Celebrating 20 years of the Zapatista Uprising for autonomy and self-determination!
By Jovanna Garcia Soto
December 31st, 2013
On New Year’s Day, 20 years ago, a group of indigenous peoples, known as the Zapatistas, occupied several municipalities of the state of Chiapas, Mexico. Not coincidentally, that same day the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect. The Zapatistas considered the free trade agreement and the neoliberal political system that spawned it to be a death sentence for indigenous peoples in Mexico. The magnitude of the Zapatista uprising was due to the participation of different indigenous groups which joined forces to change a system that was marginalizing and exploiting them. The Zapatistas were not just asking for the recognition of indigenous rights and real sovereignty for the Mexican people; they were demanding "work, land, shelter, food, health, education, independence, freedom, democracy, justice and peace." Following the uprising, Zapatistas created 32 autonomous liberated zones in Chiapas.
After ten years of resistance and continuous struggle for autonomy, the Zapatistas focused on a new organizational stage, the creation of a new system of self-government known as Buen Gobierno, or "the good government," that “rules by obeying the people." On August 2003, they announced the birth of the Councils of Good Government (Juntas del Buen Gobierno, or JBGs) through five geographic areas known as Caracoles, or shells. The JBGs are a model for building emancipatory power, creating local government bodies where direct democracy can be exercised and where members of the community actually participate in the decisions that affect them. The JBGs promote and strengthen self-government and participatory processes that allow communities to decide on the redistribution of resources taking in consideration the needs of each community, and what types of projects the community will carry out.
This movement has left a permanent mark on the history of Mexico and the world, creating an alternative model of a government based on hope and trust. Zapatismo relies on the wisdom of the ancestors, and elevates justice and equality above the influence of outside interests. The Zapatistas have proven results through on-the-ground practice, exercising their autonomy and solving their problems without the involvement or support of what they term “the bad government" (i.e. the federal government of Mexico).
On August 2013, the autonomous indigenous communities in Chiapas opened their doors to the world for the first time. Roughly 1,700 people from different parts of the world traveled to the mountains of Chiapas to be part of La Escuelita Zapatista (the Zapatista Little School) and take an important course, Freedom According to the Zapatistas. These participants witnessed that autonomy and self-sufficiency are possible.
This innovative school used a teaching method in which each of 1,700 participants lived with a family in one of five Zapatista Caracoles. Students had the opportunity to be immersed in the community’s everyday life, and directly encounter the Zapatista’s culture and cosmology, as well as their political values and practices. In addition, the Zapatistas demonstrated how their community projects function, including agroecology, transportation, butcher shops, cooperatives based on craft-making, construction, traditional medicines, and cooking.
Due to the success of the first Escuelita, the Zapatistas decided to hold another session during December 2013. A third Escuelita will be starting this week – marking the beginning of their third decade – as once again the communities will open their doors to the world.
Through their actions, the Zapatistas continue reaffirming that another world is possible, as they explain, "building a world where many worlds fit." Grassroots International is honored to contribute towards the efforts of the autonomous indigenous communities in Chiapas, accompanying the Ssit Lequil Lum coffee producers’ cooperative, through our work with our partner Enlace Civil. We congratulate the Zapatistas on the 20th anniversary of their uprising for autonomy and self-determination.