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Go, Zapatistas, Go!*

*sung to the tune of Johnny B. Good by El Vez at the California Plaza last summer. Southern Californians: Check out this great free concert series...wonderful music from rock to opera in a beautiful downtown setting. Get their schedule by calling 213/687-2159.

by Peter Rashkin
You might have missed this story. I didn't see it in the LA Times or hear about it on NPR. I don't know, maybe they ran it and it got by me.

On Jan. 7, Subcomandante Marcos handed his arms to a Zapatista Major Moises in the rebel center La Realidad and, unarmed, joined a Red Cross escort for the five-hour trip to San Cristobal de las Casas, where he addressed the forum of indigenous people at its historic meeting.

Factions in the ruling PRI debated over how to treat this latest act of aggression. There's a hard line in the military that wants to put down civil disobedience by military force. They wanted to nab Marcos.

(I think it's very likely that the US military is supporting this faction, as it has traditionally in Latin America. The Mexican Army has maintained a traditional distance from the US Army, but that has broken down just in the past few years. Now, for the first time, Mexican military leaders train at the US School of the Americas, the School of Assasins that has trained death squads from Guatemala, El Salvador, Argentina, Chile and almost every other Latin American country to brutalize their own people. And substantial amounts of direct military aid flow to these people, under the guise of the war on drugs.)

So this US-backed military contingent wanted to nab Marcos, but the "reformers" within the PRI, led by President Zedillo, want above all good PR so that the international finance community will continue to invest. They all want to believe that investment is sacred and safe. So they thought nabbing Marcos would be bad PR, and that faction prevailed. Troops were drawn back from Marcos' route through military-occupied Chiapas. Instead of troops, cheering peasants and marimba bands greeted the convoy. Then he was cheered at the forum, where he gave a speech that used Mayan metaphors to urge communication and cooperation. (The forum itself grew out of the ongoing talks between the government and the zapatistas.)

Marcos' appearance, unarmed, in the historic colonial capital, was a major victory in a new kind of revolutionary struggle, a struggle with important fronts not on the battlefield but on television, in the newspapers, on the Net. It is not a struggle to seize power, but to force those in power to confront the issues of the underclass. As the heroic bishop of Chiapas, Don Samuel Ruiz noted, "The EZLN has not called on the people to rise up in arms, it has called on them to rise up as civic-political actors."


MARCOS UNMASKED

In February 1995, the Mexican government issued arrest warrants for alleged Zapatista leaders, including Rafael Sebastian Guillen Vicente, a former college philosophy professor who, the government claimed, is the masked leader. Marcos denied it, and demonstrators all over the country claimed "todos somos Marcos"--we are all Marcos. But they could be right...he could easily be a college professor. Did you see him on 60 Minutes? He speaks pretty good English; also French and Italian, they say. And from his voluminous communiqués, it is obvious that he has the wide-ranging knowledge of contemporary and classic literature that you might expect of a college professor, as well as a sharp sense of the dynamics of contemporary politics.

So maybe he is--or was--Professor Guillen. Maybe he disappeared into the Chiapas jungles a dozen or so years ago, determined to work with the most oppressed and disenfranchised of his countrymen to bring justice to his country.

Whatever his origins, he is a major creative force who brings together a scholar's grasp of history and current events, an activist's will to struggle for meaningful change and a modern sense of democracy that stresses not parliamentary procedure but a grass roots, populist autonomy where even the quiet voice can be heard. I call this a modern view because I think that it developed in worldwide consciousness in the late '60s, but it has ancient roots in indigenous American society. I think that Marcos taps both roots.

In October 1994 I met a guy from Mexico City at a party and we got into one of those wide-ranging discussions that can be so exciting, when two strangers connect and share their world views in a burst of deep communication. I was impressed by his optimism. He was in town for the Rolling Stones concert, and the trip included a pilgrimage to San Francisco.

"San Francisco! The Sixties! Something was happening to us then all over the world. There was a great leap of consciousness. We who experienced that leap are taking up positions of power. Great changes are coming."

Marcos calls to us all to put our understanding to work to make a better world...to come together in New Aguascalientes everywhere...to come together as civil society and articulate the demand for freedom and justice in the world.

¡Viva los Nuevos Aguascalientes!


This piece is copyright by the author. It may be forwarded electronically, provided this notice is kept with it, but may not be otherwise reproduced without permission from the author. Thanks.

The Zapatista rebellion

by Anne Moore

(excerpted from PEACE TALKS AND THE ZAPATISTA, Anderson Valley Advertiser, Nov. 1, 1995, by permission of the author)

On January 1, 1994 a group of indigenous Mayan Indians calling themselves the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional (EZLN) took over five towns in the southern state of Chiapas, Mexico. Their spokesman is an intriguing, charismatic man known only as Subcomandante Marcos. Supposedly, no one knows his identity or even his real name, but the government claims he is Rafael Guillen, a former philosophy professor at the University in Mexico City. The identification did nothing to undermine his power or mystique. The name Marcos is simply a "nom de guerre", taken from a fallen comrade who died years ago at the beginning of their struggles.

