12 Women in the Twelfth Year


During the 12th year of the EZLN, many kilometers, and at a great distance from Peking, 12 women meet March 8th with their faces erased...

1. Yesterday...

A face wreathed in black still leaves the eyes free and a few hairs dangling from the head. In that gaze is the glitter of one who searches. An M-1 carbine held in front, in that position called "assault," and a pistol strapped to the waist. Over the left side of the chest, that place where hopes and convictions reside, she carries the rank of Infantry Major of an insurgent army which has called itself, this cold dawn of January 1, 1994, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. Under her command is a rebel column which takes the former capital of that southeastern Mexican state Chiapas, San Cristobal de Las Casas. The central park of San Cristobal is deserted. Only the indigenous men and women under her command, are witness to the moment in which the Major, a rebel indigenous tzotzil woman, takes the national flag and gives it to the commanders of the rebellion, those called "The Indigenous Clandestine Revolutionary Committee". Over the radio, the Major says: "We have recovered the Flag. 10-23 over." At 0200 southeastern time, of January 1 of 1994. It is 0100 hours of the new year for the rest of the world, but she has waited 10 years to say tohose words. She came to the mountains of the Lacandon Jungle in December of 1984, not yet 20 years of age and yet carrying the marks of a whole history of indigenous humiliation on her body. In December of 1984, this brown woman says "Enough is Enough!", but she says it so softly that only she hears herself. In January of 1994, this woman and several thousand indigenous people not only say but yell "Enough is Enough!", so loudly that all the world hears them...

Outside of San Cristobal another rebel column commanded by a man, the only one with light skin and a large nose who belongs to the indigenous who attack the city, has just finished taking police headquarters. Freed from these clandestine jails are the indigenous who were spending the new year in jail for the most terrible crime in the Chiapanecan southeast; that of being poor. Eugenio Asparuk is the name of the insurgent Captain, indigenous rebel tzeltal, who together with the enormous nose is now overseeing the search and seizure at the headquarters. When the Major's message arrives, Insurgent Captain Pedro, indigenous rebel chol, has finished taking the headquarters of the Federal Highway Police and has secured the road which connects San Cristobal with Tuxtla Gutierrez; Insurgent Captain Ubilio, indigenous rebel tzeltal has taken the entryways to the north of the city and with it the symbol of the government handouts to the indigenous people, the National Indigenous Institute. Insurgent Captain Guillermo, indigenous rebel chol, has taken the highest point of the city. From there he commands with his sight the surprised silence which peers out the windows of the houses and the buildings. Insurgent Captains Gilberto and Noe, Indigenous tzotzil and tzeltal respectively, and equally rebellious, end their take-over of the state judicial police headquarters and set it on fire before marching on to secure the other side of the city which leads to the barracks of the 31st Military Zone in Rancho Nuevo.

At 0200 hours, southeastern time of January 1 of 1994, 5 insurgent officials, indigenous rebel men, hear over the radio the voice of their commander, an indigenous rebel woman saying "We have recovered the flag. 10-23 over." They repeat this to their troops, men and woman, all indigenous rebels in their totality and translate the words "We have begun...".

At the municipal palace, the Major organizes the defense of the positions which will protect the men and women who now govern the city, a city now under the rule of indigenous rebels. A woman who is armed protects them.

Among the indigenous commanders there is a tiny woman, even tinier than those around her. A face wreathed in black still leaves the eyes free and a few hairs dangling from the head. In that gaze is the glitter of one who searches. A 12 calibre sawed-off shotgun hangs from her back. With the traditional dress of the women from San Andres, Ramona walks down from the mountains, together with a hundred more women, towards the city of San Cristobal on that last night of 1993. Together with Susana and other indigenous men she is part of that indian command of the war which birthed 1994, the Candestine Indigenous Revolutionary Committee-General Command of the EZLN. Comandante Ramona will, with her size and her brilliance, surprise, the international press when she appears during the first Dialogues for Peace held in the Cathedral and pulls from her backpack the national flag re- taken by the Major on January 1st. Ramona does not know then, nor do we, but she already carries in her body an illness which eats her life away in huge bites and dims her voice and her gaze. Ramona and the Major, the only women in the Zapatista delegation who show themselves to the world for the first time declare: "For all intents and purposes we were already dead, we meant absolutely nothing" and with this they almost count the humiliation and abandonment. The Major translates to Ramon the questions of the reporters. Ramona nods and understands, as though the answers she is asked for had always been there, in that tiny figure which laughs at the Spanish language and at the ways of the city women. Ramona laughs when she does not know she is dying. And when she knows, she still laughs. Before she did not exist for anyone, now she exists, as a woman, as an indigenous woman, as a rebel woman. Now Ramon lives, a woman belonging to that race which must die in order to live...

