Politics & Global Affairs

Zapatistas' 30th

Zapatistas' 30th

The self-styled, semi-anarchist, indigenous EZLN (Zapatista) movement, with origins in liberation theology movements and Mayan self-defence paramilitaries, has just celebrated its 30th anniversary in Chiapas, Mexico. It was actually the anniversary of a deadly 12-day battle against the Mexican army in Chiapas in January 1994, at the end of which the group claimed a large part of the territory of this Mexican state as an independent/autonomous/liberated area, thanks also to a half-hearted tolerance/indifference of the central government, after the San Andrés Accords of 1996. 

Most commentators tend to agree that the now largely peaceful movement, which has always shunned electoral politics, has improved both the treatment and image of indigenous people in Mexico, but has largely failed to combat poverty and significantly improve health and education infrastructure with young people now migrating from the autonomous communities. Worse, powerful narco cartels are now moving in, in the unruly (Lacandon) jungle region bordering Guatemala, with the tolerance of central authorities, say the Zapatistas. The fact that the famous masked, ex-academic, Subcommandante Marcos, who was never the leader but just a spokesperson, is usually in hiding in recent years and keeps changing names (currently Insurgente Galeano) may have accelerated the decay of the movement. International hype aside, he was not, and probably never wanted to be, a Che or a Fidel, he is an educated spokesperson, and, indeed, a talented political writer and novelist. Nor did it help that (many of) the Zapatista autonomous communities did not have full control and were not officially recognised by the Mexican state - in a way they just run virtually, chaotically and in parallel with official municipal structures, without replacing them.

In November 2023, a Zapatista statement signed by a "Subcommander Moises" suddenly announced the dissolution of the autonomous communities and that details of future arrangements would follow. Later that month, another announcement indeed described what will replace autonomous municipalities: "local autonomous governments" or GALs (acronym). Essentially a few dozen MAREZ (acronym for Zapatista Rebel Autonomous Municipalities) will now be replaced by "thousands" of GALs (Zapatista Local Autonomous Governments).  This may signify a further decentralization of power but sounds overoptimistic in terms of scale. According to the second November announcement, also signed by "Moises", GALs will be "coordinated by autonomous agents and commissioners" who will be subject to the assembly of the town, and will mainly control schools and clinics and the relationships with neighboring non-Zapatista towns. GALs will be able to form "Collectives", and these Collectives will be able to form "Assemblies of Collectives". The announcement rightly anticipates that the reader "may have problems assimilating" this new structure, which is of course not important as long as all Zapatistas, and their invisible leadership, are on the same page.

In the meantime Tourism in Chiapas, particularly in San Cristóbal de las Casas, a highland town, cultural capital, and official 'pueblo magico',  is booming, with a growing expat community, thanks to many cultural attractions and possibly still, but to a lesser extent than twenty years ago, due to Zapaturismo with Zapatista-themed shops to match. Let's hope that the image of masked Marcos on T-shirts, reminiscent of Che in this respect, does not become the key lasting legacy of the Zapatista experiment.

Rainforest & Peace or Oil & War, a choice for Venezuela and Guyana

Rainforest & Peace or Oil & War, a choice for Venezuela and Guyana

While COP28 in Dubai supposedly tries to cut carbon emissions, two countries could go to war over Oil. Venezuela has laid claim to the Essequibo area of Guyana for over two centuries, and a short-lived indigenous secession attempt, possibly Venezuela-backed, took place in 1969.  Guyana brought the matter to the International Court of Justice ('The Hague') in 2018, but Venezuela did not take part. Oil discovery in Guyana in 2016 and again in recent months has increased the stakes, with Venezuela holding a referendum on December 3, 2023 on approving an annexation of Essequibo, which represents two thirds of sparsely-populated Guyana (pop. 800,000, area 215,000 km2), a former British colony and the only English-speaking country of South America. Are we seeing a new Iraq vs Kuwait conflict? Is Maduro going to become a new Saddam or Ioannidis? Will the US, which may be planning a base in Essequibo, exploit this opportunity to topple Venezuela's government? Or is this a repetition of Indonesia's 1969 annexation of Western Papua with the blessings of the West so that it stops looking 'East'. And another, naive question: could the two countries agree to keep the oil in the ground and only allow ecological tourism in this highly biodiverse region? (The question is valid for more country pairs, such as Greece & Turkey.)

Ceasefire in Gaza: too good to last?

