Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 205 | Agosto 1998



After Our Silence

In this "Fifth Declaration from Selva Lacandona," translated below by envío, the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) has spoken again. In the name of peace, justice and democracy, it has asked that its voice echo and multiply so that the world can understand what is happening in Chiapas—so that indigenous rights will be supported in- ternationally.

Subcomandante Marcos

Brothers and Sisters:
We are clear that our rightful and undeniable place in the great Mexican Nation is only one part of the struggle for democracy, liberty and justice, but it is a fundamental and necessary part. Time and again since our January 1, 1994 armed uprising, we have called on all Mexican people to join us, in any way possible, in our fight to claim the rights that have been denied us by those in power. Time and again, since last we saw and spoke to all of you, we have insisted on dialogue as the preferred avenue. For over four years now, war has not once come from our side. It has always come from the lips and actions of the supreme government. And from them have come the lies, death and misery.

Consequent with the course of action you requested us to take, we met with those in power and arrived at agreements that would mean the beginning of peace on our lands, justice for the indigenous of Mexico, and the hope of all our country's honest men and women. This peace agreement, the San Andrés Accords, was not a mere product of our own will nor was it arrived at unilaterally. Representatives of indigenous peoples from all over Mexico came to San Andrés and voiced their demands. They spoke from the heart and made clear their struggle, which is a lesson and a path.

The Zapatistas were not alone in San Andrés; it was not simply an agreement with us. The Zapatistas stand alongside and behind all indigenous peoples of the country. Then, like now, we were only a small part of the long history bearing the faces, words and hearts of the Nahuatl, Paipai, Kiliwa, Cúcapa, Cochimi, Kumiai, Yuma, Seri, Chontal, Chinanteco, Pame, Chichimeca, Otomi, Mazahua, Matlazinca, Ocuilteco, Zapoteco, Solteco, Chatino, Papabuco, Mixteco, Cuicateco, Triqui, Amuzgo, Mazateco, Chocho, Izcateco, Huave, Tlapneco, Totonaca, Tepehua, Popoluca, Mixe, Zoque, Huasteco, Lacandón, Maya, Chol, Tzeltal, Tsoltzil, Tojolabal, Mame, Teco, Ixil, Aguacateco, Motocintleco, Chicomucelteco, Kanjobal, Jacalteco, Quiché, Cakchiquel, Ketchi, Pima, Tepehuán, Tarahumara, Mayo, Yaqui, Cahita, Ópata, Cora, Huichol, Purépecha, and Kikapú.

Now, like then, we continue our fight together with all indigenous peoples in the struggle for recognition of our rights—not as the vanguard or the leader, but simply as a part. We have kept our promise to look for peaceful solutions. But the government has gone against its word and did not follow through with the first and fundamental agreement we reached together: to respect indigenous rights.

Instead of the peace that we were offering, the government has stubbornly imposed war. Since San Andrés, the war against us and all indigenous peoples has continued. Since then, the lies have multiplied. Since then, the government has deceived the Mexican people and the whole world, pretending to make peace while actually making war against all the indigenous. Since then, the government has tried to cover up its failure to keep its word and to hide the treason that is governing Mexico's lands.

While the government revealed its desire for death and destruction to the Mexican people and the world, we Zapatistas did not respond with violence; we did not enter into a sinister contest of who could cause the other the most death and suffering. While the government piled up more hollow words and constantly eluded the pressures on it to debate with its rival, we made silence a weapon; one it is unfamiliar with and against which it is powerless. Again and again new rounds of lies, violence, bullets and bombs exploded against our silence. And just as we found a weapon in words after the January 1994 fighting, so, now, we made war with silence. While the government offered us threats, death and destruction, we were able to teach others and ourselves a new form of struggle: with right, truth and history on our side it is possible to struggle and win...by closing our mouths.

While the government, disguising payoffs as economic aid, handed out bribes to weaken political convictions and buy loyalty, we Zapatistas rejected government handouts. Our dignity protected us like a wall and made us stronger. While the government tempted us with the bait of corrupt money and imposed hunger to break and conquer us, we transformed our hunger into food and our poverty into riches of dignity and consequence.

