EZLN: cheating death and being reborn

Notes: The following material is published under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC), Attribution, Non-Commercial. This work is a result of our small participation as «listeners» in the events held on May 24, 2014, in La Realidad, Autonomous Zapatista Rebel Municipality of San Pedro de Michoacán, Chiapas. To learn about the Zapatistas’ words, their invitations and demands, visit the website enlacezapatista.ezln.org.mx Copy, reproduce, and share; for non-commercial purposes, mentioning the author and license: CC BY-NC 4.0 subversiones.org, México 2014. This translation is made on the occasion of We Are the Time Machines: Time and Tools for Commoning at Casco – Office for Art, Design and Theory in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Versión original en español

It is our conviction and practice that for rebelling and fighting
it’s not necessary to have any leaders nor warlords, messiah or saviors.
To fight, what’s necessary a bit of shame, a bunch of dignity
and a lot of organization.

– EZLN, 2014

On May 2nd, 2014, José Luis Solís López –who’s name as a combatant is Galeano– was murdered by members of the Historic Independent Agricultural Workers and Campesinos Central (CIOAC-H, in Spanish), supporters of the Ecologist Green Party of Mexico (PVEM, in Spanish) and of the National Action Party (PAN, in Spanish). This happened after José Luis tryed to help his Zapatista compañeros, who were ambushed by members of the CIOAC-H while driving towards the central office of the Good Government Board (JBG, in Spanish) of Caracol I, in La Realidad.

Representatives from the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center, A.C. (Frayba) who were there –as a request from everyone involved– trying to arbitrate in what seemed to be a struggle over the use of a gravel bank, they documented carefully how Galeano was shot three times with a .22-caliber weapon: one shot in his leg, another one in the chest and the last one in the back of his head; he was also beaten with a club all over his back and head, and had a machete blow to his mouth.

Most of the commercial media –not interested in doing further investigation and commited to shameless lies– presented the incident as a clash between antagonistic organizations. The truth is that the people who were killed and injured were all on the side of the Zapatistas’ support bases, this would be unaccountable if we accepted the argument about the conflict escalating because everyone involved was armed. Days later, the statement was disproved by the JBG in a comuniqué where they reported the murder, the injuries to their people by rocks, sticks, machete or .22-caliber bullets; specifying that everything resulted from a premeditated attack, it was not a confrontation. Members of the CIOAC-H also destroyed some vehicles, as well as a school-clinic where teachers, like Galeano, and health promotors provided services; destroying key infrastructure for the strengthening of several autonomous projects.

Retrato de un zapatista. Galeano fue sargento del EZLN, participó en el Consejo Autónomo de su municipio rebelde y fue docente en la Escuelita. Por su conocimiento y compromiso, era candidato a la JBG para el periodo 2014-2018.

Portrait of a zapatista. Galeano was a sergeant of the EZLN, he participated in the Autonomous Council of his rebel municipality anda he was a techar at the Escuelita. For his knowledge and commitment, he was a candidate for the JBG’s period of 2014-2018.


On the other side, the leadership of the CIOAC-H only published a comuniqué where they refused to acknowledge their responsibilities in what happened without contributing with more information about the alleged clash.

The CIOAC-H is what’s still left from what once was a militant organization, linked to socialist and comunist parties, whose members decided to stand aside from the indigenous peoples and campesina rebellion initiated by the Zapatista Army for National Liberation (EZLN, in Spanish). Subsequent state and federal governments recognized this position as part of the counter-insurgency process, which implied buying and corrupting their leaders2, placing them in several positions of the administration and other benefits, as well as using their supporters to break into the autonomous Zapatista project. For them –as Subcomandante Marcos noted– harrassing Zapatistas was a matter of doing business.

Members of the CIOAC-H are not the only ones who have decided to go that route. By reviewing the recent history of the Mexican Southeast, it’s easy to find the acronynms of several indigenous and campesina organizations that have turned towards paramilitarism under the temptation to work with the government, thereby strengthening its strategies to fight insurgency. This mode of operation, even as it provides many human resources at the begining, later plunges them into discredit before the communities, from which it is impossible to recover. Meanwhile, even with the continous harrasment all around them, the political and social projects of the EZLN have become increasingly consolidated.

