Over time, the numbers of those in the third group has grown and our successes in the use of cyberspace have multiplied to the point of eclipsing the first group and overcoming much of the skepticism of the second. An early experience that taught many activists in North America the usefulness of the Internet was the tri-national struggle against NAFTA involving hundreds of groups in Canada, the United States and Mexico. Although that effort failed, its experience lay the groundwork for others, including the widespread use of the Internet to circulate information against the Gulf War in 1990-1991 and against the Mexican government's military repression of the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas in 1994 and 1995. Throughout the 1990s activists in struggle after struggle created new zones of cyberspace in which to share information, discuss tactics and strategy and evaluate both their own experiences and those of others. By the later half of the decade the number of interlinkages among struggles increased to the point of making not merely local, but global actions possible. Indeed, in the last five years activists using the Internet have played a key role in the organization of a series of global political mobilizations that have, for the first time in history, contested capitalist Power at the supranational level.
The First and Second Zapatista Encounters Against Neoliberalism and For Humanity in 1996 and 1997 gathered thousands of grassroots activists from a multiplicity of struggles to share experience and discuss how to interlink and combine efforts at a global scale. The People`s Global Action, directly inspired by the Zapatista networks, and bringing together movements from Europe, North America and Asia launched international caravans of mobilization and a global anti-WTO action in Geneva in May 1998. A year later on June 18, 1999 a world wide, coordinated effort saw hundreds of groups in dozens of cities on several continents participate in a Day of Action against neoliberal policies. The anti-WTO Battle of Seattle in November 1999 and the anti-IMF/World Bank Actions in Washington D.C. in April 2000 were not only made possible by, but building on the cyberspacial experience of the Zapatista encounters, were able to extend, real-time those mobilizations throughout cyberspace due to the efforts of new, innovative Independent Media Centers operating through the World Wide Web. Today, IMCs are multiplying and as the Internet spreads and increases in density its role in facilitating efforts to rollback neoliberal policies and to elaborate alternatives continues to grow. This reality has made it impossible for large numbers of people on the Left to ignore the importance of this new terrain and its centrality in contemporary efforts to change the world. For the most part, postmodern criticism has become a sideshow and Left critiques of the "virtuality" of cyberspacial struggles have been toned down or disappeared. For the most part, activists no longer question the importance of cyberspace but are busy figuring out how to maximize its potential and overcome its limitations, how to interlink it with other kinds of efforts to maximize their effectiveness while staving off counter efforts, especially by the state, to undermine this new highly effective terrain.
There remain, unfortunately, those on the Left who, instead of joining in these efforts to increase the effectiveness of our use of the Internet, peck away from the outside, deriding what they see as the limitations of struggles on this terrain while condemning with faint praise what little they do recognize as having been accomplished. The most extensive example of such criticism that I have come across is an article by Judith Adler Hellman. The article was originally published in Spanish in Este Pais in 1999 and subsequently published in English in the annual Socialist Register 2000. In that article Hellman, author of Mexican Lives, (New York: The New Press, 1994, reprinted with a new "Afterward" in 1999), lays out a sweeping indictment of the cyberspacial network of activists who have acted in support of the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas. She bases this indictment, as far as I can make out from the text, only on the basis of a few interviews in Mexico and a brief perusal of pro-Zapatista websites. The result is a highly unflattering and condescending portrayal of a network of enthusiastic and dedicated but naïve, ill-informed and lazy militants who spend their time banging away at computer keyboards creating web pages instead of engaging in either serious study of the complexities of the situation in Chiapas or in serious activism in "real" space. At the same time, Hellman also provides a sketch of the Zapatista movement itself that both misrepresents it and ignores its importance.
Given the very real importance of the Zapatista experience, both on the ground in Mexico and in its cyberspacial extension to the rest of the world through cyberspace, I take the trouble below to dissect and critique Hellman`s entire article, her representations, her analysis and her criticisms. I do this reluctantly because I don`t really think Hellman`s article will do much to undermine the struggles in either Mexico or cyberspace. But doing so does provide an opportunity to clarify some issues that are important to those of us engaged in these terrains of struggle. In what follows Hellman`s text is indented and in smaller font. Her footnotes are enclosed in parentheses and reproduced at the end of this essay.
The article begins:
Second, Hellman repeats the myth that the Zapatistas are "foremost exponents" of "doing politics through electronic communications." This is a myth that needs to be laid to rest. During the ten years or so that the Zapatista movement was developing prior to 1994, there is no evidence that any of its communications involved cyberspace. Their communications networks were primarily word of mouth, some written materials and from time to time, the telephone. The elaboration of the globe circling electronic network of solidarity with the Zapatistas was done, not by them, but by those who sympathized with them and who linked their own struggles to those in Chiapas. As the reader will discover, a little further down in the article, Zapatista communiqués reach the Internet through mediators, through journalists or NGOs. Not only does Marcos not sit in the jungle uploading his communiqués to the Internet via modem and satellite uplink, but no one in the EZLN is on-line! What the Zapatistas have done is to recognize the importance of the Internet and at the First Intercontinental Encounter in the summer of 1996 called for the creation of an intercontinental network of communication. But even then the point was the interlinking and creation of an intercontinental network of struggle; there was no particular focus on the Internet. The closest things to a Zapatista presence on the Internet is the FZLN (Zaptista National Liberation Front) that operates news lists and web pages out of Mexico City and Enlace Civil, a non-governmental organization that has become a prime conduit for messages coming directly from Zapatista communities in struggle.
[NB: before going any further I want to note the following: while I, like Hellman, will use the term "solidarity networks" repeatedly, in the case of the Zapatistas and those who support them this does not have the traditional meaning of those who work only to provide support to some worthy group. The Zapatistas have been quite explicit about wanting to link their struggles to those of others, not just having "others" work for them. This has been understood within the "solidarity" movement and as a general rule when one examines the various organizations of solidarity one finds groups that are also involved in local struggles as well as in providing "support" to the Zapatistas. For those in the "solidarity networks" on the Internet, one dimension of our efforts has been to facilitate linkages between the Zapatistas and other groups in struggle.]
