[Marxism] Subcommandante Marcos on tour

Louis Proyect 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

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 
main square.

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 
hear it."

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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