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January 9-12, 2003.
To the Basque military-political organization Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA).
From: the Zapatista Army of National Liberation
Ladies and gentlemen:
We received the letter, dated January 1, 2003, that you sent to us via news agencies, newspapers, web pages and etc. We knew about the letter the 6th of January, but did not see the full version until La Jornada published it. That is the version to which we refer here.
The news arrived the way news generally arrives here. I was in the latrine, finishing up with my so-called physiological necessities, and thinking about what would happen if the ETA took me at my word and did what I wanted. I could already imagine the newspaper headlines the next day: “The Sup is dead, victim of his own big mouth,” and then the bullet (a journalistic term, not what you think): “He ended up looking like shit” (well, the newspapers that observe good manners and conserve good customs would put “He ended up looking like poop”). And all the papers would publish a big spread, signed by the most lucid and elegant minds of Mexico and Spain, which would read, “We always said that guy was a shit.” Anyway, I was lost in reflections along that line (which so excite Savater and company) and on my way back to command headquarters, when Comandantes Tacho, Mister and Brus Li (not “Bruce Lee,” as he is called in the newspapers) came and got me, and said:
“We heard on the news that there’s an answer from the ETA.”
“Oh really? And what do they say?”
“They scold you.”
“Well, that’s already become something of an international sport. But what do you mean “they scold you”? Shouldn’t that be “scold us,” since through-my-voice-speaks-the-voice-of the eezeellen?”
“No, you’re the one they reprimand. That’s how they do it: you get the rebuke and we get the congratulations,” says Mister. And adds, “Maybe someone will send the whole letter.”
That took quite a while, especially if you take into consideration that we are supposedly a “postmodernist” guerrilla movement, with all the latest technology and that we “surf” cyberspace.
Once they had the letter in their hands, they read it and then passed it to me with a sarcastic “Uy!”
Tacho asked, “Why do you think they say that about “we know that they were not always right?”
Omar answered, smiling, “I think it’s because we made a mistake when we made the Sup our spokesman.”
You must have heard the laughter all the way over in the Basque Country.
Comandante David came up and consoled me, “Pay no attention to them, they’re just joking.” Comandanta Esther tried to say something but she couldn’t get it out past her laughter. On the other hand, Comandanta Fidelia offered to make me a cup of tea and said, “Well, you’ll need to answer them, especially that part about the boys and girls of the EZLN.”
“This part too,” says Tacho, and marks several paragraphs in your letter with a pen that once belonged to Division General Absal?n Castellanos (General of the federal Mexican army, famous for murdering indigenous people and persecuting, torturing, jailing and killing dissident voices; he was taken prisoner by zapatista forces in 1994, judged and condemned to carry for the rest of his life the forgiveness of his victims).
So here it is:
First.- Let me make it clear that the boys and girls of the EZLN do not understand everything without words, as you erroneously suppose in your letter.
We treat them like the children that they are. It is the powerful with his war who treats them like adults. We talk to them. We teach them that the word, along with love and dignity, is what makes us human beings. We do not teach them to fight. Well, to fight, but with words. They learn. They know that if we are in this it’s so they won’t have to do the same. And they speak and they listen too.
Contrary to what you say, we teach them that words do not kill, but that words can be killed, and with them, the human being. We teach them that there are many words as there are colors, and that there are so many thoughts because the world itself exists so that words can be born in it. That there are different thoughts and that we must respect them.
That there are those who want their thought to be the only one, and who persecute, imprison and kill (always hiding behind reasons of State, illegitimate laws or “just causes”) thoughts that are different.
And we teach them to speak truthfully, that is, with the heart. Because lying is another form of killing the word.
In the tongue of the bat men, those who speaking find their way, the Tzotziles, to speak with truth is “YALEL TA MELEI”.
We teach them to speak and also to listen. Because anyone who only talks and does not listen, ends up believing that what he says is the only thing that counts.
In the tongue of the Tzotziles, those who listening find their way, to listen with the heart is “YATEL TAJLOK ‘EL COONTIC”.
