Unmasking neoliberalism

IssueMarch - May 2001
Feature by Gustavo Esteva

“On the night of 2 July [2000] Mexico finally became a democracy.” This statement, in Time, expressed the view of the media pundits celebrating the outcome of the elections in Mexico as another step forward in the implementation of the neoliberal agenda.

At the grassroots, the people were also celebrating, but for very different reasons. They had no illusions about the implications of the elections. “For us,” said an indigenous leader on 3 July, “the system is like a snake; what happened last night is that it shed its skin and now has a different colour”. They celebrated the funeral of the oldest authoritarian regime in the world, the end of which they had courageously contributed to. But they did not see formal democracy-in which the citizens “freely” elect their oppressors-as a substitute for real, radical democracy, in which people can govern themselves. They evaluated the elections within the framework of their struggle to transform their resistance into liberation. Since 1994, the Zapatistas have been playing a key role in that struggle.

For several weeks, everybody applauded both the initiatives of the new president, distancing himself from the repressive policies of the previous government, and the Zapatistas' reactions to them. However, the business leaders and prominent politicians were enraged when the Zapatistas announced that their main speakers will come to Mexico City to urge the approval of the constitutional reforms agreed upon in 1996. They put pressure on the president to stop that peaceful and democratic initiative, seeing it as threat. They asked him to openly violate the law and to betray the peace process, in the name of the “investment climate” and the rate of interest.

Such positions are aberrant and unacceptable. But in a sense they are right. The Zapatistas are a threat to the neoliberal policies. Their triumphant arrival to Mexico City will further articulate the coalitions of the discontent and deepen their opposition to the dominant path.

The initiative exhibited that human rights and democracy are only the ethical and political masks of globalisation, as an economic project of domination. When the people use democratic freedoms and appeal to the law to struggle against that project, the neoliberals show their real face: that they are ready to impose their project by force and with repression. The initiative also illustrated the vitality and capacity of the social majorities. They will not exchange the primogeniture of their dignity for the economic lentils now anxiously offered to them, as a gesture of appeasement.

Nothing is written in stone. But the Zapatistas' arrival in Mexico City, which seems now unstoppable, will be a clear demonstration of the feasibility of peaceful, alternative ways to the dominant path.

Topics: Global justice