By Stephanie Jiménez
Abstract: Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional (EZLN), or the Zapatista Army of National Liberation is a militant civil resistance group predominantly made up of Indigenous peoples from the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. Fueled by contention over 500 years of resistance, poverty, exploitation, malnutrition, illiteracy, and ‘economic warfare,’ EZLN declared war on Mexico January 1st, 1994 the same day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was enacted. Following the uprising, which resulted in hundreds dead and thousands displaced, the Zapatistas began negotiating a deal with the government to improve conditions which was never fulfilled. The Zapatista movement is still alive, as we can see through what is told by the Zapatista’s use of music and media to maintain autonomous and self-serving villages. The movement from the uprising until today can be told through Zapatista corridos. This national ‘truth’ and storytelling genre has been historically used for previous Mexican rebellions as a means of organizing revolution, but also to embody Mexican pride and contention over social injustices inflicted time upon time again on marginalized communities in Mexico. The Mexican government, however, has been quick to write-off the Zapatistas as a terroristic group associated with Mexican drug cartels naming their movement and music as violent noise. How has the corrido been used to both embody the goals of the Zapatista movement and undermine their agenda? The ways in which the government dismisses the Zapatistas can be demonstrated by how the government conflates the similarities and differences of the Zapatista corridos with narcocorridos, similar to how gangsta rap is written off. The corrido acts as a sound signal and signature for both the Zapatistas and narcotraficantes. The censorship and subjugation of both groups by the government proves that the music and particular sounds of the corrido lifestyle have power that can be used both for and against the very people it is meant to represent. The corrido is malleable and opportunistic for the narcos, Zapatistas, and the Mexican government, which is hardly what we would expect from a genre that has been asserted as simply a means to perform oral history.
The corrido has been made to both epitomize and undermine the Zapatista movement
Part 1: Background of the Zapatista Movement
¡Ya Basta! (Enough Already!)
–Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional
(Zapatista Army of National Liberation)
Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional (EZLN), or the Zapatista Army of National Liberation is a militant civil resistance group predominantly made up of the Ch’ol, Tzotzil, Tzeltal, Tojolabal, Lancandon, Zoque, Mam, and Kanjobal Indigenous peoples from Chiapas, Mexico. 500 years of resistance has left 70% of the population in Chiapas impoverished and faced with other oppressions such as racism, exploitation, the highest rates of malnutrition, illiteracy, and maternal mortality, and unequal land distribution (Klein, 2019). Their struggle over ‘land and liberty,’ surviving slavery, the Spanish invasion, and North American expansion drove the Zapatistas to unify and demand full autonomy from the Mexican government (Davidson, 2014). Fueled by contention, the Zapatistas submitted a declaration of war to the Mexican government on New Year’s Day 1994 with the hope that loosely connected human rights and community groups in Mexico and beyond would show out as allies (Lazaroff, 1994). Subcomandante Marcos, one of the most public leaders of the movement, stated that the uprising was not meant to liberate only themselves, but the entire nation through ‘political and electoral reform’ (Lazaroff, 1994).
The North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect the same day as the 1994 Zapatista uprising, and eventually became the leading political vindication for EZLN. NAFTA revoked constitutional rights to communal land, forcing independent farmers to compete with subsidized and industrialized crops (Morris, 2014). Otrebor, a San Franciscan musician whose solo project is black metal band The Botanist relates that “…the vast, vast majority, [of the human population] is made up of. . .those of immense wealth who enable those with none to continue to be unable to do anything” (Pattison, 2012). NAFTA was a “death certificate” as Subcomandante Marcos argues when describing the economic consequences of implementing NAFTA for over 1.63 million Indigenous people in Chiapas who relied on farming (Tucker, 2014).
EZLN purposely chose the day NAFTA was launched to send 5,000-member rebel army to take over several towns in south-eastern Mexico. The Zapatistas burned army barracks and released prison inmates in the city of San Cristobal de Las Casas. Heavy weaponry was sent to Chiapas by the government while the uprising lasted until January 12th in a cease-fire. President Ernesto Zedillo sent thousands from the Mexican army to find Subcomandante Marcos and other community leaders, while the police hired thugs to burn villages, crops, and businesses. 300 died during the violent take-over, and around 13,000 were displaced (Earle, D., & Simonelli, J., 2011).
