June 18, 1996: Aguascalientes in La Realidad, Chiapas

(full-text transcript)


Eduardo Vera: June 18, 1996. We are in Aguascalientes in La Realidad, Chiapas. It is an honor to be here with Insurgent Subcommander Marcos of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. We want to thank you very much for the opportunity you have given us to interview you today.

Subcomandante Marcos: Well yes, we are very glad that Latino people in the United States are concerned with having the voice of the Zapatistas reach all the families who listen to this program. I would like to take the time to explain a little about our words and our way of thinking and how the situation is at this time.

E.V.: Very well, we have a series of questions, so let's begin with the first one. In January 1994, the armed uprising seems to have been used to create a political space and a voice for the indigenous people who suffer in Chiapas, and for all poor people in all of Mexico. Has this political space been crushed, have these political avenues ended?

S.M.: Well see, what happened January 1 of 1994, is the culmination of a conspiratory process, secret, which involved tens of thousands of indigenous people, to, as we say, knocking down the doors in the house of history, it was above all the culmination of a slow but decisive "enough" which had been in gestation, and led to a howl to the world on January 1st, saying "Here we are", which is the voice of the Zapatista indigenous people. A desperate situation in communities with a high mortality rate, specially among children, with bad health conditions and nutrition, land problems, repression, the ideal framework for an ethnocide of huge proportions. Facing that situation, the indigenous communities decided to say "Enough!"-- as we say -- and make themselves known, and make their situation known. What happened is that this "Enough!," this knocking down of the doors in the house of history by the indigenous people in January 1994, coincided with a period of political crisis in Mexico, or rather it unleashed it, or made it evident, and also with a crisis at the world level in respect to ideologies, in respect to hope, and the ways to fight or the willingness, that allowed this howl of the indigenous people, "Enough!," to acquire reverberations or repercussions that had not been foreseen by us, that we hadn't even imagined, as if before in an apparently tranquil sea, or a pond, we threw in a rock, and the ripples it produced upon touching the water's surface became waves, huge waves. So what happened, is that one of the first waves produced by this "Enough!" of January 1994 is that the Mexican people suddenly remembered that they have a history, and that within that history, the indigenous people are very important. So in that sense, the first reaction of national public opinion was one of turning to see their indigenous past and toward recognizing that it had been forgotten and that it was willing to sacrifice it in honor of its hypothetical entry into the first world. At the international level, the first reaction was comparable, for the same reason. What happened in that country which had become a model of neoliberalism, of the globalization process, of modernization, which suddenly was shaken by an indigenous rebellion, with all its consequences. A lot of people expected to see the indigenous people carrying bows and arrows, not surfing the internet or communicating via satellite. So this first shock allowed for a series of political spaces to be opened to indigenous participation, and for the recognition that in the Mexican nation a new social pact is necessary, a new relationship between the state and the indigenous communities at the national level. But on the other hand, the most reactionary sectors to this rearrangement in the political and social life of the indigenous communities in Mexico, the great landowners, caciques, finqueros, reacted again by rearming or regrouping their white guards, their death squads, in order to respond. So the political space that had been opened for the indigenous movement in particular is sort of an accordion, sometimes it expands, sometimes it closes, depending on repressive policies that it faces in each of the places it appears. So that is, let's say, the immediate effect, the most evident of what the Zapatista movement is. A second wave, perhaps less intense, that put the political language in crisis was the whole concept of national values, which the party in power had been using, the system of the party of the state, and which forced professional politicians to revise the use of words. Politics is suddenly naked and confronted in the place where it is the most vulnerable, which is in the meaning given to words. A third wave that the reverberation produced, an even less intense one, is that which forced the nation to recognize that the spaces for democratic struggle were not wide enough, so much so that it has been necessary for a group of citizens to rise up in arms in order to be heard, and that it is necessary to open the spaces of political participation, even though it is still understood that political participation is electoral participation. That caused the last reform of 1994, in February or March of that year as well as the talks which we have now to reform the electoral process in Mexico, one which supposedly will guarantee clean elections. Those are the three great political spaces that have been opened, and, as I was telling you, are a kind of accordion or balloon which inflates and deflates every so often depending on social conditions.