Her second suggestion to explain the motivations of those who support the Zapatistas is no more flattering than the first:
When she turns from rhetorical questions to her own view of why so many people support the Zapatistas, we discover what she thinks is those supporters' third and equally unappealing trait: they are lovers of simple-minded dichotomies who refuse engage the real complexities of the situation.
(Footnote 4) In this footnote Hellman specifies that by the "Internet" she means "the most commonly accessible sites that people interested in Chiapas would be most likely to find while surfing the world wide web." Despite the fact that the websites that she cites in her footnote contain the extensive archives of the listservs that deal with Chiapas (including Chiapas95, Chiapas-L and reg.mexico on PeaceNet) there is absolutely no evidence that Hellman spend any time at all researching these sources. This is a fundamental methodological flaw in her whole research because by limiting herself to websites (and only part of those sites at that) she limited herself to examining only those scattered moments that have been drawn out of the continuing flow of information on Chiapas that has circulated in the solidarity networks and placed on web pages. She is therefore completely blind to not only the vast majority of information that has circulated but to the daily experience of that flow. She could have sought to reconstruct that experience by reading the archives but there is no indication that she did. Many of the misrepresentations that fill her essay are the direct result of this neglect. The "Internet" is not the web. It is something much vaster and more alive. For the most part the web is a stock of accumulated pieces of information. Over time there is something like a flow as web pages are constructed and expanded, but it is generally slow and cumulative. The real flows are the daily postings of e-mail that circulate through the aforementioned listservs and PeaceNet conferences, that pour into the mailboxes of those in the solidarity networks throughout the day and night. No serious assessment of what is known by, or familiar to, those in the networks is possible without an examination of those flows. And no such examination informed this article.
What she does do is continue to vilify those in the solidarity movement in a condescending manner and to caricature them without any evidence whatsoever about real individuals. They are "disenchanted and discouraged people on the left" she says, who, out of their desperation are "passionately dedicated" to an illusion. They are simple-minded folk who "require unambiguously downtrodden indios who are homogeneously good and pure, etc." Who are these people? What are they disenchanted by and what has discouraged them? We donŐt know and she doesn't tell. The only group that I can think of that even begins to fit this description are those segments of the Old pro-Soviet Left in Latin America that fell apart with the collapse of the Wall in 1989, who abandoned revolutionary activity, often doing their best to join the establishment. Are these who she is referring to? Certainly, I can say, from within the Zapatista solidarity movement that the vast majority of the people there engaged have no such history. On the contrary, as suggested at the outset above, many in the movement cut their teeth in cyberspace in the very substantial, very complex battle around NAFTA. Though they lost that battle the experience of trans-border mobilization produced not disenchantment but further struggle and a new sense of possibilities. Perhaps Hellman can find a few individuals in the solidarity networks who fit her description, but she hasnŐt named any. All she has done is continue sketching a pathetic, disreputable cartoon figure to deride.
Moreover, she has yet to demonstrate the "flatness" she claims, the dramatic discrepancy between the representation of the situation in Chiapas and the "reality" on the ground, a "reality" whose difference from its representation, she claims, even casual (hers) acquaintance reveals.
There are, or course, some aspects of the case about which there is little or no controversy. For example, all reliable accounts of the background to the Zapatista uprising necessarily emphasize the ironic and tragic disparity of a land exceptionally rich in resources populated by the poorest people in what is still a country comprised, in the majority, of poor people.(5) In this internal colony, a population that is substantially without proper shelter, adequate food, drinking water, or electricity, "exports" timber, corn, beans, gas, oil, and hydroelectric power to the rest of Mexico.
The irony is that the very "reliable" sources she cites include precisely those books that have been consumed avidly within the solidarity network! Some examples: George Collier and Elizabeth Quarantiello's Basta! Land and the Zapatista Rebellion in Chiapas (1994) and Neil Harvey, Rebellion in Chiapas (1998). In fact, Collier's writings on Chiapas in Cultural Survival were being shared and cited on the web well before his book appeared. And when it did appear not only did I review it and circulate that review in the cyberspacial spaces of the solidarity network, but also the review was so favorable that Collier sent me an e-mail of thanks! Similarly with Neil Harvey. Before his book appeared, Harvey's writings on Chiapas were circulated in working paper form and like Colliers' were widely shared and discussed in the solidarity network. When Gilly published El Vento del Sur, its issues were rapidly snatched up by the solidarity network. And the same has been true of the journal Chiapas.
There has, however, been one notable hurdle to the widely shared goal of circulating such material as quickly as possible on the Internet: the academic need for publication and for individualidentification with new ideas and research. There are academics otherwise quite willing to share their work with the solidarity networks who are loath to put material in cyberspace before it has been published in hard copy for fear that it will be "stolen" and someone else will get credit. And, after it has been so published they have often not retained copyrights so that they could so post the material.
This said, the truth of the matter is that a substantial component of the pro-Zapatista solidarity network is based in universities and part of their contribution to the movement has been to do what university types do by reflex: search out and identify, and then share, the best and most useful of academic work on the issue at hand. For Hellman to juxtapose these two domains as if they were separate and unconnected, displays not only a misunderstanding of those in the network, but of its very modes of functioning.
As for Hellman's opening description of the "complex" economic situation of Chiapas (that shows as I mentioned above how connected the state has been the rest of Mexican capitalism) that information is familiar to those in the network, if not from books like Harvey's and Collier's, then from Marcos' classic 1992 essay, "The South in Two Winds" that was not only widely distributed in cybperspace but also widely reproduced and circulated in hard copy.
