“May the earth shake at its core…” was the title of the announcement. And, indeed, the news came like an earthquake — and not only for Mexican politics.
The move was unexpected and, beside rocking Mexican politics, has shaken the very perception we had of Zapatismo until now.
At the end of the meeting for the twentieth anniversary of the National Indigenous Congress (CNI), comprised of representatives from Mexico’s indigenous ethnic groups, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) and the CNI announced that they will be presenting an indigenous woman as their candidate for the Mexican presidential elections in 2018. The precise person still needs to be nominated, and the proposal will have to be discussed and debated in the assemblies of the various ethnic groups that comprise the CNI, but the news is huge and very unexpected — typically Zapatista, in that respect at least.
The announcement shines a light on the destructions the capitalist system has wrought on the environment in which most of the indigenous communities live: the privatization of communal natural resources, the imposition of mining, eco-touristic, and hydroelectric megaprojects, the construction of huge highways and airports on indigenous communal lands, and generally the issue of dispossession the indigenous groups are experiencing in Mexico.
Considering all the above, we declare ourselves in a condition of permanent assembly and we will consult with each and every geography, territory and neighborhood of ours the agreement of this Fifth National Indigenous Congress to nominate an indigenous woman, delegated by the CNI as an independent candidate who will run in the name of the CNI and the EZLN in the electoral process of the year 2018 for the presidency of this country.
We confirm that our struggle is not for power; we are not looking for it, but we rather invite the native peoples and civil society to organize ourselves in order to deter this destruction, to strengthen ourselves in our resistance and rebellion, in defence of the life of each and every person, family, collective, community, neighborhood.
The announcement also shook Zapatista supporters worldwide — and the reactions were very diverse. Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), leader of opposition party Morena and ex-leader of PRD, wrote on his twitter:
In 2006, the EZLN was the “serpent’s egg.” After that, very “radically,” they called on people not to vote, and now they present an independent candidate.
AMLO, as he is known in Mexico, is referring to the 2006 elections in which he was PRD’s candidate and lost by a narrow margin. He accused the government of electoral fraud — Subcomandante Marcos of the EZLN agreed that the elections were not fair and that AMLO was the actual winner. The Zapatistas did not vote in this election — quite the contrary: they criticized AMLO’s candidacy, presenting him as part of the same corrupt political system.
Instead, the Zapatistas initiated the Other Campaign, a non-electoral campaign that aimed to bring together anti-capitalist organizations all over the country and create a network of resistance movements to neoliberalism that would promote the autonomy of local communities as a key political issue. AMLO and other Mexican leftists, however, accused the Zapatistas of indirectly “facilitating” the PAN’s victory in those elections.
It’s the same argument AMLO now makes against the new Zapatista-CNI proposal: that it serves the government, since it will divide the opposition (and of course deprive him of votes as well).
Others in Mexico talk about a U-turn that is inconsistent with what the Zapatistas have been advocating over the past decade: the distrust in the electoral road to social change and to state power in general. Many international Zapatista supporters are also surprised — some positively, others negatively — and are trying to interpret the EZLN/CNI’s latest move.
The truth is that none of us saw this coming. And we did not see it coming for the simple reason that the Zapatistas, ever since their first public appearance on January 1, 1994, have been extremely distrustful of electoral politics. That’s exactly why they chose to go down the road of Revolution — with a capital R — in 1994, and down the non-state power road of autonomy later on, abstaining from any relationship with the state ever since.
However, it should be noted that this is not the first time the EZLN back a candidate in elections. It has happened before: in the 1994 local elections, when they backed the candidacy of lawyer and journalist Amado Avendaño Figueroa for the Governorship of Chiapas, ironically enough under the PRD flag.
A few days before the elections there was an assassination attempt against Amado Avendaño that cost the lives of three of his supporters, and he eventually lost the elections as a result of what he and many Mexicans considered to be electoral fraud. For that he was declared — and remained known as — “Governor in Rebellion” by the EZLN. However, even in that precedent, the goal was not the conquest of regional power. According to an interview Avendaño himself gave later on:
[The Zapatistas did not want me to be] a common governor, but rather a governor-in-transition, only until making the transition… Which means: you will participate in the elections, you will triumph, you will call for a constituent assembly, you will present a constitutional project to be modified, approved, whatever, and when this ends you will call for new elections. To the winner, you will pass the baton and then you will retire to your home. Perfect [I said], in that way, yes, I participate!
That was the agreement the Zapatistas had at the time with Amado Avendaño, in his own words. One could therefore argue that in 1994 the backing of a candidate in the local elections was simply a means towards a different end.
Based on this past experience, we could suspect that the proposed participation in the 2018 presidential elections may again be a means towards an end. Whether that is the case, and what kind of end we are talking about this time, remains to be seen. However, we are certainly not talking about Zapatista engagement with electoral politics as we have known it so far. We are talking about something very “otherly.”
It has begun!
What is certain, however, is that we have entered a new era for Zapatismo. After the introspection that followed the Other Campaign, the intensification of the Zapatista project of autonomy on which the movement has been working for the past 22 years, and the two Zapatista escuelitas that took place recently, now the movement is coming out of Chiapas again, reclaiming their place at the forefront of Mexican politics — together with the CNI, of course.
