Masks, Silences and Winds from Below
On July 19, Subcomandante Marcos broke a silence of over four months when he issued an extensive text that beautifully, accurately and painfully analyzes the situation of Mexico today. The following is a reproduction of his message, parts of which have been edited for reasons of space.
"It is necessary to demand of the public man, especially the politician, that he possess public virtues, all of which can be summed up in one: loyalty to the mask itself.... Be advised that there is no political tussle which is not a trade-off, a confusion of masks, a bad comedy rehearsal in which nobody knows his or her role.
"Endeavor, however, you aspiring politicians, that your mask be, as far as possible, your own work: create it yourselves, so that it not be placed upon you, imposed on you, by your enemies or by your colleagues, and do not make it so rigid, so impervious and impermeable that you suffocate, because sooner or later you will have to show your face."
Antonio Machado, Juan de Mairena.
A Criminal, Irrational FaceIn the spectacle of the "great" Mexican political game, the confusion of masks and speeches makes it difficult to know for certain who is the judge and who the criminal, who is fraudulent and who is being defrauded.
But it is increasingly obvious that the most criminal face of the Mexico of the end of the 20th century is its state party system. In this Mexico, the state's increasing criminality, that which is exercised from political power, is only equaled by the impunity provided by money, influence and a proximity to, or a declared and shameless membership in, the select circle built up around the person still known, though not without a certain amount of shame, as "Señor Presidente."
At the halfway point of his six-year term, Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León's presidency has already left its indelible marks, but the bloodiest one is the daily crime of an economic model imposed by the unanswerable arguments of the bayonet, prison and cemetery. Every so often this state crime finds an outlet in lugubrious flashes: Aguas Blancas in Guerrero in June 1995; Acteal in Chiapas in December 1997; El Charco in Guerrero in June 1998; and Unión Progreso and Chavajeval in Chiapas in June 1998.
This, the most irrational face of the Mexican state in its history, hides its horrifying image behind a mask. And the sound of the blood that it claims every day is muted by silence (...)
An Official, Lab-Created HistoryIn order to cover over its lack of legitimacy with legality, the Mexican state (not only the government) has to perform complicated surgery on everything social. In other words, it has to eradicate the historical memory of those it governs, which it tries to do by replacing real history (in small letters) with Official History (in capitals). And this Official History was not learned from books, it was created in the mental laboratories of graduates of foreign universities.
Harvard, Oxford, Yale and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are today's "Founding Fathers" as far as the current Mexican ruling class is concerned. Official History thus reaches no further than economic growth indicators, which, in a world already suffering the financial terror of globalization, have the constancy of a weathercock in a storm. So for the "blackboard kids" (as Carlos Fuentes called them), the "computer kids" (as somebody else has dubbed them), or the "Los Pinos Cartel" (as they are known by their drug-trafficking partners), the present is the only possible history. If constancy and hard, laborious progress are the characteristics of the history from below, the preferred location of the Official History is the ephemeral, amnesia by another name. The "now" of the stock exchanges is the historical reference point of these technocrats who, thanks to that criminal Carlos Salinas de Gortari, now find themselves in power in Mexico. This Official History has its mask.
The Elimination of National SovereigntyThe mask of "modernity." Does it seem attractive to you? Functional? Aerodynamic? Biodegradable? Cool? "Light"? No, it is none of these, but it is sold and consumed with similar arguments. The modernity of the neoliberal governments in Mexico reveals an empty and dry country. Despite publicity and marketing efforts and millions invested in cosmetics and make-up, the mask of Mexican modernity is increasingly slipping, making it harder not to see what it hides: the destruction of the maternal foundations of the Mexican state, in other words of the foundations of national sovereignty.
With "modernity" as its backbone, a series of arguments (undoubtedly a mask) are brandished to justify (in the double sense of "making just" and "providing grounds for the existence of") the giddy destruction of all the elements that enable a country to guarantee that "national sovereignty " be more than just a rhetorical aid. Ownership of the wealth of the subsoil, territorial seas and airspace, communications channels and businesses with social functions (education, health, food, housing, security), along with social policy and effective control over the financial and commercial markets, money, languages, government, the armed forces and history, are just some of the necessary foundations of a state. Using different methods and various masks, but always with the same sense of urgency, the neoliberal governments of Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado, Carlos Salinas de Gortari and (a case of the student outdoing his teachers) Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León have weakened, if not completely destroyed, the foundations of national sovereignty.
