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Five hundred years after Hernán Cortés and his men conquered Mexico, a small boatload of indigenous Zapatistas now make a return journey across the Atlantic to “invade” Spain in a symbolic protest against capitalist oppression and colonization.
Two men and five women set out on Sunday evening from Isla Mujeres, Mexico’s most eastern point, and although Subcomandante Galeano – formerly known as Subcomandante Marcos – said they were traveling with the message that “the invasion has started,” their mission is more so one of solidarity and rebellion.
Subcomandante Moisés, another Zapatista leader, told Mexican media at the departure ceremony: “We’re following the route that they came from 500 years ago. In this case, we’re following the route to sow life, not like 500 years ago. It’s completely the opposite.”
The group said that their vessel named La Montaña would take them to Europe on “an odyssey that has everything to do with defiance and nothing to do with a rebuke."
The delegations hope to arrive in the north-western Spanish coastal city of Vigo before 13 August, the 500th anniversary of the Spanish sacking of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán, now Mexico City. This year Mexico is also celebrating the 200th anniversary of its independence from Spain.
According to the Zapatistas, if denied entry into the country, they plan to unfurl a banner reading “Wake up!” according to the Zapatistas. “But if we are able to disembark and embrace with words those who fight, resist and rebel there,” the statement said, “then there will be parties, dancing, songs, and cumbias … shaking the floors and distant skies.”
The Zapatistas then plan to carry out a tour across Europe, meeting with NGOs and other groups to share thoughts on how best to tackle “the inequality that comes from the capitalist socio-economic system."
The Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) became famous as representatives of the anti-globalization movement after briefly leading an uprising in the southern Chiapas state on New Year’s Day 1994, coinciding with the enactment of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Indigenous rebels from Mexico are sailing to "invade" Spain to mark 500 years since Spanish colonial conquests. The Zapatistas said:
"They did not conquer us. We are still here resisting."
Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has similarly promoted 2021 as a year of remembrance. On Monday, he traveled to the Maya community of Tihosuco to ask forgiveness for the 18th-century war of the castes during which the Maya people of the Yucatán peninsula rose up against the slave-like conditions they worked under harvesting henequin, used to make rope.
“We offer the most sincere apologies to the Maya people for the terrible abuses committed by private individuals and Mexican and foreign authorities during the three centuries of colonial dominion and two centuries of independent Mexico,” said López Obrador.
While the Mexican president has previously asked the Spanish crown and the Vatican to apologize for the conquest, the Spanish king dismissed the request, saying it “profoundly regretted” the publication of a letter from the Mexican president to King Felipe.
“The arrival of the Spanish on Mexican soil 500 years ago cannot be judged in the light of contemporary considerations,” it said in a statement at the time. “Our closely related peoples have always known how to view our shared history without anger and from a shared perspective, as free peoples with a common heritage and an extraordinary future.” The Vatican stated it had already addressed the issue.
The Zapatistas, on the other hand, have a different message. “We are going to tell the people of Spain two simple things,” they said. “One, they did not conquer us; we are still here resisting, in rebellion. Second, they do not have to ask that we forgive them for anything.”