What remains to be seen now is how the various indigenous ethnic groups will receive the CNI/EZLN proposal, what exact candidate they will propose, and of course the long administrative process that will need to take place for the candidature to be formally announced.
First, the proposal must be approved by 1 percent of registered voters in Mexico, which means that the CNI and the EZLN will need to collect roughly 820.000 signatures from 17 federal states before being able to present a proposal for an independent candidate. After that, the CNI would have to obtain a legal form recognized by the state and the Federal Electoral Institute of Mexico (IFE). After all, the electoral game is one that needs to be played by the rules it has set for itself.
The process, however, has begun — and from our side there is only one thing to wish to the Zapatistas and the CNI:
Zapatistas Respond to Criticism Regarding Election Proposal
EZLN Subcomandante Marcos, now known as Galeano, in Chiapas in 1996. | Photo: Creative Commons
The Zapatista response appeared to reaffirm that their goal in presenting a candidate would be to expose the contradictions of the Mexican political system.
Not long after the Zapatista National Liberation Army and the National Indigenous Congress resolved to present an Indigenous woman as an independent candidate for the 2018 presidential elections, the rebel group began to receive criticism.
The decision made at the Fifth National Indigenous Congress caught many by surprise, as the Zapatistas had long rejected any formal participation in electoral politics.
One of the first to respond was leftist former Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador who suggested the EZLN, as the Zapatistas are also known, were trying to divide the left.
Lopez Obrador is widely expected to run for president a third time in the upcoming election and an “independent candidate” could draw away votes that might otherwise go to him.
In the 2006 election, Lopez Obrador lost in a disputed, though tightly contested, election. That year the Zapatistas organized “The Other Campaign,” which called on Mexicans to participate in political activity that went beyond voting.
During “The Other Campaign,” Zapatistas — including the group’s most recognizable figure, Subcomandante Marcos — travelled throughout Mexico meeting with activists and social movement leaders in order to build a broad front against capitalism.
In a letter posted online, Marcos, now known as Subcomandante Galeano, responded to the criticism.
“How solid can the Mexican political system be, and how well-founded and reliable the tactics and strategies of the political parties, if, when someone says publicly that they are thinking about something, that they are going to ask their peers what they think of what they are thinking, the entire political party system becomes hysterical?” read the letter.
When the decision to consider running a candidate was first announced by the Zapatistas, they specified that it was not being done as a means of securing power.
“We confirm that our struggle is not for power, we do not seek it,” read the joint statement from the National Indigenous Congress and the Zapatistas.
Galeano’s letter appeared to reaffirm that their goal in presenting a candidate would be to expose the contradictions of the Mexican political system.
Referring to Margarita Zavala, the wife of ex-president Felipe Calderon and likely candidate for the presidency in 2018, Galeano presented a juxtaposition.
“You who are reading this: would you be bothered by watching and listening to a debate between the Calderona (Zavala) from above, with her ‘traditional’ luxury brand clothing, and a woman below, of Indigenous blood, culture, language, and history? Would you be more interested in hearing what the Calderona promises or what the Indigenous woman proposes? Wouldn’t you want to see this clash of two worlds?” asked Galeano.
The letter gave no indication the EZLN and the National Indigenous Congress intend to withdraw their proposal.
The idea of running a candidate must still, however, be approved by the grassroots of the organization.
CNI and EZLN to Hold Consultation to Appoint Female Indigenous Candidate for 2018 Presidential Elections
CNI at Oventik Caracol (@SIPAZ)
From October 9 to 13, within the framework of the 20th anniversary of the founding of the National Indigenous Congress (CNI), the “Fifth National Indigenous Congress” was held at CIDECI-Unitierra in San Cristobal de Las Casas. About 500 delegates from 32 nations, peoples and indigenous tribes of Mexico, as well as members and support bases of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) and other guests participated. It worked in thematic working groups around the following themes: dispossession and repression; our resistances and rebellions; a review of the CNI; proposals for strengthening the CNI. On October 12, Columbus Day, a political-cultural event in Oventik Caracol was also held.
Zapatista militia on the arrival of the CNI at Oventik, October 12, 2016 (@SIPAZ)
On closing the event, the CNI and the EZLN published a statement entitled “May the Earth Tremble at its Core” (paraphrasing the national anthem), in which they reported 27 grievances dispossessions indigenous peoples in the country are facing. What created the biggest stir was the announcement of the start of a consultation to examine the convenience of appointing an indigenous council of government and inviting an indigenous woman to participate in the upcoming presidential elections to be held in 2018. The statement says: “Given all of the above, we declare ourselves in permanent assembly and we will consult in each of our geographies, territories and directions the agreement of the Fifth CNI to appoint an indigenous council of government whose word will be materialized by an indigenous woman, a delegate of the CNI as an independent candidate who contends on behalf of the National Indigenous Congress and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation in the 2018 election for the presidency of this country.”
The statement says that “It’s time to attack, to go on the offensive” and clarified that “our struggle is not for power, we do not seek that; but we will call on indigenous peoples and civil society to organize to stop this destruction, to strengthen us in our resistance and rebellion” the Zapatistas said in a statement in which they made a call to organize “from below.”
The joint statement ends by emphasizing “It is time for rebel dignity, to build a new nation for all people, to strengthen the power from below and the anti-capitalist left, and for those who are to blame for the pain of the people of this multicolor Mexico to pay.”