From 1982 to the present day, behind the masks of "industrial conversion," "adapting to the modern times of globalization," "reducing public spending," "eliminating subsidies which impede free competition and economic development," "the international fight against drug trafficking" and "the end of the populist state," Mexican governments have been operating a veritable extermination campaign against the basic pillars of national sovereignty.
Ever Less Ours and Ever Less a CountryThrough a number of different measures, recent governments have ensured that this country is less and less a country and less and less ours. These measures include selling off state businesses on the cheap, giving in to pressures from the international markets, abandoning their role of providing social services (or adapting them to buy votes), freeing the prices of basic products while controlling salaries, pegging the national currency's future to the arbitrary nature of the big financial centers, submitting the government's actions to the publicity campaigns demanded by the nation-selling market, assigning the national armed forces the role of neighborhood police in the global village, rewriting—and erasing—national history, and thinking in dollars.
Work it out for yourself. What is left of the Mexican State that would enable us to describe it as sovereign? Hundreds of state companies have been sold and the pompously named "Mexican stock exchange" appears to be nothing more than a branch of Asian exchanges (even though they originally sold the idea that it would be a branch of US exchanges). The only thing people can rely on these days is that the cost of basic products keeps going up while the value of the Mexican peso goes down on the international exchange markets. Meanwhile, Mexico's rulers think in English and only translate into Spanish when addressing nationals (and not even with great success if Foreign Minister Green is anything to go by), while under the orders of US advisers the Mexican Federal Army is carrying out a campaign remarkably similar to that waged by General Custer against the Indians in the United States. And when high officials in the Mexican government are asked the date of Independence Day, they quickly and assuredly answer "July 4." Scandalous? Well, that's why they fall back on the tactic of forgetfulness. Another silence... (...)
30 Years Behind the TimesThe macroeconomic mask includes the speeches of Señor Zedillo, a master of contagious optimism, who explains-scolds- warns us that the "economic recovery is irreversible and the strength of our economic indicators demonstrates that we can resist the crisis with minimum costs and how lucky you are my fellow countrymen to have me as your leader! blah-blah-blah-blah- blah-blah-blah..."
Ah! The macroeconomic successes! But what are they? The fortunes amassed by the richest men in Mexico and the positions they occupy in the Forbes list? Salaries? Prices? Employment? Social security? Look for them and you will find that the macroeconomic mask hides an economic model that has been imposed on the country since the early 1980s; 16 years of the same economic policy, which are more than needed to judge it by.
The results? Besides the loss of national sovereignty, we are historically 30 years behind the times. Yes, Mexico `98 and Mexico `68 share not only a government headed by a murderer with a presidential sash across his chest, but also a growth in poverty and in the number of poor people, a concentration of wealth in increasingly fewer hands and a deterioration of the social services which used to bring some relief to the Mexican population. (...)
Now, at the beginning of 1998, we have the same level of poverty as in 1968; 30 lost years. Furthermore, we now have fewer possibilities of improving our economic situation.
"The welfare opportunities of the Mexican people in 1996, after nearly 15 years of the neoliberal model, have not only failed to grow, but are 30% lower than in 1981. This means that the model has a double incapacity: the incapacity to make income grow faster than needs, and a growing incapacity to distribute income equally among the population. In other words, the model was not only incapable of growing, but also increasingly concentrated income into a few hands, thus reducing the population's welfare opportunities." (Julio Boltvinik, "Economía y bienestar, México al fin del milenio".)
Of course, these macroeconomic figures will not be to the liking of Gurría and Ortiz (though I doubt they can refute them), but the real fact is that there is another "macro-economy": that of those below, with lower salaries, less and inferior education, less and inferior housing, less and inferior health care and less and inferior food. Yes, that mask is hiding a catastrophe.
Furthermore, add the initials FOBAPROA and you complete a nightmarish cocktail. On top of their poverty, millions of Mexicans will now be burdened with rescuing these other criminals, the bankers, who use the "rule of law" as an alibi and count on the government as their constantly willing accomplice and pimp.
The Fatality of GlobalizationIndignant, certainly, but... be silent! Nothing can be done; it is the fatality of globalization imposing an unanswerable silence and a religious conformity on us. It should not worry us that this resignation has reached as far as Havana, but rather that the destruction of nations (which goes hand in hand with globalization, although this is remediable) appears to us as something obvious, that is, as something natural, unquestionable and non- contradictory.
