December 1994 interview with Marcos

Civil society abandoned us in the convocation of the CND


Written by : Epigmenio Ibarra, Aguascalientes, Chiapas
LA JORNADA, December 9, 1994, pg. 12-13

For the Zapatista Army of National Liberation the civil movement which "has become weaker due to internal wear and tear or because they bet on banners which had no future" is one of the most disillusioning events of the year. In the opinion of Subcomandante Marcos, civil society "abandoned us in the convocation of the Democratic National Convention, as well as in the help they were giving us."

Nevertheless, Marcos believes that this does not call for discounting the experience of the CND: "If it is not the Convention then it must be another type of movement which can see that the problem is not one of slogans, but the method of work which is used to raise them and convoke people to new mobilizations."

Marcos sees a "more difficult" Mexico on the political field, because among other things the electoral struggle did not serve to change the "one-party system". Without mentioning names or positions, the insurgent leader said he mistrusted those leaders who "in the final analysis are making deals with the government, hidden agreements."

The precise problem is not making those deals, "but doing it in a hidden manner and with the government which is the enemy, a government willing to stay in power by not acknowledging anything which occurs around them.

THAT ABANDONMENT OF WHICH YOU SPEAK, COULD IT NOT BE CONSIDERED AN INDICATION THAT THE CAUSE OF THE EZLN HAS NO FUTURE? -

"That's one reading. The way we read it is that it is an abandonment not of Zapatismo, but of the possibility of a peaceful change..the end to those civilian mobilizations is a call to the EZLN so that we take the road which we had suspended in January and ratified in August during the first session of the Convention. We interpret this as a call from those social sectors which are the most dispossessed to return to combat against the government.

We may be mistaken, it may be that in reality the Zapatista demands are out of sync, that they don't fit in the historic moment which the country is living, but we don't believe that. We would not have taken up arms or continued if we believed that our demands had no echo.. I think we are correct when we say that the faltering of the civil movement calls us to the military movement, that is the reading we make of it. That reading in January made us accept the cease-fire, later the dialogue, later the Convention and our submission to it, now it obliges us to make the decision to renew hostilities."

IF YOU LOOK AT THIS, THERE WERE 6,000 IN THE FIRST CONVENTION; AT A SECOND MEETING THERE WERE MORE THAN 400. THIS WEAKENING, ISN'T IT ALSO CALLS FOR YOU TO TAKE THE OFFENSIVE IN POLITICAL TERMS? -

"Look, we believe this weakening is above all, an exhaustion with the methods, that the democratic movement in Mexico--and here is included all the spectrum, from the ultraleft and the left to the centrist sectors which seek a democratic change have arrived at exhaustion of the old methods of work: too many meetings, demonstrations without a defined direction, a lot of emphasis upon "joining" movements.

The problem with these joint movements is that you have to find something which really mobilizes everyone, so the juncture cannot affect some and not others. The only juncture which really affects everyone is the war. This is what allowed the development of the great mobilizations in January and I expect they will do something in December.

We also see that the lack of a national political force is being pointed out, a new one, modern one, as Tacho says, which carries a banner which finds common agreements and places in contact all those sectors and above all which proposes a new form of working and a new form of organizing. We think, and I think still, that this can be the Convention at some point. If not the Convention, then it must be another type of movement which can do this. The problem is not the banners one raises but the problem is also the method of work which is used to carry them out and mobilize people.

We now confront a more difficult political scenario in Mexico, a mexico which for a moment lost its skepticism about legal organizations of the left, lost its distance in respect to political parties due to distrust, suspicion, lost its skepticism about the possibility of presenting a united front before the one-party system. To this was added the fact that the electoral struggle was sabotaged and the one-party system imposed once again. This leaves people with an enormous frustration. So what's next? What do I do? Its mistrust for those who, finally are making deals. And making deals is not the problem, doing it behind closed doors is, and with the government which it is said we are fighting against, a government willing to stay in power any way possible, in a historic blindness which all us mexicans will pay. I wish only they would pay, but all of us will pay.

Now there is this element of an armed movement. We think like this, the people turn to the left, they turn to the right and finally they turn again to the Mexican southeast and see a group of men and women who are armed, masked, which is saying the same thing they want to say, but with arms. If all else fails, let's try the war again. This is the reading we make. We think that when we say no, there are many people who expect that, and when we say we are uncomfortable we are responding in some way to the sentiments of broad sectors of the population."

