Redefining the Territorial Bases of Power: Peasants, Indians and Guerrilla Warfare in Chiapas, Mexico

Guillermo Trejo

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Abstract

This paper analyses the role that federal and local elites played in the transformation of a nonviolent movement of peasant protest in Chiapas, Mexico, into a guerrilla movement that
eventually embraced a programme of ethnoterritorial demands. It is argued that the contradictory government responses to initial peasant protest opened the door for the radicalization of indigenous mobilisation and demands. Claims for agrarian reform in the 1970s were met with piecemeal/clientelistic land redistribution and police repression. When demands shifted in the 1980s from land reform to the democratisation of local governance and respect for human rights, local elites insisted on clientelism and repression. This led to the Zapatista insurrection of 1994. Unsuccessful attempts by federal authorities to negotiate a peace settlement while clientelistic social reformism and military repression were underway led the Zapatistas into embracing a programme of ethnoterritorial demands and into the creation of de facto autonomous governments in the 1990s. This paper suggests that neither policies of carrots and sticks pursued under authoritarian rule nor limited multicultural reforms approved by democratic governments have provided any meaningful incentive to organised Indians in Chiapas to leave off the streets or to lay off arms.

Suggested bibliographic reference for this article:

Trejo, Guillermo. Redefining the Territorial Bases of Power: Peasants, Indians and Guerrilla Warfare in Chiapas, Mexico. IJMS: International Journal on Multicultural Societies. 2002, vol. 4, no.1, pp. 97-127. UNESCO. ISSN 1817-4574. www.unesco.org/shs/ijms/vol4/issue1/art5

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