Photo: Janet Schwartz
By Ryan Mallett
at anniversary celebration
A coalition of indigenous Mexican communities has announced the creation its own, parallel government with the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). Dubbed the Indigenous Governing Council (CGI), the parallel government will aim to promote autonomy for indigenous Mexicans.
“This council proposes to govern this country”, the EZLN said in a communique.
The EZLN is an indigenous guerrilla movement that waged an armed insurgency against the Mexican government throughout the 1990s. Today, the EZLN retains a presence in the highlands of the southern state of Chiapas, where it has been experimenting with a form of direct democracy that draws from anarchist and socialist traditions blended with indigenous practices.
According to the Zapatistas, the CGI represents the next phase of the National Indigenous Congress (CNI). The CNI was founded in 1996 by the EZLN as a project aimed at uniting Mexico’s dozens of indigenous groups. Since then, the CNI has become one of Mexico’s largest indigenous organizations, and remains closely linked to the EZLN.
According to the EZLN’s communique, the CGI’s spokesperson will also double as a candidate in Mexico’s 2018 presidential elections.
The CNI/EZLN first announced plans to field a presidential candidate last October. The name of the candidate won’t be released until May 18, after the CGI holds a “constituent assembly”. This assembly will also officially inaugurate the CGI.
No other details of the candidate have been made public, though the CNI and EZLN have already said they have agreed it will be an indigenous woman.
The announcement of the CGI’s creation came following the conclusion of a CNI summit in Chiapas. According to representatives who spoke to the press, the decision to create the CGI was made after three months of consultations with indigenous communities. This was followed by two days of closed door talks between indigenous groups during the CNI summit. A total of 43 indigenous groups from 25 states were involved in the talks, the CNI said.
“Indignation, resistance and rebellion will feature on the 2018 electoral ballots”, one representative said in the EZLN’s de facto capital of Oventic, according to the Mexican magazine El Proceso.
The CGI’s Proposed Sructure
The representatives provided only limited details on how the CGI will actually function, though they expressed hope it will be a more comprehensive form of organization than the CNI. According to those who spoke to the press, the CGI will have a more permanent presence in indigenous communities than the CNI. El Proceso reported the CGI will have “commissions” on the community, regional, state and national level. The CGI will also reportedly have different administrative commissions, mirroring the Mexican government secretariats. Some of these are likely to include commissions of finance, environment, health, communication and security. According to El Proceso, there will also be a commission for “Mother Earth”, and an elders council.
Although the spokesperson will be the public face of the CGI, as an individual they will have no real power. Instead, all of the CGI’s decisions will be made by consensus among representatives of indigenous communities, who comprise the CNI’s assembly. These representatives will also be able to recall the spokesperson at any time if they feel they are not fulfilling their duties.
“Our resistances and rebellions constitute the power from below”,THE EZLN SAID.
They continued, “We do not offer empty promises or actions, but rather real processes for radical transformation where everyone participates and which are tangible in the diverse and enormous indigenous geographies of this nation”.
Remembering the EZLN Uprising
The CNI’s summit was timed to coincide with the 23rd anniversary of the EZLN’s uprising on January 1, 1994. On that day, thousands of EZLN guerrillas caught Mexican security forces off guard, and quickly occupied a handful of towns across Chiapas state. The uprising was prompted partly by the creation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which the EZLN argued would deepen Mexico’s wealth disparity, while doing little to help indigenous Mexicans in poor regions like Chiapas. In 1994, 75.1 percent of the population of Chiapas lived in poverty, according to official data. Today, that figure is 78.8 percent.
“Nowadays, the conditions of the Mexican people in the countryside and the city are worse than 23 years ago”, EZLN spokesperson Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés said.
Speaking from an undisclosed location in the highlands of Chiapas, Moisés said the plight of indigenous Mexicans remains ignored by the government.
“Governments come and go, of different colors and flags, and all they do is make things worse”, he said.
Although the EZLN has survived over two decades of struggle with the Mexican government, the movement has been criticized by some on Mexico’s left who have accused the group of being too insular.
The EZLN has always refused to engage in mainstream politics, and has long opposed all political parties. The 2018 election will be the first time the group has ever endorsed a presidential candidate, but not necessarily the first time they have played a role in a national election.
In 2006, the EZLN sparked controversy when it refused to endorse the campaign of presidential hopeful Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Obrador was the favored candidate for much of the Mexican left.
Instead of backing Obrador, the EZLN led the Otra Campaña (Other Campaign) during the 2006 presidential race. This campaign sought to promote changes to Mexico’s constitution, including proposals to enshrine protections for indigenous autonomy. Although the campaign significantly broadened the EZLN’s support base beyond Chiapas, some on the left claimed the move drew attention away from Obrador’s election campaign. Obrabor lost to the right wing Felipe Calderón by less than 250,000 votes. Obrador is planning a comeback in 2018.
However, Moisés argued the EZLN’s struggle is more inclusive than ever before.
“We started our uprising 23 years ago, but our way was exclusive, and not everyone could participate”, he said.
“Now, the National Indigenous Congress calls us to a struggle we can all participate in, regardless of age, color, size, race, religion, language, salary, knowledge, physical strength, culture or sexual preference”, he said.
Moisés continued by stating the CNI has taken up the same fight as the EZLN, “and they have decided to do it by civil and peaceful means”.
“Its causes are just, [and] undeniable,” he said.