Patrocinio González was governor of Chiapas between 1988 and 1993 – a period in which the Zapatistas were preparing to reveal their existence to the world. Whilst recognising the injustices faced by indigenous communities in Mexico, he claims that the PRI government was acting to improve their situation just as the Zapatistas took up arms in Chiapas. Upon the Zapatista Uprising of 1994, he was Secretary of Government and took a hard line against what he saw as a violent, separatist group of lawbreakers.
He claims that, considering the best known figure of the Zapatistas – Subcomandante Marcos – is not himself indigenous, the rebels did not have indigenous rights at the heart of their movement. Instead, he feels it was foreign journalists and commentators who labelled the EZLN an indigenous movement.
With his unsympathetic approach to the movement, he represents the line taken by successive governments since 1994. However, there are members of the Mexican government who have been critical of this hostile official attitude. For example, Pablo Salazar, who was a member of the Commission for Harmony and Pacification (COCOPA) and then governor of Chiapas, criticises the way in which “the infrastructure built [by the government] in Chiapas over the last twenty years has had a largely military purpose”.
In an interview with El Proceso, Salazar speaks of how the Secretary of Defence warned, in a meeting at Los Pinos in 2003, of an imminent resurgence of Zapatista violence and the subsequent possibility of “autonomous regions” (like those that “damage Spain so much”) springing up. Ten years on and with the Zapatistas having left the path of violence behind, the army was, in his opinion, gearing up to crush the EZLN once and for all. Vicente Fox’s PAN government, he continues, was especially worried at this point, as the Zapatistas had set up Committees of Good Government following the federal government’s failure to implement the agreements made in the incomplete San Andrés Accords.
As the Secretary of Defence scare-mongered and sought to reinitiate hostilities, Salazar says that he spoke up, emphasising that the Zapatistas were not going to take any towns or military installations, and that they weren’t doing anything to attack the “constitutional structure of the government”. He went on to explain that there was no way the EZLN could launch any kind of attack against the State “without money” or “financial autonomy”. In doing so, he defused a situation of paranoia and warmongering that could potentially have led to a direct military assault on Zapatista communities.
Twenty years on from the Zapatista Uprising, Salazar affirms that the “painful indicators of marginalisation and poverty remain in Chiapas” but that there are “no conditions for [another] armed uprising”. One reason for this assertion is that the government, according to the former governor, “invested thousands of millions of pesos [into] creating a military infrastructure in Chiapas that would make a new armed rebellion unviable”. He continues, agreeing with government claims that, “since the uprising, money has been poured into Chiapas”, but he emphasises that it has not been spent on “sustainable social projects” but on increased militarisation of the region.
Opposing this approach, he sympathises with the fact that the Zapatistas “have redefined their battlefields”. Today, he says, the group is involved in projects related to “healthcare, education, culture…, coexistence, cultures of peace, and the environment”. In doing so, they are “strengthening their processes of independence and autonomy”. He also speaks of his admiration for the Committees of Good Government, declaring that they represent “an interesting exercising of authority… and coexistence” from which “a lot can be learned”. He even goes on to suggest that the EZLN has the moral high-ground, as it has “shown us that there are different paths we can follow” even after the failure of peaceful dialogue with the government.
Speaking about the legacy of the 1994 Uprising, he points out that, today, “communities are no longer the same”, and that they “are enjoying something they fought hard for: the strengthening of their process of autonomy”. But now, they no longer fight. Instead, they communicate, protest, and defend their land. They are now living “another kind of rebellion”. And, just as the EZLN has changed, so has the charismatic figure of Marcos – so criticised by figures like Patrocinio González. Having played an important role twenty years ago, he “no longer belongs to himself”, according to Salazar. He now “belongs to history”, and the baton of leadership has been passed on to the people in Zapatista communities.
Salazar concludes by affirming that “this is an unfinished process”, and that the Zapatistas will continue their “process of building independence and autonomy in their communities”. The government may try to intervene and suffocate this now peaceful movement, but doing so openly would lead to massive international opposition. Without the excuse of fighting against armed insurgents or ‘lawbreakers’, the government has no justification for military action. Thus, a continued low intensity war against this group – which the State apparatus fears so much – seems to be the only course of action that will be taken.
Translated and adapted by Oso Sabio from the articles “A Mestizo Continues to Be Their Central Figure” by Isaín Mandujano and “Zapatismo Redefined Its Battlefields” by Jesusa Cervantes, found between pages 25 and 31 in Proceso’s Special Edition Number 43 – “20 Years Later: The Zapatista Uprising”