YOU HAVE DISTINGUISHED YOURSELVES BY MAKING POLITICAL USE OF ARMED STRUGGLE. IN SEVERAL OF YOUR DECLARATIONS YESTERDAY, IT SEEMS THAT THEIR POLITICAL USE IS EXHAUSTED, THAT WHAT COMES IS THE USE OF ARMED STRUGGLE AS ARMED STRUGGLE, BECAUSE THERE IS NO OTHER WAY. IN THE TACTICAL SENSE, YOU SAY THERE IS NO RETREAT, WE WILL HAVE TO FIGHT WITH THE VILLAGES. YOU FORESEE THE MASSIVE EXODUS OF ENTIRE VILLAGES. NO POLITICAL OR MILITARY OUTLET CAN BE SEEN TO THE USE OF ARMS IN THAT SENSE. -

"We are surrounded. We are surrounded in military terms since January. Unfortunately, the political encirclement we now suffer does not come from the government but from the exhaustion of those social sectors which gave us oxygen before, not in terms of an exchange, but to the extent that they took our banners and tried to carry them forward. So, when they begin to leave those banners we have to pick up what we have. If the climate is political, that is to say, if there is a political opening you can use a weapon to point it out. But when there is no longer that, one intuitively believes that the weapons have to open that space again, firing again to make politics possible.

What we understand is that December of 94 is not January of 94, we are in a sharper military correlation, balanced against us more. We no longer have the element of surprise. The enemy is in position to annihilate us and we have to acknowledge something. In these circumstances we cannot make a guerrilla military proposal with the territory under our control. We cannot because the composition of our army is too rooted in the villages. We cannot pull the soldiers outside their families and abandon their families. Either we go with them, or we stay with them, that's what I'm saying. In military terms, the situation is balanced against us. But we believe we must do something and when we feel we can no longer speak or feel that our speech has no echo, no receptivity, well we always have the weapon."

YOU HAVE ALWAYS SAID THAT IF WAR BEGINS AGAIN IT WILL BE DIFFICULT TO STOP. BEING SURROUNDED AS YOU ARE THIS WOULD BE A VERY PAINFUL, COSTLY WAR, EVEN MORE DIFFICULT TO STOP, ISN'T THIS TRUE?

"Yes, because a war in that sense creates a lot of hatred which accumulates and which is discharged sooner or later. So convincing an Army that they should hold back after they have already held back and nothing has happened--everything remained the same. What argument is useful for the Zapatistas: stop, try a peace negotiation, when the one which happened left everything the same? Nothing changed in the national panorama and nothing changed in the regional panorama. There is nothing I can say to make them believe that the peace negotiations were useful..the same class structure is in place, the same racism, the same governmental structure, the same radical speeches and reactionary practices. So no one can convince an army which tried one road to return to it because the dead have accumulated.

It was difficult to stop our people in January after the first casualties. If the war begins again it will be more difficult and I would dare to say it would be impossible. Add to that skepticism, that disilussion of having tried the dialogue without results. ..Zapatista forces may be encircled but Zapatismo has extended to all the state of Chiapas, in every rural zone and some urban zones...these are Zapatistas and they have casualties. The number of dead, of disappeared, the repression which comes from the governmental structure, whether they be arbitrary actions of the federal army, or assassinations by the White Guards or disappearances or evictions of the Judicial Police or Public Safety.

So these companeros say to us: the cease-fire has ended, why are we preserving it? You have the armed force there and you are our Army. You have to defend us, you have to do something, otherwise why did you take up arms. ..When we say that Robledo formalizes the end to the ceasefire we are saying it has been done..it has been broken by governmental forces and now it's our turn to respond because that pressure comes from outside. In reality all the peaceful civic movement is being hit harder and in more radical ways each time, and it is telling us..no more. They're counting their dead and saying, how many more must die before you do something, how many more dead so that everything stays the same and you do nothing. That's what takes us to that conclusion.

If at the national level there is nothing which gives us an out, a way to get to the regional level; they are telling us that the door to open is the door to war, and I'm not referring solely to the Zapatistas. I'm referring to a good part of the official campesino movement which is exhausted and views the imposition of Robledo Rincon with terror. In addition to Rincon there is a state congress which in its totality is in favor of Patrocinio Gonzalez Garrido. So, there was an army which took up arms, there were casualties, destruction, threats, invasions, exhaustion, a blockade and everything is still the same? If the people are not willing to tolerate it, to accept it, they have to turn to something and they turn to us."

YOU SAID NO TO A DIALOGUE WITH CAMACHO, THEN NO TO MADRAZO, NOW NO TO THE DIALOGUE WHICH PRESIDENT ZEDILLO PROPOSES..SO, WHO WILL YOU TALK TO?..ABOUT WHAT..IS IT STILL POSSIBLE?

"..With Camacho there was..what I was saying to you..a radical proposal and a reactionary practice, or a "no change" practice. Here's an example; the local elections. We asked that elections for governor, municipal president, and state deputies all occur at the same time, that the state renew itself at the same time, and they answer by keeping everything separate and also inserting the state election process in the federal election process, in a conflict which has yet to be resolved. We see that and say no to a fake dialogue, to an empty shell of an agreement, an agreement from above which leaves the base causes of the uprising untouched.

