Neo-Liberalism and the Zapatista
Lecture, Monday 3 March 2011
Zapatismo in 1910 & 2011
- protest before and after the student
massacre in October 1968.....
• - causes of the EZLN uprising in Chiapas in
January 1994 and assessment of its broader
Question to ponder
• Why has the earthquake of 1985 been seen as the
watershed between an authoritarian and a
democratising Mexico ?
• legitimacy lost in 1968…
• competence questioned after 1985 in the face of
continuing retreat of revolutionary corporatism......
• rise of social movements: search for new meaning of
citizenship once corporate membership (CTM,CNC)
no longer guaranteed rights…EZLN one of many
examples of popular movements
From Corporatism to neo-liberalism: social
• social movements face a growing political
vacuum in the centre
• must engage in an open market place in search for
local, regional, national and international
• the state as a repository of people’s rights –
particularly federal justice – ever more distant...
• face instead rampant oligarchical capitalism with
freer access to territory, labour and resources than
Porfirian oligarchs ever dreamed off...
From Corporatism to neo-liberalism: social
• face a reconstituted hierarchy of caciques
monopolising power at all levels (with the Fed.
Govt distracted by the war on drugs)
• extraordinary physical segregation (gated
communities, see film 2007 La Zona) and
fragmentation of modern Mexican society
• disintegration of common bonds and identities
fostered by the Revolution and its cultural
• consumption & the market now rule....
La Zona, 2007
La Zona, 2007 (Palme D’Or)
Carlos Slim’s Polanco Shopping Mall & Gallery opened March
Carlos Slim, Gallery 2011
The Golden Age
• 1940-early 1970’s: balanced
development...high growth, low inflation....
• Yet mounting disillusion with the
abandonment of the ideals and objectives of
the Revolution, corruption and repression..
• Labour, peasant and then student opposition
culminate in the Tlatelolco massacre of
The Golden Age: opposition
• Revolution’s turn to the Right under Manuel Avila
Camacho (1940-46) and Miguel Alamán (1946-52)
provoked numerous strikes and reform movements
• Teachers’ Movement, 1958-62 (against PRI’s popular
• Railway workers’ strike in 1958, violently repressed by
Pres Adolfo López Mateos (1958-64)....
• Ruben Jaramillo’s armed peasant movement in
Guerrero in 1958-1962....
• Doctors & nurses 1964-5: violently suppressed
• Student movements 1968 & 1970: massacres
Ruben Jaramillo, murdered 1962
The revolutionary army ?
• Hispanic tradition of the “pronunciamiento” and the “plan”:
army as custodian of constitution and individual liberties:
• 1951-53 “Henriquismo”: Cardenista general, Miguel
Henríquez Guzmán, organises opposition campaign against
PRI, becomes an armed insurrection after electoral fraud
• 1961, “Loyal Federationists” insurrection (see Elisa Servin
article) : conspiracy of military and agrarian leaders from the
Border to the Bajio……
• 1979-89 Sandinista Revolution & Central America Crisis:
ESLN’s magazine read in Mexican Military archives !
• 1994 suspicion at first that Zapatistas sprang from the ranks of
the federal army which recruits mainly indigenous soldiery….
• Mexican army repressive but not genocidal: hence space for E-
FZLN …repression left to police or “defence forces”
Populism of Luis Echeverría (1970-76)
• Luis Echeverría, Minister of the Interior under Diaz
Ordaz, sought redemption for his fatal order in October
1968 by returning to radicalism and nationalism of
Revolution once President
• High spending to pay for new programmes to
overcome social inequities – needed for winning back
support for the regime - funded by high taxation on
those made rich during the “Golden Age”
• As a result, state and private sector fell out of
sync....PRI’s statism now faced by more confident
private sector wanting greater autonomy....
Populism of Luis Echeverría (1970-76)
• See article by Frans J Schryer on government
support for Nahua Indian’s in reclaiming
community lands from Mestizo cattle ranchers
in Huejutla, Sierra de Hidalgo in 1970s.
