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“If You Listen, Mexico 2006 Seems a lot Like Chiapas in 1992”

An Exclusive Interview with Zapatista Subcomandante Marcos: Part IV


By Sergio Rodríguez Lascano
Rebeldía Magazine

June 1, 2006

Rebeldía: The action by the Mexican State against the people of Atenco seemed like an open attack against the Other Campaign. If one analyzes the type of operation it seems that it was carried out using the manual of scorched earth policy. The matter wasn’t about arresting specific persons, but, rather, to attack a town and together with it all the people that were there in solidarity with it. The brutality of the action was such that today authorities offer their personal opinion that maybe some police officers went too far. What do you think of the kind of operation that was carried out and is this going to be the policy that the State continues to conduct to confront the Other Campaign?

Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos: Yes, this will be the policy, but it was not an operation. Mr. Wilfredo (Robledo, chief of the state police) has seen too many films and shows on TV Azteca and Televisa and he conducted the operation for television. It was an operation of punishment and reprisal for the mass media. And that explains why the mass media were there and edited the different clips to be able to say “these revolting rebels that attack the public peace were punished in exemplary fashion.” The operation was very, very badly done, from the standpoints of the goals of arrest, the goals of repression and the goals of imposing fear. Because only 24 hours had passed, when we symbolically retook Atenco. It was, above all, a signal from above recognizing who runs this country. Right now, in the vacuum of governance, it is the mass media. And now that this has turned around on them it is being seen: “well, yes, this is the result of there not being any legitimacy in what we did and therefore the law doesn’t matter, because legitimacy has been lost.” They already lost the ground they had gained, and that happened in the mass media. And to the media, it doesn’t matter to them whether there were violations or not, but, rather, that the common people don’t believe that the police behaved honestly, humanly and legally in the hour that they entered San Salvador Atenco.

This is going to be the policy of the State to confront the Other Campaign and any other social movement; as long as it exists and they try to manage it through the media. And the autonomy and independence that the mass media have — not as a benefit but in order to be able to exercise power however they like — means that there is no defined policy. We don’t know, with the growth that the Other Campaign is showing, with the protest movement to free the prisoners of Atenco, if they are going to respond with repression or if they are going to respond with liberty. What is seen is that the maneuvering room for them to act stupidly is being restricted. That is to say, we see here and here and here that, above all, the mobilizations have grown.

Since long before all this, those in power were going to continue without defining a policy to confront any social movement. I’m not just referring to repressing it, but also to solving its demands. It’s not going to happen. And that is what the three main presidential candidates are proposing. They said, immediately: “I am going to follow this policy,” or “I am not going to follow it,” or “I don’t know.” Well, nobody said they weren’t going to follow it, right? López Obrador said, “no… well….”

So, what is happening is that the operation fell apart already, totally, in terms of legitimacy, and it begins to fall apart in terms of its effectiveness and it is going to disappear at the moment that the prisoners walk free. Then what was it good for? They think that they can’t do it, because that would mean recognizing the mistake. There, above, it doesn’t matter if (state of Mexico governor Enrique) Peña Nieto or Wilfrido pay the price. The joke is that the movement won’t settle for that. At the hour that they fall, that their heads are offered and they tell us to calm down, they will be told NO, not until the prisoners are free. And that will be part of the movement: to punish the guilty and all that. Because they are going to offer that: they will offer punishment to the guilty ones that they choose with the punishment that they choose. And the prisoners? They can’t even be kept there on judicial grounds.

This is not the first time that the state has done it this way, seduced by the mass media. It’s like this: Wilfrido imagined himself being interviewed perfectly by Denisse Mercker, by Ciro Gómez Leyva, by López Dóriga – by all the Pleiades – telling the story about how he established order. The same goes for Peña Nieto. And now they have to face the music and spend money on TV spots to say what they did. That’s when they lost the battle. And in the end they lost it. Because even Wilfrido will never be able to explain it in the face of what people will always say: “couldn’t you have done it cleanly?” With a little more time and more intelligence. They had time, but, no, Wilfrido did not have the intelligence. The Mexican State doesn’t have that intelligence. That is what López Obrador and Madrazo and Calderón are trying to recuperate: “We would have done it right.” It’s not that they are going to stop repressing, but that they are going to do it better. That is how they see it and so they are going to fall wherever the magazine is published.

