Background of Chiapas and Zapatistas



            Chiapas is a state in the Southeast section of Mexico.  It is bordered by the Mexican states of Tabasco, Veracruz, and Oaxaca.  Guatemala is to the east and the Pacific Ocean is to the south.  The capital of Chiapas is Tuxtla Gutierrez.



            “Many of the people in Chiapas are poor, rural small farmers.  About one third of the population are of full or predominately Maya descent, and in rural areas many do not speak Spanish.  The state suffers from the highest rate of malnutrition in Mexico, estimated to affect over forty percent of the population.” (



            Chiapas was the heartland of the Mayan Empire.  After the Spanish conquest of the sixteenth century, Chiapas became the Viceroyalty of New Spain.  Central America achieved its independence from Mexico(?) in 1823 and the western part of Chiapas was annexed to Mexico.  Mexico was able to seize the more of what is the modern day Chiapas region after the Central American Federation collapsed in 1842.  Mexico took the rest of Chiapas from Guatemala in the early 1880s.

            Chiapas has since been one of the least affected regions in Mexico despite all of the changes that have occurred else where in the country.  For instance, Spanish descendents continued to have a lot of control over the indigenous population of Chiapas. This was achieved mainly through their institutions like debt peonage, even though the Mexican government tried to prohibit and even abolish these practices.  Debt peonage is just another name for debt bondage which is, according to, “a means of paying off a family's loans via the labor of family members or heirs.”  This usually leads the person who owes to the money into working for free, since their labor is supposed to repay their loan.  However, most working conditions are sub par and clearly violate the human rights of the worker.  Another strike against the practice of debt bondage is that the value of the work that is supplied by the worker is often times worth much more than the original sum owed by the worker.



            The Tzotil Maya, in 1868, led an armed rebellion in an attempt to gain control of San Cristobal, which was the capital city of Chiapas at the time.  However, it was eventually quashed by the Mexican army before it could succeed.  The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) began an armed revolt against the Mexican government in 1994.  This revolt was began by the peasant indians of Chiapas in January 1994.  They later rebelled again from December of 1994 through February of 1995 after which the government began talks to define the rights of indigenous people.  These Zapatistas have taken their name from the revolutionary Emilian Zapata. (  The Zapatista fight has continued into the twenty-first century.


women * maps * leadership * background * ideology * stories * timeline * reference