• Echeverria supported similar land reforms and
indigenous empowerment: Yaquis in Sonora,
indigenous groups in Sinaloa and Oaxaca
(COCEI f. 1974)
Oil boom buys time but seals fate
• 1973 oil price rise coincided with discovery of massive
reserves in Mexican SE Tabasco & Chiapas
• Instead of controlled exploitation, under José López y
Portillo (1976-1982) Mexico went for huge oil exports
to US and huge foreign borrowing to fund growth
• Early 1980s international financial crisis hit Mexico:
reduced petroleum demand, spiralling interest rates,
overvalued peso, and growing capital flight…
• August 1982: Mexico declared itself unable to meet
foreign debt repayments & J L-P nationalises the
Mexican banking system…
• Bank nationalisation: last act in Mexico’s sixty
years of economic nationalism.
• After 1982 – PRI follows neo-liberal, “technocratic”
policies , support from workers and peasants kept by
spending oil wealth at elections: “PEMEX
socialism”: corrupt and exclusive
• Growth of “new social movements”: electoral defeats
on municipal level and, occasionally, at state level....
• Growth of opposition: PRD and neo-Cardenismo
Regional opposition movements
• See Jeffrey Rubin, “COCEI in Juchitan”
• 1981 Zapotec COCEI defeats PRI in municipal
• for COCEI & other regional and local
opposition movements see dense but useful:
• Jeffrey W. Rubin, "De-centering the Regime:
Culture and Regional Politics in Mexico," Latin
American Research Review, Volume 31, No. 3,
Fall 1996, pp. 85-126.
Coalición Obrera, Campesina, Estudiantil del Istmo
Coalición Obrera, Campesina, Estudiantil del
EZLN uprising January 1994
• 1980s: debt crisis and desperate attempt of
PRI to hold on to power in face of electoral
challenge from PRD & PAN….
• Carlos Salinas y Gortari, 1986-1994:
– Solidaridad Programme attempt to undercut
regional opposition…support fort the neediest
– reform of Article 27 (Agrarian Reform) in 1992 and
entry to NAFTA to boost the economy on 1
Chiapas: exceptional ? Relevance ?
• Chiapas: relevant to greater Mexico ? exceptional ?
• demographic and cultural separateness of indigenous
population greater than elsewhere….
• wealth and poverty indices: coffee & oil/extreme
poverty and marginality: Thomas Benjamin, A Rich
Land, A Poor People
• “colonial elite” and “traditional Indians” continually
renewing themselves .....
• little impact of the 1910 Revolution and its policies ?
• tradition of Indian “colonial” rebellions : 1712, 1869,
1914, 1994 ….?
20th C Chiapas
• engagement of PRI with Highland Maya communities
from 1930s through “scribes” (villages secretaries):
• Jan Rus, "The 'Communidad Revolucionaria
Institucional': The Subversion of Native Government
in Highland Chiapas, 1936-1968," in Gilbert Joseph
and Daniel Nugent (eds) Everyday Forms of State
Formation Revolution and the Negotiation of Rule in
Modern Mexico pp. 265-300
• Jan Rus* in “Local adaptation to Global Change”
• explores changes in the nature of the Indian community and
its relationship to the Mexican state from the 1930s-90s.
• historic relationship between the colonial and post-colonial
state and Indian communities was undermined from the 1970s:
– decline in demand for Highland labour (Guatemala
refugees from civil war)
– demographic growth (migration to Selva)
– religious differences within communities (RC-Protestant
conflict and expulsions)
– rise of new generation of younger leaders and women in
new areas of colonisation.
Reading: Womack & Peres Tsu
• John Womack in “Chiapas, the Bishop...”
• rebels from the lower N-E flank of the Chiapas highlands
• RC Catechists played organising these communities under
the leadership of A/B Samuel Ruiz of San Cristobal
• Marian Peres Tsu’s diary:
• reveals that the Zapatistas were initially feared in the
Highlands as “Protestants” i.e. Indians who had been
expelled from traditional Catholic Highland communities
for breaking with the cargo system and forced to settle in
San Cristobal or in new colonies in the Selva Lacandona.
Mexico Reader for Week 10
• Marian Peres Tsu’s diary (Tzoztil bus driver):
• Jan-March 1994: initial fear of Zapatistas swiftly turned to
joy and sense of the ending of colonialism...by 1997,
promises have been reneged upon and colonial controls
have been re-established...
