The Zapatista Effect

mexico
via weheartit

This post will draw primarily from Harry M. Cleaver’s The Zapista Effect: The Internet and the Rise of an Alternative Political Fabric, published in The Journal of International Affairs in 1998. The article contends that the internet actually challenges neoliberalism in Mexico. He writes:

…it is not exaggerated to speak of a “Zapatista Effect” reverberating through social movements around the world; an effect homologous to, but potentially… threatening to the New World Order of neoliberalism… In the case of social movements and the activism which is their hallmark, the danger lies in the impetus given to previously disparate groups to mobilize around the rejection of current policies, to rethink institutions and governance, and to develop alternatives to the status quo.

How is this the case? Well, some background is needed. Firstly, the Zapatista are a revolutionary group based in Chiapas, in the south of Mexico. Despite great wealth, there are huge income inequalities and large amounts of poverty in this region. As a result, this group is ‘at war’ (albeit largely non-violent) with the Mexican state. The group takes on an anti-global and anti-neoliberal ideology (neoliberalism is currently dominant in Mexico). Their political models are very much grassroots, bottom-up. They are trying to gain support for their movement primarily through the internet.

Here is a list of ways in which the Zapatista have used the internet to undermine or challenge neoliberalism:

  • Early on, it was used to share information and to organise themselves amongst people in pre-existing networks.
  • Commentary on events was available on the internet and the events were analysed by group members – available for all to see.
  • Specialised lists, conferences, and webpages by and for the group became available on the internet.
  • Discussion groups and email lists were available for group members to talk about issues, and other people were able to join.
  • For the group to correct possible misinformation, because they were able to search online for the source material, it became very quick through the use of the internet.
  • Communications could easily be given to the media, or to the general public through uploading documents.
  • Detailed information about Chiapas could be available to anyone in the world, and easily translated into a range of languages by users of the internet.
  • More recently, they are able to strengthen ties with other like-minded groups – they regularly communicate with ‘others around the world, e.g., to a European-wide demonstration in Amsterdam against Maastricht and unemployment, to an Italian gathering in Venice against regional separatism, to a conference of media activists in New York and so on. In these communications they make their position on various issues known and seek to create or strengthen ties with other, far-flung groups.’
  • Internet users who may be far away from the region are able to ‘participate’ in organised events through the internet. Further, people can be informed of the events taking place through the internet. ‘The results were stunning: thousands came to the continental meetings, 3,000 to the intercontinental in Chiapas and 4,000 to the intercontinental in Spain. The significance of these continental and intercontinental meetings includes the very fact of their existence.’

In all these cases, the Zapatista use these online avenues to further their anti-neoliberal cause. Thus, it is clear that obviously, via the internet, it is possible to spread an anti-neoliberal cause.

However, as a kind of postscript, it is worth remembering that many of the world’s poorest have no access to a computer, much less an internet connection.

2 Responses

  1. […] have established that one can use the internet for very anti-neoliberal messages and the Zapatista effect describes this very idea. The thing is though, isn’t the free exchange of these ideas […]

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