INTERVIEW WITH SUBCOMANDANTE INSURGENTE MARCOS, JANUARY 1997

marcos

From: videotaped interview conducted and shot by Kerry Appel
Translation by: Jason Gilmore and Kerry Appel

Note: The sentence structure and use of language of Subcomandante Marcos was translated as directly as possible into English. It was suggested to me by some people that I change the sentence structure and idiomatic expressions into that which may be used by a US citizen who spoke English as their native language in order to make it seem more natural and more easily understood for the US audience. I decided not to guess how Marcos might speak if he spoke English as a first language or to guess what expressions he might use. Besides, I don't believe it is in the best interests of the audience to try to make everything easy. I feel that there is a valid need for readers of this interview or for viewers of the video version to step out of the parameters of their own experiences slightly in order to hear and to understand what it is that Marcos is saying. -Kerry Appel

I went to Chiapas in January of 1997 in order to buy coffee and weavings from the indigenous communities there. That's what I do these days. I went to Chiapas three years ago, in June of 1994, as an artist who was curious about what an indigenous uprising had to do with a "free trade agreement". I produced a documentary on what I had found and then I produced a second documentary and a third. I was eventually told by the United States and Mexican governments that I should "stay out of it" and "leave it to them". I was told that, as a private citizen, I had no business discussing economic, social or political subjects with the indigenous peoples of Mexico or, apparently, discussing anything I had seen or heard in Mexico with US citizens. I could only legally engage in cultural, recreational, health or sports activities as a "tourist". Excuse me! I thought my activities were "cultural". In my mind I was doing "re-creational activities. I was told by the Mexican government that, if I wanted to see Indians, I could see them in the markets or the museums. Then they kicked me out of Mexico. It wasn't legal for them to kick me out of Mexico so I have been returning in order to do business under the "free trade agreement". My business is to be partners with indigenous people in Chiapas and to develop direct markets in the United States for the coffee and weavings that they produce in their communal villages. If they are going to annihilate the indigenous people of Mexico under the "free" trade agreements of the United States then they can annihilate myself as well. I guess the free trade agreements have, in their own unintended way, united the fates of myself and, in various manners, countless other people around the world.

While in La Realidad, Chiapas, Mexico, on international trade business, I received a visit from Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos of the Zapatista National Liberation Army. I don't know, perhaps I shouldn't have talked to him. Perhaps I should have said "I'm sorry. I don't know if this falls within cultural, recreational, health or sports activities".

Question #1, Kerry Appel: Where are we, what is the date, if you want to say, and what is going on right now with the peace process?

Marcos: We are in La Realidad in the Lacandon Jungle of Chiapas, Mexico in the first days of January, 1997. Approximately 15 -20 days ago we received a proposal from the government to modify the general law of the nation, which is the Political Constitution of the United Mexican States (CPEUM), to incorporate the demands of the indigenous peoples (pueblos) of Mexico, principally for autonomy in respect to their customs and their right to be citizens, like any other, because now, in Mexico, the indigenous people are second or third class citizens or not even citizens at all. The actual situation of that law is still to be defined. There are some accords that the government signed a year ago in February of 1996 that are still unfulfilled. In the fulfillment of those accords depends the future of the process of dialogue and negotiation. If the government cannot keep their word and their signature, because they did sign the accords, then it will be difficult to continue the process of peace in the long run.

Question #2, Kerry: What will the Zapatistas do if the Initiative for Indigenous Culture and Rights is not accepted by President Zedillo and incorporated into the Mexican Constitution?

Marcos: As I explained before, the initiative to respect the rights and culture of indigenous peoples is an initiative that was signed by the representation of the Federal Government. In this case it is not a matter of whether or not Mr. Zedillo accepts or not a proposition, but whether his decision is to keep his word or not in regard to what he signed. This is not about a new initiative or a new demand of the EZLN (Spanish acronym for Zapatista Army of National Liberation). This is about what he already negotiated in 1995 and what was signed by representatives of the Federal Power of Mr. Zedillo in the Dialogue of San Andres on February 16, 1996. If Mr. Zedillo does not accept to fulfill these accords signed by his representation then it means that he does not intend to fulfill his pact and that he has used the dialogue of negotiation as a pretext to gain time to seek the military solution to the conflict and to try to provoke the erosion of public opinion of the EZLN nationally and internationally. This strategy to look for a favorable moment to get rid of the EZLN the fast way, as they call the military solution, is what they have intended for the last three years since 1994, with Mr. Salinas de Gortari, and later in 1995 and 1996 with Mr. Zedillo. Evidently, if they don't fulfill their word, it will put in definite crisis the dialogue of San Andres and the negotiation for peace between our rebel forces and the federal government.