E.V.: The second question is as follows: Is it true that the EZLN is organized based on traditional indigenous community democracy, and what does this mean?

S.M.: Well, yes in fact. There are two levels, and let me remind you that EZLN was born as a political-military organization, similar to the political-military organizations of the Sixties and Seventies. I am talking about a very authoritarian central command with decisions made as a group or by an individual, and hence a kind of pyramid where decisions are made at the top and they run towards the base. When this conception of life and politics -- authoritarian, political, military -- in that sense, is confronted by the community's conception of life, which is a more horizontal organization... It is not even an upside-down pyramid, but a horizontal plane where decisions are made collectively -- all the decision of community life, not just the governmental conditions but also living conditions, religious conditions, even leisure and pleasure. Those two conceptions crash together and, finally, it is solved in the following manner: On top, in supreme command, is the horizontal position, the communities represented in the Indigenous Revolutionary Clandestine Committee, and subordinated to this supreme command is the military, hierarchical structure of the EZLN, which has a general command. In one way or another, for its political and organizational work, the EZLN follows the tradition of community democracy - a direct, horizontal democracy, which permeates all aspects of everyday life. The military side follows the organizational ways of a regular army, with chains of command, with military units, uniforms, with all that. What I am trying to say is that the fundamental base, the one who makes the decisions, is that of community democracy, and it is the one who subordinates and who gives its raison de etre to the military structure, the EZLN properly speaking.

E.V.: Very well, the next question is: What is the actual situation of the struggle of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation?

S.M.: Well, right now we find ourselves in a dialogue with the government, which deals with three aspects. One is to demand and obtain a new pact between the nation and the native inhabitants of these lands. I am talking about a solution to the indigenous question at a national level. I am talking about their political, social, cultural conditions, their way of life, all of which have to be solved. A second level is that of the opening of democratic political spaces so it becomes possible to fight through civil and peaceful means, so it is not necessary to take up arms. I am saying that the State must guarantee, for the EZLN, and for any citizen, that it will respect peaceful civil struggles in politics. And the third track, or aspect we are looking at, is the destruction of the State Party System, meaning the end of the party dictatorship we have in Mexico, and the transition to a political model where political forces can compete in equal circumstances but, above all, where power is at the service of society, where power limits itself only to govern and not to direct society. In other words, let society be the one who decides which way is it going, and let the government have administrative duties. This is what a government should do. That is what we mean by `to rule by obeying.' That dialogue process is a... on one side, it is with the government, on the other, with civil society, on the other with political forces of opposition and in yet another, with solidarity groups or national and international intellectuals.

E.V.: Could you please explain the significance of the Zapatista National Liberation Front, which you alluded to in the last question, and its proposal for a peaceful transition toward democracy in Mexico?

