7 times 2
For Alberto Gironella,
Who painted so well that it seemed
As if he were writing.
"The dovecote of letters
opens its impossible flight
from the trembling tables
where remembrance is supported,
the gravity of absence, the heart, silence."
The moon is my button of gilded silver, dented and poorly sewn onto the black shirt of the mountain. In the grand house of the calendar, May appears as a conjunction of the double and humid page of August and September. Perhaps that is why the sun travels the day spreading sweat and suffocating heat, while during the night, the moon fills its pages with the sleeping wind.
Down below, life is war, daily combat in the multiple dark alleys that people the Mexican night. Fighting at birth, fighting while growing up, loving and dying fighting, and, yes, even writing is combat.
See if it is not so: in that corner of the world they call the "mountains of the Mexican southeast," the last of a century's flickering death throes, words like stab wounds appear above the high and soft cushion of the Ceiba.
And that Ceiba seems more like a General Post Office than a tree: letters come and go, almost as frequent as the rains that lash deep ravines into the skin of the day or into the heart of the night. Look, there goes another, which is others. Yes, that letter is many letters, it is a letter-hedgehog. Seven double spines making out of skin what hurts on paper. Many are written by one hand, and they are destined for many others who are others, distinct and different. Sharp epistles that point out and warn, they do not threaten, just advising that the night continues without opening, and, nonetheless, one must still traverse it.
And so, seeming to write, the hand hones words that wound but do not injure, that point out, that mark, that are sharp spines, marks that hurt. If one letter is many letters, it is not out of a numerical whim, it is because the world is many worlds, and many also are the forgettings that conceal them. The One is a trap, out of which will come the reckoning, which is also called history.
Sshh! Attention! Look! The first wound is being opened there!
"The Indian, as master of the land, is a utopia of university
Ramon Del Valle-Inclan
On the rickety table, leveled up with stones and cardboard boxes, two books are resting, their pages closed, their words mute. The candle is waving its fragile light like a flag and a hand lights the chewed up pipe for the umpteenth time. From here, his figure is just a seated and stooped shadow. But the candle brushes against the covers of the two books. "Ramon Del Valle-Inclan. Tirano Banderas. Illustrations by Alberto Gironella, Galaxia Gutemberg. Circulo de Lectores" can be read on one of the covers. The other shows "Julio Scherer Garcia, Carlos Monsivais. War Report. Nuevo Siglo Aguilar."
Suddenly the flame of the candle reclines, bound by the wind, scraping, more than illuminating, some loose, hastily scribbled, disordered pages. Slowly and deliberately, the luminous tongue laps the first words.
This book by Ramon del Valle-Inclan, "Tirano Banderas," comes in an extraordinarily well prepared edition, with the much-missed discernment (ever more distant from "postmodern" editors) of respect for the author, the illustrator and the reader. This book reached this desk twice, as if everything had conspired for this August to be defined by the duality suggested by the mirror. One of the copies comes with the words "For a writer. MGG." The other has a laconic dedication, written in a trembling hand, "To Marcos, from Gironella."
Two copies, yes, but also two books in one book: the one that paints the letters of Ramon Del Valle-Inclan, the other that writes the - drawings? - of Alberto Gironella.
I met Gironella in that August of 1994, during the National Democratic Convention, in the Aguascalientes in the now former town of Guadalupe Tepeyac. Barely a greeting, and he gave us a magnificent painting of Emiliano Zapata, spattered with bullet holes and bottle caps. Tacho, or someone else, I don't remember, took the painting and hung it on the small podium of the Aguascalientes. Gironella's Zapata was presiding over the session when it survived the storm of the 8th. During the shipwreck of men and women that night, the painting disappeared.
