Zapatistas and ICT


Few conflicts have shaken the recent history of Mexico as deeply as the confrontations between the Mexican Army and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. Violence and repression have been used against indigenous communities ever since the Americas were colonized and this is still the case today in pockets of the continent where indigenous peoples live. One of them is the Zapatitas community of Chiapas (South Mexico) who, although not completely heterogenous, have managed to preserve their identity and culture after hundreds of years.
They have done so by assimilitating and adapting to the changes the country has gone through, being technology one of them, specifically radio broadcasting, films recording and mobile coverage. Among repressed indigenous communities, Zapatistas are widely seen as pioneers in the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and new media as tools to interact between them and with the outside world. Concretely, messages and updates of the military intervention of the Mexican Army were being reported and broadcast for the whole world to see. New media possibilities gave this minority the option of sharing with international audiences their reality as oppressed peoples fighting against the state over land rights. Their approach has been from the beginning to use media outputs in order to draw attention of the global community to the state of affairs in Mexico. By doing so, they make sure that the conflict, although internal, does become an international issue that the government can by no means hide or ignore. Their activism is tactical since the goal is to call for solidarity to their cause and make sure the Mexican state handles the situation within the legal boundaries in terms of human rights. There are two aspects to this case that are worth looking into closely. On one hand, the fact that Zapatistas seemed to have established and created a ‘Zapatista social imaginary’ that only seems to exist online. On the second hand, that this social imaginary does not include everyone and might not always be as participative as it could be. This is because not everyone has yet access to internet in the Chiapas region. If we explore the first one, it is interesting to ponder about the power of media in spreading and creating an image that can easily be broadcast (sold?) and consumed by the outside world. Zapatistas are not a homogenous community with one one single language, ethnical background or identical political affiliations, but they they all share the fact of being indigenous, farmers and being oppressed by the Mexican state. New media has helped this heterogenous group to become homogenous and shift the balance of power and authority so that their voice is heard. ICT has also allowed them to gain more control over their sense of participation, even if not everyone has access to internet. An important aspect of the Zapatista case is that thanks to a virtual reality, many atrocities and abuses by the Mexican Army in ‘real life’ were prevented.

Cammaerts, B. and Carpentier, N. (eds) (2007) Reclaiming the media: communication rights and democratic media roles . Intellect: Bristol, UK.

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