Zapatista: A Big Noise Film
Benjamin Eichert, Richard Rowley, Stale Sandberg (1999)
Zapatista is about the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) uprising in Chiapas on Jan 1, 1994. This was the day the North American Free Trade Treaty (NAFTA) took effect between the US, Canada and Mexico. As a condition of NAFTA, Mexico’s PRI government abolished the ejidos (sections of land farmed communally with state support) established in the 1917 revolution. As large numbers of indigenous people were driven off their land for US oil drilling and cattle ranches, they lost their ability to provide for themselves and their families.
Chiapas is a province rich in resources, such a petroleum, coffee, hydroelectric power and uranium. Yet most of this wealth goes to US corporations and a few local elites. Prior to the 1994 uprising, the poor of Chiapas had no access to clean water, electricity or medical care. Seventy-five percent of the population met international criteria for chronic hunger.
The EZLN seized two cities on January 1 1994, San Cristobel de la Casas and Ocozingo, and delivered heir revolutionary proclamation. The occupation lasted two days before 12,000 Mexican troops, equipped with US bombers and attack planes drove them back into the jungle. Initially the Mexican army pursued them, intending to wipe out the Zapatista leadership. After a few weeks, they recognized the immense popular support the EZLN enjoyed and agreed to a ceasefire.
In February 1995, as a condition of a $47.5 billion US bailout, the Mexican government broke the ceasefire to launch a reign of terror they called the “Great Offensive.” Faced with the sudden onslaught of thousands of troops, trucks, thousands of civilians were forced to flee into the mountains.
This offensive was ultimately unsuccessful, in part due to strong support the Zapatistas received from human rights organizations and the international press. Through their initial spokesperson Subcommandante Marcos, they made a concerted effort to spread the message of “Zapatismo” to other peoples oppressed by multinational corporations and neoliberalism.
The purpose of the EZLN uprising, according to Marcos, wasn’t to take over the Mexican government but to “create a space where people can decide how they want to live their lives.”
The EZLN is elected out of the communities that support them. Women comprise one-half of the general command and one-third of the armed force. Their weapons serve a purely defensive function and haven’t been fired since February 1994.
The Zapatista Uprising: 20 Years Later
The second film mainly concerns the San Cristobel journalist who helped the Zapatistas get their story out to the world. As of 2013, 60,000 families lived under self-government in EZLN-controlled territory. In addition to establishing schools and clinics for the first time, the Zapatistas also run production units, supply centers and transport systems.
Follow current Zapistista news at their blog