Within the same year, the Zapatistas kept their momentum by assembling the National Democracy Convention where 6,000 students, impoverished locals, academics, and workers participated together in workshops centralizing issues around public health, police brutality, education, and the environment (Lazaroff, 1994). EZLN quickly became a movement, not only against the Mexican government and NAFTA, but for Indigenous and territorial sovereignty/autonomy pledging to transform Mexico into a non-colonial community with non-colonial ways of living.
In essence, the declaration of war resulted from three factors: impoverished Indigenous peoples being fed up by worsening environmental conditions, the Mexican government inducing economic warfare on the disenfranchised, and regional political disputes. (Howard, P. & Homer-Dixon, T., 1995). While the revolution did not take hold, the Commerce Secretariat in 1994 announced a $1.5 billion program to create infrastructure and industrial development in Chiapas, which EZLN rejected in favor of arguing for nationwide assistance to the rest of the 40 million living in poverty (Lazaroff, 1994). The San Andres Peace Accords on Indigenous Rights and Culture was negotiated in 1996, written to recognize Indigenous rights and promise Indigenous autonomy. This was never passed however; a watered down version was added to the constitution. The addendum was immediately rejected by EZLN who brought to question the loyalty of the Partido de la Revolucion Democratica who had promised the Zapatistas more drastic constitutional change in the original document (Klein, 2019).
What else has the movement accomplished? A masked Tzotzil woman states that “we were forgotten. Now we are known by everyone. In 1994, we had no hospitals or schools. Now we have them. Our work was hard. Now it is much better” (Vidal, 2018). The Zapatistas live autonomously in unregistered territories completely self-sufficient, however they remain extremely poor. Some villages have their own currency, and each train doctors, teachers, and farmers. They receive no government aid, pay no taxes, and some caracoles, or Zapatista autonomous zones, cannot be found on a map (Gottesdiener, 2014). As of 2019, the Zapatistas have extended control to 11 new autonomous areas bringing them to a total of 43 areas autonomous Zapatista regions. Expansion was done in order to gain strategic control over the blockade placed near Zapatista caracoles by the federal government (Mexico News Daily, 2019).
The Zapatista movement now acts more as a grassroot movement (Klein, 2019). One way they continue the movement is through music. In order to broadcast music or current events, EZLN needed full access and control of uncensored media. In 1994 and earlier, the Zapatistas had a radio station that ran on clandestine FM networks which is what holds together the soundscape of the Zapatista movement. Mexican broadcasting law requires anyone who sends out a radio signal to have a license. “Red tape and corporate control of the media” make it virtually impossible for independent people/groups to get a license to broadcast (Fernandes, 2005). While the 1996 San Andres Peace Accord that was negotiated with the Zapatistas promised Indigenous communities the right to broadcast their own content, Radio Insurgente is still at risk for being censored. In 2005, an example of this censorship happened to an Indigenous Oaxacan station which was violently raided and seized. In spite of this looming threat, Lacandon Jungle EZLN stations are airing news, community events, the arts, and music. The simultaneous website though, has since been taken down (Fernandes, 2005).
The corrido has been made to both epitomize and undermine the Zapatista movement
Part 2: Music and sound as organizing strategies for the Zapatistas
In 1994, the Democracy Convention, aka Zapatista Woodstock, was held in Zapatista controlled areas within the Lacandon rain forest in the same clearing where the 1914 convention of revolutionary forces rewrote the Mexican constitution (Lazaroff, 1994). At these recurring festivals, the Zapatistas cry out “long live the insurgents” and “viva” alongside fireworks, explosions, and drums (Gottesdiener, 2014). The Zapatistas have been telling their stories lyrically and by enacting as noise themselves. Sound helps tell stories, the same goes for noise, so it is important to first define how sound and noise are used as signals and markers in order to explore how the Zapatistas to tell their origin stories and call for decolonized ways of living though music.
