Chapter 4: Solidarity
Letters from the CCRI-CG to Various Organizations
[The following is a series of letters that the CCRI-CG wrote to various organizations expressing and asking for solidarity.]
A Letter of Introduction
February 2, 1994
To the national weekly Proceso:
To the national newspaper El Financiero:
To the national newspaper La Jornada:
To the local newspaper of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Tiempo:
Here I send you a series of letters sent from the CCRI-CG of the EZLN to various destinations. I hope that you have space, if not to publish them as soon as possible, to comment on them or see that they reach their destinations.
For now, that is all. We wait patiently for that plane which flies over us to run out of gas and fall. Opinions are divided in terms of whether, when it falls, we will eat it roasted or boiled. The more detail-oriented recommend a marinade. The sanitation service warns us of the risk of indigestion from excessive aluminum. Anyway, salt is the only thing we have too much of. Would you like a taste in any case? (They say aluminum keeps well).
Indigestionally (which is not to say that now I do not send health, obviously),
From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast,
Insurgent Subcommander Marcos
P.S.: How is it going anonymous? Pretty, isn't it?
To the Council of 500 Years of Indigenous Resistance
February 1, 1994
Zapatistas: valor came from our dead elders
To The Guerrero Council of 500 Years of Indigenous Resistance, A.C. (Consejo Guerrense 500 An~os de Resistencia Indígena, A.C.) Chilpancingo, Guerrero, Mexico:
Brothers and Sisters:
We want to tell you that we received the letter that you sent January 24, 1994. We are very happy to know that our Indigenous brothers and sisters, Amuzgos, Náhuatls and Tlapanecos, understand our just struggle for dignity and freedom for the Indians and for all Mexicans.
Our heart is strengthened by your words, which came from so far away, which come from the entire history of our oppression, death and misery that the evil officials have dictated for our communities and our peoples. Our heart is made large by your message, which comes to us leaping over mountains, rivers, cities, countries, distrust, and discrimination.
In our name, in your name, in the name of all of the Indians of Mexico, in the name of all Indigenous and non-Indigenous Mexicans, in the name of all good people of good paths, we receive your words, brothers and sisters, brothers and sisters yesterday in exploitation and misery, bothers and sisters today and tomorrow in the dignified and true struggle.
Today we mark a month since the first time the Zapatista light brightened the night of our peoples.
In our heart there was so much pain, our death and misery were so much, and nothing would change, bothers and sisters, in this world in which our grandparents told us to keep living and struggling. Our pain and suffering was so much that it no longer fit in the hearts of some, and it started overflowing, and went filling other hearts with pain and suffering, and the hearts of the young men and women filled, valiant all of them, and the hearts of the children filled, down to the smallest of them, and the hearts of animals and plants filled, and the hearts of the stones filled and all of our world filled with suffering and pain, and the wind and the sun were pained and suffered, and the earth had pain and suffering. Everything was pain and suffering, everything was silence.
Then this pain united us and made us talk, and we recognized that in our words there was truth. We knew that it was not just pain and suffering inhabiting our tongue. We knew that there was still hope in our breasts. We talked with each other. We looked within ourselves and we looked at our history. We saw our elder parents suffer and struggle. We saw our grandparents struggle. We saw our parents with fury in their hands. We saw that everything had not been taken away from us, that we had something more valiant, which made us live, which made our path go over plants and animals, which made the rock be under our feet, and we saw, brothers and sisters, that it was DIGNITY that was all that we had, and we saw that it was a great shame to have forgotten this, and we saw that DIGNITY was good for men to be once again men, and dignity returned to inhabit our heart, and we were new still, and the dead, our dead, saw that we were new still, and they called us again, to dignity, to struggle.
And then there was no longer only pain and suffering in our heart. Courage arrived, valor came to us from the mouths of our elders, already dead but living again in the dignity that they gave us. And we saw then that it is bad to die with suffering and pain. We saw that it is bad to die without struggling, and we saw that we have to win a dignified death so that all can live well one day. Then our hands looked for freedom and justice. Then our hands, empty of hope, filled with fire to ask and shout our anguish, our struggle. Then we rose up to walk again. Our step became firm again. Our hands and hearts were armed. "For all!" says our heart, not only for some, not for the few. "For all!" says our step. "For all!" shouts our spilt blood, coloring the streets of the cities where lies and plundering rule.
We left behind our lands. Our houses are far away. We all left everything. We took off skin to dress for war and death. To live, we die. Nothing for us, everything for everyone, what is ours and of our children. We leave everything.
Now they want to keep us alone, brothers and sisters. They want our death to be meaningless. They want our blood to be forgotten between the stones and the dung. They want our voice to be silenced. They want our step to be once again far away.
Do not abandon us, brothers and sisters. Take our blood as sustenance. Fill your hearts, and the hearts of all good men of these lands, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, men and women, elders and children. Do not leave us alone. Let it not all be in vain.
