The Enduring Allure of Mexico's Zapatistas

The Zapatista National Liberation Army (known by its Spanish acronym, EZLN) controls 40 percent of northern Chiapas, the southernmost Mexican State. The Mexican government, seeking to avoid bloodshed, has begrudgingly left the now-pacific guerrillas to their own devices. Thus, buried within the Lacandon Jungle lies the tantalizing possibility of an alternative society in the making.

Named after a hero of the Mexican Revolution, the Zapatistas rose up in armed rebellion against the Mexican government in 1994 to fight indigenous repression and the cold economics of neoliberal globalization. After 12 days of fighting, however, they renounced armed revolution in favor of Gandhian pacifism and community building. For the last 25 years, they have been engaged in a radical democratic project, forming their own autonomous de facto independent communities in the jungle.

These communities, called the Caracoles, embody the Zapatista movement’s efforts to articulate an alternative, just social model, contrary to the radical free market model that has expanded worldwide over the last three decades. The communities are organized around a sovereign, decentralized form of government—the Juntas de Buen Gobierno—and have their own independently run hospitals, schools, and clinics.

Having run their first-ever presidential candidate in the 2018 presidential elections, the Zapatistas have continued evolving as a vibrant social movement representing Mexico's forgotten and marginalized, especially its indigenous people.