The Major watches the light take the streets of San Cristobal. Her soldiers organize the defense of the old city of Jovel and the protection of the men and women who in those moments sleep, indigenous and mestizos, all equally surprised. The Major, this indigenous rebel woman has taken their city. Hundreds of armed indigenous people surround the old City. A woman who is armed commands them...

Minutes later the rebels will take the city of Las Margaritas, hours later the government forces which defend Ocosingo, Altamirano, and Chanal will surrender. Huixtan and Oxchuc are taken by a column which is heading towards the principal jail of San Cristobal. Seven cities are now in insurgent hands following the 7 words of the Major.

The war for the word has begun...

In other places, other women, indigenous and rebellious have re-made that piece of history which they have been given and which until that day of January 1, had been carried in silence. They also have no name or face;

IRMA. Insurgent Infantry Captain, the chol woman Irma leads one of the guerrilla columns which takes the plaza at Ocosingo that January 1 of 1994. From one of the edges of the central park, together with the soldiers under her command, she attacks the guarnicion inside the municipal palace until they surrender. Then Irma undoes her braid and her hair falls to her waist as though to say "here I am, free and new, Captain Irma's hair shines, and continues to shine even as the night falls over an Ocosingo in rebel hands...

LAURA. Insurgent Infantry Captain. Tzotzil woman, fierce in battle and fiercely committed to learning and teaching, Laura becomes the Captain of a unit composed completely of men. Not only that, but they are all novices as well. With patience, in the way of the mountain which has watched her grow, Laura teaches and gives orders. When the men under her command have doubts, she shows them by doing. No one carries as much or walks as much as she does. After the attack on Ocosingo she orders the retreat of her unit. It is an orderly and complete one. This woman with light skin says little or nothing, but she carries in her hands a carbine which she took from a policeman who only saw someone to humiliate or rape when he gazed upon an indigenous woman. After surrendering, the policeman ran away in his shorts, the same one who until that day believed that women were only useful when pregnant or in the kitchen....

ELISA. Insurgent Infantry Captain. As a trophy of war she still carries in her body some mortar fragments which are planted forever on her body. She takes command of her column when the rebel line is broken and a circle of fire fills the Ocosingo market with blood. Captain Benito has been injured and has lost his eye. Before losing consciousness, he explains and orders: "I've had it, Captain Elisa is in command". Captain Elisa is alredy wounded when she manages to take a handful of soldiers out of the market. When Captain Elisa, indigenous tzeltal gives orders it is a soft murmur..but everyone obeys...

SILVIA. Insurgent Infantry Captain. She was trapped for 10 days in the rathole which Ocosingo became after January 2nd. Dressed as a civilian she scuttled along the streets of a city filled with federal soldiers, tanks and cannons. At a military checkpoint she was stopped. They let her through almost immediately. "It isn't possible that such a young and fragile woman could possibly be a rebel" say the soldiers as they watch her depart. When she re-joins her unit in the mountain the indigenous chol rebel woman appears sad. Carefully, I ask her the reason that her laughter is less. "Over there in Ocosingo" she answers me, lowering her eyes "In Ocosingo I left my backpack and with it all the cassettes of music I had collected, now we have nothing." Silence and her loss lies in her hands. I say nothing, I add my own regrets to hers and I see that in war each loses what he/she most loves...

MARIBEL. Insurgent Infantry Captain. She takes the radio station in Las Margaritas when her unit assaults the municipality on January 1, 1994. For nine years she lived in the mountain in order to be able to sit in front of that microphone and say:

"We are the product of 500 years of struggle; first we fought against slavery..." The transmission does not go through because of technical reasons and Maribel takes another position in order to cover the backs of the unit which advances towards Comitan. Days later she will serve as guard for the prisoner of war, General Absalon Castellanos Dominguez. Maribel is tzeltal and was less than 15 years old when she came to the mountains of the Mexican Southeast. "The toughest moment in those 9 years was when I had to climb the first hill, called 'the hill from hell', after that everything else was easy" said the insurgent official. When General Castellanos Dominguez is returned to the government, Captain Maribel is the first rebel to have contact with the government. Commissioner Manuel Camacho Solis extends his hand to her and asks her age: "502" says Maribel who counts all the years since the rebellion began...