The voice of the blood that united us when the land and the sky were not the property of great masters calls us again. May our hearts join their steps. May the powerful tremble. May the heart of the small and the miserable be happy. May the dead always have life.
Do not abandon us. Do not let us die alone. Do not leave our struggle in the vacuum of the powerful.
Brothers and sisters, may our path be the same for all: freedom, democracy, justice.
From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast,
CCRI-CG of the EZLN
To the Non-Governmental Organizations
February 1, 1994
To all Non-Government Organizations in Mexico:
The CCRI-CG of the EZLN respectfully addresses all of you to make the following request:
As it is publicly known, the beginning of a dialogue for peace between the EZLN and Mr. Camacho Solís is imminent. The fact that this dialogue will take place within a zone of conflict implies risks of provocation which could hinder or obstruct it. With the objective of minimizing undesirable friction between the involved parties, it is necessary to form a "safety belt" or "belt of peace" around the area in which the dialogue is to take place which will, with its presence, prevent pressure, intimidation, or even aggression by one party of the conflict against the other.
We know that non-governmental organizations have remained neutral in the present conflict and have been concerned at all times with alleviating the conditions of the civilian population. They have also made efforts to attain the peace with dignity desired by our forces as well as by all honest Mexicans.
For these reasons, we would like to ask you to gather together to form this "belt of peace" which will prevent both federal and EZLN troops from interfering in the physical space of the negotiating table. It should be understood that this does not mean that you have to make any commitment to or even sympathize with the just causes of our struggle. We will continue to respect and welcome your neutrality and humanitarian efforts.
We hope for a prompt response.
From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast,
CCRI-CG of the EZLN
To the State Council of Indigenous and
February 2, 1994
To the Executive Coordinating Comision of the State Council of Indigenous and Campesino Organizations (Comisión Coordinadora Ejecutiva del Consejo Estatal de Organizaciones Indígenas y Campesinas, CCE del CEOIC):
Brothers and Sisters:
Great happiness came to our heart when we received your letter dated January 31, 1994. We want to answer you with the total attention and respect that you deserve, Indians like us, exploited like us, rebels like us.
Our heart thought that we were alone in the state of Chiapas. Our heart thought, in error, that our brothers and sisters in misery and struggle had sold their dignity to the dark and dividing forces of the evil government. Our death walked alone, without other Indians hearing its clamor for justice, freedom and democracy. Our word sings out again: WE ARE NOT ALONE, our blood and our race unites us over the bayonets and tanks of war.
We, the most humble of your brothers and sisters, greatly feel the honor of receiving your words of unity and support. We grow large with the honor that you give us with your support for our demands.
The struggle of the EZLN is not only for the Zapatistas, it is not only for the Chiapanecos, not only for the Indians. It is for all Mexicans, for all of those who have nothing, for the dispossessed, for the greatest in poverty, ignorance and death. With humility and gratitude, we receive your greeting with the thunder of our rifles. With honor and respect we thank you for your support so that the blood-bath of the supreme government towards our people could be stopped. Your honest and resolute participation makes it possible to open a just and true dialogue. Our voices join as brothers and sisters. The supreme government will have to recognize the right of our people to govern and to govern ourselves, because there is within us reason and justice for equality and peace in our Indian lands. We do not need the police and the armies of the evil government for there to be justice in our homes. We can govern with reason and prudence, as our ancestors did.
Brothers and sisters, we want to tell you that it would be a great honor and happiness for us if you would send us the resolutions you agreed upon on January 22, 23 and 24 in the Second Meeting of Indigenous and Campesino Organizations that was carried out in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. We will analyze them with attention and respect, and if death does not come to us first, we will send you our comments.
Brothers and Sisters of the CEOIC, with the same frankness with which you tell us of your concern about the lack of respect for the human rights of the campesinos who do not sympathize with our just cause in the zones under control of the EZLN, in truth we say: This Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee-General Command of the EZLN has taken with all seriousness your denunciation. Members of the CCRI-CG of the EZLN traveled to the places you mentioned and sanctioned those Zapatistas who were VERBALLY harassing the inhabitants who were not part of our struggle. Neither physical nor verbal threats to obligate anyone to join our struggle will be permitted among our troops or sympathizers. Our laws of war are very clear with respect to this, and we now act to remedy what has been done wrong and to prevent the problem from becoming worse. But, brothers and sisters, it is with justice that we speak to you in the same frankness: There are great lies that are being spun against us by the Federal Army and the evil government. Some of the authorities and heads of ARIC-Union of Unions are complicit in these lies, as they sell themselves to the supreme government and its armed forces, and offer dispensations and money to inhabitants who come to Ocosingo trying to meet their needs and are used to make declarations dictated by the evil government. There are testimonies of people unknown to us, but with dignity and shame, who, crying, told us that they had to lie out of hunger and under threats, which obligated them to learn by heart what they had to tell to the reporters and the bishops. That was the only way to get food for their great necessity. Some, not all, of the authorities of the ARIC-Union of Unions and its heads have sold out and are accomplices. Why? Are they not poor Indians, too? The answer, brothers and sisters, is that these people fear the Zapatista justice, as it is known by all that a large part of the assistance from the federal government designed to alleviate our conditions has remained in their hands. They have fear, these men, that this great robbery will be discovered: their complicity with the state and municipal authorities against their brothers and sisters of race and blood. Brothers and sisters, distance yourselves from these traitors and do not listen to their words. They come from a politics of "two faces" to trick everyone and obtain personal benefits.