They are us: learning to focus our vision

To clarify the murder and take action for justice, the JGB asked for the intervention of the EZLN’s General Command, which, besides conducting the pertinent inquiries, reaffirmed the public denunciation of this case through a letter named Pain and rage, and asked their allies to undertake solidarity demostrations. In the same message, they also informed about the suspension of two events announced in previous days: a meeting with the members of the National Indigenous Congress (CNI, in Spanish) and a tribute to the philosopher Luis Villoro, who kept in life a deep conversation with the zapatista movement.

The calling to express solidarity was heard in the most diverse geographies. If you look for the section in Enlace Zapatista where greetings and support actions are collected, you can get to know the protests made in Buenos Aires, Barcelona, Madrid, Córdoba, Valencia, Valladolid, Bilbao, Segovia, Murcia, Atenas, Milán, Roma, Sao Paulo, Los Ángeles, San Francisco, Chicago, San Diego, Seattle, New York, Düsseldorf, Wuppertal, Ontario, London, Paris, Guatemala, Tijuana, Zacatecas, Celaya, Chihuahua, Morelia, Tlaxcala, Cholula, Puebla, Morelos, Colima, Oaxaca, Huitzilepec, Guerrero, Querétaro, State of Mexico and Mexico’s city; among other cities.

Afterwards, in the letter Fragments of La Realidad, Subcomandante Marcos announced that the homage to Galeano would be celebrated in La Realidad, Chiapas, on May 24. The letter talks about the importance of giving condolences to the family and the zapatistas’ people, as well as the commitment to assist as listeners.

The indigenous army’s command emphasized that the paid media weren’t invited to the event, indicating «we won’t receive them», because of the previous experience when Galeano was killed. They did invited compañeros and compañeras from the media that are part of the Sixth Declaration of Selva Lacandona (La Sexta, in Spanish) and «independent media or alternative media or autonomous media or whatever» to be witnesses and spread the messages that were to be shared.

Since the day before the homage to Galeano, the support bases had arrived to La Realidad from the communities around the five Caracoles (the political centers) that shape the Zapatista territory.

The Galeano Caravan –named like this in honor of the murdered compañero– arrived at 8 in the morning of the agreed date. The procession was composed by representatives of the indegenous communities in different parts of the country, rural and urban social organizations, independent media, former students of La Escuelita Zapatista and supportive persons, mostly sympathizers of La Sexta.


Inside the Caracol I, militiamen uniformed with different shades of green pants, brown shirts, a red paliacate in the neck, a green cap, and a stick held in their waist, they remained in a rest position shaping a square all together, sorrounding the basketball court along with the main plaza, in the center of the whole space.

Towards noon, about three thousand Zapatistas with their faces covered started to move into rows along the court. The people that came with the caravan begun to walk closer to find a seat and join as observers. Among the thousands of Zapatistas of all ages, women with colorful tzeltal dresses stood out, some had babies in their arms. Everyone remained in their places with great discipline during one hour, while their compañeras and compañeros took their position, under a midday sun. The clouds protected from some sun rays, but the heat and moisture were truly intense.

Insurgents of different ranks and people of the support bases carried a black ribbon as a sign of grief and strength, and a colored ribbon to distinguish that they belonged to a Caracol. After a series of millitary maneuvers, which included the order to place a patch over their right eye –to watch from the left, as a compa said–, the militiamen started to march setting the pace. Then, the melody of a guitar and the voice of Mercedes Sosa were heard on the audio system, singing «Like the cicada», a song written by María Elena Walsh: «So many times I was killed, so many times I died, however, I’m right here reviving».

To watch from the left: in the event, the uniformed men had a patch over their right eye.