While music has power as an emotional vessel and as a unifying catalyst, the way messages in music are perceived is subjective. Jacques Attali, a French economic and social theorist in his book Noise: The Political Economy of Music argues that “music runs parallel to human society.” According to Attali, “music is capable of interpreting and controlling history, manipulating culture, and determining or even eradicating differences” (Atalli, 1985). Under this lens, music holds power. This power then, can be held by music and by noise, each able to refer to different aspects of human society. The organization of sound can be used as a signal and a tool to “analyze, mark, restrain, train, repress, and channel the primitive sounds of language, of the body…of the relations to self and others…or consolidation of a community, of a totality” (Attali, et al.). Noise then, can be used to ‘resist totalitarianism’ creating the ability to organize identities and possibly undermine what is expected themselves as a refusal and “demand for cultural autonomy” (Attali, et al.).
Those who utilize noise in an organized fashion are aiming to organize people. Logistically, sound in conjunction with emotion accomplishes this sense of community when songs of a group are memorized, and used to socialize and feel collectively. This idea goes in conversation with academics Tryner, Rhodes, and Kimsroy from Kent State University’s geography department in their case study Music, Nature, Power, and Place: An Ecomusicology of Khmer Rouge (aka Cambodia’s brutal regime of the Communist Party of Kampuchea or CPK). It was tradition for CPK to use popular melodies set to new lyrics to establish “a crucial relationship between past, present, and future.” The melodies provide a connection to the past where narratives are relatable to their present place and lifestyle, and the lyrics suggest an alternative future. Noise and music are used as public pedagogy for the CPK, literally meaning to organize. For CPK, music was the force providing political consciousness and while doing so, gathering support and therefore legitimacy, through music. Radio broadcasting was “an opportunity for political education” or public pedagogy and organization. The radio played songs that held deeper meanings of the “oppressive, imperialistic educational system that had been initiated and developed by its former colonial overseer” in order to “cultivate a proper revolutionary attitude” (Tyner, J. A., Rhodes, M., & Kimsroy, S., 2015).
For the Zapatistas, the corrido also holds the power to organize via ‘public pedagogy’ (Tryner J. A, Rhodes, M., Kimsroy, S., 2015). Zapatista corridos represent the past by musical stylistic choices, maintain the present by the national and revolutionary narrative of the genre of corridos, and ode to a future via lyrics. When we hear the music of the Zapatista protests, we are hearing the movement’s origin stories, and the call for decolonized ways of living. Would another genre have accomplished as much unification and symbolism for the Zapatistas as the corrido?
Corridos are oral heritage. They are stories that have gained importance at the local, regional, and national level. Storytelling through corridos has existed since the 16th century originally as the Spanish corrido de relación. This music style eventually became a part of Mexico’s revolutionary heritage known to share historical stories of Spanish and Nahuatl interactions. One of the earliest examples of this can be found in a 1565 song titled “La Cancion de Marina” which details some of the first attempts at separating Mexico from Spain (Chamberlain, 2003). The corrido carried a lot of weight for the 1910 Mexican revolution from which we can examine the influence on the contemporary Zapatista movement. A type of corrido called Bola Suriana was the preferred genre of the Zapatistas from the early 1900s. The compositions of this time period are closely linked to the regional identity and the Mexican revolutionary figure Emiliano Zapata. The corrido was not to hold close relation with Spanish romance which was accomplished by continuing anti-European narratives and always used the “abase guitar” or bajo quinto (Green, 2015). This rebellious narrative helps explain why the corrido became the Mexican revolution’s signature. The maintenance of a revolutionary identity dismantles the previous Euro-centric Mexican identity and transforms into a proud, nostalgic, and revised one. At the heart of the storytelling was the balladeer who both maintains the recognizable rhythm, melody, and instrumentation and plays with personal touch. This leader is someone who sets phrases–for the Zapatistas it was ‘Everything for Everyone, Nothing for US.’ The “balladeer” or leader of the corrido has since been the voice for the community or nation they are representing (Green, 2015).
It was important for such a revolutionary genre to be recognizable because the corrido not only has century old traditions, but also has “extraordinary plasticity. . .it rebels against all attempts at specialized categorization” (Chamberlain, 2003). One has to maintain enough similarities to justify the music’s historical power while also avoiding undermining the individual struggles of minoritized groups over time: “A culture’s history is a contributing factor to the shaping of its identity. Every culture has a musical history that plays a part in forming its current musical identity” (Daly, 2015). The corrido has been the primary means of musical storytelling for marginalized groups in Mexico. Many of the most prominent groups of people and areas were originally by Mexican farmhands and Mexicans of various ethnicities who since the 1800s have remained predominantly illiterate and disenfranchised (Davidson, 2014). Surprisingly, while the corrido has in a sense ‘survived’ and been preserved throughout centuries in Mexico, there is no conflict of tradition, creativeness or individuality because “the preservation of tradition [is accomplished] by the constant re-creation of it.” (Chamberlain, 2003). Traditions and stories are not written over, but voices are simply added which for the corrido is honoring tradition.
