"Spread across the night's long negligee, thousands of lights wait and await..."
From the Mountains of the Mexican Southeast, Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos
Word is Our Weapon
This is how I would write Part Two of my non-review OUR WORD IS OUR WEAPON,
Selected Writings by Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos:
I suppose I should explain. (You may want to look at the May issue of freewilliamsburg for Part One of this non-review if you are not familiar with the ongoing rebellion in the State of Chiapas, Mexico.) Okay, try this: Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Che Guevara. Each assassinated because they sought or brought about social changes so radical that they had to pay for them with their lives. They each had a fairly simple truth to tell. So simple that the message disrupts everything.
The common thread that runs though each of these voices is: Race hatred, economic oppression, unequal protection before the law and social inequality. Each in their own way had said, no more, enough; Ya basta!
Have I made my point? Not yet?
Now add Insurgent Marcos onto the list of messengers power brokers love to hate. Why? Because such messengers threaten the status quo with their ceaseless demand for justice, democracy and the freedom to be different. Demands that shake up lazy presuppositions and menace the steady flow of wealth and privilege to the few.
Recently, the first freely elected Mexican President in seventy years, Vincente Fox, put forward a solution to the Chiapas uprising. Offered were autonomy for the indigenous populations, land guarantees (a reinstatement of the Agrarian Rules as mandated in Article 27 of the 1917 Mexican Constitution), and improved social conditions. The Congress, still largely held by the old corrupt PRI dictatorship crew, watered the proposals down to the point where they became empty and the Zapatista Liberation Army (the EZLN) of Chiapas had no choice but to turn the proposed solution down.
President Fox did remove most of the 60,000 federal troops that had been stationed by his predecessor, Ernesto Zedillo, in a threatening posture throughout Chiapas. I do not know if the arrest warrant for Subcommander Marcos was lifted as well. I do know the problems are all still there, the reasons for the revolt are still in place affecting the daily lives of the indigenous people of Chiapas and the rest of Mexico.
Marcos arrived in Chiapas from a large Mexican City in the early nineteen eighties. He went in as a hard core leftist guerrilla whose only ideas of change came at the price of war. Weapons alone, he and his comrades believed, would force the PRI to alter course and release its choke hold over Mexican society. But Marcos became converted to the Indian ways and understood that there were alternative approaches alongside the threat of weapons. He gave up the notion of there being only one solution. He learned the life of the villagers. For example, he learned to hold meetings, to talk and talk and talk until a consensus could be reached among the people. The indigenous population in turn came to accept him. Each taught the other. He learned of the ancient Mayan myths of creation, of the rituals of life sustaining corn, of the way of the jungle; its sounds and rhythms. He learned of life within, as opposed to against, nature. He became known as the poet insurgent. He taught the people Spanish, and the history of Mexico and showed them that their struggle was not isolated. He taught the woman how to be less afraid, and he banned alcohol. He seems to have become personally more vulnerable. His humanity grew so that dogma became an impossibility. Ego appears to have melted in the long jungle rains to a point of acute perception and caring with a quiet steady voice. Or maybe it was just the result of years living on the lamb; hungry half the time, cold, wet, lonely enough on insomniac nights to make up imaginary conversations with a worldly beetle he called Dorito, conversations in which Dorito makes fun of El Sup--a nickname for the Subcomandante.
And of course, living under constant threat against his life: February 13, 1995, Subcomandante Marcos and two others are nearly caught by a passing patrol of thirty federal soldiers, "I noticed that my senses begin to dull. On that day, ten meters from death, I was leaning against a rock. Bit by bit, I lowered myself, and without making a sound, I cocked my gun and pointed it...I wasn't thinking; the only sound was of time standing still at my fingertip, on the trigger--with neither fear nor courage, as if I were seeing everything from the outside, as if I was very tired, as if I had seen this scene many times before, in a movie, in history, in life, in death. Dulled, I say. ÔLike a machine,' says my other self."