While the line of militiamen moved slowly towards the perimeter of the main plaza, from the right side Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos –who hadn’t shown himself in public for 5 years– entered riding a chestnut horse. Some unusual items were noted in his outfit: a small machete hanging in his back; he was also wearing a patch over his eye decorated with a skull and crossbones (yes, just like the ones in the pirates’ flags); his left hand was sheathed in a black glove, with a printed drawing of its bony structure; and a distinctive loop with red stripes and a black ribbon was around his left arm.

He rode on the horse for some moments over the esplanade while exchanging looks with the attendants, offering greetings and gestures, such as holding his left hand with the middle finger up. Seven Zapatista commanders also entered on horseback from the left side of the esplanade, Subcomandante Moisés and Comandante Tacho were among them. Unlike the other members of the EZLN’s millitary structure, their eyes were uncovered. They rode to meet the Sup (common name for Marcos) in the center of the area, who stepped behind, after greeting them, to remain in a secondary position. Then, the commanders aligned in front of the people of La Sexta and gave a millitary salute; after that, they turned around and did the same thing to the support bases. In the background, the song «Latin America» by Calle 13 was heard.

All the scene, so full of symbols and where nothing is done by coincidence –as usual in the acts of the EZLN– anticipated the news and announcements that were going to be given at midnight: the disappearance of Subcomandante Marcos (as a character), the millitary relay inside the organization, the reinforcement of a completely indigenous spokesperson, and finally, the broad calling to keep organizing and fighting.

Jinetes zapatistas

EZLN’s commanders and Subcomandantes Moisés (center) and Marcos (right).

«You’re not alone!», chanted hundreds of attendants in the event, once and again, impatient for making their solidarity patent and being part of the whole scene, not only as spectators. The militiamen broke ranks and ran towards the edges of the field. Then, a soft and calm voice was heard from the speakers. Some people in the crowd asked for silence so they could understand the words: «It’s Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos speaking».

The chit-chat stopped. Subcomandante Marcos announced the Internet signal would be turned on for the attendants to let their families know they arrived safely and for the independent media to send «some informative material». With this and other comments launched from what was presented as «Insurgent Radio, the voice of the Zapatista Army for National Liberation», the solemnity that was kept until that moment relaxed. The demonstration of solidarity and strength towards a murdered compañero contrasted with irreverence and humor. Although such combinations have been, along with poetry, a recurrent item in the speeches and public acts of the EZLN during the last 20 years, even with the most delicate situations.

Llamado plural

Rows of zapatistas, people of La Sexta and sympathizers listen to Subcomandante Moisés’ words.

A couple of hours later, Subcomandante Moisés spoke again. In his speech, he mentioned the full names of Galeano’s killers, though not before he had clarified the collective type of accusation: «through my voice speaks the pain and rage of hundreds of thousands of indigenous people». He also emphasized the most important things for the zapatistas are the communities, not the army; and the millitary event held that day took place because the JBG «Hacia la Esperanza (Towards Hope)» of La Realidad made an expressed request to the Command about assuming the investigations of the case.

Zapatistas from all regions and members of the caravan lined up in mixed rows, looking towards the stage. The former spectators wove with the support bases to attend together the words sent by the speakers. In the same way they expressed before the homage started, the huge pain from losing a beloved partner in struggle, due to such a willfully cruel act, was tangible.

There are several complaints resulting from the case’s investigations. It was noted that members of the CIOAC-H have agree to programs of the state and federal government to appear as Zapatistas; the greed, corruption and hypocrisy of Mexican politicians at all levels, was highly criticised; and it was pointed out that Galeano’s murderers go through life bragging about their participation in the killing.

We repeat here again to those damned bad governments: We are not beggars. We don’t accept the leftovers from your table. We aren’t looking for crumbs, nor will we accept them. We seek to govern ourselves with our peoples of Mexico, with Justice, Liberty, and Democracy. We Zapatistas are not the ones you are talking to. We do not talk to the bad government, today or ever. We do not have the slightest trust in those with no brain.