We offer you, Mexico, and the world our best efforts to keep the already-difficult
situation from getting worse for the civilian populations of the territory
in conflict. Please, do not lend yourselves to the campaign of lies whose
only end is to give local legal justification to a massive military campaign
against our positions in the towns of Las Margaritas, Altamirano and Ocosingo.
Do not stain your hands with our blood supporting the lies of the evil
government and their treacherous accomplices. We are ready to permit a
commission of yours (in which traitors are not included) to enter our territory
and verify personally what our troops do among the civilian population
which, as we all know, is mainly Zapatista, and what we do with those who
are not Zapatistas but sell themselves in exchange for a dispensation.
The great military offensive of the Federal Army against the Zapatista
positions will fill the Lacandona Jungle with Indigenous blood. The leaders
and corrupt advisors of the ARIC-
Union of Unions will have the dubious honor of telling their grandchildren that they sold the blood of their brothers and sisters in exchange for a few coins. They will live with shame. We will die with dignity.
Our struggle is real. If we commit errors and excesses we are ready to correct them, of that you can be assured, brothers and sisters.
As you mention at the end of your letter, the dialogue with the Commissioner for Peace and Reconciliation, Manuel Camacho Solís, is about to start. We will make every effort to arrive at a PEACE WITH DIGNITY and, whatever the end of the dialogue is, we will continue forward, struggling for what you note is the motto of your organization: "For dignity, peace, and the development of our peoples."
Respectfully and fraternally,
From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast,
CCRI-CG of the EZLN
We are Invincible. We Cannot,
We do not Deserve to Lose
[La Jornada 2/7]
February 2, 1994
To Mr. Gaspar Morquecho Escamilla, Tiempo newspaper, San Cristóbal de las Casas:
I have just recently received your undated letter. At the same time, I am reading a newspaper in which you and other noble people are accused of being "spokespeople for the EZLN" or "Zapatistas." Problems. If you would like to know where these denunciations and threats come from, look in the directories of the ranchers' associations and you will find much cloth to cut. Well, passing on to another subject, and since this is about memories, I hope that you have finally been sent the mix of drunken crudeness with which you tried to interview us that beautiful first day of January. Perhaps all of you do not remember it well, but that time the one who was interviewed was you, because you would ask a question and then would answer it yourself. I do not know whether you would have been able to take anything coherent for the newspaper out of that monologue of questions and answers about the surprise and fear that took over the ancient capital of the state of Chiapas on the first day of the year. We were many, that day, who burned our bridges that early morning on the first of the year and assumed that onerous path of the ski mask wrapped around our faces. There were many of us who took that step of no return, knowing full well that the end that awaited us was probably death and improbably to see triumph. Taking power? No, something far more difficult: a new world. Nothing is left for us, we have left everything behind. And we have no regrets. Our path continues to be firm, in spite the fact that they are now seeking thousands of grotesque green masks in order to annihilate us. However, Mr. Morquecho, it turns out that we have long known, and not without pain, that we had to become strong with the death of those who fell by our sides, dying from bullets, and yes, with honor, but always dying. We had to shield our ears, Mr. Morquecho, in order to endure seeing compan~eros of many years in the mountains, their bodies sewn with bullets and torn by grenades, mortars, and rockets, their bodies with hands tied and the mercy blows to their heads, to be able to see and touch their blood, our blood, Mr. Morquecho, flowing brown in the streets of Ocosingo, of Las Margaritas, on the earth of Rancho Nuevo, in the mountains of San Cristóbal, and in the plantations of Altamirano. And understand us, Mr. Morquecho, that in the middle of that blood, of those shots, of those grenades, of those tanks, of those machine-gunning helicopters and those planes throwing their explosive darts, understand the simple truth: We are invincible... We cannot lose... We do not deserve to lose.
But as we say here, our work is this: to fight and to die so that others can live better lives, much better than the ones that were ours to die. It is our work, yes, but not yours. So therefore please be careful. The fascist beast is bitter and directs its attacks at the most defenseless.
