Zapatistas, EZLN show support at capital

Netza Smith

The victory of Vicente Fox over the PRI regime in the 2000 elections generated a lot of aspirations and hope in Mexicans. The conflict in Chiapas and the EZLN were not an exception.

Keeping with his campaign promise to solve the conflict in Chiapas in 15 minutes, President Vicente Fox delivers, on the same day he was sworn into office, a proposed bill to Congress that would amend the Mexican Constitution in just the way the San Andres Accords stipulated.

The next day, on Dec. 2, 2000, the EZLN sends a message to the Mexican press announcing the Zapatistas would be marching from Chiapas to the Mexican Capital in anticipation of the congressional vote on the San Andres Accords. In the message, the Zapatistas invited all Mexicans to show their support for the EZLN and the rights of the indigenous by marching with them as they marched across their cities.

The Zapatistas left Chiapas on Feb. 24 and arrived in the federal district (DF) on March 11. On their way, they crossed 12 states plus the DF. The states were Chiapas, Oaxaca, Veracruz, Puebla, Tlaxcala, Hidalgo, Queretaro, Guanajuato, Michoacan, Estado de Mexico, Morelos and Guerrero. All of the aforementioned states are southeastern states with a high indigenous population.

It is estimated nearly 3 million people marched alongside the Zapatistas on their way to the capitol. But support was also shown outside the march. Independent manifestations for the EZLN were held in almost every important city. In Guadalajara, the second most important city in Mexico, concerts were held as a sign of support.

Above and beyond the ample support the EZLN got across the country, the most notable event probably took place in the state of Michoacan. In Nurio, Michoacan, the EZLN congregated with representatives of all the indigenous groups of Mexico in a national congress of the indigenous people. Together, the Commanders of the EZLN and representatives of the different indigenous groups came on stage to deliver a speech in support of the San Andres Accords.

The event gave the EZLN a formal sign of support from all indigenous groups of Mexico.

For the first time all of the indigenous groups of Mexico petitioned together the constitutional recognition of the rights of indigenous people.

In all, the Zapatistas’ march took 37 days, more than 6,000 km and included 77 public acts. It acquired on the way the support of 44 different indigenous ethnics.

When it arrived at the capitol, the commanders of the EZLN were invited into Congress (notwithstanding the objection of PAN, the president’s party) and were given the opportunity to express their rationale and their motivation for the proposed amendments.

In speeches by different commanders, the EZLN made clear the indigenous people of Mexico needed more than just financial aid- they needed unambiguous recognition of their ethnicity and their culture.

They underemphasized the history of oppression and poverty endured by the indigenous communities and instead focused on the importance of allowing indigenous communities to fully practice their cultural heritage.

They argued for the collective use of natural resources and for independent government within the communities declaring these have been part of the communal practices of the indigenous communities for more than 500 years. They added snubbing these rights from the indigenous people would be forced assimilation.

They ended saying a no vote on the amendment would be a clear sign the political body does not want to resolve the conflict and a yes vote would ensure the indigenous groups would never again have to take up arms in order to be heard.

But all of it might have been in vain. The congress rejected the proposed bill. In its place, it passed a bill with so many substantial changes it no longer reflected the demands of the EZLN or the San Andres Accords.

The passed bill on Rights and Indigenous Culture departed from the San Andres Accords in key respects. The bill denied full communal use of natural resources and reaffirmed the notion of personal property.

It allowed indigenous communities to exercise their own judicial practices, but it does not obligate the judicial branch of the states to respect the decision of the communities’ body.

The EZLN’s response was clear. Although it lacks the law, it has the support of millions of Mexicans; that “it is in the hearts of all the place we wanted, needed and deserved.”