Speaking and listening to words is how we know who we are, where we come from, and where we are headed. It is also how we know of others, their way and their world. Speaking and listening to words is the way we listen to life. Second.- I see you have a sense of humor and that you have discovered our plot: we, the zapatistas, who have never had any national or international press coverage, wanted to “use” the Basque conflict which obviously has more than enough good press. Moreover, since the day we referred publicly to the political struggle in Euskal Herria, positive comments in regards to the zapatistas, in the street and in the national and international press, have been on the rise.
In regards to your statement that you do not want to be part of any “pantomime” or “operetta,” I understand. You prefer tragedies.
In regards to your refusal to “be a motive for the next fashionable T-shirt on the Gran Via of Madrid,” well, that foils our plan for putting up a zap souvenir stand out on said Via (which is how we’d planned to cover our travel costs). In addition I doubt that anyone would dare to wear a T-shirt with the ETA as motive (and not because you are lacking sympathizers–you have them and we are well aware of that–but because if Batasuna has been outlawed because it does not condemn the armed struggle of the ETA, imagine what they’d do to someone wearing a T-shirt that said “Gora ETA.” In regards to the rest, we hadn’t thought to ask for your autographs or fight with anyone to share the stage with you. The seriousness of the conference would be guaranteed since Basque political and social forces would be organizing it, not us (we only specialize in comic opera and theater of the absurd). It was to those forces that we proposed, publicly, that they organize and hold the conference, even if the debate with Garz?n doesn’t happen–whether due to obstacles from the Spanish and Mexican governments, or to disagreement on his part or that of the ETA.
Third.- “The public manner, without previous consultation,” in which we launched our initiative GIVE THE WORD A CHANCE is just the way we do things as zapatistas. We do not make prior agreements “in the dark,” in order to later pretend that we are proposing things that were already agreed upon ahead of time.
Moreover we do not have the means, the interest, or the obligation to “consult” the ETA before speaking.
Because the zapatistas have conquered the right to the word: to say what we want, about what we want, when we want.
And for that we do not have to consult nor ask permission from anyone. Not from Aznar, nor the king Juan Carlos, nor Judge Garz?n, nor the ETA.
Fourth.- In regards to our lack of “respect for the Basque people,” Garz?n accused us of the same thing (he, consequently, should declare himself illegal, for coinciding with the ETA’s stance on the matter), as did the entire Spanish and Basque right wing.
This must be because proposing to give the word a chance works counter to the interests of those who, from apparently contradictory positions, have made a business and an alibi out of the death of the word.
Because the Spanish government kills the word when it attacks the Basque language Euskera, or the Navarrorum language, when it harasses and imprisons journalists who dare to speak of the Basque situation including all points of view, and when it tortures prisoners so they will confess to whatever serves the interests of Spanish “justice.”
And the ETA kills the word when it murders those who attack them with words, not weapons.
Fifth.- In regard to the ETA’s willingness to “do everything possible so that the EZLN can become better informed in regards to the conflict between the Basque Country and the French and Spanish States,” we reject your offer. We are not asking for anyone to inform us. We are informed, and better than many suppose. If we do not express this information, which is also an opinion, it is because among our principles we hold that the matters of each Nation correspond to each people, which is why we have indicated that we would not speak at the “Give the Word a Chance” conference.
But given your willingness to inform, I think you should inform the Basque people.
We asked for a chance for the word. That is why we needed to address various actors involved in the Basque conflict. We did it because it is our duty, not because we love to write to Garz?n or to the ETA. In one way or another, from different points along the Mexican, Spanish and Basque political and intellectual spectrum (you included) people have taken that opportunity and have spoken (although the majority has scolded us). Such that, although it might be to bicker and to pontificate, you are already giving the word a chance. And that’s what this is about.
Sixth.- This matter of representativity.
Judge Garz?n claims to represent the Spanish and Basque peoples (and attaches the king, Pepillo and Felipillo to that representation), and thus, if I offend the aforementioned, then I offend all the Spanish and Basque people.
The ETA claims to represent the Basque people, and thus, if we offend the ETA by proposing a chance for the word, then we offend all of the Basque people.
I do not know whether the Basque and Spanish peoples agree to being represented by one or the other. It is for them to decide, not us.
Unlike Judge Garz?n and you, we do not claim to represent anyone but ourselves. We do not represent all of the Mexican people (there are many political and social organizations in this country). We do not represent Mexican armed struggle (there are at least 14 other leftist military-political organizations). Neither do we represent all of the Indian peoples of Mexico (fortunately, there are many indigenous organizations in Mexico, some better organized than the EZLN).