Of the accusations being made against you and the entire team of noble and honest people who deliver (because the technical conditions of producing a newspaper must make it a real birth) that standard of impartiality and truth that carries the name of Tiempo, I want to say several things:
The authentic heroism of Tiempo does not come from putting out a newspaper
with Fred Flintstone's equipment. It comes from, in a cultural environment
so closed and absurd as San Cristóbal's, giving voice to those who
have nothing (now we have arms). It comes from defying, in four pages,
the powerful men of commerce and land who have their goods in the city.
It comes from not submitting to blackmail and intimidation to obligate
them to publish a lie, or to neglect to publish a truth. It comes from,
in the middle of that asphyxiating cultural atmosphere that sews up its
own mediocre self-
reflection, seeking fresh and lively air, actually democratic, in order to clean the streets and the minds of Jovel. It comes from when the Indians came down from the mountain (note: before the first of January) to the city, not to sell, not to buy, but rather to ask that someone listen, but finding only closed ears and doors; one door was always open, had been open for some time by a group of non-Indians who put up a sign that said the same thing: Tiempo. After passing that door, those Indians that today enrage the world with their audacity of refusing to die without dignity, found someone who would listen, which was already plenty, and they found someone who would put those Indian voices in ink on paper and with the heading Tiempo, which was before and is even more so now, heroic. It turns out, Mr. Morquecho, that heroism and valor are not to be found only behind a rifle and a ski mask, but they are also in front of a typewriter when the zeal of truth animates the hands that type.
I find out now that they accuse all of you of being "Zapatistas." If stating the truth and seeking justice is being a "Zapatista," then we are millions. They should bring more soldiers.
But, when the police and inquisitors come to intimidate you, tell them the truth, Mr. Morquecho. Tell them that you simply raised your voice to warn everyone that if changes were not made in the unjust relations of daily oppression, the Indians were going to rise up. Tell them that you simply recommended seeking other paths to follow, legal and peaceful, for those who surround the cities of all of Chiapas (and Mexico, don't believe Salinas who says the problem is local) with desperation. Tell them that you, with other honest professionals (a true rarity), doctors, reporters, and lawyers, searched for support wherever it was in order to force economic, educational, and cultural projects that would relieve the death that was being sewn in the Indigenous communities. Tell them the truth, Mr. Morquecho. Tell them you always searched for a peaceful and just, dignified and true way. Tell them the truth, Mr. Morquecho. But, please Mr. Morquecho, don't tell them that which you and I know happened to you, don't tell them what your heart murmurs to your ear in the anxiety and commotion of day and night, don't tell them that which wants to leave your lips when you talk and hands when you write, don't tell them the thought that keeps on growing, first in the breast, and keeps on rising gradually to the head as soon as the year passes and advances its pace through mountains and ravines, don't tell them what you now want to shout: "I am not a Zapatista! But after this first of January... I would like to be one!"
Greet, if it is possible for you, that man named Amado Avendan~o. Tell him that I haven't forgotten his cold blood when, that happy morning (when less for us) of the first day of our triumphal entrance "into the First World," I notified you that it wouldn't be advisable for you to approach to talk with me and you told me: "I am doing my job." Taking advantage of the trip, greet Concepción Villafuerte [editor of El Tiempo], whose integrity and courage to write we greet with joy when the improbable link arrives and brings the newspaper. Greet all those of that periodical which not only deserves better machinery but also the regards of all the honest journalists of the world. Greet those professionals of Chiltak who sacrifice the desire for money and commodity to work with and for those who have nothing. Tell all of them (from Tiempo and from Chiltak) that if those who rule today had half the moral stature that you have, neither rifles nor ski masks, or blood in the mountains south of San Cristóbal, or in Rancho Nuevo or in Ocosingo or in Las Margaritas or in Altamirano would have been necessary. And perhaps, instead of writing to you now beneath the harassment of planes and helicopters, with the cold numbing my hands but hopefully not my heart, we would be speaking, you and I, with no more of a barrier than a couple of beers between us. The world already would not be the world but something better, and better for all. Certainly, if the truth were to come out (God wouldn't want it to, but it might), I don't drink alcoholic beverages, so it would actually be: "with no more of a barrier than a beer (yours, without offending) and a soda (mine) between us."
Health and a great affectionate hug. And, please, learn to put the date on your letters, although history passes so rapidly that, I think, it would be better to include the time.
From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast,
Insurgent Subcommander Marcos
Ten p.m., it's cold and the noise of the airplane that flies above,
menacing, until it almost seems to coo.
Interview with the CCRI-CG
[This is the first interview with the CCRI-CG that was granted to the press.]