The Zapatistas use the corrido as their signature by obligation to act as a continuation of the Mexican Revolution not only in war and political action, but also for the culture. Its lyrical freedom, nostalgia, and emotional appeal are all signals paralleling the Zapatista’s situation and conflict with the Mexican government. In 1994, EZLN created its own music label that produced corridos that are pro-Zapatista (Green, 2015). Zapatista corridos are not simply renditions but are complex and strategic both lyrically and in practice. The use of the corrido establishes two levels of emotional bonding for the Zapatistas: one for bonding over the struggle that members share, and one for the overall shared Mexican identity. The importance of music for the Zapatista movement goes beyond tradition and national bonding however, but as Subcomandante Moises and Galeano describe, the importance of music is about the relationship of the arts and humanity: “perhaps the last bastion of humanity in the worst situation,” “the arts are the hope of humanity, not a militant cell” (Mallett-Outtrim, 2016).
EZLN centralized the importance of the corrido for emotional bonding, pedogogy, and tradition. Leaders would provide regional corrido songbooks to be learned and performed. Learning to write corridos, in some instances, was a part of insurgent training where collective groups, composed of literate and illiterate members, would together create poetic lyrics, and develop or appropriate tunes, harmonies, and rhythms (Green, 2015). Himno Zapatista, is the Hymn, or anthem that Zapatistas wrote themselves. The music for Himno Zapatista is almost entirely the same as the music for the Con mi 30 30. Con mi 30 30 is a corrido from the Mexican Revolution of 1910 that identifies the regional needs and inspirations of the soldiers at the time as can be seen through its lyrics:
With my 30-30 [carabina 30-30]
con mi treinta treinta
I will fight and give my life in the revolution
me voy a pelear y a ofrecer la vida en la revolución
If they ask for my blood
si mi sangre piden,
I give my blood for the inhabitants of our nation
mi sangre la doy por los habitants de nuestra nación
The song conveys heroism, sacrifice, and dedication in its lyrics just as the Himno Zapatista conveys similar themes (Green, 2015):
Because our homeland screams and needs
Porque nuestra patria grita y necesita
Of all the effort of the Zapatistas
De todo el esfuerzo de los zapatistas
Men boys and women
Hombres niños y mujeres
The effort we will always do
El esfuerzo siempre haremos
Campesinos, los obreros
All together for the town
Todos juntos por el pueblo
Our people demand to end the exploitation
Nuestro pueblo exige ya acabar la explotacion
Our history already demands liberation struggle
Nuestra historia exige ya lucha de liberacion
The lyrics of the Himno Zapatista frequently mention the centuries long subjugation of Mexican Indigenous peoples exampled over each era of governmental leadership. The result of which left the people of Chiapas, among others across Mexico with no “roof over our heads, no land, no work, no health care, no food nor education” (EZLN, 1994).
While the Himno Zapatista may outwardly reject their oppressed positions and reject certain actions by the government in their lyrics, how can we know that it is the corrido itself that accomplishes this level of organization? Afterall, the corrido is just music. Does making noise, as the Zapatistas have with corridos always have to have meaning? We could attest the use of the corrido as just being a musical preference, something for enjoyment, a recognizable genre that can easily explain news, and stories, but is not absolute in its representation of the purpose of EZLN. While making noise and using the corrido genre does not inherently mean that their identity is epitomized, Mexican peoples are being represented within the corrido of the past, present, and future. The Zapatistas frequently reference their ‘home-land’ and discuss autonomy and the growth of their rural communities striking the chords of oppression, genocide, and long-term “economic warfare” that have long inflicted people in Mexico making it impossible to dissociate with the genre.
