Časopis pro politiku a mezinárodní vztahy

Global Politics

Časopis pro politiku a mezinárodní vztahy

Can the Zapatist Movement in Chiapas/Mexico be considered a Post Development Movement?

This article belongs to a special series focused on post-development issues which was created in co-operation with the University of Vienna.

Many aspects of post-development thinking can be found in the Zapatist movement; especially their way of thinking about the economy outside of standard capitalist realms and the emphasis they put on the preservation of their culture. Mixing indigenous beliefs and knowledge with modern achievements (like in the health sector) is what Escobar had in mind when he wrote about hybrid cultures.


1. Introduction

The Zapatist movement in the South of Mexico is one of the most famous social movements in the world. They fight against oppressive policies from the Mexican state, against economic exploitation, the eradication of their culture and for a more self-determined life. They criticize neoliberalism and the advancing westernization and homogenisation of the world. Claiming that the Mexican state has done nothing but exploit the indigenous population for the last 500 years, they demand an end to this repression and respect for their way of life. Although the Zapatistas have not (yet) achieved their aim of gaining the official status as an autonomous region within the Mexican state, they have managed to create new ways of living, thinking and interacting.

Post development theory is a school of thought that criticises development aid, unreflected modernisation, neoliberalism, the reign of commerce and capital and the construction of a biased world that divides people, countries and culture into categories according to Western standards. Post development writers envision a world of cultural differences and self-determined people that create own and new ways of organising societies according to people´s self-defined needs.

In this paper, I will try to examine if the society the Zapatistas have created is the sort of society post development writers imagine. In order to do so, I will describe in Chapter 2 the origins of the Zapatist movement which are rooted in an oppressive state that has been pushing (neoliberal) reforms against its own people. Chapter 3 offers an explanation of why post development thinking rejects development and an illustration of the three components (politics, knowledge, economy) that in the eyes of theorists need to be claimed back by the people in order to create a new society. In Chapter 4, I will look at aspects of Zapatist society structures, examine their principles and put them in relation to post development thinking to see if they overlap.

It has to be noted that the Zapatist movement and its organisation structures are very complex. It would go beyond the scope of this paper to examine all parts of the movement. The ones I picked out seemed to me the most conforming with post development. Aspects of the armed struggle, the governments efforts to divide the movement, international solidarity, the autonomous finance, banking and juridical system, the role of NGOs and the church are largely left out of this paper.

2. Chiapas and the Zapatist Movement

Chiapas is Mexico´s most Southern federal state, bordering Guatemala. It is a state rich in natural resources and fertile land. About 4 million people, of which one quarter is of indigenous decent, live in Chiapas. It is one of the poorest states in Mexico. 25% of all households lack direct water supply, about the same percentage of people don´t have access to the medical system. 71% of the indigenous population is malnourished, which is a common cause of death. Around ¼ of the male and ½ of the female indigenous population are illiterate, the highest ratio in all of Mexico. (cf. Moser 2009:53) Although Chiapas produces 10% of Mexico´s overall supply, 275.000 of chiapanese people still have no access to the electricity network and those who do have been faced with skyrocketing prices in the last decade (cf. Kerkeling 2009).

Chiapas is also home of one of the most known and acclaimed social movements world wide. The Zapatist uprising led by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, EZLN) on New Year´s Day of 1994, the same day the Northern American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) entered into force, caused a stir way beyond the Mexican borders. The inital war between the EZLN and the Mexican military lasted only 12 days but to this day, the Zapatist struggle for indigenous autonomy over their land and resources and a more peaceful and dignified life continues. The Zapatistas have achieved to build autonomous education and health care systems and created ways of directing their economy further away from dependency on the international market. Their infamous spokesperson is Subcomandante Marcos who himself is not of Indian decent. He calls himself Subcomandante because the main commander of the movement are the people. The Zapatistas are organised as a grassroots democracy and promote indigenous knowledge and forms of organising community life. Their support is mainly based on the civil society within the Chiapas Region, but can also be found in urban Mexico. Solidarity groups around the world have sprung up since 1994 to support the Zapatist struggle from abroad.

