Internet : Lucha ‘posmoderna’ de los desposeidos de la modernidad

(The Internet : Post-Modern Struggle by the Dispossessed of Modernity)

María Elena Martínez Torres

Center for Latin American Studies, University of California, Berkeley


In today's New World Order of highly mobile, globalized capital, working people everywhere are increasingly placed in a competition with one another to see who will work for less, without health benefits, or with less social security. As corporations lose their national identity and governments lose their ability to regulate them, only transnational social movements can exert a significant counter-force. In this global scenario of the 1990s a unique movement is forming.

The roots of the globalized economy are found in the technological revolution of the 1970s and 80s that provided the high tech informational technologies crucial for the transformation of the processes and organization of production. The paradox of the revolution in technology that took world capitalism to a new stage of structure and organization-globalization-is that exactly the same technology has also made possible the creation of a counter-hegemonic movement, the global civil society spurred on by the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico.

The first 'informational guerrilla' evolved in the Lacandon jungle in an extraordinary transformation that began on the first day ol battle. The transition from a conventional guerrilla war to an informational war was possible because informational technologies had already created new spaces of discussion and diffusion of information through electronic networks. The entrance of civil society into these new spaces is changing the nature of social conflict and transforming information, already the most valuable commodity of this era. Information has played a key role in the process of forging a unique movement ever since the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) first arose.

After only nine days of combat with the EZLN in January of 1994, then-President Carlos Salinas de Gortari had to call off the regular Mexican army and accept a cease-fire. Why was that the case if the army had clear military superiority? To put it simply, information flew out of the guerrilla zone was provoking a level of international protest and a consequent loss of investor confidence in Mexico that was well beyond the threshold that the government could tolerate. The primary means of information flow was the Internet, and the principal receptors of that information were a rapidly - in a matter of mere days - congealing transnational solidarity network, whiich today, almost three and half years later, is a part of the explosion of civil society in Mexico and in the Mexican diaspora and among its friends worldwide. This experience has gone beyond earlier electronic movements carried out via fax - Tienanmen Square, for example - in large part due to the interactive and more widespread nature of the Internet.

The Internet has provided the means for global civil society to form 'cybercommunities' defined by common interests, and to organize themselves across borders. The personal computer (PC) revolution and electronic mail form a somewhat democratized technology that permits information exchange. and coordinated action in dispersed, nunhierarchical networks. Environmentalists, human rights activists, indigenous activists, and many other social movements are being strengthened even as I write by their exponentially growing ability to communicate via the Internet and, more recently, the World Wide Web.

All these groups have been affected by neoliberal policies that have left the majority of the world's population out of the globalized economy. It is in this context of disaffection that the Zapatista's call for a broad civil society novement against neoliberalism has had such great success, including massive international attendance at the August 1996 International Encounter in Favor of Humanity and Against Neoliberalism that was held in the Lacandón jungle.

The Zapatistas-using a quasi performance strategy -- have transformed the battlefield into a stage, where they use symbols, characters and narrative in such a way that they have captured the imagination and creativity of an uncountable audience around the world. In the national scene a unique media policy converted the struggles into a war of images, words, legitimation, moral authority, etc., that has a strong echo in Mexican civil society.

The Zapatistas have sparked a perhaps revolutionary social movement that now includes a large portion of civil society in Mexico, with substantial participation as well in the rest of Latin America, and in the United States, Europe, and even Asia and Africa. All are involved in an extraordinarily creative process rarely seen in modern times.

This phenomenon has grown to the point where Rand Corporation consultants, hired by the U.S. Pentagon, have identified "net warfare" carried out by decentralised, nonhierarchical social movements as a principal security threat that the intelligence and military establishments must address at the end of the century. [At a recent congress on "Virtual Diplomacy" which the author attended-at the U.S. Institute for Peace in Washington, DC-various U.S. military leaders stated most emphatically that the military is already changing very significantly in response to this threat.] The Rand analysis was posted by others on the Internet shortly after the Zapatista uprising in January of 1994, provoking an ongoing electronic discussion about "netwar' and "cyberwar" (terms coined by Rand authors). In this case 'The Net' made possible the rapid dissemination to the public of information and analysis that people would not normally have access to.

In this paper I analyze the new forms of struggle that are taking place in cyberspace. in the first section I examine the congruity between certain elements of the revolution in technology and certain elements of the Zapatista revolution, which I feel has contributed to the success of the latter in this new medium. In the second section I reconstruct a brief history of the electronic networks that now link global and Mexican civil society. In the third section I analyze the strategy and media policy that the Zapatistas use in their struggle. In the fourth section I describe what might be 'official' counterattacks in cyberspace and finally, I conclude the paper with a review of the products of this war in the international cyberspace setting.

A Paradoxical Resemblance: Technological Revolution

In this section I review the revolutions in technology and in Southern Mexico, with emphasis on what I argue are important similarities that have contributed to successful exploitation of electronic media by the Zapatistas.

The Informational Economy

The technological revolution that occurred in the U.S. in the 1970s and 80s led to the creation of very distinctive and historically new elements on the international scene, including profound changes in the production process (Castells,1989), the creation of a new type of workforce and access to new informational technology through the development of computer networks. Inforimation has become the most valuable commodity in the late Twentieth Century.


Changes in the organization of production: horizontal vs vertical

Technological revolution is the very essence of this era of information (Castells and Hall 1989). This revolution not only constitutes a radical change in the technology of industrial production but in the production process itself. The high tech information technologies have become the critical factors in the transformation of production in the post industrial era (ibid).

Castells has analyzed these changes in his seminal works about the informational revolution (1989, 1993, 1994). The most outstanding new characteristics are flexibility and decentralization in both production and management. Castells (1993) states that production and trade units function autonomously although they are functionally integrated through information networks. This has led to a more horizontal organization of production, rather than the older style of vertically organized, bureaucratic units. This new style of organization has become the most productive form in the informational economy. 1 For most countries the re-organization of the global workplace has created the need for restructuring of the hierarchies emphasized in the previous Fordist era if an economy is to remain competitive (ibid).

The emergence of a new type of worker or, changes in labor power

The informational revolution has led to the creation of a new kind of worker, "those who control both the tools and processes of production" (Cleaver, 1995b), as the history of Silicon Valley demonstrates, with Steve Job creating the MacIntosh in his garage as the prototypical example. Although to some businessmen it may still seem that commerce is the engine of technology, in the newly developed computer industry others argue that it is in fact the creative power of those "fascinated with and dedicated to the development of computers in all their aspects" that has driven much recent change (Cleaver, 1995b).

Managers are struggling to cope with this new type of workforee (computer engineers, programmers and assemblers). To subordinate these workers in a business setting means "harnessing their imagination, their power of invention, and their labor at every stage of the design and production" (ibid). These workers of the global computer industry are now located in both Northern and Southern countries. Their growing number and dispersion is rapidly growing beyond the capability of the "industry to [fully] harness their labor" (ibid).