The Zapatistas have achieved, through music, a community that reaches beyond their pre-determined or newly founded city borders but has reached national and international levels of communication. On the one hand, the Zapatistas are literally using noise and sound to protest the government. Transparency through lyrics, and compounding demonstrations constantly criticized and demeaned the role of the government. If this narrative were to take hold throughout the entirety of Mexico, the government could lose control. On the other hand, the Zapatistas are creating a dilemma for the Mexican national identity. The government runs today as a result of the Mexican revolution of 1910. Without the corridos from that era, and without the declaration of justice and land re-distribution to all of the Mexican people, the country’s entire characterization as just and resilient would fail. In order to remain true to their roots, the government would have to acknowledge and act on the paralleled history of Indigenous Mexican oppression. What is the ruling power to do once its people begin to question its legitimacy, and go as far as to declare war and call for international assistance in achieving institutional change? One possibility is to counter the sounds of the Zapatista protests and confuse the traditions of the genre with the sounds of cartel leaders. Narco-corridos and the Himno Zapatista do have some qualities in common, the most obvious being the anti-government messaging and instrumentation. However, the contexts under which the rebellious story-telling unfold are not entirely the same.
Part 3: Are Zapatistas narcotraficantes?
When we hear the Himno Zapatist, we should recognize the conflict produced by the Mexican government conflating what is understood to be a patriotic narrative (corridos) with the violence of drug cartels and ‘terroristic’ agendas. In order to dismiss the greater goals of each of these groups, the government emphasizes what narco-corridos and the Zapatista corridos do have in common, the most obvious being the anti-government messaging and paralleled instrumentation. How does the corrido simultaneously strip of and provide power to the Zapatistas?
Due to stigmatization, narcocorridos are a largely misunderstood subgenre of the corrido similar to how gangster rap ‘glorifies’ drug culture and violence (Police 1 Staff, 2017). While narco heroes and drug-smuggling is praised, the lyrical content actually demonstrates a lifestyle. Music, culture, death, and drugs are all a part of the narco lifestyle, but not because of narcocorridos themselves. Narcocorridoes are telling stories of the unfortunate situations of communities riddled with violence within the context of the War on Drugs. Narcorridos have become a complex way to process trauma and critique the conditions of life in Mexico: “If we didn’t have narcocorridos, we’d still have narcos and the war on drugs…Things aren’t going to change because there’s no music talking about it. It’s the social and political conditions that are creating the drug trade” (Asmann, 2019). Narcocorridos tell real and rough stories about Mexicans being left financially unstable living in cities affected by the United States supported war on drugs and yet, narcocorridos are almost as controversial as the drug trade (Berry, 2012). The themes of violence and illegal activity are labelled as romanticized, leading the Mexican and United States government to view narcocorridos as a cause of cartels rather than a contribution to the corrido tradition. Mexico and the U.S. have both banned narcocorridoes since the 2000s and to this day nickname the genre ‘corridos prohibidos,’ or prohibited corridos (Daugherty, 2015). Sinaloa state even threatened to take away liquor licenses if bars/clubs played narcocorridos. Eventually, both the U.S. and Mexico ‘gave in’ by loosening restrictions because narcocorridos were so popular.
The “’outlaw’ appeal” is attractive for both the corridos of narcostraficantes, and the Zapatistas. The corrido is traditionally associated with banditry. Struggles with power and wealth are topics extremely relatable to the Mexican public as Miguel Cabanas from Michigan State University puts it: “when government started saying we should ban these songs and control them, young people form marginalized cultures were attracted to this ‘forbidden fruit’” (Asmann, 2019).
The Zapatista and narcocorrido also follow similar melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic patterns that make it recognizable and familiar. A guitar or accordion provides the melody that is accompanied by bass and rhythm and two to four part vocal harmonies. The corrido is quintessential for the Zapatistas at community festivals, on their radio stations, and international solidarity circles. The same goes for the narcocorrido played at special events, commissioned commemorate the histories of narcotraficantes, and published on YouTube for all. Musically, they sound very similar, while lyrically each share themes of honesty, loyalty, courage, and anti-government propaganda.
