For the first time in its history, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) will compete in a Mexican presidential election by putting an indigenous woman as their candidate on the ballot in 2018.
The Zapatistas, a Chiapas-based rebel group that captured the world's attention when they rose up in arms against the Mexican government in 1994 to fight for indigenous rights, released a statement on Oct. 14 saying they hope to establish “an indigenous government council whose message would be put into practice by an indigenous woman.”
The announcement came after the Zapatistas and other sympathizing groups met for the Fifth National Indigenous Congress in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas.
“In our communities, we are constantly building on the resistance to hold off the capitalist storm that does not cease, but becomes more aggressive and has grown to be a threat to civilization,” reads the press release from the indigenous and marxist-leaning group.
The Zapatistas say they're providing Mexican voters with an alternative to the “political parties that have only produced death, corruption and the buying of dignities” by offering an “independent candidate” selected from the National Indigenous Congress.
The possibility of Zapatista involvement in the upcoming presidential election is causing a stir on social media and in the Mexican press.
Perennial candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who himself is hoping to capture the leftist vote, has already taken to Twitter to criticize the Zapatistas for what he says is lack of congruent arguments.
“In 2006, the EZLN: was 'the serpent’s egg.' Then, being so 'radical' they called for people not to vote, and now they will campaign for an independent candidate.”
Whether the Zapatista regional movement can perform on the national stage remains to be seen. The group has made efforts over the years to create civil society groups throughout Mexico, but its influence has always been the strongest in the southern state of Chiapas.
The Zapatistas inclusion in national politics raises many questions, especially for a group that has always prided itself as anti-establishment movement.
It could be an historic election for Mexico if the EZLN manages to get an indigenous woman on the ballot. But she wouldn’t be the only independent female candidate running for the highest office in the nation. Former First Lady Margarita Zavala has also said publicly that she intends to run for president as an independent candidate or on the ticket of the National Action Party (PAN).
It also raises the question about whether the Zapatistas would run a masked candidate for president. The indigenous movement has always prided itself on being faceless, even though many considered Subcomandante Marcos, the group's former spokesman and charismatic revolutionary icon, to be their leader—a role he denied.
A federal judge recently dropped the charges of terrorism and other crimes against Marcos, who has since faded into obscurity.
Twenty-two years after the Zapatistas uprising in Chiapas, nominating an indigenous woman for president is an important first, but one that might be aimed at keeping the EZLN struggle alive rather than winning the presidency.