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READING BETWEEN THE LINES
Zapatistas spark a debate in Mexico

By Lance Selfa | October 7, 2005 | Page 6

THE ZAPATISTAS in Mexico have launched their "other campaign," opening up a debate inside the Mexican left about what position to take on the 2006 presidential elections.

In their Sixth Declaration from the Lacandón Jungle, the Zapatistas invited many socially excluded groups to "participate directly with the Zapatistas in this NATIONAL CAMPAIGN for the construction of another way of making politics, of a program of national struggle that is of the left, and for a new Constitution."

The most controversial part of the Declaration and other statements to the press from Zapatista spokesman Subcommander Marcos are the strong criticisms of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and its presidential candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

López Obrador--who is the leading candidate to win next year's presidential vote, according to opinion polls--and the PRD have a history of being a left-wing alternative in Mexican politics, but the Zapatistas say they are becoming more and more like the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the corrupt party that ruled Mexico for 70 years until its defeat in the 2000 election.

"We're not going to remain quiet, and not only because the return of the PRI can be already seen in the higher ranks and circle around López Obrador, and because the right today dresses in black and yellow [the PRD's colors], but also because what is at stake isn't just a set of jobs and appointments, payrolls and budgets that are put up for sale during elections, but the existence of a nation and the sovereignty of its inhabitants," said Marcos at a meeting of activist organizations held in Chiapas on August 14.

This criticism has caused a lot of discomfort among some left-wing activists and intellectuals who support López Obrador's candidacy. To author Elena Poniatowska, "what Marcos is doing is dividing the left, which seems absurd to me." Octavio Rodríguez Araújo, another intellectual and strong supporter of the Zapatistas, said that Marcos should "see a psychiatrist."

Nevertheless, this debate is healthy for the Mexican left and for the left in the rest of the world.

The enormous April 24 demonstration in Mexico City against the trumped-up impeachment charges leveled at López Obrador showed that the Mexican people want a real change from the politics of free-market economics and the corruption that have dominated the country for many years.

But instead of channeling this sentiment into a movement for fundamental change, López Obrador and his advisers are trying to ride it into the presidential palace. At the same time, López Obrador has gone out of his way to assure the bankers, the media and the Bush administration that he is a "centrist" politician, who has no plans for radical change should he be elected president.

The PRD, which attracted the support of much of the Mexican left after its founding in 1989, has increasingly become a haven for opportunists leaving the PRI, and even for business people. Many of the PRI opportunists participated in or supported governments in the 1980s and 1990s that imposed disastrous neoliberal policies on Mexico. Few of them have renounced their pasts.

At least the Zapatistas have challenged the left not to feel satisfied with the election of López Obrador as a "lesser evil" to the main neoliberal parties, the National Action Party (PAN) and the PRI. The example of the Workers Party in Brazil, and its betrayal of its working-class base, is very much on the minds of the Zapatistas and other Mexican activists.

Nevertheless, the Zapatista proposal has its own problems. Zapatista statements tend to discount any electoral participation, including by socialists or other genuine leftists. And Zapatista declarations about what the "other campaign"--the extra parliamentary one--should do, are vague.

Another important development is that several socialist groups have announced plans to create a Socialist Front to offer an alternative to Mexican voters during the 2006 elections. The groups that are organizing the Socialist Front participated in the recent Zapatista-sponsored meetings among activists in Chiapas.

The socialists will support actions organized by the "other campaign," while at the same time running their electoral campaign, whose goal will be to strengthen the Mexican left.

Whatever happens, the social change that Mexicans desperately need will happen only as a result of struggle from below, in workplaces, in working-class communities and in the countryside--wherever the Mexican working class can be found.

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