The reappearance and public farewell of Subcomandante Marcos marks the end of an era in the Zapatista struggle. For slightly over twenty years, his personality has been the central actor on the public stage in Mexico. Both loved and hated, admired and vilified, his presence in Mexican politics has provoked the fiercest of passions. That role has now come to an end, and the EZLN will no longer speak through him.
Over the last two decades, the rebel spokesman has been the political figure of the Mexican Left most recognised outside the country, and his writings have been translated into numerous languages. Some of the most influential progressive intellectuals of the world have supported the statements made and the meetings organised by the Zapatistas, and thousands of youngsters from various parts of the globe visit the rebel communities in Chiapas every year, with significant numbers of Alter-Globalisation supporters considering themselves Zapatistas.
In the communique “Between the Light and Shade”, in which he bid farewell to the world, Marcos claimed he had been a “changing hologram” – little more than a disguise, a distractor, and a media personality. And that creation has now come to an end. His existence, he said, had been a manoeuver aimed at giving the project of life in indigenous communities time to flourish.
The personality was a creation of the indigenous people who were embarking on a project of autonomy that would be neither armed nor electoral. And, during Marcos’s time in the media limelight, this project has advanced. “It’s true that its construction is not yet complete, but it has already been defined by who we are”, he said. It is a project in which “instead of dedicating ourselves to training guerrillas, soldiers, and squadrons, we have trained promoters of education and healthcare, building the bases of autonomy that the world marvels at today”. Rejecting ‘revolutionary vanguardism’, Zapatismo has focussed its efforts on a humble, attentive, and ‘obedient rule’. It has promoted the construction of power from below, the abolition of professional politics, the full and direct participation of women, and the celebration of differences.
On the Zapatistas’ political noticeboard today, there is a new game. “Between the Light and Shade” reminded us, just as in the days running up to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandona Jungle and the Other Campaign, that things were lacking and still are. In other words, the football match between the government and the Zapatistas – which had been suspended as a result of an illegitimate goal by the government – is not yet over. Far from that, it is starting up again.
In a letter sent to Massimo Moratti – president of Inter Milan – shortly before the proclamation of the Sixth, the EZLN used this sporting metaphor to explain the meaning of ‘things are lacking’ (“falta lo que falta”), in a postscript named “with the tone and volume of a sports commentator”. “The Sup (Marcos), using the technique of the Uruguayan Obdulio Varela in the final against Brazil (in the World Cup of 1950 in Rio de Janeiro), has been walking out of the Zapatistas’ goal in slow motion with the ball in his hands since May 2001. After complaining to the referee about the illegitimacy of the goal scored, he has put the ball down in the middle of the field and turned to his teammates, exchanging silent looks with them. With the goal-scorer, the betting companies, and the whole system against them, no-one has hope in the Zapatistas. And, approaching 6pm, it starts to rain. Everything seems to be ready for the game to restart…”
That restarted game now has Moisés – an indigenous leader – at its helm, and a new generation of combatants at the front. Their route is the Sixth Declaration, considered “the most audacious and ‘Zapatista’ initiative we have ever launched”, which has brought them into contact with their current travel companions. And the match, on a pitch of anti-capitalism and radical criticism of political parties (and ‘mercenaries’ of the corporate media), will be played “below and to the left”.
The disappearance of the personality of Marcos, he told us, is not a result of serious physical ills or even his imminent death. Such comments, he said, were simply “rumours [which had been] encouraged because they were useful”. His terminal illness was just “the last great trick of the hologram”.
And many people are glad to hear that the man behind the personality – the one of blue, green, brown, hazel, or black eyes – is in good health. But the trick had many of us fooled. At the very least, it generated worry or sorrow, and we mustn’t underestimate the extent or sincerity of that concern. Many sent him wishes of a quick recovery or gave selfless offers of help, and it would be unfair to ignore that wave of solidarity.
The murder of José Luis Solís López (aka Galeano), is a fundamental part of the Establishment’s counterinsurgency strategy against the Zapatistas. It is a serious warning about what lies in store for the social movement. Meanwhile, the government has divided the Community Police Forces of Guerrero, imprisoning a number of their leaders (including Nestora Salgado) and threatening to disarm them. And, in Michoacán, it has domesticated and fragmented the Self Defence Forces (Autodefensas), threatening to imprison their dissident leaders. Why, then, would the State allow the EZLN to continue its autonomous projects and remain armed?
The massive and energetic mobilisation of the mourning rebels at the weekend was not just an expression of rage, pain, and desire for justice, but also a preventative response to the possible temptation of ‘President’ Peña Nieto to try and ‘recover’ in Chiapas what he considers to be the exclusive right of the government to control the region. It was a warning of what the State can expect if it opts for the route of armed confrontation.
The public disappearance of Subcomandante Marcos, his ritual death, and his transformation into Subcomandante Galeano were all part of a moving homage to Solís – murdered by CIOAC-H paramilitaries as part of the State’s war against Zapatismo and the indigenous people of Mexico. Faced with an established Left in Mexico which has shamelessly condemned its dead and disappeared to obscurity, the Zapatistas seek to evade death by bringing the memory of their deceased to life. And, as with all true farewell ceremonies, this one was also a commitment to life.
Translated by Oso Sabio from a text originally written in Spanish by Luis Hernández Navarro at http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2014/05/27/index.php?section=politica&article=018a1pol