It is remarkable that despite continuous threads and repression from the government and attacks by the military and state- and enterprise-sponsored paramilitary groups, the Zapatist movement has survived until today.

In order to comprehend the Zapatist rebellion, one has to look at Mexican history to understand the reasons for the movement.

2.1 Outline of Mexico´s History

Mexico was colonized by Spain in the 16th century. For a long time the country had the sole purpose of providing cheap raw materials, especially silver, for the European market. The Indian population was widely neglected by the Spanish rulers and used as a cheap labor force to provide for European needs. Mexico became independent in 1810 but remained in the hands of a European-educated and European-oriented elite that would do very little for the indigenous Mexican population. Most of Mexico´s land was owned by great land owners that employed Indian laborers and through their economic power played a major role in Mexican politics. At the turn of the twentieth century, large segments of the southern Lacandon forest in the southern Chiapas region „were in the hands of US-and Belgium-owned companies that exploited the vast rain forest, cutting mahogany and cedar“ (Sanchez Cruz 2005:35). The government followed a policy that proposed „concerted colonization […] by European settlers with the aim of the complete fusion of the Indians with whites and thus the total extinction of the indigenous castes“ (Higgins 2004:77).

The revolution of 1910 brought little change to the Southern part of Mexico. The Constitution of 1917 that derived from the revolution, „written to guarantee a new Mexico“ (Sanchez Cruz 2005:38), beared the potential for a land reform. Article 27 promised that „the poor and landless could petition for the use and ownership of idle, empty, and eventually expropriated lands“ (Sanchez Cruz 2005:35). The lands, called ejidos, were to be corporately held and administered under a form of governance deriving from indigenous custom. Ejidos could not be legally sold or rented „because the community, not the individual, retained the basic property rights“ (Sanchez Cruz 2005:35). While the Northern part of Mexico soon experienced some redistribution of land to landless farmers, the land reform did not arrive in Chiapas until the late 1930s. During the next decades, some lands were made available but it was mainly done on the landholding rancher´s terms who would give their workers marginal lands on the fringes of their holdings which „staved off true redistribution“ (Sanchez Cruz 2005:36). These parcels of soil were „the poorest agricultural land, steep slope sitting above the broad valleys still held by the same families“ (Sanchez Cruz 2005:36).

Demographic pressure within the indigenous communities forced the Mexican government to make more land available for the Indian population. These lands were not intended for subsistence farming. The government encouraged the new owners to produce cash crops such as coffee and cattle for export, „allowing the nation to integrate into the international market“ (Sanchez Cruz 2005:40) rather than permitting the indigenous population to determine the use of the soil themselves. Even though there was some re-distribution of land in the decades after the Mexican revolution, power and dependence relations between the suppressed Indian population and the land-owning families remained largely untouched (cf. Moser 2009:48).

2.2 Neoliberal Reforms and its Consequences

Mexico was the first state to declare bankruptcy in the depth crisis of 1982. In its aftermath, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund forced a series of structural adjustment programs on Mexico that created the basis for a series of neoliberal reforms. The Mexican political elite was „a vital component“ (Higgins 2004:135) in pushing for radical economic changes. „Removing subsidies, reducing union power, […] and exposing manufacturing goods and producers to an aggressive international market“ (Higgins 2004:136) were all neoliberal reforms designed to boost Mexico´s economy and take the country (in modernization theory-thinking) „to the next level“ of economic development in order to „catch up“ with economically further developed countries.

For the people of the Chiapas region this meant even more hardship in their lives. Since the government had never installed an education or health care system in this region in the first place, it was not so much the budget cuts that created social unrest. But the government´s fi­xation on cash crops (increasingly cattle herding which takes up a lot of land) designed for export meant that even less land was available for the farmers.

When oil was found in Chiapas, PEMEX, the national oil company, claimed large territories for oil production. Also, large areas of fertile land have been flooded to build dams in order to generate electricity, mainly for use in the Northern part of Mexico (cf. Moser 2009:48). The government declared the land re-distribution of the Constitution´s Ar­ticle 27 completed. This took away many people´s hope that one day they would get a piece of land assigned. The state created a new law which prohibited people from cutting firewood in the forest, thus making it impossible for the indigenous to make use of the resources on their soil. Furthermore, in order to avert any kind of social mobilisation or uprising, a new law on terrorism was passed, prohibiting all forms of gathering, demonstrations and public actions (cf. Klatzer 1997:201). But indigenous forms of organising community life and resistance against the government´s sup­pression had existed for a long time and continued to exist.

