The Zapatista Uprising
On January 1, 1994, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) began its war against the Mexican government, demanding social justice and human rights for the indigenous population of the Chiapas Federal District. According to Godelmann, Chiapas is the wealthiest Mexican state in terms of natural resources and has one of the largest indigenous populations, whose basic needs (including housing, stable income, and healthcare) were nevertheless poorly met. The conflict started when Mexico was about to enact NAFTA, which would have threatened the interests of the people of Chiapas by excluding them from the local market (Vargas 5).
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The government first responded to the rebellion with a military attack, but consequently agreed to review the EZLN’s demands, and as a result, “the indigenous peoples in Mexico were granted the constitutional right of self-determination” and their participation in political decision-making in the country increased (Godelmann). Some minor social, economic, and cultural changes were also promoted by the government through laws, policies, and social programs (Godelmann). Nevertheless, tensions between the parties continue even today.
The Chiapas rebellion can be evaluated from the perspective of rational choice theory, which suggests that people become involved in behaviors aimed to achieve certain goals and fulfill personal interests based on rational calculations of costs and benefits. The EZLN’s list of thirty-four concrete “Demands and Engagements to Achieve a Dignified Peace in Chiapas” suggests such a rational approach (Vargas 4).
It is also worth noting that indigenous peoples in Chiapas had suffered discrimination from caciques, the minority elite group, since the colonial era and were ignored by the government (Vargas 8). Thus, the potential benefits of involvement in the conflict outweighed its costs.
Social identity theory is also applicable to this conflict. The sense of belonging to an indigenous ethnic group served as a source of pride for the rebels, while constant discrimination from caciques and the Mexican government humiliated them. At the same time, caciques were motivated to maintain their positive and distinctive social in-group identity and in this way maintain the low status of the indigenous peoples (Oldmeadow and Fiske 2). Thus, there is a clear in-group and out-group opposition in the Chiapas conflict. From this perspective, the EZLN’s actions may be regarded as an attempt to restore a positive self-image.
Godelmann, Iker Reyes. “The Zapatista Movement: The Fight for Indigenous Rights in Mexico”. Australian Institute of International Affairs. 2014. Web.
Oldmeadow, Julian, and Susan Fiske. “Social Status and the Pursuit of Positive Social Identity: Systematic Domains of Intergroup Differentiation and Discrimination for High- And Low- Status Groups.” Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, vol. 13, no. 4, 2010, pp. 1-25.
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Vargas, Jorge A. “NAFTA, The Chiapas Rebellion, and the Emergence of Mexican Ethnic Law.” California Western International Law Journal, vol. 25, no. 1, 1994, pp. 1-80.