The Dialogues Begin Between the Zapatistas and the Mexican Federal Government
First Mesas: "Derechos y Cultura Indigena" *
17-22 October 1995
In the Communities of San Andres and San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico

[The arrival of the Zapatista delegation to the talks in San Cristobal, driven from San Andres in Red Cross vans for protection.]

This dialogue came more than one and a half years after the Uprising in Chiapas in January of 1994- this period was often referred to as "The Awakening." Now, during this conference, the prevalent phrase was "to construct."

The counter-point to the military line in San Andres was that created by the people of the community - the defense of the EZLN .

At this moment, following the presentation by a woman from Ocosingo who was invited by the government but actually showed a certain level of support for the struggle of the Zapatista women, one (then all) of the Zapatista women picked up a microphone and began to speak with strength and tenderness to the woman from Ocosingo in Tzotzil (the language of both women). This move to speak, from a member of the official Zapatista delegation, which up until this point was there "to listen," stunned and excited everyone. The press rushed into the room as the word quickly passed through the halls and other meeting areas. This moment became a touchstone for the many emotional exchanges which followed, where the human heart penetrated and gave personal meaning to the issues being discussed by the women on both sides of the table.

The six panels of this Mesa were created to address a number of related issues, such as:

Participation and Political Representation of the Indigenous
The Situation, Rights and Culture of Indigenous Women
The Promotion and Development of Indigenous Culture
Access to the Methods of Communication
Guarantee of Justice for the Indigenous
Community and Autonomy: Indigenous Rights

The panels consisted of members of CONAI (the highly respected negotiating group headed by bishop Samuel Ruiz, and most closely associated with the Zapatistas) and COCOPA (most closely associated with the Mexican federal government) as "mediators;" official representatives of the EZLN and representatives of the Mexican federal government; and designated advisors "asesores" and guests "invitados" selected by the EZLN and those selected by the federal government. It was the role of the asesores and the invitados to generate the cross-table dialogue on the issues.

The panel which raised the issue of autonomy most directly was the only one to take place in San Andres, and it was clearly central to the discussions occurring at each of the other panels - with autonomy the other rights could be defined and defended by, and within, each community - without autonomy there could be no certainty of rights, no lasting justice. Autonomy is directly linked to "the land" and the control of the land by the Maya is central to cultural survival. It is this issue of autonomy that the federal government has attempted to keep out of any serious discussion and negotiation - it is the major battle ground!

The dissemination of information throughout the country was critical to the collective show of solidarity with the EZLN, as it also provided for an ever widening expression of the nature and content of the struggle for justice throughout the country.

A great resource for information on Chiapas is located at the University of Texas, Austin.
The archives is maintained by Harry Cleaver. Here you will find all the communiques of the EZLN, articles from "la Jornada," along with additional relevant articles from other news services. This is one of the most complete sites I have been able to locate.
Additional information can be found at:

All Latin America / U. Texas at Austin

EZLN's home-page

Photographs Taken at the Intercontinental - July 1996 - La Realidad


La Jornada

* The "Consulta por la Paz y la Democracia" had concluded on the 29th of September,1995 in "la Realidad," San Pedro Michoacan, Chiapas. This was a meeting with the civil society and solidarity organizations which not only discussed a number of issues, but it also indicated the broad-based level of support within Mexico and throughout the world for the efforts of the Zapatistas.

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