The browser or device you are using is out of date. It has known security flaws and a limited feature set. You will not see all the features of some websites. Please update your browser. A list of the most popular browsers can be found below.
People who know the communities say the blatant marketing, ironic for a movement that rejects capitalism, does not reflect the deep social changes that have occurred in the 38 autonomous municipalities. The murals declaring “dignity to women” ring true, they said.
“Girls are encouraged to be schooled and assume a more prominent role in society,” said Victor Hugo Lopez, director of the Human Rights Center Fray Bartoleme de las Casas.
Zapatista areas also post less crime and human rights abuses than in other parts of the state, he said. And health conditions have improved with the opening of wooden houses in every community staffed by people who can make diagnoses and dispense homeopathic medicine, if not pharmaceuticals. Clinics are closer to where many indigenous peasants live and treatment is delivered in local languages, rather than Spanish as in most of the country.
“We have gone to their health centers as patients, and care is without doubt much better than 20 years ago,” Lopez said.
As for education, each community now has a school that delivers lessons in indigenous tongues, which was rare before. The curriculum presents the Zapatista view of history, with a heavy emphasis on colonial exploitation, and also covers techniques of farming.
“We can’t really evaluate the quality, but certainly it’s more relevant to indigenous people than the government’s standard curriculum that talks about things like traffic lights and penguins,” Lopez said.
The biggest threat to the Zapatistas’ existence, ironically, is not the military harassment that persists or the disputes with corrupt government officials. It is the Zapatistas’ own people, who are abandoning the closed society to seek economic fortune elsewhere. For some, a small plot of land on which to grow beans is not enough.
The Zapatistas’ rejection of government subsidies on which indigenous villages long depended has made life harder. Youths who were born after the 1994 uprising don’t necessarily share the utopian vision of their parents. In some areas entire hamlets of people have left.
People from the Zapatista highlands figure heavily among the 850,000 Chiapas residents who have migrated to other parts of Mexico or the United States, said Miguel Angel Paz, of Voces Mesoamericanas, a nongovernmental organization that looks at migration issues.
“Migration erodes social cohesion as it exposes those who leave to other political views and also to alcohol, which is banned in Zapatista areas,” he said. “There is a constant weakening of the base of support. They don’t have complete territorial control so Zapatista communities are surrounded by those supported by the government and, bit by bit, are emptying out. There’s less hegemonic control than 20 years ago.”
The movement is now at a crossroads that will define the next two decades. The Zapatistas have shown a great capacity for transformation, from armed insurrection to accepting dialogue to withdrawal from wider society. They could move in a fresh direction yet again, but plans remain secretive for now.
“They’ve lost much convening power,” Paz said. “They will either become more isolated, or make greater alliances with other indigenous and social organizations on the national level.”