The initial takeovers of the towns were relatively peaceful. When Marcos and his forces liberated the town of San Cristobal (the largest of the five) he was met with little resistance. He confiscated all the weapons from the provincial Police, stripped them of their clothes and ran them out of town...naked. The Zapatistas "liberated" the local Government Building, but instead of wrecking it simply took all of the bureaucratic paperwork into the zocalo (plaza) and destroyed them. One government clerk made a plea to Marcos to spare his department which consisted mostly of historical documents and old Spanish land grants. Marcos granted the man's wish and placed guards on the doors to the archives. They were never touched.

The EZLN are not a pack of Communist agitators, terrorists or bandits holding up the government but real freedom fighters asking for Liberty, Democracy and Justice. Different Indian groups in Chiapas had been demonstrating and protesting for years, gaining little power or respect and receiving nothing but broken promises from the government. For the Zapatistas declaring war was their last attempt at survival.

Unfortunately, the Mexican government retaliated with a vicious show of force which pushed the Zapatistas out of the towns and back into their jungle hideaways. The entire "war" lasted for 12 days and the death toll was officially set at 145 people. A "cease fire" was established and a "neutral zone" was set up between the Mexican Army and the Zapatistas.

On February 9, 1995 the Mexican army took over the "zone" with 40,000 troops and effectively pushed the rebel army and their supporters back further into the Lacandon selva (jungle) right up to the Guatemalan border. Arrest warrants were issued for Marcos and other alleged Zapatista leaders, and a number of leftist activists were arrested. Some have been tortured. Some are still in jail. All communication between the government and the rebels stopped.

Peace talks resumed in April, and the congress suspended the arrest warrants for the duration of the talks, which are still in progress.

This piece is copyright by the author. It may be forwarded electronically, provided this notice is kept with it, but may not be otherwise reproduced without permission from the author. Thanks.

New Year's in Oventic

by Peter Rashkin

In the summer of 1994, the Zapatistas built a town in the jungle and invited people from all over Mexico to a democracy convention. They named the town Aguascalientes. In the February offensive, the army destroyed it. This winter, the rebels built four New Aguascalientes to celebrate the second anniversary of the start of the uprising. Roberto Moreno, a student at Loyola-Marymount University, joined a Pastors for Peace delegation to Oventic for the celebration.

They got to Oventic, in a remote mountain valley in southern Chiapas, around noon on Dec. 29. The valley was full of music, but they couldn't see where it was coming from. They got to a Zapatista checkpoint where ski-masked rebels checked their papers. The fog cleared and they saw the camp. Hundreds of people were already there: indigenas from surrounding villages, supporters from Mexico, and all over the world. And lots of media. The music was 24 hours a day: local corrido singers, marimba bands, an artistic caravan from Mexico City.

What about the military? I asked Roberto.

"You know, it's a funny thing. They were there, I know. We saw them when we were coming in. But they kept out of sight, away from the cameras."

More people came. The intensity grew. The music never stopped.

"Our campsite turned into the 'party place' during the day," Roberto said. "Most of the young people there were in our campsite, and also most of the musicians. During the day we played music and sang as crowds gathered around us. Amado Avendaño (the rebel governor of Chiapas) joined us to sing Mexico Lindo Y Querido one afternoon. We played music, sang, danced...All I could see were the whites of everyone's teeth---I felt really human those days I was there...The view, the breeze, the people, the smiles, the warmth, the love. We were all sisters and brothers on those mountains."

New Year's Eve. Everyone's dancing. In the mud, because it poured just a few days ago and it's all mud, mud, mud. The Indians, who eat meat once or twice a year and are plagued by malnutrition, killed a cow for the celebration. "They fed us," Roberto told me. "They shared the best they had with the international community. That was a really beautiful gesture."

Then there were speeches, in a Mayan language and in Spanish, and the reading, by a woman comandante, of the stirring Fourth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle. What was the reaction to the declaration? I asked Roberto. Did they clap and yell?

"There were fireworks."

I thought it was a figure of speech.

"No, really. There were fireworks, and someone set them off early, in the middle of the speech!"

Roberto told me the following story:

One evening a guy approached him, wanting to sell a serape his wife had made. He started by asking 200 pesos, which Roberto really didn't want to spend. He kept going lower and lower, until he was asking 40 pesos, which Roberto considered far less than the piece was worth.

"I told him, give me about a day to think about it, and I'll buy it from you...I ended up buying it for 100 pesos.

"The thing is...what was really cool...you know something the Zapatistas never do is tell you their military name. But he told me, in confidence, and it seemed like a gesture of friendship.

"That's one of the best memories I have from there...he told me his Zapatista name."

This piece is copyright by the author. It may be forwarded electronically, provided this notice is kept with it, but may not be otherwise reproduced without permission from the author. Thanks.

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