We could have benefited directly from that, we could have said: orale, we'll make an arrangement and take a few things. WE know that the structure had not been touched and another Zapatista Army somewhere else would rise up sooner or later under that same structure. That's when we said; no real solutions, no to a dialogue. Madrazo came and proposed the same thing or nothing, and then the companeros say no and say: well, what are we going to talk about, we tried once and there is nothing new. In Zedillo's case; well, we need a sign we need to see something besides speeches, to make us know that there is a willingness to resolve these conflicts by other means. That can only be the willingness to deeply transform Southeast Mexico.

I think the State is not willing to do this. I think that in order to do this they have to sacrifice one or another part: either they sacrifice an indigenous movement without the capacity to contribute to the national economy, an indigenous sector which is not income-producing even as a labor force; or sacrifice a sector which in the economic Moderniztion of Mexico is also not income producing the large cattle ranchers and landowners--not even in their methods of production--and which represent in political terms a big obstacle for any reforms in development no matter how tepid they are.

The conflict has taken these two polarities to demand that the other disappear. The landholders are not willing to leave this alone; the indigenous people will have to pay, they say, the boldness of January must be paid by all of the indigenous people even if they are not Zapatistas. And the indigenous people say: we cannot go back; either we go after everything or we'll be left with nothing, because that is the experience of yesterday. the federal government has to--and here the landowners are clearer, the cattleranchers are clearer--opt for our annihilation, to annihilate us and leave their hands free in order to adjust accounts with the indigeous population. And we say, it's either us or them, one of us has to sacrifice those two elements. The government has annihilated another means. First through the previous governors, later with the politics they followed; trying to paint the exterior of the house althought the inside was rotting. This is what Sedesol did, after May of 1993; a lot of money came here in an effort to keep up appearances. But the same communities which were to receive the money were the ones which took up arms on January 1, 1994. That is why we acknowledge as a clear sign of change of an effort to resolve the conflict, a willingness to do what the Mexican revolution never did in the Southeast. What changes it did make in other parts of the country, gave way to other problems of social injustice. But in the Chiapanecan countryside this never happened.

Here we have the same problems which existed in the days of Porfirio Diaz. If you remember what came out in the press about the ranches on the coast. Those ranches were using the same companystores of Porfirism, and this is true in many places..in those in the jungle..it exists in its most absurd form."

LET'S TALK ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT, WHAT THESE CHANGES REPRESENT, THIS ACCEPTANCE, SO WE CAN MAKE AN AGREEMENT.

"Yes, but when someone is armed, if you ask them what they want, they tell you why they struggle. In this case a Zapatista..will tell you, well; the 11 points..in summary, liberty, justice, democracy for all Mexicans. And you answer by saying, no not that, I offer you this and this, so give me something. From the Zapatista Army nothing will come that is not a repetition of the same democracy, liberty, justice. We did it in January, we did it in the Cathedral of San Cristobal de las Casas, we've done it all year. The only thing which changed was when we opened ourselves to the convention and the electoral process in August, whose results we're still suffering from. Look how strange it is that the 8th of August in this place we called upon civil society to make the effort for a peaceful transition, and here it is the 8th of December and we're saying; it's exhausted, let's go to war."

NOW I WANT TO ASK YOU; WHEN YOU SPEAK ABOUT A PEACEFUL TRANSITION TO DEMOCRACY YOU SAID IT MIGHT HAPPEN ON AUGUST 21ST. DOES THIS MEAN THAT: IF THE PRI WON THERE WOULD BE NO TRANSITION? MUST THE PRI BE DEFEATED BY ANY MEANS, OR CAN YOU CO-EXIST, NEGOTIATE, WORK WITH A GOVERNMENT OF THE PRI? -

"We think not. The PRI structure is not just a party structure it is the structure of a political system. To obtain a victory, the PRI must cut a lot of deals, it has a lot of debts to pay at a lot of levels. Concretely the state of Chiapas makes these compromises with the indigenous political bosses, the cattle rancher political bosses, and the commercial political bosses. So, how can there be democracy with these anti-democratic structures? What permits domination at the national level is the same thing which permits it at the local and regional level. A process of democratization means sacrificing the party system of the State, and this means sacrificing the party. In Zedillo's case it is clear what debts he had to assume and what pacts he made with all the levels of government, including his commitment with such an unpopular figure as Robledo Rincon; in order to get power. We have said, the PRI could be in power, if there were something else to counterbalance it, to make it act like a government and not like a system which dominates everything.