In terms of actual organizing Hellman's sketch of the emergence of a new cycle of struggle begins reasonably enough:
As for their emphasis on the ways in which their struggles are "Mexican," either in their use of the flag or their appeals to the Mexican people, the Zapatistas have had to struggle from day one against the attempts of the Mexican state to isolate them. They have been accused of being Balkan-like successionists, of advocating a pan-Mayanism in which Chiapas might be stripped away from Mexico and joined to Guatemala. It is against such propaganda and such isolation that the Zapatistas have reached out to others in Mexico (and beyond) to speak of the ways in which their struggles are like those of others, of the ways they share common enemies. In this political struggle symbols have played an important role, but they must be understood in context and not in the abstract.
A second point, at the First Intercontinental Encounter in 1996 (Hellman got the date wrong), the Zapatistas convoked over three thousand activists from over forty countries to come to gather and to discuss, among themselves, the nature of neoliberalism and of struggles against it and to go beyond it. They were not, as Hellman suggests, simply articulating "internationally popular critiques of neoliberalism." Indeed, before the preliminary Continental Encounters organized in the Spring of that year, the very term "neoliberalism" was term known only in Latin America. (In the US a "neoliberal" was ex-ADA democrat turned free market republican!) Much of the Spring encounters involved discussion in Europe, North America and Asia of the meaningfulness of the term "neoliberalism" outside of Latin America. Once the essential commonalities between "neoliberalism" and Thatcherism and Maastricht and Shengen and Reaganomics and new classical economics were recognized, the term stuck and is now a widely shared way of refering to capitalist policies in this period.
In the next section of her article, "The Complexities", Hellman takes up four topics --Land, Relgion, Politics and Indigenous Autonomy -and treats each pretty much the same: she sets up a strawman (the simple-minded representation of the issue on the Net) and then draws on her readings and interviews to show how much more "complicated" the situation really is.
Thus we find very little disagreement among analysts about the political, social and economic conditions that gave rise to the rebellion, the largely incoherent response of the Mexican state, or the success of the Zapatistas in reaching beyond the immediate zone of conflict to incorporate other Mexicans and sympathizers from around the world into their broader movement. However, when we turn to the accounts available to this mobilized international community of supporters, we find that what is generally communicated about the situation in Chiapas is a highly simplified version of a complex reality. While this picture is not intentionally distorted, it is ultimately misleading in ways that leave those who sympathise with and support the struggle in Chiapas in a very weak position to understand and analyse the events as they unfold. At times, as I will show below, it even makes it difficult to support the struggle in meaningful ways.
Almost everyone concerned for the welfare of indigenous people and poor peasants in Chiapas has learned that 56 percent of the land is in private hands. This oft-repeated statistic is misleading because it usually presented in a way that suggests that the private holdings are all concentrated in the hands of a few large landlords. The corollary to this supposition is that these estates could be available for distribution to the landless in "ejidos" under the agrarian reform law if the political will existed to move forward with expropriation of large haciendas and the distribution of land to petitioning peasants.(16)
Unfortunately, this agrarista dream cannot come true in the conflict zone in Eastern Chiapas, that is, Los Altos and the Lancandon Selva where the Zapatista movement is based. In this region there is almost no "distributable" land left in large haciendas.(17) In eastern Chiapas, the latifundios and even neolatifundios,(18) substantially disappeared in the course of the last three decades. Some land was given as ejido parcels in earlier agrarian reform distributions and in the 1980s, the federal government purchased 80,000 hectares of private land for distribution to 159 peasant settlements. Thus, with the relocation to eastern Chiapas of western Chiapanecans displaced by the construction of the hydroelectric dams from the 1950s onward, the settlement of landless peasants from fourteen other Mexican states and the Federal District in the 1970s and 1980s, and the land set aside for bioreserves (under pressure from the international environmental community and supporters of the Lancandon Maya), so much of the land in the region had been given away in small parcels that the latifundistas in the zone found it safer to sell off portions of their land to neighbouring peasants in small lots than to resist the tide of land invasions and expropriations.(19)
Given the enormous pressure of population on land resources throughout Chiapas, the vast preponderance of the 56 percent of all land that is privately held in fact consists of minifundios of 5 hectares or less in a region where the smallest ejido plot is set at 20 hectares.(20) Thus, where some outsiders are apt to see a traditional lucha agrarista taking shape in which they imagine that landless peasants would be pitted against landlords in rural class struggle, in reality, the "luchas" over land in Chiapas are no less bitter but, sadly, they most often constitute a "war of the poor." In these events, ejidatarios who are trying to expand their inadequate parcels, or younger sons and daughters of ejidatarios who cannot inherit the family holdings are locked in conflict with neighbouring minifundistas who are fighting to hold onto their pathetically small and poor subsistence plots.
What Hellman glosses over in her haste to attack an imaginary missrepresentation are the very real differences in size and value of farms, wealth and power among land holders in Chiapas. There are those with a few barely arable hectares and those with many, highly valuable hectares. There are those who have the wealth to employ hired goons ("white guards") to defend their lands and terrorize their labor force and those whose only defense is communal resistance. There are substantial cattle raising ranches in Chiapas and valuable coffee plantations. And if the neoliberal policies to attract foreign investment into Chiapas are successful expansive eucaliptus plantations may displace more and more small farmers and destroy the material basis of whole communities. There is none of this in Hellman's accounts. Nor, I might add are there any concrete examples of land battles, of what lands have been invaded or by whom that might illustrate or undermine her argument. Moreover there is no mention of the latest rounds of enclosure and land theft carried out by the state-financed paramilitaries who have driven thousands from their villages and seized both homes and lands. Finally, the key land issue for the indigenous concerns the survival of coherent communities, with whatever land tenure system they find best suited for their purposes. It is not the atomized world of individual against individual that Hellman portrays but of collective decisions against private appropriation and profit, whether by wealthy land holding families or corporations. These are not pseudo-issues but vital ones for indigenous communities.
In the virtual Chiapas with which most internet users are familiar, religious actors have a crucial role to play. The religious actors we encounter on the computer screen are Bishop Samuel Ruíz, the Diocese, the Catholic human rights activists of the San Bartolomé Centre for Human Rights, and perhaps a few Protestants in the form of the U.S.-based Pastors for Peace.