With a clear and frank narrative, Subcomandante Moisés noted that Galeano’s killers are people who sell themselves in exchange for crumbs, disregarding the example shown to their children, and they are also part of a machinery operated by the government to harm them too. In that way, he expressed the members of the CIOAC-H are betrayed by their own accomplices. This happened with Florinda Santis –originally from La Realidad and councillor of the PAN in the municipality of Las Margaritas– who ordered the homicide and arrested the killers to clear her name.

After indicating the masterminds and perpetrators of the murder, Moisés also pointed out neoliberal capitalism as the source of this whole set of evils. Everything is staged: the paramillitary obey the commands from Manuel Velasco Coello, governor of Chiapas; who has, at the same time, Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto as a boss, whose employer is neoliberal capitalism.

Because what they did to compañero Galeano was the work of capitalism and they would have done it to anyone; they would have murdered other compañeros from this community because that is how the bad government had plotted against our organization, the EZLN.

When the speech ended, the visit to the tomb of the fallen compañero was announced, everyone lined up inside the Caracol. Zapatistas from all regions implemented, one more time, their organization and patience, while everyone else remained dispersed until finding the funnel shaped by the crowd trying to go out. Over two hours, enough time for the night to fall, people walked to the patio of the house where Galeano lived, where his body lies now, as it was his will.

Foto: Xolotl

Solidarity is exercised from the bases: a floral tribute given by the Caracol of La Garrucha.

Each Zapatista picked up a stone to place it over the grave, huge rocks where chosen by the commanders. On the other side, some militiamen did a millitary salute as they arrived to the place, in front of the tomb of who was also an EZLN’s sergeant. Finally, candles were lit under the wreaths, while the last visitors hurried to view the tomb and contribute with the pile of rocks, without delaying further activities.

Exhuming compa Galeano and being reborn as a collective

At midnight, the microphones were turned on again. Rows of chairs were arranged facing the stage for what was announced as a press conference from the General Command; independent media was placed in the front area. In the stage, six Zapatista commanders flanked the table where the two EZLN’s Subcomandantes, at that time, were seated: Marcos and Moisés. For this event, the latter acted as master of ceremonies and presented the former.

During one hour, Subcomandante Marcos read a 19-page letter: Between light and shadow. In the beginning, he warned those would be his «last words in public before he stopped existing», to which the audience answered with a brittle and attentive silence. He started talking about how the years have passed by, then he explained and informed about some collective moves and decisions along the way. From all he expressed, we emphasize the following four topics:

1. Cultivating life. Subcomandante Marcos remembered that to confront the continous war, where the ones from below resist against the destruction and death schemes from those above, the Zapatistas decided to cultivate life instead of worshipping death. So, instead of training guerrilla fighters and soldiers, they prepared promoters of education and health to strengthen the grounds of their autonomy and be able to improve their life conditions. He restated that the Zapatista’s fight is for humanity and against neoliberalism, and that the path to rebuild life is not one where only indigenous people can walk, but also workers, students, teachers and youths.

2. The relays. This is possibly the most decisive and remarkable issue in the short term. The first one is the relay of command, by transfering the military leadership and the voice of the EZLN from Marcos to Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés. The second one is race, where the leadership of the political and social movement remains in the hands of the indigenous people. The third relay, closely connected with the previous one, is about class, where the enlightened middle class leadership is displaced by a class of campesino origin. The fourth one is generational, as the young ones have grown among the resistance, living and fighting por the Zapatista autonomy, since a long time they have taken different places in the military and civilian structures of the rebel army. Finally, what was highlighted as the most important one, which every one of us should assume and perform is «the relay of thought: from revolutionary vanguardism to command by obeying; from trying to take the power above to creating power below; from profesional politics to politics in everyday life; from leaders to people; from gender-based marginalization to an active participation of women; from mocking a stranger to celebrating difference».

