Past in Perspective

“In the end, the women can be very rebellious, and very capable and all of that, but if she depends on a man economically, she has few possibilities.”

–Subcomandante Marcos


On 22 December 1997, 45 indigenous people who were supporters of the Zapatista rebel movement in Chiapas, Mexico were massacred by paramilitaries as they attended a pacifist prayer meeting. Government troops nearby failed to intervene to prevent the attack, instead they tried to cover up the killings, cleaning the blood off the church where the Catholics, and some of their unborn children were killed as pregnant women were shot and stabbed in the stomach. What is this movement all about and why is the Mexican state keen on eliminating it? For answers, history is our guide.

The Zapatistas captured the world’s imagination with their brief but audacious uprising to demand justice and democracy for Indigenous peasants in southern Mexico. The peasant rebels took up arms in 1994, and now number 300,000 in centres with their own doctors, teachers and currency. Like any other government, the Mexican government also tried to keep the status quo. And in attempt to do so, it relied on force to counter the militant movement. On many occasions, the state apparatus violated the human rights of the members of the movement. The incident mentioned before is one of many such episodes of state brutality against the movement.

Today, for many sectors of Mexican society, the Zapatistas represented the voice of the voiceless, and inspired a new sense of hope for Mexico’s poor and Indigenous citizens after decades of desperation.

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