Tilman Baumgaertel on Thu, 12 Mar 1998 00:09:41 +0100 (MET)

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<nettime> zapatista & internet


                     A Rebel Movement's Life on the Web
                     Wired News Report

                     6:22pm  6.Mar.98.PST
                     On 1 January 1994, the day the North American
                     Free Trade Agreement went into force, an armed
                     group of Mayan Indians calling itself the EZLN
                     (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) appeared in

                     Mexico's Chiapas state.

                     Calling the treaty "a death sentence against
                     indigenous people" and vowing war not only on the
                     Mexican government but the entire international
                     economic world order, the Zapatistas won a
                     publicity victory far greater than its brief
seizure of
                     several towns.

                     In the ensuing four years, the movement has
                     continued to have a presence that goes beyond its
                     raw numbers. As it tries to fends off paramilitary
                     attacks - last December, 45 unarmed Chiapas
                     peasants were killed by irregulars with ties to the

                     federal police and army - the Zapatistas'
                     voice carries far beyond their home ground in
                     southern Mexico.


                     Since shortly after its beginning, the Zapatistas
                     have enjoyed perhaps the best-organized and
                     most dynamic Internet presences of any political
                     group anywhere. Tamara Ford, Harry Cleaver, and
                     Heather Garza work with Accion Zapatista and
                     ZapNet Collective, Texas groups that jointly
                     facilitate some of the Zapatistas' major electronic

                     archives, Web sites, and email lists.

                     The three, who spoke last month at the 1998
                     Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference,
                     talk to Wired News about the Net's role in the

                     Wired News : Why was there such a strong Web
                     response to the Zapatistas in the first place?

                     Tamara Ford: It was the Zap communiqu=E9s. They
                     didn't only outline their specific situation and
                     strategies, they identified a common global enemy
                     - which in its simplest form they have termed
                     Power (with a capital P). Also, their communiqu=E9s
                     are often issued through the voice of
                     spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos, who uses
                     poetry, humor, scholarship, and storytelling to
                     engage people in dialogues about issues of power
                     and autonomy.

                     WN: So couldn't this just be the latest in left
                     intellectual romances with Third World
                     revolutionaries, combined with an attraction to the

                     charismatic persona of Subcomandante Marcos?

                     Harry Cleaver: Marcos' charisma is a media
                     invention, which prompted a spate of soap opera
                     enthusiasm among some. But it's the freshness
                     and originality of his writing and his ability to
                     translate the indigenous vision into words that
                     others can grasp that explains his popularity
                     among activists. It has been a while since any
                     movement has struck the world with such
                     "newness" and with the power to both stir hope
                     and to prompt debate over long-neglected themes
                     such as democracy, freedom, and justice.

                     Ford: Public space has been commodified and
                     mainstream news has been reduced to
                     info-tainment. The Zapatistas have been able to
                     rupture that space, in part via Marcos' skill as a
                     performance artist. But there is a larger Zapatista

                     discourse - reflecting a very profound commitment
                     from the indigenous communities willing to put
                     their lives on the line - that most people don't
                     to see. It's not printed in our newspapers. That's
                     why the Net's been so important in distributing
                     information that allows people to go beyond any
                     romantic limitations of the left. Moreover, most of

                     the Zapatista supporters are engaged in their own
                     local struggles, which they see as very connected
                     to what the EZLN is fighting for. Thus, the idea of

                     the "other" is collapsing. We are one.

                     WN: Is the Zapatista leadership itself highly
                     conscious of the Internet? Were they originally?

                     Cleaver: There's no evidence that the Zapatistas
                     were thinking in terms of the Internet from the
                     beginning. But they caught on quickly, as
                     feedback from friends and allies made clear to
                     them the importance of this unexpected vehicle for
                     rapid communication and mobilization.

                     Ford: At this point, the Zapatistas are very
                     conscious of the Net and have initiated and
                     participated in countless dialogues. Yet, they're
                     not seduced by the technology. They're
                     sometimes able to subvert it. When they were
                     photographed for 24 Hours in Cyberspace, Marcos
                     wrote a communiqu=E9 about taking the cameras
                     away from the photographers and reversed the role
                     of Zapatistas as subjects. He even touched on the
                     copyright issue, saying the photos of the
                     Zapatistas belonged to the people they were taken
                     of, not to the image-maker. The Zaps have also
                     called for the creation of RICA, an
                     Network of alternative communication to interlink
                     the various electronic and community media
                     Networks that exist.

                     WN: It's been suggested that the Zapatistas'
                     Internet presence might have prevented the
                     Mexican government from wiping out the

                     Heather Garza: The Net has provided a focus on
                     the actions of the Mexican government. It's made
                     it extremely difficult for them to undertake a
                     military offensive.

                     Cleaver: The Mexican government is very
                     sensitive to its public image because it worries
                     about sudden capital flight like what occurred in
                     December 1994, causing the collapse of the peso
                     and the "Tequila Effect," which rippled through
                     emerging markets throughout the world. More
                     specifically, in February-March 1995 when the
                     state unilaterally violated the cease-fire and
                     attacked, a massive mobilization in dozens of
                     cities and countries put pressure on the Mexican
                     government to stop its offensive and negotiate. The

                     Internet provided the means for this rapid

                     WN:: We were actually thinking about the report
                     sent out by Chase Manhattan about eliminating
                     the Zapatistas [a four-page report by a consultant
                     that suggested that to maintain investor
                     confidence, the Mexican government would have
                     to annihilate the rebel movement].

                     Cleaver: The Chase Manhattan report to
                     emerging investors, written by Riordan Roett, got
                     on the Net when Ken Silverstein called me up and
                     told me about it. He faxed me a copy which I
                     typed into e-text and posted. The extremely rapid
                     circulation of that report resulted in widespread
                     mobilization in the US against Chase. It was one
                     of those rare moments of frankness that just
                     happened to fall into the hands of those for whom
                     "investment" in Mexico means support for
                     democracy and indigenous rights, not
                     profit-making. We made good use of it to illustrate

                     the forces behind the government's military

                     WN: How have networked Zapatista supporters
                     responded to the recent crisis in Chiapas, where a
                     number of apparent Zap sympathizers and
                     ordinary people were killed by paramilitaries?

                     Garza: Accounts and testimonies by witnesses
                     were circulated. The response to that has been

                     Ford: There have been letter-writing campaigns
                     and forms of virtual protest. Chiapas95 has
                     distributed hundreds of reports from
                     demonstrations in dozens of countries in recent
                     weeks. There were various proposals for
                     coordinated Net action, including a Net-strike
                     targeted at the servers of Mexican Financial
                     Centers. Another proposal that circulated on the
                     Net was a project to provide indigenous
                     communities with video equipment and training to
                     document human rights abuses. This project
                     actually got under way in Chiapas within weeks,
                     but its director was promptly and illegally
                     by the Mexican government. News of this
                     development also circulated with great speed.

                     This Wired News interview was conducted by
                     correspondent R.U. Sirius.

Zapatista Net of Autonomy & Liberation


Accion Zapatista

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