Subcommander Marcos ‘ceases to exist’

A new communique from Subcommander Marcos of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) (online at Enlace Zapatista, and in translation at Roar Magazine) states that he is stepping down as the public voice of the indigenous Maya rebel army in Mexico's Chiapas state. It says he is to be replaced by a "Subcommander Galeano," named for the nom de guerre of José Luis Solís López, the Zapatista adherent killed on May 2 in a confrontation with a rival campesino group. "I declare that the one known as Insurgent Subcommander Marcos ceases to exist," the statement reads. "The Zapatista National Liberation Army will no longer speak through my voice." The text cites changes in the rebel movement since it announced its existence to the world in a brief armed uprising launched on New Years Day 1994, the exact moment that NAFTA took effect:

In these 20 years, there has been a multiple and complex handoff, or change, within the EZLN.

Some have only noticed the obvious: the generational.

Today, those who were small or had not even been born at the beginning of the uprising are the ones carrying the struggle forward and directing the resistance.

But some of the experts have not considered other changes:

That of class: from the enlightened middle class to the indigenous peasant.

That of race: from mestizo leadership to a purely indigenous leadership.

And the most important: the change in thinking: from revolutionary vanguardism to "governing by obeying;" from taking Power Above to the creation of power below; from professional politics to everyday politics; from the leaders to the people; from the marginalization of gender to the direct participation of women; from the mocking of the other to the celebration of difference.

One wonders how much of this to take at face value. Clearly, the middle-class, mestizo adventurers with vanguardist aspirations who entered the Chiapas rainforest to organize the Maya peasantry over a generation ago had been made to accept the indigenous ethic of  "governing by obeying," at least in theory, by the time of the 1994 uprising. Of course, there has always been some debate as to whether Marcos was (is?) really a sub-commander taking orders from the Indigenous Revolutionary Clandestine Committee, which in turn takes its decisions from a process of consultas, or village meetings. There has been speculation that this arrangement is a fiction, and that Marcos was (is?) really a caudillo with a very good sense of public relations. So it is possible that the new communique is an admission that the official arrangement has become truer over the past 20 years, as the EZLN's indigenous base has outgrown the need for Marcos' leadership.

The statement also makes veiled reference to Rafael Guillen Vicente, the long-missing left-wing academic from Tampico who the Mexican government identified as the man behind the ski-masked Marcos. The statement refers to Guillen as the "tampiqueño," and implies that he was in fact one of the middle-class adventurers in the Chiapas rainforest, but not the one who became Subcommander Marcos.

The statement also makes barely veiled reference to the Independent Central of Agrarian Workers and Campesinos (CIOAC), the group apparently behind the killing of José Luis Solís López. The text protests "the continual aggression of peasant organizations who have no sign of being 'independent' even in name; and in the Selva Tzeltal zone, the combination of the paramilitaries and contras [anti-Zapatistas]." The communique includes a long list of Zapatista supporters killed over the past 20 years, either by "official" security forces or paramilitary actors, in Chiapas and elsewhere around Mexico and the world.

The communique was issued one day after Marcos made his first public appearance in many months at a memorial for José Luis Solís López, attended by thousands of the movement's supporters and sympathizers at La Realided, the jungle village which is the Zapatistas' de facto capital. (La Jornada, May 25)

A rather confusing May 19 account in La Jornada by Hermann Bellinghausen, the newspaper's loingtime Chiapas correspondent, asserts that Carmelino Rodríguez Jiménez, one of six detained by Chiapas state police in the slaying of "Galeano," had been local coordinator in La Realidad for the Mexican government's National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples (incorrectly rendered as "National Commission of Indigenous Peoples"), who had appealed in a December 2010 letter for donations of food for the upcoming 17th anniversary celebration of the Zapatista uprising. Of course, the legitimate Zapatistas accept no government aid. The implication is that Rodríguez was part of a strategy to divide the movement at La Realidad by setting up a core of "false Zapatistas" (in Bellinghausen's phrase).

Like most reports in La Jornada, the account refers to Rodríguez as the "municipal agent" in La Realidad, without further explication. This is an ambiguous claim, as La Realidad is its own "autonomous municipality" within the Zapatistas' system of parallel power, and does not recognize itself as a part of the "official" municipality of Las Margaritas. We can only assume that Rodríguez is the agent at La Realidad for the "official" municipality, Las Margaritas, its seat nearly 100 kilometers distant. Does this imply that "official" authoriites have succeeded in re-establishing a degree of control over the EZLN's principal base community?

As for Marcos' new non-existence… The communique is entitled "Between Light and Shadow," which could be a cryptic reference to Marcos' own shadowy persona and trickster spirit. Is the new Subcommander Galeano really the same man as the old Subcommander Marcos, now writing under a new name to symbolize an altered role in the Zapatista movement? Your guess is as good as mine, but I wouldn't exclude the possibility.