Next 1st of January will mark the first 18 years of the armed uprising of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). A country that was on the threshold of modernity was surprised that thousands of insurgents, mostly indigenous, had taken up arms as a last resort, to fight for a better life for indigenous peoples and for the country.
The mobilization of thousands of Mexicans forced the state to negotiate with the insurgents for a decent and fair solution. After more than two years of intense negotiations, they managed to come to the first agreement between the federal government and the EZLN on indigenous rights and culture, which was signed on February 16, 1996, in the municipality of San Andres Larrainzar in Chiapas.
When an attempt was made for the agreement to be transferred to the Mexican legislative system through a bill drafted by the Commission for Agreement and Pacification (Cocopa), the state’s reaction was brutal, cynical and stark. The initiative contained the most important items agreed between the federal government and the EZLN, there was not one idea in it that had not been agreed by the parties.
The EZLN’s reaction to the initiative developed by Cocopa was one of acceptance, and that of the authorities was scandal and hypocrisy. The President and the economic power groups in the country had no qualms about accusing the EZLN and the Cocopa of wanting to balkanize, divide and fragment the country. Those who made these accusations are the same people who gave concessions of 25 million hectares to foreign and domestic mining companies, who between 2005 and 2010 extracted mineral resources worth 552 billion pesos and only paid 6,500 million pesos for the rights, that is to say 1.18 per cent.
In 2002, after a successful Zapatista march through different parts of the country, the then-President Vicente Fox turned over the bill to the Congress of the Union, via the Senate of the Republic, where it was dismantled and instead a legislative mess was approved, the main premise of which was to be the route to remove the backwardness and marginalization of indigenous Mexicans. It was stated that the issue of the backwardness and marginalization of the indigenous was to be a matter of official programmes and support, not of the full exercise of their constitutional rights, in this way refusing to enforce the agreement made in San Andres Larrainzar.
More than 10 years since the Mexican institutions promised the indigenous entry into paradise in return for refusing to comply with the agreement made between the EZLN and the federal government, reality proves the Zapatistas were right and shows the great failure of the State.
Between 2002 and 2012, annual federal spending on indigenous peoples rose from 16,663 million to 39,054 million pesos. However, the data on poverty and marginalization from official agencies does not show any impact on the reduction of indigenous poverty; on the contrary, it increases, each time in a way more offensive to a nation where since 1917 all governments have declared their recognition in different ways of “the debt owed by Mexico to its Indians, and the concern about ending the injustice they are suffering” .
According to data from the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (Coneval), and the income and expenditure survey for 2010, while the national average for extreme and moderate poverty is 46.2 per cent, in indigenous communities and villages it is 79.3, almost double. Eight out of 10 indigenous have not had access to the “promised land” that the Mexican government offered them in exchange for not fulfilling the agreement made in San Andres Larrainzar.
According to the figures from Coneval, 80.3 per cent of indigenous are below the welfare line, 83.5 per cent have no access to social security, 50.6 do not have basic services in their home and 40.5 do not have enough to eat. This means we can say that in indigenous matters it was not public policy that failed, but the leadership of the State; the policy towards the Indians has been palliative, because it lacks an articulated vision and links to structural changes, like those contemplated in the agreements of San Andres Larrainzar.
After the government’s failure to ratify [the agreement], the EZLN decided on a strategy of resistance, strengthening their organization through the creation of the good government juntas, collective work and community solidarity. During recent years they have walked in silence, away from the propaganda. Some misguided people, or those who have bet that the conflict would disappear or be forgotten, spread rumours or try to confuse, arguing that the EZLN is now not a problem, since, from their perspective, if the Zapatistas are no longer news, they do not exist.
The figures given here, showing the government’s failure towards that section of the population, need to make the Mexican elites understand that silence is a form of struggle, and that it has nothing to do with any supposed weakness, in this case of the EZLN. On the contrary, while waste and failure have been synonymous with public policy, it is organization, work and discipline that have distinguished the Zapatistas at this stage.
The Zapatistas live, organize and work in a reality of great material shortages, which they supply with creativity and dedication. They have clear objectives that transcend generations; their arguments have been irrefutable, the vitality and consistency of their convictions have been a school of life for thousands of Mexicans. An affectionate embrace for all the Zapatistas who, there in their communities, are struggling every day to build a better future for our country. As they say over there: you are not alone!