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Identity and environmentalism in zapatista public discourse on the montes azules biosphere reserve



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Since they first emerged into the public consciousness in 1994, the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) has gathered considerable attention and support on the world stage for its struggle with the Mexican federal government over the issue of indigenous rights. The Zapatistas are now popularly viewed as indigenous rebels standing up for indigenous rights against the neoliberal economics. Yet comparatively less attention has been given to its struggles with the federal government over an area of protected land within the Lacandón jungle known as the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve. The conflict is centered on a large settler population within the Reserve and whether it is a threat to the jungle’s viability. The environmental group, Conservation International (CI) believes that they are, yet the settlers enjoy the support of the EZLN, who opposes any attempt to move them. Despite this dispute, the two organizations claim seemingly similar goals. CI has declared that it is dedicated to local control over conservation projects. Meanwhile, EZLN has been fighting for greater local political power in regards to indigenous government. More striking still, is that this matter has placed the EZLN in direct opposition to the Lacandón Maya, even though it has portrayed itself as the defender of all of Mexico’s indigenous people.It is these apparent contradictions between the EZLN’s political positions and the actual sides of the conflict that make the struggle over Montes Azules worth examining. Beyond the simplified statements of public platforms, the objections of the EZLN to the reserve and its supporters to the Lacandones’ position are rooted in historical conflicts over decision making on landholding. The EZLN feels that the government has constantly excluded indigenous farmers from decision making over this matter to their detriment and thus it feels that local control over land is a fundamental part of indigenous life. As such its position on Montes Azules must be understood in terms of how its ideas of being indigenous come into conflict with the Lacandón Maya’s territory in the reserve and CI’s position on the settler population. In this way indigenous identity is seen not merely as a matter of cultural significance, but a foundation for a concrete political agenda, which is articulated in the EZLN’s stance over Montes Azules.



indigenous rights, EZLN, Zapatistas, Plan Puebla Panama, Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, Lacandon maya, agrarian reform, indigenous identity, Lacandon jungle



Master of Arts (M.A.)






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