Monday, June 16, 2008

The Zapatista Social Netwars in Mexico

Conditions in Mexico in the 70’s led to the rise of a political and social movements that relied heavily on ICT’s and Internet based social networks.

Rand corporation report. The Zapatista”Social Netwar” in Mexico. (eBook)

These are selected quotes from the text with a little commentary. I will provide my relfection and analysis later.
"In January 1994, a guerrilla-like insurgency begun in Chiapas by the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), and the Mexican government’s response to it, aroused a multitude of civil society activists associated with a variety of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to “swarm”—electronically as well as physically— from the United States, Canada, and elsewhere into Mexico City and Chiapas. There, they linked up with Mexican NGOs to voice solidarity with the EZLN’s demands and to press for nonviolent change.

Thus, what began as a violent insurgency in an isolated region mutated into a nonviolent though no less disruptive “social netwar” that engaged activists from far and wide and had both national and foreign repercussions for Mexico.

This study examines the rise of this netwar, the information-age behaviors that characterize it (e.g., use of the Internet), its effects on the Mexican military, its implications for Mexico’s stability, and its implications for the occurrence of social netwars elsewhere around the world in the future.

Tthis was the first post-communist rebellion in Latin America.

Ruíz and some other priests favored church teachings about helping poor people regain their dignity and rights (termed the “option for the poor”), and some also preached liberation theology (which went beyond the “option for the poor” to allow the “just use” of force by the oppressed). Ruíz would describe Salinas-style neo-liberalism and the poverty it spawned as being “totally contrary to the will of God.”

G: The contrasting tenets of the religious values. option for the poor vs just use. Semantic rationalizations for different responses.

During the 1980s, a whole variety of factors—the economic crisis noted above; the wave of repression inflicted by the governor, the landlords, and their paramilitary forces; the liberationist preachings of Catholic priests; and the difficulties of gaining relief through existing peasant organizations—all led to recruiting and organizing opportunities for the EZLN’s founders.

G: Everybody was ripe for a fight, the army the insurgents and any number of political advisors.

The EZLN began to adopt some of the characteristics of indigenous social organizations. The indigenas disapproved of hierarchical command structures. They wanted flat, decentralized designs that emphasized consultation at the community level. Indeed, their key social concepts are about community and harmony—the community is supposed to be the center of all social activity, and its institutions are supposed to maintain harmony among family members, residents of the village, and the spiritual and material worlds. …In this design, the purpose of power and authority is to serve the community, not to command it—so one who does not know how to serve cannot know how to govern.

G: The struggle had been couched in Marxist terms of class warfare. There was a calculated shift to concern for the concerns of the indigenous peoples. There have been similar conflicts in Canada where First Nations groups have rejected Marxism because it does not recognize ethnicity as a worthy value.

To understand why a social netwar emerged in Mexico—and why an insurgency mutated into a social netwar—the analyst must look at trends outside Mexico involving activist NGOsSuch NGOs, most of which play both service and advocacy roles, are not a new phenomenon. But their numbers, diversity, and strength have increased dramatically around the world since the 1970s. And mainly since the 1980s, they have developed information-age organizational and technological networks for connecting and coordinating with each other. The growth of two specific issue-networks—the human-rights and indigenous-rights networks—is particularly important for explaining the Zapatista netwar.

G: NGOs including church groups most notably the Catholic church represented by certain religious orders the Jesuits, the Dominicans and the Marist were actors (combatants?) in the netwars. NGOs had at least two other major purposes as well, to address human rights and to build infrastructure. The ICT infrastructure that they considered their mandate was useful in the netwar strategies.

Netwar started as traditional insurgency along the traditional Mexican lines and characterized as the War of the Flea, an optimal design for small, lightly armed, irregular forces. It allows insurgents to keep the initiative through surprise attacks by small units, following Mao’s dictum of combining central strategic control with tactical decentralization. .. the intended “war of the flea” in Chiapas soon mutated into a full-fledged netwar that had both armed and social dimensions and became the “war of the swarm”.

G: Interesting vestiges of the influences of various communist and socialist ideologies. Mao, Castro etc.

The fax numbers of Mexican and U.S. officials were often posted in Internet newsgroups and mailing lists…In addition, the activists worked to assure that the insurrection became, and remained, an international media event—swollen by the “CNN effect”—so that the EZLN and its views were portrayed favorably. Indeed, all sides waged public-relations battles to legitimize, delegitimize, and otherwise affect perceptions of each other.