S.M.: The proposal of the Zapatista National Liberation Front was born as a meeting place, or as a way to try to build a meeting place where the Zapatista civilian society could walk towards a meeting with the EZLN, while the EZLN walked towards meeting with the civilian society. We had had several other attempts, that of the Democratic National Convention in 1994, where we told the civilian society to take command, to direct the transition toward democracy. That was not successful. Before that, in January 1 1994, the EZLN attempt to spearhead the transition toward democracy, failed. So now we say that the EZLN cannot do it by itself, and the civilian society who symphatizes with Zapatismo also cannot do it on its own either. So it becomes necessary to try to see if together we can accomplish it. The Zapatista Front is above all the effort to create a meeting space among these two forces, were the profile of a political organization which is not fighting for power can be sketched, but a political organization which is fighting, as you mentioned, for the transition toward democracy. With destruction of the system of State Party, I am talking about a party which has... which is part of the State itself, it is part of the government, which has a very close relationship with the great power of capital, which has a very close relationship with mass media, and which permeates, or invades, or contaminates, the width of the social spectrum in such a way that politics becomes a synonym of corruption, of exercising power, of arbitrary acts, so that the transition toward democracy in Mexico means that the system of State Party must be destroyed. It has to die or finish dying - because it seems to be in its terminal phase - and make room for a new space, and not a change of personalities or parties in power, but, above all, a change in politics, a change in the way politics is carried out and a change in the political players. We think that for the transition toward democracy to be effective, the political parties must stop seeing political work as electoral work, society must start seeing that their participation in politics goes beyond their participation in the electoral process and, in general, the government must understand that its relationship with society is not one of superiority, of power exercised over another, but should be one of subordination, and its work should be administrative. Broadly speaking, those are the lines along which the Zapatista Front of National Liberation and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation would coincide, with the advantage that the Zapatista Front has more growth possibilities, to make contacts, insofar that it is a peaceful civilian organization and, at the same time, represents an opportunity to prove to the EZLN that it is possible to do politics in ways other than the armed and clandestine way.

E.V.:Thanks. We now have a series of questions about the situation with the United States, beginning with this one: In what ways is the government of the United States and the interest of the businessmen, of capital, in the United States affecting Mexico, affecting the struggle of the EZLN?

S.M.: Well, first is... The most evident is the military meddling in the Mexican Government's position towards the EZLN. The United States Government has not been satisfied with sending weapons, equipment, ammunition for the Federal Army to chase, harass or attack indigenous communities, it has also sent advisors who can be seen in the San Quintin community in the Lacandon jungle or in the Guadalupe Tepeyac community, now occupied by the Federal Army, and also in what used to be the Las Margaritas municipality. In addition to that, the United States Government has forced an ever greater dependence of the Mexican Federal Army regarding its initiatives, regarding its strategy and even tactics. Now they speak without any shame of joint maneuvers. This coincides with the globalization process, and with the intention of the United States to homogenize this globalization process, the intention to make the National Armies disappear and make them policemen and that there is only one armed force, based in the United States armies, in the American hemisphere above all, and specifically in the countries who make up the North American Free Trade Agreement, Canada, the United States and Mexico. Besides, there is..... the domination of the United States financiers, of the United States capital in Mexico is clear, the pressure they exercise so that Mexico gets rid of and cheaply sells natural resources such as oil, electricity, railroads. All that used to be the national infrastructure has been put up for sale, and it won't be long before they privatize the national health system (National Social Security Institute) and other things which are part or used to be part of the national structure which had been created to meet the social needs of the people of Mexico. They would not take long in privatizing the presidency. Maybe later we will find that the National Palace has been privatized and we need to pay, as if it was a toll booth, a fee to be able to go in. In one way or another, capital, mainly that of the United States, Power, we say, permeates everything, and keeps other political forces from freely developing. The problem here is that when we speak of the United States' power, is that we fall into confusing the United States Government with the people of the United States, or the power of the United States with the people of the United States, the great relationship between the powerful of the United States with the leaders of the United States to see themselves as owners and masters of the planet. Of course, also as rulers of an underdeveloped country as the Republic of Mexico. We need to differentiate that, and how this enters... this country we call Mexico... how can I put it? For Power in the United States, the world is a huge mall, which has department stores. In this case, Mexico is a department store who sells oil and labor, people, Chicanos, say, who are cheap. Sometimes it is cheaper to keep them in the U.S., if not you have to kill them or chase them or turn them back. Sometimes it is cheaper to keep them in the store which is Mexico and put them to work there. But that this is conceived in this way by the great owners or those who possess does not mean that the people of the United States share either those feelings or expectations. A lot of times they suffer because of them.

E.V.: To what extent has the United States military been directly involved, militarily, in trying to destroy the movement toward democracy in Mexico?