From a strictly economic point of view, the Mexican State was doing well under the neoliberal rule since it could pay its debt. By late 1993, the government´s po­licies of privatization and deregulation had created a new generation of billionaires. „Mexico sought to secure its international status through negotiating an entry into the North American Free Trade Agreement […]“ (Higgins 2004:142). Of course, this was an elite decision which did not take into consideration the jobs lost on both sides of the border, the immense pressure put on Mexican manufacturers and the social consequences attached to such a great transformation of the economy. „On the eve of 1994, as Mexico sought to promote itself as an international model of development, the highly partial, coercive, and elite nature of Mexico´s neoliberal revolution was about to be laid bare“ (Higgins 2004:143).

The Zapatist movement´s focus is very much oriented against neoliberalism and all its inhumane consequences. The EZLN had formed years before it first went public but when it did, the date was carefully chosen. As Subcomandate Marcos explained on the first day of the uprising:

„Today the North American Free Trade Agreement begins, which is nothing more than a death sentence for the indigenous ethnicities of Mexico, who are perfectly dispensable in the modernization program of Salinas de Gortari [Mexico´s President from 1988– end of 1994]. Thus the compañeros decided to rise up on this same day to respond to the decree of death that the Free Trade Agreement gives them, with the decree of life that is given by rising up in arms to demand liberty and democracy, which will provide them with the solution to their problems. This is the reason we have risen up today.“ (La Jornada 1994 in Higgins 2005:155)

The Zapatistas have broken off as many ties with the official government as possible and created a way of life in their communities that is based on solidarity, respect and communal learning. It very much differs from a Western way of perceiving the economy, nature, health and freedom. Many of their beliefs and practices accord with post-development thinking which will be explored in the next chapter.

3. Post-Development

In the 1980s, a new approach of thinking about development emerged. From a post development perspective, the discourse about development had so far been largely dominated by Western technocrats who thought to solve the problems of the „underdeveloped“ parts of the world through modernisation programs. „The Third World (as it came to be known) was regarded as backwards and primitive, but these problems could be overcome by following a similar path of development to that of the Western (civilised) world.[…] This could be achieved through an increase in production in underdeveloped areas, and this in turn could occur through the introduction of rational scientific methods“ (Kiely 1999:32). The nation state was seen as the unit of analysis and economic indicators were used to determine the stage of development a country had reached. Poverty was reduced to a technical problem that could be cured by technical measures. In this way „development tends to depoliticise poverty“ (Nustad 2001:482) because the shortcomings of the global South were always defined in a way that would allow for a technical solution and shield out structural and political causes.

Disadvantageous integration into the world market, post-colonial dependencies and uneven power distribution within the international arena were left out off the development-equation and replaced with more graspable and less threatening problems such as lack of capital or technology. Thereby, poverty and underdevelopment were constructed in a manner that would allow the developed world and its many enterprises to retain their political and economic reign over their former colonies and continue their rule of exploitation even after decolonisation (cf. Ziai 2004a:177). Furthermore, during the Cold War, development was used as an agenda by the West to ward off communism. „From the start, development´s hid­den agenda was nothing else than the Westernization of the world“ (Sachs 1995: 4–5).

