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By Mary Fan
Arizona Daily Wildcat
March 26, 1998

Speaker urges awareness of Zapatista plight

A spokeswoman for the Zapatista Army of National Liberation last night urged UA students to heed the pleas of warriors fallen in the struggle against corrupt, out of control power structures, and rise to action.

"The dead speak to us," Cecilia Rodriguez told students and educators. "To understand the dead, to listen to their voices, there has to be a shift in your mind and consciousness."

More than 300 students nearly filled Harvill Room 150 to hear Rodriguez' speech, "The Zapatista are Coming," despite publicity limited to fliers and word of mouth advertising.

The Zapatistas seized the Mexican government's attention Jan. 1, 1994, by staging an uprising that lasted 1 1/2 weeks. In the fray, they aired their demands for a truly democratic government where all voices - including those of indigenous people - were heard, said Naomi Mudge, one of the speech's organizers.

The rights of indigenous people have been trampled on for 500 years, Rodriguez said.

"The indigenous people remain at the farthest margins," she said. "This state has remained unchanged for 500 years."

The implementation of NAFTA finally drove Zapatista - formed largely of indigenous people - to action because the deal, signed without native input, introduced stiff foreign competition that undercut small poor farmers, Mudge said.

Their uprising continued a long tradition of indigenous people warring - and dying -for the cause of justice, Rodriguez said.

The Zapatista subsided to peaceful resistance with the signing of a cease-fire, Rodriguez said. Though the revolutionary group continues to abide by the agreement, the Mexican government has violated it with continued attacks against villages where the Zapatista hold is strong, Rodriguez said.

Government suppression is directed at a single simple idea of the Zapatista - autonomy of indigenous people, Rodriguez said.

"This was the radical idea - this idea that as human beings they had the right to govern themselves," she said. "There was no call for breaking away, just the concept of autonomy."

The government feared the notion because it weakens the 70-year hold of a corrupt one-party system, Rodriguez said.

Americans have enormous power in checking corrupt systems and wresting justice for the oppressed, she told the audience.

"Those of us in the U.S. are in a position of power," she said. "It isn't a question of being guilty because we've been born into a position of privilege, it's a question of acting on our consciences because when we do that the rest of the world feels that."

She urged Americans to question domination of those kept stripped of power and asked students to heed the cries for social justice.

Rodriguez urged students to keep the cause alive and join the campaign for awareness.

"You can take a video, a newsclipping, a picture to one of your classes and let people know what's happening in Mexico. You can let the knowledge grow," she said.

Rodriguez said that the passion of the Zapatista plight is not limited to a single group of people.

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