Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Sandanistas and Zapatistas, an unwritten background of the Latin American left for American readers

Because Latin Americans know what this is about.

Armed guerrila groups in Latin America aren't new or particularly unique; there were civil wars raging all over Central America and elsewhere for a good chunk of the eighties. So why are the Zapatistas, who emerged on the scene in early '94 such a big deal?

The answer, I believe, centers on one concept: the indigenous people.

The Zapatista army is located in a Mayan area which became part of Mexico after being part of the central american confederation in the 19th century. They're indigenous people who are incorporating an indigenous perspective into the revolutionary left.

Sounds good. Nice words. Indigenous perspective, revolutionary left, they should be allies, right, no problems there, no conflicts, right?

Here's where the Sandanistas come in. One of the Sandanista mistakes when they came to power is that they essentially forced the Miskito Indians, who live in Nicaragua, into the Sandanista state and repressed them when they refused to go along with it. The Miskito just wanted to rule themselves. The position of many indigenous people's in central and south America is that Marxism, leftism, revolutionary movements, are the heritage of colonialism. They didn't ask to be involved in Marxist analysis, they didn't ask to fight a war against worldwide imperialism, if the Spanish and the Portugese had never set foot on Central and South America they'd still be living in their indigenous cultures oblivious to the ideological and political battles waging across the Western world. So why should they put their support behind anyone?

Why should they support Marxist rebels if what they want a socialist or Communist country when this whole thing is a bunch of culturally European people running over their land fighting each other about how their land should be divided up and used?

Which isn't to say that they're anti-liberal; the conservatives of South and Central America view them with the utmost contempt, as not even being people. But why should they buy into this struggle, a struggle which because of the ideological factor behind it and the desire for a thorough revolutionary change in society disrespects their rights to live in their own way unaffiliated with the colonialist state?

This is where the uniqueness of the Zapatistas comes in.

The Zapatistas, in their best light, represent something which bridges the gap between the alternatives of either participating in a struggle which may marginalize you or withdrawing altogether and simply being separatists. The ideas of traditional Mayan beliefs are still respected and the idea of the next change being done by an alliance of the indigenous people's of the world, the Fourth World, is being advanced.

It is a confrontation with the West itself, which challenges the West to get beyond being 'the West' and instead come to the table of nations as a representative which understands itself in ways paralell to the non-western ways of viewing things.

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