Through the character of Dorito, Marcos tells little stories; Stories For A Night of Asphyxia, later changed to, Stories for a Sleepless Solitude. Here Marcos shows his lighter side through absurdities that capture the situation of little rebels against a big bad government. Stories like "Love and the Calendar," "Story of the Bean-brown Horse," "The Story of the Cold Foot and the Hot Foot," or "The Tale of the Lime with an Identity Crisis," and so on. They are not all great, some are almost corny, but they are never saccharin or trite. The Subcomandante amusing himself while he waits. During one sleepless night where, "the moon is a pale almond, [and] silver sheets reshape trees and plants," Dorito Ôshows up' in a deep rain puddle, using an empty sardine can as a boat, a pen for a mast and a handkerchief for a sail. Dorito has morphed into a pirate and Marcos is to be his, "big-nosed cabin boy."
And there is the character of Old Don Antonio who "teaches" Marcos of the old Mayan ways, and of the gods who gave birth to the world. These tales are more like myths. "Life without those who are different is empty and damns you to stagnation," says Don Antonio, and Marcos wonders what that has to do with the "intercontinental struggle for humanity against neoliberalism?" It is a jungle dawn once again where, "Beneath a menacing plane, the sea tries to read a book of poems with the faint help of a tiny candle stump [here Marcos is the sea], when, "...from out of the highland mist, unnoticed by the sea, Old Don Antonio appears" to recount, "The Story of Others." It begins, "The oldest of the old ones who settled in these lands said that the greatest gods, those who gave birth to the world, did not all think the same way." In the story of others the gods work out their differences. Get it?
In February 1994, a few weeks after the initial uprising of the EZLN, and the subsequent bombing by Federal forces, peace talks were arranged to be held in the Cathedral of San Cristobal de Las Casas. President Carlos Salinas sent a peace Commissioner, Manuel Camacho, to represent the government and the talks were to be presided over by Bishop Ruiz. Two weeks before the talks began, Marcos sent a wide communiqu out to various groups throughout Mexico in an appeal for protection for the rebels in case the talks turned out to be a trap. Citizens arrived from all over Mexico to form an unarmed human chain around the cathedral for one whole week, twenty- four hours each day.
Marcos announced, live from the cathedral, on radio and television: "We don't see the armed struggle in the classic sense of all the previous guerrillas, that is, as the one and only way forward, as the only all-powerful truth around which everything else is subordinated...We're not saying, ÔHere is how we believe the country should be and we'll shoot anyone who doesn't agree with our views.' And we can't solve all the problems of Mexico. What we're saying is, ÔLet's make a deal to create a democratic space. If our program wins out in that space, fine...If not let someone else's [program] win. What matters is that the space must exist."
The real coup that week was pulled off with the media in unwitting collusion. Marcos became an instant TV star revolutionary. Seated next to him at the talks was Ramona, a petite Zapatista rebel. At one point Marcos asked her to show everyone what she had in her satchel. From it she slowly pulled a huge, silk Mexican flag. Marcos draped the cloth over himself and asked Commissioner Camacho to hold it up with him, and he said to all the television cameras present: "This is the flag for which we became soldiers." It was a public relations coup. Right after that the government pulled the plug on further live broadcasts from the cathedral. But the people had already seen and heard for themselves; this revolution had been televised.
A few months after the talks, President Salinas' hand-picked successor, Luis Donaldo Colosio, was assassinated, gunned down in broad daylight on a street in Tijuana. No one was ever charged. Commissioner Camacho, the only potential rival, was suspected of involvement. The ongoing peace negotiations with the EZLN came to a screeching halt. Salinas then picked Ernesto Zedillo to succeed him, and he was, as a matter of course, "elected." Soon after assuming office, Zedillo sent the 60,000 troops into the Lacandon jungle of Chiapas, and placed the warrant on Marcos' head. He has been in the jungle ever since. The terrible question is, will Marcos ever be free to come out alive?
In the meantime he waits, his words ringing too true, his heart seeming too pure to last. But maybe I am being too pessimistic. Or maybe I have a little crush on him. Possibly television will keep him alive. Whatever happens, the words are the final weapon, and words cannot be killed.
Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos: "I remained, smoking pieces of silence that dawn had abandoned on the mountains of the Mexican Southeast." Viva Marcos.
©May 2001 J Stefan-Cole
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