St. Lawrence University
University of Texas (*) From La Jornada, April 17, 1994.


“They [the government] don’t care that we have nothing…no land, no work, no healthcare, no food or education, not the right to freely and democratically elect our political representatives, nor independence from foreigners. There is no peace or justice for ourselves and our children…But today we say: ENOUGH IS ENOUGH![1]

NAFTA and the First Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle:

On January second, 1994, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation [EZLN] declared war on the Mexican Government with the First Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle. The Zapatista National Liberation Movement, already a decade in the making, made its first public announcement following the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Declaring the Zapatistas and the peasants of Chiapas the “product of five hundred years of struggle,” they discussed the history of poverty and oppression in the region “first, led by insurgents against slavery during the War of Independence with Spain…later when the people rebelled against Porfirio Díaz’s dictatorship, which denied us the just application of the reform laws, and [when] leaders like [Pancho] Villa and [Emiliano] Zapata emerged.”[2] Most importantly, this poverty, as always, continued to benefit elites.

Emiliano Zapata and the Plan of Ayala of 1911 became especially important to the later Zapatista movement for its historical significance as a document that supported the autonomy of Morelos on the basis of indigenous ownership. In a footnote, Marcos describes Zapata as “instrumental in the creation of the Constitution of 1917, in which indigenous lands are declared autonomous, and which set up the parameters for agrarian reform in Mexico” Both earlier revolutionaries, in Zapatista works, become representations of a historical trend of peasant resistance of oppression.[3]

After the release of the First Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle however, the Zapatistas “rose up against the Mexican government in 1994 only to discover that the Mexican government didn’t exist; instead they found themselves fighting against the structures of global capital.” These structures are the result of neoliberalism. “The shift from state-orchestrated to market mechanisms of distribution,” meant that more control of the economy would rest in the private sector.[4] The Zapatista movement took issue with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as a drastic leap by the Mexican Government further into neoliberalism.

Chiapas, though not historically wealthy, “is one of the richest states of Mexico in terms of natural resources, such as timber, hydropower, minerals, and oil, and it has a high degree of biodiversity.” This has made it incredibly attractive to both the Mexican government and to foreign investors. Yet, Chiapas is also extremely poor, with a poverty rate of around 79 percent. Indigenous people also make up about a quarter of the overall population in Chiapas. “Some observers argue that these data are controversial and the proportion of indigenous people is much higher,” a result of deliberate misreporting by the government in order to further marginalize the indigenous.[5] The government has practiced a highly “extractivist” policy in Chiapas, destroying entire ecosystems, and displacing indigenous communities. Following the Zapatista resistance to NAFTA, the government signed the San Andrés Accords on Indigenous Rights and Culture, in 1996. President Zedillo however, ignored the accords completely, sending troops to occupy Zapatista occupied territories in Chiapas.[6]

Neoliberalism denies indigenous collectivity because it allows “independent social sectors” to control production, while also denying citizenship rights to the indigenous groups already struggling to keep up with the production of others. The shift away from governmental control means that countries compete on an international scale, leading to a globalization that rejects the idea of autonomy of indigenous communities. Unable to compete with others without subsidization, and because they were on the lowest rung of the economic ladder before the privatization of economic control, these communities cannot remain autonomous.

In Chiapas, class relations are based on a combination of traditional indigenous models and colonial labor control. So while collectivity through combination of owned lands is culturally significant, colonial labor structures allowed Chiapas to survive economically through pre-neoliberal state control and subsidizatio. “Resistance to neoliberalism, then, has taken the form of a movement for autonomy,” because it would allow for both state control of the economy and the continuation of indigenous culture which is heavily based on collectivity and land ownership.

Durito Explains Neoliberalism:

In his writings, Subcommander Marcos describes neoliberalism through the fable “Durito II (Neoliberalism Seen from the Lacandon Jungle).”  Marcos, distraught after a “strategic withdrawal” following an attack, explains that the government tricked them into thinking they would open dialogue with the movement. Durito, a beetle, and an old friend of Marcos hears the story and begins to explain the movement’s problem.

“Your problem is the same one that many have. You refer to the economic and social doctrine known as ‘neoliberalism’… It is a metatheoretical problem! Yes, you start from the idea that ‘neoliberalism’ is a doctrine. And by ‘you’, I am referring to those who insist on frameworks that are rigid and square like your head….Well, it turns out that ‘neoliberalism’ is not a theory to confront or explain the crisis. It is the crisis itself made theory and economic doctrine. That is ‘neoliberalism’ hasn’t the least coherence; it has no plans nor historic perspective. In the end, pure theoretical shit.”[7]

Neoliberalism, as portrayed by Marcos, does not take into account the cultural and historical needs of the people, but instead focuses on the government rationalizing favoritism of elites and economic gains. It ignores the historical reliance of agrarian societies on collectivity, and instead throws them into competition with large, corporate producers who started out with better resources and more capital. In order to compete, these peasants would have to give up the culturally significant idea of collectivization. In Chiapas, like Morelos during the revolution, this system of collectivity relies on individual ownership of land, which is kept equal by the state, and allows everyone within the community to participate equally. The State, however, in rejecting the rights of the indigenous to the land, has forced them to become increasingly dependent because ecosystems in many places in Chiapas are badly damaged, or in danger because of the heavy extraction of resources by the government and other multinational companies. Zapatista control of territories, and their clashes with the government, but also small business owners is especially bad because outside investors and other businesses often utilize the tense situation to expand their holdings within Chiapas. Instead of protecting the indigenous, the government often opens the doors for destructive extraction of natural resources, and instead of working with the government, the indigenous sometimes feel forced to let them in too.[8]