The 'free informational worker'

This, together with the part-time nature of much employment, has created a new class of 'free informational workers' opposed to their subordination to the market or industry. Amongst other counter-culture type activities, they propagate what are called 'freeware' and 'share-ware' products, sometimes undercutting the profits of their ostensible employers, and often they struggle for the free flow of ideas. [Nevertheless the commercialization of what had been a 'hobby' for many has led to a boom of millionaire start-up businesses (Castells, 1993; Cleaver 1995b)] They have set up non-profit

organizations, like the League for Programming Freedom,3 which fight software patents and interface copyrights, and promote the democratization of information.

Access to informational technology

Cleaver (1995) argues that the widespread existence of both personal computers and computer networks, through which a growing percentage of the general population has come 'on line,' and is learning the culture of these new workers, marks the conformation of a populous "cyber" space. The paradox of this technological revolution is that while on the one hand technological development itself is ever farther from the reach of the masses, on the other hand the spread of personal computers and computer networks such as Internet, have made powerful tools available to more people and organizations than ever before. Dery (1996, cited in Leonard, 1996) describes the computer as "a Janus machine, an engine of liberation and an instrument of repression" (Janus was a two-faced god).

An unexpected consequence: the susceptibility of governments

Another key factor leading to the relative success of the Zapatista support movement has been the susceptibility of the Mexican government to adverse publicity in the U.S., a by-product of economic restructuring.

In the larger Third World, structural adjustment programs imposed from outside have stripped the State of its power to regulate the domestic economy, and free trade policies have reduced it to the level of a beggar pleading for foreign investment. Nowhere has this been more true than in the Mexico of Salinas. Ex-President Salinas created a 'bubble economy' which for several years permitted the illusion of prosperity based on a massive inflow of speculative investments in high interest government bonds, that via a spiraling trade deficit and debt allowed the middle and working classes to enjoy for a while a multitude of imported consumer goods. Yet as easy as it was to lure investors in, any loss of investor confidence could potentially spiral into a panic and a run on Mexican bonds, with the possibility of causing a collapse of the system.

In effect the Mexican economy was an enormous confidence game. Since confidence is basically created by the manipulation of information, it can be destroyed in exactly the same way. The Mexican government is more sensitive to what CNN broadcasts in the U.S. than it is to domestic dissent, because the U.S. is where the investors are. By the same token copycat protests (spread via the Intemet rather than CNN) in front of literally dozens of Mexican consulates in the U.S., Europe and Japan, were perhaps more effective at scaring the government than much larger protests on the Zócalo in Mexico City. Thus in the New World Order where information is the most valuable commodity, that same information can be much more powerful than bullets.

The Zapatista Rebellion

While the Zapatistas have clearly appropriated some elements of other revolutionary movements-the foquista4 manner in which Marcos and others originally went to the Lacandón jungle, and an almost Maoist belief in peasant war and in long-march-like symbolic struggle, what is most remarkable about them is how different they are, especially in comparison to Central American guerrillas of the 1970s and 80s.

But the EZLN not only differs significantly from earlier movements, it also differs from the form both predicted by scholars and actually taken by other movements who have been moved to resistance by the effects of globalization. Certain aspects of their unique approach fit well with the possibilities offered by the revolution in technology.

Revolution in the revolution

The Zapatista rebellion is not only a revolution itself, it is also a 'revolution in the revolution' in Latin America, to borrow a famous phrase from Regis Debray. It does not follow the same patterns, rules, or theories of previous revolutionary movements. One of its principal characteristics is a non-hierarchical organization and it's leaders do not insist on having the ultimate word in any situation. As described above it has a more Gramscian style than earlier revolutionaries. Marcos has said, "it is civil society that must transform Mexico -- we are only a small part of that civil society, the armed part -- our role is to be the guarantors of the political space that civil society needs."5 To fully understand why the Zapatistas are the way they are, we need to delve into their historical origins.

Origins and Identity of a New Kind of Guerrilla Movement

In January of 1994, the day NAFTA went into effect, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation emerged from the Lacandón area to seize towns in the populous Chiapas highlands. Yet their origins date back to well before NAFTA was even an idea. The EZLN was forged in communities of colonists in remote jungle areas on poor rainforest soils.


It seems that a new sort of community had been taking shape in Eastern Chiapas, in the isolated settlements of the Lacandón jungle (Martinez Torres, 1994). These communities were different both from the mestizo communities to the North where some had come from, and from the Chiapas Highlands from whence the indigenous majority came. For the latter, they were no longer in monolingual or bilingual (Tzotzil/Spanish, Mam/Spanish, etc.) villages, but rather mixed together with indigenous people of different language groups and mestizo as well. For the mestizos, they found themselves living with indigenous people. All faced the same enemies: cattle ranchers, forest rangers, corrupt bureaucrats, poor soils, and declining prices. Displaced peoples, driven from their places of origin by diverse manifestations of capitalism and Mexican government policies, joined in a struggle for survival against perceived injustices.

Various ideological elements can be seen in the early organizations that they formed in the jungle and in the EZLN itself. First, there is an anti-cacique-ism that the indigenous colonists from the Chiapas Highlands brought with them (Collier, 1994). Then there are the elements of liberation theology contributed by the Catholic and Protestant churches, and the revolutionary politics brought by advisors of the Generation of '68 (Marcos may have been one of them). The Zapatistas, not surprisingly, then, have a humanistic, revolutionary but anti-vanguardist ideology, having repeatedly stated that they do not want state power (Harvey, 1994; Collier, 1994). They also repeatedly refer to the role of Chiapas as backwater in the globalized economy. Harvey (1994) cites the strong influence of Gramsci in the rejection of taking power, based also on rejection of the perceived failings of the verticalist Central American vanguardist movements of the 70s and 8Os:

The EZLN represents more a "war of position" aimed at shifting the balance of forces in favor of popular and democratic movements, thereby isolating and ultimately defeating anti-democratic tendencies, within the ruling PRI, the state and the rest of society (Harvey, 1994).

Refashioning identity

What can we say about identity amongst the Zapatistas? Their own statements, as well as writings about them, seem contradictory at first. On the one hand they use the language of class struggle, even as they renounce earlier vanguardist formulations in their Gramscian appeals to civil society. They go to great lengths to make clear their appeal to the poor of all Mexico, regardless of ethnicity. Yet on the other hand they cloak themselves in ethnicity, in Indianness, though, strangely, they seem to count Mestizos as one of several indigenous ethnic groups of which their rank and files are composed. In the following quotes, I highlight the passages that I feel are relevant to this issue of identity :

We have the Mexican people on our side, we have the beloved tri-colored flag highly respected by our insurgent fighters. We use black and red in our uniform as our symbol of working people on strike...

We the men and women, full and free ... call on the people of Mexico to struggle with us for work, land, housing, food, health, education, independence, freedom, democracy, justice and peace. We declare that we will not abandon the fight until we have won these basic demands of our people, forming a free and democratic government of our country. (Declaration of War. Comandancia General, 1993)

Here we see the reaching out to the poor throughout the country. This declaration makes no reference to indigenous people, though it was clear that the majority of the rank and file soldiers of the EZLN were Indians. They also appropriated the symbols of the dominant culture (the colors of the national flag), using these as tools to rally the population in their defense (Earle, 1994).