Rebeldía: At the start of the Other Campaign, you sent a letter to the reporters of the media in which you explicitly signaled that La Otra wasn’t seeking and was not going to capture the interest of the major mass media. Later, the TV wisemen (Denise Dresser, Hernández López, Riva Palacios, Krauze, Carlos Marín, Aguilar Camín) – pack journalism, a friend commented to me – said that the EZLN had not captured the interest of the media, that the Sup didn’t appear on television, on the news, in the press. Without knowing it, or wanting to, they simply confirmed what the EZLN had said in that letter to the reporters. Now, after the criminal action against the people of Atenco, you said that you would participate in a series of interviews with the mass media. Going on Televisa, in particular, unleashed a certain polemic. What was the goal of doing that kind of interview?

SCI Marcos: Prior to Atenco there had been an unspoken agreement: since the Other Campaign was working toward what is below, it was not looking toward what is above. Don’t mess with us and we won’t mess with you. That we don’t go there doesn’t mean that we aren’t criticizing what is up above. We didn’t get involved in the sense that we had clearly defined for quite a while that politics is defined by the mass media. Thus, we didn’t involve ourselves with the mass media, in spite of the fact that ever since we broke our silence there were requests for interviews coming from all of them. That is what those commentators have forgotten. The truth is that some of the same people who were complaining had requested interviews.

We said: well, no, we’re heading down below. We had this understanding: they don’t mess with us and we won’t mess with them. The media only broadcast the hits we made against the PRD or López Obrador, but that’s where it stayed, nothing else was broadcast. They just said whatever they wanted. Then, when the attack on Atenco happened and the mass media turned against not only Atenco but also against the Other Campaign, and together with the political class, we said: Okay, now the truce has been broken. And the truce meant for us here below that we didn’t concern ourselves with the mass media. Because we knew that there had been this interest on the part of the media since even before the Other Campaign began.

We said: the political class is fucking with us with this police operation, so now we’re going to get involved and dispute it with them. Not so much dispute, because what they did had no legitimacy nor intelligence. We were going to see what they didn’t want to see which is the people comparing an honest, articulated, proposal with the lies that they are saying, or the change in direction that needed to happen. So, in that sense, it was decided that those with experience doing interviews with a nose for journalism – because everyone else said it was not news – and the only one that was insisting that there was news here was one with that nose for journalism: it was (Carlos) Loret de Mola (of Televisa). So we decided to give him an interview. But first we gave one to La Jornada in a very different and other understanding. Later, I was scolded because I didn’t mention the Televisa Law on Televisa and all that but the goal of the interview was to change the view regarding what happened in Atenco. That was what was achieved.

A journalist scolded me: “but you had an hour, you could have hit a lot of issues,” and, later, she got an hour-long interview from me and she said, “oh no, there’s not enough time.” And before that, at La Jornada, it also took four hours, but there were many things to talk about. We thought that it had to be done and we had to achieve focus: to put that time at the service of the Other Campaign. Returning to the matter of the correlation of forces regarding what happened in Atenco, and that is how the interview was done. To say: hang on, this is not just any brutality. It’s not about any common violence. There is a total imbalance and that is what the law is supposed to balance. If it also gave greater visibility to the Other Campaign, well good then. But our goal was that. And later, fundamentally, it is coherent because we say that in this country the ones who govern are the media. We went to tell the government to let our compañeros and compañeras go if it doesn’t want trouble. And if it doesn’t let them go, well, these problems are going to keep growing.

There are two major criticisms that are made regarding Marcos’ appearance on Televisa: one comes from the alternative media, who say – although not very convinced – that with that appearance, although it was critical, it endorsed the politics of the media. And, well, this can be debated because it is a criticism from the left. And the other criticism was made the intellectuals made in the media, where there is supposedly an entire spectrum of thought from the left to the right. And fundamentally it all can be reduced to: “Why do you have to mess up the panorama?” As journalists say: Wow, what a banquet, to have someone that you can really interview and to whom the people want to listen. Because who is going to listen to López Obrador or Calderón or Madrazo? Not even if they are paid. I don’t say that this can’t also occur with Marcos, but at that moment, in that interview, it was The Interview, that is to say, a journalist’s banquet.

And the result is that it went well, that many people saw it, that it changed the entire perception of what happened in Atenco, and then they said: oh no, now we have a variable that wasn’t contemplated, that doesn’t have a registered place, that doesn’t even pay for ads and that messed all of it up for us. And if you read the criticisms by the editorialists that say they are of the left or of the right, well, you can change the names and there is no difference whatsoever.

Rebeldía: It seemed as if you wanted to make them pay for the repression in Atenco. What does your presence in Mexico City mean in the context of the federal elections? If they free the compas that are in prison will you continue the tour through the rest of the country?