Question #3, Kerry: Why is this initiative so important...to indigenous peoples...to the general population?

Marcos: Since Mexico got it's independence from Spain it has had a series of conflicts, wars, and social movements that tried to rescue the Mexican nation and the rights of social groups; in the case of 1910, the peasants, when they demanded land, and later the workers movements that also gained great labor victories. But during this course of historical events that has been in practice since the independence of 1810 and until our time there has been a sector of the population of Mexico that is more than 10% of the population, that is 10-12 million indigenous people, that have never been recognized within the nation as citizens. It is pretended that the indigenous are equal to any other citizen of the town or the countryside and it is forgotten that they have their own culture and history and that they arrived here, or have been here, a long time before the conquest and the colonies and before Mexico's independence and Mexico's revolution. They have never had the opportunity to incorporate their rights. The fact of their demands being recognized in the highest law of the nation would signify the redefinition of the historical pact of the relationship that there is between the Mexican nation and one of it's parts, in this case with the most historical and original part that was first in the formation of the Mexican Nation. For the indigenous it would signify the culmination of a period, that carries with it many centuries, to try to incorporate itself with the modern world, whatever signifies modernization over history, without renouncing being indigenous, without transformation, converting or rendering, without leaving behind being Indians. And with their demand, the resistance of all these years, and now the armed demand, the other, in this case the government and the Mexican society, would have to recognize them as being different and having a place in the national order. In respect to other social groups, not only in Mexico but in the rest of the world, we think that the demands of the EZLN in particular and the Indian peoples of Mexico in general put in first place the problem that's appearing in this time of globalization. It's neoliberalism. At the same time that it tries to erase borders and globalize economies it begins to exclude social groups that aren't economically productive. And paradoxically, those social groups are the oldest and have the most historical tradition. I'm not referring only to the Latin American Indians but also to those of North America and to the ethnic groups and social groups that are in the rest of the world, the ones called minorities. I'm referring to indigenous people, migrants, homosexuals, lesbians,... the youth, the women. Although difficult to categorize as minorities, they are treated as minorities that need to be done away with in different forms, sometimes by police persecution, sometimes by war, sometimes by forgetting them which is what they are trying to do here and now in Mexico. In another way the demand of the indigenous people of Mexico agrees with universal demands of other social groups that demand respect for the life and way of being of every social group. It is not possible that in the modern world the only way to value a person is by their purchasing power or credit capacity. It is necessary to refer to history as to what makes a human being, or their dignity as we say in the EZLN, without converting them into nothing more than a consumer or producer or another number in profit indexes or the statistics of the multinational corporations. I think that is why many social groups in the world are interested in or attentive to what can happen here but, above all, to the word of the indigenous people of the EZLN in regard to what they have to say to the powers and to neoliberalism.

Question #4, Kerry: People often talk about the struggle in Chiapas as if it were just a local struggle between indigenous peoples and the Mexican government in regard to poverty. What is this struggle really about and are there other protagonists involved besides the Mexican Government?

Marcos: Well, lately the protaganism is global. It's not about a national problem. The effect of the neoliberalism and the process of globalization is that it erases the borders for money and erases the borders for the problems. With this I mean to say that the fundamental problem that is in the Zapatista rebellion is not just an indigenous problem but also the problem of the excluded in this gigantic genocide that the big money and great financial powers of this world are doing that decides to exclude a part of the population at any cost, even at the cost of human lives. And this is repeated in Europe, in the United States, in Canada, in all the countries of Latin America, in Africa, in Asia, in Oceania; in all five continents there is this process of annihilation to shut out social groups and to concentrate on nothing more than the criteria of economic devaluation or productive devaluation, in this case, the power of purchase. The body of the Zapatista rebellious movement is a body fundamentally indigenous. We are speaking of a civil population that is 100% indigenous with four principal ethnic groups of Mexico; the ethnic Chol, the ethnic Tzeltal, the ethnic Tzotzil, and the ethnic Tojolabal, Mayan peoples of the Southeast of Mexico. And 99% of the regular combatant forces, the insurgents that we are, are indigenous and a small part of us are Mestizos. That is the body of the Zapatista rebellion but the heart has to do with the problem of human dignity on the international level. It has to do with the problem of putting value back into one's word and giving feeling to the question of humanity. We insist that whatever defense of humanity now is a struggle against neoliberalism as it was before against fascism in the middle of this, the 20th century that is about to end. We can say it that way, that the body of the Zapatista rebellion is indigenous and the heart of it's rebellion is the dignity of all the "excluded" in the world that encounter power.

