Indigenous Woman From The Zapatista Resistance Mov’t To Run For President Of Mexico In 2018

We know most people are still recovering from the 2016 Presidential election, and are keeping track of many other federal elections happening around the world (most notably the UK, France and Germany). 2018 will be another big year, not just because it could change the fate of American politics with the Mid-Terms, but because of the Presidential election happening in Mexico.

It could potentially be a game-changer, if one political party is successful. That party is the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) who are a political and militant group. They are planning to make history by running an indigenous woman as their candidate. It is the first time the EZLN are entering the presidential foray, but not the first time Mexico has elected an indigenous president. That title goes to Benito Juarez, who ruled from 1858-1872.

The EZLN have not yet announced who their female candidate will be, but made the decision to enter the rate during their fifth annual National Indigenous Congress meeting in late 2016, according to Global Citizen. Those who are familiar with the Zapatista movement which inspired political activism the world over in the 1990’s may think it unusual that the organization is looking to enter national politics, but they say they are not looking for power, but to protect indigenous communities and defend their land.

“Our struggle is not for power; rather we are calling upon native peoples and civil society to organize to stop this destruction, to strengthen our resistance and rebellion in defense of the life of each person, each family, collective, community, and neighborhood,” said a statement on their website.

The decision to have an indigenous woman run is also no surprise, given the involvement of women during the height of the Zapatista revolution. Famous for donning masks and face scarves, women were highly influential as insurgents and supporters. Because half of the supporter base was made up of women, women’s rights became a core tenet of what they fought for.

After the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, the EZLN announced the Women’s Revolutionary Law which was a set of ten laws that granted rights to women regarding marriage, children, work, health, education, political and military participation, and protected women from violence.

Chiapas is one of the poorest states in Mexico and has a high concentration of indigenous people. The EZLN comes out of the legacy of indigenous resistance and the Mexican Revolution. It’s named after Emiliano Zapata, a hero of the Mexican Revolution, and takes up his banner of “land and freedom.”

There are some famous images of Indigenous women on the frontlines against the Mexican military, fighting against government imposition and takeover of their land and communities. Their struggles and subsequent battles have inspired social and political movements the world over, including the Pirate Party of Iceland, and the Indignados of Spain, who favor the idea of direct democracy.

Although the Zapatista began as a violent movement, they moved toward a non-violent and strategic stance when more and more of their members were being killed. A quick history of the Zapatista uprising on the Deep Politics Forum outlines how it began.

Early Jan. 1, 1994, armed rebels took over five major towns in Chiapas. It was the day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect. The EZLN announced that it no longer recognized the legitimacy of the Mexican government. It denounced NAFTA as a new vehicle to widen the inequality between the poor and the rich, showing an understanding of free trade agreements that many in the United States lacked. It said it had resorted to violence because peaceful means of protest had failed. The Mexican government, alarmed and surprised, sent several thousand members of the military and police to Chiapas to crush the uprising. The military handed out food to the impoverished peasants. It also detained scores of men. Many were tortured. Some were killed. There were 12 days of heavy fighting in which about 200 people died. By February the Zapatistas, who had hoped to ignite a nationwide revolution and who were reeling under the military assault, agreed to negotiate. Most had retreated into the surrounding jungle.

The focus had to remain on dismantling the system of global capitalism itself. The shift from violence to nonviolence, one also adopted half a world away by the African National Congress (ANC), is what has given the Zapatistas their resiliency and strength.

According to journalist Hilary Klein who spent 6 years with the Zapatista women and writing a book about their lives and political organizing, previous to the social movement, indigenous women were forced into marriage at an early age and sometimes had anywhere from 10-12 children. They were under the control of the men in their lives, either their fathers or husbands, and all decisions relating to public life was determined by men.

The high involvement of women in the Zapatista movement reiterates in important aspect of having women in positions of power, social influence, and of course, public office, especially when it comes to upholding and recognizing the needs of women to be codified into law. Hence, the passage of the Women’s Revolutionary Law was a big deal for these indigenous women. Now imagine how much further this could go should the indigenous female EZLN candidate win the Mexican presidential election in 2018.

Following the October 2016 National Indigenous Congress meeting, the council also decided on creating a permanent assembly and council of government connecting indigenous communities across the country, representing the issues and needs of the indigenous people. With more than 8 million indigenous Mexicans living in poverty, 30% of whom live in extreme poverty, according to the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy, entering the political system and giving visibility and representation to indigenous people is important.

Once the EZLN candidate is chosen and announced, she will run as an independent against the three major parties, National Action Party (PAN), the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

In an interview with Bitch Media in 2015, Hilary Klein sums up quite brilliantly the need for more women, especially indigenous women and women of color to be involved in all levels of politics, as evidenced by what the Zapatistas have fought for over the past couple of decades.

“As women’s leadership shaped the movement, the EZLN has evolved a much more nuanced gender analysis and has looked for ways to really address patriarchy. To me, this is the most important lesson that we can draw: Zapatista women—and their stories of courage and dignity—remind us that revolutionary struggles cannot achieve collective liberation for all people without addressing patriarchy, nor can women’s freedom be disentangled from racial, economic, and social justice,” she said.

We look forward to seeing who the indigenous candidate will be once she is announced, and keeping track of the Mexican presidential election heading into 2018.


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  2. Kemble Walker says:

    Thanks for the great article.

    Zapatistas occupied towns in Oaxaca and Chiapas on 22 Dec 2012 and renewed their determination to continue the movement towards equality of people and the prosperity of nature. The atmosphere in San Cristobal was serious but also joyful. Stencils painted on walls read, “¡Los Zapatistas Viven!”

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