SO WHAT ABOUT ZAPATISMO, COULDN'T A POLITICAL ZAPATISMO COUNTERBALANCE THAT, NOT NECESSARILY IN MILITARY TERMS? -

"The problem with Zapatismo is that in military terms we are cornered in a part of the country, and in political terms it has many limitations. It is armed, illegal, masked, it doesn't have an identity. So Zapatismo is limited to the calls it can make from the mountains of the Mexican southeast. We think there can be a peaceful Zapatismo which struggles for the same platform. But it's like Tacho pointed out to the Convention, it's no good if it offers something new to people but does it in the same way. It can't be a new man with the old body; we call ourselves this now, but we're the same thing as always, a proven failure. We create skepticism this way, disillusionment, frustration and an armed movement. Because the responsibility for the birth of the Zapatista Army is also that of the political parties of opposition, of the political organizations of opposition, which for an important social sector, no longer provided an alternative.

For an armed movement like the Zapatista Army to arise and hold social consensus requires not just the failure of the government, it is also the failure of the opposition. And if you look at the banners of the EZLN and the banners of the opposition you can see that they are the same. So why does one create so much cynicism and the other so much fear. Cynicism for one because in the long run they negotiate their platforms, and deal, a very old strategy, and for the other because that banner comes from a group of men and women who are armed. So there is nowhere to go, and we feel that we have a great many limitations including that due to our clumsiness when we speak; we don't recognize fear.

I was telling Major Moises that in January everything was simple; the world was simple: we were the good guys and the bad guy were the rest of the world. But after the ceasefire when we came into the public light and began to have dialogue, the world became more complicated, more political, less military, and for an army to take a political terrain is to take a new terrain, one which it does not know. In that sense the image of when we took the cities in January was repeated, we committed those errors. When we entered politics we entered a terrain we do not know and in which we made mistakes. But I want to remind you that in the long run we have the recourse of returning. When we failed in the cities we returned to the mountains. If we fail at the politics we return to the arms."

AND ISN'T THIS A RETREAT INSTEAD OF A RETURN: TO GO TO WAR, TO GO TO DIE? -

"We evaluate it this way. They asked me yesterday if we realize what is the proportion of the military forces, if we don't believe it is suicide to break the ceasefire or take some military action. We don't value it that way. If we did, January would not be, we would never have come into existence. In military terms the EZLN is an absurdity. What makes it possible, real, is the banner it carries.

At this moment in which we live, they took us to the alley of which dignity, which is of more value for us, weighs more than being alive or dead. It is the problem of dignity which takes us to war or peace. For the Zapatistas to remain in peace would be undignified and to fight, to have dignity as in December of 93. You cannot propose that to a Zapatista."

YOU GAVE YOUR OPPONENT LITTLE SPACE TO MANEUVER FOR A DIALOGUE, YOU TOLD HIM TO TAKE HIS HEAD OFF.

"My opponent left me little manuevering space. To dialogue he said, surrender. We are at two extremes; they go to an extreme, we go to an extreme. We can do nothing else. The dialogue of the government can be very flexible but its practice is; surrender and we'll dialogue. Accept that all you did was useless. Try telling that to an Army. All of you trained yourselves, you suffered, you prepared, you rose up, your people died, your brothers, your children, everything is the same, let's talk....

They [CCRI] see nothing, nothing, not even a small sign that says to them that the enemy has intentions of following another path besides surrender or confrontation..and hear me when I say, real signs not just speeches..just analyze Chiapas in December of 93 and December of 94..it is the same.. ..The number of troops has not decreased, it has increased. Their positions have changed, they have a base inside the jungle.

The belligerance of the ranchers: they have more operating ground, the evictions they have made have been tolerated. Add to the armed force of the ranchers the armed force of the government. In political terms you have a PRI government linked to the most reactionary sectors in Chiapanecan history... We can't even say, let's hold on even with Robledo because there is a great civilian mobilization. We have no real civilian force to intercede, it doesn't matter that they like the communiques and the stories of Heriberto and Eva. There is nothing, nothing I can say to the committee..something is changing..I have to be honest and say nothing is changing..we have to prepare for the worst."

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT ROBLEDO'S OFFER TO RESIGN IF YOU GIVE UP YOUR ARMS?

"I thnk he ratifies the fact that the government speaks through him, that he does not take the situation very seriously. It's a really bad joke, to be playing with fire by supposing that you can exchange an imposed government for an entire movement which has risen up for justice and with dignity. Positions of this kind assure that there will be war. There is no doubt, they are mocking us, as though our position on the 6th of December were a joke. No way, this issue is not even up for discussion."

NO DEAL? -

"The arms of the Zapatistas are not up for discussion. NO Deal."


Translated by : Cecilia Rodriguez
National Commission for Democracy in Mexico, USA


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