Question #5, Kerry: Does Mr. Zedillo have the power to now implement the accords on indigenous rights that resulted from the dialogue?

Marcos: He has various problems, no? Mr. Zedillo has the problem of a state party system, in this case it is concentrated in the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), that is in a process of decomposition that is very acute. More than a political organization, it's more like a criminal organization that takes care of it's differences and battles with crime and murder. The State Party System is corrupt, it is involved in drug trafficking, it has a wake of deceit, of lies, and of loss of legitimacy with the Mexican nation. So Mr. Zedillo has to try to govern with a state party system that hasn't any credibility and he has to try to convince them that he can govern and, if he can't convince them with reason, he has to convince them with blows. So the possibility for Mr. Zedillo to fulfill the accords that came from the negotiations depends a lot on the power of the state political system to transform and to change without dragging the rest of the nation into the process of internal annihilation that it is suffering from. We are very skeptical that this is possible in the sense that there are so many interests in the government power that don't seem willing to do anything in order to transform things.

Question #6, Kerry: Against the combined forces of the Mexican and North American governments what chances do the Zapatista have of achieving their goals?

Marcos: Well, the opportunity that we have to triumph depends on other social groups in the world understanding the demands of the Zapatistas and understanding in what way they can benefit living in a world that the Zapatistas attempt to live in. The Zapatistas have said clearly that they don't aspire to take charge of the government or to take power, but they aspire to recuperate the place that they deserve in the world that the modern history wants to exclude; not just the indigenous but other social groups that have been marginated, excluded, and persecuted like, for example, before, the population of color, the black population of the USA with that same process of discrimination, of persecution, of racism that indigenous people suffered, not just in Mexico, but in the rest of the American continent. It is difficult to say that the indigenous people of the US and Canada have the same rights and prerogatives of other citizens or that they are treated in the same manner. In another manner, they are only accepted if they renounce their cultural values and if they incorporate..."as you say, "the American way of life", you know what I mean?" They aren't accepted as indigenous or with their historical process under the culture that they have. "They have to live like..."WASP", white anglo saxon peoples." They have... in that form they can't live like their ancestors. They can't have the same beliefs. They can't be themselves ultimately. The modern system demands that they renounce their way of being and convert into another that wants to buy and sell, that is, what the modern system and global system produce. If we accomplish that these social groups in all the world, but above all in the countries that sustain the Mexican government which are the countries of the European Common Economy, the American Union (USA) and Canada, ...if we could convince these peoples above all, but also those governments, they would demand that the Mexican government adopt, reform, and actualize the relation of the institutions and the Mexican society with the Indian people. In regard to our failure. If we were to fail and if we weren't able to triumph in our demands it would mean a defeat not only for us but for others that are excluded and for other social groups that demand their place in history and a defeat for humanity and a triumph of the global crime of this Fourth World War that we are now living.

Question #7, Kerry: Press and government officials in the US tell me, sometimes in subtle terms and sometimes not so subtly, that the indigenous peoples in Mexico aren't ready for democracy as we are in the "first world" but need to establish "market economies" and "prosperity" first and democracy and liberty will someday follow. What's your opinion?

Marcos: Well, our opinion is history's opinion that economic profits have never been a requisite for democratic rights. The governments and forms of governments and the conduct of politics in indigenous nations in all of the American continent can be a lesson to any modern political system. All the systems of government, the Mexican political system and the rest of the continent, didn't have to base their development through war, for example, in the annihilation of others, in the market...in the buying and selling of human beings. But, in the case of the indigenous people, the decisions are taken in majority accord or collectively in a discussion or communal assembly. Within the social groups of Mexico, the group that has the most economic problems, that are the most miserable, is the indigenous people and they are the ones that have developed most their forms of government in what is referred to as democracy. The consensus and the search for accord and dialogue are things that are barely being discovered in modern political systems of neoliberalization but are things that are many centuries old within the indigenous peoples. We think the process runs parallel or, in any case, the opposite cannot have economic profits or social development if there are not political liberties that are what make possible the distribution of wealth. The access of social groups to health services, education, and nutrition are only possible in a democratic system that allows to be heard the majority of the population and social groups but also allows to be heard the minorities, as they are now called, or other groups that are not representative of a social system or a nation but have a place in history. We say that in Mexico it will only be possible...this economic development in regard to treaties like NAFTA... will only be possible as a democratic system that permits participation of humans without losing their dignity and their history.

