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How Mexico's Zapatista guerrillas stayed clear of organized crime

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In this context, the high profile of Mexico’s largely indigenous Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) is incongruous. Although much of the organization’s social and political work is supported by international and domestic NGOs, the full nature of its funding is unclear. What is clear is that despite rising up in arms in the southern state of Chiapas in 1994 and having since declared sizable parts of southern Mexico autonomous from the government, the EZLN has largely managed to refrain from criminal activity to support itself.

When criminal allegations have been leveled against them, such as when the group was suspected of carrying out the kidnapping of Mexican politician Diego Fernandez de Cevallos last year, the Zapatistas have vehemently denied them, and a congressional commission even acknowledged that the kidnapping didn’t fit the Zapatistas’ profile.

Their eschewal of crime is due largely to the fact that the EZLN is not a traditional guerrilla army. After their initial uprising in 1994, and the resulting San Andres peace accords in 1996, the group has largely refrained from illegal activity. Instead, they have become more of a grassroots social movement, establishing EZLN-affiliated autonomous communities in Chiapas and attempting to link far-left community organizations throughout the country under the banner of a nationwide movement called the "Other Campaign."

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