The Zapatista philosopher and the teacher

By Raul Romero in collaboration with Agencia SubVersiones. Ver en español.

It is 2nd May, 2015, just past midday. The geography is the Caracol of Oventik , Zapatista rebel territory in Chiapas, Mexico. In the distance can be heard Latinoamérica by Calle 13, the verse that says, “You cannot buy my life” has never had more meaning. With the song, a group of milicianos and members of the Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee-General Command of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) begin to march. Their footsteps are heard loudly and their movements are perfectly synchronized.

The contingent reaches the doors of the Caracol, where they receive the family of Luis Villoro Toranzo, the relatives of the Zapatista teacher Galeano, and representatives of the relatives of the 46 absent Ayotzinapa students. After greeting and embracing them the contingent adopts a new formation in which the special guests and relatives of those being honoured are at the centre.

Now we hear the sound of the Maria Elena Wels song, immortalized by Mercedes Sosa, “like the cicada.” At the same time, the militants and guests, embraced and hidden by the mist, march now towards the stage. The Caracol doors are then opened and the rest of the attendees enter. The tribute has begun.

Already on the stage, comandante Guillermo is responsible for leading the ceremony. The first to participate is comandante David, who reads the message sent by Pablo Gonzalez Casanova, who affirmed that, faced with certain challenges or difficulties, his classmate, Luis, had told him many times “the answer is not logical but ethical.” Next is the turn of Adolfo Gilly, who is responsible for highlighting the importance of the work of Villoro and its usefulness for the resistance of original peoples as well as reflection about a “masking” kind of thinking.

The fourth to participate is Fernanda Navarro, compañera of Luis Villoro at the time of his death. She recounts with emotion her relationship with Luis and the EZLN, while sketching some concepts and ideas central to the thinking of Villoro and herself.  She tells here how the concept of death among indigenous peoples helped her to understand the death of Don Luis as a parting and not a loss.

Fernanda brings two shawls with her, she gives one to the family of the Zapatista teacher Galeano and the other to doña Bertha Nava, mother of Julio Cesar Nava, a student at the Rural Normal School “Raúl Isidro Burgos” murdered by the state in the early morning of 26th to 27th September 2014. The shawl, says Fernanda, is a symbol of their pains and their struggles embracing.

Fotografía: Heriberto Paredes

Fotografía: Heriberto Paredes

Finally, with tears brimming in her eyes, Fernanda Navarro says that they have decided that the ashes of Luis Villoro Toranzo will be buried in the Caracol of Oventik under a tree that is to be agreed.

The next to take the floor is Juan Villoro, son of Luis. Juan weaves childhood memories with reflections on the Zapatista movement today. He notes how, while those above buy “white houses,” and believe that Tijuana and Monterrey are states, the Zapatistas have built real alternatives, possible worlds.

Later it was the turn of Subcomandante Insurgente (SCI) Galeano, who adopted the name to give life and pay tribute to José Luis Solis Lopez, better known as teacher Galeano, murdered by paramilitaries of CIOAC-Historic on 2nd May 2, 2014.

Subcomandante insurgente Galeano. Fotografía: Heriberto Paredes

Subcomandante insurgente Galeano. Fotografía: Heriberto Paredes

SCI Galeano read a text written by the late SCI Marcos, in which he told the story of when Luis Villoro repeatedly asked to join the EZLN. “I want to become a Zapatista” said the Mexican philosopher –by choice– to the spokesman for the organization. In the text Marcos also gave evidence of how Luis Villoro asked to perform his task as a Zapatista, but to remain Luis Villoro, because that way no one would suspect he was a Zapatista and he could fulfill the functions commissioned by the EZLN: to be a sentinel.

But enough: I had already registered him in the special unit. Now he is for us our colleague Luis Villoro Toranzo.

And I explained that, according to our way, we will call him only “Don Luis”, so I thought we just need to welcome him and assign his work.

The now Zapatista compañero Luis Villoro Toranzo stood to attention and, with admirable poise, greeted the officer.

And what work will be assigned? I managed to ask in the mist of my confusion.

That which is appropriate: the sentinel (watchman), said the other and left.

I could almost guess that Juan, Fernanda and those who listen to me now and read this later, will take these words as another of the fantastic stories that populate the mountains of southeastern Mexico, told again and again by beetles, irreverent children, ghosts, cat-dogs, twinkling lights and other absurdities.

But no. It is time for you to know that Don Luis Villoro Toranzo was enrolled in the EZLN one May morning, many moons ago.

His struggle name was “Luis Villoro Toranzo” and the General Command of the EZLN knew him as “Don Luis” for brevity and efficiency.

The place was in the headquarters “Bed of Clouds,” where he left his brown jacket for when he returned, which he did several times before his death.

Fotografía: Heriberto Paredes

Fotografía: Heriberto Paredes

In the same participation, and always linking the Zapatista Luis Villoro with the Zapatista teacher Galeano, SCI Galeano read some notes taken from the notebook carried by José Luis Solis Lopez. Here it was told how the organization Union of Ejidos of the Selva and other organizations around Mexico had profited from the need of many campesinos, of how “leaders” took over organizations and ended up being corrupted and trading, always to the detriment of those who they claimed to represent.

In his notebook, the Zapatista teacher Galeano tells how he linked with the EZLN, establishing fraternal relations with Subcomandante Pedro – assassinated on 1st January 1994 – and Insurgent Captain Z, who he had previously known as an alleged seller of parrots:

It was then in ’89, I met a true counsellor, a man who was posing as a humble hard-working seller of parrots. He and I were almost friends, but even though we already knew each other, he never told me who he was and what it was he really wanted and did. Many times we met in the Cerro Quemado, we talked and I saw he was carrying a painted backpack, as we call it, and in it were all his tools wrapped up. That was what my friend told me. How many people like myself  knew the story of my friend without knowing the reality, which shows how many lies my friend told at that time. Lies to make truth, lies to make Reality, true lies. He was my mate; I was so clumsy that I did not understand what was happening.

Until one day I stumbled again upon my friend, but this time he was not wearing the humble dress of a tradesman, he was not carrying a painted backpack nor was he carrying a parrot cage.

What was he wearing then? You see, there was my friend, my mate, all in black and brown with backpack and boots, and a gun on his shoulders. It turns out that my friend was a brave guerilla and soldier of the people. I was amazed, and I came back all sad and still not understanding what was happening there.

Fotografía: Heriberto Paredes

Fotografía: Heriberto Paredes

The homage to Galeano, the Zapatista who became a teacher, continued with the participation of one of his students, compañera Selena, who said that “compañero Galeano, for us, was and will be a true man who truly knew how to think for we the indigenous worldwide. He not only fought for himself and his family, he fought for us all. So we should fight as he did, he showed us his example, his ideals, his ideas, he showed us how to be rebellious in the struggle.”

His daughter, compañera Lizbeth, also came to share a few words: “He gave us all the right to do the work of the struggle and he said to us: to do the work of the struggle we must also take care of the family, or that it is also in two parts, because he knew how to look after the family and do his work in the struggle. And so that is why those assassins of reality envied him.”

Meanwhile, Mariano, son of the Zapatista teacher, said that “he was a man who respected the people, who understood the reasons and the suffering of the people, I say this compañeros because I spent many years with him, I am 18 years old and I was always with him in any work we were doing in the family.”

With these and many other words, from compañero Manolo from Nueva Victoria (where Galeano lived) and from SCI Moisés, the homage ended. As a final act the Zapatista hymn was sung and gradually those who attended this moving act of memory and recognition were deployed to the top of the Caracol, ready to return.

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