On the 23rd anniversary of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN)’s uprising and after three months of community consultations, the National Indigenous Congress (CNI) announced that they have been directed by the base to create an autonomous and parallel government throughout Mexico. This Indigenous Governing Council will have as its spokesperson an Indigenous woman and in the 2018 elections she will be their candidate for the presidency of Mexico.
“This is the time of the Originary Peoples, the time for us to replant and rebuild ourselves. It is time to go on the offensive and this is the agreement that we have laid out for how to do so, from our perspective as individuals, as communities, as Originary Peoples, and as the National Indigenous Congress. It is time for dignity to govern this country, this world and for democracy, liberty, and justice to flourish in its step,” stated a joint CNI and EZLN communique (enlacezapatista.ezln.org.mx).
There was a popular decision-making process before arriving at that resolution. In October of last year, the CNI announced their plans to consult their communities through a “permanent assembly”. The EZLN declared their support for the consultation, after over 20 years of avidly rejecting party politics. They maintain that the dominant political parties of Mexico have been “converted into a parody of the popular will, where votes are bought and sold like any other commodity and poverty is used to manipulate people.” The Zapatistas have instead focused on building autonomous communities — creating their own Indigenous government structure, schools, clinics and ancestrally-guided collective processes.
What the CNI would actively seek would be amplification on the national level of this existing grassroots work of building consensus through popular assemblies “as organs of government where through the voice of everyone together, profoundly democratic agreements are made.”
What the CNI proposed and the EZLN supported, would be a radical transformation of the election process- – an autonomous and Indigenous path to resist and rebel nationally, for the benefit of all of Mexico.
Shortly after the October announcement, the exploitive right-wing and even some on the so-called establishment “Left” exposed their own racism and sexism by immediately rejecting the idea of an Indigenous woman presidential candidate who would govern all of Mexico by obeying the people (mandar obediciendo is a Zapatista principle). Their response denied the peoples’ will and acted in defence of the business interests of extractive mining, oil and dam projects, the military and narco-paramilitary. This is nothing new that confronts the over 500 years of practiced resistance by those “from below and to the left”. Those who ridiculed, harassed, beat, kidnapped and even assassinated the Indigenous carrying out this three-month process were sharply Zapatista Subcommandante Moises.
During the months of slow and methodical consultation the CNI found overwhelming excitement from their base: the roots Indigenous peoples of Mexico. They described travelling to every corner of Mexico to meet with peoples, nations, and tribes of all languages, gathering in small and large assemblies, in council meetings, reflecting with families, discussing in regional forums and in ceremonial spaces.
Why now? The EZLN explained that during 23 years of building people’s power, dignity and life in autonomous municipalities, that the national and multinational forces have made things worse for the Indigenous, campesinos, workers, and the poor. Global changes such as climate disruption and the poisoning of Mother Earth threaten to exterminate all peoples.
On a local level, the Zapatistas describe how their autonomous clinics save the lives of many who are not Zapatistas, how peoples from places unknown arrive seeking refuge in the Caracoles as they flee the lack of land, liberty, democracy and justice in their far-away homes. The broader system of the mal gobierno or the Bad Government must also change and it must pay the reparations due. It has not, and must be made to.
This new step aligns with the CNI and Zapatista focus on autonomy. It is not an attempt to “amass power”; it is instead a call to all Originary Peoples and civil society to put an end to destruction, “to construct a new nation by and for everyone, to strengthen power from below and to the anti-capitalist left, to make those who are responsible for all the pain of the peoples of this multi-coloured Mexico pay.”
It was after this direct, participatory and democratic process that on the 1st of January in the mountains of southeastern Mexico, Oventik, that the CNI made this historic announcement and their resolution was greeted by cheers.