Commentators have been left perplexed by a valediction delivered by Subcomandante Marcos on Radio Zapatista and released on the enlacezapatista website.
Some journalists have taken the characteristically enigmatic statement in which Marcos declared that ‘through my voice the Zapatista Army for National Liberation no longer speaks’ to mean that that he is resigning from the group’s leadership.
Instead, the statement suggests that the decision has been taken to effectively kill off the persona of Marcos but to remain active in another persona.
The move came in the wake of the killing of Zapatista school teacher José Luis Solís López – known as Galeano – on May 2 in the Chiapas ejido of La Realidad, which has led to widespread condemnation by supporters of the EZLN and its twenty year fight against the Mexican government and the forces of neoliberalism.
‘We think that it is necessary for one of us to die so that Galeano lives,’ said Marcos. Whilst the statement was signed by Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, the postscript that followed was signed by Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano.
Leonidas Oikonomakis argues that ‘adopting the nom de guerre of a fallen comrade is nothing new in Mexico’s revolutionary history’. Adopting the name of the deceased allows him or her to ‘live on’ and not be forgotten.Oikonomakis further notes that the EZLN have been looking for some way to detach the EZLN from Marcos’ persona.
Oikonomakis’s points do seem to be born out in Marcos’s statement. ‘The truth is that this SupMarcos went from being a spokesperson to being a distraction’ he said.
The statement indicates that the figure or the persona of Marcos has served its purpose and that the Zapatistas no longer need a non-indigenous spokesman.
‘It is our conviction and our practice,’ said Marcos ‘that in order to rebel and to struggle, neither leaders nor bosses nor messiahs nor saviors are necessary. To struggle, one only needs a sense of shame, a bit of dignity, and a lot of organization’.
The Death of Galeano
Solís López was allegedly killed by members of the historic faction of the Independent Center of Agricultural Workers and Campesinos (CIOAC-Histórica), the Green Ecological Party of Mexico (PVEM) and the National Action Party (PAN) whilst defending an autonomous Zapatista school and clinic.
Responding to the attack in a communique published on May 8th, Subcomandante Marcos that the ‘pain and rage’ that the Zapatistas feel about the death of Solís López is the same as that ‘that made us challenge everything and everyone 20 years ago’. It is this ‘pain and rage’, he writes, ‘that now again makes us lace up our boots, put on our uniforms, strap on our guns, and cover our faces’.
Details of the Attack
The attack occurred when members of the CIOAC- Histórica turned up at a Zapatista council meeting looking for their representative Robert Alfaro Velasco who they believed had been taken into custody by the council in retaliation for the CIOAC- Histórica’s appropriating of a truck belonging to the Zapatistas. However, sources indicate that Velasco was not being held and had decided to stay with the council to try and sort out the issue with the truck.
At some point in the afternoon of May 2, CIOAC- Histórica, PVEM and PAN members started to attack the school and clinic. Some 68 Zapatistas who were on route to the school and clinic were then apparently attacked by a larger force of CIOAC- Histórica, PVEM and PAN members armed with machetes and firearms.
Solís López was killed after being shot three times (including a shot to the head) and receiving several blows from a cudgel and a machete.
Fifteen other EZLN members were injured as a result of the attack.
For the Zapatistas, the attack on its members and the destruction of the school brought back memories of the massacre that took place in Acteal in 1997, which saw 47 people including children and pregnant women killed by paramilitaries.
In the May 8 communique, Marcos writes that the authorities are invoking the ‘Acteal model’, whereby what the Zapatistas see as national and state government-sponsored paramilitary actions against them are passed off by the authorities and their supporters in the media as ‘intra-community conflicts’.
The Zapatistas reject this interpretation. Marcos notes that the attack in La Realidad ‘was not some intra-community problem, where two groups confront each other in the heated emotions of the moment’.
Instead, ‘this was a planned, premeditated attack’ that was directed by the leaderships of CIOAC- Histórica, the PVEM, the PAN and the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI).
Low Intensity Conflict in Chiapas
The attack on the Zapatistas is part of the low intensity conflict that has been waged since the government of Vicente Fox withdrew Mexican troops from Chiapas in 2000.
The Zapatistas and their supporters charge that the national and state governments use the CIOAC-Histórica and other peasant organisations such as ORCAO (Regional Organization of Coffee Growers of Ocosingo), as instruments to stir up trouble with the EZLN.
These organisations ‘make their living provoking confrontations’ according to Marcos. ‘They know’, he writes, ‘that creating problems […] pleases the various levels of government and that they will be rewarded with social programs and thick wads of cash for their leaders’.
The Zapatistas and their supporters claim that such confrontations are part of a government strategy of divide and conquer. Under this strategy, the peasant and indigenous movement becomes increasingly fragmented and disagreements between different organisations are exploited.
The Zapatistas believe that the ultimate goal is to undermine their desire for self-government and the model of an autonomous parallel power that they pursue in the five regions of Chiapas they control.
The killing has been accompanied by statements from the Zapatistas’ network of international supporters.
The Dorset Chiapas Solidarity website includes a‘Letter from many corners of the world in solidarity with the EZLN ’which calls for‘a halt to the strategy of war and paramilitarization against the Zapatista communities’, and which signed by such well-known thinkers as Noam Chomsky, Manuel Castells, Arundhati Roy, and Naomi Klein as well as by a host of NGOs within Mexico and without.
Similarly, the ‘An attack on the Zapatistas is an attack on us all’ website features a ‘call to action’ signed by Chomsky, Angela Davis, Alice Walker, Cornel West and Mike Davis. The ‘Call to Action’ asked Zapatista supporters to hold demonstrations outside Mexican embassies and consulates, and to observe a day of remembrance for Solís López on May 24.
The murder of Solís López has been led to protests in London, New York, and Madrid, as well as Bilbao, Athens, Milan and Dusseldorf.
Within Mexico itself, condemnation has come from the National Indigenous Congress (CNI) as well as the Peace Network, a grouping of ten organisation that work in Chiapas.
The former called for an ‘end to the war against our Zapatista brothers and sisters’, while a communication from the latter noted that the attack ‘represent[ed] a rupture in the process of dialogue’ and ‘on the autonomy that the […] EZLN has been advancing for more than 20 years’.
The state government of Chiapas promised in a statement to ‘proceed vigorously and in accordance with the law to find out who was responsible for the murder’.
The same statement condemned the CIOAC- Histórica ‘aggression’ against the Zapatistas.
News sources indicate that five members of the CIOAC- Histórica are giving statements to the District Attorney.