as Tourist Attraction?
Zapatista Liberation Front from the Mexican province of Chiapas,
along with various hangers-on, is marching from its stronghold in
the south to Mexico City to confer with Mexican president Vicente
Fox, who has just assumed power and has made resolution of the largely
indigenous-based revolt in Chiapas a relatively high priority. You
wonít get me to predict whether a resolution of the conflict is
likely or not. But the revolt in Chiapas has been a fascinating
one, however it turns out, that could have implications for other
groups seeking to get the attention of (as my friend Richard Cowan
of marijuananews.com always puts it) "the appalling people
who rule us."
all reports, the 1,800-mile, two-week trek to Mexico City has more
of a carnival atmosphere than the aura of militant anger. As a piece
by Laurence Iliff for the Dallas Morning News put it, "the
script was different than first envisioned as rebels and sympathizers
departed the colonial city of San Cristobal de las Casas where the
uprising began in 1994.
then the pipe-smoking Subcommandante Marcos and his cohorts had
envisioned or pretended to envision something like a military conquest
of the oppressive central government in Mexico City. However, as
Iliff put it, "Rather than confiscating tanks and military
transport trucks and leaving behind defeated government soldiers,
the Zapatistas began the first leg of their journey amid a parade-like
celebration of rented buses and private vehicles, unarmed and prepared
IT BE ZAPPA-TISTAS?
report from Gerry Hadden of National Public Radio added some
color to the story. With Subcommandante Marcos something of a pop
culture hero and supporters from around the world joining the march,
the event had almost the atmosphere of a rock concert, said Hadden.
More celebratory than angry, the Chiapas rebels seemed in a party
mood. Whether they will be able to parlay their triumphalism into
concessions from Vicente Fox (whom Marcos, in what might have been
a downer moment, called a man "who talks a lot and listens
very little") is another question.
more important is whether the kind of concessions the rebels seem
to want theyíre a bit vague, centered around economic assistance
from the central government to the poverty-stricken region would
be good for the area if they were forthcoming. Grabbing goodies
from a central government hardly seems like a formula for independence
for now the mood is festive. Perhaps at this point the movement
is more like one inspired by rock rebels like Frank Zappa than by
revered 1910 revolutionary forebears like Emiliano Zapata.
the interesting aspects of the Chiapas rebellion highlighted by
the NPR report is the fact that much of the recruiting, both conceptual
and physical, for the Zapatista rebels has taken place over the
Internet. The movement Web sites, according to Hadden, have played
on a sense that the Chiapas indigenous people have the same cause
as oppressed indigenous or powerless people the world over, from
the Kurds of Iraq to the people of Brazilian and Indonesian rain
encouragement of a common identity of oppression has drawn college
students from Mexico City and most of the European countries, Italian
communists and U.S. peace activists, to support the Zappatista rebellion,
not just with good wishes and occasional donations, but with their
physical presence. Leftist causes that havenít yet been blemished
by the corruption and personal scandal that eventually overtake
most movements for social change are hardly a dime a dozen these
days, and Subcommandante Marcos and his friends have played on the
desire to be a part of a lofty cause, to be a part of what seems
to be the action.
IT AND THEY WILL COME?
successful has the movement been at reviving tattered idealistic
hopes that foreign visitors to Chiapas, hoping to make contact with
the latest example of revolutionary fervor, have become an important
aspect of the local economy. Gerry Hadden talked to several local
shopkeepers, including some who didnít have a business or much hopes
of ever developing one before the rebellion started attracting foreigners
with money to spend.
merchant even suggested that if a peace agreement were reached it
could have a deleterious impact on the local economy. Agriculture
in the region is hardly flourishing and commerce and manufacturing
are if anything in worse shape. So the businesses that have arisen
to cater to foreign tourists in search of the frisson of being part
of a revolutionary movement with little if any actual physical danger
involved have become a larger share of the economy than might have
been anticipated by anyone.
A SOLID BASE
I donít know if Subcommandante Marcos and the guerillas he leads
are really socialists concerned about the dehumanizing effects of
globalization or whether they mouth these trendy phrases because
they know who their target audience is. If they are sincere in their
desire for the subsidies and central controls that accompany socialism,
of course, they are asking not for economic help and development
but for isolation and continued poverty.
most important requisite for a solidly based economic development,
of course, is relative peace. Wars and conflicts do create opportunities
for profiteers of various kinds, of course, and this one seems to
have done so on a relatively small scale. But real economic growth
is more often rooted in stability, predictability and willingness
to make agreements with others whose ultimate interests may be a
bit different from oneís own. Recognition of the importance of private
property and something resembling a rule of law wouldnít hurt either.
But a semblance of domestic tranquility is the most fundamental
GLOBALLY, THINK LOCALLY
they use the words or not, the Zappatistas may have a glimmer of
understanding of some of these issues, and Vicente Fox has more
than a glimmer. The experience of the rebels with Internet recruiting
in some ways stands as a case study of the ability of globalization
to reinforce local identities and causes. By creating an Internet-based
virtual community of people who seem to or claim to share certain
ideals and are willing to make a commitment to the essentially local
cause, the Chiapas guerrillas have used globalization to strengthen
they understand that this aspect of globalization that a day is
arriving when people in almost any part of the world can do business
(in the broadest sense) with people in almost any other part of
the world, which can make them less dependent on local and national
political power structures and reinforce their uniques cultural
or ethnic identities? I donít know. Often people who have accomplished
a conceptually important task are the last to understand its true
the Zappatistas will make a deal with the central government that
reduces the level of violence and begins the process of facilitating
economic development or not, the atmosphere of a rock concert is
a more attractive way to run a revolution than the grim anger and
killing that often accompanies a rebel movement. The Chiapas guerrillas
seem somewhat ideologically befuddled. But itís hard not to wish
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