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In Defense of Land and Territory: Zapatistas Take on Paramilitaries (offline)

By: 
Kristen Bricker
Date Published: 
June 01, 2008

On January 1, 1994, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN)—the military wing of the zapatistas —rose up in arms, reclaiming 618,000 acres of land in Chiapas, México. While EZLN soldiers in the countryside expropriated plantations the zapatistas and their ancestors had toiled for generations, others invaded Chiapas’ major cities to burn the land titles kept in government buildings.
Over the next couple of years, the EZLN redistributed the reclaimed land to indigenous farmers regardless of political affiliation, under one condition: that they refuse to collaborate with the government and that they never, under any circumstance, sign government documents pertaining to land ownership.
By refusing to legalize their land, zapatistas attempted to free indigenous people from every law that was designed to rob them of their territory and natural resources. Even the ejido system (government-recognized communally held land that could not be bought nor sold) that Emiliano Zapata fought and died for was a compromise between government control over indigenous territory and traditional Mayan practices of collectively working land that belonged to everyone.
President Carlos Salinas de Gotari reformed Article 27 of the Mexican constitution in 1992 in preparation for the North American Free Trade Agreement, allowing ejidos to be bought, sold, and used as loan collateral. This was the spark that led to the zapatistas’ 1994 uprising, but it has also been the government’s most effective tool for carving out pieces of zapatista territory and bringing it back under government control.
To read the rest of this article, please purchase issue #29 Ecology and the Left