Certainly neoliberalism has used large financial capital to build a formidable enemy capable of dictating wars, bankruptcies, dictatorships, "democracies," lives and, particularly, deaths in any corner of the world. However, this process of total globalization (economic, political and cultural) does not imply the inclusion of different societies, incorporating their different particularities. On the contrary, it implies the veritable imposition of one, and only one, way of thinking: that of financial capital. In this war of conquest, everyone should subordinate himself or herself to the market's criteria and anything opposing or hindering it will be eliminated. But it also implies the destruction of humanity as a socio-cultural collective and its reconstruction as a piece of the market. Opposing neoliberalism, fighting against it, is not only a political or ideological option, it is a struggle for the survival of humanity. Someone once said that fighting globalization was like fighting the law of gravity. So then, down with gravity!
The Mask of ChauvinismMexico's destruction as a nation has to be hidden. Thus the need for another mask: the mask of chauvinism. Motivated by a desire for peace and attempting to stop the extermination of indigenous people perpetrated by the Mexican government in Chiapas, hundreds of men and women from Mexico and other parts of the world arrived in southeastern Mexico. Nothing could be more uncomfortable for the criminals than to have witnesses to the extermination laboratory they have set up on indigenous lands. In response, the ineffable secretary of government came up with a double recipe: prison for Mexican nationals and expulsion for people from other countries, following a xenophobic campaign in the press and on radio and television. Suddenly, with the most stupid explanations, the main vendor of national sovereignty had an attack of patriotism and, under the cry of "the only good foreigner is a mute and blind foreigner," persecuted, harassed and expelled all of those born in other lands who joined the fight for peace with justice and dignity. Hundreds of foreign observers are subjected to rape, blows, threats and insults while foreign "investors" are showered with servile courtesies, flattery and adulation.
Chiapas Is the Silence of BetrayalThis mask is grotesquely decorated with the silence of betrayal. Yes, betrayal of the pledge made at San Andrés. Betrayal of those who believed in the way of dialogue. Betrayal of those who fought for peace. Betrayal of those who thought it possible that the government would recognize the rights of indigenous people. Betrayal of those who hoped the war in southeastern Mexico would be stopped. And betrayal, destruction and forgetfulness need an ideological underpinning, a "theory" to give the crimes a reason that history has stubbornly denied them.
The Mask of the "Objective Intellectual"Thus emerges the mask of the "objective intellectual," worn by certain figures in Mexican cultural life who have free access to the corridors of political, economic and religious power. Their first stage was to criticize the critics of the political system. (...) Reality is not understood as it is; rather recommended decisions are based on the idea that reality should be as the powers-that-be would like it to be.
The list of failures is long, but Chiapas serves as a representative example. The formerly independent intellectuals now turned ready advisers recommend a "heavy hand" and "firmness" in the government's treatment of the indigenous rebels in southeastern Mexico. "All of the costs have now been paid, so we have nothing to lose," they say, backing up their recommendation to use military force to definitively resolve the conflict. They also advise a "new media policy," (a name the government and its advisers give to speeches at public events, press conferences and banquet interviews) to run alongside the "policy of actions," or war, that is being waged in the country's indigenous communities. The results are scandals, orders, reprimands, boasts, statements and counter-statements. The PGR would speak of "intragovernmental conflicts," referring not to the assassination of Colosio, but to the declarations of Zedillo, Labastida and Rabasa. (...)
Chiapas is a public opinion problem. Because the philosophy of war and violent actions is practiced only by the government, with the rebels maintaining a silence that appears abysmal to it, the "neutral" intellectuals are uncomfortable. If they applaud the government's speeches and practices it puts them on the side of the irrational, and if they criticize them they end up aligned with people in balaclavas who are not only rebels but are also indigenous.
Their desperation is understandable with the effects of the war being waged by the government in Chiapas and Guerrero spattering everywhere and threatening to stain their pens and their neat analyses. But there are those who do not flinch when faced with such a dilemma; they embrace with fervent and religious devotion the task of "justifying" the state crime being perpetrated in indigenous Mexico.
However, nothing is ever entirely perfect and the dizzying number of mistakes is creating unrest among the unofficial advisers. The discontent of these intellectuals at the government's clumsiness hides dissatisfaction over advice that has been rejected. The intellectuals of the annihilation of the indigenous peoples "for reasons of state" are troubled by the government's delay in dealing once and for all with this stone in the shoe.