SCI Marcos: Yes. When all the compas that were taken prisoner in Atenco are freed, the Other Campaign will continue and continue below. That was the proposal we made in public we will honor it. But if they are not freed, we won’t just be on top of the elections and not just on top of Mexico City. The Other Campaign, as a national organization, is acquiring a profile that it didn’t have before Atenco. And for us it is a question of dignity, ethics and morals to do it. And we are ready to call on everyone else who is ready to join together to bring this matter of “they must be freed” to the ultimate consequences. That is the gamble and the message is clear: let them go and we will return to the margins. If not, we are going to make all the noise that we can. It’s unfortunate that this magazine is not read by those above, because I am sending them this message free of charge.

Rebeldía: Finally, and returning to the Other Campaign: Up above they speak to us about a country where two “realities” collide; the World Cup in soccer and the elections on July 2nd (two holograms, the second more surreal than the first). What is happening below? What country, what peoples, what people, what are you seeing?

SCI Marcos: There is no country up above colliding with either of those realities. In the Mexico of above, the country above, there is only simulation. A simulation that is betting everything on July 2nd and shouts at the mirror, “We are modern! We are modern!” Although the flesh that it has is rotting. Although this is the same story as before: 1968, all the stories of repression, those that are hanging like pieces of rotting meat in the face of what is being seen here. On the other hand, there is the soccer championship, that yes, has an impact below, but it begins and then it ends the same as July 2nd.

We are looking below, first, at a look of desperation. This change that we have seen is skepticism, or cynicism, with respect to what happens above – in the political class – a rage and motives to do something. If not, the Other Campaign would not have grown. Before Calderón’s candidacy began to inflate – an artificial inflation, of course – in Jalisco, some reporters told us that the Other Campaign meetings were bigger than his. Now that’s not the case. He has a lot of support. But as of a month ago, the Other Campaign was drawing bigger crowds than Felipe Calderón.

And it’s not about people who are waiting for answers, but, rather, people who are waiting for a place and, above all, a place where they will be respected. So, the Other Campaign began as a complaint box and later turned into an exchange of experiences, in the understanding of these experiences, and as it marches on it has become a place of struggle. Now, yes, we are going to fight. It’s not about something that is far off in the distance. And the government is playing its part so that the fight happens: with the attacks, the repression and the threats.

If you notice, when the repression happened in Atenco and then the first offensive by the mass media… the second! The first was when they attacked and the second was when the attack was over and they said: “The law has triumphed.” All of them, from the entire political spectrum, signed up: (Governor Pablo) Salazar Mendiguchia in Chiapas, (Governor) Zeferino Torreblanca in Guerrero, (Governor) Lázaro Cárdenas in Michoacán, everywhere they said: “Right on! Now is the time to hit those people who we always have to deal with.” Some do it, others don’t. They think that this is the hour of long knives and the entire political spectrum says: “Right on! Now is when we are going to make them all pay.” But since it only lasted a few hours and it began to boomerang on them, they began to retreat again. And the retreat is owed not only to the mass media but also because below came the first wave that said, “Damn! They beat us up and now begins the organizational stage,” which is still kind of disperse because the Other Campaign didn’t have form yet. It was still nothing more than the tour by Delegate Zero. And now it begins to acquire an organizational structure and it begins to say, “Right on! Let’s do it.” This is the organizational structure that means, in qualitative terms, that we thought they were going to do a lot more to us next.

We are watching. We are looking below. There is still fear, and there is still rage. Above all there is rage, more rage than fear. But now the extra element is organization: The capacity to organize. We are going to organize ourselves at the national level to do one thing and then do the next. And the first tests will be the decentralized actions on June 19 and the centralized one on the 28th. We think that here La Otra is going to have a more defined profile and will be able to enter, in June, a competition with the political class and with power, freedom for the compañeros and compañeras of Atenco. And on the same stage that they put up.

Yes, until now that stage, the electoral stage, served only to repress us, to shove us off to the sides, to ignore us. Now, whether they get what they want depends on what we do. Do I sound very threatening? That’s a promise.

Rebeldía: One last thing. You have said that in some meetings what you are seeing in the Mexico from below reminds you of 1992 in Chiapas. Could you explain that?

SCI Marcos: Yes, look: what happened in 92, there began to be rumors. We had our troops in the mountains and every once and a while we gave political classes: about what the country like, the world, the Indian peoples, bla bla bla. And in 1992, those who returned from the towns to the mountains and we, when we were going to the coordinators’ meetings – back then there weren’t committees, just coordinators – began to say: The people are saying let’s go, that now is the time. I am synthesizing what they said with other words there. And it began in one place, and then another, and then in a region, and then in another; it began to happen also in the highlands, not just in the jungle – which is where I was – and in the northern region, and on the coast. They began to say: Now is the time, we have to do something. And it’s not a case in which – this happens sometimes – it was the product of a mobilization. We had mobilized at times in the jungle. And since there was no fighting, nobody saw it. But we were able to bring together thousands of combatants in a concentration, or decentralize them to conduct practice operations. We didn’t wage any attack. What I could understand as an officer is that they didn’t get all heated up because they saw that there was an attack, “and, let’s go!” No, to the contrary, there was no immediate reference. It was, rather, the product of the same conditions as always and what they were seeing, first. And second, it was that they had an organization and could do something about it. Because he who had no organization was fucked, and that was what was happening there.