[La Jornada, 2/4 & 2/5]
February 3 and 4, 1994
Blanche Petrich and Elio Henríquez, Lacandona Jungle, Chiapas
Javier starts: "I am going to explain a bit to you. How we, as compan~eros, have been commissioned to be members of the CCRI. How we came to be the CCRI, since we had been organizing ourselves for a long time. The fundamental base of our organization is all of the situation that has come about for our people, who have struggled peacefully for so many years in the face of the government. We have struggled in the way that many peoples have struggled over matters of land, of housing, for all that is needed. But instead of solving the problems, the government has responded with repression, beatings, assassination, evictions, and imprisonment of our leaders.
"So, we decided that there is no way other than to organize and rise up like this in armed struggle. So we began to organize ourselves like that, secretly, in a revolutionary organization. But, as it advanced, each people has elected its representatives, its leaders. By making the decision in that way, the people themselves proposed who will lead these organizations. The people themselves have named us. So first, someone from each people has been named responsible. In that way we advanced town by town, and so there was time, then, to name delegates. In that way we came to be the CCRI.
"Why are they the 'Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee?' Well, 'Committee' because we are in collectives, [organized] collectively. 'Clandestine' because we know that the government is not in our interest; if we rise up like that, in armed struggle, they will not like it. For that reason we have been organizing clandestinely. 'Revolutionary' because we are conscious, and there is no other way left open to us than to rise up in arms, to struggle, to see if that way works for us and if they will respond to our needs.
"'Revolutionary' because we want a change. We don't want to continue in this situation of so many kinds of injustice. For that reason we want there to be a new society, with another, new life, for that we struggle for there to be a revolution."
Another voice, that of Isaac, the youngest:
"I want to add a little bit about the CCRI. It has already been said that it was elected democratically. If the people say that a compan~ero who is a member of the CCRI is not doing anything, that we are not respecting the people or are not doing what the people say, then the people say that they want to remove us. Why not? How could someone be there, occupying a space without doing anything? We should try to do what the people have told us to do. A plan is made of what the people want to see.
"In that way, if some member of the CCRI does not do their work, if they do not respect the people, well compa, it is not your place to be there. Then, well, excuse us but we will have to put another in your place. [We do] what the people say, then. That is how the Committee is constituted: in a democratic way."
"How did you decide collectively to rise up in arms? How did you launch the offensive of January? Why don't you speak to us a little bit about these elections, about how they were?"
"Oh, that has been going on for months now, since we had to ask the opinion of the people and because it was the people's decision. Since, why would one small group decide to jump into war? And what if the people don't support them? What if the people haven't spoken yet? Then you can't struggle in that way.
"It was the people themselves who said 'Let's begin already. We do not want to put up with any more because we are already dying of hunger.' The leaders, the CCRI, the Zapatista Army, and the General Command, if the people say so, well then, we're going to start. Respecting and obeying what the people ask. The people in general. That is how the struggle began."
"How did you carry out your assemblies?"
"They are done in each region; in each zone we ask the opinion of the people. Then that opinion is collected from different communities where there are Zapatistas. And Zapatistas are everywhere in the state of Chiapas. They are asked their opinion, to say what they want: if we should start the war or not."
"Will the people also be asked whether they want to negotiate?"
"They will also be informed. If the people say, 'no, negotiate already, we don't want war any more, we are already tired,' then we have to analyze, we have to reflect deeply on what we will win with that, whether the demands will really be met like that, whether we will get the result we want. Any other way would be to fail in the struggle that we have been working on for years. It is a shame to leave it all, what we have organized and constructed over years. That is why we want to reflect on every step that we make.
"And we want to reflect on every proposal that the government, or Camacho in person, makes to us. We cannot go to take actions we are not sure of."
Moise's: "Camacho thinks that we are going to negotiate everything without consulting. But we have to consult the people about everything. They have elected us to carry out the work of the revolution. But, in other towns, the people feel like they don't really understand. Why? Because we are advancing in one part of our state. But we hope that we will start taking this struggle to the state and national levels. Why? Because the situation that we're living in is not just about one state or just of some people. We know and have met brothers and sisters--many other peoples--who are suffering in many other states, just as we are suffering where we live. That is why are advancing. We have hope that the revolution will triumph some day."
Isaac: "We cannot dialogue or negotiate by ourselves. First we have to ask the people. At the state level, where there are compan~eros, we have to consult about whether we are going to negotiate or not over there. If the people say so, we are doing what the people say. Why? Because we are fulfilling our commitment to the people. Because the people have lived with this for so many years: a life that is so hard, with every kind of injustice. Because of this, it isn't easy to enter the dialogue so quickly. If the people go to dialogue, well fine. If not, 'sallright. No. That's why it is not easy.
"What do you think of the proposal for dialogue that Manuel Camacho, Commissioner for Peace, has made to you?"
