Since the 1994 Zapatista uprising in the southernmost Mexican state of Chiapas, the indigenous population has seen a lot of changes. These have been particularly salient with regard to nongovernmental (NGO) development projects that have provided marginalized communities with social and economic infrastructure that operate independently from the Mexican state. NGOs and solidarity groups continue to play an increasingly important role in helping these communities strengthen their autonomy in the regions controlled by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). Niels Barmeyer devoted time in Chiapas in the mid-1990s as a human rights activist and later as an NGO volunteer and PhD researcher. Based on these experiences, he provides an in-depth analysis of the advances and limitations of the Zapatista autonomy project over the past fourteen years. Barmeyer's study includes personal histories of indigenous people and international activists from four rebel communities who are involved in NGO development projects. Their stories of clandestine organization, land occupation, raising money and support, and internal disagreements offer a range of perspectives.
Niels Barmeyer first went to Chiapas to work as a human rights observer in indigenous villages affiliated with the EZLN guerilla movement in 1996 and has since returned to Zapatista territory many times. He currently lives in Oaxaca, Mexico, where he works with an indigenous grassroots-organization.