Originally published in Spanish by the EZLN,
Translated by Irlandesa
CHIAPAS: The Thirteenth Stele, Part Two: A Death
A few days ago, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation decided on the death of the so-called “Aguascalientes” of La Realidad, Oventik, La Garrucha, Morelia and Roberto Barrios. All of them located in rebel territory. The decision to disappear the “Aguascalientes” was made after a long process of reflection… On August 8, 1994, during the Democratic National Convention held in Guadalupe Tepeyac, Comandante Tacho, in the name of the Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee – General Command of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, inaugurated, before some 6000 persons from various parts of Mexico and the world, the so-called “Aguascalientes,” and he handed it over to national and international civil society.
Many people did not know that first “Aguascalientes,” whether because they couldn’t go, or because they were very young in that year (if you are 24 now, or turning 25, you would have been 14 then, or turning 15), but it was a formidable ship. Run aground on the side of a hill, its huge white sails hoped to travel the 7 seas. The flag, with its ferocious skull and crossbones, waved fiercely and defiantly above the bridge. Two huge national flags were unfurled at the sides, like wings. It had its library, infirmary, lavatories, showers, piped music (which alternated obsessively between “red bow” and “marked cards”), and, it is said, even a place for attacks. The layout of the buildings looked, as I have related once, like a huge conch, thanks to what we called the “crooked house.” The “crooked house” wasn’t crooked, it had a crack that appeared at first glance to be an architectural error, but which, from above, allowed one to observe the spiral formed by the buildings. The crew of the first “Aguascalientes” was made up of individuals without face, clear transgressors of maritime and terrestrial laws. And their captain was the most handsome pirate who has ever sailed the oceans: a patch over his missing right eye, a black beard glistening with strands of platinum, a pronounced nose, hook in one hand, saber in the other, a leg of flesh and one of wood, pistol in his belt and pipe in his mouth.
The process that led to the building of that first “Aguascalientes” was fortuitous…and painful. And I am not referring to the physical construction (which was carried out in record time and without television “spots”), but to the conceptual construction. Let me explain:
We, after having prepared ourselves for 10 years for killing and dying, for handling and firing weapons of all kinds, for making explosives, for executing strategic and tactical military maneuvers, in sum, for making war,…after the first days of combat, we found ourselves invaded by a genuine army. First an army of journalists, but later one of men and women from the most diverse social, cultural and national backgrounds. It was after those “Cathedral Dialogues,” in February – March of 1994. The journalists continued to appear intermittently, but what we call “civil society” – in order to differentiate it from the political class, and so as not to categorize it in social classes – was always constant.
We were learning, and, I imagine, civil society was as well. We learned to listen and to speak, the same, I imagine, as civil society. I also imagine that the learning was less arduous for us. After all, that had been the EZLN’s fundamental origin: a group of “illuminati” who came from the city in order to “liberate” the exploited and who looked, when confronted with the reality of the indigenous communities, more like burnt out light bulbs than “illuminati.” How long did it take us to realize that we had to learn to listen, and, afterwards, to speak? I’m not sure, not a few moons have passed now, but I calculate some two years at least. Meaning that what had been a classic revolutionary guerrilla war in 1984 (armed uprising of the masses, the taking of power, the establishment of socialism from above, many statues and names of heroes and martyrs everywhere, purges, etcetera, in sum, a perfect world), by 1986 was already an armed group, overwhelmingly indigenous, listening attentively and barely babbling its first words with a new teacher: the Indian peoples. I believe I have already related previously, several times, this part of the EZLN’s formation (or “re-founding”). But, if I’m repeating it now, it’s not in order to overwhelm you with nostalgia, but in order to try and explain how we got to the building of the first “Aguascalientes,” and their later proliferation in Zapatista, that is, rebel, lands.
What I mean by this is that the main founding act of the EZLN was learning to listen and to speak. I believe, at that time, we learned well and we were successful. With the new tool we built with the learned word, the EZLN quickly turned into an organization not just of thousands of fighters, but one which was clearly “merged” with the indigenous communities.
To put it another way, we ceased to be “foreigners,” and we turned into part of that corner forgotten by the country and by the world: the mountains of the Mexican southeast.
A moment arrived, I can’t say precisely just when, in which it was no longer the EZLN on one side and the communities on the other, but when we were all simply Zapatistas. I’m simplifying, necessarily, when remembering this period. There will be another occasion, I hope, and another means, for going into details about that process which, in broad terms, was not without contradictions, setbacks and backsliding. The fact is, that’s how we were, still learning (because, I believe, learning is never done), when the now “newly appeared” Carlos Salinas de Gortari (then President of Mexico, thanks to a colossal election fraud) had the “brilliant” idea of making reforms which did away with the campesinos’ right to the land.
