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We All Must Become Zapatistas

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Posted on Jun 1, 2014

By Chris Hedges

The Zapatistas’ Subcomandante Marcos on horseback in the resort city of Playa del Carmen, Mexico, in 2006. AP/Israel Leal

Subcomandante Marcos, the spokesman for the Zapatistas (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, or EZLN), has announced that his rebel persona no longer exists. He had gone from being a “spokesman to a distraction,” he said last week. His persona, he said, fed an easy and cheap media narrative. It turned a social revolution into a cartoon for the mass media. It allowed the commercial press and the outside world to ignore traditional community leaders and indigenous commanders and wrap a movement around a fictitious personality. His persona, he said, trivialized a movement. And so this persona is no more.

“The entire system, but above all its media, plays the game of creating celebrities who it later destroys if they don’t yield to its designs,” Marcos declared.

The Zapatistas form the most important resistance movement of the last two decades. They are a visible counterweight to the despoiling and rape of the planet and the subjugation of the poor by global capitalism. And they have repeatedly reinvented themselves—as Marcos has now done—to survive. The Zapatistas gave global resistance movements a new language, drawn in part from the indigenous communal Mayan culture, and a new paradigm for action. They understood that corporate capitalism had launched a war against us. They showed us how to fight back. The Zapatistas began by using violence, but they soon abandoned it for the slow, laborious work of building 32 autonomous, self-governing municipalities. Local representatives from Juntas de Buen Gobierno, or Councils of Good Government, which is not recognized by the Mexican government, preside over these independent Zapatista communities. The councils oversee community programs that distribute food, set up clinics and schools and collect taxes. Resources are for those who live in the communities, not for the corporations that come to exploit them. And in this the Zapatistas allow us to see the future, at least a future where we have a chance of surviving. 

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“This figure was created, and now its creators, the Zapatistas, are destroying it,” the EZLN spokesman said to roughly 1,000 people who turned out for a May 24 memorial in the village of La Realidad for a Zapatista teacher, José Luis Solís López, who was murdered by Mexican paramilitary members. “And we saw that now, the full-size puppet outfit, the character, the hologram, was no longer necessary. Time and time again we planned this, and time and time again we waited for the right moment—the right calendar and geography to show what we really are to those who truly are.”

The May 2 murder of the teacher—known by his nom de guerre as “Galeano”—appears to have been part of a drive by a government-allied paramilitary group, CIOAC-H, to assassinate rural Zapatista leaders and destroy the self-governing Zapatista enclaves. The Fray Bartolome Human Rights Center said that 15 unarmed Zapatista civilians were wounded May 2. Attacks on that day also saw the destruction of a Zapatista clinic, a school and three vehicles.

The address last month was the first public appearance by Marcos since 2009. He spoke to the crowd in a downpour in the early hours of May 25. He has been the public face of the Zapatistas since the group emerged as an insurrectionary force Jan. 1, 1994, in Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico. Marcos, who is mestizo rather than Mayan, spoke about his rise as a media figure following the uprising and how the movement had catered to the demands for an identifiable leader by a press that distorts reality to fit into its familiar narratives.

Just a few days later [after the uprising], with the blood of our fallen still fresh in the city streets, we realized that those from outside did not see us.

Accustomed to looking at the indigenous from above, they did not raise their eyes to look at us.

Accustomed to seeing us humiliated, their heart did not understand our dignified rebellion.

Their eyes were fixed on the only mestizo they saw with a balaclava, that is to say, one they did not look at.

Our bosses told us then:

“They only see their own smallness, let’s make someone as small as them, so they may see him and through him they may see us.”

A complex maneuver of distraction began then, a terrible and marvelous magic trick, a malicious play of the indigenous heart that we are, the indigenous knowledge challenging modernity in one of its bastions: the media.

The character called “Marcos” started then to be built.

The clandestine movement began, like all rebellions, with a handful of idealists.

“When the first group arrived in 1983, 1984, we were in the densest part of the jungle,” Marcos said in “Remembering Ten Years of Zapatismo,” a documentary produced by the Chiapas Independent Media Center and Free Speech Radio News. “We are talking about a group of four or five, six people that repeated to themselves every day ‘this is the right thing to do,’ ‘the right thing to do.’ There was nothing in the world telling us this was the right thing to do. We were dreaming that someday all of this would be worth something.”


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