The Global Zapatista Movement
Americas Program, Interhemispheric Resource Center (IRC)
January 16, 2004
By Luis Hernández Navarro
entire article here
For Humanity and Against Neoliberalism
In 1996, the EZLN called for the first Intercontinental Meeting for Humanity and against Neoliberalism. Seven months later, the meeting gathered together a diversity of feminists, union leaders, peasant leaders, nongovernmental organizations, youth, ecologists, intellectuals, and political leaders from dozens of countries. A year later, with less impact, a second meeting was held in Spain.
The meetings became benchmarks in the formation of the global justice movement. Many of the promoters of the network of networks recognize in the two Zapatista meetings the direct precedent for the current cycle of protests against globalization. Over a thousand Italian activists took what they dubbed “the Zapatista train” to participate in the protests that sought to block the 55th Annual meeting of the World Bank and IMF on Sept. 26, 2000 in Prague. According to Andrew Flood, Irish anarchist writer, Prague can be seen as the “day for global action against neoliberalism,” announced in the working group on political action in Chiapas 1996.
These meetings did not give birth to a new International order after the socialist model. Many of the participants returned to their countries not only to promote solidarity with the Zapatistas but also to fight their own fights. In late 1996 Subcomandante Marcos received a strange gift from Denmark: a used pipe. The present had belonged to the Danish Minister of Foreign Relations. The pipe was sent not by the Minister but by a group of demonstrators who entered Parliament to protest against their government’s domestic policies that had nothing to do with Mexico. There they found the minister’s pipe and they took it. They figured the best destination for their trophy was to send it to the military chief of the EZLN. Among the activists were several who had participated in the meeting in Chiapas.
After the 1996 meeting, the solidarity committees began to function in a more systematic way in Europe and the United States. In 2000, there were 79 permanent Zapatista solidarity committees in Europe—active in Spain, France, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, and, to a lesser degree, England. This number doesn’t include the Scandinavian groups in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland, or the collectives that operate outside the network in Athens and the Czech Republic, or nongovernmental organizations, political parties, and social forces that do solidarity work with Chiapas but not as their main activity. Likewise, groups linked to the Catholic Church that form part of the peace movement relatively distanced from the rebels are not in the count.
In the U.S., there are approximately 45 Zapatista solidarity groups. Four coalitions stand out for their large memberships: the National Commission for Democracy in Mexico, International Service for Peace, Global Exchange, and the inter-religious Foundation for the Organization of the Community-Pastors for Peace. Also significant are the projects carried out by Peter Brown based in San Diego, and the many local groups such as Tonantzín in Boston, the New York Zapatistas, or the Zapatista Alliance in Pittsburgh.
Many of the solidarity committees gather for coordinating meetings annually. Here they exchange information and agree on joint actions. In contrast to other experiences of international solidarity, the EZLN has not defined a specific orientation to guide the action of these groups nor has it sent permanent representatives abroad. The operation of the committees is autonomous and decentralized. They maintain permanent contact among themselves. Many are directly involved in support to sanitary, educational, and economic projects in the autonomous townships. They also often find themselves shoulder to shoulder in campaigns for immigrants’ rights, against racial discrimination, and in resistance to globalization and war. Their power is unequal. The committees in Belgium and Switzerland have fewer people but considerable influence: they knock on doors of politicians in Brussels and Geneva and make their voices heard there. The Italian committees have a huge capacity for mobilizing people and financing their own activities and travels. They have promoted three commissions of observation of human rights, and involved churches, NGOs, and government representatives in their work. Their members come from many backgrounds. Aldo Zanchetta is a businessman with a Catholic upbringing from the Tuscany region, Doris Palvio is a well-known Danish surgeon responsible for the group Tinku, and Sigfrido Miralles is an anarchist-union workers retired early from the telephone company.
These committees are great at mobilizing resources. Ya Basta! in Italy was key in giving the Zapatistas the Golden Lion Award in Venice and in offering them honorary guest treatment in the city. When the Mexican rebels visited in 1996, they were received with applause as they navigated down the canals. The Germans, Catalonians, and Italians have also played vital roles in the distribution and sale at solidarity prices of Rebeldia coffee, produced directly by rebel coffee growers.
According to Ignacio García, a key figure in European solidarity, these collectives are “a network. Up to now we had platforms, that is, sums of initials and organizations. We called it the alphabet soup. People who weren’t associated with an organization had no place. But now the networks are spaces that are always there, always open, that work without anyone knowing exactly how. Initiatives are left open. We never stop giving talks. We listen. It’s a living space, not a bureaucracy.”