mark_c (mark_c@geocities.com)
Fri, 25 Oct 1996 14:41:16 +0000

Zapatista action!
An International of hope?

4,000 people meet in Chiapas
'for humanity and against neo-liberalism'

In July of 1994 people from Ireland travelled to an
international conference called by the Zapatistas in
Chiapas. This is a report on the conference from
one of the Irish delegates. A much longer version
of this report with pictures and documents from the
encounter can be found at

have talked about wanting to open up a space in which
civil society could meet and discuss Mexico's problems.
They have put this forward as their alternative to seizing

The EZLN's alternative of the 'political space' was at first
unclear but has been clarified in action over the past few
years. The indigenous communities have put huge
amounts of resources into constructing conference centres
in the jungle and mountains and inviting Mexican 'civil
society' to come to these centres and find ways of changing
Mexican society. They have been called Aguascalientes in
reference to the town where Zapata and others met in 1914
to draw up the Mexican constitution.

The solution to Mexico's problems cannot just be on the
Mexican level. The US has showed itself to be opposed to
even the most moderate of reforms and willing to use or
sponsor armed force in order to prevent those advocating
reform coming to power. There is no need here to go into
the history of Latin America, of intervention in Chile,
Cuba, El Salvador or Nicaragua here.

The EZLN have created these spaces therefore not just for
Mexican civil society but also for the indigenous people of
the continent of America and indeed everyone on the
continent. In the "First Declaration of Realidad" this was
carried to the next logical step with an invite to everyone
in the world.

Unlike many previous liberation movements that saw
liberation in national terms alone the EZLN have
identified the enemy they face as not just unjust local
rulers and their imperialist master but the entire ideology
and system of global capitalism. In Latin American and
many other areas of the world this has been called 'neo--
liberalism' but in Ireland it would probably be most
familiar under the name of 'Thatcherism'.

The first declaration described this system in universal

"Instead of humanity, it offers us stock market value
indexes, instead of dignity it offers us globalization of
misery, instead of hope it offers us an emptiness, instead of
life it offers us the international of terror."

and called people together so

"Against the international of terror representing
neoliberalism, we must raise the international of hope.
Hope, above borders, languages, colors, cultures, sexes,
strategies, and thoughts, of all those who prefer humanity

It was proposed to hold an 'Intercontinental Gathering for
Humanity and against Neo-liberalism' in Chiapas in July
of 1996 to start the process of constructing this
'international of hope'. This was obviously very
ambitious and apparently there was considerable debate
within the communities over whether this was a good use
of resources. Was it reasonable to suppose that any
number of people would go through the difficulty and
expense of travelling from their own countries to Mexico
and then down to Mexico's most isolated state.

In Ireland only a small number of people around the Irish
Mexico Group heard this call. We met with very limited
interest in this project, but there was a small gathering
which produced a statement defining what neo-liberalism
meant in the Irish context. There was also sufficent
interest to motivate a couple of people to go to the
European gathering in Berlin and the Intercontinental
gathering in Chiapas.

It only became clear that considerable numbers were likely
to turn up with the holding of the continental gatherings.
Just under 1,000 people turned up in Berlin to discuss what
neo-liberalism meant in Europe. Although mostly
composed of people involved around various Mexican
solidarity groups people also turned up from outside these

In July the Irish delegation travelled to Mexico city via
Madrid and then by plane and car to San Cristo'bel the
largest of the towns seized in 1994 and the gathering point
for people to be accredited and transported to the various
sites. It was hard to get firm number of who was there but
it appears between 3,000 and 4,000 people travelled to
Chiapas from Italy, Brazil, Britain, Paraguay, Chile,
Philippines, Germany, Peru, Argentina, Austria, Uruguay,
Guatemala, Belgium, Venezuela, Iran, Denmark,
Nicaragua, Zaire, France, Haiti, Ecuador, Greece, Japan,
Kurdistan, Ireland, Costa Rica, Cuba, Sweden, The
Netherlands, South Africa, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal,
The United States, The Basque Country, Turkey, Canada,
Puerto Rico, Bolivia, Australia, Mauritania, Mexico,
Norway, Colombia.

One of the largest delegations was from France, about 300
people for the strike wave of December 1995 against the
French states implementation of neo-liberalism played a
considerable role in motivating people to come. The
actual meeting were held in five different venues marking
out the edges of Zapatista territory, each beside an
indigenous community which had built and would service
the site. Getting to them involved long bus rides, through
day and night on jungle and mountain roads. There was a
certain low level of police and military harassment, one
convoy was held up for three hours at a migration police
checkpoint but for the most part they kept away or
contented themselves with silly stunts like flying planes at
tree top level over some of the meeting places.