Gironella left. Before his death, a lie sent an apocryphal letter to Don Alberto. Rebel and true, Gironella did not deserve the pathetic alms of the lie to the deceased. Because of that, because he never, neither in life nor in death, deserved pity, to wherever he may be found, I am writing these lines in order to tell him:
For Don Alberto Gironella:
From: Sup. Marcos
I did not write that letter. Someone thought that, by doing bad, they would do good, and they falsified the text and signature, believing that would give consolation and relief. I did indeed send the books, Don Alberto, and there were two because it was two that you had sent me (the Tirano Banderas and Potlatch), and because those two brought you or your painting (which are now the same) to mind. I put that about nature imitating art in those books for you, and, in one of them, The Revolt of Memory (CLACH editors), the picture of the zapatista guerrillas eating at Samborns of Los Azulejos, repeated your work in Tirano Banderas. On one of the jacket covers, you explain: "I had wanted to capture distinct real elements that Valle could have learned about during his visits to Mexico. If Valle used Huerta as a reference to tyrants, then I worked starting with an image of his, which incorporated characteristics attributed to him in the novel, such as the green color of his saliva...In order to depict Zacarias el Cruzado, I have used the image of a zapatista guerrilla...For the criollo Roque Cepeda, I started with a photo of Vasconcelos, who more than paralleled him...The frame takes its inspiration from the belt of an assassinated worker photographed by Alvarez Bravo: a belt made from the skin of the maguey..."
Yes, "parallel" you have said (the spectacles you painted on Huerta are repeated now in those Zedillo wears only to make his gaze even more baleful). And the Vasconcelos of "The spirit will speak through my race," painted anew in order to share the struggle with the indigenous risen up against Tirano Banderas, brings up other parallels: the UNAM and Chiapas, the university movement and the zapatista indigenous uprising.
In the nightmare that August and September are defining today for our country, the powerful are religiously repeating the arguments of Tirano Banderas' clique. Yes, for them "the Indian, as master of the land, is a utopia of university students. But revolutionary ideas are something more serious, because they alter the sacred foundations of ownership. The Indian, as master of the land, is a demagogic aberration, that cannot prevail in well ordered minds (Ramon Del Valle-Inclan, op. cit.).
And, in order to cure Indians and university students of this illness, Tirano Banderas' "postmodern" remedy dispatches tens of thousands of soldiers to the lands of the Mexican southeast. In February of 1995, Zedillo said, in a national broadcast to more than 90 million Mexicans: "They are not indigenous, they are not chiapanecos, they are white university students (I believe he said it like that) with radical ideas who are manipulating the chiapaneco indigenous."
Since then, this is the definition that has ruled the government "strategy" in the face of the conflict in Chiapas. In order to accomplish this, they count on the acquiescence of caciques who would make Tirano Banderas look like a sorcerer's apprentice. These are the ones who are governing, destroying and killing in Indian lands. Along with Banderas' brotherhood, they complain: "The Indian is contemptible by nature, he never takes advantage of his employer's benefits, he appears humble and he is sharpening his knife. He only stays on the straight and narrow with a riding crop. He is lazier, works less and gets drunk even more than the West Indian negro." (Ibid.). In order to execute such a great philosophy, hounds of diverse size are paraded through the government palace in Chiapas. The latest of them, with a particular taste for indigenous blood and croquettes, has made it clear: indigenous and students are not wanted in these lands. And the pack of hounds has already been enlisted for Zedillo's lapdog's clean-up campaign: "A good Indian is a dead Indian, and a good student is an absent student." Killing Indians and persecuting students is the fashionable sport in Chiapas. At the pinnacle of his alcohol and canine delirium, Albores declaims that he does indeed have his pants well hitched up (and he mistakes for a belt what is nothing more than a flea collar).
Yes, teacher, nature imitates art, and your words painted to illustrate Valle-Inclan's written images erupt in these times of Tiranos and arrogance, of university students and zapatista guerrillas.
And, to prove me right, a walnut ice cream did not turn up on my desk (which is what I would have wanted, and which, in that instance, nature does indeed surpass art), but rather a book which is also two books, War Report, by Julio Scherer Garcia and Carlos Monsivais.
A book times two evidenced by the fact that there are two authors, it is also double in what it rebels and reveals, in what it says about the past and in what both authors remain silent about concerning the future. Both, Scherer and Monsivais, are now a reference point in the history of Mexican culture in general, and of journalism in particular. Cutting in both word and pen, they arouse, by times, respect, and, not infrequently, fear.
Soldiers are paraded through Julio Scherer Garcia's text, their "toughness" and short-sightedness. Less and less frequent among civilians, the admiration for the military "forgets," after the mute epoch, that armies are the most absurd structures in existence. Absolute negation of reason, the crushing of the individual and the cult of destruction are some of their characteristics (and doors through which organized crime extends its reach).
