El subcomandante Marcos: a white warrior for freedom
The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, EZLN) is an armed revolutionary group based in Chiapas, one of the poorest states of Mexico. Their social base is mostly indigenous but they have some supporters in urban areas as well as an international web of support. Their main spokesperson is Subcomandante Marcos (currently a.k.a. Delegate Zero in relation to the “Other Campaign“). Unlike other Zapatista comandantes, Subcomandante Marcos is not an indigenous Mayan.
The group takes its name from Emiliano Zapata, the anarchist commander of the Liberation Army of the South during the Mexican Revolution, whose forces were colloquially known as the Zapatistas. The EZLN see themselves as his ideological heirs.
In 1994, they declared war “against the Mexican state.”
Some consider the Zapatista movement the first “post-modern” revolution: an armed revolutionary group that has abstained from using their weapons since their 1994 uprising was countered by the overpowering military might of the Mexican Army. The Zapatistas quickly adopted a new strategy by trying to garner the support of Mexican and international civil society. They try to achieve this by making use of the Internet to disseminate their communiqués and to enlist the support of NGOs and solidarity groups. Outwardly, they portray themselves as part of the wider anti-globalization, anti-neoliberalism social movement while for their indigenous base the Zapatista struggle is all about control over their own resources, particularly the land on which they live.
Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, also Delegado Cero (Delegate Zero) in matters concerning the Other Campaign, describes himself as the spokesman for the Mexican rebel movement, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN).
The nick-name “Marcos” is the name of a friend killed at a military road checkpoint. It is not, as presumed, a nominal acrostic of the communities where the EZLN first rose in arms: Las Margaritas, Amatenango del Valle, La Realidad, Comitán, Ocosingo, and San Cristóbal
The Mexican government alleges Marcos to be one Rafael Sebastián Guillén Vicente, of Tampico, Tamaulipas. Born in Mexico to Spanish immigrants, Guillén attended high school at Instituto Cultural Tampico, a Jesuit school in Tampico, where he presumably became acquainted with Liberation Theology. Guillén later moved to Mexico City where he graduated from the Metropolitan Autonomous University (UAM), then received a masters’ degree in philosophy at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and began work as a professor at the UAM, after which he left. While Marcos has always denied being Rafael Guillén, Guillén’s family are unaware of what happened to him and they refuse to say if they think Marcos and Guillén are the same person or not. Guillén’s family is deeply involved in Tamaulipas politics. Guillén’s sister, Mercedes del Carmen Guillén Vicente, is the Attorney General of the State of Tamaulipas, and a very influential member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, the party that governed Mexico for more than 70 years. During the Great March to Mexico City in 2001, Marcos visited the UNAM and during his speech he made clear that he had at least been there before.
Like many of his generation, Guillén was radicalized by the events of 1968 and became a militant in a Maoist organization. However, the encounter with the outlook of the indigenous peasants of Chiapas transformed the Marcos’ ideology and he has embraced an approach to social revolution that has important parallels to the revisionist Marxist ideals of Antonio Gramsci, which were popular in Mexico during his time at the university.
When asked about his first days in Chiapas in the documentary A Place Called Chiapas, Marcos said:
Imagine a person who comes from an urban culture. One of the world’s biggest cities, with a university education, accustomed to city life. It’s like landing on another planet. The language, the surroundings are new. You’re seen as an alien from outer space. Everything tells you: “Leave. This is a mistake. You don’t belong in this place.” And it’s said in a foreign tongue. But they let you know, the people, the way they act; the weather, the way it rains; the sunshine; the earth, the way it turns to mud; the diseases; the insects; homesickness. You’re being told. “You don’t belong here.” If that’s not a nightmare, what is?
Also in this documentary by Nettie Wild, one is allowed to listen to the powerful rhetoric of the Zapatistas. This is conducted in Spanish, not the native Mayan tongues. With only his eyes and pipe being visible he addresses the film maker: “It is our day, day of the dead“. Marcos reveals the Zapatista belief that he is a dead-man and so are the Zapatistas,
In the mountains of Chiapas, death was a part of daily life. It was as common as rain or sunshine. People here coexist with death, death of their own, especially the little ones. Paradoxically, death begins to shed its tragic cloak, Death becomes a daily fact. It loses its sacredness. You see it as someone you sit down with at the table, like an old acquaintance. You don’t lose your fear of death, but you become familiar with it. It becomes your equal. Death, which is so close, so near, so possible, is less terrifying for us than for others. So, going out and fighting and perhaps meeting death is not as terrible as it seems. For us, at least. In fact, what surprises and amazes us is life itself. The hope of a better life. Going out to fight and to die finding out you’re not dead, but alive. And, unintentionally, you realize you are walking on the edge of the border between death and life. You’re walking on the edge of the border between them.
The Mayans speak of Marcos as “the man with pale skin [who] came to Chiapas twelve years ago”. A Mayan woman and matriarch featured in the documentary says of him,
We don’t see his face like we see ours. Ours we see clearly, but his stays covered. We can’t see him. Whatever the poor eat, he eats. When he’s here, is he going to eat better food? What we eat, he eats. We eat vegetables, he does too. We don’t believe he’s from the city. We can’t believe it.
The Mexican government has speculated that Marcos is a professor of philosophy and communications. Marcos’ response is that the Zapatista movement is more about ideas than bullets. In an interview he says to reporters about their struggle and faceless opponent,
The only way to get their attention is to kill or be killed. If you ask us what’s going to happen in the near future, we have no fucking idea. Sorry for using the word ‘idea.’ We are ready to go to war or move on to peace.
Much of his writings – articles, poems, speeches and letters – have been compiled into a book: Our Word is Our Weapon. In 2005 he wrote a novel called Muertos incómodos (The Uncomfortable Dead), in conjunction with crime writer Paco Ignacio Taibo I
This words and this videos are our tribute to the last of the eroes.