The Right to Sovereignty:

The EZLN begins the speech discussing the repeated abuses of the Mexican government, dating back to before the Revolution. “They are the same ones,” they clarify, that allowed imperialism, invited Maximillion, massacred workers (1958) and students (1968), “the same ones that today take everything from us, absolutely everything.” NAFTA, as a continuation of this taking, was the most logical place for the movement to begin.

Article 39 of the Mexican Constitution states that sovereignty is from the people, the purpose of the government is to help and support the people, and the people always have the right to “alter or modify” the government. The Zapatistas, invoking this right, declared the army and “dictatorship” of Carlos Salinas de Gortari, then president of Mexico, illegitimate. In supporting NAFTA, and not allowing indigenous autonomy in Chiapas, Salinas was ignoring the needs of the people.

In order to reclaim the sovereignty of the people, the Zapatistas laid out the following orders:

“First: Advance to the capital of the country, overcoming the Mexican federal army, protecting in our advance the civilian population, and permitting the people liberated to elect, freely and democratically, their own administrative authorities.

Second: Respect the lives of our prisoners and turn over all wounded to the International Red Cross.

Third: Initiate summary judgements against all soldiers of the Mexican federal army and the political police who have received training or have been paid by foreigners –they are accused of being traitors to our country—and against all those who have repressed and mistreated the civil population, or robbed from or attempted crimes against the good of the people.

Fourth: Form new troops with all those Mexicans who show interest in joining our struggle, including those who, being enemy soldiers, turn themselves in without having fought against us, and promise to take orders from the General Command of the Zapatista National Liberation Army.

Fifth: We ask for the unconditional surrender of the enemy’s headquarters, before we begin to combat, in order to avoid any loss of lives.

Sixth: Suspend the robbery of our natural resources in the areas controlled by the EZLN.”[9]

Interestingly, the EZLN does not call the Mexican government out on their violations of the international conventions of warfare in their repression of the EZLN prior to the declaration. Following the convention however, the army continued with its harsh campaign of military repression of the movement. According to Marcos’s timeline of Zapatista history, following the First Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, the EZLN occupied “six large towns and hundreds of ranches in an armed uprising.” Of the 3,000 protesters, “at least 145 indigenous people” were killed when the army responded. “Indigenous people,” rather than “Zapatistas,” implies that some of those killed were innocent civilians.[10]

The Zapatistas however, remain inherently nonviolent. In allowing soldiers and government officials to turn themselves in, they attempt to protect civilian lives, and gain further support. This tactic also relies on the assumption that others will want to join the movement, and that support for the movement comes not from the government, but from the will of the people.

The Zapatista methods of achieving their goals unlike those of the government, are portrayed as for the benefit of the people, but also as representative of them. The First Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle ends with the promise that the EZLN “will not stop fighting until the basic demands of [the] people have been met, by forming a government for [their] country that is free and democratic.”

The Second Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle:

Five months after the signing of NAFTA and the First Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, the EZLN released the Second Declaration. In his book, Marcos chooses to preface the speech with a quote by Paulino Martínez, a revolutionary Zapatista delegate to the Revolutionary Sovereignty Committee in 1914.

“Those who bear swords aren’t the only ones who lose blood or who shine with the fleeting light of military glory. They aren’t the only ones who should have a voice in designating the leaders of the government of a people who want democracy; this right to choose belongs to every citizen who has fought in the press or in the courts…Historical events have shown us that the destruction of tyranny and the overthrow of all evil governments are the work of ideas together with the sword. …The people’s sovereignty is formed by all those people in society who are conscious of their rights and who, be they citizens or armed, love freedom and justice and who work for the good of the country.”[11]

In the Zapatista movement, everything rests in the hands of the people. While armed resistance and military strategy are necessary to the Zapatista struggle for democracy, they are also discussed as nonviolently as possible. While there is strength in the EZLN, the strength of the movement comes from the exchange of ideas and the willingness of people to listen to each other and to exchange ideas. The Zapatista model then, focuses on resolution of conflict not primarily through military strategy, but through education and the exchange of ideas. In order to become responsible for their own sovereignty, people must be “conscious of their rights.”[12]

The Plan of Ayala:

The First Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle heavily draws on the Plan of Ayala. Both documents lay out grievances against the Mexican government, defending the rights of indigenous states to autonomy. These attacks of the government rest on the idea that the sovereignty of the Mexican government rests in the hands of the people, who, in both cases, felt that their wishes were no longer being honored. The Plan of Ayala became the basis for the First Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle because both documents argue for indigenous rights to self-rule based on the illegitimacy of the government as a result of its failure to rule the people in the way that they see fit. The Plan of Ayala works as a basis for the First Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, because both rest on the idea that land and liberty are inherent rights.