Question #8, Kerry: Recently Mr. Zedillo had a meeting in New York with people from Wall St., CNN, Chase Manhattan bank, J.P. Morgan, Henry Kissinger, New York Times, etc. What did they speak of?

Marcos: Evidently it's about the Mexican country being up for sale to the "modern world" and Mr. Zedillo has become a sales agent, someone who is visiting other countries and other possible buyers to show a product that includes not just oil, in this case, the case of Mexico, but also the people and the history. What they did in that meeting was to bargain about the conditions of the merchandise that is now offered that includes almost 100 million Mexicans and many centuries of history and many years of being independent, almost 200 years of independence. This is what was discussed. The big money of North America wants to buy the whole country and wants to know the condition of the merchandise. Mr. Zedillo is committed to lie to them like any sales agent that knows he doesn't have good merchandise, that knows he has merchandise in crisis that can breakdown at any moment, and to dress up the product that he wants to offer to be able to put it on the market. It is simply an encounter between buyer and seller that happened in New York with Mr. Zedillo that was very well received by the North American press, the ones who didn't get distracted by Lady Diana's visit, so they could pay attention to Mr. Zedillo's visit as a visit by a salesman that comes to offer a product that it seems the big money of North America is interested in buying.

Question #9, Kerry: I'd like to get your opinion here in regard to if the Mexican government is directed to some degree by the government of the United States in regard to the initiative on rights and culture of the indigenous. For example, if Zedillo wanted to give a just response, would the United States allow it?

Marcos: Well, more than depending on the United States, it depends on the great financial centers that also control that same United States government. The North American government has been converted into the police of a transnational government, the government of financial capital that is dedicated to obligate the countries and people of the world to comply with the production, payment and financial quotas that are established in the financial centers. Evidently the global financial powers don't have any interest in a sector that is not productive for them, such as the indigenous sector in respect to their land and their rights and their form of life because they are not interested in human beings but in what these lands can produce. And that explains their interest in oil and uranium that are in the forests of Chiapas and the wood and the electricity, in all the natural resources that can be exploited at a low price and surrendered to them. If by that the indigenous are converted into an obstacle the large financial capital will try to eliminate them. All that they lack is for the rest of the world to permit it.

Question #10, Kerry: This struggle is sometimes hard for the average US citizen to relate to personally. Some of the changes proposed by the Zapatistas would lead to profound changes in Mexican society and might also have some impact on US society. Why should the average US citizen support the goals of the Zapatistas?

Marcos: Well, I'm going to give you an example, the example of migrants in the American Union (USA). A good percentage of inhabitants of other countries who migrate to the USA to look for work are from Mexico. A good percentage of those Mexicans that cross the border are indigenous. It's like that because, in their land, their communities don't have any rights or any possibility of life and they find themselves without options, they die in their lands, or migrate to other places to look for better economic positions. The ones who can't migrate or the ones taken prisoner by the SIN (Spanish acronym), the US Immigration Service or the border patrol have to stay in their communities and begin to convert into an unstable political factor. In no way can it be convenient for the North American people and government to have a country like Mexico that has converted into a time bomb with a possibility of a social explosion. Evidently, to recognize the indigenous rights and to comply with these rights would signify a reduction of the flow of immigrants into the USA and would politically stabilize the country and would be more productive or would have more possibilities for any economic projects or commercial interchange between our countries. What is occurring with the EZLN would repeat itself in other social groups and other Indian peoples and would be in the in the south of their nation, to the south of North America, a process of social decomposition, of civil war very similar to the Yugoslavia of today and to Lebanon of the last decade where there are so many groups that they don't know who to shoot at, or where, or who to negotiate with or to dialogue with. It starts to be a "scrambled malotov cocktail" that isn't 1000s of kilometers away such as in the case of Europe of the Middle East but is located on the other side of the border. The possibility or a civil war in Mexico or a process of decomposition close to a civil war would signify an increase in immigration to the United States as a consequence, an increase to their police and military to control this immigration, a reduction of welfare, social costs to the American government and a series of consequences in instability of the markets and inflation; public insecurity that would necessarily touch the American people, especially the middle class. All this could be avoided if Mexico would open the channels of political participation in a way that the differences or the discords that exist in social sectors could have causeways of political participation and wouldn't have to bring about violence or wouldn't have to become criminals or delinquents. That's all.

