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War of National Liberation
War of National Liberation collage
Clockwise from top-left: EZLN rally; EZLN rally outside a village in Chiapas protesting the presence of the Mexican Army; Mexican federal troops regroup after a home invasion; Mexican Army truck rolls through a city
Date 1 January 1994 - 23 August 2003
Location State of Chiapas, Mexico
Cause • Unequal treatment of indigenous peoples
• Changes to the Mexican Constitution as a result of NAFTA
Result de facto independence of EZLN communities
• establishment of the Community of Chiapas
Zapatista Army of National Liberation Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) Mexico Armed Forces of Mexico
Comandante Hugo†

Subcomandante Pedro†
Comandante Ramona
Subcomandante Marcos

Miguel Ángel

Godínez Bravo
Alberto Martínez Herrera
Jorge de Jesús
Wabi Rosel
Luis Humberto
López Portillo Leal
Juan López Ortiz

Casualties and losses
51 3

The War of National Liberation generally refers to the Zapatista uprising and its aftermath. The phrase Chiapas conflict is intricately linked with counter-insurgency, low intensity conflict, fourth generation warfare, and divide and rule.


Since the 1980s and 1990s, Mexico's economic policy concentrated more on industrial development and attracting foreign capital. The Salinas government initiated a process of privatization of land (through the PROCEDE-program). In 1992, as a (pre)condition for Mexico for entering the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the US and Canada, art.4 and art.27 of the Constitution were modified, by means of which it became possible to privatize communal ejido-land. This undermined the basic security of indigenous communities to land entitlement, and former ejidatorios now became formally illegal land-squatters, and their communities informal settlements.

Gran Lucha and Aftermath[]

On 1 January 1994, the day on which NAFTA became operational, an armed insurgence broke out, led by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). Their rebellion was directed against the marginalization of the indigenous population, the 1992 amendment to the Constitution, and the expected results of NAFTA, and they demanded social, cultural and land rights. The day was named the Gran Lucha (Great Struggle) and is considered the establishment of the Zapatista Army.

The government responded by militarization of the region, and after 12 days a precarious ceasefire was declared. These developments attracted a lot of international attention. While human rights organisations emphasized the marginalization of the indigenous population, Riordan Roett (adviser to the Emerging Markets Group of the Chase Manhattan Bank) stated in January 1995:

"While Chiapas, in our opinion, does not pose a fundamental threat to Mexican political stability, it is perceived to be so by many in the investment community. The government will need to eliminate the Zapatistas to demonstrate their effective control of the national territory and of security policy."

Just 2 days later the Mexican army came into action to bring the Zapatista occupied areas back under their control, but they did not succeed in arresting subcommandante Marcos or other leaders of the EZLN. To break the gridlock peace negotiations were started in March 1995 in the village of San Andrés Larráinzar.


In 1996 the Comisión de Concordia y Pacificación (COCOPA) presented a proposal of constitutional reform (the Cocopa law) based on the San Andrés Accords to the EZLN and the federal government. As a gesture of political will to solve the conflict peacefully the Zedillo-government signed this proposal, thereby recognizing the indigenous culture and its right to land and autonomy (in concordance with International Labour Organization convention 169, signed by Mexico in 1990).

These agreements however were not complied within the following years and the peace process stagnated. This resulted in an increasing division between people and communities with ties to the government and communities that sympathized with the Zapatistas. Social tensions, armed conflict and para-military incidents increased, culminating in the killing of 45 people in the village of Acteal in 1997 by para-militaries.

Internationally this atrocity led to great upheaval. The European Commission, at that time negotiating an Association Agreement and Free Trade Agreement with Mexico, adopted in January 1998 a resolution in which the involvement of the Mexican army and local government in the para-military violence was condemned, and President Zedillo was encouraged to re-initiate the peace process. The European Parliament even proposed to postpone the ratification of the agreement.

Nevertheless this treaty came into effect on July 1, 2000, one day before presidential elections in Mexico were scheduled. After 71 years in power the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) had to make way for the neoliberal National Action Party (Mexico) (PAN), the party of Vicente Fox, whose main electoral promise was to solve the conflict with the Zapatistas within 15 seconds, and to ensure 7% of economic growth. When Fox entered office in November 2000, he pledged to honour the San Andrés Accords.

To enforce their demands in Congress, the Zapatistas organized a march to the capital in March 2001. This turned out to be in vain when Congress adopted an amendment to the constitution and ratified a diluted indigenous rights law, which was not in concordance with the San Andrés Accords. This new law was criticized by the International Labour Organization (ILO) for violating ILO-convention 169 , and the National Commission for Human Rights demanded the change to be reverted.

The EZLN felt betrayed and suspended all dialogue with the government, and the Zapatistas unilaterally installed Juntas de Buen Gobierno (communities of good governance) in 2003. The peace process has been in a gridlock ever since, and armed conflicts frequently make casualties, often involving para-military groups. This marked the end of the armed conflict.

After 2003[]

Sixteen incidents dotted the rest of the conflict up until the Zapatista retreat from the region into north Mexico in 2008 with the invasion of the Holy American Empire. Mostly peaceful and focused on social development, the Zapatistas vowed to return to Chiapas and liberate it from the Holy American imperial government.

In June 2010, the Zapatistas issued the First Declaration from the Sierra Mountains, proclaiming the Community of Chiapas and the Democratic Convention of Chiapas.