Zapatistas Announce Dissolution of "Autonomous Municipalities"

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In a historic shift, the Zapatista movement in Mexico declared the dissolution of their self-declared autonomous municipalities, signaling the end of an era that began with their 1994 uprising for Indigenous rights. The statement by Subcommander Moises points to the escalating gang violence in Chiapas as a backdrop to this significant decision.


Photo: EZLN

Latin American Post Staff

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Leer en español: Zapatistas anuncian disolución de "municipios autónomos"

The Dissolution of the Caracoles

The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), an indigenous rebel group in southern Mexico, recently announced the dissolution of the autonomous municipalities they formed in the aftermath of their 1994 uprising. The Zapatistas captured the world's attention when they rose in arms on January 1, 1994, the same day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was enacted. Their fight for Indigenous rights and resistance against what they viewed as the homogenizing forces of globalization resonated globally, drawing attention to the plight of Indigenous communities in Mexico.

The municipalities, known as the "Caracoles," have operated as semi-independent entities for nearly three decades. These areas declared autonomous in the years following the armed uprising, have governed themselves according to Zapatista principles without direct interference from the Mexican government. The movement, although largely peaceful since the clashes of the '90s, has continued to advocate for Indigenous rights and sovereignty, rejecting government aid programs and maintaining a level of de facto self-governance.

Challenges along the Guatemalan Border

In a poignant statement by rebel Subcommander Moises, dated "November" and lacking the group's traditionally poetic rhetoric, the Zapatistas reflect on the challenges posed by escalating violence along the Guatemalan border. While not explicitly stated, this violence appears to have influenced their decision to dissolve the autonomous municipalities. However, the statement promises further explanation and details about the new structure of Zapatista autonomy in the future.

Amidst this, the announcement touches on the potential influence of the upcoming 2024 presidential election, hinting at the group's awareness of the broader political landscape. Historically, the Zapatistas have engaged with the electoral process, notably running a candidate in 2018, although their main focus has been on local self-governance rather than national politics.

The Caracoles as Community Hubs

Despite the dissolution, the "Caracoles" will still function as community hubs, closed off to outsiders, signaling a retreat from the global stage while maintaining their commitment to local organization and community services. The EZLN's introspection comes when many younger members of the Zapatista communities have left in pursuit of employment and educational opportunities, a trend noted by anthropologists like Gaspar Morquecho.

The social and economic isolation has become a significant factor for the EZLN, which has, in recent times, severed many of its external alliances. This seclusion has been both a strategic choice and a consequence of the increasing violence plaguing Chiapas, a state now marked by drug trafficking and battles between powerful cartels. These criminal activities have led to road blockades, kidnappings, and other forms of violence that jeopardize the safety and well-being of the region's inhabitants.

In an environment where the Mexican government has deployed thousands of troops and National Guard members ostensibly to combat crime, the Zapatistas argue that these efforts are more focused on controlling migration, allegedly under directives from the U.S. government. This reflects a deep-seated mistrust between the EZLN and state authorities, a legacy of decades of conflict and failed negotiations.

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Defiance and Legacy

Despite the grave situation, the Zapatistas remain defiant, inviting people to commemorate the 30th anniversary of their uprising. This gesture underscores their continued relevance and the enduring spirit of their movement. While the upcoming celebrations may be shrouded in uncertainty, the legacy of the Zapatistas and their fight for Indigenous rights remains a powerful chapter in the history of Mexico.