The impact in the communities which were already Zapatista was, to say the least, brutal. For us (note that I no longer distinguish between the communities and the EZLN), the land is not merchandise, but it has cultural, religious and historic connotations which don’t need to be explained here. And so, our regular ranks grew, quickly and exponentially.
And there was more. Poverty also grew and, along with it, death, especially of infants under the age of 5. As part of my responsibilities, it was up to me at that time to check in with the now hundreds of villages by radio, and there wasn’t a day when someone didn’t report the death of a little boy, of a little girl, of a mother. As if it were a war. Afterwards, we understood that it was, in fact, a war. The neoliberal model which Carlos Salinas de Gortari commanded in such a cynical and carefree fashion was, for us, an authentic war of extermination, an ethnocide, given that it was entire Indian peoples who were being destroyed. That is why we know what we are talking about when we speak of the “neoliberal bomb.”
I imagine (there are serious studies here that will recount with precise figures and analysis) that this took place in all the indigenous communities in Mexico. But the difference was that we were armed and trained for a war. Mario Benedetti says, in a poem, that one doesn’t always do what one wants, that one can’t always, but he has the right to not do what he doesn’t want. And, in our case, we did not want to die…or, more accurately, we didn’t want to die like that.
Previously I have already, on some occasion, spoken of the importance memory has for us. And, therefore, death by forgetting was (and is) the worst of deaths for us. I know it will sound apocalyptic, and that more than one person will search for some touch of martyrdom in what I am saying, but, in order to put it in simple terms, we found ourselves then facing a choice, but not between life or death, rather between one kind of death or the other. The decision, collective and in consultation with each one of the then tens of thousands of Zapatistas, is already history, and it was the spark for that dawn of the first of January of 1994. Mmh. It seems to me as if I’m wandering, because what this is about here is informing you that we have decided to kill off the Zapatista “Aguascalientes.” And not only to inform you, but also to try and explain why. Ah well, be generous and keep reading.
Cornered, we left on that dawn in 1994 with only two certainties: one was that they were going to tear us to shreds. The other was that the act would attract the attention of good persons towards a crime that was no less bloody because it was silent and removed from the media: the genocide of thousands of Mexican indigenous families. And, like I said, it could sound as if we were inclined to being martyrs who sacrificed themselves for others.
I would lie if I said yes. Because even though, looking at it coldly, we had no chance militarily, our hearts weren’t thinking of death, but of life, and, given that we were (and are) Zapatistas and, ergo, our doubts include ourselves, we thought we could be wrong about being torn to shreds, perhaps the entire people of Mexico would rise up. But our doubts, I should be sincere, didn’t extend so far as imagining that what actually happened could have happened.
And what happened was precisely what gave rise to the first “Aguascalientes,” and, then, to the ones which followed. I don’t believe it’s necessary to repeat what happened. I’m almost sure (and I’m not usually sure about anything) that anyone reading these lines had something, or much, to do with what happened. And so make an effort and put yourself in our place: entire years preparing ourselves for firing weapons, and it so happens that it’s words which have to be fired. When it’s said like that, and now that I read what I just wrote, it seems as if it were almost natural, like one of those syllogisms they teach in high school. But believe me, at that time nothing was easy. We struggled a lot…and we continue to do so. But it so happens that a guerrero doesn’t forget what he learns, and, as I explained earlier, we learned to listen and to speak. And so then history, as someone I don’t know said, grew tired of moving and repeated itself, and we were once again like we were in the beginning. Learning.
And we learned, for example, that we were different, and that there were many who were different than ourselves, but there were also differences among they themselves. Or, almost immediately after the bombs (“they weren’t bombs, but rockets,” those connected intellectuals – the ones who criticize the press when it talks of “bombing indigenous communities” – will then hasten to clarify), a multiplicity fell on top of us that made us think, not a few times, that it would have been better, effectively, if they had torn us to shreds. A fighter defined it, in very Zapatista terms, in April of that 1994. He came to report to me about the arrival of a caravan from civil society. I asked him how many there were (they had to be put up somewhere) and who they were (I didn’t ask each one of their names, but what organization or group they belonged to). The rebel considered the question first, and then the answer he would give. That generally took a while, so I lit my pipe. After considering, the compañero said: “They’re a chingo, and they’re absolute chaos.” I believe it is useless to expound on the quantitative universe embraced by the scientific concept of “a chingo,” but the rebel wasn’t using “absolute chaos” disapprovingly, or as a means of characterizing the state of mind of those who were arriving, but rather of defining the composition of the group. “What do you mean, absolute chaos?” I asked him. “Yes,” he answered. “There’s everything, there’s…it’s absolute chaos,” he ended up saying, insisting that there was no scientific concept whatsoever which could better describe the multiplicity that had taken rebel territory by storm. The storm was repeated again and again. Sometimes they were, in effect, a chingo. Other times they were two or three chingos. But it was always, to use the neologism utilized by the rebel, “utter chaos.”
