(Yes, it’s longish, but you can skip much of it as I indicate fairly early on.)
On May 25, ‘The Final Communiqué, Between Light and Shadow’ by Subcomandante Marcos was published at Enlace Zapatista and other online venues. The statement was issued at La Realidad village in his first public appearance since 2009. He began asking all compañeras, compañeros and compañeroas for patience an tolerance, given that after speaking, he would cease to exist. It is a long statement full of historical allusions, choices made and not made since 1994, and quite enigmatic an epistle, chimeric enough that yes, somewhere ‘between the light and the shadow’ one could glean messages on several different levels, and of several different hues. The talk is also full of delightful humor, barbed jests, and implacable belief that the caracoles (little snails) that have been created by the people and for the people will thrive as they continue to evolve.
“The wise ones of old say that the heart of men and women has the form of a snail.“
But further complicating my understanding was the fact that over the years, hints of Marcos being ill enough to die had surfaced, whether misdirections or not, it was impossible to say; he now says those fictitious reports were calculated . Nonetheless, Marcos had long been the spokesperson for the EZLN (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional), the Zapatista Army of Liberation, and it seemed important to grasp his meaning: portentous, propitious?
It having been necessary that I’d read it in several sessions, added to the mystery of the message, and I did look about for different essays interpreting it, and I believe that I now see what’s afoot. Or perhaps not; you might read it and see something else. Counterpunch has it on a white background, which may be easier to read.
For instance, this toward the beginning, including a luscious jest of pride:
“I am speaking to you and to those who listen to and look at us through you.
Perhaps at the start, or as these words unfold, the sensation will grow in your heart that something is out of place, that something doesn’t quite fit, as if you were missing one or various pieces that would help make sense of the puzzle that is about to be revealed to you. As if indeed what is missing is still pending.
Maybe later – days, weeks, months, years or decades later – what we are about to say will be understood.
My compañeras and compañeros at all levels of the EZLN do not worry me, because this is indeed our way here: to walk and to struggle, always knowing that what is missing is yet to come.
What’s more, and without meaning to offend anyone, the intelligence of the Zapatista compas is way above average.”
Chapter I is: A difficult decision, in which he speaks to the death and destruction being brought down from above on the local Maya population, and the statement that the EZLN had issued on or just ahead of the date that NAFTA took effect: Jan 1, 1994.
“The war from above, with its death and destruction, its dispossession and humiliation, its exploitation and the silence it imposed on the defeated, we had been enduring for centuries.
What began for us in 1994 is one of many moments of war by those below against those above, against their world.
This war of resistance is fought day in and day out in the streets of any corner of the five continents, in their countrysides and in their mountains.
It was and is ours, as it is of many from below, a war for humanity and against neoliberalism. Against death, we demand life. Against silence, we demand the word and respect.
Against oblivion, memory. Against humiliation and contempt, dignity. Against oppression, rebellion.
Against slavery, freedom. Against imposition, democracy. Against crime, justice.
Who with the least bit of humanity in their veins would or could question these demands?
And many listened to us then.
The war we waged gave us the privilege of arriving to attentive and generous ears and hearts in geographies near and far.”
Should they then turn toward militarizing themselves, invest in their battered war machine, see ‘kill or die as the only destiny’? Or should they choose Life, and chart a path that reconstructed what was broken from above, a path available to all those of the peasant class, not only the Indigenous? Basta! Enough!
It may be time to provide some history of the Zapatista Revolution and resurrection of their lives, and I’ll borrow heavily from posts I did in May of 2013 and January 2014, the latter being a juxtaposition of their struggles against the Oligarchy and the serious threats of the TPP and TAFTA, both looming large then, who can ay now? Will they slip both by us as our eyes are so agonizingly turned elsewhere to other boatloads of crises?
Where does one start a story of Chiapas and the Zapatistas? One useful starting point might be during the Spanish conquest of the lands that comprised the narrow isthmus between North and South America. At the time, the Chiapas lowlands were considered to be ‘the breadbasket’ to the indigenous of the region; I’ve read that over 125 different heirloom varieties of maize still exist. But as the Spanish enlarged their appropriated holdings and began farming large coffee and cotton plantations, and created vast cattle ranches, the indigenous Mayans were pushed into the rocky, thin-soiled highlands to eke out an agricultural subsistence. When those lands proved inadequate to their needs, some Mayans cleared the jungled hills to the east; some poor Spanish-speaking residents fleeing poverty in the south joined them.
