At the start of 1995, the EZLN launched their “Tercera Declaración de la Selva Lacandona“, in which they proposed to the creation of a Movement for National Liberation. In January, a Zapatista delegation met with a government secretary, but a month later President Zedillo announced that he had identified the leaders of the EZLN and had ordered their capture. Two days later, the Mexican Army advanced on Chiapas and retook several autonomous territories. In just 15 days, more than 20 thousand people left their communities for the rainforest.
On one hand, the government sought to negotiate with the EZLN, while on the other their military action was ‘justified’ by the orders of capture against the group’s leaders.
Pursued by the army, the EZLN, along with left-wing parties and civil society organisations, mobilised large protests calling for a stop to the war. In March, Zedillo signed an Initiative, but once again no agreement was reached. In May, the EZLN rejected a government proposal of detente. Instead, they proposed the establishment of 15 roundtables, which began in August, with the EZLN also organising the ‘Primer Encuentro Intercontinental por la Humanidad y contra el Neoliberalismo‘, which, over a week, was attended by three thousand people from 42 countries and two thousand Mexicans.
In October, peace talks resumed in San Andrés Larráinzar, but the arrest of Fernando Yáñez Muñoz, accused of being “Comandante Germán”, disrupted the progress of negotiations. He was released the following day, but the constant hypocrisy of the government was becoming apparent.
In 1996, the “Cuarta Declaración de la Selva Lacandona” was released, with the EZLN revealing their intention to create a new, non-party-based form of politics – independent, autonomous, and peaceful. In February, the Zapatistas signed agreements related to Indigenous Law and Culture with the government, in which the latter promised to recognise indigenous communities in the Constitution. This would be a point of contention for years to come.
In May, two more Zapatistas are sentenced to 13 and 6 years of imprisonment for ‘acts of terrorism’. The EZLN claims this action constitutes an attack on the peace process and withdraws their participation as a result. In June, after an intense national and international campaign demanding their liberation, an appeals court revokes their sentences.
However, in September, the EZLN, tired of the government’s games, suspended its participation in the San Andrés talks, setting out five conditions for their return to the table:
- Liberation of all presumed Zapatistas
- A governmental commission that respects the EZLN and exercises real political power
- The establishment of a Commission of Monitoring and Verification
- Serious and concrete proposals on the part of the government to negotiate on issues of democracy and justice
- An end to military and police persecution of indigenous communities in Chiapas
In October, Comandanta Ramona participated in the Congreso Nacional Indígena in Mexico City. During the act, she gave a speech in the Zócalo, ending with the phrase: “nunca más un México sin nosotros” (no more Mexico without us).
In December, Zedillo rejected proposals of the COCOPA (Comisión de Concordia y Pacificación) and key aspects of the San Andrés agreements.
In light of Zedillo’s rejections, the EZLN met with COCOPA and rejected his counter-proposal. It also affirmed that it would not resume talks until the San Andrés agreements relating to Indigenous Law and Culture were respected. It lead a rally in the Ciudad Universitaria to demand this and, in September, more than a thousand Zapatistas arrived in Mexico City by bus to participate in a rally.
On December 22nd, 45 EZLN sympathisers from the tzotzil ethnic group were assassinated in Acteal by a paramilitary group, around 50km from San Cristóbal. The massacre is known as the ‘Matanza de Acteal‘. The 8 officials responsible received virtual impunity, barely spending three years in prison.
In January 1998, a woman was shot by nervous police in Chiapas during an indigenous march in Ocosingo. The following month, the government launched a campaign to ‘extract’ thousands of foreign political activists from the ‘Conflict Zone’.
From April, the government in Chiapas started to dismantle the Zapatista autonomous districts. In these attempts, 12 foreigners from Belgium, the USA, and Spain were detained and deported. Arrests, injuries, displacements, and accusations of police and paramilitary abuses occurred. Military camps and police checkpoints were set up once government forces had taken control. In June, more than two thousand policemen and soldiers dismantled the municipality of Nicolás Ruiz, using tear gas and violence to dislodge EZLN sympathisers. Children and pregnant women were injured or poisoned, houses were searched without warrants, and money and items of value were stolen.
In the municipality of El Bosque, a Zapatista insurgent council was attacked and 9 EZLN members were killed. Civilians fled to the mountains or to the municipal centres. More than a thousand people were thought to have been displaced. Accusations of robbery, looting and desecration of temples and shrines were all made. Animals were killed and crops destroyed. The police seized personal IDs from homes.
In July, the ‘Quinta Declaración de la Selva Lacandona‘ was released, in which the EZLN proposed that the law regarding Indigenous Law and Culture be taken to a national referendum.
The EZLN supported the UNAM strike of 1999-2000, but in August, clashes resumed between rebels and the army in Chiapas, with both parties accusing each other of initiating the confrontations. Soon after, the government freed Zapatista prisoners in Chiapas as a sign that it wished to resume dialogue.