January 1, 1994. On the day the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect in the state of Chiapas, Mexico, two thousand armed rebels took control of seven towns, vandalized government buildings and chased off police. Battles with the Mexican army in the first four days resulted in one hundred dead before the rebels escaped to the mountains.
Eight years later, fifty thousand Mexican army troops later, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation lives on. There have been negotiations and gun battles, conspicuous massacres of dozens of citizens sympathetic to the Zapatistas [expand this], and in [2000? 2001?], the election of a Mexican president who claimed he would "resolve the conflict in Chiapas in 15 minutes." That was [x] years ago.
At the beginning of March 2001, a group of 24 Zapatista delegates led a slow procession from Chiapas north to Mexico City, where they would demand laws that grant more autonomy to indigenous people. Although it shows improvement that the Zapatistas were allowed to move freely, it will likely result in the Mexican government patting itself on the back for showing restraint, while no actual changes to the status quo will be enacted.
SUBCOMANDANTE INSURGENTE MARCOS
One man has risen as a charismatic leader of the Zapatistas, though he insists that he is only a spokesperson. Appearing in a black ski-mask, sometimes with a pipe stuck through the mouth of his mask, Subcomandante Marcos is shrouded in mystery. He makes no effort to dispell the mystery by discussing his background or removing the mask. Opponents accuse him of being an "outside agitator," a light-skinned, green-eyed man, possibly a former academic, who went to the jungles and farmlands of Chiapas to incite the poor, dark, indigenous people to revolt.
All I know is that Marx or Lenin or Lincoln or Jefferson or de Tocqueville never wrote anything as funny or as imaginative as Marcos' children's stories (?) about an insurgent beetle named Durito. Inspired by a ten year old girl who sent him a drawing, Marcos wrote about this beetle who wears a ski-mask, steals tiny bits of tobacco for his beetle-sized pipe, and who teases Marcos for constantly running away from the Federales. Over the course of several stories, Durito explains about Neoliberalism, the Chaotic Theory of Economic Chaos, and how the system of the Party-State is a principal obstacle to a transition to democracy. At one point, when Subcomandante Marcos agrees to write an article for a political anthology but finds himself too busy running from the army, Durito fulfills the obligation by writing the article himself, criticizing Marcos' writing style all the way. (See "Durito IV: Neoliberalism and the Party-State System.")
After you get over the novelty of reading humorous fantasy fiction by a rebel leader in a ski mask, you will realize the quality of the political discussion that pokes out between the poetry.
Links of Justice
Since I have not done justice to this subject, I want to at least give plenty of links to articles where you can find out more about the Zapatistas.
http://www.ezln.org is the website (in Spanish) of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. Yes, a website for insurgent guerrilas who hide in jungles. Their communiques are some of the most beautiful political writings you may ever read.
The rebels took their name from the man who led a revolution in Mexico in 1910, Emiliano Zapata [find a link].
Dozens of articles and links from the Z magazine Chiapas/Zapatistas Crisis section.
Zapnet [find a link that isn't broken].
I don't want to give links from socialist and progressive lefty sources exclusively on this subject. So for a different perspective, here's What every anarchist should know about the Zapatistas and Chiapas.
[links to other Zapatista articles on h2g2]