As ever, when such an underclass is created by ‘the Victors’ of colonization, so does it evolve that a pernicious form of racism and bigotry is also created. That condition still exists today, of course, an all over the world.
Until the early part of the 20th Century, the land outside the native villages in Mexico was the property of the oligarch class. In what now seems a remarkable feat, during the 1930s, President Lazaro Cárdenas created the ejidos system in which millions of hectares of land were distributed to Mexican peasants. The land could not be sold, just passed down through the generations. Cárdenas also nationalized the Mexican petroleum industry, which goes by the name Pemex. During his tenure, he also helped to create a national labor union. Over the decades, the ejido system was corrupted, and many of the 28,000 parcels of land once again came under the control of the feudal lords of Mexico, often Europeans.
Emilio Zapata, revolutionary hero to the Mexican peasants, often cried, ‘The land belongs to the people who work it’. It became the anthem of those still infused with the spirit of the ejido concept as they their holdings fall prey to the greedy and powerful. His murder by Mexican generals under President Caranza in 1919 in an act of betrayal as he sought a truce, reified his battle cry among the peasants, as did the sense of righteous power he willed to the generations who came after him. That fervor would lie in quiet dormancy for some 40 or 50 years, waiting to be sparked anew.
Poverty and disease among the Mayans in Chiapas and neighboring Oaxaca were rampant. Rumblings of dissent began to emanate from the highlands, rolling among the people. The recently created Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN), or Zapatista movement, began to accrue more and more members.
Adding fuel to the Indigenous fire, in an arguably stolen election in the 1988, Carlos Salinas was elected President. Under his corrupt rule, privatization of the ejido lands was legalized in 1992; forests, land and water were gobbled up by the feudalist class. On the first of January, 1994, Zapatista communities approved a military offensive by the EZLN. Guerillas seized control of the colonial city of San Cristóbal de las Casas and 5 towns in the surrounding Chiapas highlands.
“We have nothing to lose, absolutely nothing, no decent roof over our heads, no land, no work, poor health, no food, no education, no right to freely and democratically choose our leaders, no independence from foreign interests, and no justice for ourselves or our children. But we say enough is enough! We are the descendants of those who truly built this nation, we are the millions of dispossessed, and we call upon all of our brethren to join our crusade, the only option to avoid dying of starvation!”
– Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) Declaration of the Lácandon Jungle, 1993
January 1, 1994 was of course the day NAFTA took effect. The call went out to the poor and disenfranchised throughout Mexico, and via internet to the wider anti-globalization, anti-neoliberalism movement, including the fact that NAFTA would be deadly to the peasants, their crops, and the land itself. Non-indigenous had been joining EZLN, including their mestizo leader, Subcomandante Marcos (his nom de guerre).
The Mexican government’s military response to the short-lived revolutions was swift: planes and helicopters dropped bombs in the EZLN ejido villages; 145 people were killed. And this compilation from interviewees on Democracy Now!. Within less than 24 hours, the almost jovial spectacle turned to full-fledged warfare as thousands of Mexican military and police forces confronted the rebel army and terrorized civilian populations. In one indigenous village, the men of the community were rounded up and three elders were assassinated. Sister Patti, who ran a small popular hospital in the area, was accused by the military of hiding weapons in the hospital. This sister remembers that day.
: It was the 5th of January in the afternoon, the federal army arrived. It was a day of incredible silence, an environment of great fear. The military began to give out food to the people. When the families went to receive their food, many of the men were taken by the military, tortured, and taken to the prisons.
During the 12 days of warfare, approximately 200 people were killed, most of them civilians. The images broadcast throughout the world of the corpses of poor indigenous men lying on the dirt with wooden guns by their side made people wonder what was behind the decision to make them risk their lives. In February, 1994, the Zapatistas entered the city again to begin negotiations. From the cathedral, they spoke about the importance of peasant and indigenous people’s rights to land.
EZLN REPRESENTATIVE: We decided to go to war so that the peasants could have land, not the ranchers. It wasn’t for one village nor for the state, but rather for everyone who doesn’t have land.