While religion does play a central role in the events unfolding in Chiapas today, the picture on the ground is far more complex than the version on the screen. To begin with, competition for hearts and minds and above all souls, between Catholic and other religious groups has been a key motivating force in all that has unfolded in Chiapas over the last forty years. The transformation of Bishop Samuel, himself, from a traditional conservative into a socially engaged activist was prompted in the late 1960s by his perception of the need for the Catholic Church to become involved at the grass roots in order to check the advance of evangelical Protestants among the peasants.(21) As everywhere in Latin America and particularly in Central America, a ferocious competition exists in Chiapas between the Catholic Church and evangelical missionaries for the attention, affection and adherence of the poor. But for all the courage and sincere efforts of the catechists, and the charisma and dedication of Bishop Samuel, today only 51 percent of all Chiapanecans are Catholic, a figure that represents the lowest proportion in any Mexican state.(22)
We might almost say that the downtrodden in Chiapas have never been free to make political choices, but increasingly they have felt free to make religious choices. And a great assortment of Protestants, some progressive and some conservative, have attracted converts. Of the Protestant churches, the Presbyterians are the largest and longest established, followed by Pentecostalists (Assembly of God, Charismatics, Elim and Eunecer), Seventh Day Adventists, Sabbaticants, and Jehovah's Witnesses. On the scene as well, but in smaller numbers, are Baptists, Lutherans, Church of Nazarene, the Christian Church or Followers of Christ, Church of God, Light of the World, Prince of Peace, the True Church of Christ, and the Central American Church among others.(23) Most recently Islamic and Mormon missionaries have drawn converts and, in a couple of new settlements composed of Protestants who were expelled from predominantly Catholic communities, Islam will soon become the numerically dominant religious group.(24) Thus the religious map of Chiapas resembles a crazy-quilt of different religious sects, some historically well rooted and others, brand new. And to complicate matters further, these religious affiliations sometimes coincide with and sometimes cut across political identifications with either the official party, that is, the PRI, or the centre-left party of opposition, PRD (Democratic Revolutionary Party).
Thus while Bishop Samuel appears to be - other than Marcos himself - the central protagonist in the virtual accounts of Chiapas, and looms as a towering figure in the versions of events that circulate in France, Italy and Spain, he is not the only important religious actor on the stage. To ignore the other actors is to fail to recognize what many consider to be a low-intensity religious conflict that cross cuts ethnic politics.
But, on the basis of the experience of the last six years, I would say that the primary reasons why Samuel Ruiz and the Catholic church have figured so prominently in the news from Chiapas are two. First, those opposed to change in Chiapas, not just the Zapatista rebellion but all indigenous struggle, have leveled more attacks against Ruiz and the Catholic Church than against any other religious group. While there are many cases of Protestants being expelled from certain communities (such as San Juan Chamula) where PRIista catholics hold the reins of power -and the Zapatistas have denounced such expulsions- no other religious sect has come under the kind of fire that has been leveled at Ruiz and the Catholic Church. If Ruiz is well known outside of Chiapas it is primarily because he has been a focal point of violent resistance to indigenous struggle. Second, it is also true that those associated with the Catholic Church have been more outspoken and have produced more detailed reports on human rights violations than other denominations. The second most visible group in the US, Pastors for Peace, which organizes caravans of aid to beseiged communities in Chiapas, advertize their efforts on the Net and those messages are widely circulated and quite familiar.
Finally, I would also add the following. To date I have yet to see any detailed scholarly account of the relgious complexities to which Hellman points. Useful accounts of the various situations and activities of all the different religious groups are not merely absent on the Internet and in the Solidarity network but they have yet to be produced by anyone, anywhere. When such accounts do become available, they will, I have no doubt, be read and absorbed by the solidarity movement to whatever degree proves useful, just like the kinds of materials on other subjects that have been available.
Just as religious players turn out to be more numerous and varied than in the picture we usually see on the computer screen, the panoply of political actors in the drama unfolding in Chiapas is also considerably more complex.
Hellman's own list of the "good" and the "bad" is pitifully short, and very recent (she forgot the "ugly"). Indeed her critique can only bite by keeping the list short and ignoring most of what has circulated in cyberspace. In reality, as she likes to say, the information and analyses that have circulated in networks have tracked, since early on in 1994 a vast panopoly of actors, as many as activists and researchers have been able to identify. From the Mexican government, for example, she lists only three people (how stupid those cyberspacial activists must be to only recognize only three). But any serious study of the archives of the Chiapas lists would reveal literally dozens of individuals in the government who have come, left their ugly mark, and gone. In part, the Zapatistas and Mexican journalists have done this for us, telling us the sordid histories of not only big people, like President Salinas who murdered his maid as a child, but ugly little people like del Valle and Orive, ex-Leftists come to Chiapas for vengence and power. She says "the Mexican armed forces" are one "bad guy" as if no one ever differentiated within or among the military forces. In so doing she displays an unfamiliarity with the work of people like NAP's Darrin Wood who have tracked down and identified much of the military command structure, often trained at the School of the Americas, who are responsible for so much of the suffering in Chiapas. Nor does she recognize the analyses that have been done of the differences between the officer corps and the grunts, often indigenous and peasant young people, who are used as the battering ram against their brothers and sisters.
As for the "good guys," her, I have to say this, oversimplification, is just as striking. She says people only speak in terms of "the Zapatistas" when in fact those in the networks are familiar not only with Marcos, but also with Ramona, and David and Tacho and Anna-Maria and dozens more who voices have been reported and circulated through cyberspace. Those who have followed the flows, as opposed to those like Hellman who have only peeked in, know the difference between Marcos the spokesperson and the CCRI-GC of community leaders, between those who carry guns and those who support them (and that people move between these two domains). Hellman says people only speak in terms of "indigenous people" as if they were a homogeneous mass, when in fact people in the solidarity networks not only know of the ethnic and linguistic differences in peoples and communities but are all too familiar with the divisions in communities that include PRIista power structures and paramilitary bands. They know too of the rampant sexism in many indigenous communities and how that gave rise to an autonomous movement of women within the EZLN that formulated and demanded new "revolutionary rules" against gender discrimination. All of these things are familiar yet none of their familiarity is recognized by Hellman. It would undermine the whole thrust of her article to do so.