S.M.: Well, there are antecedents to that. What we know, what we have endured as the Zapatista Army of National Liberation is the participation of military advisors who have been seen even in the armed columns which maneuver through the communities - U.S. advisors wearing the U.S. uniform, outright directing military units in the operations they carry out. There are also, within the peaceful civilian national movement some complaints. We don't know about them directly because it is not in our medium, regarding infiltration or provocations or espionage, above all espionage of the CIA, the FBI and the State Department of the United States, of course, the Embassy. You know well that U.S. espionage has the trait of spying on itself. There is a rivalry between the FBI, the CIA, the State Department, the embassy. But even so, they are more united in Mexico because it is a matter of a store, which is too close to the house of the owner in this case. They face a country which is next door to the country which considers itself the owner the world, so they truly have invaded the entire political life, I don't think they are very interested with the democratization movement, or the democratizing movement. They consider it to be divided, defeated, ugh, too small, and with too many defects to consider it an enemy worthy of combat. What worries them the most is the different factions which move within the power, in order to know who is going to end up in one place or another. It is evident that their greatest efforts are directed to knowing very well what is happening within the Institutional Revolutionary Party and within the National Action Party and the whole political class who decides, or supposedly decided the destiny of this country.

E.V.: What is your opinion of Bill Clinton, Bob Dole and the coming election in the United States? How could it affect the Zapatista Army of National Liberation?

S.M.: Speaking of U.S. politicians, not just of Bill Clinton and Mr. Dole, who, evidently, is very liked by the Latino community in the United States, but about politicians in the U.S. in general, we should at least speak of three great moments. One is in normal political life, say, when there is no electoral political process. There they are one kind of politician, they transform themselves previous to the electoral process, during the primaries, when each party selects its candidate, and they go through another transformation during the electoral process to elect the United States President. So this way we could speak in general of United States politics and the subjects it touches upon. When killing Latinos is electorally attractive, they kill them. When it is electorally attractive to defend Latinos, they defend them. When it is electorally attractive to strike Cuba they do so, when it is necessary to loosen the climate because it will bring votes they loosen it. There is not a well-defined policy in the United States, not even in the right wing in the United States, especially at this time, the pre-electoral process in the United States. Each issue, and one of the most sensitive ones, of course, is Mexico. Other issues in foreign policy would be Cuba and the European Economic Community. These are handled by politicians based on what market of votes they are interested in capturing, what market of votes are they interested in attracting. So it is very hard to determine if that is going to be the position of the government who happens to be elected or if they are simply manipulating electoral positions in order to get ahead. According to our analysis, it seems that the people of the United States are facing a decision between the right or the right, whether it is with one party or the other. The minorities, the erroneously called Latino or Black or Asian minorities in the United States, have absolutely nothing to gain from any government who remains in power, be it Republican or Democrat. Making their rights be heard, or getting them to be recognized, and then respected, does not depend in the position of a leader or political party in power, but in their internal process of organization and in the struggle they can develop. I think each time it becomes clearer that the so-called minorities in the United States cannot settle for receiving the attention, or be the subject of political attention only during the political process, and that they must demand to be taken into account during the whole period. I mean, the Latino community in the United States does not only suffer persecution and racism during the electoral process, they suffer it throughout the year, during the whole governing period, and a lot of times from the very government who during election times said would protect them and respect them. We think that in the United States, in Mexico, China, Japan, Russia, Italy, Spain, Chile, Ecuador, wherever, people can only have the rights they are willing to fight for, willing to defend. Nothing comes from the leaders, whatever their political sign is -- center, left or right -- which isn't demanded, or which doesn't have weight in the social organization, in the organization of society, as we say, in civil society. Whatever the victorious government is, whether Democrat or Republican, in the coming Presidential elections in the United States, the decision about support to the EZLN will have to do with calculating the economic interests that the United States has, mainly its interest in oil. The greatest part of the area where people sympathize with the EZLN live, or which -- like the Government says -- is under control of the EZLN, is rich in oil deposits. Evidently, the Power in the U.S. will be interested in how to extract it without any hindrances. We know that the great business powers in the United States are willing to sacrifice not only the EZLN, but all the indigenous communities, and erase them from the face of the Lacandon jungle in order to extract the oil without any hindrances. But it will have to, of course, face many forces against it. One of them, and a very important one, is that of the democratic movement in the U.S. in which I would include not only Chicano organizations and Latinos but also the black community, intellectuals, members of the left in the United States, progressive groups, all those movements who see a very large social cost to this globalization process, and who are not willing to continue living, or continue building their well being based on crime, based on the suffering of millions of people in other parts of the world.