Ceasefire in Gaza: too good to last?

A temporary ceasefire, in Gaza, that the many, the polloi, the peace-loving citizens of the world, hope it can somehow last. It will most likely not, and what many experts already call a genocide, will continue for at least a few months. Thousands of lines are being written every minute about the war on Gaza but little is written on why it started at that particular moment. Is it totally accidental that there is a major conflict going on in the Ukraine? Or that the war in Syria is inconclusive? That the war broke out just as Saudis were in talks with the Chinese? Did both the Russians and the US actually wanted this war, or both, divide-and-rule style, given that they have not lifted a single finger to stop it? Remember that Russia, and especially the old Soviet Union was traditionally staunchly pro-Palestinian. Then there was this ultra right wing government in Israel. The super powers can always count on some ultra right wing idiot to step on the proverbial banana. Think Saddam and Kuwait, Ioannidis and Cyprus. Galtieri and Malvinas/Faulklands. The war in the Ukraine disrupted/postponed the Chinese Road and Belt expansion plans, the Gaza war now disrupts/postpones a China-Saudi warming. There are more tectonic shifts at play. India under Modi has moved further away from Russia, and the Palestinians, and moved ever closer to the US and Israel. In theory a peaceful Middle East is in the best interest of the broader region but some further away apparently do not want this. Iran is playing for time for obvious reasons, and remotely controls groups in Yemen and Lebanon. Was all this carnage a ploy to draw Iran in? If so it did not work, so far at least. Egypt's military government also in a tight spot, damned if it helps its Gazan brothers (or ....brotherhood), cursed if it does not. At the same time, not too far from the war zone, billions, are being spent by the Saudis to develop tourism and more specifically NEOM, unfortunately after displacing/silencing some opposing locals. We are told time and again that Tourism is the greatest peace industry, that it supposedly needs peace, but, it cannot single handedly bring it anywhere. In fact not all forms of Tourism need peace, it is quite resilient, and even thrives in wartime - think of rest and recreation tourism in Thailand during the Vietnam war. What could be the endgame in Gaza, a division into an israeli North Gaza (to be developed for tourism, and possibly for a second Eilat-North Gaza canal competing with Suez) and an Egyptian-ruled South Gaza, if the general takes his chances? And what about the famous "two-state solution", is it still alive/feasible? There is so much hatred in this region (justified, unjustified who knows - it depends on the innumerable points of view and conflicting histories and interests) it is very hard to detect signs of intelligent and honest decision-makers. If only we could go back in time and create the state of Israel in parts of what was Western and Eastern Germany. It would only be fair, no? Back to the real world, the arrival or rather attempt to approach Gaza, by a flotilla from Turkey may end in tragedy like last time and further complicate the big chess game, a game played on the backs and graves of totally innocent children. Oh, and the UN continues to be a joke, unfortunately. 

The steady and ugly rise of the far right

The steady and ugly rise of the far right

The 1978 world cup final was the first one I watched live on TV. It was the meeting of two worlds, global south vs global north, and two government models: the hosts, Argentina, then ruled by a rather brutal military dictatorship, played against Holland, a European, laid back, Social Democracy. Fast forward 45 years later, both countries have voted in favour of far right+neoliberal candidates this week. Another poster child of social democracy, Sweden, is mulling deportations of foreigners, immigrants and refugees, deemed undesirable or threatening to Swedish culture. A few months ago Italy, where fascism was invented in the 1920s, elected post-fascists in government. France's Le Pen came very close in 2022 and is already preparing for 2027. In affluent Switzerland, hospitable caretaker of $ trillions originating in the global south, the Swiss People's Party came first in the 2023 elections. In Austria the "Freedom Party" is ahead in polls and preparing for 2024. Last but not least, we are currently seeing the, some experts say genocidal, results of the most ultra right wing government in the history of Israel taking power. Authoritarian leaders are proliferating (too many to name) even in countries you would not ever think it possible, while in Greece, the center-right government was caught red-handed earlier this year spying on the opposition and journalists. Is all this in some way the bad legacy of Covid? Did governments realize that they have or can have greater control over us? Are wars and conflicts that never end - like Syria, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Gaza, Sahel and others, and the refugee waves they create making people in more affluent countries turn to ‘macho’ politicians with misanthropic, but clear, policy proposals? Or perhaps this is far less complicated and some "bad" actors, state, private or both, are deliberately promoting and funding the far right and spewing hatred for their own ends?