1994–2014 : ¡Viva Zapata!

[January 1, 2014 is the 20th anniversary (BBC) of the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico, so I thought I may as well re-post this interview with Subcomandante Marcos, an EZLN leader, conducted in April, 1994. There’s another interview with Marcos that was published in Love & Rage (c.1994/1995), the US anarchist zine, which traces the leftist origins of the EZLN, but I can’t find it online and my copy is buried somewhere in the slackbastard archive, so this will have to do for now. See also this English translation of ‘Cuando los muertos callan en voz alta, (Rebobinar 1)’/(Rewind 1) When the dead silently speak out’, an EZLN communique of December 28, 2013. Note that one of the ways in which the Zaps were able to extend their struggle was through the intarwebs. See : Harry Cleaver, Computer-linked Social Movements and the Global Threat to Capitalism (1999) for more disco on that subject …]

[Early April]
Bill Weinberg

What kind of support do you need from your sympathizers in the United States? What should we be doing?

Well, we have a lot of necessities here because the federal army has surrounded us. For our troops, that is not a problem, but the civilian population here is suffering a lot. They lack necessities like food, clothes, medicine. Even the children. Our people, the civilian people here, cannot go to the city to buy such necessities, because the federal army can take them prisoner and “disappear” them. So our people are under very strong conditions of war, even if it is not one of bullets and guns now, but the “dirty war” that the government is making against us. The only chance that we have is support from other people, from Mexico, and from Mexicans in other parts of the world. I mean, we know that in the States there are a lot of people whose families are Mexican Indian people …

But what about anglos and other folks who aren’t Mexican or Indian who support the struggle? What can we do?

We have a lot of necessities. The first concerns the federal government–the government of Salinas. They have made a big lie about our country. They say that our country is free, without serious economic or social problems, a good partner for the NAFTA. His government is making a big publicity campaign for other people in other parts of the world, principally the United States. So it is imperative for us that the world know that Mexican people, especially Indian people, are not in the life condition that Salinas says–as you can see in this trip that you have made here. We need people in the United States to create counter-propaganda to that of the Mexican federal government, and get out the truth, against the lie of Salinas.

Salinas wants to isolate our struggle, contain it to only one part of Mexico, and only one part of Chiapas. He says that what we are fighting for are not concerns elsewhere in the country. But it is a lie again. He made an agreement with Canada and the United States in NAFTA. When he shook hands on this agreement, he was playing with the lives of a lot of Indian people. You cannot shake hands on an agreement like that without staining your hands with blood.

But the federal government is very sophisticated with its publicity. If the truth is known in all parts of the world, especially the United States, it would be a great help to us. That is the first thing.

There is another kind of help. You can see that here there are many children without anything–without food, without healthcare, without education, without good houses. So organizations that help the poor in other parts of the world should notice us. Our movement is a true movement. There are no strangers or foreigners behind us. We are all Mexicans, and the big majority of our army are Indian people. We think the government is lying to us with their promises to solve our problems. We don’t trust any more in this government. But our needs remain, and maybe we have to rely on people in other parts of the world to help us. I repeat, our troops are surrounded, and the civilian population here needs such necessities as food and clothes …

Who can we work with here in Mexico to get you donations?

One way is through the non-governmental organizations here in Mexico, like the Red Cross, the non-governmental human rights groups, the Diocese of Bishop Samuel Ruiz. Or come here yourselves, and we will receive this help with plenty of thanks.

If we can get it through the army checkpoints…

Well, the federal army doesn’t interfere with American people, because they are afraid of the American government.

Some of your early statements back in the first days of the uprising in January spoke about fighting for socialism, and marching on Mexico City. Almost immediately, your rhetoric changed to what it is now–demands for democracy and indigenous autonomy. So what prompted the change? And when you talk about “socialism”, what do you mean? What kind of socialism? Socialism like in Cuba?

The directorate of our army has never spoken about Cuban or Soviet socialism. We have always spoken about the basic rights of the human. Education, housing, health, food, land, good pay for our work, democracy, liberty. Some people may call this socialism. But it doesn’t matter what name you give these demands. In Mexico there is no democracy. So it doesn’t matter what you think, or what your political goal is. Because only the political goal of the government party wins–always wins.

