Alternative History
Free and Autonomous Municipalities of Chiapas
Municipios Libres y Autónomos de Chiapas
Timeline: 1983: Doomsday
Flag Coat of Arms
Flag Emblem
Location of Chiapas Libre
Map of Chiapas and surroundings
La tierra es de quien la trabaja
(and largest city)
San Cristóbal de las Casas
Other cities Comitán, Ocosingo, Palenque
Spanish, Chʼol
  others Other Mayan languages
Area approx. 30,000 km² km²
Population est. 500,000 
Independence 1993

Free Chiapas, in full the Free and Autonomous Municipalities of Chiapas, is a zapatista, agrarian socialist and separatist state in the southern part of Mexico. Its political independence is mostly unrecognized internationally, though it receives support from Guatemala, Cuba, and left-wing parties across the region. Its economy is still dependent on Mexico despite much effort to increase the self-sufficiency of the breakaway communities.

The Mexican government considers the state to be no more than an insurgency, though active fighting has been mostly dormant for many years. The government and the separatists have made many attempts to reach an accommodation that would allow them to reunite. Many locals continue to call for a reunification. The main reason that hasn't happened, and won't seem to happen anytime soon, is that the United Mexican States are reluctant to concede a special status to the communities or allow them to keep their unique systems of direct democracy. Free Chiapas also insists on certain reforms at the national level, which Mexico is unlikely to make. The sides also disagree on the issue of immunity for perpetrators of violence, both during the thick of the war and in recent years; fighters from Chiapas have continued to commit acts of terrorism within and outside of Chiapas against Mexican military, political and civilian targets.

South American and Central American drug lords, including some driven out of Mexico by its military in the past few decades, have used Chiapas as a harbor for their trade. Most of the communes themselves all try to crack down on such activities, but the interstices between zones of control offer many opportunities to evade all authority, and many outlying hamlets are enticed by the opportunities of illicit commerce. This has led to periodic calls by conservatives in the Mexican Congress to invade the breakaway state, forcibly reunite it with Mexico and take down the radicals and criminals.

It encompasses around half of the Mexican state of Chiapas. Its actual territory can be fluid depending on the actions of the Mexican and Zapatista armies.

Free Chiapas is governed by the 1993 Plan of Ocosingo, which functions as a constitution. It borrows many of its provisions from the 1911 Plan of Ayala, which laid out the revolutionary goals of guerrilla leader Emiliano Zapata.


Pre-Doomsday, 19th century[]

After the Spanish conquest of Chiapas, the region was organized as a bishopric in 1538. Bartolomé de las Casas, the most famous Spanish advocate for the rights of indigenous people, served as bishop for six years, where he unsuccessfully fought for his humanitarian reforms.

Following the end of Spanish rule in Mexico in 1821, Chiapas declared independence and then voluntarily joined the United Provinces of Central America. The First Mexican Empire declared its annexation in 1822. Chiapas remained divided between Mexico and Central America for two decades more; Mexico finally seized the rest under Antonio López de Santa Anna in 1842.

During the Porfiriato, the indigenous of Chiapas were reduced to little better than serfdom. Conflict over land and rights happened during the Mexican Revolution and sporadically over the course of the twentieth century. One of the most prominent rebel organizations in the early 80s was the National Liberation Forces (FLN), a marxist-leninist group that had been trying for almost ten years to organize an insurgency.

The uprisings of the mid-80s[]

Doomsday led to worsening conditions throughout Mexico, and the worst affected were as always the rural poor. Refugees poured in from both directions: from the nuclear blasts in the USA and escalating violence in Central America. This taxed the republic's resources. Near the Guatemalan border, an increased military presence led to abuses. Indigenous people especially were increasingly angry over the incompetence of the Mexican government and the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI).

Members of the FLN reformed their organization to take advantage of this rising discontent. Moving away from orthodox marxism-leninism - already unpopular among the populace, now discredited by the nuclear war - they adopted a new doctrine inspired by the ideas and actions of the rural insurgent hero of the Mexican Revolution, Emiliano Zapata. The army, consisting mainly of educated urbanites, redoubled its efforts to organize communities in the mountains to resist the government. Now they finally began to make headway.

Growing unrest, both organized and unorganized, led President Miguel de la Madrid to send Army troops into Chiapas, Tabasco and Campeche on May 10, 1987. His action is recognized as the unofficial start of the "Chiapas War", the beginning of years of conflict in the region that ultimately would lead to the secession of much of Chiapas into a socialist republic and the loss of influence for the long-ruling PRI. Absalón Castellanos Domínguez, the PRI governor during Doomsday, resigned from office and was replaced by a military government.

The Chiapas War[]

The war that came to be known as "Mexico's Vietnam" began in earnest on February 9, 1988, when insurgents launched a series of guerrilla attacks on Army troops throughout Chiapas, killing 15 soldiers and injuring 11 more.