3. The emergence and death of Marcos, the character. The Subcomandante referred to his own character as «an amazing and terrible magic trick, a malicious play from the indigenous heart we are», an illusion that left all hatred and love awakened by it as a barren exercise, fed by the eagerness to praise an individual and depreciate the collective. With this strategy –he said– they challenged modernity in one of its strongholds: the media. Marcos said that his character, a «hologram» or «disguise», served, among other things, as a distractor that allowed them to earn time so that communities and the EZLN could advance in their internal process. Gaining time was of vital importance, because it also let them search for the others who would look to the people face to face with a sincere and supportive gaze. The Subcomandante said that throughout “La Sexta” ­­–referred to as the most bold initiative of the EZLN– they found those other men and women, and then three rounds were enough during the three courses of The liberty according to the Zapatistas (called La Escuelita or Little School) to figure out that there was already a generation that could look at them face to face, to listen and speak to them without waiting for guidance or leadership, nor pretending submission or follow-up. When this happened, they concluded that the character of Marcos was not necessary anymore; and the same way they created it once, they would destroy it now.

4. Community and collectivity as a horizon. When speaking about Galeano’s death, the Sup (the commonly used nickname for Subcomandante Marcos) told how the population of La Realidad, in Pain and rage, asked their compañero and teacher not to leave, with silence and whispers. In his telling, he revealed a detail with great importance: for the Zapatistas, their pain and rage doesn´t mean that they stop listening. He clarified that, in the same way that it is necessary to know how to aim their gaze, the listener must find the path that would make it fertile. Fertile listening! Despite their own, they listen to other pains and rages. Then, he evoked 47 persons that have been incarcerated, dissapeared or murdered in Mexico and other places in the world, for fighting in their particular trench for a just world. He also named two groups, which numbers grow every day, everywhere: immigrants and prisoners. During the reading of that long list, evoking our dead, the tears of the listeners dropped from their faces to merge into the ground they were stepping on; the pain and rage of everyone was visible once again and shared, for all of those unjustly dead, those who the system thinks no one cries for, remembers or whose life is not claimed.

Later, the issue about the «greater form of justice» was emphasized. Marcos mentioned that it has to do with buried compa Galeano, with the patient and determined search of truth. To find it, the spokeman said: «we don’t have to ask ourselves what to do with his death but what we should do with his life».

The greater justice: restoring life to those who died fighting! By repeating the words of Subcomandante Moisés, he restated that by killing Galeano or any other Zapatista, those from above were trying to murder the EZLN, as well as the rebel people that raises life in the face of those who seek the death of the land. Then, he clarified that the General Command of the EZLN was there to exhume Galeano and cheat death, giving it only a name, a hologram, so that he could live and keep on teaching us the basics of the zapatismo: not to sell oneself, not to surrender and not to falter.

In that way Marcos, the character, declared his existence came to an end, indicating time and place, and so through his words the voice of the EZLN wouldn’t speak again. After the usual postscripts, Marcos and the commanders stepped off the stage, and Moisés announced the words of “another” compañero. On the audio system, this was heard:

Good early morning, compañeras and compañeros.

My name is Galeano, Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano. Anyone else here named Galeano?

I’m named Galeano! —yelled Subcomandante Moisés quickly and raised his left fist

I’m named Galeano! —supported other voices among the people

We are all Galeano! —expressed the group of attendants vigorously.

Ah, that’s why they told me that when I was reborn, it would be as a collective.

And so it should be. Have a good journey. Take care of yourselves, take care of us. From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast, Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano —concluded the speaker.

The threat of rain, that was latent during the whole press conference, was achieved punctually at the end of the event and it started falling with all its strength after the last collective statement. As one more of the elements that drew the metaphors that night, the grounds of La Realidad started to flood rapidly while the attendants dispersed to think about the experience, individually and in small groups.


What is missing is still pending

Twenty years ago, the neoliberal project adopted by the Mexican political class sketched a horizon of death and destruction. Along with the signature of the North American Free Trade Agreement (TLCAN), the economy for campesinos had been expressly dismantled to clear out «nonproductive» grounds and open the way to a modern division of land into large estates, to dams, highway links, and natural parks filled with landmines. With the modification of article 27 of the Mexican Constitution, that authorized alienation of social property in Mexican agriculture (to convert ejidos and communities into private property), not only was national territory given in a silver platter –with the Mining Law of 1992– but they put a definitive end to the aspirations of the campesinos: fair division of land to the ones who have always worked it. In short, the conditions for a new phase of accumulation by dispossession were given.

