The Enduring Allure of Mexico's Zapatistas

The Zapatista Movement may seem like a backwater within the Mexican political consciousness, overshadowed by the specters of increasing drug violence and deepening corruption. 

But in the quarter century since the armed campesinos in Mexico’s southern state of Chiapas rose up against the government to fight indigenous repression and the effects of globalization (their brief war’s anniversary comes this January), their pursuit of social justice defines them as one of Latin America’s most unique social movements. 

Laying down their arms after only 12 days, the guerrilla-army-turned-social-movement has spent the majority of the past 25 years cultivating their own “autonomous zones” in southeastern Chiapas, largely sovereign from the Mexican government. These independent communities, organized into five “caracoles,” are replete with hospitals, schools, their own judicial system and a decentralized form of governance. 

Moreover, they express Zapatista efforts to articulate an alternative model of autonomous social organization, contrary to the neoliberal model which has proliferated throughout much of the rest of the world.

Having run their first-ever presidential candidate in the 2018 elections, the Zapatistas continue to evolve as a vibrant social movement representing Mexico’s forgotten and marginalized, especially its indigenous people.

The existence of the Zapatista autonomous zones has placed the Zapatistas at the center of a continuing conflict that involves neoliberal globalization, indigenous rights, paramilitary violence, and the ever-contested ownership of land. 

25 Years of the Zapatista Movement

Both Tracey Eaton and Jared Olson have reported on the Zapatistas in Mexico—Eaton in 1994 and Olson almost 25 years later. Here, in a wide-ranging conversation they share experiences and insights into an enigmatic social movement.

Mexico: Ghosts of Acteal

Survivors of the Zapatista conflict’s deadliest massacre reflect on the gruesome details of a day that forever changed their lives, sending shockwaves rippling throughout Chiapas's tormented history.