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By Chase Iron Eyes
Happy New Year to every single one of you reading lastrealindians.com. Were just getting started. Today marks the 18th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA); this day also marks the birth of the Ejercitos Zapatista Liberacion National (EZLN) or Zapatistas. The Zapatistas are made up of indigenous Mayans in the southern part of what is now Mexico. In pure short hand I will say that NAFTA (an agreement among the United States, Canada, and Mexico) caused the Zapatistas to make a beautiful and complex decision that will resonate in human history.
NAFTA represents the nation-state lubrication that Western corporate consumption requires as labor becomes ever cheaper in other parts of the world, requiring lower prices and increased exploitation. Big Business and the corporate states made NAFTA to ease regulation, allow for freer flow of goods and labor among countries to make North America more competitive in the global market. The Western corporate capital model of development and destruction is incompatible with the life-ways of lastrealindians such as the Zapatistas.
Under the Mexican constitution, the Indigenous farmer (campesinos) had a legal right to land as long as he worked it. Even though he would receive the worst land, it was a dignified pursuit. NAFTA and Mexico put a stop to that practice and attempted to condemn the Zapatistas to a meaningless life by forcing them to join the materially impoverished. This change in Mexicos constitution presented the Zapatistas with a life or death situation: they could become marginal members of poverty stricken Mexican society (Death) or they could take to the land and live off the land as their ancestors had done (Life). Thankfully, they chose life.
We cover our faces, so we may be seen; we silence our voices, so we may be heard.
In the words of Subcomandante Marcos:
When we rose up against the national government [of Mexico], we found that it did not exist. In reality, we were up against great financial capital, against speculation, which is what makes decisions in Mexico as well as in Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania, North America, South America, EVERYWHERE if the system does not allow you to live as a human being, there is nothing left but to struggle, to rebel.
The Mayans are the people of corn, the true people. To the prospect of giving up their right to the land from which they derived identity, they responded YA BASTA! (enough); they took their men, women and children underground and rose up like corn. On New Years Eve, 1993, the Zapatista guerrilla fighters gathered in the Chiapas Mountains to take their place among the Sitting Bulls of the world; meanwhile 600 miles away members of the ruling party in power for 70 years celebrated NAFTA in Mexicos capitol as the international deal to propel Mexico into the 1st world. You can be sure Multi-National Agribusiness from Monsanto to Mcdonalds were celebrating with them.
Then, on January 1, 1994, the great awakening happened. The Zapatistas moved out of the mountains into the city of San Cristobal de Las Casas (hotspot for tourists); with AK-47s and sticks they seized 650 ranches controlling about 25% of state of Chiapas. The Mexican army came down hard on the Zapatista movement as demands were published on the internet stating the goal of control over lives and land the preeminent and incompatible dichotomy dilemma when indigenous are involved.
When the Zapatistas chose life they exercised their inherent sovereignty and expressed their intent to become a free and independent people, not subject to corporate consumer rule. By going off into the Chiapas Mountains and establishing communities to live off the land as their indigenous ancestors did, the Zapatistas imbued the rest of the lastrealindians around the world with a sense of hope and gratitude. For here, were people just like us willing to reclaim their spirits.
The corporate, media and advertising conglomerates ensure that we do not know who the Zapatistas are or why they are doing what they are doing. All the corporate forces combine to effectively control what we learn from the time of our birth. From infancy we are taught to care about celebrities, how much money we have, how many possessions we have, and that Indigenous peoples are impediments to civilization. All the corporate forces, driven by our consumption, combine to ensure complacency, more consumption, entertainment, celebrity, and more consumption. On this day we celebrate the Zapatistas. We will continue to look up to them, though they are not above us.
One may question why a group of people would choose to abandon modern technology and convenience for the simple life of the mountain farmer. I asked myself that question when the Zapatistas did what they did. I was only 15 years old but understood these masked people were doing something powerful for all Indigenous people. The Zapatistas are still giving the rest of us in the corporate consumer world a message that we do not have to live the way we do. We can cast aside the implanted legal, educational, media and other institutional boots on our necks and do what is necessary to just live with respect for our planet and each other. I do not support armed violence, but I will always love self-defense.
Today, as we launch lastrealindians.com, I remember and pray for mitakuye itokagatakiya (my relatives to the south) who stood against all of corporate domination on our behalf. I thank them for reminding me that I can live in a more basic, earth friendly and sustainable manner for our children. There is no other way.
Chase Iron Eyes