Zapatista Revolution In Mexico

An Interview With Subcomandante Marcos

Daily Barbarian >Zapatista Revolution In Mexico

San Cristobal, Mexico: Subcomandante Marcos is one of the few guerrillas in San Cristobal who has his face covered and is armed with a machine gun. As he speaks, he takes a pipe from his watch pocket, places it in his mouth through the opening in his mask, but doesn’t light it. He expresses himself with the clarity of an intellectual used to communicating with less educated people. He is clearly Mexican, but it is impossible to place his accent. A young woman with Asiatic eyes in a black ski mask stands next to him throughout the interview.

L’Unità: Commandante Marcos, you took San Cristobal on January 1st. But who are you people?

Marcos: We form part of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation(EZLN), and we demand the resignation of the federal government and the formation of a new transition government to convene free and democratic elections in August 1994. We demand that the principal demands of the peasants of Chiapas be resolved: Food, health, education, autonomy, and peace. The Indigenous people have always lived in a state of war because war has been waged against them, while now it will be for both Indians and whites. In any case, we have the opportunity to die fighting and not die of dysentery, which is how the Indians of Chiapas normally die.

L’Unità: Are you part of some peasant political organization?

Marcos: We have no relation with any type of above-ground organization. Our organization is exclusively clandestine and armed.

L’Unità: It was born from nothing; that is, improvised?

Marcos: We are not an improvised movement; we have been preparing in the mountains for ten years. We have matured, thought, learned, and we have arrived at this decision.

L’Unità: Is there racial and ethnic content in your demands?

Marcos: The Directing Committee is formed of Indigenous Tzotziles, Tzeltales, Choles, Tojolabales, Mames, and Zoques, the principal ethnic groups of Chiapas. All of them are in agreement, and apart from democracy and representation, they demand respect, respect which white people have never given them. Especially in San Cristobal, the “coletos” [citizens of San Cristobal] are very insulting and discriminatory with respect to the Indians in daily life.

Now white people respect the Indians, because they see them with guns in their hands.

L’Unità: What do you think the government’s reaction will be now?

Marcos: We don’t worry ourselves about the response of the government, but about the response of the people, of the Mexicans. We want to know what this event will provoke, what will move the national consciousness. We hope that something will move, not only in the form of armed struggle, but in all forms of struggle. We hope it will bring an end to this disguised dictatorship.

L’Unità: You don’t have confidence in the PRD [Democratic Revolutionary Party headed by Cuahtemoc Cardenas, mildly leftist, may have actually won the presidency in 1988] as an opposition party in the next elections?

Marcos: We have no confidence in either the political parties or in the electoral system. The government of Salinas de Gortari is an illegitimate government, the product of fraud, and this illegitimate government will necessarily produce illegitimate elections. We want a transitional government and that this government hold new elections, but with a capacity that is genuinely egalitarian, offering equal conditions to all the political parties. In Chiapas, 15,000 Indians die every year of treatable diseases. It is a number similar to that produced by the war in El Salvador. If a peasant with cholera arrives at a hospital in the rural areas, they carry him outside so that no one says there is cholera in Chiapas. In this movement, the Indians that form part of the Zapatista army want in the first place to dialog with their own people. They are their true interlocutors.

L’Unità: Pardon me, but you aren’t Indian.

Marcos: You have to understand that our movement is not Chiapaneco, it is national. There are people such as myself who come from other states, and there are Chiapanecos who fight in other states. We are Mexicans, this unites us, as well as the demand for liberty and democracy. We want to choose our real representatives.

L’Unità: But now, don’t you fear heavy repression?

Marcos: For Indoamericans, the repression has existed for 500 years. Maybe you’re thinking of the type of repression practiced by the south American governments. But for the Indians, this kind of repression is an everyday thing. Ask those who live in the surrounding communities of San Cristobal.

L’Unità: What development would you consider a success?

Marcos: We would like others in all parts of the country to join this movement.

L’Unità: An armed movement?

Marcos: No. We make a broad appeal that we direct towards those who participate in civil, legal, and open movements.

L’Unità: Why did you choose January 1st and San Cristobal?

Marcos: It was the Directing Committee that decided. It is clear that the date is related to NAFTA, which for the Indians is a death sentence. The taking of effect of the treaty represents the beginning of an international massacre.

L’Unità: What do you think of the international reaction? Aren’t you afraid that the United States could intervene as it has done in other parts of Latin America?

Marcos: The United States used to have the Soviet Union as a pretext, they feared Soviet infiltration in our countries. But what can they make of a movement that claims social justice? They can’t continue to think that we are being manipulated from the outside, or that we are financed by the gold of Moscow, seeing that Moscow no longer exists. Enough with asking Yeltsin. The people of the U.S. should be aware that we struggle for that which everybody wants, that the European countries have wanted. Did not the people of Germany and Italy rebel against dictatorship? Isn’t it equally valid that the Mexican people rebel? The people of the U.S. have a lot to do with the reality that you can observe here, with the conditions of misery for the Indians and the great hunger for justice. In Mexico, the entire social system is founded on injustice in its relations with the Indians. The worst that can happen to a human being is to be an Indian, with his burden of humiliation, hunger, and misery….

…There is not in the movement of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation an ideology perfectly defined, in the sense of being communist or Marxist-Leninist. There is a common point of connection with the great national problems, which coincide always, for one or the other sector, in a lack of liberty and democracy.

In this case, this sector has used up any other method of struggle such as the legal struggle, the popular struggle, the economic projects, the struggle for Sedesol, and it ends following the only method which remains, the armed struggle. But we are open to other tendencies and to other forms of struggle, in the enthusiasm to generate a genuine national and revolutionary movement that reconciles these two fundamental demands, liberty and democracy. On these grounds a movement can be formed that will breathe a genuine solution to the social problems of each sector, whether Indigenous or peasant, worker, teacher, intellectual, small business owner, of the small and medium-sized industry.

The repression of the Indigenous population has been present for many years. The Indigenous people of Chiapas suffer 15,000 deaths per year which no one mourns. The great shame is that they die of curable diseases and this is denied by the Department of Health.

We expect a favorable reaction from Mexican society towards the reasons that gave birth to this movement, because they are just.

This interview was taken from the newspaper Love And Rage vol. 5, no. 1 (Box 853, Stuyvesant Station, N.Y., N.Y. 10009) and the magazine Covert Action Quarterly no. 48 (1500 Massachusetts Ave. NW #732, Washington, D.C. 20005).

Web archive note: comments in brackets appeared in the print original.

Related in this issue of Fifth Estate

“Insurgent Mexico! Redefining Revolution & Progress for the 21st Century,” FE #344, Summer, 1994

“Who Was Emiliano Zapata?” Daily Barbarian supplement, FE #344, Summer, 1994