Hugo, Tzeltal by blood and Mexican by right and history, was of the first generation of political leaders of the EZLN ... (Sub-Comandante Marcos, 1994)

Now we begin to see the merging of indigenous and Mexican identities, as the EZLN probably intentionally blurs the distinctions. Yet once again the EZLN is careful to extend its hand to the poor and landless throughout Mexico, using the language of class struggle:

El DESPERTADOR MEXICANO [The Mexican Wake Up Call) is the newspaper of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation and has the task of keeping our people informed about the development of the war that we have declared against our class enemies.....

REVOLUTIONARY AGRARIAN LAW .... First. This law is valid in the entire territory of Mexico and benefits all poor peasants and farmworkers without regard to their political affiliation, religious creed, sex, race or color... (El Despertador Mexicano, 1993).

What we clearly have is a new kind of identity, forged as I suggested above, from the experience of people of different ethnicities and backgrounds struggling together.

I believe that the inhabitants of the Zapatista zone have invented a new multiple identity, a hybrid of Mexicanness, Indianness and Mestizo. Mestizo is given weight equal to each Indian ethnicity, yet all is cloaked within and justified by the Constitution of Mexico and international law. A new kind of community arose in the Lacandón jungle. Its identity is both ethnic- and class-based simultaneously. 6 I believe that while in the mono- or bilingual indigenous communities of the highlands, the indigenous people did have to reflect upon their ethnicity. But once uprooted and forced to move to a 'foreign' space, much as with uprooted, diaspora peoples everywhere, they were forced to confront their own ethnicity more directly. In this process they gave it new importance, even while reinventing it and merging it with elements brought by their new neighbors and comrades in struggle.

Cyberspace: another jungle?

This process of refashioning and forming hybrid identity is in some strange way remarkably similar to that which takes place when supposedly 'normal,' middle-class people in the U.S. use a pseudonym to participate in 'cyber-chat,' as part of a new 'cybercommunity,' on America On Line or Compuserve. Ones own identity is refashioned and sharpened when one moves to a new space, where people are not familiar with ones old identity, and where new forms of interaction take place. Such was the case in 'Lacandona,' and is also the case in the "cyberspace domain," where, according to Kester ( 1996), "identity can he formed and re-formed in a kind of creative self-fashioning." Yet he asks that although "the cyborg [denizen of cyberspace) may elude the snares of fixed identity through its relentless hybridization, on what basis can it build a political community?" I believe we now have the answer.

Confounding predictions

An inclusive form of social movement was most definitely not predicted, by the analysts of globalization, as a reaction to the globalized economy, "a system that is so extraordinarily inclusive of economies and somewhat exclusive of societies" (Castells, 1993). As the most negatively affected zones shifted from exploitation to irrelevance in the economic panorama, most expected widespread violence and global disorder (Castells 1993; Burbach, 1996b).

A third reaction... is the rise of ideological/religious fundamentalism, easily associated with terrorism and/or semireligious war. The logic of exclusion embedded in the current dominant system is met with reciprocal appeals for exclusion of the dominants by the excluded .... to the alienation of entire groups, cultures, or countries from the dominant structure of the new world order ... there is a thread of opposition to an overall model of development that threatens cultural identity as it expands across the planet while only partially reintegrating the fragments of the societies shattered by techno-economic modemizations. [They] cut all bridges with "the Other" (.e., the developed world and its logic in the developing world) since there is littlechance that the excluded can ever become true partners (Castells, 1993, p39).

Clearly the EZLN, as outlined above, does not fit this expectation, though many movements elsewhere do (Bosnia, even Guatemala, come to mind). 1 attribute this difference precisely to the hybrid identity that I described earlier. Or perhaps the Zapatistas read further in the same volume, where Carnoy et al. (1993) suggest that,

If the socialism of the future is to reclaim hope, it will be necessary to adopt a global approach and to treat as common issues, along with the environment, the problems of poverty and of rebuilding the societites, not just the economies of the Third World. (p 158)

Or maybe Carnoy et al. Were thinking presciently of Subcomandante Marcos as a leader when they wrote,

... the political leaders of the 199Os will have lo think local, relating to theirown people, while acting global to reach out to the flows of power andwealth that form the structure of the intemational system (p 164).

This excepcional and perhaps unlikely movement has had a powerful echo in the broader civil society -- including intemationally. Precisely because of their inclusive rather than exclusiva message, they have been able to reach out not only to the socially marginalized across borders and through new media, but have also found a powerful echo among the middle casses in Mexico and beyond. In the following section I will analyze the new networks of civil society in the informational era.

II. Changing the Nature of Social Struggle: Civil Society in Cyberspace

The EZLN's real power lays in its political massage and its ability to use the media and global forum to get that message out. lts strength also derives from ... its ... efforts to build a broad grass roots alliance in Mexican Civil society ... this...approach goes beyond the "normative politics" of previous liberation movements (Burbach, 1996a, p.39).

The Zapatistas have learned important lessons from the previous Latin American guerrilla experiences -- crushed either militarily or by elections -- and are convinced of the key role of civil society in guerrilla warfare. The EZLN confrontad the Mexican army in the opening days of the war in 1994, and 124 Zapatistas and 50 government soldiers fell on the battlefield. The battle lasted for the first nine days of January, until the pressure of civil society and intemational opinion stopped the combat, demonstrating more clearly than ever the importance of civil society both rural (7) and urban.

Role of Civil Society

As they have entered ever deeper into the ambit of civil society, the Zapatistas have modified their military strategy toward an even more inclusive policy. Civil society has not always had conimunications on its side:

The concept of civil society arose with John Locke, the English philosopherand political theorist. lt implied a defense of human society at the national level against the power of the state and the inequalities of the marketplace. For Locke, civil society was that part of civilization--from the family and the church to cultural life and education--that was outside of the control of govrnment but was increasingly marginalized by it. Though Locke wrote before the advent of the global market economy, we can presume that he would have included the market as another threat to civil society. Locke saw the importance of social movements to protect the public sphere from commercial and govemmental interests.

From the industrial age to the present, mercantilist and power-political interests have pushed civil society to the edge. In most countries, civil society even lacks its own channels of communication. lt is speechless and powerless, isolated behind the artifice of national boundaries, rarely able to reach out and gain strength in contact with counterparts around the world. (Hendricks, 1993, p.2)

This time, however, it has been different. The existence of descentralizad computer networks within civil society made it much easier for the Zapatistas to reach out and build multiclass and intemational alliances. The Zapatista movement has legitimated and given a key role to the middle class via its civil society definition of revolutionary struggle, so scomed by earlier generations of revolutionaries.

The Birth of Cyberspace

The first computer network was created by the Defense Department in 1969 , during the Cold War (Cleaver, 1995b). lt was called ARPANET, and its purpose was to guarantee a secure communications system in case of a Soviet attack. The basic idea was to construct so many channels of communication that even if some of them were destroyed in a nuclear war there would be others still functioning. The model was a geographically dispersad web with flexible multiple linkages. During peacetime ARPANET was used for the interchange of military research, and it grew with linkages to more networks, eventually becoming what Cleaver calls "The Net" (ibid).

