On New Year's Day 1994, a previously unknown group startled Mexico by announcing a program of liberation for Mexico's indigenous people. Led by a masked man calling himself Subcomandante Marcos, the group seized the governmental palace in San Cristóbal, Chiapas. From the palace's balcony, they read a vivid declaration to the Mexican people. It declared that a long-suffering people had endured centuries of oppression and deprivation, but finally HOY DECIMOS ¡BASTA! (Today, we say, Enough). Soon, people all over the world were paying attention to the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN in Spanish).
At various points in the declaration, the authors identified themselves in these terms:
A product of five hundred years of struggle
Poor people like us
People used as cannon fodder
Heirs of our nation's true makers
Millions of dispossessed
“The people” as described in Article 39 of the Mexican national constitution
The Zapatista Army of National Liberation
Responsible, free men and women
Announcing a revolution on behalf of Mexico’s poor, dispossessed, indigenous people, they called for “us” to rise against “them.”
That revolution did not take place. But the Zapatistas soon made an impact on Mexican politics. Within Chiapas, they held off threatened suppression by the army and forced the national government to start negotiations over peasant property rights. On a national scale, they started a more general campaign for indigenous rights. During the spring of 2001, they staged a colorful march from Chiapas – Mexico’s southernmost state – to Mexico City itself. The march publicized demands for enforcement of local autonomy laws the legislature had passed in response to concerted pressure from indigenous people all over the country, backed by international activists.