Mexico shows power of the people

Greg M. Schwartz

It’s Cinco de Mayo, so let’s have a Mexican history lesson. Most Americans view this holiday as a Mexican St. Patrick’s Day — we’re not really sure what it’s about, but it’s a good excuse to party. Today’s date being a rare numerological trinity — three fives — makes this an extra auspicious occasion for both serious partying and deep metaphysical thinking. So before breaking out the margaritas, ponder this:

The holiday celebrates Mexico’s defeat of the French at The Battle of Puebla in 1862. Despite being heavily outnumbered, the Mexican militia emerged victorious. The people of Mexico have kept this spirit of the triumphant underdog alive in some intriguing ways.

Americans disillusioned with our current political climate can look to Mexico for some great lessons on how common people can organize to resist government fascism. From May 5, 1862 to the Zapatista uprising in 1994 to the massive protests a couple weeks ago supporting the popular leftist mayor of Mexico City in his bid to avoid being politically railroaded out of presidential candidacy for 2006, the valiant people of Mexico have time and time again demonstrated the power of the people.

The right-wing of the Mexican government had been trying to prosecute Mexico City Mayor Manuel Lopez Obrador on a trumped-up land dispute charge that would have invalidated him as a presidential candidate. The Mexican people have faced massive government corruption throughout history (such as the stolen presidential election in 1988 that the Bush regime probably studied for 2000.) But every now and then, the people of Mexico rise up and say, “enough is enough!”

On April 24, a reported 1.2 million Mexicans marched on the historic Zocalo — the main square — in Mexico City to register their overwhelming discontent. This massive action forced the Mexican government to drop the charges and announce the resignation of the attorney general who was trying to prosecute Obrador, who is now free to run for president next year. How’s that for a display of power by the people?

Then there’s the Zapatistas, who I’ve name-dropped throughout the semester. Here’s why — this courageous group of rag-tag Mayan rebels from Chiapas has been leading the revolution against the greed of corporate globalization since New Year’s Day 1994 (chosen because it was the day that the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect.)

The Zapatistas considered NAFTA a death-sentence for the indigenous peoples of Mexico since it forced Mexico to amend its constitution to allow land to be taken away from peasant farmers. NAFTA also forced industrial privatization that allowed trans-national corporations to undercut Mexicans on key staples like corn and coffee. A few billionaires got richer, but the masses got shafted. Now the Bush regime wants to expand this undemocratic process to the rest of the hemisphere with the Central American Free Trade Agreement. (Register dissent against CAFTA at

The Zapatistas stood little chance against the modern Mexican army (especially since that army received covert support from Uncle Sam, who wanted to suppress the Zapatistas to keep Mexico business-friendly.) The armed insurrection only lasted about two weeks. Since then, they have, fought a compelling war of words in which they simply seek land and liberty.

The Zapatistas may not exactly be flourishing, but they are slowly attaining the autonomy they seek and have helped spark a global justice movement. The profound communiqués of their charismatic spokesman, Subcomandante Marcos, won the Zapatistas solidarity with activists around the world. Many credit the Zapatistas with catalyzing the movement that led to the landmark “Battle in Seattle” protests against the World Trade Organization in 1999.

When the Zapatistas made the historic march from their jungle stronghold to Mexico City in 2001 to lobby for indigenous rights, they were met with rock-star type adulation by the Mexican people every step of the way, which helped prevent a possible government ambush. A massive gathering at the Zocalo to hear Marcos and other comandantes speak was likened by many to a modern version of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Marcos is arguably the planet’s foremost spokesperson on why the policies of neo-liberal capitalism are an undemocratic and disastrous failure to humanity. His deeply intellectual and often poetic communiqués on these topics present logic that is utterly compelling.

So when you wake up tomorrow, shake off that hangover and remember that another world is possible. We the people can take the power back — it’s just a matter of getting organized.

Greg M. Schwartz is a graduate student in journalism and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].