Continue,'" Calgary Herald, January 9, 1994.

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