Chapter 5: Broadening the Struggle
Interview with Subcommander Marcos
[La Jornada, 2/8]
by the correspondents of La Jornada, February 4 to 7 Blanche Petrich and Elio Henríquez, Lacandona Jungle, Chiapas
Subcommander Marcos is the military strategist as well as spokesperson and interpreter of the Zapatistas. Wearing his mask, he is all eyes and voice.
"Now that the dialogue is about to begin, the Zapatista Army needs Mexican civil society as never before. We are depending on the rest of the country."
He also says that the Chiapaneco insurgency is "complete and at home,"
and that the early-
January military offensive was so successful that now the EZLN has more people, more ammunition and more weapons.
Paradoxically, he speaks of the decision made by the leaders of Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee to go to the negotiating table as a risk-filled choice; they are risking a political trap. "If the government succeeds in isolating us, as the compan~eros put it, what happened to the Chiapases in the Grijalva [during the conquest] will happen again: They will be trapped by the river and the compan~eros will throw themselves into the river rather than surrender and give up their arms."
Finally, he says, the door to dialogue was opened "when the federal government realized that the total annihilation of our forces was improbable at best, or impossible at worst."
Sarcastic and a poet of sorts, with a rifle-
cartridge belt crossed over his black poncho, the military leader of the EZLN will participate in the dialogue only if the superior command orders him to do so. But he does not forget what he calls his ghosts: Chinameca and the image of Venustiano Carranza standing behind President Carlos Salinas when he announced the amnesty.
We had arrived from one side of the mountain, and he, after a short wait, appeared from the other side in the company of a convoy of guerrillas wearing ski masks like those of the chief. The dew of the fog sometimes fills the ski mask with pearls. He constantly adjusts the mouth hole so that his voice may be heard.
The upcoming dialogue is what most concerns him:
"We have just received the ultimatum from Camacho. It's been answered by the compan~eros; there are some concrete questions that must be resolved, such as whether or not they will carry weapons, whether the International Red Cross will participate in order to guarantee neutrality, and so on. And of course, the Red Cross allows no weapons other than those given by God. They're the only weapons we can bring.
"It's unclear whether the negotiations will also incorporate national political issues. Even though these discussions may not be binding, the compan~eros say these issues must be on the table. And the notion of a political force in a formative stage is being contested. That really pissed off the compan~eros. It's as if the Indians are no longer children but adults in a formative stage.
"As it stands, this dialogue is a monologue. Right now the compan~eros are saying that they will have to dialogue. They want dialogue, but they want a dialogue with civil society. Right now, thanks to the military siege, there aren't too many options."
"The peace emissary, Manuel Camacho, speaks of a dialogue in the forest."
"No, we are thinking that the dialogue must take place in the city."
"Return to San Cristóbal?"
"No, not in San Cristóbal; there are problems there. It must be somewhere where the government is forced to respond with civility. We don't want it in the jungle because if Camacho comes in and something happens to him (meaning they do something to him) they will say it was our fault. We can't guarantee security here. Not Camacho's, not Don Samuel's."
"In Mexico City?"
"Yes, if they want to annihilate us by asphyxiation, they can take us there. The smog will accomplish what Godínez's rockets could not do."
Our encounter with that unknown face, almost like that of an old friend, began at noon and lasted until almost eight that night, when he dismissed us with the phrase "this dude is moving on to another window display." There was military analysis, political discussion, personal confessions, complaints about the press ("there is very little honest press"), and many anecdotes about the seizure of San Cristóbal de las Casas on the first of January, which launched the EZLN's "Enough is enough."
Informally, he characterizes the Zapatistas' armed struggle as anti-dogmatic:
"We see armed struggle as part of a broader complex that could become
decisive, depending on how the process moves along. This approach has worked.
Proof of its effectiveness can be found in the changes that have taken
place since the first of January. The federal government's sudden attention
to Indian questions comes only after the first of January. The cult of
liberalism and everything it implies has been suddenly set aside; nobody speaks about that now. And, all of a sudden, the success of the Mexican economy is being questioned; the genial myth of the poverty in Mexico has reemerged and is leading even the most reactionary sectors to beat their chests in public. Now they say, `Yes, poor little Indians, I'll never do it again, let me help you.' We have a clear sense of the uprising's impact, and we think that non-
militarized organizations at the national level also understand that these changes are a product of the armed uprising of desperation."
He explains why his CCRI commanders decided to go to the negotiating table even though they were conscious of the dangers of a political trap: "They thought that it wouldn't be a bad thing for civil society to hear the Committee. Specifically, that it wouldn't be a bad thing for them to see that, despite what Godínez might say, they're not Cuban drug traffickers, Boogie El Aceitoso or the unemployed mercenaries left over from the Central American wars. They want people to see that they are human beings, moreover that they're Indians, that they are the leaders, and that their words are their own."
As a strategist, his inspiration with regard to the regular Army is "Pancho Villa in matters of the regular Army; Emiliano Zapata in regard to the transformation of the campesinos into revolutionaries and the revolutionary into campesinos." The rest, he says as the column conducts some drills "we got out of a Mexican Army manual that fell into our hands, from a little manual put out by the Pentagon, and from a French general whose name I don't remember."
But he is more serious about his vision of guerrilla warfare:
"We don't understand armed struggled in the classic sense of the previous guerrillas. That is, we do not see armed struggle as a single path, as one single almighty truth around which everything else spins. Instead, from the start, we have seen armed struggle as one in series of processes or forms of struggle that are themselves subject to change; sometimes one is more important and at times another is more important."
He hesitates before taking on the defendant's seat that's been set up for the interview: "So, are you setting me up for the firing squad or what?" But he sits. And the interview begins.
"The spark of the offensive didn't catch fire; it did not become an insurrection, people didn't set up barricades, the city didn't rise up in arms...."
"We weren't expecting that kind of result. We weren't expecting the
Mexican people to say: 'Oh, look, the Zapatistas have taken up arms, let's
join in,' and that then they would grab kitchen knives and go after the
first policeman they found. We believed that the people would respond as
they did, that they would say, 'Something is wrong in this country, something
has to change.' Because if there's one thing you can't challenge the Zapatista
Army compan~eros on is the question of an alternative path. Nobody can
say, 'No, you should have tried elections.'
"For example, how can it be that the State of Chiapas had the highest percentage of votes in favor of PRI and that it has the highest percentage of guerrillas? That contrast points to electoral fraud of gigantic proportions.
"As far as legal avenues for acquiring land, there was the reform of Article 27, which required subsisting with the farm owners as neighbors. Really there was no other way. On the other hand, there was another danger: that people would say, 'No, they are drug traffickers. No, they are agents of Soviet social imperialism,' well, that one doesn't exist any more; Or people would say, 'they're agents of Chinese social imperialism,' but that one is moving in another direction (I don't know where). Or, they'd say we were CIA agents, or whatever else. The danger was that people would not really recognize or see the problems and issues that drive this movement. And that failure of understanding would give the government the opening to use the fashionable pretext of narco-terrorism or narco-guerrilla as an opportunity for repression."
"And why this moment, the entrance of the NAFTA, the fact that it's an electoral year?"
"It's like the myth of the ski-mask. We wear it because it's very cold in the mountains. Suddenly people like it, and the ski-masks become a symbol.
"We had not planned to attack on the first of January. One year ago, towards the end of January, the Clandestine Committee said, 'We are going to take arms.' And they gave me the order, 'Hey you, take charge of this, we're giving you a time limit to work with, choose when.'
