Zapatista Army for National Liberation (EZLN)

What is the EZLN?

Zapatista Army for National Liberation (EZLN) is a revolutionary anarcho-socialist organization in the Mexican state of Chiapas. The Zapatista population is roughly 100,000, with millions of international supporters.



January 1st, 1994 – The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is passed by the US, Mexican, and Canadian Governments. This cancels Article 27 of Mexico’s constitution, which prohibits the privatization of Indian communal landholdings. EZLN considers this a “death sentence” for small farmers and a declaration of war against the indigenous people in Mexico. The same day, EZLN declares war on the Mexican government. Their demands include:

  • Autonomy for the state of Chiapas
  • Democratization of the Mexican government (an end to the PRI party)
  • Land reform

The conflict ends on January 12th, 1994, with 32 autonomous parts of Chiapas under Zapatista control. EZLN declares its army to be pacifist and defensive, only in existence to protect the autonomy of Chiapas. EZLN arguably become the first “post-modern” form of resistance, which seeks to create new institutions instead of controlling or adopting existing ones. See also: Occupy Wallstreet.


EZLN’s political structure is:

  • Egalitarian
  • Non-hierarchial
  • Democratic
  • Feminist
  • Inclusive
  • Voluntary – “a world that includes all worlds”

Organizational decisions are:

  • Democratic
  • Consensus-based/committee-based
  • Localized

Elected “officials” are rotated and serve only two weeks. EZLN organizations are syndicated around solidarity, cooperation, and mutual aid.

"Leaderless" leadership


"Marcos, the quintessential anti-leader, insists that his black mask is a mirror, so that ‘Marcos is gay in San Francisco, black in South Africa, an Asian in Europe, a Chicano in San Ysidro, an anarchist in Spain, a Palestinian in Israel, a Mayan Indian in the streets of San Cristobal, a Jew in Germany, a Gypsy in Poland, a Mohawk in Quebec, a pacifist in Bosnia, a single woman on the Metro at 10 p.m., a peasant without land, a gang member in the slums, an unemployed worker, an unhappy student and, of course, a Zapatista in the mountains’. In other words, he is simply us: we are the leader we’ve been looking for.“ – Naomi Klein

In 1994, EZLN declared Women’s Revolutionary Law, which outlined their commitments for women’s rights and equality.

  • Equal pay
  • Equal status in the revolution
  • Right to health care
  • Freedom from violence
  • Right to control their bodies

EZLN and public health

Like in Cuba and Venezuela, healthcare in EZLN-controlled Chiapas is:

EZLN utilizes health promoters and health education as central to the health system. Every autonomous region has health clinics staffed by doctors, nurses, educators, and technicians that do monitoring and routine in-house visits.

  1. ‘Health House’ – health promoter
  2. Micro-clinic – doctor/nurse/technician
  3. Central clinic – laboratory, maternity ward
  4. Larger hospital system for more intensive procedures, including ambulance services.

The only cost is the minimal cost of medicine. A visit to a government clinic can cost a Chiapas resident 12 days of their family income (including medicine). They may be denied care due to their indigenous or Zapatista status at a government clinic.

“We treat all who ask for help, even if they are not Zapatistas. Sometimes patients come to us who have been to the government clinic but were not treated, or it closed at two in the afternoon and they had no medicine.” – Jose, EZLN health coordinator

Zapatista gains in public health

National Autonomous University (UNAM) study:

  1. EZLN extends coverage to 63 per cent of all expectant mothers, double the average for non-Zapatista communities in the area.
  2. 74 per cent of Zapatista homes have access to toilets, as opposed to 54 per cent in non-Zapatista homes. 
  3. Zapatista communities also have significantly better statistics for infant mortality, newborn weight, and vaccination than other rural areas in Chiapas. 

“The promoters care for pregnant women, and almost all the companeras give birth in their communities, and, if they can, in their own homes, attended by a promoter. If it is a difficult birth they are brought to the clinic, which has a gynaecological room. The care of women also includes cervical cancer testing, and prevention and treatment of infections. The treatment is ongoing.” – Jose, EZLN health coordinator

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