"As we are still advancing in war, we have not yet decided whether we will go to a negotiation with Camacho. We know that we are invited to negotiate, but we still have barely begun the war and we don't yet know what reality we could bring to a negotiation. As long as there are no solutions to our problems--to the necessities--as long as the people are not given what they need, then it is not easy to go to a negotiation unless we have expectation that they will come, that they will meet our demands.
"We don't just want a hand-out, to rise up quickly and then negotiate quickly. We know that so many suffer, and that there are so many kinds of injustice that we know they have laid on us as Indigenous peoples, campesino peoples, working peoples.
"We feel that Camacho has been changing his tone, as if it were easy to manage to calm or negotiate the war. But we are conscious that it will go further. There is no way other than to demand the fulfillment of the peoples' demands."
"Mr. Camacho has sent you the message, in one of his communique's, that all of Mexican society is demanding you follow the path of peace. What do you think of this petition?"
"Yes, we know that there are many people, that we have to come to a negotiation. But we are still waiting to see. We're waiting to see how it advances and how things are carried out. If things are carried out, if we have reached our objective, some day we will go to dialogue, to see whether our demands are met. That is what we are waiting for. Because the same government that asks us to negotiate, to dialogue, but... but we are still thinking. Because we are conscious that what we are asking of the government cannot be accomplished quickly.
"Years and years have passed like this. Because we have been negotiating where we live, since 1974 I think, for land, housing, the construction of roads, rural clinics. But it has not resulted in anything. The only response we have gotten is deceit, false promises, and lies."
"Did you, those of you present here, participate in the struggle for land in campesino organizations before taking up arms?"
"Yes we did, yes. But even that way we didn't accomplish anything."
"What organizations do you come from?"
"Well, some independent organizations. We have struggled that way, but we haven't achieved anything. Many of us have struggled that way, but the only thing we have gotten is imprisonment, murder and repression. Those are the reasons that we are participating in armed struggle.
"Because the government tells us that we aren't right, that that isn't the solution to our problems--the needs of our people--rising up in arms like this. But we have certain needs. If we had been able to find a solution peacefully, not militarily, well, good.
"You could say that we don't have patience, that we aren't right. But we have struggled in a peaceful way, a legal way, to ask for our needs to be met. But the state and national officials have not listened to us. That is why we had no other way left. To rise up in arms to see if they would listen to us. But when we rose up with our arms on the first day, we had a good objective. Not to threaten or fuck up or kill the civilian population. We have to respect the population. We have to respect them. Why? Because we know well who is the enemy and who is the friend of the people. Because even though many people say: 'Ah, they've already sent them to kill us; they are already killing us...' No, it's not about that, it's not true. We respect the lives of the civilian population."
"One of your protests in the Declaration of the Lacandona Jungle is for land: land to work and to live on. Don't you have your parcels?"
"I am going to answer that question. In these parts, it is a miracle that the people are alive, because families of seven to 12 people have survived on a piece of land of about one hectare, one-half of a hectare of infertile, uncultivatable land. That is how our people have survived. And that is why we feel an urgency to have land in our hands, as campesinos. We need that land. And yes, we understand that it is not just one village, one town, one township that is lacking that land. All Indigenous peoples need land. That is why, for 30 or 40 years, we have been struggling for a piece of land that they have not given us. We know that there are people who are not campesinos who own thousands of hectares of land where cattle are fed. This means that it is better to have hundreds of cattle than hundreds of campesinos. That means that we are worth less than animals. For those reasons the people have always demanded the land, but the government has never understood, never listened."
"But how will you achieve it? You are at war. Can the government, in a negotiation such as the one Camacho wants, resolve your problem of land?"
"That is why we distrust this dialogue proposed by Mr. Camacho. Because we see that it will not solve our problem, because our demands are really very large. What has not been resolved in 20, 30 years cannot be solved in 20, 30 days. Because the proposal of Camacho is just to calm us down, or that we as Indians are just playing, that is what they want us to understand. How can Mr. Camacho think that our struggle does not have transcendence, that it does not have long-term process?"
"What do you think is needed for campesinos to have their land? To return Article 27 to the way it was before? Another agrarian reform? Another revolution? A revolution like Emiliano Zapata's?"
"We would have to make use of new laws made by the people themselves, and we have to make new laws to divide up the land, maybe different from how Zapata said: to give one piece of land to each campesino. We now understand this differently. We see that if the land is divided in pieces, it may run out. We need another form of working, of organizing ourselves. But ownership of the land should pass into the people's hands. That is why we have to make use of some revolutionary laws that the people themselves have made."
"And what about theIndigenous reality?"
"We think that we have to have our Indigenous people. There are many ways. But it can be a simple way. As Indians, we believe and feel that we have the capacity to direct our own destiny. There is no need for them to hold our hand. As mature people, as conscious people, we can direct our own destiny. We can govern our own destiny, we can govern our own people. We believe that our people are capable of governing themselves because our people are aware.
"That is why we don't need a government that only wants to manipulate us, to have us under its feet."