"We tried several dates. We had to take many things into consideration. For example, we had to be certain that we would not create the impression that we were a narco-guerrilla group. It had to take place in the cities, and not in the country. If it had been in the country, they would have been able to dismiss it, to say, 'It doesn't matter, it stays in the jungle.' That's what they did when they found us in the barracks of the Corralche'n sierra. They said 'No, they are luggers, they're marijuana planters; no, they're Guatemalans' and other things of that sort. We could not speak out at that time because we were thinking and waiting to see what would happen.
"The civilian population presented another problem. If we attacked the cities, what would happen to the civilians? For the guerrilla, the civilian population is even more important than the cause. A guerrilla is willing to die for the cause, but he is also willing to die rather than hurt a civilian. No way; it's something that hurts more than being caught by the Army.
"From then on the compan~eros put aside the political aspects and began to take into account the logistical challenges of the uprising. So, for example, one of the factors we had to weigh was when can we get more reserves of foodstuffs. We assumed from the beginning that it was going to be a long war, that we might be under siege, surrounded and pressed against the mountains. Given this need, the uprising had to take place after the harvest, when we could gather money.
"National politics weren't central to the question of timing. That wasn't important for the compan~eros. The despair was so acute that we didn't want to take it anymore, so international or national conditions didn't matter."
"And now that there is a proposal to negotiate, what about the weapons? You've spent 10 years preparing for war ..."
"There is a risk that the government might be able to politically isolate us on a national level, to present us as desperate extremists, intransigents, all those descriptions that are currently floating around. There is a risk that civil society might say: 'Yes, long live peace, death to the extremists,' and leave us alone.
"The military option reemerges in that scenario. And believe me, the compan~eros won't waver; if they have to die they will. But this time there would be carnage; we will not leave them alone, and we are not moving anywhere else."
"Do you feel trapped?"
"Yes. Definitely. They're telling us we either come to an agreement here or we don't come to one at all. A hardening, as it's called. There has been a strange change in Camacho, and the Committee is puzzled by his change of tone. I don't know whether the absurd idea of a 'political force in formation' belongs to monsieur Córdoba, but if there is a juridical aberration, this is it.
"The compan~eros say, 'No. What's all this about a political force under formation? This situation is about a military force under annihilation.' In the end it's the same old thing, and the compan~eros' assessment is quite harsh. They say, 'We're still considered little children, but now they will not refer to us as children; now they will call us adults in formation, but they'll continue to treat us like children.'"
"And even under these conditions, you will sit down to negotiate?"
"We believe that in this situation we owe an answer to civil society, not to the government or to Camacho. What we want is to sit and talk with civil society.
"We know that Camacho will say yes or no depending on the instructions he's received from above. But we have a debt to the nation, perhaps, to the country, but not to their Mexico. We have to respond in case the dynamic of 'exterminate them, forgive them' emerges in an accelerated way.
"The negotiations are not a product of our military success, nor of Córdoba's astute understanding that we must negotiate, and his advice to Salinas to do so. The negotiations are the result of something that's occurring in society; they're telling us, 'you cannot do that, you have to find another way.'"
"In Camacho's last statement, the problem of negotiating with the Zapatista Army is narrowed or reduced to the dimension of Chiapas or the Indigenous communities. But according to you, your claims have a national dimension. How should the national, the Mexican, and not just the Chiapaneco questions, be approached in a negotiation with the State? And up to what point can the State provide you with proposals or answers to the things you are asking for?"
"Well, the compan~eros are very clear on this: It's a lie to think that our problems are going to be solved at the state level in Chiapas. I am speaking about a group of very political people. They may not speak Spanish very well, but they are nevertheless very clear, and they have authority over people who will follow them no matter what. That's why thousands arrived in the cities--because they follow them. And they say: We have a series of problems, and if we believe that these are going to be resolved by changing [local officials like] Setzer or Patrocinio, we are kidding ourselves and we are kidding our people.
"We know that things will only change if there is also change higher-up.
The compan~eros say, 'They are changing the leaves of the trees, but the
roots are damaged.' We say, 'Let's uproot the tree and plant it again.'
The compan~eros are very clear. We have a proposal, and we have said repeatedly
that we will not impose it on anyone. We will not say, 'Well, we believe
that Mexican society should be this way, and those who disagree will be
shot, as long as we can get away with it and have to use brute force to
enforce our views.'
"Then, we say, 'Let's make a deal, let's make a democratic space, and the one who convinces the people, that's the one who wins. If we win, then we win; if some else wins, then...' But that space doesn't exist, and that space needs to be a national space. It's absurd for anyone to still insist that this can be resolved at the state or regional level. Too many things would have to change for that to be possible."
"It is not possible that the nation doesn't want to listen to this national political proposition?"
"It's invalid for Camacho to say that he isn't going to negotiate national politics with an armed group. The compan~eros think that the government would rather wash its hands than arrive at an agreement, and if they arrive at an agreement, the government will not fulfill it. The compan~eros say that they want to isolate us, that the government wants to bring us to our knees. This is a false dilemma. It isn't about peace with democracy. For us, it's about peace with dignity, or war with dignity, but we still believe we have a debt with civil society."
"What about Camacho's refusal to allow the electoral question to enter into the negotiations..."
"They don't want to touch themes around which there's already consensus. They're going to say, 'Well, the poor Indians are very poor, very poor indeed, and therefore we will help them.' And their first request will be to ask us to surrender our weapons. That maneuver is very obvious, but it seems that society doesn't want to see it. In the last communique' the compan~eros addressed civil society directly, and asked why it doesn't act. Aren't they aware of what's going on? How can it be that there is a pact of civility...and a few hours later the government pops up with this line of 'Don't get into that mess,' and nobody says anything. It's as if there hadn't been a first of January, as if nothing had happened."
"Do you think the State has the capacity, as it stands now, to democratize itself?"
"No, not if they aren't forced to do it. If there's to be some political
reform that will truly advance democratization, it will only result from
the pressure of civil society. We have made it very clear that political
space isn't going to come out of our offices."
Subcommander Marcos takes pleasure in being an enigma. "Marcos, I don't know who he is...a ski mask with a pronounced nose. He could be anyone."
We figure he's around 40. Light brown eyes, not green. [During the first several weeks of the conflict, the Mexican media reported widely that Maros had green eyes, contributing to the overall impression that he and other Zapatistas were not really Mexican.] Cold blooded and good-humored. The way he tells it, one day he had to choose a path. "I imagine everyone has to chose at some point. We either kept living a comfortable life, materially comfortable, or we had to be consistent with a certain type of ideals. We had to choose and be consistent and so...here we are." He feels he chose well.
As a ladino, one day he turned up in the Chiapaneco jungle. In this interview, he tells what happened after his arrival:
"The military issue began when we got there. There was nothing there when I arrived. We arrived, and we set to work. At the national level, the country was following a process similar to the one the state of Chiapas is experiencing now: Political avenues are closed. Mexico, already divided in two, is split once more, because there are really three Mexicos: the Mexico of the powerful, the Mexico that aspires to be part of the powerful, and the Mexico that nobody takes into account. In Chiapas it's the Indigenous people no one takes into account, but they have other names in other places. That's where we are coming from: something had to be done."
"Generationally speaking, are you a product of '68?"