We intuited then that, no way, we had to learn, and this learning must be for the most possible. And so we thought about a kind of school, where we would be the students and the “absolute chaos” would be the teacher. This was already June of 1994 (we weren’t very quick at realizing we had to learn), and we were about to make public the “Second Declaration of the Selva Lacandona” which called for the creation of the “National Democratic Convention” (CND).
The history of the CND is a matter for another story, and I’m only mentioning it now in order to orient you in time and space. Space. Yes, that was part of the problem with our learning. That is, we needed a space in order to learn and to listen and to speak with that plurality that we call “civil society.” We agreed then to build the space and to name it “Aguascalientes,” given that it would be the seat of the National Democratic Convention (recalling the Convention of the Mexican revolutionary forces in the second decade of the 20th century). But the idea for the “Aguascalientes” went further. We wanted a space for dialogue with civil society. And “dialogue” also means learning to listen to the other and learning to speak with him.
The “Aguascalientes” space, however, had been created linked to a current political initiative, and many people assumed that, once that initiative had run its course, the “Aguascalientes” would lose meaning. A few, very few, returned to the “Aguascalientes” of Guadalupe Tepeyac.
Later came Zedillo’s betrayal on February 9, 1995, and the “Aguascalientes” was almost totally destroyed by the federal army. They even built a military barracks there. But if anything characterizes Zapatistas, it’s tenacity (“stupidity,” more than one person might say). And so not even a year had passed before new “Aguascalientes” arose in various parts of rebel territory: Oventik, La Realidad, La Garrucha, Roberto Barrios, Morelia. Then, yes, the “Aguascalientes” were what they should be: spaces for encuentro and dialogue with national and international civil society. In addition to being the headquarters for great initiatives and encuentros on memorable dates, they were the place where “civil society” and Zapatistas met everyday. I told you that we tried to learn from our encuentros with national and international civil society. But we also expected them to learn. The Zapatista movement arose, among other things, in demand of respect. And it so happened that we didn’t always receive respect. And it’s not that they insulted us. Or at least not intentionally. But, for us, pity is an affront, and charity is a slap in the face. Because, parallel with the emergence and operation of those spaces of encuentro that were the “Aguascalientes,” some sectors of civil society have maintained what we call “the Cinderella syndrome.”
I’m taking out of the chest of memories right now some excerpts from a letter I wrote more than 9 years ago: “We are not reproaching you for anything (to those from civil society who came to the communities), we know that you are risking much to come and se us and to bring aid to the civilians on this side. It is not our needs which bring us pain, it’s seeing in others what others don’t see, the same abandonment of liberty and democracy, the same lack of justice (…) From what our people received in benefit in this war, I saved an example of “humanitarian aid” for the chiapaneco indigenous, which arrived a few weeks ago: a pink stiletto heel, imported, size 61/2…without its mate. I always carry it in my backpack in order to remind myself, in the midst of interviews, photo reports and attractive sexual propositions, what we are to the country after the first of January: a Cinderella. (…) These good people who, sincerely, send us a pink stiletto heel, size 61/2, imported, without its mate…thinking that, poor as we are, we’ll accept anything, charity and alms. How can we tell all those good people that no, we no longer want to continue living Mexico’s shame. In that part that has to be prettied up so it doesn’t make the rest look ugly. No, we don’t want to go on living like that.” That was in April of 1994. Then we thought it was a question of time, that the people were going to understand that the Zapatista indigenous were dignified, and they weren’t looking for alms, but for respect. The other pink heel never arrived, and the pair remained incomplete, and piling up in the “Aguascalientes” were useless computers, expired medicines, extravagant (for us) clothes, which couldn’t even be used for plays (“señas,” they call them here) and, yes, shoes without their mate. And things like that continue to arrive, as if those people were saying “poor little things, they’re very needy. I’m sure anything would do for them, and this is in my way.”
