Like a cross between Mad Max and Zorro, Subcomandante Marcos zoomed out of the remote Zapatista stronghold of La Garrucha on a black motorbike with EZLN blazed across its handlebars and his cock hanging off the back. As the gathered scrum of media scrambled to capture this dramatic exit and beginning of the new Zapatista political initiative, all they were left with was a cloud of dust and the fading squawk of the unfortunate chicken – the campaign mascot called “Penguin” for its lopsided appearance – riding pillion.
The infamous guerrilla commander, a kind of postmodern Che Guevara with a flair for the theatrical, was on the road again. Somewhere outside San Cristobal, reporters caught up with him and asked was he really going to go on the campaign trail on this motorcycle. ” All the way to Tijuana” he replied.
From Sub Commander to Delegate Zero
Under the moniker Delegate Zero, Marcos launches a six month tour of all Mexico, unarmed and apparently alone, not to speak or run for office but ¨to listen to the simple and humble people who struggle.” This new political initiative, called the Other Campaign, is intended to influence Mexico’s July presidential election. The Zapatistas will reach out to anti-capitalist and leftist organizations across the country, creating a nation wide movement that will turn the national political agenda “upside down”.
Rejecting the suggestion that they were leaving the armed struggle and entering the political mainstream, the Zapatistas say they are conducting a campaign “from below, for below¨, focusing on “a radical transformation of the Mexican political system”.
A Tumultuous Night in San Cristobal
Flight from the Zapatista lair in the Lacandon Jungle – the Desert of Solitude of colonial literature fame – was, for Marcos, brief. 80 miles away, some 15,000 Zapatistas and supporters, heralded Marcos´ arrival in San Cristobal. Amidst the ubiquitous frantic and impassioned welcome, Marcos — now joined by the other Zapatista comandantes — surfed through the multitude occupying a town center completely deserted of police and military.
From the stage, Comandante David explained the mission – “A new stage of the political struggle of the EZLN has arrived. Delegate Zero will blaze the trail and open new doors.”
Rapturous applause greeted Marcos as he took to the platform. An unlikely hero, he bowed his masked head and characteristically mumbled his words.
“I have been chosen to go out across the country to test the road and to see what dangers lie there within, and to recognize who by their face and word is down with the struggle. So that we can unite the Zapatista struggle with the struggle of the farmers and the workers of the country called Mexico.”
The Long Road of Struggle
It has been 12 years since the Zapatistas exploded onto the Mexican and world stage with the 1994 armed uprising, and 4 years since the unarmed “Zapatour” across the nation, which brought out millions of supporters, but no resolution to the conflict, as proposed legislation for indigenous autonomy failed to go through Congress. Frustrated by the lack of political progress, the Zapatistas fell into a silence and concentrated on building local autonomy in their zones of influence.
This led to the creation of 32 autonomous municipalities which refused to accept any state presence and set about organizing health and education services, as well as overseeing the implementation of justice and social welfare measures themselves, through a system of participatory democracy and assembly based council communalism.
Despite heavy repression from state and military forces, Zapatista guns remained silent during the low-intensity conflict as they undertook a path of non-violent resistance. This strategy led to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle – La Sexta ( the Sixth) -, which spelt out their political philosophy as distinctly anti-capitalist, against parliamentary democracy and in favour of direct or participatory democracy, as exemplified by their autonomous municipalities.
La Sexta was made public during the red alert of August 2005, when some analysts predicted an EZLN return to armed struggle. Instead they announced an unarmed strategy to critique and organize against the unequal, unjust and corrupt form of democracy permeating the Mexican political system.
In answer to the ever prevalent question posed by Lenin a hundred years ago – What is to be done?, the Zapatistas subtly rephrase it – What we want to do. And the answer is “the reorganize the nation from below and to the left”.
The reaction of the political parties and establishment has been favourable, choosing to focus on the apparent abandoning of arms instead of the political issues raised by the Other Campaign.
“It’s a good thing that they have left behind the armed struggle,” said Cardinal Rivera Carrera, head of Mexico’s conservative Catholic church.
The out-going ruling party PAN has also welcomed the new Zapatista initiative, but elements within the right wing, neo-liberal party, such as Congress leader Hector Larios, dismiss the campaign as “surreal and clown-like”. The center-left PRD — favourites in the poll to win the upcoming elections — are adopting a conciliatory tone despite much of Marcos stringent criticisms directed at the neo-liberal drift of the party.
The PRI, who ruled the country un-interrupted for 70 years, is running a close second to the PRD in the polls. Sinister elements within the ex-dictatorship are the ones to be wary of. These are the intellectual authors of the Acteal massacre in 1997, and the assassination of the reforming Presidential candidate Luis Colosio, in 1994. Marcos has dwelt on the possibility of his own assassination as he goes about the country.
“We don’t fear to die struggling. The good word has already been planted in fertile soil. This fertile soil is in the heart of all of you, and it is there that Zapatista dignity flourishes.”
In a bizarre move, the PRI mayor’s office turned off the lights of the Boulevard as the Zapatista caravan swept into San Cristobal on the night of the 1st.
Town Hall Meetings
Hundreds of delegates from some of the 443 social organizations and NGOs who subscribe to the Other Campaign packed out the first series of town hall meetings held in San Cristobal on January 2nd.
Marcos, masked and flanked by an unarmed civilian bodyguard, introduced the encounter. “Its necessary to hold public meetings but not the type of the old politics where one speaks and the rest applaud.” In this sense, he proposed to differentiate the Other Campaign from the “electoral circus”
Speaking from the floor, Fr Miguel Concha Fray Francisco de Vitoria Human Rights Centre, explained how this new campaign was not a stunt to influence July elections, nor a parody of the official election campaigns but a renewal of nationwide grassroots political organizing.
“Its not an anti-campaign. This is another campaign that goes beyond the electoral consensus : its something focused on the medium or long term.”
The tour continues to the state of Yucatan on January 9th.