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The Zapatistas become the gathering force of the world Left

In the Land of La Realidad


Claudia S. Meléndez









"We revolutionaries are... romantic. We thought Utopia was dead, but the Zapatistas demonstrated that it wasn't. It was just out partying."

La Realidad- Coming from all corners of the world, from the Philippines to Scotland, close to three thousand people gathered in the Lacandón jungle of Chiapas, Mexico, to combat neoliberalism, the economic model that widens the gap between the haves and the have-nots. During the Encuentro Internacional Contra el Neoliberalismo y por la Humanidad, intellectuals, students, political leaders, artists and voyeurs visited the communities of Roberto Barrios, Oventic, La Garrucha, Morelia, and La Realidad to discuss the political, social, cultural, and economic aspects of neoliberalism and to build a common strategy to fight its effects.

La Realidad Zapatista is very muddy. In the heart of the Lacandon jungle, the small valley receives a fair amount of rain in the summer, as any place close to the Caribbean does. The treacherous road that leads to this Tjolobal community is windy, slippery, and unpaved, even though the Mexican government has tried its best to improve it in recent months (Perhaps this was with the hope of sending the army in to, once and for all, unmask Subcomandante Marcos). One must drive past Guadalupe Tepeyac, site of the first Zapatista Aguascalientes, the forum that hosted the peace talks and which the army destroyed last summer. The local hospital remains empty, a monument to Mexico's bureaucracy and the country's inability to deal with the needs of indigenous communities.

Another thirty minutes of puddles, ditches and cows in the road end in La Realidad: a poetic name echoing the distinctive outlook of this rebellious community.

The main road is unpaved. The huts are made of wood planks, without doors or windows. A separate room serves each family as kitchen, wood for the cooking pit neatly stacked around the walls. Palms are their roofs and dirt is their floor. A shack might house two or three families, all members of the same extended clan. While men work in the fields of corn and coffee, women stay at home grinding the maize to make tortillas, washing the family's clothes in the river, or chopping wood for cooking. Hard work and lack of nutrition quickly age their small, hunched bodies.

The description is not exactly one of the garden of Eden. Yet, no other revolutionary movement today attracts so many people to its cradle. No other antisystemic movement generates so much sympathy from such distant parts of the globe.

Superbarrio Gómez, the masked Mexican satirist/organizer who once announced his candidacy for president of the United States, believes that the Zapatista presence as the catalyst of other forces is not an accident. The implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a monument to neoliberalism in practice, set off the Zapatista uprising. The uprising likewise coincides with several indigenous movements in Mexico and the Americas, and their discourse provides a basis for the struggle against this economic system. "We have realized that the effects of neoliberalism are the same, they provoke poverty, unemployment, misery, death. The only way to combat this force is by creating a common front," Superbarrio said.

Other participants are more idealistic. Marco Aurelio Rodríguez, from the Spanish State (the participants from Spain insisted on being identified as either from the "Spanish State" or "Basque Country"), admitted that for all the trouble the attendees had to endure, the conference was well worth it. "[The Zapatistas] have been the spark for hope," he exclaimed with conviction. "They have shown the world that history has not ended and that it's perhaps beginning to move forward again." Rodríguez is member of the Comité Canario de Solidaridad con la Revuelta Chiapaneca.

"They have done something about their situation," said Remco Van Broekhoven, from The Netherlands. "They have spoken at a time that the left was confused. They've done it with humor, imagination, but above all, they've spoken the facts."

Inés B. De Ragni, a Madre de la Plaza de Mayo, admires their courage and their resolution. "They're fighting for their right to live and to have their own lives," she said, and identifies the objectives of the Zapatista struggle as similar to those las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo have. "The hunger in Argentina is a shame," she said. "What they [the Zapatistas] are asking for is the same things our children wanted: freedom." Las Madres have become the Zapatistas' sisters in struggle, she said. "Why can't we be their mothers too? They are all so young."

The political aspects of neoliberalism were discussed at La Realidad. Over the course of three days, the attendants analyzed which political theory best fit the Zapatistas' movement, why Socialism failed, and why socialism hasn't. Hebe de Bonafini, president of the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, impatiently encouraged the presenters to stop discussing philosophy and take more action. "Frankly, you all want to be good, and I want to misbehave," she said. "I want to go out there and cause some trouble."

Well, trouble is what the Chiapaneco rebel group caused for the Mexican government, and Trish Corcoran from Australia admires their ability to organize a revolt. "A lot of the Latin American left are questioning where to go, whereas the EZLN is very clear about taking a military stand against neoliberalism. That's very inspiring."

The Zapatistas identify an alternative way of life that springs from indigenous experience, said Superbarrio Gómez. Their discourse about life and respect for the natural resources is an ideology that many groups can easily identify with.

The appeal of the Lacandon fighters world wide is perhaps best described by José Arias Chávez, professor of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). "We revolutionaries are more romantic. We thought Utopia was dead, but the Zapatistas demonstrated that it wasn't. It was just out partying." (Nada más andaba de parranda.)

In the end, the conference leaders put forth a proposal, "La Segunda Declaración de La Realidad." Marcos proposed an internaional meeting of minds during the first two weeks of December, 1996, which will ask "the majority of human beings in the five continents" if they are in agreement with the Declaration, which proproses an "international network of resistance and an alternative communications network." In addition, organizers put forth plans for next year's conference, to be held in Europe, promising that the Zapatistas will attend.


AFTER five days of mud, mosquitoes, constant rain, and harassment by Mexican immigration officials, the intellectuals, students, political leaders, artists and voyeurs returned to their homes, perhaps more confused about the subject of neoliberalism, perhaps more hopeful about resistance.

But they all took with them a piece of La Realidad, a brave corner of the world that refuses to give up.


"They have shown the world that history has not ended."