We say, make a democratic space, make enough liberty so that you can explain your ideas. It doesn’t matter what kind of ideas–communism or socialism or capitalism or lo que quiere, whatever you want. With democracy and liberty, you can tell the people, “I want this, follow me.” And if the majority follow you, you will win. But this doesn’t exist. Now, it doesn’t matter if people follow you, what kind of government you want, or your political ideas. The people doesn’t matter for the government. It is always the government’s political ideas and economic projects which are imposed on the people. So we don’t want any more of this. We want to find ways to resolve our own problems. When there is democracy, we can decide which leaders we agree with–and by “we”, I mean the people, not the Zapatista Army.

The federal government does not represent us. We want to follow our own Mexican way to democracy and liberty and justice.

And what about socialism?

The kind of life we want–life with good food, good land, good health, good education, good work, democracy, independence, justice and peace–if you want to call it socialism, OK, call it that. But we are not a cliché of Cuban socialism, or Castrismo or Sendero Luminoso [Shining Path]. If you want to call it Mexican socialism or the Mexican way to liberty, that’s a good name for it.

Have you been influenced by anarchism at all, especially Magonismo, the Mexican anarchist tradition?

Basically, all of our thoughts about the workers and campesinos and the revolution are taken from Flores Magón, Francisco Villa, Emiliano Zapata. Their ideas about the farm workers, the workers in the cities, the hopes of liberty, are our inspiration for this movement.

You’ve said that you don’t want any more ecological reserves for the Lacandon Selva. How do you envision protecting what remains of Mexico’s last rainforest?

Well, look. We don’t agree with this preoccupation with the trees over the death of our people. We say, we want trees. We want the mountains. But we also want a dignified life for our people. So we say, if the government makes a good plan and the people have what they need, they will not have to attack the trees and mountains. The government just declares by decree that there will be no more cutting of trees.

We say, we don’t want to cut the trees. Because the mountain is very important for Indian people. It is a part of their tradition and their history. So we agree, we say, “No, there should be no more cutting of trees–but give me the life conditions for another way, so I will no longer have the necessity to cut the trees. I will take good care of this mountain, I will take good care of these trees, and I will take care for the future of my child, from one generation to another generation. But now my people have no way to live other than to cut trees and burn them. That is the only way we can find land.” I mean here there are no tractors, here there is no machinery; there is nothing for the Indian people. There is no option but to cut the trees, burn them, and put the seed in the land. It doesn’t matter how the land is taken when you are hungry.

The average production here from one hectare is less than half what it is in other parts of the country. In other parts of the country, its about eight tons per hectare. Here in the Selva Lacandona the average is about a half-ton per hectare. There is no justice for us. And our land, you can see, with good work, and some technology, could produce.

What about land redistribution? What about taking land away from the ganaderos [ranchers] and fincas [plantations], and giving it to the campesinos?

Yes. This is the second way to make a better life for our peasants. I mean, this land was originally for the Indian people. The white people, the big farmers and ranchers, imposed their force over the Indian people and pushed them up into the mountains. You can see that here the good land is on the fincas–the plains, the valleys. The Indians have the rocky lands in the mountains. But the Indian sees the good land below and says, “Originally, this was my land, so I have the right to recover it.”

The big farmer says, “they have stolen my land, they have stolen my cattle.” But my people say, “before you were even born, my grandparents made their life here.”

So, our lands cannot produce with this injustice. We need redistribution of the land. But that is not all we need.

¿Qué más?

We need roads, water, schools, hospitals, technology–like tractors, like planes. So even if the land is producing, the next question is the price. You can grow a good crop of coffee, but when you take it to the city, the coyote, the intermediary, thinks, “you don’t speak Spanish, so I can lie to you and cheat you.” You can bring in one hundred pounds of coffee and he will say it is only fifty. He will say that the quality isn’t good, and he can only pay you half price. And you have to walk four or five days from your village to get to the city, so you just take the money. You can’t bear the thought of carrying your hundred pounds of coffee back to the village.