So, that was when we said: No, we can’t make a decision based on rumors. We have to ask the people. And we knew what that meant, because the style of the communities is to ask everyone and to discuss it. And so we organized a consultation. We floated a rumor in the cities, saying, “It’s like this.” They told us: “you’re crazy, Salinas is more powerful than ever, it’s the fall of the socialist camp, you don’t have a chance, they will cut you into pieces, etcetera.” In any case, we held the consultation in every corner. And what happened is what we think is happening also in the Other Campaign, when someone begins to speak about something else: not about death, but about living, about winning, about kicking out the plantation owners, about defeating the wealthy that are humiliating them. But this is not what the rumors say. It is like part of the collective unconscious that comes to a conclusion and begins to reproduce in assemblies, because it was almost simultaneous, you couldn’t even say it was that one assembly was influenced by a previous one. It was like that, simultaneous, in nearby regions, and it went: Yes, yes, yes, but by an overwhelming majority, above all because there we sought consensus.

And so, since it was my job to tour those regions and listen to the arguments in the language of the peoples: that look, those words, and those silences, are those that I am seeing right now. We have already seen it, well, in the states. There are two parts of the Other Campaign; the public events are where they make speeches and applaud or whatever and the meetings, those that frustrate a lot of people, and nobody has a complete view of an adherents meeting, because they get frustrated, they go to the bathroom, they sleep, they leave the tape recorder on.

So, all that is happening and this thing begins – according to our tricks or, well, this virtue – I don’t know how to explain it. For us, listening to what is said and what is not said, is what I always scold all of you about. It’s that you are all listening to what the people say, someone, Marcos or whoever, and not what is happening and being said between the people there. That is to say, you don’t know how to listen.

And so we began to see all of this. That is, it’s one thing if someone stops and speaks, saying: It’s that I need land, help me, and I don’t know what, the damn government, the goddamn PRI. And another is when they begin to tell their story of struggle and the effect that has on the rest of the people. And we say: It’s that these people, in any state – because I am describing to you a situation of extreme poverty – above all in the rural regions, that if you pass through the indigenous communities of Chiapas in 92 it was the same, the same profile. That is, they are dying, they are being killed, they are having everything taken away from them and nobody notices. Nobody sees them or listens to them. So, you say, this is the same thing as what we went through, only without weapons. Without organization, or perhaps, spontaneously, it is bound for defeat. We say: Instead of promoting that – because we have made war and we know what it costs – we give these people an alternative that doesn’t mean losing their profile, their autonomy, their independence, their history, and that avoids arriving at a spontaneous moment.

When I was going to pass through the different states, we all had the perspective that the moment would arrive when we define how it is constructed. And now it turns out that, no, we have to begin building already, although we lack many things, and as we build more people approach. The organization that the Other Campaign is building, for example, in the metropolitan zone of Mexico City and the State of Mexico, is more effective than a gigantic meeting, and so more people join in the Other Campaign. Because things are already divided into tasks, it is already reality that if you are part of this movement you have your place, your task has its place. So, there is no meeting better than this one, no better activity for promoting adhesion to the struggle than that which the Other Campaign is doing. That is to say, until now, we didn’t turn the Other Campaign into a struggle. We simply took attendance. Beginning with Atenco, we are now fighting as the Other Campaign. Fucking great, no? But hopefully it won’t cost as much, which is to say that everyone comes out alive.

That time, when we had the preparatory meetings for La Otra, when they argued – yes on this, no on that – we said: we don’t have to worry ourselves much about this, because in the street when we are fighting or are repressed all that division will dilute. And that is what is happening. Right now it doesn’t matter if you are an anarchist. You have your organization but now the dispute is not over who is authoritarian, who is hierarchical and who is libertarian, but, rather, how are we going to do our job to get everyone, well, our compañeros and compañeras, out of jail.

Click here for Part I
Click here for Part II
Click here for Part III

This is a translation of the fourth and final part of an interview that appears in the current issue (#42) of Rebeldía magazine, a special edition about Atenco that is available throughout Mexico and will soon be available online at its website.

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