The promotion of indigenous identity and the drive for indigenous autonomy seem very straightforward goals when they appear in internet communications. However, given the size of Mexico's indigenous population of 6.5 million,26 and the centrality of the "indigenous question" to the development of Mexico as a nation, the issue turns out to be, of course, far more controversial than the current, nearly unanimous international call for autonomous communities would suggest.
It is this concept of self-rule that underpins the proposals on indigenous autonomy put forward by the Zapatistas and embodied in the San Andrés Accords, signed by the representatives of the EZLN and the Mexican State in February 1996. The accords call for "the recognition of the right of indigenous people to self-determination within a context of autonomy, the expansion of their participation and political representation, the guarantee of their access to justice, and the promotion of their cultural, educational and economic activities".(30)
Those who have supported indigenous calls for autonomy, however, are rarely guilty of the sin Hellman's unknown speaker attributes to them: that of believing it a magical cure-all that will make class, religious and political differences disappear. On the contrary, the demand for autonomy is the demand for the space and time for communities to cope with all those differences without their efforts being manipulated and controlled from the outside. It is obvious that, say, divisions between PRIistas and PRDistas within communities are the result not just of internal differences but of the larger national framework of party politics and patronage. The demand for autonomy is a demand for setting limits to such influences, but no one expects them to disappear. That autonomy would reinforce divisions and dominance is asserted but not even argued. It is not based on a concete analysis of either the form that autonomy might take or how it might work. It is a fearful a priori condemnation. If there was any concreteness here, it could be debated, as it has been in Chiapas, and elsewhere.
As with every other possible simplification, it is possible to find those in the cybespacial networks of solidarity who have an "essentialized notion of the indio", just as it is possible to find such people anywhere. There is no evidence presented, however, to demonstrate that such persons are characteristic or even common in cyberspace. I know a couple of people like that. I also know lots who are nothing like that. Hellman has found another anonymous interviewee after her own heart: someone with a stereotypical image of the average pro-Zapatista supporter. The sarcasm of this person is completely unwarranted. The people being mocked are being mocked for perhaps comparing (and yes, inevitably contrasting) the situation of indigenous in Chiapas with those of indigenous elsewhere. What is wrong with that? That is exactly what has been going on throughout the world during the whole indigenous rennaissance of the last two decades or so. Native Americans have gone South to support their brothers and sisters in Chiapas. Representatives of the Zapatistas have gone North to discuss their situation with Native Americans and others. Why does this arrogant person assume that when they share their views and their experiences they do so stupidly, not recognizing differences as well as similarities. There is no excuse for this kind of commentary.
Careful examination of the material that is translated, summarized and distributed through a variety of networks reveals that almost all of this material is drawn from the Mexican leftist daily, La Jornada which is published in Mexico City. La Jornada has had a special relationship to the Zapatistas from the start and the EZLN relies on this newspaper in a number of ways. Although there is a public perception that the Zapatistas are directly wired to the internet and tap out their messages on laptops in the Selva, in fact they count on La Jornada to relay their messages.
What Chiapan activist? Once again Hellman cites conveniently unnamed persons as authorities in the place of personal study and experience. For those of us who are constantly processing the news, the coverage that La Jornada gives Chiapas is a god-send compared to the lack of regular coverage in other major dailies. We also read and circulate everything the others print but their coverage is often spotty. How different the attitudes of Hellman and her friendly unknown "activist" as they make fun of and question the legitimacy of La Jornada's coverage. Even so, the reality -as any examination of La Jornada's abundant on-line archives will reveal- is that the newspaper does not constantly cover Chiapas and it does in fact carry much more information about national issues and the capitol than it does about the state. Moreover, it's on-line version is not complete and research has shown that many communiqués that were actually published in the paper don't make it onto the paper's website and archives. "If if two peasants who were not EZLN supporters are found dead, sometimes it gets no mention at all." Nor, I suspect, are all the murders and crimes committed daily in Mexico mentioned either. La Jornada is not a tabloid. The newspaper's coverage is selective, like all papers. Fortunately, for those concerned with the struggles in Chiapas it is better than most.
It seemed to me in speaking with Gómez Maza that foreign activists concerned with the future of Chiapas would at least want to think through and debate these assertions. But a full discussion among foreign Chiapas solidarity groups of the appropriateness of the electoral road would have been difficult based on the information available on most web sites because those speaking in favour of participation in elections generally did not make it into print,(37) or, when they did, theirs were not the features from La Jornada that were relayed around the world.
On the other hand, the major flows of raw data occur on the Chiapas-L listserv which is an open and unmoderated list to which anyone subscribed can post, and dozens do every time they find (or create) something worthwhile to send out. The same is true with the various other discussion lists and conferences that have often dealt with Chiapas, e.g., reg.mexico, Mexico94, Mexico2000, Native-L and Mexicoxxi, as well as relevant newsgroups, e.g., soc.culture.mexican. Hellman's argument about a handful of people being responsible for selecting what goes out is only true for Chiapas95 and if she wants to do some real research sometime, she could click back and forth between the web archives of Chiapas-L and Chiapas95 and see just what that filtering produces. (This would, however, only tell part of the story because the Chiapas95 moderators also subscribe to lists like the Italian EZLN-it and the French "comités" as well as other language sources so the material on Chiapas95 is, in some ways, richer than that on Chiapas-L. Mostly what gets left out is the chit chat of discussion.
All serious students of the situation in Chiapas know that the best flow of regular information available is on the Internet. Hellman tries her best to deprecate what is there, to deligitmize it as a source. But there is more raw information available there and more regular analysis than anywhere else --because it combines the most useful material from all sorts of media: newspapers, wire services, even radio transcripts, magazines, etc. It is not exhaustive because not all magazines and books are online, nor do people often have the time and energy to scan in articles from hard copy. And for that reason those in the network also read (and produce) articles and books and often report on them and their usefulness on-line (as in the my reviews of Collier, and Ross etc.) I find it truly curious that Hellman works so hard to discredit what so many know to be so valuable.
