The EZLN, the CNI and the elections
Luis Hernández Navarro
La Jornada, 18th October, 2016
The EZLN and the CNI [Indigenous National Congress] agreed to consult with peoples and communities about the nomination of an indigenous woman as candidate for the Presidency of the Republic in the elections of 2018. The decision has raised a huge debate. Some see it as a complete u-turn; others as an entry into politics; and yet others, as a manoeuvre in the formation of a coalition against Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
These three opinions are not only mistaken but also prejudiced. They are based on misinformation and an analytical scheme that has as its starting point: who is not with me is against me. These views ignore the history and political trajectory, of both the EZLN and the indigenous organizations that are part of the CNI.
Since the EZLN emerged into public life it has not been a force for abstention. It has not called for abstention or electoral boycotts, but to organise and struggle. And, at least on one occasion, it promoted the vote for a candidate.
In presidential elections on 21 August 1994, it called for a vote against the PRI, as part of its fight against the state-party system and presidentialism. Moreover, on 15 May of that year, in Guadalupe Tepeyac, the Zapatistas and Subcomandante Marcos received the PRD candidate Cuauhtemoc Cardenas and his entourage. The rebels welcomed them and recognised that the then candidate had listened to them with attention and respect. Incidentally, they criticized the Aztec Sun.
A few days later, in the Second Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, they called a National Democratic Convention leading to provisional or transitional government, either through the resignation of the federal Executive or by the electoral process. This process – they then said – should lead to the drafting of a new constitution and the holding of new elections.
Soon, the EZLN supported the nomination of journalist Amado Avendano as a civil society candidate for governor of Chiapas. And, following the electoral fraud that blocked his triumph, they recognized him as governor in absentia and treated him as such.
In late 2005 the Zapatistas called for the organisation of a large national movement to transform social relations, develop a national programme of struggle and create a new political constitution. In this context, they launched the other campaign, an initiative of popular politics from below and to the left, independent of official political parties and with an anticapitalist stance.
Although the other campaign never called on people to abstain or boycott the elections, it sharply criticised the candidates of the three main political parties, including Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. In the run-up to the elections of 2 July, 2006, and following the repression in San Salvador Atenco (on 3 and 4 May of that year) which changed the dynamics of this political initiative, at a ceremony at the Revolution cinema in Mexico City, Subcomandante Marcos personally opposed any questioning of people who were thinking of voting. Whoever wants to vote, let them vote, he said.
Some wanted to hold the Zapatistas responsible for the final outcome of the 2006 elections and even for the fraud that snatched victory at the polls from Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. A few days ago, the leader of Morena reported that in those days, the EZLN and the progressive church had recommended not voting for him (which never happened), indirectly helping to steal victory from him. Since then, the debate has been bitter and intense. It has not ceased to be this way although more than 10 years have passed.
For years, the position of the Zapatistas did not change. This was corroborated by what Subcomandante Moises said in the communique entitled On elections: Organise, dated April 2015. There he warns: "These days, each and every time there is this thing they call ‘electoral process’, we hear and see people saying that the EZLN calls for abstention, in other words the EZLN says not to vote. They always come out with that and other kinds of nonsense."
Later on, he clarifies the rebel position on the electoral situation of that year: As Zapatistas we do not call on people to vote or not to vote. As Zapatistas what we do, whenever possible, is to tell people to organise to resist, to struggle, to have whatever is needed.
The recent joint document from the EZLN and the CNI, ‘May the earth tremble at its core’ [quote from Mexican national anthem] represents a change in the rebels’ position. But not 180 degrees, because they have never been abstentionists.
The document calls for a new form of action, whose central theme is direct participation in the electoral context, as a form of resistance, organisation and struggle. Placing indigenous people and their problems at the centre of the national political agenda. Making visible the attacks against indigenous peoples. Building the power of those at the bottom. The decision does not mean the entry of the EZLN in the political struggle. The Zapatistas have always been there. They have never stopped doing politics since they burst into public in the armed uprising of 1994. One may or may not agree with the politics they have done, but to reduce political participation to electoral activity is nonsense.
The same can be said of the organisations that make up the CNI. The mobilisation of the Purepecha people of Cheran (a key experience in the new course of the indigenous struggle) for recognition of their self-government and autonomy is essentially political. Also the experience of self-defence by Nahuatl people in Ostula, or the Otomi community’s defence of its territory and natural resources in Xochicuautla.
Nobody has a monopoly of political representation of the Mexican left. This representation is won day by day in the struggle. Accusing the Zapatistas and the CNI of playing the government’s game because they intend to participate in the 2018 elections, outside the political parties, it is a sign of arrogance and intolerance. Ultimately, it will be Mexican society in general and indigenous peoples in particular who will decide whether this path is useful or not in order to transform the country.