The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, EZLN), often referred to as the Zapatistas, is a revolutionary leftist group based in Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico.
Since 1994, the group has been in a declared war “against the Mexican state”, although this war has been primarily defensive, against military, paramilitary and corporate incursions into Chiapas. In recent years, it has been focused on a strategy of civil resistance. The Zapatistas’ social base is made up of mostly rural indigenous people but includes some supporters in urban areas and internationally. Their main spokesperson is Subcomandante Marcos (currently a.k.a. Delegate Zero in relation to “the Other Campaign”). Unlike other Zapatista spokespeople, Marcos is not an indigenous Maya.
The group takes its name from Emiliano Zapata, the agrarian reformer and commander of the Liberation Army of the South during the Mexican Revolution, and sees itself as his ideological heir. In reference to inspirational figures, nearly all EZLN villages contain murals with images of Zapata, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, and Subcomandante Marcos.
Although the ideology of the EZLN is reflective of libertarian socialism, paralleling both anarchist and libertarian Marxist thought in many respects, the EZLN has rejected and defied political classification, retaining its distinctiveness due in part to the importance of indigenous Mayan beliefs in Zapatismo thought. The EZLN aligns itself with the wider alter-globalization, anti-neoliberal social movement, seeking indigenous control over their local resources, especially land.
Since their 1994 uprising was countered by the Mexican army, the EZLN has abstained from using weapons and adopted a new strategy that attempts to garner Mexican and international support. Through an Internet campaign, the EZLN was successful in disseminating an understanding of their plight and intentions to the public. With this change in tactics, the EZLN has received greater support from a variety of NGOs. The Zapatistas have achieved documented improvements in Chiapas in the areas of gender equality and public health, although they remain unable to establish political autonomy for the province.