A fresh, humid breeze was blowing. It was the dawn of the 1st of January of 1994 and fog still covered the mountains of southeast Chiapas, in Mexico. Juan Vázquez Guzmán was only 13 when he saw how thousands of men and women, hooded and armed, emerged from the mist of the Lacandon Jungle. “We declare war our bad government”, they said. No one expected it, although Juan had seen them prepare since he was a baby.
“We are the product of 500 years of battles. We, the deprived, are millions and today we say, enough!”. That is how the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) was born. This guerrilla force from the Mexican state of Chiapas rebelled to reclaim work, land, shelter, food, health, education, independence, freedom, democracy, justice and peace.
As most Tzeltal indigenous young men, Juan Vázquez worked with his father in the cornfields and coffee plantations located at the common lands – in San Sebastián Bachajón, Chiapas. They had strong hands and empty stomachs. They ate whatever the soil and their sweat gave them. “We depend on our land; an ancient legacy from our ancestors and a legacy for the future generations”, ponders Juan. Since he was an adolescent he has walked on the side of the Zapatistas. He is committed to the fight for their rights as Mexicans and as indigenous people, in a region where institutions have been absent and the citizens forgotten. Read More…
Once the delight of the global left, the Zapatistas trust few people and reject the outside world
“The caracoles sport rainbows of murals on wooden buildings that glorify the struggle: Women in masks who form kernels of corn, the Mayan plumed serpent god and the hero of the 1910 Mexican Revolution, Emiliano Zapata, after whom the movement takes its name. But the villages are still poor and are losing numbers to migration.
The bearded man said the Zapatistas decided a decade ago to go it alone after being betrayed so many times before. Heavily indigenous Chiapas has some of the most underprivileged people in the country, who never benefited from the 1910 revolution’s promise for agrarian reform. The Zapatistas were further frustrated when the government failed to deliver on a 1996 accord for greater autonomy and rights that was meant to pacify them. So they seized land — some estimates are as high as 750,000 acres — and created their own schools and clinics, and rejected subsidies from the state.”