The EZLN’s Struggle for Indigenous Rights


The EZLN has been fighting Mexico for indigenous rights since 1994.

The Zapatistas Army of National Liberation (EZLN) is a Marxist group that began to form in Mexico in the 1980’s. The EZLN has a hardline communist ideology and its members are almost entirely composed of indigenous Mexicans. The movement is based in the southern state of Chiapas. Due to colonization wealthy individuals of European descendants hold most of the land and wealth in Chiapas leaving the indigenous community poor. Half of indigenous people in the South report no income. 70% of the indigenous population is reportedly malnutritioned.

In 1994, the U.S., Mexico and Canada signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The EZLN believed that NAFTA pushed globalization, which the EZLN strongly opposed, and would increase the gap between rich and poor. They also believed the NAFTA would open up indigenous land to be bought by Canadian and U.S. businesses. The EZLN declared war on the Mexican government and captured cities in the south with over 3,000 armed fighters. Fierce fighting broke out, killing around 300, and the EZLN withdrew from the cities.

The EZLN and the Mexican government quickly entered a ceasefire peace negotiations however there was much tension.  No peace was made in 1994 but the ceasefire held.

In 1996, the EZLN and Mexican government signed the San Andres peace accords.  The accords gave recognition, rights, and autonomy to the indigenous people. However, the Mexican government failed to follow through on some points in the agreement. The EZLN claimed that the Mexican government had failed to fully address the issues that faced indigenous population. The Mexican government was more interested in the NAFTA than it was the EZLN’s interests.  Many right-winged armed groups were still operating in Chiapas as well.

In 1997, 45 people were murdered but a right-wing paramilitary group for sympathizing with the EZLN in the Acteal massacre.

In March 2001, 100,000 people marched on Mexico City to push for indigenous demands. As a result of the march the Mexican government began pushing a bill that would meet indigenous demands. However, many amendments were added to the bill and, in order to stay in line with the NAFTA, did not recognize indigenous rights to the land or natural resources.

Since then, talks have ceased. Paramilitary groups still engage the EZLN and target civilians.  The EZLN has managed to gain some autonomy for their land but they still remain neglected. 20% of indigenous people in Chiapas are illiterate and there is one doctor for every 1,000 people. 90% do not have energy or plumbing. The last violent attack reported was the murder of an EZLN member by a paramilitary group in 2014.

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