Post development thinkers reject the idea and practice of development as it has been carried out in the last decades. They do so for three distinct reasons:

  1. Development aid, as it has been practiced since World War II, has failed. Despite the hundreds of NGOs, agencies, think-tanks, states and institutions that have tried to „develop“ the poorer regions of the world, the latter are worst off today than they were decades ago. Their debt rises and the gap between the poor and the rich countries widens continuously despite all efforts. This is due to the fact that the concept of development is flawed in itself, not because development has been practiced incorrectly.
  2. Defining the Western world as developed is what constructed the rest of the world as underdeveloped in the first place. It created a way of regarding cultures differing from Western customs as less valuable, backward and weak. Development demanded the assimilation of the rest of the world to Western values and culture, thus declaring the latter superior to dissenting habits.
  3. Since the term „development“ comes along with the flawed practice of development and the theoretical construct of a developed and an underdeveloped world, the word itself is deemed unusable and therefore rejected. (cf. Ziai 2004a:168)

Post-development is not a homogeneous theory. It is rather a critique of the development practice of the last decades. Many writers from different fields with contrary views have contributed to this school of thought. According to Ziai, Escobar, one of the main voices of the theory, summarizes the shared beliefs of post development as follows:

– „an interest not in development alternatives but in alternatives to development, thus the rejection of the entire [development] paradigm;

  • an interest in local culture and knowledge;
  • a critical stance towards established science discourse;
  • the defense and promotion of localised, pluralistic grassroots movements“. (Ziai 2004b:1046)

3.1 Politics, Knowledge and the Economy

3.1.1. Politics

Post development authors demand an end to development aid and call for alternatives to development. This can be realized only if the people reclaim the right to govern themselves because the nation state has long enough put the project of development before its own people. Rather than serving their people´s needs, many states have complied with international institution´s de­mands and chased the recognition as a developed country, as was the case when Mexico reformed its economy in the 1980s due to outside pressure and an ambitious elite. „Consequently, existing power structures have to be radically decentralised, power has to remain at the local level“ (Ziai 2004b: 1056). This can be done in autonomous regions where people govern themselves in a manner of radical democracy because „[t]he modern state does not understand the right […] to be underdeveloped. It claims the right to develop people and nature on the basis of a vision of progress set out according to the blueprint supplied by modern science“ (Alvares 2009:251).

3.1.2 Knowledge

Science and knowledge play another vital role in post developmentarian thinking. „The faith in science and technology […] played an important role in the elaboration and justification of the development discourse“ (Escobar 1995: 35). Truth, as we accept it, is based largely on the prominent discourse and on modern science. Anything that is not scientifically proven, rational or comprehensible to a Western understanding of the world is doomed to be nothing more than a myth or a leftover of traditionalist thinking that is yet to be eradicated by modernization. The West retains its power by defining truth. Their „tools are [considered] neutral, desirable, and universally applicable“ (Escobar 1995: 26). Since historiography is still largely done in the West and (beside the exception of some successful Asian countries) research and science are still considered realms of the developed world, it seems virtually impossible for Third World countries, to produce their own truth and knowledge, let alone to contribute to the debate about it. From a post-development perspective, this is exactly what needs to happen if societies want to emancipate themselves. „Give priority to immediate experience within locally available conceptual categories, over the claims of scientific knowledge,[…] [because] all knowledge [is] culturally constructed“ (Nanda 1999:15). Cultural differences should be embraced rather than homogenised so that people and societies regain their self-esteem, confidence in their own ways, strengthen their autonomy and define their own needs and expectations. Most post development writers do not call for an unreflected return to traditional societies and pre-modern ways of life. They demand the freedom to define their values, beliefs and traditions autonomously. That way, hybrid cultures which combine positive elements of the past and the present can come into existence. (cf. Escobar 1995:219) „There are numerous ways of living a ‛good life‘, and it is up to each society to invent its own“ (Rist 1997 in Ziai 2004a:195).

3.1.3 The Economy

The ‛good life’ mentioned above also implies the need for a definition of who is poor and what is underdeveloped. In the West, these terms are closely connected with economic potential. Poverty and wealth are often connected with individual material prosperity. Other society, „cultures in which non-economic assumptions govern lives […]“ (Sachs 1995:19), may define these terms in a more sociable manner, such as respect within the community or a person’s achi­evement for a group of kin. Post development thinkers point out that the capitalist system as we know it, dominated by scarcity, needs and competition has tremendous flaws and is not favorable to all kinds of society. People should have the possibility to define their own economic needs themselves. In order to get out of the loop of exploitation and foreign interest that have dictated Third World country’s economic integration into the world market for centuries, societies should try to build parallel market structures and informal economies to avoid being preyed upon by the international market.