And that’s not all. There is a more sophisticated charity. It’s the one that a few NGOs and international agencies practice. It consists, broadly speaking, in their deciding what the communities need, and, without even consulting them, imposing not just specific projects, but also the times and means of their implementation. Imagine the desperation of a community that needs drinkable water and they’re saddled with a library. The one that requires a school for the children, and they give them a course on herbs. A few months ago, an intellectual of the left wrote that civil society should mobilize in order to achieve the fulfillment of the San Andrés Accords because the Zapatista indigenous communities were suffering greatly (not because it would be just for the Indian peoples of Mexico, but so that the Zapatistas wouldn’t suffer any more deprivation).
Just a moment. If the Zapatista communities wanted, they could have the best standard of living in Latin America. Imagine how much the government would be willing to invest in order to secure our surrender and to take lots of pictures and make a lot of “spots” where Fox or Martita could promote themselves, while the country fell apart in their hands. How much would the now “newly appeared” Carlos Salinas de Gortari have given in order to end his term, not with the burden of the assassinations of Colosio and Ruíz Massieu, but with a picture of the rebel Zapatistas signing the peace, and the Sup handing over his weapon (the one God gave him?) to the one who plunged millions of Mexicans into ruin? How much would Zedillo have offered in order to cover up the economic crisis in which he buried the country, with the image of his triumphal entrance into La Realidad? How much would the “croquetas” Albores have been willing to give so that the Zapatistas would accept the ephemeral “redistricting” he imposed during his tragicomic administration?
No. The Zapatistas have received many offers to buy their consciences, and they keep up their resistance nonetheless, making their poverty (for he who learns to see) a lesson in dignity and generosity. Because we Zapatistas say that “For everyone everything, nothing for us,” and, if we say it, it is what we live. The constitutional recognition of indigenous rights and culture, and the improvement of living conditions, is for all the Indian peoples of Mexico, not just for the Zapatista indigenous. The democracy, liberty and justice to which we aspire are for all Mexicans, not just for us.
We have emphasized to not a few people that the resistance of the Zapatista communities is not in order to engender pity, but respect. Here, now, poverty is a weapon which has been chosen by our peoples for two reasons: in order to bear witness that it is not welfare that we are seeking, and in order to demonstrate, with our own example, that it is possible to govern and to govern ourselves without the parasite that calls itself government. But fine, the issue of resistance as a form of struggle isn’t the purpose of this text either. The support we are demanding is for the building of a small part of that world where all worlds fit. It is, then, political support, not charity.
Part of indigenous autonomy (to which the “Cocopa Law” certainly speaks) is the capacity for self governance, that is, for conducting the harmonious development of a social group. The Zapatista communities are committed to this effort, and they have demonstrated, not a few times, that they can do it better than those who call themselves the government. Support for the indigenous communities should not be seen as help for mental incompetents who don’t even know what they need, or for children who have to be told what they should eat, at what time and how, what they should learn, what they should say and what they should think (although I doubt that there are children who would still accept this). And this is the reasoning of some NGOs and a good part of the financing bodies of community projects.
The Zapatista communities are in charge of the projects (not a few NGOs can testify to that), they get them up and running, they make them produce and thus improve the collectives, not the individuals. Whoever helps one or several Zapatista communities is helping not just to improve a collective’s material situation, it is helping a much simpler, but more demanding, project: the building of a new world, one where many worlds fit, one where charity and pity for another are the stuff of science fiction novels…or of a forgettable and expendable past.
With the death of the “Aguascalientes,” the “Cinderella syndrome” of some “civil societies” and the paternalism of some national and international NGOs will also die. At least they will die for the Zapatista communities who, from now on, will no longer be receiving leftovers nor allowing the imposition of projects. For all these reasons, and for other things which will be seen later, on this August 8, 2003, the anniversary of the first “Aguascalientes,” the well “deceased” death of the “Aguascalientes” will be decreed. The fiesta (because there are deaths which must be celebrated) will be in Oventik, and all of you are invited who, over these ten years, have supported the rebel communities, whether with projects, or with peace camps, or with caravans, or with an attentive ear, or with the compañera word, whatever it may be, as long as it not with pity and charity.
On August 9, 2003, something new will be born. But I will tell you of that tomorrow. Or, more accurately, in a bit, because it is dawn here now, in the mountains of the Mexican southeast, dignified corner of the patria, rebel land, lair of the transgressors of the law (including the one of seriousness) and small piece of the great world jigsaw puzzle of rebellion for humanity and against neoliberalism.
(To Be Continued…)
From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast. Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos Mexico, July of 2003.