ISIDORA. Infantry Insurgent. Isidora goes into Ocosingo as a buck private on the first day of January. And as a buck private Isidora leaves Ocosingo in flames, after spending hours rescuing her unit, made up entirely of men 40 of whom were wounded. She also has mortar fragments on her arms and legs. When Isidora arrives at the nursing unit and hands over the wounded, she asks for a bit of water and gets up again. "Where are you going?" they ask her as they try to treat her wounds which bleed and paint her face as well as redden her uniform. "To get the others" answers Isidora as she re-loads. They try to stop her and cannot, the buck private Isidora has said she must return to Ocosingo to rescue other companeros from the music of death which the mortars and the grenades play. They have to take her prisoner in order to stop her. "The only good thing is that when I'm punished at least I can't be demoted" says Isidora as she waits in the room which, to her, appears to be a jail. Months later, when they give her a star which promotes her to an infantry official, Isidora, tzeltal and Zapatista looks first at the star and then at her commander and asks, as though she were being scolded "Why?"..But she does not wait for the answer...

AMALIA. First lieutenant in the hospital unit. Amalia has the quickest laughter in the Mexican Southeast and when she finds Captain Benito lying in a pool of blood unconscious, she drags him to a more secure place. She carries him on her back and takes him out of the circle of death which surrounds the market. When someone mentions surrender, Amalia, honoring the chol blood which runs in her veins, gets angry and begins to argue. Everyone listens, even above the ruthless explosions and the flying bullets. No one surrenders...

ELENA. Lieutenant in the hospital unit. When she joined the EZLN she was illiterate. There she learned to read, write, and that which is called medicine. From caring for diarrheas and giving vaccines, she went on to care for the wounded in a small hospital which is also house, warehouse and pharmacy. With difficulty she extracts the pieces of mortar carried by the Zapatistas on their bodies. "Some I can take out, some I can't" says Elenita, insurgent chol, as though she were speaking of memories and not of pieces of lead...

In San Cristobal, that morning of January 1, 1994, she communicates with the great white nose: "Someone just came here asking questions but I don't understand the language, I think it's English. I don't know if he's a photographer but he has a camera".

"I'll be there soon", answers the nose as it re-arranges the ski mask.

Into a vehicle go the weapons which have been taken from the police station and he travels to the center of the city. They take the weapons out and distribute them among the indigenous who are guarding the municipal palace. The foreigner was a tourist who asked if he could leave the city. "No" answered the ski-mask with the over-sized nose "it's better that you return to your hotel. We don't know what will happen." The tourist leaves after asking permission to film with his video camera. Meanwhile the morning advances, the curous arrive, journalists and questions. The nose responds and explains to the locals, tourists and journalists. The Major is behind him. The ski- mask talks and makes jokes. A woman who is armed watches his back.

A journalist, from behind a television camera asks: "And who are you?" "Who am I" says the ski-mask hesistantly as it fights off the sleepiness after the long night. "Yes" insists the journalist "Are you 'Commander Tiger' or 'Commander Lion'?" "No" responds the ski-mask rubbing the eyes which are now filled with boredom. "So, what's your name?" says the journalist as he thrusts his camera and microphone forward. The big-nosed ski-mask answers "Marcos. Subcomandante Marcos"...Overhead the planes of Pontius Pilate begin to circle..

From that time on, the impeccable militar action of the take-over of San Cristobal is blurred, and with it is erased the fact that it was a woman, a rebel indigenous woman, who commanded the entire operation. The participation of other women rebels in other actions of January 1 and during the long road of 10 years since the birth of the EZLN, become secondary. The faces covered with ski-masks become even more anonymous when the lights center on Marcos. The Major says nothing, she continues to watch the back of that enourmous nose which now has a name for the rest of the world. No one asks her for her name...

At dawn on January 2 of 1994 the same woman directs the retreat from San Cristobal and the return to the mountains. She returns to San Cristobal 50 days later as part of the escort which guards the security of the delegates of the CCRI-CG of the EZLN to the Dialogue at the Cathedral. Some women journalists interview her and ask her her name. "Ana Maria, Mayor Insurgente Ana Maria" she answers with her dark gaze. She leaves the Cathedral and disappears for the rest of the year of 1994. Like her other companeras, she must wait, she must be silent...

