[Marxism] Subcommandante Marcos tries his hand at detective fiction (??!!)
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Mon Dec 13 06:06:33 MST 2004
The New York Times
December 13, 2004
MEXICO CITY JOURNAL
Solution to a Stalled Revolution: Write a Mystery Novel
By JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr.
MEXICO CITY, Dec. 12 - What should a rebel leader with a little extra time
on his hands do to get attention? Subcommander Marcos, the elusive and
charismatic leader of the Zapatista movement in southern Mexico, has
apparently decided the answer is to write a crime novel.
Two weeks ago, Pablo Ignacio Taibo II, a successful writer of detective
stories set in Mexico City, received a clandestine letter from the guerrilla
leader. In it, Subcommander Marcos, the rebel leader who made wearing a
black ski mask sexy, proposed that they team up to write a detective story,
"I thought about it for 10 seconds and said 'No, not right now. I'm very
happy with my Pancho Villa book, which I'm writing, and this new project
will drive me crazy," Mr. Taibo recalled. "Then rapidly, 10 seconds later, I
said yes. It had the enormous attraction of insanity. For a writer like me
who is always bordering on insanity, it was part of my, shall we say,
greatest obsessions to do something like that."
So Mr. Taibo, a liberal who sympathizes with the Zapatista movement's
campaign for greater rights for indigenous people in the southern region of
Chiapas, worked out the rules for writing the book in a flurry of letters
with the rebel leader.
The first six chapters of the book, titled "Awkward Deaths," are to be a
sort of Ping-Pong game, Mr. Taibo said. Marcos is to write chapters one,
three and five, introducing his detective, Elías Contreras. Mr. Taibo would
write chapters two, four and six, using the protagonists in his previous
books, Detective Héctor Belascoarán Shayne. In the seventh chapter, the two
detectives must meet at the Revolution Monument in Mexico City, where Pancho
Villa and Lázaro Cárdenas are buried.
Neither collaborator knows how the book will end, or how long it will be,
Mr. Taibo said. Marcos has chosen to tell the story from a future
perspective, with his investigator looking back at events. Mr. Taibo's
narrative will stick to the present.
La Jornada, a left-wing newspaper, has agreed to publish the chapters
serially. The first effort by the masked-guerrilla-turned-novelist appeared
on Dec. 5. The second chapter was published Sunday.
Marcos's reasons for writing the book, like so much about him, remain about
as clear as the mists shrouding Chiapas's jungles. Judging from the first
chapter, he wants to use fiction not just to raise money for charity, as the
two authors have agreed to do, but also to make political points.
In the first chapter, the intrepid Elías Contreras (which Marcos says is not
the character's real name) tracks down a missing woman at the request of a
Zapatista commander called, yes, dear reader, Subcomandante Insurgente
Marcos. It turns out the woman had run away from an abusive husband. When
the commander hears this, he expresses shock that a Zapatista rebel would
beat his wife.
"Maybe you know someone who forgets to be a Zapatista once in a while," the
"How long does it take to become a Zapatista then?" the commander asks.
"Sometimes it takes more than 500 years," says the detective, before riding
off on his mule.
The passage appears to be thinly veiled propaganda, condemning domestic
violence but also urging faithful Zapatistas not to give up the faith. It
also reflects an underlying problem for the rebels - the slow pace of change
in Chiapas and the flagging attention of Mexico City and the world.
Subcommander Marcos, a former philosophy professor whose real name officials
say is Rafael Sebastián Guillén Vicente, led a January 1994 uprising in the
name of Indian rights. Though not an Indian himself, he captured the
imagination and sympathy of many intellectuals and middle-class liberals.
Many urban Mexicans were moved by the plight of the illiterate, malnourished
Indians whom Marcos championed. But the rebellion also tapped into anxiety
about what free trade might do to the country. Overnight the rebel leader
became an international cult hero.
Yet the Zapatistas never had much success on the battlefield, and agreements
made in 1996 with President Ernesto Zedillo later unraveled. Then in March
2001, President Vicente Fox let them march to Mexico City, hold a giant
rally and speak before Congress.
A month later, lawmakers passed a watered-down version of their demands, and
the movement lost some steam. Since then, the guerrilla leader has retreated
to his hide-out in the Chiapas jungles, advocating a quieter revolution in
the handful of towns rebels still control.
Subcommander Marcos could not be immediately reached for comment about the
book. Javier Elorriaga, a spokesman for the political arm of the Zapatista
movement, did not respond to messages sent to him by e-mail and left via
telephone at the group's headquarters in Mexico City.
Bernardino Ramos, a legislator who heads a commission set up to pacify
Chiapas, said the book seemed to be a clever way to rekindle interest in the
problems of indigenous people the Zapatistas champion.
For his part, Mr. Taibo refuses to speculate about the guerrilla leader's
motives. He acknowledges that the novel, like most Latin American fiction,
will explore social problems, what he calls "the demons that walk free in
Mexico," the abuse of power and corruption.
Still, a detective novel is a detective novel, Mr. Taibo said. "It will be
essentially a piece of fiction, but always in a novel like this one there
will be a political reflection, without a doubt," Mr. Taibo said. "We have
put it forward as a fiction novel. I don't know what else he wants to say. I
know what I want to say. I want to say that Mexico City is also a jungle."
As published Mr. Taibo's first contribution to the book follows the
conventions of detective fiction, yet it is also laced with references to
Mexican politics, past and present, opening up a wide range of possible
story lines for Marcos to develop.
Luis Hernández, the editorial page editor of La Jornada, said it should come
as no surprise that the guerrilla leader was exploring a new literary genre
to get his message out. Over the years, his missives to the newspapers have
often been written in the form of poetry, stories and parables.
"I think here is an attempt to use a genre that he has not used before," Mr.
Hernández said. "The police novel is the best genre for describing social
injustice, the abuse of power, the inequality that exists in a society."
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