Silence, dignity, and resistance were our strength and our most powerful weapons. With them we fought and brought low a powerful, but wrong and unjust enemy. From our experience and from the long and luminous history of the struggle of our ancestors—the first inhabitants of this land—we again took up their arms and turned our silence into soldiers, our dignity into illumination, and our resistance into a rampart. During the time of our silence we have refused to participate directly by offering our position and proposals regarding the national problems. Our silence has permitted the powerful to give birth to and nurture rumors and lies about internal divisions and splits within the Zapatista movement. They have tried to dress us in the garb of intolerance, intransigence, weakness and wavering. Some grew disheartened by our silence and others took advantage of it, pretending to speak for us. But in spite of all these things and also because of them, we have taken great steps.

We have seen dozens of our own people fighting thousands of high-tech weapons with fists and fingernails; we saw them taken prisoner; we saw them rise up in their dignity and with dignity they resisted; we saw members of civil society fall prisoner for associating with indigenous people and for believing that peace has to do with art, education and respect. We saw our brothers and sisters lion- hearted in struggle.

We saw the war come from above with a clamorous roar. We knew they thought we would respond and that they would absurdly convert our responses into reasons to escalate their crime. The government made war on us and got no response, but its crime continued. Our silence stripped the powerful of its cover and showed it as it is: a monstrous criminal. We saw that our silence averted increased destruction and death. And thus, we exposed the assassins who hid behind their masks of the rule of law. Ripping off the veil, we revealed the traitors and the cowards, those who exchange lives for profits, those who see in others' blood a way up the ladder, those who kill because the matador is applauded and rewarded. And the government, stepping out of its final hypocritical garb, said, "The war is not against the indigenous," while it persecuted, imprisoned and assassinated indigenous Mexicans. Its private, personal war exposed it as assassins, just as our silence accused it.

We saw the government become irritated, finding neither a rival nor surrender. We saw it turn on others, striking down those whose paths were different from ours but who were raising identical banners: honest indigenous leaders, independent social organizations, mediators, nongovernmental organizations, international observers, ordinary citizens who wanted peace. We saw all these brothers and sisters under attack, but they did not surrender. We saw the government strike against all of them, trying to disempower them. We saw it adding up enemies.

We saw that the government is not a single unit nor does it unanimously back its leaders' vocation of death. We saw that within it are people who want peace, who understand that peace is necessary, is indispensable. Silent ourselves, we heard other voices within the war machine speak against its present course.

We saw the powerful go back on its own word and send the legislature a bill that does nothing to respond to the demands of the first peoples in this land—a bill that postpones peace, that undermines hope for a just solution and an end to the war. We saw them dine with the forces of money, looking for the support denied them by those below. There they announced their treason and from money they received thundering applause, gold and the order to finish off those who speak as the mountains. "Let die those who have to die, thousands if necessary, but end the problem." said money in the ear of those who say they govern. We saw this new order go against what had been recognized, our right to govern and to self government as a part of this nation.

We saw that the new plan was to break us to pieces, take away our history, erase memory, forget the will of all the indigenous peoples who became collective in San Andrés. We saw that the new plan was to bring division and rupture, to destroy bridges and erase hope.

We saw that to our silence was added the will of good people within political parties to raise their voices, and who organized to protest the lie. They were able to stop the tide of injustice that masqueraded as constitutional law and indigenous rights, which was no more than law for war.

We saw that, by being silent, we could hear more clearly the voices and winds from below, not only the crude voice of war from above. We saw that when we kept our mouths closed the government buried the legitimacy that arises from the desire for peace and reason as the way and the path. The echo chamber of our absent voices made the empty, sterile words of those in command reverberate and convince others that they distrusted us and were not listening to us. This affirmed for many the need for a peace whose surnames are justice and dignity.

We saw all these other people who are like us search for and find other means to try to make peace return to the land of possible dreams. We saw them build and project initiatives. We saw them grow. We saw them come into our own communities with help, letting us know we are not alone. We saw them protest, holding demonstrations, signing petitions, painting, singing, writing, coming all the way to our communities. We saw them propose dialogue with the others— the real ones, not the one who acts as a front for the powerful. We also saw some of them disqualified by the intolerance of those who should have been more tolerant.