Come December of 1994, 10 years after becoming a soldier, Ana Maria receives the order to prepare to break out of the military blockade established by government forces around the Lacandon Jungle. At dawn on December 19th, the EZLN takes positions in 38 municipalities. Ana Maria commanded the action in the municipalities in the Altos of Chiapas. Twelve women officers were with her in the action: Monica, Isabela, Yuri, Patricia, Juana, Ofelia, Celina, Maria, Gabriela, Alicia, Zenaida and Maria Luisa. Ana Maria herself takes the municipality of Bochil.

After the Zapatista deployment, the high command of the federal army orders silence around the rupture of the blockade and it is represented by the mass media as a purely "propagandistic" action of the EZLN. The pride of the federales is deeply wounded: the Zapatistas escaped the blockade and to add insult to injury, a woman commands a unit which takes various municipalities. It is of course impossible to accept and so a great deal of money must be piled onto the event so that it will remain unknown.

Due to the involuntary actions of her armed companeros, and the deliberate actions of the government, Ana Maria and the Zapatista women at her side are dismissed and made invisible...

II. TODAY...

I have almost finished writing this when someone else arrives...

Dona Juanita. After Old Man Antonio dies, Dona Juanita allows her life to slow down in the same rhythm which she uses to prepare coffee. Physically strong, Dona Juanita has announced she will die. "Don't be silly, grandmother", I say to her, refusing to meet her eyes. "Look you.." she answers "If it is to live that we must die, nothing will keep me from dying, much less a young brat like yourself" says and scolds Dona Juanita, the woman of Old Man Antonio, a rebel woman all her life, and apparently, a rebel even in response to her death...

Meanwhile on the other side of the blockade, appears.

She. She has no military rank, uniform, nor weapon. She is a Zapatista but only she knows. She has no face or name, much like the Zapatistas. She struggles for democracy, liberty and justice, the same as the Zapatistas. She is part of what the EZLN calls "civil society", of a people without a party, of a people who do not belong to "political society" made up of rulers and leaders of political parties. She is a part of that diffuse, but real part of society which says, day after day, its own "Enough is Enough!"

At first she is surprised at her own words, but later, based on the strength of repeating them, and above all, living them, she stops being afraid of them, being afraid of herself. She is now a Zapatista, she has united her destiny to that of the Zapatistas in that new delirium which so terrorizes political parties and the intellectuals of the Power, the Zapatista Front of National Liberation. She has already fought against everyone, against her husband, her lover, her boyfriend, her children, her friend, her brother, her father, her grandfather. "You are insane" was the common judgement. She leaves a great deal behind. What she renounces is much larger than what is left behind by the rebels who already had nothing to lose. Her everything, her world, demands she forget "those crazy Zapatistas" and conformity calls her to sit down in the comfortable indifference which lives and worries only about itself. She leaves everything behind. She says nothing. Early one dawn she sharpens the tender point of hope and begins to emulate the first of January of her sister Zapatistas many times in one day, at least 364 times a year which have nothing to do with a January 1.

She smiles because she once admired the Zapatistas but no longer. She ended the admiration in the moment in which she learned that they were only a mirror of her rebellion, of her hope.

She discovers that she is born on the first of January of 1994. From then on she feels that her life and what was always said to be a dream and a utopia, might actually be a truth.

She begins to knit in silence and without pay, side by side with other men and women, that complex dream which some call hope: Everything for everyone, nothing for ourselves.

She meets March 8th with her face erased, and her name hidden. With her come thousands of women. More and more arrive. Dozens, hundreds, thousands, millions of women who remember all over the world that there is much to be done and remember that there is still much to fight for. It appears that that thing called dignity is contagious and it is women who are more likely to become infected with this uncomfortable ill...

This March 8th is a good time to remember and to give their rightful place to the insurgent Zapatistas, to the Zapatistas, to the women who are armed and unarmed.

To the rebels and uncomfortable Mexican women who are now bent over underling that history which, without them, is nothing more than a badly-made fable...

III. TOMORROW

If there is to be one, it will be made with the women, and above all, by them...

From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast,
Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos
Mexico, March of 1996.


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