Chiapas Revolution

Chiapas Revolution 1994 proved to be radical year in Mexican history. There were three major assassinations of political figures, President Carlos Salinas signed the NAFTA agreement, and a small revolution began in the Pacific Southwest of Mexico. Although all of these a major impact on Mexican society none played out to the public greater then Zapatista uprising in Chiapas. Several hours before 1994 became the New Year the Mexican state of Chiapas was thrust upon the international scene as the Zapatista guerilla army seized control of the city of San Cristbal de las Casas and five towns in the surrounding Chiapas mountain region. The guerillas were bands of ethnic Mayan Indian peasants from the highlands of Chiapas. These indigenous people are among the poorest in all of Mexico, and are basically an agrarian culture.

The first glimpse of the struggle seemed to mimic similar guerilla activities in nearby Central American regions. When reexamined the organization and careful planning of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) showed that these rebels, composed mostly of teenagers and young adults from ethnic Mayan groups, didn’t resemble their neighbors. What at second glimpse appears to be another ethnic conflict in a decade of ethnic uprising around the world, is both that and more. The roots of the struggle do in fact spring the history of racism and oppression of the Mayan Indians. The war also is an attack on mistreatment of the poor of all ethnic backgrounds throughout Mexico. To clearly analyze the reason and the will of this rebellion a history of the Indians and the Mexican political actions must be examined.

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The Indians are of Mayan ancestry and have made their living off of farming. Still to this day all products and tools are handmade by the Indians in their villages. Land is the quintessential possession in their culture. Not only does it determine wealth, but also land has strong religious aspects and is considered holy. The Indians believe that land is “ancestral private property” passed down to them by sacred ancestral generations. The roots of the present day conflict extend back to the Conquistador era.

Chiapas is made up of three regions main regions. The central region is a high elevation plateau composed of steep rugged terrain, known as the Chiapas highlands. To the Southwest are fertile Pacific lowlands, and to the East is the Lacandon jungle. The ancestors made the fertile Pacific lowlands their center of their civilization. Upon the arrival of the Spaniards the native people were pushed out of the lowlands and up into the highlands over a period of 500 years.

The thin rocky soil proved to be insufficient for a majority of the Indians and many migrated East to the Lacandon jungle. The soil their was equally as bad as the highlands and was only capable of supporting a year or two of planting. The slow loss of land set the stage for a rebellion. Since land and farming is so important to the Indian way of life Political Issues.