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Are Mexico’s Zapatista rebels still relevant?

January 1, 2014


January 1, 2014 marks exactly 20 years since the Zapatista rebels rose up in arms and drew the world’s attention to the plight of Mexico’s impoverished indigenous population.

A rag-tag army of masked Mayan farmers named after Emiliano Zapata, a hero of the revolution of 1910, the Zapatistas briefly seized control of several cities in Chiapas, one of Mexico’s poorest and most ethnically indigenous states.

The rebellion was timed to coincide with the launch of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a treaty intended to strengthen Mexico’s economic ties with the U.S. and Canada by eliminating trade tariffs.

The enigmatic Zapatista spokesman known only as Subcomandante Marcos proclaimed NAFTA a “death certificate” for Mexico’s indigenous farmers, for it would force them to compete with a wave of cheap U.S. imports, while under the terms of the agreement the Mexican government had revoked their constitutional right to communal land.


A charismatic figure forever hidden behind his trademark pipe and balaclava, Marcos helped galvanise sufficient support from civil society to fortify the movement, even as the Mexican army forced the Zapatistas back into the jungles and mountains of Chiapas. A peace agreement was signed in 1996, but the Zapatistas later broke off all dialogue with the government after it reneged on the treaty.

Click here to read the feature in full at Al Jazeera.

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