It should be noted that the post development school goes further than just a mere critique of development practice. It questions western convictions of science, rationality, capitalism, the nation state and the relationship between people and nature, therewith the basis of modernity. This challenge derives from modernity’s many inherent problems and flaws that have created disparity and exploitation, not only in the less-advantaged regions but anywhere in the world. (Cf. Ziai 2004a: 373) Modernity should no longer dictate people’s way of life in an unreflected manner. Life should be self-determined.

4. Zapatismo and Post Development

As mentioned in Chapter 2.1, the Zapatistas have struggled for more than a decade for autonomy over their land and resources and the freedom to determine their own way of life. After the initial uprising of 1994, the EZLN entered into negotiations with the government and after two years of talks published the San Andres Accord which voiced their central demands:

  • basic respect for the diversity of the indigenous population of Chiapas;
  • the conservation of the natural resources within the territories used and occupied by indigenous peoples;
  • a greater participation of indigenous communities in the decisions and control of public expenditures;
  • the participation of indigenous communities in determining their own development plans, as well as having control over their own administrative and judicial affairs;
  • the autonomy of indigenous communities and their right of free determination in the framework of the State (Global Exchange 2007).

4.1 Zapatist Politics

Until today, only an alleviated version of the Accord was granted by the Mexican government in 2001 which is not accepted by the EZLN. „330 complaints against the inadequacy of this law were thrown out by the Supreme Court in September 2002, signaling the end of the last hope for a negotiated solution“ (Chatteron 2007). But as a Zapatist spokesperson announced: „We’re moving forward. If the government won’t give us autonomy, we’ll just go ahead and apply it in practice“ (Earl/Simonelli 2005:276).

In 2003, the EZLN stated that it had broken off all contact with the official government and all political parties. One month later, the movement created the Juntas de Buen Gobierno (JBG), the Good Goverment Juntas (cf. Moser 2009:59). „The Good Government Juntas represent both the poetic, populist and the practical nature of the Zapatista struggle to build workable alternatives of autonomy locally, link present politics to traditional ways of organising life in indigenous communities, and contrast with the ‘bad government’ of official representational politics in Mexico City“ (Chatterton 2007).

It has to be noted that the Zapatistas´ aim is to have autonomy within the Mexican state, not the separation from Mexico.

The Zapatistas have decided to govern their part of the country autonomously. Therefore, they divided it into five Caracoles which represent the five Zapatista zones of the North, the highlands, jungle, border and the mountains. These caracoles constitute the administrative and political center of each zone with JBG headquarters in all of them. The caracoles are subdivided in about 40 municipalities, the Municipios Autónomos Rebeldes Zapatistas (MAREZ). The JBG is made up of representatives of the councils within the MAREZ which are chosen on a rotating schedule in assemblies at the municipal level. Within the MAREZ-council, a representative period lasts from 2 weeks to 3 month. In the JBG, a term lasts 3 years but any representative can be kicked off its position when he or she does not do his/her work well. The JBG has different fields of responsibilities such as agriculture or health to which its members are assigned. Their work is overseen by the Comisión de Vigilancia, a commission chosen by the MAREZ as well.

Representatives, of which 40% are female, do not get paid for the work they do at the community level. Engaging in politics is not considered a profession in the Zapatist movement. Rather, it is seen as representing the will of the people, which has been voiced in general assemblies, discussed and decided upon in a consensual manner. Their only function is to make sure that the consensus is executed. Consensus is achieved with a method called „huac ta huoc“, which is Tzeltal (one of the indigenous languages) for „collect, reflect and collect again“. In this decision making process, every group member voices his/her opinion. The leaders of the group summarize them and present them to the whole community, where possible decisions are discussed again until a consensus is reached. This consensus is the basis off all action taken later concerning the issue that had been discussed. Zapatist decision making can take days if a consensus can not be reached. (cf. Klatzer 1997:200) Since there is no salary for the representative’s wor­k, no direct economic gain is attached to the position. On the contrary, it is time-consuming work with a lot of responsibility that keeps people from pursuing their everyday jobs. (cf. Moser 2009: 57–60)

The Zapatist understanding of politics very much complies with post development thinking where the „project of ‘radical and plural democracy’ [is seen] as the ‘extension of the democratic struggles for equality and liberty to a wide range of social relations“ (Ziai 2004b:1056 quoting Laclau and Mouffe). This radical democracy is practiced in the community and municipal meetings. Politics is usurped by the people and integrated into their everyday life because it is accessible to everyone and not a field of experts who are not in touch with people’s actu­al needs.

