Brazilian movement takes inspiration from Zapatistas

The autonomous movement that spearheaded the Brazilian protests took direct inspiration from the horizontal model of Mexico’s Zapatista communities.


By Tatiana Farah. Translated from Portuguese by Tamara van der Putten.

“Abajo y a la izquierda está el corazón” — “the heart lies below and to the left”. This sentence by Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) in Mexico was used in an opening speech by the Free Fare Movement (MPL), which initiated protests across Brazil by forcing a drop in public transport fares. “Below” refers to the marginalized groups and minorities, which MPL calls “the bottom”, and “the left” refers to the anti-capitalist discourse. Formed by students of the University of São Paulo (USP) and by workers from the periphery, the movement defines itself as anti-capitalist, non-partisan, peaceful, autonomous and horizontal.

Some MPL activists, including 19-year-old Luiza Calagian from São Paulo, have crossed the continent to meet with Zapatista communities in Chiapas, who gained worldwide attention in 1994 when the Zapatistas lowered their weapons to negotiate their indigenous rights with the Mexican government. They soon became an example for the new social movements organized against the effects of globalization. Like the Zapatistas, the MPL differs from traditional political parties in its horizontal form of organization, where all decisions are made collectively. There are no positions or leaders. All speak on behalf of the movement. On the streets, one cannot hear the sound of car radios promoting election rallies, as they want to avoid dictating the discourse to “the bottom”.

“Marcos is gay in San Francisco, a black in South Africa, an Asian in Europe, a Chicano in San Isidro, an anarchist in Spain…”. In the ’90s, Subcomandante Marcos, the intellectual from the Autonomous University of Mexico who plunged into the jungle of Chiapas to fight alongside the indigenous community, basically became a legend. When asked who the Subcomandante was — the “sub” refers to the fact that the true leaders are the indigenous people, the Zapatistas, who cover their faces with masks — they respond: “We are all Marcos”.