Each Aguascalientes consisted of a central stadium
surrounded by sleeping huts, toilets, eaten and cooking
facilities, showers, information and medical centres and
the equivalent of school tuck shops selling biscuits, coke
and cigarettes. The indigenous people staffed all these
facilities and the EZLN militia posted lookouts on the
perimeter, the gates and surrounding countryside. There
commitment to this vague project of building an
'international of hope' was all the more impressive when
you considered these host communities lived in desperate
poverty on a diet of beans, tortilla and rice for every meal.
We had of course paid for our accommodation and
transport but obviously the construction and purchase of
provisions for the week had to be carried out before they
knew whether anyone would actually turn up.

In the event we came and after opening welcoming
ceremonies settled down in our respective sites to
discussion. There were five sites each discussing a
different theme of neo-liberalism (e.g. economics) and each
of these sites in turn divided into four or five tables. Many
people had come with prepared pieces and these and the
discussions around them were used to draft statements
form each of the tables.

Coming from 43 countries the range of issues covered were
as you might imagine vast. Sometimes we were talking
about being at different stages of the same neo-liberal
process, for instance the hard drug trade which commonly
mean's virtual enslavement for those growing the crops in
one place, the militarisation and corruption of those
whose countries they are transported through in another
and the death and destruction in the communities where
they are sold. From Bolivia, through Mexico to the inner
cities of America and Dublin neo-liberalism had created a
common thread of misery.

We heard how the problems cause by attacks on social
spending ran from, Chile to Japan, from Mexico to France,
from Ireland to Australia. But we also heard of how these
attacks, the attempts to write off whole communities as
uneconomic were being resisted. We began to feel we were
part of a global struggle but one on which we had yet to
recognise each other.

Alongside this identification of problems was an
exploration of why previous attempts at getting rid of
capitalism had failed. Those coming to the conference had
many different political backgrounds but common themes
came to be identified. In particular the way in which many
previous opposition movements had become obsessed
with seizing power as a means of transforming society.

In talking about constructing a new international of hope
we began to think of ways that we could fight for change
that would not end up dependant on a new state to enforce
them. An interesting discussion took place around how
economic control could be taken out of the hands of the
multi-nationals and regained at a local level without this
being mediated through a state. Other discussions
followed about the inability of parliamentary democracy to
represent people.

Definite conclusions were hard to come by. In general we
identified the need for each community to determine its
own struggle and for these struggles to form national and
an international network from below. For the most part
the EZLN stayed out of the discussion but between two or
four Zapatistas from the Indigenous Revolutionary
Clandestine Committee sat in on each session and it would
appear reported back and discussed what was happening in
each one. In any case at the end of the conference the
EZLN were able to present an overall declaration which
took many of the core ideas from each of the table
discussions. This is the "2nd declaration of La Realidad".

The core section of the declaration was a proposed consulta
that each national group would carry out in their country
in the first weeks of December. The consulta declares
opposition to neo-liberalism and its effects and the
intention to create two networks, the first a network of
struggles in resistance to neo-liberalism. The second a
network of communication that will carry the news of
these struggles to each other.

The rest of the document pointed out that the state could
not isolate us and stop us talking despite the barriers that it
had created in our way. That we were not abut creating
another pretend international organisation but rather that
the network if it arose would not be declared into being by
those at the meeting but rather would be created by many
people in the aftermath of it.

For those of us in Ireland implementation of the ideas in
the consulta is a difficult task. There is almost no tradition
of politics from below in this country, almost all
opposition movements have based themselves on the
need for a strong party or individual leader to show the
way forwards. There is little concept of changing society on
the basis of communities and workplaces determining
their own future. So our first barrier is to get out the idea
that this is a possibility.

There are major movements involving thousands of
people around what are called 'single issues', most notable
at the time of writing the anti-water charges campaign and
the anti-heroin campaign. Both these involve thousands
of people in Dublin and there are other examples
throughout the country but there is very little belief in the
possibility of a complete transformation of society. We
cannot create such a belief but what we can do is encourage
the national formation of networks which are the
equivalent of the international networks talked about in
the "2nd declaration of La Realidad".

A much longer version
of this report with pictures and documents from the
encounter can be found at

    Find out about the Revolution in Mexico

This summer 4,000 people from 43 countries met "for Humanity and against neoliberalism" there http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/3849/gatherdx.html