I know that it sounds more than paradoxical that this is being said by a military commander of the EZLN, which is, also, an army. But that is precisely why we hope to disappear. But I have already explained this in other places, and I do not wish to bore you. What this book is about now is an army, the federal one, as a source of destabilization.
In my passage through the Heroic Military College and the Higher Education of War, I could see that it is neither a source of pride nor an honor to be what the federal Army turns into a closed, untouchable and unpredictable being. No, it is another world, and its internal logic allows injustices that would embarrass even the most corrupt of judges (of which there are many) of the Mexican judicial system: an article in a magazine, touching on the issue of human rights in the military (unthinkable, since we are speaking of "cold killing machines"), which rewarded General Gallardo with prison, disparagement and the daily harassment of his family. Those who refused to carry out assassination orders given by top military commanders in January of 1994, in response to the zapatista uprising, were given death and forced exile. Those who disapproved of the activation of paramilitary gangs in Chiapas, arguing that carrying weapons required discipline and responsibility, were disappeared. Those who enlisted dreaming of defending the Patria, "if a foreign enemy dares to profane by setting foot on your soil" - and who immediately found themselves confronted by civilians, children, old ones, women and men, all Mexicans, all poor - had to flee into hiding, imploring those same persons they had been attacking to lend them "civilian clothing" and a guide in order to leave the "conflict zone."
If 1968 had to wait 30 years for the illogical military logic to demonstrate its destabilizing injustice, in 1999 honest publications (which do exist) report daily on unpunished outrages and crimes, perpetrated with the sole arguments of an olive green uniform and a weapon. In a few words, a state of siege originally intended for the Mexican southeast, later extended to indigenous towns throughout the country, and now invading the streets of the cities.
While the government argues that the purpose of the massive military presence in Chiapas is to prevent destabilization, a quick recounting of events of the last two years demonstrate that it is the federal Army that is the primary cause of destabilization and deterioration in the Mexican southeast. Where the federales arrive, tensions go up and conflicts break out.
Since Señor Zedillo arrived at Los Pinos, by the hand of Colosio's assassins, the federal Army has broken the cease-fire on at least three occasions: in February of 1995 (leaving 5 zapatista deaths and a federal Army Colonel and 10 troops dead in combat); in June of 1998 in El Bosque (results: 8 zapatistas executed after having been taken prisoner by soldiers), and in August of 1999 in San Jose La Esperanza (results: 2 zapatistas wounded by gunfire and 8 soldiers "struck with sticks and stones"). The Secretaries of Government? Moctezuma Barragan (alias 'Guajardo') in 1995, Francisco Labastida (alias 'El Suavecito') in 1998, and Diodoro Carrasco (still without alias) in 1999. With Chuayffet the confrontation continued along the path of the paramilitaries and "awarded Mexican history with one of its most shameful and humiliating pages: the Acteal killings in December of 1997."
In addition to military attacks by the federales, all of these destabilizing actions have one common denominator: Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon.
Yes, Don Alberto, far from guaranteeing domestic order, the federal Army has been an important cause of disorder and ungovernability.
But, returning to War Report, it is impossible to read this book without the shadow of this August-September of 99. Impossible to do so "forgetting" about zapatista Chiapas. Impossible to read it without the presence of, not just the existence of the current student movement at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and also the obvious and great differences, but, above all, of the not so obvious similarities. This is one of those books, of which there are few, which should be read many times, discovering in them new words and new silences (something which shall not be easy, since the binding is of the "use and throw away" type), according to the Augusts and Septembers that are using up calendars.
But, in addition to the University Movement of today and the Chiapas rebellion, this book converges with Tirano Banderas in many pages. Look, Don Alberto, the following dialogue between two "journalists" in service to the tyrant:
"Who would have independent writing! The boss wants a ruthless critique."
Fray Mocho pulled a bottle of beer out from his chest and bent over it, kissing the bottleneck:
"It's a dishonor to sell one's conscience."
"What do you mean? You do not sell your consciences. You're selling your writing, which is not the same thing."
"For thirty bloody pesos!"
"It's a living. You don't have to be a poet."