On Jan.12, a cease-fire was called. The truce was arranged by the well-known Liberation Theologist Samuel Ruiz. February: Peace talks began in February; the government peace proposal was rejected by the Zapatista communities. In August, after holding the National Democratic Convention attended by 6000 Mayans and their comrades, the Zapatistas declared autonomy for 38 indigenous municipalities. They have created cooperative agricultural systems, clinics, schools, and actual democratic institutions for themselves.
Their point has long been that they simply want autonomous rule of their districts in which all people make the decisions in a true participatory ‘bottom up’ rule.
Not long afterward, a Feb. 1995 report from the Chase-Manhattan Bank surfaced, urging the Mexican government to ‘eliminate the Zapatistas’; their brand of state destabilization is bad for business and the value of a peso, you know. A month later, the army mounted a massive invasion of Zapatista territory, implementing a strategy of low-intensity warfare (civilian-targeted warfare). The army displaced 20,000 campesinos, and occupied much of Chiapas.
The following years of rule by Zedillo and the PRI were hellish for the self-rule municipalities; Zedillo deported human rights workers by the droves. There were brief respites of oppression under Vincente Fox’s rule, including dismantling some of the military bases and checkpoints, freeing some political prisoners. When the Senate passed a weak-tea version of the San Andres Accords in April of 2011, the Zapatistas went home, and entered The Silence once again.
After the Uprising in which seven cities were taken over by the EZLN, and some recent Feudal Lords had been driven off land the campesinos and campesinas believed was their own, things were chaotic in Chiapas, and the military stepped in to keep order temporarily, but soon, from Warrior Publications:
‘The military leadership held consultations with civilian authorities, and together they decided to create autonomous municipalities in order to bring order and civilian governance to the rebel territory. In December 1994, the Zapatistas inaugurated 38 autonomous municipalities comprised of an undisclosed number of towns. Each autonomous municipality had its own municipal council named by the towns, allowing for increased coordination between towns and more formal organization of civilian affairs. In 1997, the Zapatistas formalized the assemblies of municipal councils by creating the Association of Autonomous Municipalities, comprised of representatives from each autonomous municipality. During the creation of the Association of Autonomous Municipalities, the Zapatistas formally redistributed the land they had taken over in the 1994 uprising. Landless Zapatistas left the communities in which they were born to settle on recuperated land they could finally call their own, fulfilling revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata’s creed, “The land belongs to those who work it.”
Allow me to neglect the intervening years of oppression and misery, and come to the winter solstice of 2012, when the Zapatistas walked out of the misty jungle highlands in silence, thousands of masked men, women and children.
‘To be heard…we walk in silence.’
From Leonidas Oikonmakusm this thrilling prose (and wonderful photos):
‘As the Maya calendar ends, a new cycle of struggle begins with thousands of Zapatistas peacefully and silently occupying town squares across Chiapas. The Zapatistas are back! Flowing like the water of the river that beats the sword. And while some were anticipating the Christmas holidays, some others the end of the Maya calendar, and others still the new Communiqué from the Comandancia General of the EZLN that was announced back in November, the main cities of Chiapas woke up today with memories of 1994. New Age freaks around the world may have been gearing up for the end of the world, but it appears that some Mayas had a very different opinion on the matter. They preferred to send us another message: that of the new world they have been building in silence for two decades now.’
Then came further calumny, threats of violence and oppressionfrom then-recent news: Obama and PEMEX oil/NAFTA love, the IDF and Mexican ‘counterinsurgency’ training the army to crush Zapatistas, the Zeta narco-barons…well, you get the drift. Get.rid.of.them.before.their.notions.spread.
Marcos recounts that Dec 21 day in 2012 when tens of thousands of masked Zapatistas flowed out of the highland jungled hills in silence, shaming the cities through which they passed, and showing them that they had not been weakened, bowed, but had increased their numbers and their dignified quality, taking those buildings that had ‘celebrated’ their disappearance into the jungle long ago.
He wonders if they’d made the right choice: rebellion: Life, and disappearing their army into ventures that affirmed it, had been the best way to proceed, but he notes that they listened to their inner voices, and chose. Chose to learn lessons about horizontal and bottom to top self-rule, seeking nothing for themselves, but focusing on all of the people’s living in dignity and sharing projects of each coracol’s chosen focus, but especially on: the children!