Kerry, "That's all?"

Marcos, "I don't know...the last question?"

Kerry, "There are three more questions if you have more patience with me."

Marcos, "I have the patience but the light, I don't know if I have light."

Kerry, "Light? Luz?"

Marcos, "Si."

Kerry, "Oh yeah, we have plenty of light."

Marcos. "OK"

Question #11, Kerry: How can people outside of Mexico who want to support the struggle of the Zapatistas do so?

Marcos: Well, we think there are many ways. The first and most important is to understand what is going on here. Its not about a political group that has a series of demands and aspirations. We are not a political party. We're an organized people. We represent hundreds of thousands of indigenous, almost a million in the Southeast of Mexico and we also have the message that repeats the restlessness of the other millions of indigenous people of the rest of the country. To understand this is to be able to resist the media campaigns that try to reduce our movement into a movement of political interest or a political group that tries to obtain their own advantages. Another way would be to send economic aid or humanitarian aid to the indigenous communities, not to the EZLN but to indigenous communities that are men women and children that can be seen in your documentary (El Viaje del Relampago Rojo) that are resisting simply because they don't want the problems to continue the same or to be immediately resolved. They want a profound solution and this is why they decided to refuse the governmental aid and to live only with what they have, with what they can work with, and with help that they can get from other villages. And the third way that we say to help is to know or learn that the struggle of Zapatismo is only a symptom of a worldwide struggle that exists of the excluded groups to recuperate their place in history and that all these people, men and women, that are in other parts of the world that struggle within their nations and within their social groups, demand also to take back the place that they deserve in the modern world.

Question #12, Kerry: There are those who should know that they say the CEO's (chief executive officers) of Multinational corporations don't give a damn about human rights but only care about maximizing profits, what could you say to convince them to incorporate more human values into their bottom line?

Marcos: They aren't going to be able to capitalize these profits if they don't respect human dignity. If they are going to encounter that logic of profit in a completely broken or annihilated world they are going to have great riches and no way to circulate them because there will not be any consumers. There will not be any producers. The world will be divided between the dead and the criminals. It would be the worst nightmare that could be imagined in any movie of science fiction. When the big money of multinational corporations bets the annihilation of the people, the rape of human rights, thinking that it will bring profits, it trades the future for a present that will be very apt to fly away like a gust of wind. The moment that all those people revolt or are finally annihilated, no market, commercial or financial, will be able to sustain itself in that way. In reality what they are doing in the long run, the multinational corporations, is sacrificing their success, their prestige, and their economic well being.

Question #13, Kerry: This question is more personal. Has living here in Chiapas with the Indigenous peoples changed you and, if so, how?

Marcos: Well, first it was a process of colliding. We came from an urban culture and the urban culture, above all, teaches you speak, "you must speak, speak, speak and nothing to listen to". You don't learn to listen, only to speak and to impose your point of view. At the time, we came upon a culture that was different and as much as you spoke and argued no one understood you. You had to detain yourself and learn to hear, to understand, to learn to listen to a language and learn what it had to say. It wasn't just that but to learn the world, how it was organized, and how they explain to themselves their world and their history. The principle result of this encounter was recognizing that we had much to learn, almost nothing to teach, and the possibility of whether the modern world would be able to remember that part of history or that part of their world, of the modern world, that was becoming forgotten but of which it had much to learn. That, finally, the world was sacrificing and was losing a lot at the time it forgot these people and would gain more remembering and recognizing that all those people have a lot to teach and from whom they have much to learn. If I could summarize generally what it signifies for Marcos, the encounter with the Indian people, they converted him from teacher to student and that they taught him how to listen and to try to understand what is behind words and not only the sounds.

Kerry: Is there any message you'd like to give to the audience?

Marcos: I don't know. Who is the audience?

Kerry: Well, this could be on TV, it could be transcribed, it could...

Marcos' message to audience: What we would like to tell them in the name of the people is to not forget the struggle even though when in the media the Indian is only news when they are dead, armed or when they commit a crime. This daily struggle of all these indigenous men and women is a struggle that also has a mirror and dignity in other parts of the world. We are not the only ones. There are other social groups and other people that are struggling. It would also be good if they would pay attention to those social groups, no? Finally, that our struggle is a struggle for dignity, for human dignity, and that it is also the duty of any human being wherever they are. It is not important the color of their skin, their culture or their language. What is important is to struggle to be better.

Copyright 1997, Kerry Appel