Regardless of how each subculture is asking to be viewed–the Zapatistas looking for change and the narcos as valiant bandits–each are condemned by the government. Both groups are making the noise against war whether that be the war on drugs or that of another Mexican revolution (Earle, D., & Simonelli, J., 2011). The continuous popularity of the corrido posed a problem for the government who “from an elite perspective, banditry was evidence that the lower classes were morally corrupt and criminally inclined. Peace and security, a common rallying cry for political candidates everywhere, was central to Mexican politics as well, and any activity that appeared to contradict this aim in the eyes of the state could be labeled banditry” (Berry, 2012). The popularity of the corrido indicates to the government that the groups maintaining its popularity are in a sense ‘retaking’ the corrido from its place as a historical political identity and making it useful for the marginalized (Berry, 2012). The corrido then, is not just a collection of sounds, historical, creative, or signaling the goals of a certain group, it is viewed as a powerful and threatening tool.
Terrorists, guerrillas, and insurgents have become interchangeable terms for organized violent organizations, therefore, “with such general, uniform terminology, it is easy to miss what differences do exist between them” (Sanchez, 2012). This is discussed in the song “Terroristas en Socoltenango” translated as such:
Marcos...In the year ninety-four around three pm, on the radio and TV,
Año del noventa y cuatrocomo a las tres de la tarde, en radio y televisión,
the news that war broke out.
que allá empezaron la Guerra.
Masked soldiers from where, no one knows,
Soldados encapuchados que no se sabe su origen,
attack San Cristóbal Margaritas, Altamirano.
atacan en San Cristóbal,Margaritas, Altamirano.
The news the next day about those masked men:
La noticia al día siguientede aquellos encapuchados:
they’re kidnappers and terrorists, too...
son grupos secuestradores y que también terroristas...
The villagers hear rumors,
La gente de aquel pobladose escuchan murmuraciones,
did war break out or is it God’s punishment.
será que empezó la guerrao ya es castigo de Dios.
Many people, Señore, had already started crying,
Mucha gente ya, señores, ya les daba por llorar,
for if it’s God’s punishment we’re all going to die.
pues si es castigo de Diostodos vamos a morir.
Some days later they say it’s the Zapatistas,
A pocos días despuésdicen que son Zapatistas,
who fight for a cause and that they’re not terrorists.
que luchan por una causaque ellos no son terroristas.
And they say about that man, that he’s a foreign leader,
Y dicen de aquel hombre, que es un líder extranjero,
and that he calls himself Subcomandante Marcos...
y que se hace llamar el Subcomandante Marcos…
–(De La Garza, M. L., Isabel, C., 2016).
Is it hypocritical of the Mexican government to defame banditry, smuggling, and power struggles when these themes are the foundation of Mexican politics (Berry, 2012)? It is one thing to condemn violence, but another to be unaccountable and use others a scapegoat. While both claim violence for strategy, narcos are responsible for systematically killing innocent civilians with massacres and strategic events against the government (Berry, 2012). EZLN resorted to violence originally and withdrew after losing. In fact, EZLN was made even more popular for not resorting to violence to continuously solve issues (Berry, 2012).
Zapatista corridos are not been banned as of today, possibly because they are predominately distributed on CD and clandestine radio and are not as popular as narcocorridos. Regardless, the government continues to paint the Zapatistas as narcos. Events such as the Mexican army destroying thousands of poppy hectares, killing and kidnapping important figures were used to link Zapatistas to organized crime (InSight Crime, 2011). EZLN has distanced themselves from any links to narcotics. The Zapatistas first declaration from 1993 stated that they “refuse any effort to disgrace our just cause by accusing us of being drug traffickers, drug guerrillas, thieves, or other names that might be used by our enemies” (General Command of the EZLN, 1993). Later in 2011, Subcomandante Marcos denounced organized crime once again by describing that what is at stake is not about who is a part of organized crime or not, but about each organizations’ ability to choose who they are, and each individual’s ability to choose who they believe or not, and the freedom to discuss, agree, or disagree (Earle and Simonelli, Marcos, 2011).