So the Indian people face very complex structures of exploitation. I’ve implicated the federal government, the big farmers, the coyotes, the municipal governments, the police, the army. Over all these there are a lot of people who are living with the blood of Indian people. People don’t understand this in other countries. They think that Mexico is Acapulco, it’s Cancun, it’s Puerto Vallarta, Guadalajara, Monterrey, Mexico City. They think that the Indians just make pretty clothes, they are curiosities. They cannot even imagine that these people are dying.

There’s been speculation that helicopters which were donated to Mexico by the United States for the War on Drugs have been used against the civilian population here in Chiapas. Do see the War on Drugs as a significant factor in the militarization of Mexico and Indian lands?

There’s no speculation. The people saw the choppers that said PGR [the Mexican Attorney General’s office], and we know the American government gives the PGR choppers to fight against drug dealers. But everybody knows that there are no drugs in our territory. The DEA knows it. The federal army knows it. The PGR knows it. All they have to do is look at their maps and their satellite pictures.

The Indian people who were attacked from these helicopters with machine guns and bombs–they don’t have anything. If they were trafficking drugs–well, look at their houses. Where are the big trucks, the luxury?

A lot of people, even journalists, saw these choppers fight in San Cristóbal, fight in Ocosingo, fight in Altamirano, fight in Las Margaritas. We sent a letter to Bill Clinton about this problem, and we never received an answer. The choppers are even now in the airport at Tuxtla Gutierrez, ready to strike again.

Would you support the legalization of drugs as a means to undercut this kind of militarization?

Well, we must think about this, reflect on it. But our problems are very urgent. I mean, our problem is dire survival, and our principal work is in this direction.

During the 1980s in Guatemala and El Salvador, after rebel movements emerged there was terrible repression. Whole villages were massacred. How do you hope to avoid such a scenario in Chiapas?

The only way is that our movement becomes national. If our war gains support all around the country, then the army can’t take one place and make a total effort against us. If the war is only here, of course the federal army can put all of its force against us. But if there are a lot of guerrillas, or social movements, against the government, we can divide their forces.

In any case, our people are prepared for resistance. We are training the civilian people to resist an attack. But this resistance will cost a lot. So it would be better if there was a push against the government, if there was civil pressure on the government to change direction, not in their own interests, but in the interests of the people of Mexico. The political exit would be better. I hope that it is possible. But if it is not possible, we will continue the war.

What do you think is to be learned from the experience of the rebels in Guatemala, who often let the Indian civil population suffer the worst of the repression?

Well, we think our principal effort must be directed towards a national revolutionary movement that could incorporate a lot of forces. Not only the forces of the Zapatista National Liberation Army. I mean, other political forces, cultural forces. Our problems are the same problems faced in other parts of the country. We are learning about what happened in other parts of Latin America, in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua. When the guerrilla provided the direction for all the movements, there were a lot of problems of division, unity became impossible. So we must find the right flag to incorporate all the ways of struggle.

Are you optimistic that there can be a peaceful solution, or do you think that there’s going to be more violence?

We see a lot of signs of violence. We don’t see any signal of peace. We are very skeptical about the peace process. Some parts of the government say, “OK, make a deal.” But other parts of the government say “no, the strong hand is better.” The big farmers don’t want peace. They just want to protect their land, and they don’t want the Indians to live in the same state as the white people. I mean, the big farmers have been educated to think that they are the aristocracy. They think the Indian people should only serve the white people. Equality? They don’t want to hear about it. You are dealing with very reactionary people. In their minds, it is still centuries ago. So we are making an effort for peace, but if it is impossible …

You’re prepared.

We’ll fight, of course. We are prepared for a long war. I’m talking about years and years of war, throughout the mountains of the southeast of Mexico.

Do you think there’s a threat of US military intervention?

Whenever we talk to the American media, we say, “we don’t want to attack the White House. We want to live with dignity.” Our demands are the same demands of the American people–I mean, the average American people. So why should they want to fight us?

Because the American government has a whole lot riding on NAFTA.

But do you want a NAFTA with blood on it? We don’t want a NAFTA written with the blood of Indian people. If you want a NAFTA, make some kind of reform to incorporate Indian people. Because Indian people will not die without a fight. This is our message to the American people. Let us live with dignity, understand us. If you understand our situation, our reasons for fighting, the American people will not want to go to fight against Mexican people. We are trusting in this.

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2024 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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