A key feature of networks and other spaces created with these new technologies is that they may be used in a very different way from that which their creators expected. Cleaver (1995b) mentions as an example the transformation of ARPANET, in which ¡ts 'users' (military researchers) used it for discussions about everything from science fiction to personal messages. lt was "soon transformad into an interactive electronic post-office" (ibid). Thus as The Net gradually expanded to non-military academic researchers, and later to the private sector and the general population, it took on forms and contents that nobody could ever have expected, and become what we now know as the Internet.

Thus "The Net" is not independent of its 'users...' The Net is not some objective or politically neutral technology to be 'used' in this way or that. It is not a 'form' to be filled arbitrarily with 'content'; both form and content are constantly being autonomously reinvented and transformed (Cleaver, 1995b, pp.4).

A struggle over the content and nature of cyberspace has emerged since its creation and continuas today. To this moment very different purposes and activities find space to coexist in the Intemet. Everything from military research to peace movements, and issues from human rights, the environment, and even sex, all are found and discussed on The Net, wich is itself being increasingly commercialized by the private sector.

The first network devoted exclusively to civil society was PeaceNet, which not coincidentally was the first channel through which detailed news of the rebellion reached the outside world.

The history of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) dates back to 1984, when Ark Communications Institute, the Center for Innovative Diplomacy, Community Data Processing, and the Foundation for the Arts of Peace--all located in the San Francisco Bay Area near Silicon Valley, California--joined forces to create PeaceNet, the world's first computer network dedicated exclusively to the needs of the movements for peace, human rights and social justice. In 1987, PeaceNet became a division of the San Francisco-based Tides Foundation, and the Institute for Global Communications (IGC) was formed to direct and support PeaceNet and its sister networks EcoNet, ConflictNet, and LaborNet (Hendricks, 1993, p. 4).

The Mexican Network: History of La Neta

Eventually the Intemet spread beyond the U.S. borders. Mexico began to connect in the late 198Os. Although electronic networks have existed in Mexico since the 198Os, linking the govemment, the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and the Technological Institute of Monterrey, there was no access for broader civil society until recently (Barkin, 1996).

The Institute for Global Communication (IGC), a non-profit organization based in San Francisco, and a Mexican counterpart established a new connection in Mexico in 1989. After passing all sorts of legal barriers, they created PaxMex using the governmental Telecom organization in Mexico, with a node in San Francisco. This jury-rigged system lasted until 1993, and ­t was the predecessor of the electronic NGO network called 'La Neta' (Barkin, 1996).

The origins of La Neta are found in the attempts by NGOs to find a way to communicate with their intemational counterparts in a cheaper way than by fax, but with same degree of efficiency (Burns, 1996). Among these NGOs a women's group called Mujer a Mujer had a singular role in the process of establishing the Internet connection, first with women's networks in the U.S. They took on the task of learning the new com-rnunications technology and thus demystified the computer for the Mexican NGO community. They then helped other women's groups to appropriate the new technology, connecting to PaxMex (ibid).

Other NGOs looking toward the electronic network were the Red Interinstitucional and Servicios Informativos Procesados (SIPRO). The latter was looking for a node of their own, but all of these groups together carne up with the idea of 'La Neta' (Dunayevich, 1996), with the technical support of Adolfo Dunayevich who had experience writing software and constructing electronic networks. At their invitation, in the beginning of 1991, 25 organizations donated a small amount of money each to buy a telephone line, and they established a local network that was the direct precursor to La Neta (lbid.). A key point here is that La Neta wasn't created as a private company, but rather as an NGO.

Meanwhile, PaxMex had become important in the internacional discussion about NAFTA (Frederick, 199?), contributing Mexican critiques to an on-going internacional cyber-debate on the pros and cons of the still-not-approved trade agreement. For the first time the electronic medium was providing Mexican NGOs with a vehicle through to impede intemational plans of the Mexican govemment (Cleaver, 1994a), yet they encountered little resistance in the beginning.

The govemment never understood it (I think) -- and only because of that did not hinder it. Once they started understanding it, then 1 began to run into flack and had to abruptly cut ­t off in summer 1993. When 1 explained the whole thing, Telecom was just preparing to go private, then they became outright hostile -- and this was the kick that really accelerated the move to La Neta "(Barkin, 1996)

The fledgling La Neta got a grant from the Fundación de Apoyo a la Comunidad (it does not exist anymore) of the Mexican episcopate (the official catholic administration) in 1992. These funds allowed the acquisition of a local server that perrmitted La Neta to become its own node. PaxMex and the local NGO network merged, giving birth to the Mexican NGO electronic network, La Neta. In Mexican slang La Neta means 'the real story,' and the name is thus a play on words, as 'Neta' sounds like the English 'Net.' The software technology that La Neta used-FIDONET, with the Marimba interface-had been developed by 'free infonnational workers' for use in African countries. Since 1993 La Neta is part of the Association for Progressive Communication linked into PeaceNet (Dunayevich, 1996).

The number of users has continued to grow and La Neta's node eventually was insufficient for the quantity of mail traffic. lt was then that La Neta reached an agreement with UNAM to use the university node for La Neta's storage and trafflc. In February 1994 the Ford Foundation approved a grant for the expansion of La Neta. The money arrived in August and the program grew substantially. The node was then moved to a private Intemet provider in Mexico City (Dunayevich, 1996). Right now there are severas full time support staff in Mexico City, and some technical support around the country.

Before La Neta was born, the group Convergencia de Organismos Civiles por la Democracia, surveyed many Mexican institutions about their interest in electronic connections (ibid.) Among those organizations who responded appeared various organizations in the state of Chiapas. In 1993 the author of this paper served as the representativa of La Neta in Chiapas, with the task of getting local NGOs and popular organizations "on line." I gave workshops about La Neta to the Convergencia organizations and other NGOs and research institutos in the area. 1 connected a dozen organizations in the cities of San Cristóbal de las Casas and Comitán. These included the Center for Human Rights Bartolomé‚ de las Casas, among others who later played key roles in the January 1994 information flow that stopped the Mexican federal army in its tracks.

Networking Civil Society

At first cyber-space existed mainly in the U.S., providing a new way tocommunicate and link horizontally across the borders of organizations, companies orschools. The personal computer boom together with this high tech electronic communicationproduced a democratization of inforination, in which people in any part of the country couldaccess and post almost any sort of information.

As time passed, the proliferation of independent communication networks became ascenario for struggles and discussion of a lot of issues around the world. When La Netawas created in Mexico (see below) this space was "open to appropriation by those whoseown forms of organization were pre-disposed to building strength through linkages with others" (Cleaver, 1995). Based on this innovative informational interaction people ororganizad groups were able to extend their struggles into cyberspace and exchange information and experiences with similar groups around the world.

New Types of Struggle

Cleaver (1995) points out how difficult it is for corporations and states to manage this new composition of social relations based in cyberspace. He argues that this social configuration has moved beyond a 'class' composition. This is one of the characteristics of cyberspace that parallels the Zapatista movement. There are other sinmilarities as well, such as the use of multiple identities, which I shall develop in a later section of this paper.