Over the next several years, the Mexican Army - helped by efforts amongst the American refugees to be peaceful despite ongoing tension surrounding their presence, and by the northern states ably patrolling the US border - sent much of its forces into Mexico's southern states and particularly Chiapas.

Aided by outside assistance in weapons and manpower, the insurgents had control of the northern and eastern parts of the state by 1992. Their most visible leader by now was Subcomandante Marcos, the pseudonym of a student who had come from Mexico City to join the Zapatistas shortly after Doomsday. But Marcos acted in the name of an insurgent council consisting wholly of local leaders of Maya ancestry. As more and more Mexican soldiers died in the never-ending conflict, public opinion amongst Mexicans gradually shifted from support for overthrowing the insurgents to leaving Free Chiapas to fend for itself.

President Salinas himself changed his opinion from winning the war at all costs to negotiating with the insurgents, but was opposed by military leaders the entire way. Similarities between Chiapas and the American involvement in Vietnam led many policymakers to predict a similar fate for the Mexican military. Conflicts between the President, the Congress and the military hampered efforts to fight the war and eventually led to the insurgents permanently gaining the upper hand.

Only when it became clear that the military was clearly losing the war and that nothing short of a nuclear bombing would defeat the insurgents, the politicians and military finally agreed on something: the military's gradual withdrawal from the region. On October 18, 1993, a ceasefire was called with the help of mediators from Guatemala.

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Mexican soldiers near a checkpoint in central Chiapas

The end of active fighting gave the Zapatistas time to make more permanent arrangements for governing their territory. The Plan of Ocosingo was adopted on November 21. It uses Zapata's 1911 original as its base but innovates widely, setting up a system of direct democracy in each village and municipality, informed by maoism and other strands of leftist thought.

Free Chiapas gained recognition of its independence - by Nicaragua - on October 30, and an ambassador from that country soon arrived in San Cristóbal. But other nations did not follow Nicaragua's lead. On November 9, under the terms of the cease-fire Salinas had Mexican troops withdraw from the Zapatista municipalities, allowing the young nation to stand on its own.

It would, but not after many growing pains, and not until leaders of Free Chiapas realized that for the state to prosper, it would have to tie its economy to the one nation it wished not to be a part of: Mexico.

1994-2003: Uncertain times[]

Between the war and a treaty to secure their independence, a new era began Zapatista leaders reorganized the country in consultation with local people, splitting up some existing municipalities into smaller ones. Fighters securied the borders with Tabasco, Guatemala, and the Chiapaneco lowlands.

2004: Talks with Mexico[]

In 2004, Mexican and Zapatista officials sat down together in Antigua Guatemala to discuss terms of reintegrating the communes of Free Chiapas into the United Mexican States. Most citizens of Free Chiapas were in favor of remaining Mexican while preserving their unique status and their direct democracy, and Mexico likewise was amenable to the idea of making it a special zone of some kind. But they could not agree on a final set of terms that satisfied both sides. Hardliners within the Zapatista army furthermore would only be satisfied by Mexico recognizing the independence of Free Chiapas. They derailed the talks by rekindling guerrilla attacks in southern Chiapas, including instances of terrorism against civilian targets. The talks broke down and the mid-2000s were marked by renewed violence, though not near the level of the Chiapas War.

Free Chiapas today[]

Free Chiapas is established as a small power in Central America. Its progress is hampered by its unclear legal status and lack of international recognition. But many argue that this is acceptable: they do not want the nation to be connected to the global system of trade and capital.

Economy and Government[]

Due to being cut off from most of the world, Free Chiapas has a small economy. It is managed by worker cooperatives and local councils of good government. Villages and municipalities are organized around the concept of mutual aid and communal decision-making. Imports and exports are relatively few.

Farms in Free Chiapas grow maize, beans, fruits, bananas, sugar, and coffee. Coffee, honey, and handicrafts comprise the main exports, which are sold mostly to sympathetic people and groups who buy them as a way to support the ongoing revolution.

Government is thoroughly decentralized. Each municipality is autonomous and is itself a federation of villages, each governed directly by the families that live there. The Free Chiapan state consists of a few civil and military bodies that coordinate the activities of the municipalities.


Free Chiapas is a bilingual country with Spanish and Ch'ol as the official languages in government documents, signs and public places. Ch'ol is the largest Mayan dialect by far, but other related ones are also spoken within the territory. Since Doomsday, the Mayan language has experienced a revival even amongst non-native speakers.

International Relations[]

Unrecognized by most of the world, the Republic of Yucatan's international relations are mostly limited to the circle of socialist states and parties in Latin America and the Caribbean, especially Cuba, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Grenada. Its border with Guatemala means that the Zapatistas interact extensively with the Guatemalan government but have not obtained diplomatic recognition. In fact Nicaragua and Grenada remain the only two nations that have taken this formal step.

Socialist Siberia has given Free Chiapas neither recognition nor support, not wanting to disrupt its relations with Mexico. The issue has become emblematic of the divide in the leftist world between the "hot" socialists of the Caribbean and the "cold" socialists of Siberia.