By Sandra Wallace and Neville Spencer
MEXICO CITY — From July 27 to August 3, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) hosted the first Intercontinental Meeting for Humanity and Against Neo-liberalism in the jungles of Chiapas in southern Mexico.
Since the armed uprising of January 1, 1994, the Zapatistas have fought against the neo-liberal economic order, this conference being their latest initiative in the campaign. Three thousand people from 42 countries participated in the gathering, including representatives from Australia, Japan and Euskadi (the Basque country).
The delegates divided into five groups discussing politics, indigenous, social and cultural issues and economics in relation to neo-liberalism. The five "tables" were held in five indigenous communities throughout Chiapas known as aguascalientes. Each site was prepared by volunteers from surrounding areas and supporters from around Mexico. In La Realidad, the largest aguacaliente, a huge shelter for 3000 and necessary infrastructure were constructed in two weeks by 500 volunteers and EZLN combatants.
A diversity of opinions were expressed during the week of discussions, which culminated in a statement and proposals submitted by each group. The papers contained a general line agreed on by participants. The defence of the autonomous zones (controlled by the EZLN) and Indian rights were major demands as well as the release of 16 Zapatista political prisoners. Support for Cuba and women's issues were also mentioned.
Subcomandante Marcos delivered a closing speech which contained three proposals: the creation of a global network against neo-liberalism; that a consulta, similar to a referendum, be conducted in every country around questions of neo-liberalism; and that a second Intercontinental Conference for Humanity and Against Neo-Liberalism be held in Europe in 1997.
The Mexican authorities responded to the show of support for the Zapatistas by deploying soldiers in the area of aguacaliente La Realidad to attempt to ascertain EZLN positions.
The day after the conference, a demonstration of about 300 was held outside the council offices in San Cristobal de Las Cases, demanding an end to the harassment of Indian communities and the release of 16 political prisoners and expressing solidarity with the EZLN.