E.V.: What are your opinions of the International Monetary Fund, of the mass media, and of Rock and Roll?

S.M.: (laughter) Three very varied subjects, practically from one extreme to the other... The IMF represents the cruelty, cynicism, and crime with suits, computers, and a lot of elegance. The IMF is a huge criminal, as any gangster, but one who dresses elegantly and who makes great decisions, who kills without staining its hands. With just one decision it makes, the IMF, in order to approve a loan, can decree death for millions of human beings or condemn them to an undignified life for a long time. If we are talking about the International Monetary Fund, we should define it in few words and it is this: A gangster, clinical in committing its crimes. As far as the media, there we have a space for struggle yet to be defined. There are media who decide to lie in two manners, be it by saying the contrary to what happens in reality because it benefits power, benefits themselves. Or by not telling lies -- this is another option -- but by creating a new reality, a virtual reality which allows the consumer to escape everyday problems. If the consumer or public opinion -- whichever way the media decides to call its clients -- sees that its quality of life is deteriorating, that it lives worse and worse everytime, they will not swallow the news telling them they are living better. So the only thing the media can do to continue reaching consumers without telling the truth is to invent another reality, to invent a world of soap operas, of science fiction, of movies, things which allow them to evade the people. On the other hand, we have media who are concerned with knowing the truth and disseminating it even if it means scandal for one side or another. There are few who do this with professionalism and who understands that the work of communication, the work of communicating and informing, is a respectable profession which can be made respectable by each other. There is also media who reports what is happening and propose an alternative. Those are alternative media, as we call them, who criticize a system -- a system of values, a way of life, an economic system -- and propose an alternative for change. Among these tendencies in which we could classify media... Notice how I am not referring to whether media can be good business or not. I say all three of them can be good business. It can be a profitable business in any of these three tendencies. And at the end, "last but not least," as you say, Rock and Roll, we think... Well, this now is on a personal level, because I can't say that as far as Rock there is a lot of agreement in the EZLN, because the majority here likes Corridos and Rancheras more. Rock has meant from its beginning a breaking up, in one way or another an "Enough!" from emerging youth, and not just that but of a emerging cultural movement that offered itself as an alternative to everything which power was offering to control, or legitimize or influence people in a society. Rock and Roll was able to penetrate to the highest sectors of society and the lowest. It allowed a communication bridge to be built, one that not only crossed social classes but also crossed over nationalities. For Rock and Roll there weren't any borders, nor are there any. There are no borders or checkpoints or immigration, nor Border Patrol to stop it. None of those things that any foreigner has to endure when entering a country or when going from one country to another. Rock and Roll is, I think, more than anything, defiance -- a double defiance -- defying the power, defying a cultural structure with tendencies to banalize cultural movements and which attempts to attenuate everything that is rebelliousness. Anyway, Rock has resisted that as a movement. Even though there are parts of it which have finally become part of the system, there are always outbreaks and cracks through which Rock and Roll begins anew and is able to get out and escape that digestive process through which the great system, the great power, has to annex everything. We find that Rock and Roll is also defiance for whoever produces it. The challenge of handling the lyrics and the music, of wanting to communicate something -- a feeling, a way of being, a way of thinking, a word, the heart, as we say -- also means a challenge for whoever produces Rock and Roll, for whoever consumes it, listens to it, for whoever creates it. It is a sort of mirror which makes one reconsider once again if we are really living according to the way we think. Really, among these three things, I'll keep Rock and Roll. Among the International Monetary Fund, media, and Rock and Roll, I choose Rock and Roll.