"Aren't I 25 years old? That's how the PGR identifies me. As Krauze says, the political avenues can't possibly have been exhausted because, if he is 25 years old now, he was six in '68. But seriously, yes, I'm definitely post-'68, but not the core of '68. Because as I discovered later--word about some things doesn't filter to the mountains--it became very fashionable to assume that everyone here had participated in the events of '68. But no, I didn't. I was a little kid. But I do come from everything that followed, especially the electoral frauds, the most scandalous one in 1988, but others as well."
"It must not have been easy..."
"For a ladino, the Lacandona jungle is the worst thing that can happen to you, worse than a program like 24 Horas. We came in through a teaching-learning process. The compan~eros taught me what they know about the mountains, and I taught them what I knew. And that's how I began to move up through the ranks: sub-lieutenant, lieutenant, first captain, second captain, subcommander. At that point they gave me a "press" exam and they flunked me, so I've remained a subcommander."
"It's clear that we reporters haven't made a very good impression on you..."
"The first day they asked me why I was subcommander. I told them that to be a commander I still had to learn how to have patience with reporters. I've never learned that. But hold on a minute: there are good ones and there are bad ones. It's just that around here Juan de la Fregada has slipped in. Not too long ago, one came in and offered the compan~eros milk and jackets in exchange for an interview. That really offends the compan~eros. We have jackets and more milk than we need."
"OK, so you arrived in the jungle and then what? How did the guerrillas get their start?"
"Of course we were thinking about armed struggle. But not as the only strategy, not as the only way to bring all this together, but rather as part of something broader that had to be prepared, integrated. And I think we succeeded because we followed the correct path. No, we didn't go around robbing banks, killing police, kidnapping. Instead, we devoted ourselves to learning without anyone teaching us because, well...imagine someone coming from Mexico and saying: 'I'm going to make guerrilla warfare, help me.' No way. We'd be crying out in the desert. And until January 3 we were still alone."
"Are there a lot of ladinos in the EZLN?"
"A great big three of us."
"Let's do some free association. How about love?"
"I don't know what generation you're from, but we were taught something called love of the country. That's how we grew up. When we say love of country, we are saying a lot of things, and that's what we put above all else.
"Here's an anecdote: When they were voting on the war, because the other scandalous thing here is that this war was voted for democratically--it was not the Committee's decision, but rather the Committees went around and asked each man, and each woman and each child if it was time to start the war or not. They drew up documents and collected signatures. Those documents are floating around somewhere, or they've burned them already; I don't know where those hundreds of community documents ended up. Anyway, in one of those documents, a particular group of Indigenous people supporting the war stated their reasons very clearly: "What we don't agree with is the selling of our country to foreign interests. However you want to see it, people are going to die of hunger, but what is happening is that people who are not Mexican run this country."
"Of course, according to some intellectuals, this type of consciousness of country or nation is not possible in an Indigenous person, but they don't know these Indigenous people."
"Right now the Indigenous people are the prime example of what a dignified and honest Mexican should be, not only in Chiapas but in the whole country. They are, right now, the vanguard of this country. I'm not suggesting any political implications by using that term, what I'm saying is that they're the human vanguard. Everything they have given and are willing to give, knowing that they won't reap anything because no one's going to offer these people ambassadorial posts; they're illiterate. There's no way that the government will tell them, 'No, look, if you calm down I'll give you an embassy in such and such place.'
"They can't give them anything, nothing more than lead, in any case. And, however you want to see it, they're doing what they're doing, and they're doing it with such dignity and such a sense of democracy, even given the absurd military requirements of a war. This is the lesson the country has to learn if it wants to continue being a country."
"For us it is life, in that absurd logic of daily death that has become so normal in these situations. It's living, you see, it's happiness. One month after the war began, an anniversary party was organized to remember the compan~eros who had died. Everyone was saying, 'We see their death with happiness, because it is life for others.' That is very critical language, but at the same time it is so rich."
"Victory...so far away sometimes! We think it'll be up to others to harvest the fruits of victory. For us victory means sacrifice right now. It'll be others who will really receive that 'V'."
This subcommander is definitely a chocarrero. An attentive reader of Monsiva'is, Aguilar Cami'n, Krauze. Cautious of the image he projects.
"Look at what I'm carrying, and they say that the leaders are better armed than the combatants," and he takes a .22 carbine from its holster. A little old, but well kept. The cartridges, red like EverReady batteries in the cartridge belt, are his ammunition. Any one of his escorts is better armed than he is. For example, Major Pedro, who is responsible for the armory of the EZLN. And Major Ana María, commander of the operation for taking the municipal palace of San Cristóbal. And Lieutenant Ro meo, who is responsible for our security during our incursion into Zapatista territory.
Only he doesn't mention the other large pistol he wears on his belt, this one really menacing. Another detail: he smokes a pipe.
His passion is military strategy, of which he boasts:
"What a shame, you all don't ask anything about the war. Go ahead, ask me. The taking of San Cristóbal is a poem in itself...."
And he is, of course, a reader of La Jornada. He sends messages: to the cartoonist Magu', "an insult to his mother." To the photographer Pedro Valtierra, of Cuartoscuro, in response to his petition for an exclusive photograph in El Correo Ilustrado, he says "I'll give him a date real soon."
And he's calculating too, "How much do you think I could get for my ski mask? Three thousand, seven thousand dollars?"
Quick with answers:
"The stamp of Liberation Theology appears on the whole story of the Zapatista guerrilla. Even Bishop Samuel Ruiz has been accused of the insurrection..."
"To link the Church to us is a ploy, just like what happened with the foreigners, and with that phrase 'professionals in violence.' It'll soon go out of style. It's the prominent role of the Church that bothers many sectors, not Don Samuel's participation. There was no support, not even consent, nor approval from anyone in the Church. On the contrary, some who realized that something was being organized, kept insisting that it was crazy, that it was absurd."
"Don't you think that some of the present Zapatistas became conscious of the need for rebellion through the teachings of Liberation Theology?"
"No, I don't think so. Because the work of the Church or of the Diocese (in this case of San Cristóbal), of Don Samuel, which covers all of the rain forest and all the townships of the highlands, went in the other direction. It was the opposite. So the compan~eros had to find an option for life, a way to participate politically, to search for means of autonomous subsistence. The church placed great emphasis on self sufficiency, on community health projects, and so on. In reality, the whole project of the Church with the compan~eros was what they called a project of life, while ours was a project of death.
"What happened is that the Church-led projects failed, and the compan~eros realized that even this strategy didn't offer them many options. If they organize into cooperatives, they get harassed, and the cooperatives are broken. If they organize themselves to ask for land, they are rejected. If they organize to take over the land, they are killed. They don't have good health; they're dying. That's the source of the "boom," the source of thousands of Zapatistas.
"Don't believe the Pentagon figures that place Zapatista numbers at 1,500. There are many thousands of compan~eros who are products of that arbitrary, unjust, and authoritarian policy that is carried to its maximum irrationality. An irrationality so extreme, that for you, we don't even exist.
"Let me clarify. Our death didn't exist. Ours...I speak for the compan~eros. The neo-positivists are right when they say that things exist only when they are named. Until someone names it, Chiapaneco death doesn't exist. But now it exists."
"They named it by dying..."
"Yes. They named it by dying in that way, because no matter what, we were dying. It wasn't until you turned around to see, the press that is, that you named it."
"Don Samuel says that you have come to the conclusion, an incorrect one in his opinion, that all doors are closed. He believes some doors still remain open."