4.2 Zapatist Truth and Knowledge

Truth and knowledge have a direct connection to a person’s self-esteem. If an indigenous person is constantly surrounded by a discourse preaching hers or his inferiority, one day that person will start to feel that way about her/himself and abandon traditional customs, knowledge, beliefs and thereby its identity. It is a clearly stated goal of the Zapatist movement to prevent that loss of identity and bring back knowledge that has already been lost. Meanwhile, the movement does not shut itself off from innovations that can usefully be incorporated into people’s lives, thus creating hybrid cultures. The health care and education system, which will be briefly explained, are good examples for this.

4.2.1 Education

Autonomous Zapatist schooling started in 1996. Promoters of education, as teachers are called and who, just like political representatives, do not get paid for their work, were recruited from the communities. Anyone can become a promoter if they attend the training courses. Beside basic skills like mathematics and reading and writing, topics of immediate concern for everyday life are taught. This includes agricultural knowledge and skills, sustainable use of resources and nature and the practice of politics in an autonomous manner. Mexican history is taught including the history and struggles of the indigenous population. Also, computer courses are part of the curriculum. Zapatist ideologies such as respect, solidarity and collectivism play a vital role in children’s edu­cation. Frequently, pupil’s grandpa­rents are invited to the classes to share their knowledge about a topic with the kids. Classes are held in Indian languages, which is a big difference to state schools where classes are held in Spanish. Rather than individualisation, collective thinking is encouraged. (cf. Moser 2009:67–72)

4.2.2 Health Care

Even before the uprising in 1994, an independent network of health promoters existed in Chiapas. This was due to the shortcoming of the official government to provide the population with adequate health care. The network formed with the help of NGOs, universities and the church. Today, health clinics can be found in all municipals. Their main focus is on disease prevention (vaccination, workshops on hygiene, monitoring of pregnancies) but they also have specialised clinics and laboratories. Health promoters work for free, they only get paid their expenses. Treatment in the clinics is free, even for non-Zapatistas who frequently visit the clinics because they provide more accessible health care than the state-run clinics. Only a small amount has to be paid for the medicine in order to restock the stash. If a patient falls seriously ill and needs an operation, he/she is taken to a state hospital. If the family cannot afford the treatment or the journey, it is paid for from the funds of the movement.

Beside scientific health knowledge, traditional healing methods are being promoted, especially for child birth, bone-healing and the use of herbs to cure disease. The healers are organised in cooperatives, supporting the movement. A lot of the traditional healing knowledge has already been lost. Today, the movement holds workshops with older people (especially women) to share the know-how of their generation. On the other hand, they incorporate new available technologies, such as instruments to process herbs. Promoters of traditional healing methods are considered equally important as „real“doctors. (cf. Moser 2009: 86–93)

Health promoters represent a holistic approach to health. They recognise that mental imbalance can lead to physical symptoms. Also, health is defined as more than just the absence of illness but includes the possibility to lead a dignified life, free of suppression and exploitation and thereby incorporates social, economic and political aspects in the Zapatist vision of health (cf. Moser 2009:90).

4.2.3 Knowledge Conclusion

Both, the education as well as the health care system are achievements of the Zapatist autonomy. These structures coexist with state structures and are just as (and sometimes even more) efficient. Local knowledge is embraced and mixed with modern achievements to create hybrid skills that are necessary and relevant for everyday life. The indigenous identity is preserved and the basis of the movement strengthened.

The schooling systems, with its emphasis on collectivism and the restoration of Indian pride is the Zapatist „attempt to make […] visible what had been made invisible [by the Mexican State]: an Indian populace that had both political opinion and socio-cultural vision“ (Higgins 2004:185). By taking it upon themselves to educate their children themselves, „whole communities, through regenerating their traditions, are once again assuming responsibility for the initiation of their young ones into their culture. They are learning to resist the state requirement to hand over their kids to ,experts’, ,professional teachers’ and other varieties of agencies of Outsiders” (Moser 2009: 72 quoting Esteva / Prakash 1998:141).