E.V.: Very well, thank you. The next question: What message would you give to young people in the United States?

S.M.: Well, the first thing we have to clarify is that the message would be for young people of all ages. Us young people are the ones who haven't lost hope, who know we can fight. Because there are young people who are very old, and there are old people who are very young. So generally for young people in the U.S., we would ask them not to let themselves be deceived, to always keep that freshness and the capacity to wonder in order to recognize that the world deserves another chance. Not just because of them, the young ones, but also for children and other generations who deserve a chance, a chance which is not going to come from the ones in power. That chance is not going to be a concession from some god, whatever the religion is.That chance is not going to come from an invasion by extraterrestrials either, but that chance can only be given to them by us, by our fighting in our own place, in our own medium. And I am not talking about running to the mountains and taking a rifle, or going to Chiapas. I am talking about each one, with their own weapon. Sometimes it is words, sometimes it is a pen, sometimes it is the hands, a machine In their own place, in their country, in their own medium, they can fight for giving this world the chance to become a better one. I think the world deserves this chance for change, to become better, that us young people of the world deserve that chance, that we deserve another world. Regardless of what has happened and everything that has happened, we deserve another world. We don't have to settle for, nor endure or suffer from the world which Power has passed on to us. That is my message.

E.V.: We have one last question. What can people in the United States do to support the Zapatista struggle?

S.M.: Well, what we ask of them is to keep a... to keep informed of what is happening because we already know that mass media does not distribute a lot of news. There are networks in the U.S., mainly Latino organizations, but not only Latino organizations, who have continuous information about what is happening in the indigenous movement in Mexico, and specifically with the EZLN and Chiapas. And we ask them this because information -- information which is true and timely -- is that which power fears the most. It is not worried about killing people. But what worries it, is that it be known that they are killing people. For those who can go beyond this, who could become organized, maybe they could gather food, medicine or clothing, or money, which is directed not to the combative force of the EZLN -- because we are not fighting for us -- but which is directed to the indigenous communities, to men women and children. We ask it for the children above all -- food, medicine and clothing for children, or money to get it -- because they are the ones who are suffering the most in this season of hunger in the mountains of the south of Chiapas in Mexico. During the months of June, July and August, there is a lot of death and a lot of scarcity on the indigenous tables. And lastly, to invite them to get organized and come to the Intercontinental Encuentro, where there will be people from Europe, Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the American Continent, to try to discover how this common enemy, that now has the name of Neoliberalism, but could have had other names in a different historic time -- or could change its name but not its way of killing -- affects us. Also to find within ourselves what kind of world can we build, what kind of world we deserve, as I was telling you in the last question. That Encuentro is going to be from the 27th of July to the 3rd of August, here in the indigenous communities. There will be five tables, one of them will be here in La Realidad, site of this interview today, on July 18 1996. Here I am, advertising the Encuentro on the radio. What is the radio station? I wanted to take this moment to let it be known. In the U.S. the National Commission for Democracy in Mexico, with offices in Texas, somewhere there, I don't know where exactly because I don't have a telephone, but evidently there are people there in the U.S. who can give you information. That is all.

E.V.: The phone of the National Commission for Democracy in Mexico is (915) 532-8382. We repeat (915) 532-8382. We want to thank you very much, Subcommander Marcos, for giving us this interview despite your very busy schedule. We thank you profoundly.

S.M.: Well, thank you all very much and greetings to the people of the United States.


Eduardo Vera is a writer and photographer who has spent several years in the Chiapas of Mexico reporting on the Zapatistas and their struggle. Thanks to Felipe Perez for translating this interview.
Copyright © 1996 Austin Chronicle Corp. All rights reserved.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle