Photo: Moysés Zúñiga Santiago

Zapatistas propose indigenous woman for Mexican presidency

  • October 18, 2016

Land & Liberation

“May the earth shake at its core…” was the title of the announcement. And, indeed, the news came like an earthquake — and not only for Mexican politics.

The move was unexpected and, beside rocking Mexican politics, has shaken the very perception we had of Zapatismo until now.

At the end of the meeting for the twentieth anniversary of the National Indigenous Congress (CNI), comprised of representatives from Mexico’s indigenous ethnic groups, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) and the CNI announced that they will be presenting an indigenous woman as their candidate for the Mexican presidential elections in 2018. The precise person still needs to be nominated, and the proposal will have to be discussed and debated in the assemblies of the various ethnic groups that comprise the CNI, but the news is huge and very unexpected — typically Zapatista, in that respect at least.

The announcement shines a light on the destructions the capitalist system has wrought on the environment in which most of the indigenous communities live: the privatization of communal natural resources, the imposition of mining, eco-touristic, and hydroelectric megaprojects, the construction of huge highways and airports on indigenous communal lands, and generally the issue of dispossession the indigenous groups are experiencing in Mexico.

Considering all the above, we declare ourselves in a condition of permanent assembly and we will consult with each and every geography, territory and neighborhood of ours the agreement of this Fifth National Indigenous Congress to nominate an indigenous woman, delegated by the CNI as an independent candidate who will run in the name of the CNI and the EZLN in the electoral process of the year 2018 for the presidency of this country.

We confirm that our struggle is not for power; we are not looking for it, but we rather invite the native peoples and civil society to organize ourselves in order to deter this destruction, to strengthen ourselves in our resistance and rebellion, in defence of the life of each and every person, family, collective, community, neighborhood.


The announcement also shook Zapatista supporters worldwide — and the reactions were very diverse. Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), leader of opposition party Morena and ex-leader of PRD, wrote on his twitter:

In 2006, the EZLN was the “serpent’s egg.” After that, very “radically,” they called on people not to vote, and now they present an independent candidate.

AMLO, as he is known in Mexico, is referring to the 2006 elections in which he was PRD’s candidate and lost by a narrow margin. He accused the government of electoral fraud — Subcomandante Marcos of the EZLN agreed that the elections were not fair and that AMLO was the actual winner. The Zapatistas did not vote in this election — quite the contrary: they criticized AMLO’s candidacy, presenting him as part of the same corrupt political system.

Instead, the Zapatistas initiated the Other Campaign, a non-electoral campaign that aimed to bring together anti-capitalist organizations all over the country and create a network of resistance movements to neoliberalism that would promote the autonomy of local communities as a key political issue. AMLO and other Mexican leftists, however, accused the Zapatistas of indirectly “facilitating” the PAN’s victory in those elections.

It’s the same argument AMLO now makes against the new Zapatista-CNI proposal: that it serves the government, since it will divide the opposition (and of course deprive him of votes as well).

Others in Mexico talk about a U-turn that is inconsistent with what the Zapatistas have been advocating over the past decade: the distrust in the electoral road to social change and to state power in general. Many international Zapatista supporters are also surprised — some positively, others negatively — and are trying to interpret the EZLN/CNI’s latest move.

Tactical move?

The truth is that none of us saw this coming. And we did not see it coming for the simple reason that the Zapatistas, ever since their first public appearance on January 1, 1994, have been extremely distrustful of electoral politics. That’s exactly why they chose to go down the road of Revolution — with a capital R — in 1994, and down the non-state power road of autonomy later on, abstaining from any relationship with the state ever since.

However, it should be noted that this is not the first time the EZLN back a candidate in elections. It has happened before: in the 1994 local elections, when they backed the candidacy of lawyer and journalist Amado Avendaño Figueroa for the Governorship of Chiapas, ironically enough under the PRD flag.

A few days before the elections there was an assassination attempt against Amado Avendaño that cost the lives of three of his supporters, and he eventually lost the elections as a result of what he and many Mexicans considered to be electoral fraud. For that he was declared — and remained known as — “Governor in Rebellion” by the EZLN. However, even in that precedent, the goal was not the conquest of regional power. According to an interview Avendaño himself gave later on:

[The Zapatistas did not want me to be] a common governor, but rather a governor-in-transition, only until making the transition… Which means: you will participate in the elections, you will triumph, you will call for a constituent assembly, you will present a constitutional project to be modified, approved, whatever, and when this ends you will call for new elections. To the winner, you will pass the baton and then you will retire to your home. Perfect [I said], in that way, yes, I participate!

That was the agreement the Zapatistas had at the time with Amado Avendaño, in his own words. One could therefore argue that in 1994 the backing of a candidate in the local elections was simply a means towards a different end.

Based on this past experience, we could suspect that the proposed participation in the 2018 presidential elections may again be a means towards an end. Whether that is the case, and what kind of end we are talking about this time, remains to be seen. However, we are certainly not talking about Zapatista engagement with electoral politics as we have known it so far. We are talking about something very “otherly.”

It has begun!

What is certain, however, is that we have entered a new era for Zapatismo. After the introspection that followed the Other Campaign, the intensification of the Zapatista project of autonomy on which the movement has been working for the past 22 years, and the two Zapatista escuelitas that took place recently, now the movement is coming out of Chiapas again, reclaiming their place at the forefront of Mexican politics — together with the CNI, of course.

What remains to be seen now is how the various indigenous ethnic groups will receive the CNI/EZLN proposal, what exact candidate they will propose, and of course the long administrative process that will need to take place for the candidature to be formally announced.

First, the proposal must be approved by 1 percent of registered voters in Mexico, which means that the CNI and the EZLN will need to collect roughly 820.000 signatures from 17 federal states before being able to present a proposal for an independent candidate. After that, the CNI would have to obtain a legal form recognized by the state and the Federal Electoral Institute of Mexico (IFE). After all, the electoral game is one that needs to be played by the rules it has set for itself.

The process, however, has begun — and from our side there is only one thing to wish to the Zapatistas and the CNI:

¡Suerte, compañeros!

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