This brings us to the problem of unequal access to progressive world opinion. The received wisdom about power and communication is, of course, that there is very unequal access to the means of communication. But this is usually proposed as a problem by which progressive opinion loses out to conservative or mainstream interests in media controlled by the rich and powerful. The internet, in most of these discussions, is posed as providing a levelling mechanism, a democratic or popular opportunity that opens the way for the poor and marginalised to communicate on the same terms as the rich and powerful. Through this means, we are told, it becomes possible for us to build links to other progressive actors and to construct a community in cyberspace. It provides, as Cleaver and others have asserted, the possibility to circumvent the censorship of the state, to chop down electronic barriers and to liberate information from corporate and state control.(39)
While this is unquestionably an achievement of electronic communication, there is an argument to be made that progressive organizations within Mexico have very unequal electronic access to public opinion. The Zapatistas have been appropriately hailed as media savvy communications geniuses, but other movements of the left, indeed, other armed revolutionaries like the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) that is active in Puebla, Guerrero, and Oaxaca, not only lack an articulate spokesman like Marcos, they have not found their Webmaster. And, as a consequence, their perspectives are not before us on our screens, and their activities are rarely reported.
Actually, for what they have to say, the PRD has several able and voluble spokespersons and their speeches and statements are carried by La Jornada and other media not controlled by the PRI, as even Hellman recognizes in the case of La Jornada. There are those who upload such material to the internet, sometimes on Chiapas-L, sometimes on Mexicoxxi. Today the Perredistas of California have set up their own news service and are sending out regular postings. It is generally true that the pro-Zapatista network has been much more effective than the PRD as a party, but this is not surprising, not because the Perredistas are technophobes but because the pro-Zapatista networks are world-wide and involve thousands of people from all kinds of movements. And, as the experiences of the UNAM strike and the most recent elections have most clearly demonstrated, the PRD often doesn't have much to say of interest to anyone! As some commentators have noted, Cardenas came in a miserable third in the recent presidential elections with only 17 percent of the vote because he and the PRD had nothing to ofter that Fox hadn't already picked up and packaged better. At any rate, as Hellman almost explicitly admits, whatever limits exist to the PRDs presense on the Internet is its own fault and not primarily those of the pro-Zapatista networks.
The excitement and satisfaction originally inspired by the opportunity to make political use of electronic communication to connect to a "community" of fellow activists continues undiminished for many. The posting and reposting, the calls for signatures on petitions, adhesions to protest manifestos, the sharing of experiences of mobilization have all worked to create a sense of "connectedness" among progessive people around the world and, in particular, among supporters of the Zapatistas. Indeed, nowhere does the sense of political accomplishment fostered by electronic communication seem keener than among EZLN solidarity activists.
The problem of activists being overwhelmed with too much information (alluded to earlier as well) is quite real. In the case of the Chiapas solidarity networks, Chiapas95 was created as a first step in solving this problem by filtering and reducing the flow of information to more manageable proportions. Subsequently, Chiapas95-lite and later Chiapas95-english and Chiapas95-espanol were all created for the same purpose of reducing the flows to the levels desired by subscribers. There have been other efforts along these lines at a broader level, e.g., Activ-L which collects stories about struggles from all parts of the world and creates digests to help people cope with the quantity. It is too bad that Hellman has nothing to ofter in helping us deal with this problem, but we will continue to work on it.
We have seen that in a variety of different ways, Chiapas solidarity activists have come to depend on the internet to keep themselves informed and to guide their political activities.
What more "ambitious project"? What does she have in mind here? Who knows? She conjures the vague image of some more comprehensive effort, greater and more meaningful because grounded in better understanding. But what project? This is nothing more than cheap rhetoric by someone with no constructive ideas to offer.
By the end of the 1980s, however, Orive was working for Carlos Salinas and, based on his detailed knowledge of the physical and political geography of the conflict zone, was recruited by Zedillo in 1994 to direct the counter-insurgency in Chiapas. Given Orive's knowledge of every schism, historical or current, it is unconvincing to argue that if we do not discuss frankly and openly among ourselves the differences in perspective among assorted actors in Chiapas, then these disagreements will remain a secret from the regime!
I would like to thank Silvia Gómez Tagle, Steve Hellman, Peter Ives, Colin Leys, Leo Panitch, Scott Robinson, Emiko Saldivar, Sid Tarrow, and Charles Tilly for their helpful comments; Douglas Chalmers, Luin Goldring, Ron Hellman, and Ken Sharpe for the opportunity to try out these ideas in seminars; and Steve Hellman and Peter Ives for steady encouragement and the materials they collected for this article. I would also like to acknowledge the support of Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada for financial support of this research.
1. See Lynn Stephen, "In the Wake of the Zapatistas: U.S. Solidarity Work Focused on Militarization, Human Rights, and Democratization in Chiapas," Paper presented at a Conference titled, "Lessons from Mexico-U.S. Bi-National Civil Society Coalitions," 9-11 July 1998, University of California, Santa Cruz.2. Il Manifesto, 28 March 1998 . The debates appeared in this issue and in Il Manifesto, 10 February 1998, and 1 March 1998.