We saw others we had not seen before. We saw that the struggle not for us, but for peace, attracted new, good people, men and women who could have opted for cynicism and apathy but chose dedication and mobilization. In silence, we saw all of them; in silence we greeted those who looked for and opened doors, and in silence we constructed this response to them.

We saw men and women born in other lands join in the fight for peace. We saw some build, from their own countries, the vast bridge that says, "You are not alone." We saw them mobilize and repeat "Enough!" First, we saw them imagine and materialize demands for justice; we saw them march like a song, write like a scream, speak like a protest march. We saw all these sparks explode, rebound in the heavens, and rain down on our lands with all the names and faces of people from all over the world who desire a place for everyone.

We saw others cross the vast bridge, leaving their lands to come to ours, leaping borders and oceans to come observe and condemn the war. We saw them come to us to let us know that we are not alone. We saw them followed and persecuted like us. We saw them struck like us, and slandered like we are. We saw them resist like us. And we saw them stay, in spite of everything. We saw them return to their lands and speak of what they had seen with their own eyes and heard with their own ears. We saw them continue to struggle.

We saw that when we were silent, the resistance to lies and violence by our own people became stronger. We saw that in silence we spoke as we really are, not like those who make war, but like those who seek peace; not as one who imposes his own will, rather as one who longs for a place where all can fit in; not as one who acting alone simulates a crowd at his side, but as one who is the people even in the silent solitude of resistance.

We saw that our silence was a shield and a sword that wounded and wore down those who want war and impose it. We saw that our silence cast down time and again a power that pretended peace and good governance, but whose powerful death machine exploded over and over against the silent wall of our resistance. We saw that in each new attack, they gained less and lost more. We saw that in not fighting we fought. And we saw that by closing our mouths we also affirmed and demonstrated our will for peace, convincing others.

A national indigenous law should respond to the hopes of indigenous peoples throughout the country. All the indigenous of Mexico were represented in San Andrés, not just the Zapatistas. The agreements that were signed were for all indigenous peoples. For us, and for millions of indigenous and non-indigenous Mexicans, a law that does not comply with San Andrés is just a pretense. It is a door to war and a precedent for future indigenous rebellions, which will come in the future to collect the debt that history regularly claims of lies.

A constitutional reform regarding indigenous rights and culture should not be unilateral. It should incorporate the San Andrés Accords, thus recognizing the fundamental demands of indigenous peoples: autonomy, territoriality, the rights of indigenous peoples and their normative systems. The Accords recognize the right of territory and indigenous autonomy, in accord with the International Labor Organization (ILO) Agreement 169, which was signed by Mexico's Senate. No legislation that seeks to constrain indigenous peoples by limiting their community rights—thus promoting the fragmentation and dispersion that makes possible their annihilation—could possibly ensure peace and the inclusion of the first native Mexicans in the nation's affairs. Any reform that attempts to break the ties of cultural/historic solidarity among the indigenous is doomed to failure, and is, simply, an injustice and a denial of history.

Even though the legislation drafted by the Commission for Concordance and Pacification (COCOPA) does not incorporate all the agreements arrived at in San Andrés, it is a proposal born from the negotiation process. Proving once again that we are not intransigent, we accepted and respected this work of the combined commission, since it captures the spirit of the dialogue and gives it continuity and reason; it is a firm base that could lead to a peaceful solution to the conflict. That makes it an important aid to annul war and proceed to peace. What is called the "Cocopa Law" is built on core ideas produced by the indigenous communities at the grassroots level. It recognizes a problem and lays the foundation for solving it, which reflects a different way of making politics, a way that aspires to be democratic, to respond to the national demand for peace, unite diverse social sectors and permit progress in solving the great national issues.
For these reasons we ratify today our support for the bill of the Commission for Concordance and Pacification and demand that it be raised to constitutional rank.

We see three enemies of negotiation that will have to be vanquished before such dialogue can become a viable, effective and credible solution. These enemies are the absence of mediation, the war itself, and failure to keep promises—for which the government is responsible.

