Speaking in 2004 about the Zapatistas, Bishop Samuel Ruiz echoed what Raúl Vera said in the article https://ososabiouk.wordpress.com/2014/02/27/bishop-vera-on-the-ezln-their-proposal-is-peace/ about the injustices perpetuated by the Mexican government and the role of progressive Catholics in encouraging a greater political consciousness among indigenous communities.
The Zapatista movement, Ruiz explained, was the result of a social structure within a globalised society and a capitalist system in the hands of a small number of people. Peaceful protests against the increasing amount of inequality and marginalisation being generated by these conditions were ignored. He continued, saying “There were constant indigenous protests demanding their legitimate rights, both individually and organically collective. The systematic response was repression. That led them to say ‘We didn’t have a path other than armed struggle’.”
Ten years on from the rebellion, Ruiz pointed out that “the causes of injustice [had] barely been touched” by the government. It should have shown “respect for the agreements signed by both sides” in the San Andrés Accords, but it didn’t. Although understanding that “the Congress has a specific function”, Ruiz believed that it “did not carry out its historic task” by enshrining the agreements in law. This failure led the Zapatistas to break all ties with the government and form its own autonomous regions (or Caracoles).
Reflecting on the Catholic Church’s view and role in events in Chiapas, Ruiz affirmed that, while rejecting the use of violence, it agreed with the “causes of justice that [the EZLN] represented”. Asked if the “option for the poor” in the Church still existed, he clarified that it was “not something optional” and that “the Church is either the Church of the Poor or it is not the Church of Jesus Christ”. He continued, saying that, to be a Church of the Poor, the church would have to “modify its structures, making sure the poor truly feel like members of that church”.
In the Catholic Church, he emphasised, a “change in consciousness” is necessary – a progressive idea that has met with resistance from conservative sectors of the institution. For example, the “simple and logical decision” to have a mass in the Tzotzil language once a week in San Cristóbal de las Casas “provoked reactions from people of ‘a certain level’ who led a coordinated effort to avoid giving money to the church so that it would have economic difficulties and would not be able to organise such a mass”.
Ruiz went on to highlight that, “throughout the continent, indigenous populations have become even more conscious of their own role as ‘subjects’ in their own stories”. And “that is irreversible”, he stressed. He would then add that, considering this increased consciousness and the continuing existence of the injustices that led to the Zapatista Uprising in 1994, there is even more need for the government to return to negotiations – and not in a “superficial way” that simply makes it look like problems have been solved in order to attract foreign investment. Nonetheless, in his eyes it seemed like the government was not conscious of this need, having ceased to pay sufficient attention to the issue.
Unfortunately, ten years on, Ruiz’s assessment of the Mexican government and its current political order still ring true. But the Zapatistas haven’t been naïvely waiting for a change in government policy. They have focussed their time on autonomously building an alternative form of society – without reserving hopes that the government will suddenly come to its senses.
Translated and adapted by Oso Sabio from the article “They Weren’t Interested in Taking Power” by Salvador Corro, found between pages 22 and 24 in Proceso’s Special Edition Number 43 – “20 Years Later: The Zapatista Uprising”