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Red Alert in Chiapas

Kazembe Bulagoon Jun 28, 2005

The Zapatistas issued a “red alert” June 19 calling for strategic consultations between the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) and the civilian leadership of Chiapas’ autonomous municipalities. Rebel civilian leaders immediately went underground, and international solidarity activists were warned to “leave rebel territory, or, if they decide freely of their own volition, they remain on their own and at their own risk.”

According to a communiqué issued by the Zapatista military command, the red alert is a “precautionary defensive measure.” The red alert came in response to Mexican military accusations of marijuana farms in Zapatista communities. The reports were false, but observers saw the charge as a possible pretext for an attack. In May, the bank accounts of Enlace Civil, the main EZLN solidarity committee, were frozen by the Mexican government.

“Now we shall decide whether we are going to do something else, and we will make the results public at the proper time. We are now making clear – in order to end the speculations – that this ‘other thing’ does not entail any offensive military action on our part… Ever since February-March of 1994 our entire military presence has been, and is, defensive.” wrote Subcommandante Marcos, the symbolic masked leader of the EZLN.

In a joint statement, observers with Estacion Libre, a people-of-color solidarity committee, and the Mexico-based La Red Defensores reported no immediate signs of military escalation.

In 1994, the EZLN catapulted to world consciousness when they led an indigenous rebellion in Chiapas against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which threatened to displace thousands of campesinos from their land. The rebellion became a global rallying call against free trade agreements, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Autonomous communities have been created in Chiapas and have been able to create a parallel power structure to the official government, running schools, health care clinics and farming cooperatives.

In the 11 years since the uprising against globalization and for land reform, major changes have taken place in the rebel communities.

The paramilitary structure of the EZLN leadership has been replaced on the ground by “caracoles” (Spanish for sea shell) or “good government assemblies.” Caracoles rotate responsibilities and are meant to provide direct government in the autonomous communities. The formation of the Caracoles involved a major pullback by the EZLN, which has relinquished most of its military roles. In the most recent communique, Marcos indicates that this may be the last of the EZLN. “Now we are consulting with our heart in order to see if we are going to say and do something else.”

On June 28th, a dozen Zapatista supporters gathered at Tompkins Square Park to discuss the red alert and possible solidarity actions. On June 29, the EZLN announced that the conseltas had concluded and “the EZLN shall undertake a new political initiative that is national and international in nature.” These initiatives will be explained in a series of text that will be part of the “Sixth Declaration of Selva Lacandona.”