3. Michael Lowy, "Sources and Resources of Zapatism," Monthly Review, Vol.49, No.10, March 1998, p. 1-2. 4. Throughout this article, I am using the term "internet" to refer to the most commonly-accessible sites that people interested in Chiapas would be most likely to find while surfing the world wide web. For example, using "Chiapas" as a keyword on various search engines provided in the most common web browsers (e.g. Excite, Infoseek, Lycos, or Yahoo), I found that a semi-systematic survey of the materials available tends to produce the same sites - and links - over and over. Therefore, the material to which I refer throughout this analysis, would be found on the following sites, or by following the links provided in them.
http://www.eco.utexas.edu/faculty/Cleaver/zapsincyber.html#Frente Zapatista de Liberacion National
Mexico Solidarity Network
SIPAZ Servicio Internacional para la Paz
Zapatistas in Cybertspace
5. Thomas Benjamin, A Rich Land, A Poor People: Politics and Society in Modern Chiapas, (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996); and George A. Collier with Elizabeth Lowery Quarantiello, Basta! Land and the Zapatista Rebellion in Chiapas, (Oakland, CA: Food First, 1994), pp. 16-7; Neil Harvey, Rebellion in Chiapas: Rural Reforms, Campesino Radicalism and the Limits to Salinismo, (La Jolla, CA: Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, UCSD, 1994); and Adolfo Gilly, Chiapas: la razón ardiente, (México, D.F.: Ediciones ERA, 1997).
6. Harvey, pp.10-14; John Womack Jr. Rebellion in Chiapas: An Historical Reader, (New York: The New Press, 1999), pp. 20-9; John M. Whitmeyer and Rosemary L Hopcroft, "Community, Capitalism and Rebellion in Chiapas, Sociological Perspectives, Vol 39, No. 4, pp. 517-38, p. 528-33); and Richard Stahler-Sholk, "Neoliberalism and Democratic Transition: Looking for Autonomy in the Jungles of Chiapas," paper presented at the Annual Meetings of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, 23-25 April 1998, p. 1.
7. Womack, pp. 29-43; Carlos Fazio, Samuel Ruíz: El Caminante, (México, D.F.: Espasa Calpe Mexicana, 1994), pp. 101-113. Xochitl Leyva Solano, "The New Zapatista Movement: Political Levels, Actors and Political Discourse in Contemporary Mexico," in Valentina Napolitano and Xochitl Leyva Solano, eds, Encuentros Antropológicos: Power, Identity and Mobility in MexicanSociety, (London: Institute of Latin American Studies, 1998), pp.41-2.8. Collier, p. 62-3; Womack, pp 39.
9. Collier ( p. 63) juxtaposes the demands presented in Chol, Tojobal, Tzeltal and Tzotzil to the 1974 Congress with the EZLN's Thirty-Four Point Agenda for negotiation proposed in 1994 and shows that they are almost identical. Ibid., pp. 64-5.
10. Neil Harvey, The Chiapas Rebellion: The Struggle for Land and Democracy, (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998), pp. 86-88.
11. La Botz, pp. 26-38 provides an especially clear and useful summary of this extraordinary period of organizational activity. A particularly useful aspect is his explanation for the great enthusiasm for maoism among radical Mexican leftists.
12. See the debate around the "postmodern" nature of the movement, especially Roger Burbach, "Roots of the Postmodern Rebellion in Chiapas," New Left Review, 205, , 1994, pp. 113-24; and Daniel Nugent's critique of Burbach, "Northern Intellectuals and the EZLN," Monthly Review, Vol. 47, No. 3, July-August 1995, pp. 124-38. Also see Sergio Zermeño, "State Society, and Dependent Neoliberalism in Mexico: the Case of the Chiapas Uprising," in William C. Smith and Patricio Korzeniewicz, eds., Politics, Social Change and Economic Restructuring in Latin America, (Miami: University of Miami, North-South Center Press, 1997) pp. 123-49; Whitmeyer and Hopcroft, Lowy, and Susan Street, " La palabra verdadera del zapatismo chiapaneco," Chiapas, Vol 2, 1996, pp. 75-94.
13. Lynn Stephen, "Mexico's New Zapatismo: A Culturally and Historically Embedded Critique of Neoliberalism," Paper presented at the Annual Meetings of the American Anthropological Association, Philadelphia, 2-6 December 1998, p. 3.
14. See EZLN, Crónicas intergalácticas: Primer encuentro intercontinental por la humanidad y contra el neoliberalismo, (Chiapas: Planeta Tierra, 1996).
15. See Harry Cleaver, "The Zapatistas and the Electronic Fabric of Struggle," in John Holloway, ed., The Chiapas Uprising and the Future of Revolution in the Twenty-First Century, html version from Chiapas95 webpage, 1996; [http://www.eco.utexas.edu/faculty/Cleaver/zaps.html] María Elena Martínez Torres, "The Internet: post-modern struggle by the dispossessed of modernity," Paper prepared for the 1997 Annual Meeting of the Latin American Studies Association, Guadalajara, 17-19 April 1997; and Manuel Castells's section titled "Mexico's Zapatistas: the First Informational Guerrilla Movement" in his book, The Power of Identity, (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997), pp. 80-1.
16. Under the provisions of the agrarian law in place until 1993, this land would have been distributed to landless petitioners in the form of "ejido parcels" that they would be free to cultivate and pass along to one of their offspring, but that would not be available to rent, sell or mortgage.
17. Until the reform of Article 27 of the Constitution in 1993, a landholding was only afectable or available for expropriation and distribution to petitioning peasants when it exceeded a maximum size established in accordance with the type of agricultural production pursued on that parcel.
18. That is, illegally large landholdings created out of the concentration of holdings that fall within the legal maximum. Typically, a neolatifundio is comprised of a number of holdings that have been put into various family members' names, although in the commercial export agricultural zones of Mexico it has also been common for individuals to pay trusted prestenombres, or namelenders, to act as the owner of record for a "neighboring farm" that is, in fact worked as part of a single large estate. Salinas's alteration of Article 27 of the Constitution made this kind of subterfuge unnecessary, to the great delight and relief of large landowners everywhere in Mexico. See Judith Adler Hellman, Mexican Lives, (New York: The New Press, 1994), pp .139-41.
19. Collier, p. 48-50.
20. The minimum size of an ejido parcel differs from place to place in Mexico according to the quality, fertility and access to water of the land that is distributed. On the sub-division of land parcels into ever smaller holdings under pressure of population growth, see María del Carmen García A. and Daniel Villafuerte Solís, "Economía y sociedad en Chiapas," in María Tarrío and Luciano Concheiro, eds., La sociedad frente al mercado, (México, D.F.: Ediciones La Jornada, 1998), p. 352.