Mediation is indispensable in the negotiation of a conflict. Without mediation, it is impossible for dialogue to exist between two opposing parties. By eliminating the National Intermediation Commission, the government, with its war, has destroyed the only bridge there was for dialogue. It dismantled an important obstacle to the violence and provoked the emergence of a question: national or international mediation?
Dialogue and negotiation will have meaning, viability and effectiveness when, in addition to mediation, trust and credibility have been restored. In the meantime, negotiation is only a farce in which we refuse to participate. We did not enter into dialogue to provide theatrical entertainment. We negotiated seeking peaceful solutions—not gambling on political deceit to gain time. We cannot be accomplices to such a public show.

Neither can we be cynical and fake a dialogue solely to avoid the persecution, imprisonment and assassination of our movement's leaders. Zapatista flags were not born with these leaders, nor will they die with them. If our leaders are killed or imprisoned, no one will be able to say it was for being inconsequential or because they are two-faced traitors.

We did not rise up in rebellion because we think we are stronger or more powerful. We rose up to demand democracy, liberty and justice because we have truth and the dignity of history on our side. With these weapons in our hearts and our hands, it is impossible to remain impassive in the face of the injustice, the treachery and the lies that have become the "government style" in our country.

Truth has always been a weapon of resistance in the face of the stupidity that for now—but not for long—seems so overwhel- ming and omnipotent. With or without the Zapatista movement, peace with justice and dignity is a right for which honest Mexicans— natives and non-natives—will continue to struggle.

Brothers and Sisters: The EZLN has been able to survive as an organization throughout one of the most ferocious offensives that has been unleashed upon it. Its military capacity remains intact, it has expanded its social base, and the obvious justice of its demands has fortified its political credibility. The EZLN's indigenous character has been reinforced and the organization continues to be a significant impetus in the struggle for indigenous rights. Today, indigenous Mexicans are national actors whose destiny and ideas form part of the national debate. The words of the first inhabitants of this land now have a special place in public opinion; indigenous no longer means tourism and crafts; it means the fight against poverty and for dignity".

Because of the commitment we assumed from the first day of our uprising, today we again place our demand for the recognition of indigenous rights as our first priority—above our suffering, above our problems and difficulties. There must be a change in the Political Constitution of the United States of Mexico that will ensure respect for all indigenous peoples and the possibility for us to struggle for what is ours: land, housing, work, food, medicine, education, democracy, justice, liberty, national independence, and peace with dignity".

This is the hour of the Congress of the Union. After the opposition parties' long fight for democracy, there now exists a new correlation of forces in the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. This will make it harder for the too-powerful presidency to commit its arbitrariness and gives hope for a true separation and independence of powers. The new political composition in both chambers of Congress constitutes a challenge to restore dignity to legislative work, the expectation of becoming a place in service to the nation—not to the President in office. It brings hope that the "Honorable" which precedes the collective names of the Senators and Deputies will become a reality.

As part of this struggle, this Fifth Declaration of Selva Lacandona calls for the recognition of indigenous rights and for an end to the war. Ratifying our motto, "For everyone, everything, for us, nothing," the Zapatista National Liberation Army, in an effort to end the genocide, announces it will enact, directly and throughout all of Mexico, a National Consultation on the Indigenous Law drafted by the Commission for Concordance and Pacification. To this end we propose to take this bill to all the country's municipalities, so that all Mexican men and women can express their opinion about it. The EZLN will send a delegation of its own to each of the country's municipalities to explain the Cocopa legislation and to participate in the discussion. To do this, the EZLN will direct itself publicly to Mexican civil society and its political and social organizations at the proper time to make clear the express contents of the call .

We call on our nation's Deputies and Senators, from all registered and independent political parties, to legislate on behalf of all Mexicans, to lead by following the will of the people, to fulfill their duty by supporting peace and not war. In this way, making the separation of powers a reality, you can oblige the Executive to end the war of extermination it is waging against the Mexico's indigenous peoples. We ask you, with full respect for the prerogatives conferred upon you by the Constitution, to listen to the voice of the Mexican people and make that voice what determines your legislative decisions . We ask you to respond to the historic call that demands full recognition of indigenous rights. We ask you to help create an international image of Mexican dignity. We ask you to go down in our national history as a Congress that stopped obeying and serving only one, instead fulfilling its obligation to obey and serve all the people.

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