"Would it be a government of each ethnicity? What kind of self-government do you propose?
"It could be like that: that each ethnic group have its own government.
We have not decided exactly yet, but it could be like that. Each Indigenous
people, each ethnicity, could have its own government. But they would govern
with autonomy, and that there is no need to be crushing or manipulating
anyone. As Indians, we need our own autonomy, we need that identity, that
dignity. Dignity to live and respect."
The authority of ceremonial rule is present in this Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee. Holed-up in the depth of the jungle, far away from their birth-places, they guide the political content of the Zapatista struggle.
They come with their arms crossed across their chests. But they say: "We are people of peace, of much patience. Otherwise, we would have risen up long ago."
Before the four electric-blue ski masks and two red bandannas of the six commanders of the CCRI stands Subcommander Marcos, high military commander of the EZLN. Before them, as they exchange their sticks for carbines or rifles, a guerrilla column presents arms in formation. But they, according to the tradition of millenarian democracy that has managed to survive, never make a step without popular consultations.
To get to the CCRI-General Command of the Zapatista National Liberation Army required a long exchange of courtesies and letters traded secretly. The dates are changed and the moment is delayed, according to the come-and-go of the latent war that Chiapas lives in.
Moving into the depths of Zapatista territory in the jungle required a complex security operation, designed by Subcommander Marcos. Most of the travel was done at night. Or, if there was still daylight, with an order that sounded more like a friendly invitation: "Now you are going to sleep a little bit; close your eyes."
Many of the troops open up silently, or with a whispered order: "Who lives?" asks one shadow. "The country," responds the other.
And we also have to exchange passwords that sound like Mayan poetry: "There is among us one face and one thought. Our word walks with truth. In life and death we keep walking. There is no pain in death, there is hope in life. Choose."
There is a watch posted and a rest at midnight, in the heart of a nameless village. It is a Catholic hermitage, with its poor cross, its Bible and its saints, its roof with garlands of paper and china and its sedge rugs (made of the flower of the pine that is used for ceremonies in Chiapas and Guatemala).
Two well-armed guerrillas--a young man and a young woman--guard the door while an Indigenous official comes to check our press credentials. The courtesy is extreme. So are the security measures. Watches, recorders, backpacks and all of the work equipment of the excellent photographer Antonio Turok, of a group of independent Mexican television and they are already in the hands of a column of militias who will walk two nights to take us to the meeting site.
We travel by horse, and during long stretches we are blindfolded, feeling the abrupt descents and rises of the horses, crossing rivers and farms, through dense vegetation. It rains, clears up, and rains again. By daylight they offer us lodging in humble huts, rest and coffee.
The site of the meeting, beneath enormous trees, is guarded by a column of, mostly, young people, all of their faces covered with gray or black ski masks. Their armament is varied: M-16s, R-15s, AKs, carbines, shotguns and rifles.
The guerrilla column, with a discipline similar to devotion, presents arms and gives honors when the six Indigenous commanders ceremoniously approach the small clearing chosen for the first interview that they have given.
Ramona, the only woman, and the only monolingual (Tzotzil) of the group, represents all of the Indigenous women in her zone in the General Command. She has no children, having chosen long ago between maternity and the old carbine that she now embraces. She is small, with much-covered military boots beneath her traditional skirt. She is one of the oldest leaders of the guerrilla group.
At the beginning, the intellectuals who analyzed the first pronouncements of the Zapatista guerrillas concluded that it was not of purely Indigenous origin, due to the prominence of political democracy on its agenda.
The CCRI speaks about the vision of Indigenous insurgents of politics and democracy in this second part of the interview:
Moise's: "Yes, Mr. Salinas and Mr. Camacho have spoken to us about there being democracy, that there should be justice. But we don't understand what kind of democracy they are talking about, because, with each election that happens, there is only the imposition of the government. They don't take us into account."
Javier: "Salinas says that now there is already a candidate for president who might occupy the presidency of the republic, who is Colosio. And for us, as campesinos, as Indians, that is where the distrust starts. Because no campesino and no Indian has said that this candidate Colosio should be president. And who has elected him? A group of people who occupy the great powers: the legislators, the senators. They are the ones who have elected this person, but when Colosio goes out to campaign, he says that he is elected by the people. Not a single campesino, not a single Indian, no Indigenous campesina woman has said that that person should stay.
"That is why we are clear that the democracy that Salinas speaks of is a joke for us. He treats us like dolls, like puppets that support them, so that they can get into power. That is what we feel. And Salinas still says: Colosio cannot be changed. He is a candidate of force. But when have we campesinos elected anyone? When did Salinas come to ask us if he could name Colosio as our candidate?
"We have not elected him. Even if Salinas says a thousand times, a hundred times that there is democracy, there is absolutely no democracy in our country."