Cleaver (1995a) points out that the age-old struggle for control of productiva space is alive in cyberspace. He states that the state and corporations are always trying to appropriate the "new electronic frontiers created by imaginativa pioneers." He argues that this is a process of "enclosure," seeking power and profits from commercializing information and "the infrastructure through which it flows." An example is that corporations are trying to pass legislation to give them monopoly rights on cyberspace (8).

I believe that the extraordinary participation of intemational and Mexican civil society in the Zapatista movement is due to their very human call and to the way in which they con-imunicate with their audiences. Their humanistic style seems to have been particularly effective in reaching people in the North, so often cut off from such human arguments. In the following section 1 will examine the communication and interaction strategies of the EZLN.

III.Interactive Performance: the Strategy of the Zapatistas

Many analysts, journalists and writers have pointed out that one of the most impressive facets of the rebellion has been its spectacular character. Monsivais (1994) firmly places the conflict in the zone of the symbolic and of imagery. Yet even while orchestrating a grand perfortnance the Zapatistas maintain an open policy to the media and strict adherence to Che's fundamental principle "that truth in the long run is the best policy" (Guevara, 1961). While the performance has grabbed people's attention, their extreme carefulness to always say things that are incontestably true have lent the,m an aura of moral authority long absent from the Mexican political scene.

Elements of their Performance

Masks as Symbols

One of the most important elements that a Zapatista uses is masked identity. The powerful pre-Hispanic symbolism of the mask, is always present in Mexican culture and is traditionally used in transformative ways. Belausteguigoitia (1996a) argues that the Zapatistas use the mask as a form of resistance and as an element of performance in battle. lts new strategic meanings of opposition, resistance, and ironic comment on national and global models are new.

According to Belausteguigoitia (ibid) the Zapatistas use the mask to comment ironically on the official belief in Mexican society that the indigenous people are equals to the politically powerful mestizos. Yes, they use the mask to affirm that they are equal, but also to show that they can appear suddently and multiply their numbers in unexpected ways. (9). Yet she also points out that with the mask the Zapatistas are representing the obvious: the invisibility of the indigenous people to Mexican society. She argues that in this way they represent all those who have been marginalized by society. And of course they use the powerful strategy of camouflage: to see without being seen in a racist environment, yet give the impression that Zapatistas are spread all over the indigenous communities of Chiapas and perhaps even Mexico.(10)

"A que tanto esc ndalo por el pasamontañas? No es la cultura politica mexicana una cultura de tapados?" [Why so much fuss about a ski mask? lsn't Mexican culture a culture of people hiding their true selves?], Marcos asked in a postscript to a communique in 1994. He continuas, saying "Estoy dispuesto a quitarme la mascara si la sociedad mexicana se quita la mascara que ansias con vocacion extranjera le han colocado años atr s... y se despierte del largo perezoso sueño que la 'modernidad' le impuso a costa de todo y de todos" [I'm willing to take my mask off if Mexican society will take of its mask, which was placed there years ago by foreign yearnings... and wakes up from the long sluggish dream that 'modemity' imposed at the cost of everything and everyonel (Subcomandante Marcos, 1994, quoted in Belausteguigoitia, 1996a).

Mexican society is blind and deaf to the Indian (as people in the U.S. are to the homeless). The 'Indio' can be seen in pretty handicrafts, but not the body of the barefoot women with two hungry kids who made them. The Indio is seen as a living ruin or fossil, with a glorious past but living in misery today. Thus the necessary use of the mask to be seen and a translator to be heard, and the need for performance. The indigenous people cannot be seen in just their bodies and language; a spectacular performance and translation are needed (Belausteguigoitia, 1996a).

Characters: CCRI, Marcos, Durito

There is a symphony of characters in the fantastic Zapatista performance. The leaders of the movement are a group of indigenous comandantes called the CCRI (Indigenous Revolutionary Clandestine Committee). Their translator and spokesperson is Marcos, the 'man of letters,' a non-indigenous Mexican intellectual who seems to have participated in earlier political struggles in Mexico and perhaps elsewhere. He writes many of the communiques for the movement, translating the desires of the CCRI. He attaches the postscripts as part of his own voice, living the experience of an urbanite in the jungle, what life is like there, how he understands Mexico's political and econom-ic situation, and the role of indigenous people, all in a voice that is familiar to Mexico's urban mestizo majority. He also is a superb writer. He creates additional personases to relate the story in his postscripts (Belausteguigoitia, 1996a,b). Among them the 'double' of Marcos and 'Durito.'

Durito is the intellectual of the story, the character who explains the more complicated topics (Belausteguigoitia, 1996b). He is the one who defines concepts and terms like 'neoliberalism.' He is a beetle who stands on Marcos' to speak! An insignificant personase in teitns of size, yet even the greatest personases give him their full attention and respect for his ideas. There is, in effect, a dialog among the personases, each is heard.

Belausteguigoitia (1996a) notes that the letter form of communication has been global since its inception. "A letter doesn't need a passport" she states, and the use of letters by the Zapatistas is already legendary on a global scale. A letter cannot be expropriated or silenced. For her the postscripts are a performance constructed out of what does not fit in the main body of the letter. Fresh and spontaneous narrativo, the postscripts are an unsigned subtext (ibid).

Pacing in the performance

One of the characteristics of Zapatista strategy is first a spectacular movement to cause stupefaction, to impact public opinion, to move civil society, to provide material for creativity, and then to resolve the stupefaction or astonishment with a much longer period of narrativo that invites the audience to participase. They are just like contemporary experimental theater groups who make the public part of the drama (Belausteguigoitia, 1996b).

The powerful and dramatic invitation to be part of the revolution has been heard. Their insistence on including all the Mexican poor (and others who feel marginalized or left out) in a broader movement, not only an indigenous one, has produced the larger Zapatista movement in Mexico. Mexican civil society is in ferment, from intellectuals to the marginalized, with a creative explosion of art and expression.

One recent example of the participatory narrativo was the National Indigenous Forum held in January of 1996 in San Crist¢bal de las Casas. In preparation for a round of negotiations on indigenous issues with the government, the Zapatistas called for all of Mexico's ethnic groups to have out a joint position. The call for regional forums was heard, as almost all of Mexico's ethnicities sent representativas to preparatory meetings and then to the national forum in Chiapas. Several hundred people met with more than twenty Comandantes for severas days. Unlike what one might have expected, the Comandantes carne only to listen. They never spoke until the end when they read the positions from each sub-group, spending the entire forum just listening to what everyone had to say in the free flowing discussions and debates. The format was remarkably similar to an Internet conference, with each person standing up to register their point of view in lengthy remarks (see next section for a table of similarities).

Another interesting case is the "Aguascalientes" Forum. lt was created in August of 1994 as an open forum for civil society to discuss the Mexican problematie. Intellectuals and activists from all of Mexico carne to the jungle for an incredible experience of discussion and encounter. Shortly thereafter the site was destroyed (and now is occupied by the army) in February 1995, when the govemment issued arrest orders for the leaders of the movement. The inhabitants of the town of Guadalupe Tepeyac, where Aguascalientes was built, are now in exile in the jungle. But by December of 1995 the Zapatistas had launched a campaign of building new "Aguascalientes" throughout the state, the country and the world, as places of dialog and resistance. As a result four new Aguascalientes were built within the boundaries of the conflict zone in the state of Chiapas, severas in Mexico City (the first one was evicted by the police from the ex-Casa del Lago), and severas more in the U.S. and Europe, Asia/Pacific and elsewhere.