The Zapatist heath system „challenges the claim of Western science to be a superior form of knowledge which renders obsolete more traditional systems of knowledge“ (Apffel Marglin 1990: 102). People are treated equally and respectfully. Solidarity practices, such as paying treatment out of the movement’s fund, strengthen the community.

These practices conform with the social vision of post development thinking. „At the level of daily life, these popular practices represent a counter-hegemonic force that opposes the instrumentalization and reactionary attempts of the […] state and modern science to domesticate popular culture. […] The concept of hybrid cultures provides an opening towards the intervention of new languages“ (Escobar 1995:220/219).

4.3 Zapatist Economy

Although Gibson-Graham describe a different social movement, they capture the Zapatist economy when they write: The „[…] economy is made up of a thin layer of capitalist economic activity underlaid by a thick meshwork of traditional practices and relationships of sharing […] and collective work.“ (2006:171).

Food security plays a very important part in the Zapatist economy. Since malnutrition is a big problem in Chiapas, subsistence farming is promoted. The farmers are organised in collectives that share their crops. Because of Chiapas´ great ecological diversity, it is possible to grow numerous crops that are exchanged within the community. Surpluses are kept in storages, overseen by the JBG. Some crops are sold in local markets, their earnings are kept collectively and the community decides what to spend the money on. Often, this money is used to support sick members of the community. People are valued over profit and the collective survival is more important than individual success. In this, barter also plays a big role. As the Zapatistas say: „For each of us nothing, for all of us everything“ (Earl/Simonelli 2005:253).

As mentioned in chapter 2.1 and 2.2, there has been a constant shortage of land available for the Indian population. The recoupment of land has played a pivotal role in the Zapatists struggle, since only fertile soil can guarantee independence from international markets and the survival of the movement. „Tierra y Libertad“ (Earl/Simonelli 2005:68) is still the main Zapatist demand. The squatting of unused land has become common practice, since the government had refused to redistribute land to the Indian population.

It is the Zapatista’s aim to become as independent as possible from the international, neoliberal market. Manufacturing articles for everyday life is encouraged by the movement, the producers are organised in collectives. But the Zapatist community is not self-sufficient and has still linkages with the world market. Fertiliser, electric equipment and many other products can not be produced within the community. Also, the Zapatistas produce coffee which is sold abroad. Again, their producers are organised in collectives and their gains are shared within the community. Some of the money goes to a fund which enables them to buy goods from outside markets. Zapatist coffee is sold by solidarity movements in Europe and the US who pay fixed and fair prices.

Zapatist communities are not pre-modern places. Schools have computers and the people and communities own TVs, radios and cars. But owning these goods has a different meaning than it does in our society. As Ziai explains in general, consume can never be used as a substitute for self-esteem and approval (cf. 2004a:180). This thinking mirrors the Zapatist attitude towards material possessions. In post development thinking, the Zapatist´s con­nection with the international market could be doomed unexceptional since the movement is still (if only marginal) engaging with the neoliberal market. But the Zapatist way of thinking about the economy (people over profit) and the collective way of organisation conforms with the post development school.

The Zapatistas are skeptical towards the „conviction that economic growth […] is unquestionably desirable“ (Gibson-Graham 2006: 166) and „non-capitalism is rendered a positive multiplicity rather than an empty negativity“ (Gibson-Graham 2006:70). Given the degree of globalisation and interlinkage in the world, the Zapatistas have managed to reduce their interaction with the world market to a minimum and thereby retained self-determination over the way they organise their economy.