He hints that ‘Marcos’ was never one man, but a succession of them, a chimera chosen to obfuscate outsiders, and more fully show that their masks were indeed mirrors reflecting anyone, anywhere, who chose solidarity with them. Was ‘Marcos’ the consummate trickster before or after the fact? The ‘moldable hologram’ he now insists, with different colored eyes and pasts? A constructed character to fool the media into seeing them as ruled by a small mestizo with small power to match? Zedillo, the man from Tampico, Moises, so many names and nom de plumes of fallen comrades, all just dizzying in the extreme.
We will never know. But he does say that now is the time for him to cease to exist, as ‘Marcos’ had become a distraction, and explains the timing. During this past year’s Zapatista Little Schools of Below, with a motto of ‘Practice First, then theory’, they saw that the generation that came after theirs were utterly comfortable in equality, self-rule, and the principles they had chosen to live by: ’Freedom according to the Zapatistas’. And then came the death of another, Galeano, whose name was chosen by the future head of the EZLN until…. He lists so many Indigenous who have been murdered by the oppressors, shoveled into the dirt, or buried in prisons; oh, so many. But it was Galeano’s death on May 2 that provoked Marcos to speak, and to ease to exist. For the militias of Peña Nieto are coming after them again, and they realize that another evolution was necessary. They had reached out once again to those who stand in solidarity with ‘The Sixth’ (Declaration of the Lacandón Jungle) with ‘An Attack on us all’, heavy on star power solidarity for sure, but their planned solidarity actions in May came and went unnoticed by most of us, no?
In the words of Ernie MCCray:
‘With that being said, on May 2, 2014, a hero of mine, a teacher extraordinaire, Jose Luis Solis Lopez (Galeano), was assassinated at the Zapatista’s “Little School” (La Escuelita), in Chiapas, Mexico. The school was built to celebrate “who” children are and “who” they can become.
Their culture is at the core of their school. The arts, drawing, painting, singing, dancing, poetry are interwoven in all that they do, enabling each child to get at what drives them, what they have to offer, how they fit into the scheme of things.’
The attacks on the Chiapas villages have been on the rise for the past several months, but the one at La Escuilita was the one that caused ‘Marcos’ and friends to begin Zapatismo: Chapter Sixth*, it seems. Declarations since the original Sixth Declaration of the Lacandón Jungle have extended help an solidarity to cause to include “all the exploited and dispossessed” around the world, not just to the Indigenous.
Amen. And Marcos Again:
“As our compañero, chief and spokesperson of the EZLN, Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés has already told us, in killing Galeano, or any Zapatista, those above are trying to kill the EZLN.
Not the EZLN as an army, but as the rebellious and stubborn force that builds and raises life where those above desire the wasteland brought by the mining, oil, and tourist industries, the death of the earth and those who work and inhabit it.
He has also said that we have come, as the General Command of the Zaptaista Army for National Liberation, to exhume Galeano.
We think that it is necessary for one of us to die so that Galeano lives. That is how it is. [snip]
(a voice is heard offstage)
Good early morning compañeras and compañeros. My name is Galeano, Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano.
Anyone else here named Galeano?
[The crowd cries, “We are all Galeano!”]
Ah, that’s why they told me that when I was reborn, it would be as a collective.
And so it should be.
Have a good journey. Take care of yourselves, take care of us.
From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast,
Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano
Mexico, May of 2014.”
For more information on the Chiapas Little Schools, click the link here; if you’d like to donate to any of the coming projects, there’s a button for that, plus an online store of Chiapas rafts and wares. Canada Wild’s ‘A Place Called Chiapas’, the complete film is at the link.
A lot of ink has been spent lately about possible models for building better worlds; this one impresses the hell out of me. Of course detractors will say ‘it won’t scale up’ and offer plenty of other criticisms, including ruing the fact that a certain amount of violence helped birth the revolution. I’ve never seen credible numbers, but yes, a few of the military were indeed killed.
“We want a world that accommodates many worlds.”
Peace to all; let’s build a better world…for all.
(cross-posted at My.Firedoglake.com)