Zapatistas have explained that their struggle is for the following eleven points: work, land, housing, food, health care, education, independence, liberty, democracy, justice, and peace. Unlike virtually all other armed revolutionary movements, the Zapatistas have not sought to seize state power. Taking up arms was the only way to be heard and part of a larger strategy for expanding the space for democratic struggle. Zapatistas have concluded that civil society cannot by itself transform the entrenched political structure and have contemplated converting themselves into a political force proper.
The significance of the Zapatistas cannot be reduced to the leadership of Subcomandante Marcos, a Westernized mestizo educated in Mexico City who left for the jungles of Chiapas over twelve years ago. Marcos of course is the figure from whom we have
heard the most through incisive and poetic communiqués published in Mexico and subsequently translated and distributed through
new networks made possible by the development of fax and Internet technologies. Marcos himself has spoken at length about his
own full transformation through contact with indigenous communities, their needs, histories, and living traditions.
Marcos has successfully served as a bridge between urban and indigenous worlds and fulfilled a fundamental role as cultural and
political translator, as the Zapatistas are an almost entirely indigenous organization without ties to other movements in Latin America, to Cuba, the former Soviet Union or China.
The highest authority of the Zapatistas is the Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee-General Command (CCRI-CG), made up of representatives from all of the Zapatista communities, including such ethnicities as the Tzotzil,
Tzeltal, Tojolobal, Chol, Mam, and Zoque. If the Zapatistas consist of several thousand armed soldiers, there are tens of
thousands of villagers who constitute their base of support. The communities themselves issued the order to the army to launch
the armed phase of the struggle; and they, after extensive consultations, the process and results of which were described in
great detail in communiqués, rejected the terms of the initial peace proposal in June 1994 and subsequently ratified the
process by which peace talks would proceed in the second phase of talks beginning in 1995.
Evaluations of the situation in Chiapas produced by human rights groups confirmed the government is carrying out ''low
intensity warfare'' against the guerrilla, while paramilitary groups proliferate and the EZLN is surrounded by hundreds of
soldiers ready to attack. The guerrilla and troops have not been openly in conflict since January 1994, when 12 days of
fighting left 193 people dead - according to official figures - and then Mexican President Carlos
Salinas (1988-1994) ordered the fighting to stop and negotiations to start.
On March 21, 1999, more than five years after its official emergence in January 1994, the Zapatista Army of
National Liberation (EZLN) mobilized more than 5,000 masked Zapatistas throughout Mexico and 20,000
citizens in brigades to record the votes of nearly three million Mexicans who participated in an
EZLN-sponsored referendum on Indian rights. In this second consultation, the number of participants
surpassed that in a similar referendum in 1995, when approximately 1.3 million people voted. The increase
for 1999 shows the continued resilience of the EZLN in Mexico and in other countries, where thousands of
Mexicans also voted at tables organized by local brigades.