21. Collier writes, "Before 1974, the Catholic Church had already begun extensive grass roots evangelizing in eastern Chiapas, in part to ward off the advance of Protestantism." p. 62. Also see Womack, pp.36-43 on this Catholic response to the spread of Protestant conversions.
22. INEGI, Censos Generales de Población y Vivienda, 1990, cited in García A. and Villafuerte Solís, p 364.
23. Ibid., p. 365.
24. In interviews conducted in May 1998, the explanation offered to me for the increase in Mormon and Islamic conversions was the appeal to men of religions that -- as interpreted in the Chiapanecan contest -- not only tolerate, but sanctify polygamous relationships. Now, instead of having an official wife, married in Church plus a second mujer, and her children "on the side" in the classic casa chica, men can have all their wives and children living with them under one roof.
25. María del Carmen García A., "Las organizaciones no gubermentales en Chiapas: algunas reflexiones en torno a su actuación política," in Centro de Estudios Superiores de México y Centroamérica, Anuario 1997, (Tuxtla Gutiérrez: Universidad de Ciencias y Artes de Chiapas, 1998), p. 50.
26. The National Institute of Statistics, Geography and Informatics, INEGI reports only 6.5 million because the standard they use is that a person must speak an indigenous language to be counted as an indigenous person. Meanwhile, the National Indigenous Institute, INI, which has good reasons to avoid undercounting indigenous people, estimates 10 million. See INEGI, XI Censo general de población y vivienda, México, D.F.: INEGI, 1992.
27. Cynthia Hewitt de Alcántara, Anthropological Perspectives on Mexico, London: Routledge, 1984), p. 53.
28. Guillermo Bonfil Batalla, México Profundo: Reclaiming a Civilization, (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996); and Luis Villoro, Los grandes momentos del indigenismo en México, tercera edición, (México, D.F.: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1996).
29. Neil Harvey, "La autonomia indigena y ciudadanía étnica en Chiapas," paper presented at the XX Meetings of the Latin American Studies Association, Guadalajara, Mexico, 17-19 April, 1997, p. 10.
30. Ibid., p. 18. Héctor Díaz-Polanco, La rebelión zapatista y la autonomía, (México, D.F.: Siglo Veíntiuno Editores, 1997); Luis Hernández, "Ciudadanos iguales, ciudadanos diferentes: la nueva lucha india," Este País, febrero, pp. 38-39; Marco Rascón, "Autonomía para la integración," La Jornada, 16 febrero, 1998, pp. xiii-xvi; Gilberto López y Rivas, "Los significados de San Andrés," La Jornada, 16 febrero, 1998, p. xii; Carmen Lloréns Fabregat and Rosa Albina Garavito Elías, "Esencia de los acuerdos de San Andres," Coyuntura 84, enero-febrero, 1998, pp. 33-40.
31. The rule of strong men or caciques.
32. This quote is drawn from an interview with Juan Pedro Viqueira, one of the few analysts who spoke for attribution. He later elaborated these views in "Los peligros del Chiapas imaginario," Letras Libres, enero 1999, pp. 20-8; 96-7.
33. Alison Brysk, "Turning Weakness into Strength: The Internationalization of Indian Rights," Latin American Perspectives, Issue 89, spring 1996, Vol. 23, No 2., p. 46.
34. John Gledhill, "Liberalism, Socio-Economic Rights and the Politics of Identity: From Moral Economy to Indigenous Rights," in Richard Wilson, ed., Human Rights, Culture, and Context: Anthropological Perspectives, (London: Pluto Press, 1997), summarized in Xochitl Leyva Solano, p. 50.35. Lynn Stephen, "Mexico's New Zapatismo," p. 6-7.
36. Judith Adler Hellman, "The Mexican Elections: Rush to Judgement, " Globe & Mail, Toronto, 2 September 1994, p. 8; On the 1994 elections, see Silvia Gómez Tagle and Ma. Eugenia Valdéz Vega "Chiapas," in Gómez Tagle, ed., 1994: Elecciones en los estados, (México, D.F.: La Jornada Editores, 1997), pp. 179-209.
37. It is ironic that on the subject of elections in Guerrero State, La Jornada's position is quite different and the view that the electoral road might be usefully pursued at the same time as armed struggle has gained the approval not only of the Popular Revolutionary Army, that is, the guerrillas themselves, but also of La Jornada. See Blanche Petrich's interview with Arnaldo Bartra, "En Guerrero, armas y urnas no se excluyen," Sunday 13 February 1999, p. 8.
38. See Cleaver, and Martínez Torres.
39. Ibid. Also see Castells, pp. 72-83.
40. A similar point was made by Benjamin Barber with regard to democratic participation in U.S. politics in "Internet: A Place for Commerce or a Place for Us?," a presentation to the Columbia University Seminar on the Political Economy of War and Peace, 28 January, 1999.
41. Stephen, "In the Wake of the Zapatistas," pp. 14-15.
42. Ibid., p. 13.
43. Cleaver, p. 19.
44. In the detailed coverage given to the event in the pages of the Italian daily, Il Manifesto, indigenous people who support the PRI and oppose the Zapatistas are always referred to as priistas, that is, "PRI supporters," and even as "squadracce priiste." This second term is best translated as "organized squads of thugs" and is usually used in Italy to refer, literally, to fascist gangs. See Giani Proiettis, "L'esercito minaccia," Il Manifesto, 7 May 1998.
45. Almost a year later I found Mexican human rights specialists divided on the question of the utitlity of an approach that appears to challenge Mexican soveignty at the same time that it tests the constitutionality of restrictions on foreigners' activities in Mexicon and the rights of free association of Mexicans.
46. La Botz, pp. 32-34. Of Orive, Womack, pp. 221, writes, "The one constant in the movement had been the preeminence of its primary intellect and 'ideological director,' arguably the most remarkable organizer of his generation, Adolfo Orive."