"Yes, we know that he believes there are possibilities of social democratization, in political participation. He believes that there were other forms of economic organization that could overcome the limitations created by the reform of Article 27. But the compan~eros have lots of experience with all that: They really tried all avenues. They have the final say in this, and they say 'Enough is enough.' They said it first, and no one heard them. Then, they told me, 'We aren't going to wait any longer. Join us or stay behind. We think the time is now.' And I say to them, 'No, but look, the correlation of international forces, the national situation, the political reform, NAFTA, political options ... There won't be consensus.'
"And they said, 'No, no matter what, death is ours and now we are going to decide how to take it. So, you figure out how. Hopefully, it will work out. If not, well, that's that. But choose.' And they told me to choose, 'You go with us or you stay,' and I chose."
"There is much speculation about whether you are a well-armed group or not--if you are financed from the outside or not. What armaments do you have? Where do they come from?"
"There are three principal sources of provisions. A small part came
from stockpiling a little bit at a time. Another important source is the
Mexican police and Army, in part from their anti-
narcotic campaign. When they capture the drug traffickers and take away their weapons, only a small part of those weapons are turned into the authorities--the rest go on the black market.
"We bought AK-47's, M-16's and other weapons from them. They thought they were selling guns to other groups of drug traffickers, who eventually would be arrested again and whose weapons could be sold again. Great business, no? And the third source are the guardias blancas of the ranchers, who are trained by Public Safety Officers and the Army. They have good weapons: At the end of last year they got Uzi machine guns. And there is a fourth source of provisions, which are the weapons that the campesinos all over Mexico have, like hunting rifles and other rudimentary arms. We don't have the quantity of weapons that we would like to have, nor the munitions. There is no foreign support."
"And the bulk of the fighters, where do they come from?"
"From the mountains and the jungle. The EZLN went from one stage to the next in a very orderly way. For our campesino compan~eros, the EZLN was born as a self-defense group. That is, the ranchers' guardias blancas are a very powerful armed group; they take away the compan~eros' land and mistreat them, and they limit the social and political development of the Indigenous peoples.
"The compan~eros soon saw that the problem was not the self-defense
of one community, or of the protection of one set of common lands. They
realized it was necessary to establish alliances with other communities,
and they began to form military and paramilitary contingents, still working
with the idea of self-defense. There was a standstill until the supreme
government had the brilliant idea of reforming Article 27. That was a powerful
catalyst in the communities. Those reforms canceled all legal possibilities
of their holding land. And that possibility is what had kept them functioning
as para-military self-
"Then came the electoral fraud of 1988. The compan~eros saw that voting didn't matter either because there was no respect for obvious, basic things. These were the two detonators, but in my view it was the reform of Article 27 that most radicalized the compan~eros. That reform closed the door on the Indigenous people's strategies for surviving legally and peacefully. That's why they rose up in arms, so that they would be heard. They were tired of paying such a high price in blood.
"Here, when someone gets sick and the family takes him to the doctor and the doctor writes a prescription, the family calculates which is cheaper--to buy the medicine or to buy the coffin. Just like that, in the coldest manner you can imagine."
"And the idea of the armed struggle, more precisely, the one to form this unique guerrilla group, how did it get started?"
"We arrived with campesinos; we didn't arrive as ladinos to go into the jungle in order to organize ourselves later. Earlier, while we were looking for different avenues, we found some Indigenous campesino sectors here in the Southeast, and we talked with them, and we began working with them; we interrelated. And then they started organizing themselves and doing directed work. They're the ones who said, okay, we have to get involved here, with a guerrilla group that is mostly Indigenous.
"The Indigenous peoples taught us to walk around here, they taught us how to live in the mountains, to hunt, and there we began to learn about weapons. That's how the EZLN got started, but the first phase was pure survival: We had to learn how to survive in the mountains, to get the mountains to accept us. From the beginning, it was always the Indigenous political leaders who talked with the communities, because these communities would not accept a ladino."
"Did you plan to take power through armed means?"
"No. We don't think like the Maoists. We don't think that the campesino army from the mountains can fence in the cities. That's not how we think; if there are no workers, nothing is possible politically or militarily."
"Are you a national force?"
"In the sense that our fundamental, core demands are national in focus and have their sympathizers, yes..."
"In regard to the workers, are there any possibilities of alliance, of getting the workers of the urban areas interested in your cause?"
"Well, the EZLN would have to incorporate the demands of the worker's movement among its own demands; not in the style of Fidel Schwarzenegger, of course. What I want you to understand is that when one speaks of death and misery in Chiapas, when one speaks of desperation, one is speaking of a shocking reality. That's why the compan~eros say "Enough is enough." There's no question about consensus over armed struggle--we either die in struggle, or we die anyway. And they've clearly stated, it's better to die with dignity."
"Does that mean that the EZLN cannot come to have some points of agreement or collaboration with other popular movements?"
"It would have to be a more open space, under a much larger flag. It would not be within the EZLN; that common point of agreement would have to be something bigger and wider. That's why we talk about a national revolutionary movement. This point of correspondence would be around a point larger than the EZLN. If someone raises that flag, we would go there..."
"In regard to the 10 points laid out in your declaration, do you have concrete proposals to resolve them?"
"Yes. The compan~eros that are going to go to the dialogue have clearly defined what we want."
"Does that imply creating regional authorities in the zones where you are located?"
"Autonomy, the compan~eros say, like that of the Basque or the Catalans, which is a relative autonomy, because they have very, very little confidence in governments of the state. For example, in the case of the compan~eros, it's not so much the Federal Army that they hate the most, it's the Security Forces, the state police, and the judiciary. If they see us, they'll eat us alive. So then they say that it is necessary to negotiate a statute of autonomy in which our government, our administrative structure, is recognized by the government and with which we can live without outside interference."
"To what extent do you think the United States could intervene?"
"Against whom? Against us or against Salinas?"
"Oh, against you, of course."
"We think that a generalized military intervention against us is unlikely. There could be intervention, but it would be against the PRI. It's not the Zapatistas who are worried about [the US] Congress's meeting. It leaves us unmoved; the mountain is birth, and it will also be death. It's the federal government that's worried. We think it's premature to talk about US intervention."
"You say that the detonator of this war was the lack of land. Now, what do you want? Agrarian reform, Article 27, what?"
"We're thinking that issues of agrarian reform should be reconsidered, but an important step would be to annul the Salinas reforms of Article 27. I'm talking about people who have poor land or those that have no land. What the compan~eros say is that land is life, that if you don't have land you are living dead, and so why live? It's better to fight and die fighting.
"Annulling the Salinas reforms won't be enough, but it would be a start. It would be a way to open a wider discussion in which the countryside can taken into account alongside the governmental commitment to NAFTA. It's NAFTA that really directed those reforms of Article 27.
"And what about the democratization?"
"Respect of political demands. The Lacandona Jungle Declaration maintains that there cannot be a democratic transformation that's overseen by an illegitimate, or, if you don't like that term, undemocratic, government. It's absurd when eight political parties say, 'Yes, democracy now,' and one party comes and says 'Don't make trouble.' We ask ourselves, 'How can that document be guaranteed? What hope is there?' That's why we insist that this party has to leave so that another can come in and say, 'Now, let's fight without weapons and see who wins.'"
Night falls and the cold sweeps in. The subcommander orders a military parade and the column presents arms to the journalists because, the leader tells them, "They're good people." They sing their hymns for us, "The Insurgent" and The EZLN Anthem--It's sung to the tune of "Carabina 30-30."
