Churchgoers in the mountain village of Zapata. A year after I made this photograph, local papers reported that five children under a year old had died from a wave of respiratory infections in Zapata. One of the main demands of the Zapatista Army in 1994 was adequate healthcare in indigenous and rural communities, but many are still isolated from medical attention. Zapata, Chiapas. 2011.

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ZAPATISTA LEGACY


On New Year's Day, 1994, the world awoke to news of an uprising in southern Mexico. The Zapatista Army of National Liberation, an indigenous guerrilla that had been organizing in secret for a decade, had occupied cities in the state of Chiapas and declared war on the Mexican government. Their demands were basic human rights: land, work, health, education, freedom, and justice. It was the last in a long line of attempts at leftist revolution that rocked Latin America during the Cold War era.


At the time, Chiapas was one of the poorest states in Mexico, and the colonial legacy of indigenous exploitation was ingrained in its economic and social system. The Zapatista Uprising set off a national reckoning and progress around indigenous rights, but it also brought years of counterinsurgency warfare, polarization, and violence to the communities of Chiapas. Though the rebels laid down their arms less than two weeks after the uprising began, peace negotiations eventually broke down, and the state remains militarized today. This series looks at life in Chiapas on the 20th anniversary of the uprising.

Members of the Mexican Army march in the Independence Day Parade in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, the biggest city taken by the Zapatistas in 1994. Tens of thousands of soldiers were sent to Chiapas after the uprising, and military bases can still be seen all over the state. San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas. September 16, 2014.

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Tomas and Fernando burn trash outside their house. After the Zapatista Uprising, government officials promised to lift Chiapas out of poverty and address the rebellion's roots, but in practice the response was militarization. According to CONEVAL data, nine of the fifteen poorest districts in Mexico were in Chiapas as of 2010, including San Juan Cancuc at number three. San Juan Cancuc, Chiapas. 2014.

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Women walk through fields in the highlands. Many of the state's indigenous Mayans live in rural communities as subsistence farmers. Chamula municipality, Chiapas. 2014.

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The Zapatista hymn is sung at "The Little School," an initiative created to teach outsiders about the movement. The rebels gained an international following after 1994 as their revolutionary communiques, posted on the nascent internet, reached readers around the world. Good Government Center of La Realidad, Chiapas. 2014.

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Zapatistas welcome sympathizers to "The Little School." The Zapatistas still number in the tens of thousands, and have been nonviolent since a cease-fire was called on January 12, 1994. They live in communities that reject all government services and interference. Good Government Center of La Realidad, Chiapas. 2014.

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A sign marks a rural Zapatista village: "You are in Zapatista rebel territory. Here the people order and the government obeys." Zona Norte, Chiapas. 2012.

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Poster depicting a Zapatista and a Black Panther as two halves of the same person. San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas. 2012.

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Chain store in San Cristobal de Las Casas. In pre-rebellion San Cristobal, a colonial city where descendants of the Spanish and mestizos were considered superior, it would have been unheard of to see an indigenous family at the mall. San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas. 2014.

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Plaza Catedral after invaders of a local farm marched in San Cristobal de Las Casas. They claimed to be Zapatistas but were soon expelled from the property by police. In the years since the uprising, the Zapatista practice of "recuperating" the lands of large, exploitative haciendas has been used by some groups as a pretext for taking over small farms. San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas. 2012.

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High schoolers at the Independence Day Parade. San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas. 2014.

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Zapatistas light sparklers during a celebration of the uprising's 21st anniversary in one of their main autonomous communities. Oventic, Chiapas. New Year's Eve, 2015.

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