This book is an account of the struggle for land and democracy in
Chiapas. The Zapatista rebellion ofJanuary
caught interna-
tional attention as it exposed the social injustices and political re-
pression faced by the region's Mayan population. It also provided
an opening for many indigenous people in Mexico to demand full
participation in deciding the future of their cultures and their na-
tion. The historical goals of land, autonomy, and dignity became
part of the search for effective citizenship.
The research contained in this book draws on fieldwork carried
out over a period of ten years. It was in April
that I began to
investigate the different histories, strategies, and forms of organiza-
tion of three peasant organizations that had been formed indepen-
dently of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party
(PRI )
and its
affiliated National Peasant Confederation
These were the
Union of Ejidal Unions and United Peasant Groups of Chiapas
(uu) in the Lacandon forest and the central highlands, the In-
dependent Confederation of Agricultural Workers and Peasants
in the northern municipality of Simojovel, and the Emi-
liano Zapata Peasant Organization (OCEZ), principally in the mu-
nicipality of Venustiano Carranza. My objective was to document
and compare the struggles of these organizations in terms of their
impact on the political system. This impact was interpreted as the
gradual erosion of corporatist and clientelistic forms of political
control though an increasing insistence on respect for constitu-
tional rights. Yet the subsequent period was one of retrenchment
for many of Mexico's peasant movements. The government of
Carlos Salinas de Gortari
successfully co-opted the
leaders of several national organizations, allowing it to proceed
rapidly with a series of legal and institutional reforms to reduce the
state's obligations to the peasantry. At the same time, local and
regional movements were seriously divided by internal leadership
disputes. They were also constantly undermined by acts of repres-
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