Let's go, let's go, let's go forward
to push our struggle onward
for our country demands and needs
all the effort of the Zapatistas.
On his way back from the camp he starts telling jokes and anecdotes. Like this one from January 1:
In the Headquarters of the Municipal Police of San Cristóbal de las Casas, at dawn, the phone rang:
"Is this Police Headquarters? Listen, we want to warn you that a lot of armed people are coming here, through Centenario Avenue."
"It's all right. We have already been informed. Don't worry. Everything is under control."
Marcos is the one who answered. He coordinated the occupation of the police precincts. Of course, he burst out laughing.
Little by little, the compan~eras from the kitchen climb the hill, carrying large pots of stew and coffee. They give the military salute, "Compan~ero militiaman".
When everything is ready, the compan~era Major Ana María, stands at attention.
"Subcommander, we are ready to serve." And Marcos gives the order, "Eat."
But he doesn't eat himself. There's the problem of the ski-mask, and
the journalists are still here.
The inspiration came from Pancho Villa in the sierra of Corralche'n, with one or another modification. They built a Hollywood-style film set. They used stones to make four streets complete with street signs. Facades of houses and of a make-believe municipal building were built with bamboo and adobe. A small bus was constructed out of wood and labeled "82nd Regiment," and a real motorcycle was carried all the way out there on someone's back just to give the scene a realistic touch. It was on that "set" that the January 1994 offensive was rehearsed. When the Army attacked this camp half a year earlier, in May 1993, the Army generals concluded, "This is the plan of attack against Ocosingo." But actually, there was much more to it than that.
"If you look closely," Subcommander Marcos tells us in hindsight, "the facades of the municipal buildings of San Cristóbal, Margaritas, Ocosingo and several others are identical." That is how the EZLN trained to take those towns. [...]
During the 12 days of combat not everything happened according to the EZLN strategist's plans. In the case of Ocosingo, no combat had been planned. The Army surrounded the town from two sides and the civilian population was caught in the middle. In that situation, Marcos tells us, "Our troops did what they had to do, die for the people."
Despite his pleasure in the fact that his own stroke of genius worked, and that they were able to simultaneously seize five municipal authorities, he admits realistically:
"Right now we can't defeat the Federal Army, nor can the Federal Army defeat us. The crux of a war is not military confrontation but rather the politics put into play in that confrontation."
While the ladino subcommander speaks, a glance from the Indigenous Commanders (from one of the Clandestine Revolutionary Committees of the Zapatista National Liberation Army) present during the interview, shows their agreement:
"We accept that we've suffered deaths. We'll never lie about the number of casualties. To die like this is an honor for us. Right now we're already living on borrowed time."
Between weapons and negotiations, between war and peace, deep in their terr itory, the Zapatistas know one thing for certain, "It's definitely not yet time to lay down our weapons."
When asked about the influence of the Central American wars of the '80s on the experience in Chiapas, he points out that the Zapatistas learned to distrust the purely electoral option from the Sandinistas. They learned to distrust disarmament from the Farabundistas. And from the Guatemalans, their closest neighbor... Well, that's perhaps the only question left unanswered.
Other than that, the influence stems purely from "Villa and Zapata. We also learned what not to do from the mistakes of the Mexican guerrillas of the '70s."
Now, during this defensive waiting period in their own territory, the Zapatistas have started to mine the roads to block the advance of the Army's armored vehicles. Subcommander Marcos wants this known, especially as a warning to those journalists who imprudently cross the check points of the EZLN, "It's already happened. Some madman didn't obey the order to stop and continued on. We were sweating bullets trying to deactivate the mines."
May 1993: Corralche'n
In May of 1993 the Mexican Army discovered a guerrilla enclave in a town called Corralche'n, in the township of Ocosingo. At the time, it was said the camp contained insurgent propaganda, leftover ammunition, and a model of a town that revealed possible attacks against the municipal authority of Ocosingo. But the official version fell short; there was much more.
"General Miguel Angel Godínez, Commander of the Southeastern zone, says that what you did the first few days of January was an act of propaganda and that it was a complete failure."
"It was an act of propaganda, and it was a total success. We have to give credit where it's due. It was a military wonder, and nobody seems to want to admit that. Now everybody says that those who speak about military matters are rash warmongers who haven't realized that the military course of action is not inappropriate for Mexico. In my view that's the reason people from the press and the intellectuals have criticized the military aspect of this affair. We were going to start at zero hours on the 31st of December with the New Year's fireworks. We figured people would be on vacation so there wouldn't be any civilian population. The majority of people would be at home and wouldn't be on the streets in case of a shoot-out. The officers of the Federal Army would also be on vacation, or maybe Godínez should explain the whereabouts of his officers' corps. I know where each and every one of them were. The entire country was relaxing.
"I am going to tell you once and for all how we did it, because, if I don't, they're going to say I copied the '89 offensive in El Salvador. We did what a gentleman by the name of Francisco Villa did when he attacked Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua. If you remember, he feigned the attack on Chihuahua and then hit Juárez.
"We simulated an attack on Ocosingo, and if you check the press, three days before the whole country knew that a guerrilla group was in San Miguel (near Ocosingo), and everybody pretended not to know.
"That's when the enemy thought we'd hit Ocosingo, and we started to move a battalion and a half towards San Cristóbal. When they realized what was happening, they really got scared since they'd expected the attack to be at Ocosingo."
"What really happened last May in the mountain range of Corralche'n, when the Army attacked you? Was it a battle you were expecting or did it happen by chance?
"No, it was an accident. We thought that either someone had betrayed us or that the column of soldiers had simply stumbled on our headquarters accidentally. What's certain is that not a single Zapatista remained on that sierra by that very same evening. In other words, we got out immediately, and avoided entrapment. The encounters that followed were among their own troops; we had already retreated into the jungle.
"The Army filled the sierra with soldiers, and they began advancing until they clashed and killed each other. We counted 12 dead soldiers and six wounded, just like that, from mortar fire. In strategic matters, communication failures make things very difficult. We suspect that those in command are unwilling to say, 'We made a mistake and hit our own people.' Instead they're claiming the casualties were guerrillas. So Godínez sent more and more soldiers, and they completed the circle.
"That's when we were finally able to relax, because the CCRI said, 'If they touch any of the towns, we start, otherwise we don't.'
"But we were already waiting. The Army made a mistake by retreating because they were already there. We were on the verge of activating the offensive that was planned for the end of the year. All of a sudden, Bishop Juan Jesu's Posadas was murdered in Guadalajara. Then the problem reached the national press and stopped the offensive. Otherwise it would have started, and you would have been interviewing me in May."
"You say that the published information has hardly touched upon the military aspect. Do you think there is a deliberate effort to diminish the military importance and thus diminish this phenomenon?"
"Yes, It seems clear to me that there is consensus among the government, all of you [the press], and civil society that the world has to be shown that military alternatives are not a viable option."
"I don't know why. The January offensive demonstrated that it's possible to carry out sizable military operations if a series of conditions are present, and that military knowledge need not to be drawn from traditional guerrilla or Central American guerrilla tactics. Rather, it can be drawn from our own country's history. I don't think anyone wants to deal with that."
"Would you say it's because somebody might follow the example?"
"Yes, the example of trying it, or of planning it out well and then one day carrying it out, not the example of taking up arms all of a sudden and attacking the municipal building. They say, these are definitely desperate, hungry, illiterate natives, but they came up with a military plan. They carried it out well and ended it well."