• EZLN demands, March 1994. Indigenous rights at the
centre. See Article 29, Indigenous Women’s Petition
• Sub-comandante Marcos, “The Long Journey (500 year)
from Despair to Hope”: panoramic critique of neo-liberal
Mexico ….analogy of the Department store. January 1994:
“basement Mexico” rebels for first time….
• Nick Henck, “Laying the Ghost” shows how
Indians and indigenous issues were part of the revolt
from the start
• (Octavio Paz and many other Mexican intellectuals
had argued that the Zapatistas were Castroite/Maoist
urban adventurers who were using Indian grievances
for their own ends)
• see Claire Brewster (Warwick alumni !) , Responding
to Crisis in Contemporary Mexico for the response of
Mexico’s intellectuals to the uprising
John Tutino, “The Revolutionary Capacity of Rural
Communities” in John Tutino, Elisa Servin & Leticia
Reina, eds., Cycles of Conflict Centuries of Change,
Crisis, Reform and Revolution in Mexico pp.271-304.
Book, and Tutino’s essay, compares three centennial
crises, two of which ended in Revolutions (1810 &
Participants invited to consider whether the crises of the
1990’s and 2000s might also result in Revolution in
Isobel Tarr & Duncan Tucker,
Guadalajara March 2010
EZLN uprising, 1 January 1994 - ?
• In spite of rebellion’s longevity and popularity –
palpable in Mexico’s universities and among the
poor - Tutino sees limited future due to
peripheral location and absence an autonomous
ecological/subsistence base for sustaining a
revolutionary project more broadly.
• He concludes that “The 1994 Chiapas uprising
illustrates the limited potential for revolutionary
mobilisation in the new Mexico.”
Endurance, impact and significance
• endurance of Zapatista revolt somewhat belies Tutino’s
• Yet the armed revolt - “Ejército” (EZLN)- has not spread.
Mainstream left (PRD) has kept its distance from it & the
reforms to the Constitution promised during the peace
talks in 1994-6 have not been introduced.
• Yet, the “Frente” (FZLN) has succeeded in becoming a
broad national and international one, appropriate to the
global age: Marian Peres Tsu’s sense of empowerment in
January and February 1994 has been shared in many parts
of Mexico on many occasions since 1994 (e.g. in Oaxaca
during the Teachers’ Movement in 2007-8)
• 1994 revolt has therefore succeeded in
introducing a new grammar of politics: a “Front”
rather than a “Party” that organises a mass base
to demand changes, to deploy its electoral
strength tactically and to engage in peaceful
direct action when rebuffed.
• the Left has benefited as witnessed by the near
victory of the PRD behind Andrés Manuel López
Obrador in 2006.
• but Tutino is correct in concluding that a peasant
Revolution of the 1810 or 1910 variety is a thing
of the past…..
GT ‘ imprtession of Mexico in
• However, the neo-liberal project continues
• Wallmart an OXXO stores are everywhere
• lines of the poor at traffic lights are longer than
• & temptation among Mexico’s 14,000,000
un/under-employed youth to join a Narco gang
(in order to live well for five years instead to
suffer poverty for a lifetime) grows by the day.
• Mexico under the PAN (Vicente Fox, 2000-6, and Felipe
Calderon, 2006-12) has attempted to continue to
provide the services offered formerly (and often not
delivered) by the PRI.
• They are probably doing as well as Chavez in
Venezuela, and Mexico’s economy is better shape.
• But there are higher expectations in Mexico, quite
apart from a revolutionary tradition which cannot be
entirely dead (certainly 19th Patriotic Liberalism is
flourishing vis Thomson’s welcome in Tetela de
Ocampo in March 2010) .
Dr Thomson with panel of “civic promoters” from
Tetela de Ocampo, Sierra de Puebla, March 2010
Dr Thomson with two Nahua leaders
from Xochiapulco, March 2007
Film at 4.0 in Week : “Corazón del Tiempo, Un
Viaje al Corazón de la Resistencia Zapatista”
Alberto Cortés, 2006.
• Everyday life of women in a village in the rebel zone.
• Focuses on difficult choice of young woman between a
marriage arranged by her father andthe partner of her
choice , a guerillla fighter, and the problems this posed
to the relationship between Lacandon community
government and the EZLN guerilla front
• Lots of insight.
Subcomandante Marcos, 1996
Marcos on the Border: El Paso, 2006