The Plan of Ayala promised to “sustain and carry out the promises which the revolution of November 20, 1910 just past, made to the country…propositions which we have formulated to end tyranny which oppresses us and redeem the fatherland from the dictatorships which are imposed on us, which are determined in the following plan.” While the Zapatistas of 1994 did not have a similar base of promises on which to base their declaration, the First Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle parallels the promises of the 1910 revolution with the constitutional obligations of the PRI.

The Plan of Ayala begins with an attack on Madero’s legitimacy as president, based on his failure to uphold his promises to the people based on the “repeated sheddings of blood and multiple misfortunes for the fatherland in a manner deceitful and ridiculous, having no intentions other than satisfying his personal ambitions, his boundless instincts as a tyrant, and his profound disrespect for the fulfillment of the preexisting laws emanating from the immortal code of ’57, written with the revolutionary blood of Ayutla.”[13]

This attack on Madero’s legitimacy, based on self-serving ignorance of obligation is echoed in spirit and tone in the neo-Zapatista’s discussion of Salinas. In both movements, lack of presidential legitimacy comes from ignoring the need and sovereignty of the people. Both leaders did have roots in the revolution, which implied promises that they were unable to keep. Salinas’ ties to the revolution were in the PRI, which promised to uphold the principles of the revolution, but which had failed to do so shortly after. Similarly, Madero’s presidency failed to match up to the ideals he discussed prior to the revolution.

The militant language of the Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle also seems rooted in the Plan of Ayala. Zapata promises that “The revolutionary Junta of the State of Morelos will admit no transactions or compromises until it achieves the overthrow of the dictatorial elements,” namely Diaz and Madero. Like the neo-Zapatistas, they are unwilling to compromise until they achieve the exact goals laid out in the document.

The Plan of Ayala also discusses the land rights of peasants, claiming their right to “maintain at any cost with arms in hand the mentioned possession[s].” Both movements focus heavily on the rights of peasants to land and liberty. The neo-Zapatistas, like the Zapatistas of the 1910 revolution, claimed their rights to land, but also their right to practice law and justice in the ways that they see fit within their own spaces.

The peasants of Morelos, like those of Chiapas, “suffer[ed] the horrors of poverty without being able to improve their social conditions in any way or to dedicate themselves to Industry or Agriculture, because lands, timber, and water [were] monopolized in a few hands.”[14] The elitism of the Mexican government and economy prevailed, and affected both Zapatista revolutions. The Zapatista revolution of 1910 focused primarily on national economic and political elitism, while the neo-Zapatistas focused more closely on the evils of capitalism and combatting international issues along with domestic.

Zapata then goes on to evoke patriotic feeling, stating that if Madero and his followers “possess true sentiments of love” for the country they will “make immediate renunciation of the posts they occupy and with that they will with something staunch the grave wounds which they have opened in the bosom of the fatherland, since, if they do not do so, on their heads will fall the blood and the anathema of our brothers.” Both movements evoke patriotism as a means for reclaiming their rights to representation and liberty. Both rest on the idea that a government that truly loved and respected the people would change their ways or step down if those they represent asked them to do so. The Zapatistas of the 1910 revolution are also more violent in tone, calling on “Mexican people [to] support this plan with arms in hand.” The neo-Zapatista tone is more concerned with the protection of civilians than with outright violence, but both movements reclaimed their places as Mexican citizens as they prepared to defend their rights with words and arms.

Both the Plan of Ayala and the First Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle attacked the legitimacy of the president and government for their lack of support by the people. The idea that both movements represent the Mexican people reflects the idea that sovereignty inherently resides in the people. The end of both documents also creates an interesting parallel in that the First Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle is signed “the General Command of the EZLN,” and the Plan de Ayala is signed by not only Zapata but many of his followers. Both are not the work of single leaders, but rather the result of collaboration. Ultimately, within both movements, sovereignty resides in the support of leaders who represent the will of their people.


[1] Subcomandante Marcos, Our Word is Our Weapon (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2002): 13.

[2] Marcos, Our Word is Our Weapon, 13.

[3] Marcos, Our Word is Our Weapon, 15.

[4] Richard Stahler-Sholk, “Resisting Neoliberal Homogenization: The Zapatista Autonomy Movement,” Latin American Perspectives 34, no. 2 (March, 2007): 49.

[5] Michaela Giovannini, “Indigenous community enterprises in Chiapas: a vehicle for buen vivir?,” Oxford University Press Development Journal (March, 2014): 74.

[6] Giovannini, 72, 75.

[7] Marcos, ¡Ya Basta! Ten Years of the Zapatista Uprising (Oakland: AK Press, 2004): 107.

[8] Giovannini, 75.

[9] Marcos, Our Word is Our Weapon, 14-15.

[10] Marcos, Our Word is Our Weapon, 446.

[11] Marcos, Our Word is Our Weapon, 43.

[12] Marcos, Our Word is Our Weapon, 15.

[13] Emiliano Zapata, Plan of Ayala, 1911. (

[14] Zapata, Plan de Ayala.