April 21, 2005
In order to understand guerilla warfare, one must understand why a guerilla
warfare fighter takes action. If one can understand that then he/she can better understand
why and how guerilla warfare is conducted. Since rebel groups’ motivations, tactics,
strategies, and techniques vary, it is best to look at Che Guevara’s book entitled Guerilla
Warfare to see if they fall within the guidelines of guerilla warfare before being
categorized as a guerilla warfare band. One group that needs to be explored a little bit
further is the EZLN (Ejercito Zapatista de Liberación Nacional). This particular group,
which is located in Mexico, is still in effect today, and has demonstrated Che Guevara’s
concept of guerilla warfare by the use of women, the media, and by getting the support of
others; however they have also demonstrated a different type of guerilla warfare that is
inconsistent with Che Guevara’s by not taking up arms, by not using warfare strategies,
and by not using warfare techniques.
According to Guevara, a guerilla fighter is a social reformer; he/she takes up arms
responding to the angry dissent of the people against their oppressors, and that he/she
fights in order to change the social system that keeps his/her unarmed brothers in
discomfiture and unhappiness (Guevara 4). Take for example the EZLN which was
formed by the people of Chiapas, which are mostly poor peasants, simply because they
were tired of the treatment by indigenous people and the mistreatment of the people in
general. In a statement they issued during 1993, they said they have nothing to lose.
They said they have no roofs over their heads, no land, no work, poor health, no food, no
education, no right to freely and democratically choose their leaders, etc (Para el Español
Chasque Aquí 1). How bad are they mistreated? Well, from all indications, petty bad.
For example, take a look at the inequalities of water, power, literacy, and the
development in the areas of the Chiapas. Here are some comparisons to the rest of
Mexico: Those who have running water: M=79% C=58%, Power/Electricity: M=88%,
C=67%, Literacy rates: M=87%, C=69%, Urban verses Rural living M=71% Urban,
C=40% Urban (Para el Español Chasque Aquí 1). Over the years this particular rebel
group has tried its best to achieve social reform, but in a very unique way. There main
objective is to achieve liberation through democracy. In essence, their goal is not to
cause trouble and strife, but to fight for the things people need to survive; however, they
are quite different in one aspect, they do not take up arms to defend their point of view.
Most Guerilla warfare groups rely on a hit and run tactic. This is, they usually hit
and run, wait, lie in ambush, again hit and run, and thus repeatedly (Guevara 7). This may
seem like a form of cowardice; but, when a group has small numbers and not a lot of
resources, it is, of course, a very strategic plan. It is something that is well planned out
and never made public. They use the hit and run tactic because it is there best chance of
winning. It may not arrive at complete victory at that moment; however, it is a step
towards complete victory in the end. In order for this for this strategy to take place, a
guerilla warfare fighter needs to have good knowledge of the surrounding country side,
the path of entry and escape, the possibility of speedy movement, and good hiding places.
Above all, a fighter must know that no battle, combat, or scuffle is to be fought unless it
will be won (Guevara 6). Obviously, the EZLN does not believe in this type of warfare,
and it is quite evident when taking a look at their march to Mexico City in 2001.
On their way to Mexico City the rebel group openly exposed themselves to an
attack. In addition, they did not impose any type of threat on anyone (EZLN Decides to
Leave Mexico City 1). Some people might think they were not successful; however, they
actually were. They were able to solidify their objectives and get spectators to join them.
Most people think force is the best way for rebel groups to operate; however, EZLN must
First, the EZLN really does not have to worry about the countryside or
maneuvering techniques. They simply do not believe in warfare as in the result of deaths.
They have a rebel army that seeks not war, but peace. They also claim that the use of
force is a desperate solution when faced with official deafness (Zapatist and
Psychoanalytical Ethic 2). If they were to fight in the battlefield, they would have no
chance. Guevara explains that each guerilla fighter carries his own complete equipment,
which includes a gun that can cause severe damage. The gun is referred to as an M-16
(Guevara 16). The EZLN does not use this type of warfare; instead they rely on the
media to help them.
The EZLN likes to use the media as a weapon. Guevara explains that the
revolutionary idea should be gentle by means of appropriate media to the greatest depth
possible (Guevara 98). They are considered to be the first cyber-guerilla in the history of
mankind (Zapatist and Psychoanalytical Ethic 2). The media is a key to the group’s
survival. They make all their claims publicly in order to catch the attention of the
government. The group uses the media industry in several ways. They have used
commodified merchandise ranging from t-shirts and pens, to dolls and condoms
(International Third World Studies 1). The media, when they get paid, know who to
exactly slander/ignore. Not only do the media play an important role in the development
of the EZLN rebel group, so do the women.
The role the women can play is of extraordinary importance (Guevara 86). Even
though the women are weaker than the man, they can, if willing, carry out the same
task—they can fight. However, most of the time woman are assigned a different task, but
which are of high importance. She can also perform her task with more freedom than the
man. For example, she can teach other soldiers how to read, she can cook, transport
messages between separated forces, she can be a nurse, a doctor, etc (Guevara 88). Even
though it is rare to see a woman fighting, it happens. Take a look at the EZLN.
The women in this group have taken a very active role. These poor women have
little or nothing at all to arm themselves with, yet, without being hesitant, they stand up to
well armed troops with anything they have. For example, they may use rocks, sticks, and
if they do not have anything else, they will use their most powerful tool, which is their
voice. In one specific altercation, a girl by the name of Clotilde Gomez Moreles hit a
soldier in the helmet with a rock. After that, the soldier turned around and pointed his
gun at her. In stead of backing down, the girl replied by saying “Kill me then, if that’s
what you came for! We do not want you here!” After she said that, the soldier simply
lowered his gun and walked away (Para El Espanol Chasque Aquí 2). Even though the
rebel group started out as one to defend the locals, it is now a global group—fighting for
others as well.
Every guerilla warfare band needs the support of the people in the area (Guevara
4). Not only does the EZLN have the support of the locals but others around the world as
well. They have been able to get the support of others throughout the world because of
the fight they have put up for their rights. They simply think locally but act globally.
The rallying cry they did in 1996 at the International Meeting for Humanity and Against
Neoliberalism (This is relevant to NAFTA, which is stripping away what is pure to their
culture) is an example of thinking globally, as well as showing a presence in the
mobilization against the 5th Ministerial Conference of the WTO in Cancun (EZLN 1).
One fact is, that the United States, which is supposed to be the “light house of the world”
is supporting groups that are opposed to the EZLN. NAFTA, without a doubt, should be
a “wake up call” to Americans. What the leaders say is good for the economy, is in
reality, killing millions of innocent people. With the support of others across the globe,
perhaps the rebel group will see liberation in the future.
The EZLN group does not support all Guevara’s claims to guerilla warfare;
however, they do support some. Overall, it just depends on the rebel group and what is
best for them. One way of fighting might be good for one group and another way might
be good for another group. In the end, they all are essentially fighting for one thing, and
that is social reform. Hopefully, one day, the EZLN will see changes in Chiapas,
Mexico, and other places in the world that are oppressed—changes such as schools, good
paying jobs, a fair democratic election, better housing, food, and water—things that most
people in the world take for granted.