[Marxism] Subcommandante Marcos on tour
lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Jan 6 12:15:56 MST 2006
NY Times, January 6, 2006
San Cristóbal Journal
The Zapatista's Return: A Masked Marxist on the Stump
By JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr.
SAN CRISTÓBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico, Jan. 4 - This is the oddest political
campaign to emerge in Mexico in many a year.
The candidate is a Marxist rebel leader who once started a civil war, wears
a ski mask, smokes a pipe, keeps a crippled rooster as a mascot and is not
on the ballot for any political office.
Yet the start of a six-month national tour led by the man known as
Subcommander Marcos has all the earmarks of a run-of-the-mill campaign for
political office: slogans, chants, partisan songs, rallies large and small,
a campaign caravan making stops in towns and cities, jabs at other
politicians, cute presentations from children and hugs from local community
leaders, shaking hands with admirers over a line of bodyguards, and the
occasional obligation to kiss, or at least hug, a baby or two.
Marcos, a captivating speaker who now calls himself Delegate Zero, even has
a stump speech of sorts, in which he blames "savage capitalism" and the
sins of the rich for everything from gay-baiting to racism to domestic
He intends to deliver it all over the country in advance of the
presidential election in July, trying to convince voters that there is no
real difference among the three candidates from the major parties because
all are going to cater to an oligarchy of business leaders.
"In the coming days we are going to hear a ton of promises, lies, trying to
give us hope that, yes, things are now going to get better if we change one
government for another," he said Tuesday before a crowd of 4,000 masked
followers in the town square of Palenque, site of noted Maya ruins. "Time
and time again, every year, every three years, every six years, they sell
us this lie."
The crowd of masked supporters, many of them farmers bused in that morning,
held banners with slogans like "Death to the Free Trade Agreement" and
"Death to Neoliberal Globalization." A red flag with hammer and sickle flew
in the crowd. Nearby someone had strung up large portraits of Marx, Engels,
Lenin and Stalin.
"This is only going to change from the bottom and from the left," Marcos
continued, picking up a recurrent theme. Then he promised a better, more
equal world "where we can be respected for the work that we do, the value
that we have as human beings, and not for our bank accounts or, let's say,
a car, the type of vehicle we drive or the clothing we wear, a world where
workers occupy a place that they deserve."
Marcos launched what he calls "the other campaign" on New Year's Day,
surprising the nation by arriving in San Cristóbal de las Casas, the
mountainous town he took by force in an armed uprising 12 years ago, on a
motorcycle instead of a horse, his usual trademark. The spiffy machine was
equipped with a special box for his rooster, dubbed the Penguin, because it
has deformed feet and hobbles.
The leader of the Zapatista movement has promised a nonviolent movement and
President Vicente Fox has guaranteed his safe passage as he visits all 31
states. The first week, however, he has stuck to familiar turf in Chiapas,
where his rebel movement long ago ceased to be a military threat but has
thrived as an inspiration to left-wing idealists around the world.
For security, Marcos keeps his whereabouts at night a mystery and arrives
at events with a human shield of supporters, most in masks, among them
women and children.
In January 1994, Marcos led an army of Indian farmers out of the mountains
and took over the eastern part of the state of Chiapas, protesting the
government's neglect of indigenous peoples. The government struck back with
a huge offensive the following year, pushing the rebels back into the
Lacandón jungle, which covers most of eastern Chiapas. The authorities say
Marcos is actually a white college professor from a middle-class family
whose name is Rafael Sebastián Guillén Vicente.
Since the old corrupt single-party regime was toppled in the 2000
elections, support for Marcos and the Zapatista Liberation Army has waned
somewhat here. The Fox government has poured more money into schools and
antipoverty programs, while keeping a heavy military presence in the
region. In the meantime, Congress has rejected some accords with the rebels
that would have given Indian communities greater autonomy.
Now, Marcos appears to be trying regain the national limelight with a
nonviolent campaign aimed not at winning office, but at building a broad
leftist movement to pressure politicians from the outside.
His emergence from the jungle comes as leftist and indigenous leaders are
making a comeback in many parts of Latin America, most recently in Bolivia
with the election of Evo Morales.
On Wednesday, Marcos returned to this colonial town and visited a poor
neighborhood on the outskirts, where he spoke to a few hundred people,
mostly of Maya origin, in the pouring rain, attacking the candidate of the
Institutional Revolutionary Party as a thief and saying the party had grown
on "the blood of Indians." That night he showed up at a festival in the
About 5,000 people, many of them tourists and expatriate Zapatista backers,
listened to hours of folk music before Marcos spoke. This time he used the
story of his crippled Penguin as parable for the disenfranchised with whom
he hopes to build a coalition: indigenous people, women, unionists, the
young and jobless, homosexuals, factory workers and small farmers. His
goal, he says, is "to transform society," not "from above, but from here
An adroit humorist, Marcos brought guffaws from the crowd as he described
his rooster's attempts to find love in the barnyard, which always ended in
Penguin falling over before he could mate.
That anecdote was told to persuade people to accept other kinds of love
between same-sex couples. When someone in the back of the crowd shouted
that Marcos could not heard, Marcos handled it like a seasoned stand-up comic.
"That's O.K.," he said. "This part is rated triple X. It's better you don't
Pedro Cruz, a 49-year-old construction worker, is typical of the Mexican
voters he has been attracting to his speeches here. Like many working class
people, Mr. Cruz is disenchanted with politics and contends that even the
leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution will be corrupted by big
business interests if its candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is
elected. He says he does not intend to vote.
"Marcos is going to have a big influence, I think," he said. "The fact is,
it gives us some hope there might be some help for the poor."
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