An interesting feature of these initiatives is the way each local group organizas the set up of their Aguascalientes. In some cases they use the offices of an organization or the former installations of a theater or community center, and in other cases are mobile. The San Francisco Bay Area, for example, has a "mobile Aguascalientes" that was symbolically inaugurated on the Mexican day of the flag, February 24 of this year. lt includes a theater group, volunteers who distribute information, a set of symbols (a flag, a map, a drawing by Zapatista children), photos, an informational bulletin board, a poem from Comandante Tacho and a recorded message from him. lt moves around the cities of the Bay Area to places that communities prepare for its arrival. lt has become a way to dialog between the neighbors, about both local issues and the Zapatista movement (CEZ, 1996).

Zapatista Narrative Style and the Internet: Similar Structures

This has been a war of words, images, imagination and organization in which the Zapatista have had surprising success ... through their ability to extend their political reach via modem computer networks the Zapatista have woven a new electronic fabric of struggle to carry their revolution throughout Mexico and around the world (Cleaver, 1995).

As alluded in earlier sections, it is my contention that the success of the integration of the technological revolution with the Zapatista movement is due to similarities in their structures and organization. In Figure 1 I outline some of these character¡stics, many of them related to their narrative style, that made the EZLN 'pre-adapted' to be a cyberspace phenomenon.

I firmly believe that the success of the Zapatista movement in using the Internet to mobilize internacional public opinion is intimately tied to these congruities. lt has also sparked an internacional explosion of Zapatista inspired art, some of it using new technology. There is an ongoing project to create a CD-ROM about the Zapatistas and the internacional solidarity movement, being made by graduate students at the University of Texas, Austin, with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation. lt will present all the Zapatista communiques, shots of protest in the U.S., art, etc.

Media Policy: from Chiapas to the world

Inside Mexico the Intemet has had much less impact, because so few Mexicans are 'on line.' Other forms of media have been much more importante Following Che Guevera's belief that the function of informing the world is as important for a guerrilla army as fighting (Gonzales and S nchez, 1969), the EZLN have perhaps the most excepcional media policy ever seen in a guerrilla war. With their policy of mass communication and access to information, they have allowed relatively free access by the press and the media to the conflict zone and to their headquarters. Interviews with the Comandantes and their spokesperson, Marcos, now number in the hundreds in the 28 months of conflict. As a result of this policy all different types of media have covered part of the Zapatista movement, including newspapers, magazines, videos, audio tapes, CD-ROM, and of course radio (both legal and pirate) and TV.

Figure : Parallels between the Zapatista Movement and Cyberspace

Element or Category Zapatista Movement Internet/Cyberspace
structure networks, non-hierarchical, horizontal organization network, non-hierarchical, horizontal organization
identity hybrid, refashioned, rankand file hidden behind masks, representing all the exculede hybrid, refashioned, most faceless behind ‘username’ pseudonyms
role of intellectuals open part of the process, do not use masks (they are public ‘asesores’ or advisors) open part of the process, academics often use their real names in their usernames
strong appeal for the most socially marginal elements in society, including indigenous and poor, but also activists, rockers, punks, students, gays, etc. people who feel marginalized socially, including students, activists, cyberpunks, gays, etc.
strategy of communication and participation open space for free discussion of controversial issues (e.g. CND, Encuentros, Foros, etc.), free form methodology, all have equal right to express themselves open space for free discussion of controversial issues (e.g. conferences, chat rooms, lists), free form methodology, all have equal right to express themselves

Although the infiltration of fake journalists into the Zapatista zone is a problem (Learmonth, 1996), this is how their voice is made known outside the encirclement that the army has them in. An interesting difference from Che's theory of organizing access to information (Guevara, 1961, pp 98-99), there is no single director of information who is authorized to communicate with the media.

The Press

All the Zapatista communiques appear in national newspapers (also on the Internet), almost the same day they dispatch them. At the beginning the conununiques appeared in the local newspaper El Tiempo in San Crist¢bal de las Casas. Amado Avenda¤o, the editor, recalls that one of the Comandantes was a ex-student of his, and that he scolded him for rebelling against the govemment without being better armed. His fonner student told him to be quiet, and asked him to publish the first war communique (11). After that El Tiempo started to fax the communiques to other newspapers in Mexico City. The EZLN brought them to the El Tiempo offices on foot (Avendaf¡o, 1995). By February of 1994 the Zapatistas started to direct communiques directly to the national newspapers like La Jornada, El Financiero and the magazine Proceso. (12) Later the communiques were addressed to the media in general, to the people of Mexico, or to their supporters in the internacional community.


Zapatista access to radio has been relatively small, precisely for the difficulty of delivering the material with security (Marcos, 1994). It is clear that this lack of access to radio is crucial in this battle. Most of the Mexican people do not read newspapers, and print runs are very small compared to the size of the national population. Maybe that's why the Zapatista proposals have sometimes had more impact on middle class intellectuals, who of course do read the newspapers. Nevertheless, in the conflict zone itself the use of radio has been crucial. There are many local and sometimes ­Ilegal radios spread all over the Chiapas highlands and the Lacandon area. They are managed for the local people, broadcast in their native languages, and are the source of news for most of the towns (Kim, 1996).


National TV in Mexico is a lost case. The private and biggest TV network is Televisa, with strong PRI affiliations and famous for biased reporting. "lf the Mexicans would have to depend only on TV, we would never have known the dimensions of the conflict" (Trejo, 1994, p. 62).

What have made a huge difference are the Spanish-language networks in the U.S., Univisión and Telemundo. Both have covered most of the conflict with reports from Mexico City and Chiapas. Recently Telemundo interviewed Subcomandante Marcos in the jungle. They not only have covered Mexico but also the extensiva protests in the U.S. during the conflict and the negotiations. These stations are not seen in Mexico, except on cable (which few can afford), but they are widely seen in the Mexican diaspora, which not surprisingly is largely pro-Zapatista and influences public opinion in Mexico. CNN has also played a crucial role in making the Mexican government nervous about investor confidence in the U.S. and elsewhere.


Inside Mexican territory videos taped in the jungle have had an enormous impact. From interviews of leaders of the movement, testimonials of inhabitants of the destroyed and occupied villages, to the historical moment when women, elderly people and children in Ovent¡c forced back the army in January 1996, all have been videotaped and spread copy to copy from hand to hand and have even been shown on gigantic screens in Mexico City. These videos are also showed in the United States and Europe through solidarity committees.

