“These will be the final words that I speak in public before I cease to exist.”
So begins the moving communiqué from Zapatista leader Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos.
In the newly-released statement (available here in English), Marcos gives a brief account of the Zapatistas’ history, which he has had a leading role in since the armed peasant uprising in Chiapas, Mexico on New Year’s Day 1994. He talks of the Zapatistas’ early decision to choose the pursuit of life over death:
Rather than dedicating ourselves to training guerrillas, soldiers, and squadrons, we developed education and health promoters, who went about building the foundations of autonomy that today amaze the world. Instead of constructing barracks, improving our weapons, and building walls and trenches, we built schools, hospitals and health centers; improving our living conditions.
However, Marcos cryptically speaks of needing to die in order to live. He calls himself a hologram, a character created by the Zapatista army for the sake of catching the media’s attention. The statement suggests that the “character named ‘Marcos'” has in fact been played by numerous people who have all given interviews under this guise.
The Zapatistas apparently chose this route in order to give the mass media a person they would notice: a non-indigenous, well-educated and eloquent male. The ongoing struggles of Mexico’s indigenous communities are largely ignored in the mainstream press, leading the Zapatista’s to offer up this charismatic leader.
The statement explains, “They can only see those who are as small as they are. Let’s make someone as small as they are, so that they can see him and through him, they can see us.”
While much mystery has surrounded Marcos’ true identity, the Mexican government claims that Rafael Guillén Vicente, a man originally from Tamaulipas state, is the man behind the black ski mask. This communiqué claims that Marcos never really existed.
Marcos’ statement points to the tragic case of recently-murdered Zapatista teacher José Luis Solís López, known as Galeano, who was killed in a paramilitary ambush on 2 May 2014 in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas.
The phrase “Long live Galeano” has been circulating widely on social networks. His violent death seems to have sparked Marcos’ sudden departure from public life. ‘We think it is necessary for one of us to die so that Galeano lives,’ the communiqué cryptically states.
Marcos’ lengthy statement ends with a short piece of theatre-style dialogue:
[Marcos] lights his pipe and exits stage left. Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés announces that “another compañero is going to say a few words.”
(a voice is heard offstage)
“Good morning compañeras and compañeros. My name is Galeano, Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano. Anyone else here named Galeano?”
The crowd cries, “We are all Galeano!”
Ah, that’s why they told me that when I was reborn, it would be as a collective.
Adopting the nom de guerre of a fallen comrade has a long history in Mexico. But it seems that the persona of Marcos is being shed as it no longer serves the collective’s purposes any more.
That appears to be the real reason why Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos chose to cease to exist. Because now, in Chiapas, there are people who have learned how to govern themselves in an autonomous, horizontal way. There are children who have studied in autonomous schools, patients who have been treated in autonomous clinics, women who are no longer considered inferior to men. And all this should be known to the world without the distraction of the persona of Marcos.
Hasta siempre Subcomandante Marcos. Adelante Subcomandante Galeano.