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The Death of Comandante Ismael: ¡La Lucha Sigue, Compañero!

Chiapas. An immense sadness overcame many Zapatistas and their supporters the world over upon hearing the news that Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) Comandante Ismael passed away in the early morning hours of Januray 19, 2021 after a battle with liver cancer over the last two years. The Mexican daily _La Jornada_ reported that the native of Hermenegildo Galeana community in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas leaves behind a wife and eight children.

Originally published by Love and Rage.

The EZLN rose to prominence on January 1, 1994 when the indigenous Mayan revolutionary guerilla army rose up in rebellion in Chiapas. It was the same day that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was implemented, an economic agreement between Mexico, the US, and Canada that Zapatistas called a “death sentence” for indigenous people. Their Declaration of War started with the lines: “We are the product of 500 years of struggle.” This was an indiginous rebellion but it was also anti-capitalist to the core. The determined group of mask wearing rebels quickly won the hearts of millions of Mexicans, indigenous peoples around the world, social movements, and the international left. Their cries of “¡Ya basta!” (“Enough is enough!”) of centuries of exploitation were echoed across the continents.

The Zapatistas, who were named after the original Zapatistas under the leadership of the revolutionary Emiliano Zapata in the Mexican Revolution of 1910, practice a form of politics and social change known as Zapatismo. A combination of socialist and anarchist visions as well as the daily, lived practices of indigenous Mayan communities spanning generations, Zapatismo is, in essence, a libertarian socialist way of thinking. The Zapatistas however are known to refuse any specific political classification. They also abstain from participating in electoral politics of the Mexican state and have little desire to overthrow and take over the Mexican government, opting instead to build autonomous power and direct democracy from below. They have built a profoundly anti-capitalist and anti-state autonomous revolutionary society comprised of roughly half a million residents. Mutual aid, solidarity, liberatory schools, parallel institutions, collectives, and non hierarchical structures and decision-making define Zapatismo. It is not uncommon for Zapatista communities to have signs at their entrance that state: “Everything for everyone and nothing for ourselves,” or, “Here the people command and the government obeys.”

Comandante Ismael, whose birth name is Miguel López Hernández, was one of the first indigenous Mayans in his region in Chiapas to join the EZLN when the group first formed in 1984. He rose in rank to became a Comandante of the EZLN along with nearly two dozen other comandantes who comprised the guerrilla army’s entirely indigenous command. Comandante Ismael played an important role in nearly every major Zapatista campaign since 1994. In 2001 he traveled across Mexico with 24 other Comandantes to meet with Mexican social movements, activist groups, and “people from below” as the Zapatistas pressured the Mexican government to adhere to the San Andrés Peace Accords. The accords were signed between the EZLN and Mexican government in 1996 and enshrined the rights and autonomy of indigenous people into Mexican law.

Regeneración reported that Comandante Ismael was responsible for the operation of Caracol III in the community of La Garrucha, of the Zapatista Municipality in rebellion Francisco Gómez, located in Ocosingo, Chiapas. Caracoles, or snail shells – both a central symbol and structure of the Zapatistas – were first established in 2003. They serve as centers where Zapatistas encounter and exchange ideas with visitors from around the world, but also as structures where the Zapatista autonomous communities are organized under. The governance system in Caracoles includes constantly rotating positions on the administrative _Juntas_ de Buen Gobierno, and popular assemblies that strive to reach consensus and are open to anyone over the age of 12. Both the _Juntas _and popular assemblies are rooted in the autonomous communities, and form a bottom-up practice of grassroots direct democracy.

Comandante Ismael leaves behind a growing Zapatista movement. The Zapatistas announced the creation of 11 new Caracoles in 2019, and are gearing up to send a delegation to Europe this year to connect with social movements and activists. Zapatista solidarity activists also recently launched a fundraising effort to assist Zapatista communities during the Covid-19 pandemic called the Two-Million Peso Pledge. Far from defeat, and ever changing and growing, this is a revolutionary movement that Comandante Ismael had no small part in shaping in the last 37 years. ¡La Lucha Sigue, compañero!

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