How is anyone to believe that Zapatistas when they claim that they are not associated with the cartels? By listening to corridos. “Telling the truth is the way of corridos” (De La Garza, M. L., Isabel, C., 2016). “Nacimiento de los caracoles” a Zapatista corrido, is narrated by those who witnessed events:
La voz del Trío Machete tiene el gusto de cantar;
The voice of El Trío Machete is pleased to sing
nosotros no le mentimos,
we won’t lie to you,
siempre cantamos la verdad
we always sing the truth
The issue is that regardless of the truth, the Zapatistas do share similar aggressions as narcotraficantes. What is left to tell the difference is the organization’s fundamental purpose, their use of violence, and different uses of the corrido. Have the Zapatistas remained true to their revised purpose of being a grassroots democratic organization without working with organized crime for funding (Ramsey, 2012)? Subcomandante Marcos in early 2010s publicly denounced armed groups who were working in southern Mexico and who were trying to align themselves with EZLN because their overall goals did not align (Ramsey, 2012). In addition to the increased presence of drug trafficking, the Mexican military increased its presence in monitoring areas established in 1994 to supervise the Zapatistas (Dorset Chiapas solidarity, 2016). Recently, organized crime has an increased in previous regions of Zapatista control, however the Zapatistas, along with renouncing the allegations, have since withdrawn (Dorset Chiapas solidarity, 2016). This ‘hibernation’ has been told through the transition of Zapatista music to that of narco music: “They’ve completely gone into hibernation, suddenly all we know is that there are certain contacts in the communities. I remember a compañero commenting once, that you can measure the growth of drug trafficking in the area by the kind of bands that play in Las Cañadas and even some Zapatista communities. Before, it would have been unthinkable that bands like Maguey, Calibre 50 or El Komander would play there” (Dorset Chiapas Solidarity, 2016).
The Zapatistas banned media in their territories in the hopes of preventing false accusations (Marcos, 2011). What the Mexican government hears however, is the noise of the Zapatista and cartels who are crying opposition, disapproval, and war. Once the government began banning narcocorridos, the Zapatistas adamantly stuck to their independent publishing, while the narcos loop-holed disapproval via YouTube. Public censorship and the avoidance of censorship by both groups proves that the corrido, and not any other noises or music, is not only the sound of Mexican revolt, but holds power over elite institutions. Corridos have become the opportunity for communication and unification–at demonstrations, recreational events, for leisure, in schools, radio broadcasting, tourist areas, campsites, and other internet outlets. No other sounds are as noisy as corridos.
The Mexican government used the corrido and its association to narcotics to undermine the Zapatistas and cause ambiguity over their goals. Censorship is proving the government’s unwillingness to either negotiate, or aid in the people’s needs, whether they are Zapatistas or associated with drug cartels therefore, economic and infrastructural needs are ultimately ignored (Berry, 2012). Dismissal of both a genre and a movement by the government conflates the core of the Mexican identity. The corrido, while versatile as well as personal, always tips its hat towards the Mexican Revolution of 1910 proudly claiming the collective fight against oppressive powers (i.e., Spaniards and U.S. expansion via NAFTA). In turn, these same tactics are used against the very movement they were meant to serve because of political power dynamics, media leverage, economic leverage, and scapegoat associations. We should be careful to question the authority of each of these groups, as they hold power over innocent and disenfranchised people. As of today, the Mexican government has upped army presence in Chiapas in response to increased violence and drug abuse. The Zapatistas, whether or not they have a part to play in cartel activity and with associated organizations, have both retreated and quietly expanded their control of autonomous territory by tenfold. What is crucial now, is the moral responsibility that cartels, the Zapatistas, and Mexican government have to not continue fighting as they have been and further violently displace everyday citizens. Each must move beyond sides of the story and reassemble on common ground–ground that corridos have been managing for centuries.
Stephanie Jiménez is Mexican American and was raised in Pittsburgh. They are currently pursuing a BS in environmental science and a BA in music via the global and popular music track. They are also working towards certificates in geographical information systems, Latin American studies, and sustainability. Stephanie draws on their cultural background and disciplines to forge studies on the intersections between the environment and music. Through their teaching experience at the Shuman Juvenile Detention Center (Florida Recycled), Pitt’s Center for Creativity, and the Allegheny Land Trust, Stephanie has begun exploring how science and music are tools for advocacy work. In May 2020, Stephanie was awarded a grant from the Anita J. Curka Scholarship for Music to research topics of environmentalism in indigenous and Latin American music in their senior thesis through the lenses of ethnoecology and ecomusicology. After graduation, Stephanie hopes to pursue a higher degree in agroforestry and/or ethnomusicology.
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