"And why does the PRI always win so many votes in Chiapas? They win 90%...many, sometimes even more...?"
"We are conscious of the fact that it is not like that. That it is pure fraud. Even when we don't vote, they count it as if we did, grabbing our hands, putting our cross as if we had voted that way.
"The officials and the candidates know that it is easy for the politicians to use us Indians as a step towards their rising to power; and then, when they are in power, in their cabinet, they go and forget.
"When we go to ask for a solution, the only response we have been given is repression, torture, disappearance, murder of our leaders. That is the solution that we have received, that is why we are not going to forget anything. We have to advance in our struggle until we change things.
One of the things is that the candidates of the PRI are the only ones who have reached the government and the presidency. Why have the people supported them? Well, there are several reasons: One, the government takes advantage of the ignorance of the Indigenous campesino by illiteracy, because it knows that Indigenous campesinos don't know how to think, don't know a single letter, don't have opinions, and believe everything that they are told. That is why the government, when it is campaigning, brings a gun and a cookie, and fools the campesino, the people. And from not knowing, from ignorance that has not been cured, from the lack of education, from the lack of many things, the campesinos accept it, even though they are given garbage. Why? From the lack of experience, from the lack of consciousness, from lack of education, from the lack of many things.
"That is why the government has always won its elections. But, on the other hand, just because they win the voting, it does not mean that the people have voted, although maybe, out of their ignorance and illiteracy. No. Of course, the majority of the people have not voted, but, shamefully, those are PRI frauds: piles and boxes full of papers that a person gives their vote on. They fill out those pieces of paper so that, a little bit later, the candidate says that the people have already voted, and that they supported the PRI candidate; but it isn't true. That is what we don't want any more of.
"That is why we, as we already said, govern the people according to what they want, whether they see us, whether they recognize our work.
"That is why we are no longer taking up arms to ask for candy, like before, or for them to give us money, to give us a sombrero to cover our eyes. What we are going to ask for is freedom, justice and democracy. That is what we have come to ask for. We are not asking for candy or a piece of bread or a t-shirt that the government should give us, as has always been done before."
"How will you end caciquismo in Chiapas? What do you propose?"
"In order to end caciquismo in the towns it is necessary for the people to become conscious, for the people to speak, to demonstrate. If the people are going to always be there, quiet all of their life, then the caciques are going to be happy in power, because they will have political power, economic power, power at all levels. If the people start to become conscious and to demand their rights, they will have to say 'I won't allow the caciques to keep dominating me.'
"But while the people let themselves be manipulated by the caciques, those caciques are also clearly supported by the State. It will be difficult for the people to get out of this domination. But, shamefully, there are now many poor people--but really poor like us--who are supporting the caciques, the government, and are saying that the Zapatistas are evil, assassins, killers. They don't understand that we are also fighting for them to have a better life. They don't understand that. That bothers us and makes us sad as well, that people who are so poor could not understand that the struggle has a just cause. This is because they are manipulated by the caciques."
"How many commanders are there in the CCRI? How is it organized?"
"We are a fuck of a lot of people. Those of us that came here are just a few, we were just delegated."
"Are there hundreds?"
"All over, yes, we could say that there are a hundred in the committee because there are committees all over, so we are many."
"How long ago did you come together?"
"The Committee only started a few months ago; not years, since we saw that the time had come to start to struggle stronger, so we had to organize more, structure things more."
"And Subcommander Marcos follows you? You are the highest authority?"
"The highest authority is the Clandestine Committee."
"And Marcos is beneath that?"
"Well, Marcos is a subcommander. Marcos speaks good Spanish. We still make a fuck of a lot of mistakes. That is why we need him to do many things for us."
"Who commands the military?"
"In military matters, over all, Subcommander Marcos... We are more in the political and organizational questions."
"Why have men, women and children participated in a revolutionary organization?"
All eyes turn to Ramona, the small commander. "Well..." and she lets fly a cascade of words in her Mayan language. Quickly, the order is issued to find a compan~era soldier of the same ethnicity to translate:
"Because women are also living in a more difficult situation; because women are the most exploited and strongly oppressed, still. Why? Because women, for so many years, for 500 years, have not had the right to speak, to participate in an assembly.
"They do not have the right to have an education, to speak to the public, or to hold any position in their town. No. Women are totally oppressed and exploited.
"We get up at three in the morning to prepare the corn, and from there we have no rest until everyone else is sleeping. If there is not enough food, we give our tortilla to the children, to the husband.
"We demand that we be truly respected as Indians. We also have rights. All discrimination against our rights should end, so that we can participate as a people, as a state, as a country, because they have not let us, and many of our officials have left us like that, like a stepping stone.
"And my message is that the exploited compan~eras feel like they are
not taken into account, they feel that they are very exploited, that they
should decide to rise up in arms, as Zapatistas."