G:Some of the practical tactics that the NGOs used to maintain attention on the scene.

Many NGO activists sensed they were molding a new model of organization and strategy based on networking that was different from Leninist and other traditional approaches to the creation of social movements, conduct what would later be termed “electronic civil disobedience.”The Zapatista movement gained an unprecedented transnational presence on the Net, and that presence endures and grows to this day.

G: Have to confirm the impact that this still has. The document is fairly aged in contemporary terms.

..the socialist rhetoric diminished, and demands for attention to indigenous rights came to the fore… some leftist activists were not comfortable with the EZLN’s elevation of ethnicity as a factor; the Marxist left in particular regards economic class as the key factor, and ethnicity as a divisive rather than unifying factor, in social struggles.

G: See note above re: shift to indigenous focus. It may have been genuine but it was certainly strategic.

Mexican government reduced its military intervention putatively because of the social netwar. In this conflict, “global civil society” proved itself for the first time as a key new actor in relations between states and vis-à-vis other non-state actors. The NGOs were able to accomplish this because of their information operations. In this emergent doctrine (of the EZLN under Marcos), the mobilization of civil society—not the expansion of the insurgent army—became the key strategic element.

G: RAND report is incredulous that the Army pulled back. In their estimation the army could have easily put down the Zapatistas. The netwar only partly explains the pull back.

Social netwar involves a lot of theater. Negotiations on an international public stage observed and reported on by NGO human-rights activists. Bellicose behavior on the part of the Mexican government seems to have a dramatic effect on the Mexican stock market. Activist in NGOs in Mexico feed information through their US counterparts who then feed it back to the Mexican government as the “view that the world has” of Mexico.

G: The real kicker.

Still, even though the Internet is a boon to social activism, and though it harbors a treasure trove of postings, many activists report being wary of much of the information that comes across it on a dayto-day basis. They do not regard it as a panacea or a substitute for key source of information, compared to what they can learn from personal contacts, fact-finding visits, or primary sources not on the Internet. Much of what gets circulated on the Internet is viewed as a voluminous barrage of mixed quality and relevance—often resulting in unreliable, skewed, junk, false, or kooky information, based on rumor, misunderstanding, or posturing. Moreover, there is concern about the Internet being used for “crying wolf” and for manipulation by people with hidden agendas.9 Thus, many activists are selective, looking on the Internet only for reports from those few individuals and organizations they specifically trust.

G: Lots of crap on the net and you never know when you are being gamed.

Digital Zapatismo-create software for use on anonymous offshore servers—“ping engines, spiders, and offshore spam engines”—that will enable them, and any other individual anywhere who wants to join, to conduct what amount to massive, remote-control, standoff, swarming attacks in cyberspace by disrupting the flow of normal business and governance. Military option is still kept evident by both sides as deterrent. The army has more trouble with the NGO social actors than they had with insurgents. Battlespace is in the Chiapas but also in the infosphere.

G:Some of the specifically web based strategies for jamming up the works.

An appropriate principle for neighborly U.S. military relations with the Mexican military may well be “guarded openness,” a deliberately ambivalent concept from the new field of information strategy that means being forthcoming about providing and sharing information in areas of mutual benefit where trust and confidence are high, yet being self-protective in areas where trust and confidence are not adequate From the perspective of guarded openness, what may be needed most in the case of U.S.- Mexico military relations is the construction of a “culture of cooperation”— indeed, a binational “military noosphere—in which the emphasis will be on what ideas and values can be shared and elaborated conjointly, rather than on what U.S. equipment and techniques can be provided.

G: Some of the lessons learned. The military noosphere seems like an obscenity.

The study of the Zapatista Social Netwar has had a wide impact and is a case study for modern information netar. The lessons learned on the part of the US military can be seen in the waging of the netwar in Iraq. The US controls most of the communications channels for the US and consistently looks to “force multipliers” the psychological warfare that maintains civil support for the Iraq war. They have perhaps learned more than the NGOs that were so effective in countering government abuse in Mexico. NGO seem to be having very little effect in influencing the human rights abuses engendered by the US in its theatres of war.

G: Lots of study and effort being put into the counter-netwar strategies. Just in case somebody wants to try it again. The US military's ability to maintain the Irag war and control the message is obviously a graduate course in social netwars.

Ronfeldt, D. F., Arquilla, J., Fuller, G. E., & Fuller, M. (1998). The Zapatista "Social Netwar" in Mexico (p. 168). RAND Publications. Retrieved May 30, 2008, from

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