Fortunately, the intellectuals of criminal objectivity are growing fewer and becoming ever more isolated (along with those they advise). On the other hand, some media have the honor of providing space to political analysts, journalists, and artists who refuse to fall for the government's juggling act and continue dissecting national problems and assuming positions in reaction to them, seeking inclusive, pacific and rational solutions.
Now that history, legitimacy and the nation have been lost, little is left of the Mexican political system. It believes that only one mask can save it and carry it alive, if not healthy and complete, into the next century: the mask of war.
The mask of WarThe military campaign of comandante Zedillo has been a brilliant one. He has been accompanied in his warlike enterprise by Señor Labastida as his chief of staff and Señor Rabasa as... as... well, what exactly does Señor Rabasa do? Anyway, Señora Rosario Green acts as his not-so-simultaneous or accurate translator and Señor Albores Guillén as his field marshall.
Having filled Chiapas' jails with indigenous Zapatistas and members of civil society (after previously emptying them of paramilitary group members), promoted the use of indigenous shacks in the federal army's target practices, carried out summary executions any dictatorship in the world would be proud of (another advantage of globalization?), linked Mexico's name to the bloody events of Acteal, Chavajeval and Unión Progreso, and brought terror, misery and lies to the indigenous lands of Mexico, comandante Zedillo and his team have received seven decorations for as many victims they have claimed.
Seven Victims of this WarYes, there are seven victims of Zedillo's war: peace, dialogue as a way of resolving conflicts, indigenous people, national and international civil society, national sovereignty and the move towards democracy, the Concordance and Pacification Commission and the National Intermediation Commission.
By waging his personal fight against the rebels, Zedillo not only took the peace that was about to be established as a prisoner of war, he also attacked the hopes of future peace.
Dialogue as a way of solving conflicts is one of the most important casualties of the war in southeastern Mexico. By failing to honor the agreements he signed, Zedillo shattered all confidence in his government; and without confidence it is impossible to reach agreements. And if it is not possible to reach agreements, then why hold talks?
For their part, the indigenous people account for most of Zedillo's "triumphs" in Chiapas. No regime has ever been directly or indirectly responsible for so many deaths, tortures, disappearances, imprisonments, expulsions and displacements of indigenous Chiapans as this one.
Governmental warmongering also claimed national and international civil societies as victims, by turning a deaf ear to their calls for dialogue, peace and the transition to democracy, blocked by a political system which would sooner see a bloodbath than lose any of its privileges.
Meanwhile, national sovereignty has been reduced to a nostalgic memory. In its place we now have foreign military advisers, foreign weapons, foreign combat tactics, foreign food rations and foreign combat teams. In the war in Chiapas, the only national thing is the blood being spilt.
Two victims deserve special mention, one of which is crawling along in its death throes while the other lies stone dead. The first is the National Concordance and Pacification Commission (COCOPA) created by the federal legislators of the political parties represented in the Congress of the Union. The COCOPA has been deceived, mocked, used, disparaged, humiliated and forgotten by the government. In his perverse and deadly game, Ernesto Zedillo fooled the COCOPA into thinking that he was willing to accept the legislators' services in effectively and quickly procuring peace in southeastern Mexico. By retracting its acceptance of the COCOPA's indigenous bill, the government left the legislators looking ridiculous and wrested from them any moral authority they had to present themselves before the Zapatista leadership. Zedillo then concentrated on attacking those COCOPA members who did not go along with his warlike plans (in other words, almost all of them) and ultimately ignored the commission during the long period in which the December 1997 mass-murder of indigenous people at Acteal was being planned. In short, the government has treated the COCOPA with deceit, tricks, blows and sabotage. The EZLN will not do the same.
The Unforgivable Crimes of the CONAIAt the same time as the sabotage against the COCOPA was being perpetrated, the Ministry of Government was busy murdering and jailing more indigenous people and waging all-out war on the National Intermediation Commission (CONAI), especially against its president, Bishop Samuel Ruiz García. Recently, there have been statements and counter- statements, in which Labastida says something then contradicted by Rabasa. Zedillo corrects them both. Rabasa backs up what Zedillo said, and Labastida scolds Rabasa. In short, there is a confusion of masks and roles that would make anyone laugh were it not for the fact that it hides a brutal and unfair war.