Now compare this with Monsivais' text: "The government unleashed a press, radio and television campaign against the 'subversives,' and the Patriotic Explanations began to flow." (op. cit. p. 148). "In 1968, Mexican journalism went through the mortifying experience of denying modernity out of 'respect for institutions,' which now have little or nothing to say to young people, and which, as a rule, are translated into the language of cynicism....The journalist, as a rule, is at the service of the politicians, the only readers who take them into account, and the more rhetoric they demonstrate, the more corruption results" (...) That explains the cry of "Sold out Press!" in the marches, and the grotesquery of disinformation." (p. 174) And, further along: "In 1968, private television refused to broadcast the Movement's positions. The slander proliferated, and the calls for moral lynchings, the news shows denounced the insignificant number of the marches." (p. 183).
The university movement of 1999 has suffered, as few have over the last years, a true media war. Private television (where Televisa and Television Azteca are fighting among themselves for the "honor" of being the backbone of the ultra-right in Mexico) and radio, in particular, have made efforts that have gone much further than the obvious complacency of the government. With singular enthusiasm, they have been handing out epithets as if they were free samples for a new product; "Agitators," "subversives," "assailants," "kidnappers," "criminals," "pseudo-students," "strikers" (to put them in counterpoint to "the students who want to study"), and, markedly, the former PRI-ism that some PRD intellectual provided them with: "ultras."
And, in the Mexican southeast, the powerful and their hounds do not want to be left behind. Large amounts of money, originally intended for the indigenous communities, are flowing to the media in Chiapas. If the demagogic tone of some "journalists" can be used as a standard for the amount of money they have received, it can then be understood how, in spite of everything the government has invested in the state, little or nothing is reaching the communities. A large part of it remains on the editorial desks and in the wallets of the "journalists" who have a particular fascination with travelling by Army helicopters to cover, "with complete objectivity," what is happening.
With the zapatista "desertions" out of fashion, there is a new issue: the wicked student strikers from the UNAM have come to sow discord amongst the placid indigenous communities, that were so calm, ergo, these young persons cannot be allowed to "violate" Chiapas' sovereignty (and what is paradoxical is that it is the zapatistas they accuse of separatism). "Or they're going to jail," says the totally drunk Croquetas, while the soldiers at the San Quintin barracks applaud him.
In the Chiapas of Zedillo-Albores, the echoes of '68 are reborn and the boss's barking dogs shout at the students who arrive in the town of Amador Hernandez. The "Get out, damn foreigners!" (because in Albores' Chiapas, everything that is not a PRI is a "damn foreigner") has its precedent in "We want dead Che's!" they shouted, and, like an enormous echo, the crowds responded: "We want dead Che's! Let all the expatriated guerrillas die!" they shouted again, and the crowds passionately responded: "Die!" (in El Heraldo de Mexico, September 9, 1968. Op. cit. 178).
If Scherer and Monsivais discovered that hysterical fear was the driving force behind the government response to the '68 movement, August and September are revealing something equally terrible: Zedillo and Albores, and the press that accompanies them, are convinced that a new ghost is moving about the university classrooms and the mountains of the Mexican southeast: the anti-Mexico. Hysteria leading the federal and state governments.
The book says more, and still more the August of this end of century. This book War Report is 'almost' as good as The Night of Tlatelolco, that broken mirror that the princess' daughter gifted us with some years ago.
Then yes, Don Alberto, August is gone now, and September has already arrived, UNAM and Chiapas are sensitive to the pain of this country called Mexico. The university student movement and the zapatista rebellion are struggling against these pains. Perhaps they may not be able to relieve them, and they may only serve to feel them as they truly are: the pain of allÖ
I read here that the books did arrive on time and, perhaps, you were able to pack them in your suitcase, thinking that later you would be able to paint a few letters on those painted words.
Vale Don Alberto. Salud, and - who knows? - what hurts about death is that, by times, it embraces the one it should not.
PS. If you need anything, let me know, so that I can bring it when I go. Yes, I'll bring you War Report.
The writing is interrupted here. Holding, waiting for its place, a quotation from War Report stands alone: "The united rage of politicians, businessmen, bishops and news media did not dissuade the strikers, nor did the fear by the parents sap the movement's vitality." (p. 178).
The candle lends its last flicker above the last sentence, and it closes its sole eye. Barely an instant. A new flame momentarily illuminates the pipe and the face of the seated shadow.
Impossible to see his face since his back is turned.
And, even if he were facing, this man is without face, one more of those who abound in this corner of history.
>From the mountains of the Mexican southeast.
Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos.
Mexico, August-September of 1999.