So we have never said that the foolish things you all have sent to us (including Garz?n and you), offend “the people of Mexico” or “the Indian peoples.” They concern us, and we do not hide behind supposed representations which, in most cases, are assumed without the “represented” even knowing. Seventh.- We know that in the (dis)concert of the revolutionary and vanguard organizations in the world, we the zapatistas have no place, not even in the rearguard. That does not make us feel bad. To the contrary, it satisfies us.
We are not ashamed to recognize that our ideas and proposals are not geared toward an eternal horizon, and that there are other ideas and proposals better developed than ours.
So we have resigned from the role of vanguard, and from obliging anyone to accept our way of thinking with any other argument than the force of reason.
Our weapons are not to impose ideas or ways of life, but to defend a way of thinking and a way of seeing the world and to build relationships with those who have much to learn from other thoughts and lives, but also have much to teach.
It is not us from whom you need to demand respect. As you can see, as a “revolutionary vanguard” we are a failure, so our respect doesn’t do you a bit of good.
The respect you need is that of your people. And one thing is “respect” and quite another is “fear.”
We know that you are angry because you think we do not take you seriously, but that is not your fault.
We don’t take anyone seriously, not even ourselves.
Because he who takes himself seriously ends up thinking that his truth ought to be everyone’s truth, always. And, sooner or later, he dedicates himself not to labors so that his truth will be born, grow, give fruit and die (because no earthly truth is absolute and eternal), but to killing all those who do not pay homage to that truth.
We do not see why we should ask you what to do or how to do it. What are you going to teach us? To kill journalists because they speak badly of the struggle? To justify the death of children for reasons of the “cause?”
We neither need nor want your support or solidarity. We already have the solidarity and support of many people in Mexico and in the world.
Our struggle has a code of honor, inherited from our warrior ancestors, and it contains, among other things: respecting the life of civilians (even if they occupy posts in the governments that oppress us); not resorting to crime to gather resources (we do not steal, even from the corner store); and not responding to words with fire (regardless of how those words might hurt us or lie about us).
Some might think that to renounce these traditionally “revolutionary” methods is to renounce advancing in our struggle. But, in the tenuous light of our history, it seems we have advanced more than those who resort to such arguments (more to demonstrate their radicalness and their willingness to follow through, than because it is so effective for their cause).
Our enemies (more than a few, and not just in Mexico) wish we would resort to those methods. Nothing would please them more than if the EZLN were to become the Mexican indigenous version of the ETA. In fact, since we have used the word to refer to the struggle of the Basque people, they have accused us of being just that.
Unfortunately for them, that’s not the way it is. Nor will it be.
By the way, in the language of the warriors of the night, “to struggle with honor” is “PASC ‘OP TA SCOTOL LEQUILAL”.
Vale. Salud–and we are not trying to tell anyone what they should do, we are only asking that they give the word a chance. If they don’t want to, too bad.
From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast, and despite whomever it might spite, in the name of:
the boys, girls, men, women, elder men and elder women of the EZLN.
Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos.
General Headquarters of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation.
Mexico; January, 2003.
P.S. Before I forget (Tacho has just reminded me), in regards to your final “Long live Free Chiapas!”: We do not ask you for respect, but for geographical understanding. Chiapas is a state in the Mexican southeast. No organization or individual is attempting to liberate Chiapas (well, okay, at one point the Chiapan PRI did; they were peeved because the Mexican federal army wouldn’t decide to annihilate us), much less the zapatistas. We do not want to be independent from Mexico. We want to be part of it, but without ceasing to be what we are: Indians. So, given that we are struggling for Mexico, for the Indian peoples of Mexico, and for all Mexican men and women, whether or not they are Indian, the closing should say “Long live Mexico with its Indigenous Peoples!”
“ACCIDENTAL” P.S. – Something must have happened, at some time in the past, on the dates in which this letter was begun and finished.
ANOTHER P.S. At the risk of stating the obvious, I’ll go ahead and reiterate it: I also shit upon the revolutionary vanguards of the entire planet.
Translated by Leslie Lopez, Santa Cruz.