"Despite the military successes of the EZLN, there seems to be a certain fatalism when you talk about your outlook, as if you've accepted that there's not much of a future from a strictly military standpoint."
"Like we said from the beginning, we are living on borrowed time. I have to be sincere with the people and tell them: This might be the last time that I write to you, and that's the truth. It's not cancer or AIDS, it's just that they want to kill us. Either the feds shoot and kill us or the journalists will kill us because of their recklessness."
"How do you expect to do anything against a well-
equipped army that has logistical support?"
"Well, what's decisive in a war isn't military confrontation, but the politics at play in that confrontation. We know that this war isn't going to define itself in military terms, not even if we had the superior weapons. What matters are the politics that move one or the other party. We don't think there has been a military defeat on either side. We know that we cannot defeat the Federal Army, but we also know that the Federal Army cannot defeat us militarily.
"We didn't go to war on January 1 to kill or to be killed. We went to war to make ourselves heard. In that sense, the reasoning behind the Committee's "Enough is enough" declaration is quite clear. It was neither suicidal nor adventurous. We had few casualties and our military capability is not only intact, it grew. We came down from the mountain with several thousand people, and when we fell back we had even more people.
"We don't lie about our casualties; it isn't necessary. We're not going to hide the fact that we die. For the compan~eros, death under these circumstances is an honor; it's dignified. If the Army says they've killed so many guerrillas, well, we say it's not true. Who knows who they killed? We're not making unfounded claims when we say that the Army kills civilians and then says they're Zapatistas. We have more people, more ammunition and arms; where's the suicide?"
"There's a lot of photographic evidence showing that many Zapatista combatants were sent to war with wooden rifles. Isn't that suicide?"
"No. When the combatant doesn't have a weapon, s/he still has to learn
to move as if s/he has one; carrying something in their hands and learning
how to move with it is part of their training. And the tale that we sent
the little Indians out with wooden rifles and followed them up with foreigners
carrying ultra-modern weapons is a lie."
Ocosingo, a Mousetrap
"What happened in Rancho Nuevo and Ocosingo? What were those operations like?"
"The attack on Rancho Nuevo took place because an army hungry for weapons and ammunition has to go where there are weapons and ammunition. Then, on the second, we faked another attack on Rancho Nuevo. I don't know who was in command at Rancho Nuevo, or if anyone was in charge at all, but whoever was there did a good job; they organized a good defense. We pretended to attack from the right in order to attack from both sides, but they defended themselves on both sides as well. So, when we sent a patrol to fight, the clash took place. There were casualties on both sides, and we did what any well trained, fed, and disciplined army does: We ran. They had dismantled our attack. We were still learning. We are still learning.
"According to our plans, each municipal seat had to be cleared without gunfire, but we were thinking of Rancho Nuevo. Rancho Nuevo was secure because we had just attacked in order to allow for an orderly withdrawal, a political one, as we say, from Ocosingo, Chanal, Margaritas, Oxchuc, and Huistán.
"But the Army sent troops through Palenque, something we were unprepared for because of tactical mistakes. As we were regrouping, the Army came in and clashed with our reinforcements. And this time what happened to us at Rancho Nuevo, happened to the Army. We dismantled and dispersed them, even though Godínez won't admit it. We place enemy casualties at the same numbers acknowledged by the Army, but according to our intelligence services, on January 15 there were 180 corpses of federal soldiers in the seventh military region of Tuxtla Gutie'rrez. But what we haven't confirmed, we don't announce as fact. The plan was to withdraw the troops that took Ocosingo, and they were a big force. They began withdrawing in stages, but then we had a problem with the civilians. The compan~eros in San Cristóbal realized that civilians had mixed in with our troops, out of sympathy, curiosity or what have you. And then they got caught in that mousetrap of the market. Our troops were in position, but we couldn't leave the civilians there.
"In order to remove the civilians, our sharpshooters had to start firing and caused Army casualties. The Army then fixed our positions and started to attack us with mortar fire. The wounded we have in our field hospital were wounded by shrapnel from rockets and mortars, not by bullets.
"Our combatants were shooting from a fixed position, which is suicidal for any sharpshooter, because to protect themselves they really should keep changing positions. A fighter has to protect the civilians, so they stayed put in order to allow the civilians to get out. They maintained their positions for a long time, until they surrendered them. We lost, at worst, 40 compan~eros."
"That's a lot."
"It's serious because they're compan~eros. Even if there had only been four it would have been serious. But there are only nine confirmed casualties, we don't know if the others were taken prisoner, or if they disappeared. Some days later some compan~eros started to appear in small groups in other places. Those soldiers know the mountains very well.
"So, Ocosingo was not a planned combat, but the troops did what they had to do--they died for the people. That is where a guerrilla cannot choose. If s/he has to die for a civilian, s/he will do it. Not everyone understands that."
"Were the five casualties in the market Zapatistas?"
"That we don't know. Compan~eros have told us of a wounded fighter who was captured; a soldier tied his hands behind his back, and then another arrived and sprayed him with bullets. Another compan~ero saw them taking four prisoners (again with their hands tied behind their backs), but those were civilians. According to our "ears"--we have them everywhere--the exhumation at the public ministry was done at night, and left until the next day. The Army arrived at night and dressed the corpses up as guerrillas. I couldn't say with any certainty that they were all Zapatistas."
"This week negotiations begin. Has the time come for you to turn over your weapons?"
"Definitely not. I've spoken with the compan~eros of the Committee, as well as with the troops. But since it's the Committee that's in charge here, we have to do what they say. And they say that we cannot turn over our weapons because, up until now, the government has only given us promises that things are going to change. And that's what we've always gotten from the government during elections anyway, even without an armed movement. During elections, there are always promises and proclamations. The compan~eros say that the surrender of arms has to be part of a later process, after negotiations, when we see that the agreements are being fulfilled."
"Does keeping your weapons serve as a warranty for the agreements?"
"We think so. In this case there has to be a double guarantee. First, that the government will do what it promises, and then a guarantee of survival. Because there's something that the media hasn't paid attention to, and that is the existence of guardias blancas, which are a type of death squad. They are one of our main suppliers of weapons, by the way, since you are so worried about our weapons.
"When Patrocinio González was in office, the Union for the Defense of Ocosingo (La Unión para la Defensa de Ocosingo) was organized to serve the landowners who had 400 armed men. When we went to take their weapons, we found everything from rifles to M-16's and R-15's. Even if the Army agrees to the peace proposals, how can we turn over our weapons when there are other military forces functioning in the area? The guardias blancas are the ones in charge here, particularly in the Lacandona Jungle. The ranchers' guardias blancas are the third force that needs to be dismantled."
"With so many people moving around, how did you keep such a big operation secret?"
"Because the people are on our side. When the EZLN and the Clandestine Committee speak of controlled territory, they are referring to everything but the city area and the roads in Chiapas. The rural areas are under Zapatista control. Otherwise, how could we mobilize thousands of people from the forest, and move them to a city that is only 12 kilometers away from the largest military base in the Southeast, the one in Rancho Nuevo? How could we camp for days ahead of time in the surrounding areas? There had to be complicity, support not only in those specific areas, but all along the entry and exit routes. That's what allowed us to withdraw without casualties."
"Are you saying that a lot of people covered up the operation with their silence?"
"With silence and support, because you have to move the people, feed them, hide them. But most people helped us with silence. The majority may not be Zapatista, but they would say, 'this is aimed at those who are bothering us, so it's OK; I'm not going to report it to those who bother me. On the contrary, I hope they get through and I wish them well.' That's what they told us."
