An Interview with Sub-Comandante Marcos of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation

San Cristobal

He is among the few whose face is covered and is armed with a machine gun. He is not indigenous. While he speaks, he pulls a pipe from a pouch, puts it in his mouth through the opening of the Ski mask, but does not light it. He expresses himself with the clarity of the intellectual accustomed to communicating with the poor. He is surely Mexican, but it is not possible to identify the accent. A young woman with Asian eyes in a black mask stands next to him throughout the interview.

Comandante Marcos, you occupied San Cristobal on January 1st, 1994, who are you?

We are part of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation and we demand the resignation of the federal government and the formation of a transitional government which convenes free and democratic elections in August 1994. We want that the major demands of the peasants of Chiapas be met: food, health, education, autonomy and peace. The indigenous people have always lived in a state of war because war has been waged against them and today the war will be in their favour. Whatever the case, we will have the opportunity to die in battle fighting instead of dying of dysentery, as the indigenous people of Chiapas usually die.

Do you have relationships with some political organisation of peasants?

We have no such relationships with any open organisation. Our organisation is exclusively armed and clandestine.

Were you formed out of nothing? Improvised?

We have been preparing ourselves in the mountains for ten years; we are not an improvised movement. We have matured, thought, learned and made this decision.

Do you have racial and ethnic demands?

The Committees of Directors is made up of indigenous Tzotziles, Tzeltles, Choles, Tojolabales, Mames, and Zoques, all of the major ethnic groups of Chiapas. They all agree, and apart from democracy and representation, they demand respect, respect which white people have never had for them. Above all in San Cristobal the residents, insult and discriminate again them as a daily occurrence. now white people respect the Indians because they see them with guns in their hands.

How do you think the government will respond?

We do not worry about the response of the government. We worry about the response of the Mexican people. We want to know what this event will provoke, what will move the national consciousness. We hope something moves, not only in the form of armed struggle, but in all forms of struggle. We hope this will put an end to this disguised dictatorship.

Don't you have confidence in the PRD as an opposition Party in the next elections?

We don't distrust the political parties as much as we do the electoral system. The government of Salinas de Gortari is an illegitimate Party, product of fraud, and this illegitimate government can only produce illegitimate elections. We want a transitional government and that the government hold new elections - but with a capacity that is genuinely egalitarian, offering the same opportunities to all political parties. In Chiapas, 15,000 Indians per year die of curable diseases. It is a statistic of the same magnitude that the war produced in El Salvador. If a peasant with cholera comes to a rural hospital, they will throw him out so that no one will say there is cholera in Chiapas. In this movement, the Indians who form part of the Zapatista Army want to first dialogue with their own people. They are the real representatives.

Excuse me, but you are not an Indian.

You must understand our movement is not Chiapaneco. it is national. There are people like me, others who come from other states, and Chiapanecos who fight in other states. We are Mexicans, that unifies us, as well as the demand for liberty and democracy. We want to elect genuine representatives.

But now are you not afraid of heavy repression?

For the Indians, repressions exist for the past 500 years. Maybe you think of repression in terms of the typical South American government. But for the Indians, this kind of repression is their daily bread. Ask those who live in the surrounding communities of San Cristobal.

What development would you consider a movement?

We would like others in the country to join this movement.

An armed movement?

No, we make a broad appeal which we direct towards those who are active in civil, legal, and open popular movements.

Why did you choose January 1st to attack San Cristobal?

It was the Committee of Directors which decided. It is clear the date is related to NAFTA, which for the Indians is a death sentence. Once it goes into effect, it means an international massacre.

What do you believe the international response will be? Are you not afraid the United States will intervene like it has in other parts of Latin America?

The U.S. used to have the Soviet Union as a pretext, they were afraid of Soviet infiltration in our countries. But what can they make of a movement which claims social justice? They cannot continue to think we are being manipulated from the outside, or that we are financed by Moscow gold, since Moscow no longer exists. The people in the U.S. should be aware that we struggle for those things that others struggle for. Did not the people of Germany and Italy rebel against a dictatorship? Does the rebellion of the Mexicans not have the same value? The people in the U.S. have a great deal to do with the reality which you can observe here, with the conditions of misery of the Indians and the great hunger for justice. In Mexico, the entire social system is based upon the injustice in its relations with the Indians. The worst thing that can happen to a human being is to be Indian, with all its burden of humiliation, hunger and misery.

This is a subversive movement. Our objective is the solution of the principal problems of our country which necessarily intersect with problems of liberty and democracy. This is why we think that the government of Salinas de Gortari is an illegitimate government which can only convene illegitimate elections. The solution is a call to all citizens and to the House of Deputies and Senators and to comply with their patriotic duty and remove Salinas de Gortari and all his Cabinet and to form a transitional government. And the transitional government should call elections, with equal opportunity for all political parties.

Based on that, the compaņeros say other demands can be negotiated: bread, housing, health, education, land, justice, many problems which within the context of indigenous people, arc very serious. But the demands for liberty and democracy are being made as call to all the Mexican Republic, to all the social sectors to participate, not with guns, but with the means which they have.

We have been isolated all these years, while the rest of the world rebelled against dictatorships or apparent dictatorships and this was viewed with logic. In this country, however, a series of dictatorial measures were being adopted and no one said anything. We believe there is an international consensus that only the Mexicans were missing, who have suffered under an absolute dictatorship by the Party and now by one person, who is Carlos Salinas de Gortari, now through Luis Donaldo Colosio. I think that at the international level they will see that a movement with demands like these is logical.

There is not in the movement of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation an ideology perfectly defined, in the sense of being Communist or Marxist-Leninist. There is a common point of connection with the great national problems, which coincide always, for one or the other sector, in a lack of liberty and democracy.

In this case, this sector has used up any other method of struggle such as the legal struggle, the popular struggle, the economic projects, the struggle for Sedesol, and it ends following the only method which remains, the armed struggle. But we are open to other tendencies and to other forms of struggle, in the enthusiasm to generate a genuine national and revolutionary movement which reconciles these two fundamental demands, liberty and democracy. On these grounds a movement can be formed which will create a genuine solution to the economic and social problems of each sector, whether indigenous or peasant, worker, teachers, intellectual, small business owners, of the small and medium-sized industry.

The repression on the indigenous population has been present for many years. The indigenous people of Chiapas suffer 15,000 deaths per year, that no one mourns. The great shame is that they die of curable diseases and this is denied by the Department of Health.

We expect a favourable reaction from Mexican society towards the reasons which give birth to this movement because they are just. You can question the method of struggle, but never its causes.

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