“The Zapatista Effect”

This week, we read an interesting article on the role of ICT’s in political change. “The Zapatista Effect,” by Mark

Gelsomino, shows how marginalized communities, especially those living in “ICT poverty,” are affected by oppressive government’s monopoly on the political process. The article focuses mainly on the Zapatista Army from Chiapas, Mexico. In 1994, the adoption of the North American Free Trade Agreement spurred this group into armed rebellion. The Mexican

“anyone can be a Zapatista”

government quickly crushed the anti-globalization rebels. The Zapatista cause was not staunchly anti-globalization. They were in favor of global trade, just one that included marginalized communities such as the farmers of Chiapas. They advocated for land reform and redistribution, as well as improved socioeconomic conditions for the indigenous people of Mexico – an ignored issue.

The Zapatistas knew that they couldn’t win a traditional war, so they turned to internet and public opinion. Marcos, the spokesperson/leader of the movement employed several tactics:

  1. He was always displayed in Che Guerva mask, thereby masking his own identity and showing that “anyone” could be a Zapatista.
  2. Marcos was never pictured carrying weapons, only a cell phone because of their adopted slogan: “Our weapons are words.”
  3. Marcos often carried a lantern, symbolic for “bringing light to the situation in Chiapas.”

How was ICT so successful in helping the Zapatista guerilla movement?

  1. ICT is more accessible then corporate news media
  2. Information shared through the internet is not easily censored
  3. Information can come from multiple sources/authors, making it nearly impossible to silence the group as a whole
  4. Alliance building capacity: Zapatista websites and list servs were able to foster connections with other marginalized indigenous groups, NGO’s, celebrities, and international news media


Although the Zapatista s weren’t able to make Chiapas an autonomous state, many still view their strategy shift to ICT a huge accomplishment. “The Zapatista Effect successfully shifted the balance of power from traditional media authors to the audience.” I think that by making the flow of information more participatory, you create discourse. I found this article to be very interesting because it ties in well to the news article about Assad. Syrian rebels should continue to employ their Zapatista-like strategy, therefore continuing their “popularity” with international media. I wish the article had touched more on where the Zapatista movement is today.


3 responses to ““The Zapatista Effect”

  • Paige Boetefuer

    This is a great example of target populations using ICTs on their own, to meet their needs, and to more efficiently achieve their goals. Often we discuss ICT4D projects that are implemented from an outside agency, that decides to place ICTs in a developing country or convince a target population to use an ICT. It seems that when populations have access to the ICTs and realize on their own that ICTs can be helpful that it is more effective.

  • pikester1214

    I agree that there is a connection in terms of mass media-strategy between the Zapatistas and the Syrians opposition group LLC. However, LLC is using weapons supplied by neighboring countries to fight against the Syrian government. In my opinion, LLC should persist with their Zapatista-like strategy and it is only a matter of time before there is some form of military intervention -not just food supplies- from the UN.

  • hgalante

    I agree with Paige that grassroots level initiatives are more fruitful. Obviously, one question that can be raised is whether or not these issues will ever end up being addressed if top-down movements cease to exist, but this article is a good example of how having faith in the natives of these countries can be very significant.

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