This is another democratizing tool of the technological revolution that has been transformad by civil society into a powerful weapon of struggle for human rights and justice. Clear examples are the videos of the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles, the murders in Aguas Blancas, Guerrero and the recent beating of immigrants in San Diego. On the other hand in the current case of Javier Elorreaga in Mexico the govemment is trying to

IV.Counterattack in The New Battlefield: The Pentagon is Watching

Warfare of the Future: Netwar and Cyberwar

"Cyberwar may be to the twenty-first century what blitzkrieg was to the twentieth" (Arquilla and Ronfeldt, 1993).

John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt (1993) of the Rand Corporation wrote a speculative think piece for the Pentagon titled "Cyberwar is Coming," where they argued that the infonnation revolution will change the way societies come into conflict and how armed forces wage war at the strategic and tactical levels. They argue that the information revolution is changing the nature of conflict and warfare as information becomes the most valuable and influential strategic resource in the post-industrial era (as capital and labor were in the industrial age).

In their piece they argue that the information revolution can empower forces that redistribute power and diffuse ­t. They point out that this is to the benefit of weaker, smaller actors, and is a challenge to the tradicional hierarchical design of institutions. They make clear that the non-boundaried character of these forces "compels closed systems to open up," as they argue for a revamping of the U.S. defense forces, as the "the information revolution favors organizational network designs."

The new battlefield of the future, according to this Rand document, will be a war of networks. According to Arquilla and Ronfeldt the battles of the future for the U.S. will be fought against a loose enemy distributed in interconnected and ungovernable networks of low levels of control.

Arquilla and Ronfeldt coin two terms for the warfare of the future: "netwar" and cyberwar" "Netwar"' refers to "societal-level ideational conflicts waged in part through internetted modes of communication, and 'cyberwar"' to battles "at the military level" (Arquilla and Ronfeldt, 1993).

While both netwar and cyberwar revolve around information and communications matters, at a deeper level they are forms of war about "knowledge," about who knows what, when, where, and why, and about how secure a society or a military is regarding its knowledge of itself and its adversaries.

Netwar refers to information-related conflict at a grand level between nations or societies. It means trying to disrupt, damage, or modify what a target population knows or thinks it knows about itself and the world around it. A netwar may focus on public or elite opinion, or both. It may involve the public (Arquilla and Ronfeldt, 1993).

lt is clear from the preceding that information is the all important weapon to be used or to be combated when the enemy uses it. Figure 2 summarizes their characterization of how to fight cyberwar:


Figure 2: How to Fight Cyberwar


operate as a network rather than a hierarchical institution

- there is no single structured approach

- depend on electronic "cyberspace" rather than geographic terrain

-close communication, consultation and coordination between strategist, planners and operations

-distribuye top sight. (13)


- use of images to weaken resistance

- systematic focusing on disorganization of the enemy

- construction of internacional opinion against the enemy

- having a clear picture of enemy's order of battle and confusing them about one's own whereabouts

-act as a part of integrated joint operations

-consider potencial unusual opponents and countermeasures


- mastery of the network form and advanced technology applications

-use highly developed systems of communication and disable the enemy's ones (this is mentioned as a requisite)

Point of View

-don't depend on high technology, but rather on how one thinks about conflict and strategy

- the non-technical dimensions (organizational and psychological) are as important as the technical ones

- the effort to turn knowledge into capability


Arquilla and Ronfeldt (1993) say that the future may belong to whoever masters the network form, because hierarchical institutions can be defeated by networks. They stress the organizational part of 'cyberwar;' that ­t is not only a matter of new technology. There is a need to apply Mao's principle of "command must be centralizad for strategic purposes and decentralized for tactical purposes" (Mao 1961: p. 114, cited in Arquilla and Ronfeldt, 1993), making clear the association of understanding the big picture and decentralization.

They argue that "cyberwar" may change the concept or winner and defeated, saying that victory can be achieved without a physical battle. lt may be won "by striking at the strategic heart of an opponent's cyber structures, his systems of knowledge, information, and communications," and that this type of war may be less cruel.

Arquilla and Ronfeldt suggest that the success of institutions like governments or militaries will depend on their ability to combine hierarchical and network principles in the information age. They recommend immediate organizational adjustments to military institutions during peacetime, instead of waiting for the next war.

They expect that this type of war is particularly suited to non-state actors, and predicted that:

The revolutionary forces of the future may consist increasingly of wide- spread multi-organizational networks that have no particular national identity, claim to arise from civil society, and include aggressive groups and individuals who are keenly adept at using advanced technology for communications, as well as munitions (Arquilla and Ronfeldt, 1993).

The Zapatistas in the Context of Netwar: the Informational Guerrilla

Though the Rand document was written before the Zapatista uprising, in a later piece Ronfeldt (1995) used the Zapatista rebellion as his prime example of a netwar, saying that the future of Mexico could be determined by civil society organizad in national and transnational networks. He wams that the progressive left is at the forefront of cybernet activism in the world, and asserts that the battle over information involves public opinion and media coverage in netwars.

Ronfeldt suggests that Mexico is the scene of various netwars. His pre-eminent example is the cooperation of NGO/solidarity activists around the world who sympathize with the Zapatistas struggle for human rights, democracy, and major reforms in Mexico:

Mexico, the nation that generated the prototype social revolution of the 2Oth century, is now the scene of a prototype transnational social netwar of the 21st century (Ronfeldt, 1995).

Ronfeldt argues that what makes the Zapatistas different are their links to transnational and local NGOs "that claim to represent civil society." But he goes on to suggest that this is not the only netwar in Mexico:

If we add to this picture the global networks of criminal organizations that have links to Mexican drug cartels, and also add the clannish rivalries between factions (camarillas) in the political elite, Mexico appears to be the scene of many types of divisive, stressful, interrelated netwars. Mexico may be the scene of more netwars, and of more varieties of netwar, than any other country at a similar level of development (Ronfeldt, 1995).

He lays out a challenge for govemments to leam how to cope with NGOs and fight in netwars:

Dealing with civil-society NGOs--whether as allies, as in humanitarian and disaster relief operations and democracy movements, or as antagonists, as in some cases of human-rights and environmental abuse--is a new frontier for govemment officials around the world (Ronfeldt, 1995).

That the Zapatista movement has been extraordinarily successful at using the Intemet cannot be doubted. While I have repeatedly mentioned how the Mexican army was forced to stop its troops in the early days of the conflict, another excellent example is given by the infamous Chase Manhattan case, here describes in an Intemet download:

A good example of this powerful tool is the incredible speed and range at which information travels the Internet about events concerning Mexico and the Zapatistas. When Alexander Cockburn wrote an article exposing a Chase Manhattan Bank memo about Chiapas and the Zapatistas in Counterpunch, only a small number of people read it because it is only a newsletter with a limited readership. The memo, written by Riordan Roett, was very important because it argued that "the [Mexicanl government will need to eliminate the Zapatistas to demonstrate their effective control of the national territory and of security policy". In other words, if the Mexican government wants investment from Chase, it will have to crush the Zapatistas. This information was relatively ineffective when just confined to print. But when it was uploaded to the Internet (via a large number of List-servers and the USENET), it suddenly reached a very large number of people. These people in turn coordinated a protest against the U.S and Mexican governments and especially Chase Manhattan. Chase was eventually forced to attempt to distance itself from the Roett memo that it commissioned (Wehling, 1995).