"And how is the EZLN doing now? Are they in these territories? In camps, in villages? Where?"
"I'm glad you asked me that because they say we are vandalizing the ranches and it's not true. We are waiting for an attack, waiting in trenches all along the entry points. We can't afford the luxury of stealing cattle or pigs. Right now, in military terms, we are in a defensive situation within our own terrain. But this is what we've been planning and anticipating for a long time now, so it presents no problems for us.
"The attack on January 1 was the big headache because everything that's a defensive advantage is a disadvantage in an attack. Take, for instance, the dispersal of our forces. Right now we have troops in several places, armed, located, and with knowledge of the area. But for an offensive, you have to gather all those troops and take them somewhere outside their terrain to fight. That was the great difficulty we faced in January. How to orchestrate such a mobilization and concentration of troops without being detected by the enemy.
"Initially I had thought about doing it on December 28, but later I thought: Anyone who talks and says we are mobilizing people won't be trusted because it's Holy Innocents Day. That's why we cancelled those plans and moved it to December 31."
"If everything was so well planned, why did you stop the advance? Because of the government's cease-fire?"
"Look, I'm going to tell you what happened. We started, they gave us a run, we got into place, we fought well, we withdrew, and then we were putting mines in a road we knew the tanks would be using as their point of entry. And all of a sudden the compan~eros tell me to cease fire. Chin. Hold on. Wait, something's happened. But a cease-fire wasn't supposed to happen until we'd been fighting for months.
"I went to the Committee and told them that I'd heard the news about
the cease-fire. Something has to be going on. This is not about us. Let's
also have a cease-fire so we can see what's going on. We were running.
We were not facing enemy bullets with our brave chests. But we started
to catch on that something was happening that we didn't know about. And
then we discovered what it was. We have to acknowledge, with honor, that
the civil society provoked that cease-fire. And the press, what little
this country has of an honest press, well, the press played a starring
These days political activity in Zapatista territories is very intense. Already, the Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committees of each zone have selected two delegates to participate in the dialogue, and they are in the process of consulting with their communities to define the mandate those leaders will bring to the negotiations. The communities will define what they can accept and what they cannot accept.
Fifteen Zapatistas, representing committees and fighting groups, will sit face to face with Manuel Camacho Solís.
On the other hand, the leadership of the Zapatista National Liberation Army is preparing for a broader and more substantial dialogue.
On one side, with the political parties.
According to Subcommander Marcos, perhaps someday, maybe soon, all presidential candidates will be invited by the CCRI-CG to visit their territories, "to sit down with us, so that we can see what they tell us about our problems."
For them, the Zapatistas have a message: "There is a larger movement, one that goes beyond the armed struggle, a movement in which everyone has something to do to make this country more just."
"The electoral board has changed considerably because of what has unfolded since January first. You aren't a political party, but what's your position regarding the August elections? Are you planning to participate in the electoral field?"
"From the mountains that would be difficult. If the president doesn't resign, there have to be reforms that will ensure that the federal government is no longer the body that oversees and sanctions the electoral process. We can see that the current system favors only one party. Another body must sanction the process. It should be a binding principle that the secretary of government shouldn't participate. The electoral college should say, 'This one won, that one lost.' And the electoral college shouldn't have ties with the federal government.
"But things don't work that way. The federal government, along with its main leader, have already chosen one candidate. "Don't make trouble," they said. There aren't going to be democratic elections unless there is a change in the electoral law.
"If there was a reform in the electoral process that would prevent the government from sanctioning the elections, it would be like decapitating the ruling party. And that's what's happening."
"It doesn't matter to you if it's Colosio or another candidate who runs for the PRI?"
"Yes, to tell the truth, it doesn't matter. We aren't concerned about who wins the elections. The compan~eros' view is that if there is really democracy in Mexico, anyone elected has to respond to what the people demand; if not, he will be ousted. That's the nature of the compan~eros' democracy. For example, they are elected democratically. If they don't do their job, their base discharges them. They say the country should work like this. If the PRI wins, it must win properly, in such a way that if it doesn't deliver what it promised, we have to remove it and another party has to replace it.
"And when this "holy" character, Aguilar Talamantes, appears and says that he could be the political arm of the EZLN, the compan~eros do not approve. They have to say no to him; they have to say no to everyone. Fight, win, but there must be something that says that whoever wins has to do what was promised, otherwise, no. Because if we support a party and it's going to be the same old thing ... What we need is a space in which to make that candidate or that president accountable.
"In this they are quite clear and quite radical. Now they say, 'No, you don't need to support this or that party.' If Colosio is going to win, he has to win properly, and to win properly means that he has to deliver what he promised. The same thing if Cárdenas [PRD] or Diego Fernández de Cevallos [PAN] wins.
"They are planning to invite the candidates to speak with them or to
listen to what they have to say. If they don't want to come, then they
plan to send them a letter and tell them. In the end, what the compan~eros
discuss with the government will be decided by the next president, and
that future president, for good or for bad, will be one of the nine--or
I don't know how many now--
current presidential candidates."
"Are the Zapatistas willing to constitute themselves as a political force?"
"That would have to be considered by the compan~eros, because there is a lot of distrust regarding the whole idea of a political party. They have to consider what sort of guarantees it gives them, what type of recognition it would bring them. But then they say, OK, we didn't rise to take power. If a political party wants to take power, then what will happen to us as leaders?"
"You were saying that the reforms of Article 27 were a trigger. And what about Patrocinio González's government?"
"Yes. Patrocinio was completely absurd. But more than Patrocinio himself, what was absurd was what he supported: the Ocosingo Defense Union (la Unión para la Defensa de Ocosingo), the Altamirano Ranchers' Associations (las Asociaciones Ganaderas de Altamirano), of Margaritas, very reactionary associations. They are the most reactionary of all the bourgeoisie, very aggressive, despotic, racist. Compared with other governors that either attacked or didn't do anything about the bourgeoisie, Patrocinio praised it. Yes, he had a lot to with the process of radicalization."
"What's your message? Do you sense that you are being heard?"
"The message is that there is a larger movement, one that goes beyond the armed movement, and that everyone has to do something. That everyone has to work to transform this country into a just country, into a country that offers justice for all, not simply for one group. Some people understand this. I think that the ones who least understand the message are the political parties. They should be more aggressive, not in the sense that they should take up arms, but they should push further and work to secure and open more political spaces for participation. It seems that their declaration supporting peace owes more to the fact that at some point they felt obliged to say something about Chiapas. Moving from 'wipe them out,' like Fidel Schwarzenegger, to 'No, violence, no. Relax, peace, peace, peace.'
"In order to convince civil society that armed struggle is not the way out, there has to be a truly democratic space. But what is being done to open that democratic space, aside from making statements and writing articles in the newspapers? I think that if all the political parties--here I am speaking across the spectrum; I am not referring to any one of them in particular--that are a part of that civic pact, the one that Salinas annulled by saying 'Don't dream,' if they don't begin to do something different, no democratic space is going to be built.
"They can negotiate peace in Chiapas in February, and in June the country will rise again. If the system is not revolutionized before the elections, with or without the Zapatistas, whether they kill us or not, the country is going to rise up. And then it will not only be Indigenous people or the guerrilla group, but there are going to be many forms of struggle, and the political parties will see themselves overthrown as they were here."
"Do you see them bypassed here?"