5. Conclusion

As this paper hopes to have shown, many aspects of post development thinking can be found in the Zapatists movement; especially their way of thinking about the economy outside of standard capitalist realms and the emphasis they put on the preservation of their culture. Mixing indigenous beliefs and knowledge with modern achievements (like in the health sector) is what Escobar had in mind when he wrote about hybrid cultures. The principle of huac ta huoc-decision making is a form of radical/grassroots democracy. The Zapatist´ effort to put its own people before profit and organise its economy in a cooperative manner comes close to the sort of economy envisioned in the post development idea, despite some remaining ties with the world market. Through their schooling system, the Zapatistas teach their children in a non-Western manner and encourage the creation of new forms of knowledge. The aim of becoming an autonomous region is also a feature found in post development literature. The New York Times even went so far as to call the Zapatistas „the ‘first post-modern revolution of the twenty-first century’“ (quoted in Higgins 2004:171).

However, it would be wrong to assume that the Zapatistas have built their rebellion around post development theory. In the last 16 years, the movement’s struc­tures have come into being through trial and error and discussions within the communities. They are constantly evolving and adjusted according to the people’s wants and needs and not according to a theory. People in Chiapas might not even know this theory exists. Still, it can be concluded that many aspects of post development thinking can be found in the Zapatist movement and the movement is a viable proof that post developmentarian societies can exist.

6. Literature

  • Alvares, Claude (2009) Science p. 243–260 in Sachs (2009) The Development Dictionary: A Guide to Knowledge as Power. London, Zed Books
  • Apffel Marglin, F. (1990) Smallpox in two systems of knowledge p.102–144 in Apffel Marglin, F. – Marglin, S. A. (eds., 1990) Dominating knowledge. Development, culture and resistance, Oxford, Clarendon Press
  • Chatterton, Paul (2007) The Zapatista Caracoles and Good Governments: The Long Walk to Autonomy, online-text.
  • Earl, Duncan; Jeanne Simonelli (2005) Uprising of Hope: sharing the Zapatista journey to alternative development. Walnut Creek: Alta Mira Press
  • Escobar, Arturo (1995): Encountering Development, The Making and Unmaking of the Third World. Princeton: Princeton University Press
  • Gibson-Graham, Julie/Katherine (2006) A Postcapitalist Politics, Minneapolis, University of Minesota
  • Global Exchange (2007) The San Andres Accord, online-text.
  • Higgings, Nicolas P. (2004) Understanding the Chiapas Rebellion: Modernist Visions and the Invisible Indian. Austin: University of Texas Press
  • Kerkeling, Luz (2009) Die Energie gehört dem Volk!, online-text.
  • Kiely, Ray (1999) The Last Refuge of the Noble Savage? A Critical Assessment of Post-Development Theory, p. 30–55 in The European Journal of Development Research 11. London
  • Klatzer, Christoph (1997) Ya Basta. Der Aufstand der Zapatisten p. 195–218 in Zapotoczky, Gruber (Hrsg.) Entwicklungsthe­orien im Widerspruch. Plädoyer für eine Streitkultur in der Entwicklungspo­litik. Frankfurt: Brandes & Apsel
  • Moser, Bettina (2009) Autonomie statt Entwicklung: Zapatismus und Post-Development. Universität Wien
  • Nanda, Meera. (1999) Who needs Post-Development? Discourse of Difference, Green Revolution and Agrarian Populism in India p.5–31 in: Journal of Developing Societies, 15 (1) Leiden
  • Nustad, Knut G. (2001) Development: the Devil We Know? p.479–489 in Third World Quarterly, Vol. 22, No. 4. Carfax Publishing
  • Sachs, Wolfgang (1995) Introduction p 1–5 in Sachs, W. (1995): The Development Dictionary. A Guide to Knowledge as Power, London: Zed Books
  • Sanchez Cruz, Antonio (2005) The Road to the Edge of the Jungle p.31–40 in Earl, Duncan; Jeanne Simonelli. Uprising of Hope: sharing the Zapatista journey to alternative development. Walnut Creek: Alta Mira Press
  • Ziai, Aram (2004a) Entwicklung als Ideologie? Das klassische Entwicklungspa­radigma und die Post-Development Kritik. Hamburg: Deutsches Übersee-Institut
  • Ziai, Aram (2004b) The ambivalence of post-development: between reactionary populism and radical democracy p.1045–1060 Third World Quaterly, Vol. 25, No. 6.
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Josefine Bingemer
8. 7. 2011