Counterattacks in Cyberspace

It appears that governmental forces (Mexican and/or U.S.) may be developing netwar countermeasures (Corn, 1996; Brandt, 1995; Hobo, 1995). Among the potential ones that may have been used are fake alarmist reports used to mobilize protests by solidarity activists that would discredit the movement once ­t became that they had been protesting something that never took place. I have been able to track down at least two cases that raise such suspicions. The first was a short message that was circulated and recirculated around the world suggesting that the Mexican army had encircled San Cristóbal de las Casas and calling for internacional protest. While the army had not encircled San Cristóbal, it was undertaking troop re-deployment against the EZLN, and this fake news item might have served to discredit protesters. This didn't happen as counter-messages were rapidly circulated, pointing out that the news was false, and claiming that it been fabricated by Mexican military intelligence.

A second incident took place in 1995, just as the security forces were arresting supposed Zapatistas outside Chiapas, and may have been an attempt to discredit protests conceming the roundup:

Date:Tue, 14 Feb 1995 08:57:23 -0800 Subject:Mexico - FACHRES-CA X-Mailer:Eudora 1.4.2SFU -------------------------------------------

"The situation in mexico is rapidly becoming intolerable, as arrests fan out into the academic community (the army invaded the UAM Xochimilco campus) and NGO leaders are arrested as well. You all know the rest of the details, so I won't belabor them. BUT, we in the US have a special role to play, and academics even more so. The Mexican gov't as you all know is EXTREMELY sensitiva to bad publicity from the U.S. -- that in large part is why they declared the ceasefire a year ago January. This is the time for FACHRES (or LASA) to be heard and have an immediate impact -- via an ad in the US press or a campo pagado in the Mexican press. It WILL affect the Zedillo gov't.

We're busy trying to mobilize different sectors to respond -- and academia has been very slow. I'd like one or more of you to consider organizing a campaign for faculty to sign and contribute to an ad or ads."

This message was widely circulated in the U.S. academic community and was generating activity, when the following one arrived:

"I had two UAM Xochimilco folks in my office this afternoon, neither seemed to know anything about an attack on the university. I’ll watch the media and e-mail or fax any confirmation that I get. A lot of deliberately alarmist shit is being spread (like massacres in San Cristóbal), and we're going to need to be very careful, lest we be made to look like fools."

Other incidents that are rumored to have been countermeasures include a critical period in the spring of 1994 when La Neta was constantly crashing due to weird local blackouts, bad telephone lines, ete. More recently a similar incident occurred when the Mexican govemment sentenced a prominent joumalist for being a supposed Zapatista.

More generally, many suspects that from govemments' point of view cyberwar has begun:

Because of the very nature of the Internet and these growing communication networks, the issues are inherently internacional and transcend tradicional national boundaries. For these reasons it is important to watch for attacks on these networks wherever they occur. And occur they have. Since the beginning of this year, a number of computer networks, so far confined to Europe, have been attacked or completely shut down.

In Italy on February 28, members of the Carabinieri Anti- Crime Special Operations Group raided the homes of a number of activists -- many active in the anarchist movement. They confiscated journals, magazines, pamphlets, diaries, and video tapes. They also took their personal computers, one of which hosted "BITS Against the Empire", a node of Cybernet and Fidonet networks. The warrant ridiculously charged them for "association with intent to subvert the democratic order", carrying a penalty of 7 to 15 years imprisonment for a conviction.

In the United Kingdom, a number of computer networks have recently been attacked. The Terminal Boredom bulletin board system (BBS) in Scotland was shutdown by police after the arrest of a hacker who was affiliated with the BBS (14). Spunk Press, the largest anarchist archive of published material cataloged on computer networks, also of the UK, has faced a media barrage which has falsely accused them of working with known terrorists like the Red Army Faction of Germany, of providing recipes for making bombs and of coordinating the "disruption of schools, looting of shops and attacks on multinacional firms" (Wehling, 1995).

A more subtle form of struggle may be taking place for control over that portion of cyberspace dedicated to Mexico, particularly in the World Wide Web. Mexican federal, state and local governments and private companies have in the past six months or so generated an enormous number of home pages devoted to tourism, business, investment, official news, sports, culture, etc., making it harder and harder for activists to find pages dedicated to altrnative movements in Mexico.


Recent changes in the world have converged with a novel guerrilla movement to create the conditions for an internacional movement of support. While economic restructuring made the Mexican govemment more susceptible to internacional pressure, the technological revolution opened a new medium, the Intemet, with a new class of workers prone to be in solidarity with progressive causes, even as networks were becoming the dominant form of organization from business to warfare. Into to this new reality stepped the Zapatistas, a non-hierarchical movement of the most marginalized members of Mexican society, yet who used a performance strategy with a narrativo and organization uniquely pre- adapted to be played on the stage of cyberspace. A participatory, synergistic and cybernetic feedback has been established between the Zapatistas and their internacional audience, leading to an explosion of creativity and of civil society. As civil society spreads and thickens in Mexico, we can only hope that the Zapatista cyber-example of inclusiveness continues to strike chords of resonance internationally.

Return/Regresar Sincronia


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1.INFORMATIONAL ECONOMY is a name used because the "fundamental source of wealth generation lies in an ability to create new knowledge and apply it to every realm of human activity by means of enhanced technological and organizational procedures of information processing" (Castells, 1993, p. 20).

2. For the history of Silicon Valley, see Castells and Hall, 1989.

3 The home page of the League is: (cited in Cleaver, 1995)

4 In many ways what the original foquistas had hoped for is happening, as support for the rebellion has spread.

5 Quoted in Rosset, 1994.

6 Craig Benjamin (1995) and Collier (1994, 1995) analyse the character of the Zapatista struggle with different points of view. Collier affirms that while indigenous communities were once divided by ethnic lines, "now in the wake of the Zapatista Rebellion peoples of diverse indigenous background are emphasizing what they share with one another in revindication of economic, social, and political exploitation." On the other hand, Benjamin stresses the indigenous elements as the most provocative of the uprising.

7 According to Fox (1995) rural Mexico (indigenous and non-indigenous) has experienced a process through which social capital (networks and organizations accumulated over the time) "thickens" (breadth and density of societal organizations).

8 For a description of this process see the article by ioe Abernathy, "Highway Robbery: Selling the Net" inPC World, Vol 12, No. 2 May 1994, pp. 56-66. Cited in Cleaver, 1995

9 Remember the sudden takeover of 34 municipalities after the PRI won elections in September 1994.

10 Collier (1994) describes the common practice of the Zapatista rank and file of returning to their towns, taking off the mask, and returning to normal life.

11. Amado Avendaño, Talk at the National Conference of the NCDMUSA. Chicago, 1995.

12 The Oaxacan newspaper El Sur complained in a three page letter to the insurgents because they didn't give permission to their reporters to enter the conflict zone for an interview. Marcos' answer is dated February 11, 1994, and was published entirely in La Jornada on Feb. 14, 1994.

13 "an understanding of the big picture"

14 This news was confirmed by a press release from the BITS against the Empire Labs on March 13, 1995

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