"Well, the fact that the compan~eros have said that there is no electoral option makes that clear."
"What happens if, after all of this, the state returns to normal, to the way it was before? Would you strike again?"
"That type of decision depends on a collective process. Those decisions
do not depend on Marcos deciding to attack tomorrow, or the fact that he
was angered by Payan's January 2 editorial. I can't decide that. I have
to consult with the Committee, and, whether it is convenient or not, the
Committee has its own complex process of consultation with the communities.
Decisions of such magnitude are not up to a single individual."
On the Road to Chinameca?
"Are you going to participate in the negotiations?"
"I don't know. The Committee still has to decide. If it decides that I should participate, I'll have to do it. I'm telling you, the compan~eros in the Committee and the rest of us are still carrying the remains of the Chinameca ghost and the haunting image of Carranza standing behind Salinas de Gortari as he announced the Amnesty Law. We do not rule out that kind of a coup; it has been considered. There is supposed to be a succession in military commands, and there's people to relieve the compan~eros in the Committee. As of today, February 2, there's no specific decision on who will participate. But the petitions to be presented at the dialogue have already been agreed on. They reiterate The Declaration of the Lacandona Jungle and the EZLN communique's. There are no changes in this regard. It's not that we said that Salinas must resign, and that now we are retracting that. There is no change. In any case, some demands that were quite general before are much more concrete now. Why do you ask the question? Do you want to see me there?"
"In other processes, the military issue prompted the dialogue. Do we need more bullets in Mexico to convince all parties that there must be dialogue?"
"We have thought about it, but, the way things are right now, we can't take that sort of initiative. We can't say that we're going to end the game, because we haven't even begun to talk. That's the situation now. I'm not saying that's what's going to take place if the dialogue doesn't work."
"Then you are going to talk with weapons in hand?"
"Definitely. The compan~eros have been very clear in that regard. The first item in the negotiation can't be the surrender of arms. The first item of negotiation is the conditions we live in."
"Could it turn out to be a dialogue between deaf people?"
"It's clear to us that the government is preparing the political atmosphere to support a large-scale military operation. The dialogue process, or, as Mr. Camacho calls them, the Conference for Peace and Reconciliation, rests on an ultimatum: We negotiate or...
"How many delegates are going to the dialogue, all of the CCRI?"
"No, the Clandestine Committee is made up of dozens of compan~eros. Each Committee controls a territory, and each Committee is nominating two delegates. They're telling those two delegates: You can say yes to this, to this you must say no, and this, don't even touch it. And this is what you are going to ask for. When you say, 'yes, I accept this,' it means that it's valid, and when you say that you don't accept it, it means that no one is going to accept it."
"How many people will attend?"
"We estimate around 15, counting regular combat forces and committees, because we think that representatives of the combat forces, which are the active ones, also have to go--their voice has to be heard too. But we don't know. We just got the letter. We're just now sending it to Camacho. We'll have to see how he replies."
"And how will the presence of the press be handled, will you limit it or...?"
"We said that everyone will be admitted, only Televisa will be barred for obvious reasons. We want the struggle to be known. We're not going to charge anybody a fee; on the contrary, they're doing us a favor dealing with this as they used to deal with our grandparents."
"And how do things stand one month after the beginning of the conflict?"
"We have passed very rapidly to a phase for which we were not prepared: dialogue. We were prepared for a long process of war, of attrition, of military clashes, of political disputes over the towns and villages, of ideological struggle. And afterwards, if the government co-opted these, there would be a dialogue, but only after all that."
"You had no idea it would go this fast?"
"Actually, no. That's why I say that when we were preparing the defense, the mines and explosives, and the cease-fire occurred, we discovered that something had happened, and I think it was the press that provoked all that."
"In some places you have the support of the people, but in many other places, not. There is either fear and ignorance or straight out rejection..."
"Those things are part of a strategy, an old strategy that's been around at least since Vietnam: What the Federal Army is doing is offering provisions and money to people who arrive in Ocosingo and Altamirano in exchange for them denouncing the Zapatistas and saying that we expelled them from their communities, that we robbed them, that we beat them up. Everything that's coming out right now in the press--the Committees have been examining the cases--it turns out that it's people who said "I'm going out to buy salt," and suddenly they show up making statements. According to what one of those returning told us, Army personnel told him, 'Say that they're bothering you and we'll give you your provisions.' In this strategy, the Federal Army goes from being the aggressor against the civilian population to being the savior of the civilian population, positioning itself against us, the transgressors of the law, that is to say, the Zapatista National Liberation Army.
"But that has to be seen as part and parcel of what is being done at the national level with this strategy of a monologue disguised as a dialogue or a developing dialogue. Just as we are a 'developing political force,' the government's monologue is a developing dialogue."
"You mean to say that, the way things are, no great results can be expected from this negotiation?"
"Political results, yes."
"From what you say, it's clear that you are not going to give up your arms. But, what good are weapons if you're politically bound not to use them, as you are now?"
"Well, right now arms can't be used offensively for political purposes, but materially they can be used as a defensive measure. We are in our own territory. To get us out they have to come and get us. That's the reason the government has to think twice about trying to finish us off once and for all."
"It would seem that part of the government's strategy, specifically their acting in great haste to quell the war, complicates your use of military action. Is that true?"
"No, I have to disagree. The military conflict is a latent one; it's not taking place right now, but it's there and can erupt at any moment, and that's why we can't give up our arms. They are our defense. January 1 was our way of making ourselves heard. Now the arms are our way of surviving, of making sure that they don't annihilate us. Or that if they have to annihilate us, it will be at a very high cost to the country. We don't give arms a value they don't have. We don't worship arms, but we understand what they represent at one political moment or another. In our view, at this moment, arms are our guarantee of survival, a guarantee we are ready to defend with dignity."
"What lessons do you take from the experience of Central American struggles and revolutions? What conclusions do you draw?"
"Well, what we've learned from the Central American revolution is to greatly distrust the surrender of arms, as in the case of El Salvador, or having confidence only in electoral processes, as in the case of the Sandinistas. But our military training comes from Villa, principally, from Zapata. It also comes by way of negative example from what was done by the guerrillas of the 1970s. They started with a local military movement and expected that the base would increase slowly, either illuminated by this guerrilla force or by approaching sectors that were never going to support them. We think that those were errors of interpretation and judgement made by the guerrillas of the '70s, errors we have understood well. Up until now, we can't be faulted on military grounds. Of course we haven't faced the military power of the Federal Army in its entirety, but in questions of tactics or strategy there is no connection with foreigners.
"There is an intellectual who edits a magazine who says that the proof of Central American influence in the EZLN lies in, one, the fact that we withdrew our wounded and our dead (something he says we copied from the FMLN), and, two, the attack on the cities, (which he says we took from the FSLN). We took both things from Francisco Villa. He had trains to evacuate his wounded; what we did was hijack trucks to take away our wounded and our dead to our towns and villages and field hospitals."
The time came to say good-bye.
Perhaps we reporters were left with many questions on the tips of our tongues or in our knapsacks. On the way back, during the nighttime journey and in the comfortable darkness of blindfolded eyes, many of these questions came to the surface, but there was no way, it was too late. Subcommander Marcos, the figure who captured the imagination of many Mexicans on January 1, had stayed behind. The militia members who accompanied us out of the Zapatista territory walked in silence, absorbed in thought. We went along thinking of one question, the only one that the Sup had asked us:
"And all of you, what are you going to do?"