Nontheless, the cocktail called «social liberalism» was rather indigestible, and from the poorest and most forgotten corner in Mexico, the EZLN came to crak the progress illusion built with the money from the selling of the country by the Carlos Salinas’ government. The irruption of an indigenous army willing to excercise the right of legitimate violence, made noticeable the century-long rebelliousness of the mayan people in their struggle to survive over capitalism. Aware of the long and uphill battle against imperialism, they decided to call native people of Mexico and humble, honest and simple people, to join the effort for humanity and against neoliberalism.

The Zapatista struggle has achieved important goals regarding the comunities’ life conditions and their autonomous political development. The rebellious dignity in the militiaman’s firm gaze is not quantifiable, or in the painful whisper of the Zapatista –in the voice of the vanishing hologram– that «build and grow life where them, those above, desire the wasteland of mining, oil and turism industries, as well as the death of the land and for the ones who live and work on it».

Even 20 years after the uprising, now without Marcos’ figure, there’s still missing what is pending. Beyond the explicit positioning of a completely indigenous and community leadership for the EZLN, Galeano’s collective revival turns out as a renewed calling for resistance –maybe for an attack– facing a system that continues killing poor people; the ones who are not born yet; the indigenous commanders that dare to protect their ancestral territories (as people did in Ostula, Michoacán); land workers that have not abandoned their grounds in spite of the uprooting program; the community members of Cherán, Michoacán; the daughters and mothers searching for their disappeared daughters. Latin America’s veins opened by the mining across the continent, are barely a display button of what awaits us in this war of conquest over jungles, seabeds, and even the most intimate territories of biology.

Detrás de nosotros estamos ustedes.

Behind us, we are you.

Somehow, the event on May 24 reminds us that the war against the capitalist desert and the chaos has just begun. However, what some journalists and editors were able to spread, with very low skills of discernment –or with clear intentions to sell and manipulate– turns out to be hilarious. Some news websites started publishing «Marcos retires», «He changes his name», «He throws in the towel». In opposition to this series of interpretations, we notice the assignment of another relay, which is the main challenge of our times for the ones below: making agreements in a collective manner, from horizontality, to walk on the path of fighting with no leaders nor warlords. That is, the growing of a Galeano in each of us, to pledge with a strong commitment and clarity into fighting to protect and cultivate life, and walk towards freedom.

Subcomandante Marcos’ departure shouldn’t distress the hearts of anyone who feels close, in any way, to the Zapatista struggle. With his symbolic death –because «someone who was never here cannot leave, nor can someone who was never alive die»– the Zapatista collectivity won the battle against history’s individualism. The disappearance of the most visible figure of the EZLN, made intentionally, sets into motion the greatest of its reinforcements.

About the communication labour

Several collectives attended the Caravan and homage to Galeano, we all worked in a collaborative manner to produce audio, video, photographies and texts, that were linked from sancristencia.org As a part of the thoughts about the role of the «independent media» a collective stamp with the words: «independent media or alternative media or autonomous media or whatever» (in Spanish).

Some of the groups are: Koman Ilel, EmergenciaMx, Ké Huelga Radio, Promedios De Comunicación Comunitaria, Otras Voces Otra Historia, Regeneración Radio, Más de 131, Hijos de la tierra, La Voladora Radio, La otra oreja, Somos el medio, Radio Votán Zapata, Radio Zapatista, Pozol Colectivo, Sociedad Civil Las Abejas de Acteal, Zapateando Medios Libres, Centro De Medios Libres, Zapateandole al mal gobierno, Kolectivo Zero, Oaxaca Autonomía Radial, El Rebozo, Piratas x tierra mojada, Reporting on resistances, Global Proyect, Radio Tlayuda, Los Tejemedios, Coordinadora Valle de Chalko, COMPPA, Kolectivo Zero y UniTierra Radio.

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