Having suffered a long and intense campaign of attacks and lies, the National Intermediation Commission, recognized by both the federal government and the EZLN as the mechanism for mediation in the peace talks, was dissolved. Make a note of these names: regular members Samuel Ruiz García, Concepción Calvillo Viuda de Nava, Dr. Pablo González Casanova, Dr. Raymundo Sánchez Barraza and the poets Juan Bañuelos and Oscar Oliva; plus secretaries Pedro Nava, Salvador Reyes, Gonzalo Ituarte and Miguel Alvarez. These ten made up the National Intermediation Commission, one of the main targets for destruction according to the government's war strategy.
Its crimes were all unforgivable: fighting for a peace with justice and dignity, representing national civil society as a mediator in the conflict, firmly believing in dialogue as a way of solving disputes, not following government orders, maintaining autonomy and independence from both sides, thinking that peace in Mexico necessarily involved a move towards democracy, committing itself to the indigenous peoples' peaceful struggles and, worst of all, establishing itself as an obstacle to the war.
For months, these people were the victims of all kinds of attacks, including attempts on their lives, goods and liberty. For months they suffered pressure from the entire Mexican state apparatus: the federal, state and municipal governments; the army, police and paramilitary groups; the two monopolistic television companies and the local press; businesspeople; federal and local deputies; the republic's senators, judges and public ministers; the heads of political parties; and the Catholic and Protestant church hierarchies. Millions and millions of pesos were spent on campaigns to discredit it.
All the weight of the political, economic, ecclesiastical and military power was aimed against these ten people, and against the bishop of the San Cristóbal diocese, Samuel Ruiz García, in particular. On June 7, 1998, the seventh victim fell to the advance of the Zedillo war machine when Samuel Ruiz García resigned from the CONAI and the commission was dissolved. The disappearance of the CONAI brought a fierce resistance to authoritarianism, crime and intolerance to an end, but did not end the search for peace undertaken by the commission's members.
Samuel Ruiz: Zedillo's TargetBut the machine did not stop with the resignation of the CONAI president. Señor Ernesto Zedillo is not satisfied with seeing Bishop Ruiz García removed from the conflict's mediation. No, he wants to see him disappeared, erased, dead. With resentment, he cherishes the opportunity to remove him completely from his sight. If the attempt failed once, there will always be other opportunities. After all, if they could assassinate a cardinal (Posadas Ocampo) and get away with it, dealing with a troublesome bishop then carrying on as before should be no problem. And this is not just one of those bad jokes with which Zedillo tortures his Cabinet; resentment has become a truly personal style of government for this man. And when it comes to personal vendettas, he really knows how to go about it.
Time and again, in each of the conjugal visits he makes to the soon-to-be former interim governor Albores Guillén, Señor Zedillo viciously and with cowardice attacks the man who carried the banners of peace and justice and did not stint in his efforts or pains to carry out his work with honesty. At the end of the day his work is that of any respectable human being: to fight for justice, respect and dignity.
The country owes a great deal to these ten people. Although this stage in the events of southeast Mexico is over, national history will reserve a special place for them among its best men and women. Many years from now, when Zedillo is forgotten or imprisoned for his innumerable crimes, the names of these people will continue to hold a very special place in the hearts of those Mexicans presently at the bottom of the social order, particularly the country's indigenous people.
Although they are now removed from this stage of the fight, the members of CONAI have made it clear that they will continue fighting in different ways and in different places for the same ends: justice for Mexico's indigenous population, the transition to democracy and peace.
The Indigenous People See and Seen in Silence"It is obvious that in the field of political action the only ones who triumph are those who place their sail where the wind is blowing, and never those who expect the wind to blow where they have placed their sail."
Antonio Machado, Juan de Mairena.
Mexico 1998. While the supreme government heads toward war and desperately tries to combine the winds from above, the grunts of the beast and sorcery to propel the heavy canvas of the ship of death, these indigenous Mexicans who have added the name of Emiliano Zapata to their history, silently prepare the justice and dignity that must come despite their deaths, or perhaps because of them.
In silence these indigenous people watch the skies and soil to divine the winds from below which are blowing through the fields of Mexico and the world, along the dusty streets of villages and settlements, through the disordered alignment of grassroots neighborhoods, through the headquarters of honest unions, through the offices of committed political parties, through the theaters-cinemas- auditoriums-showrooms-art galleries, through laboratories and scientific research centers, through university cubicles, halls and corridors, through the meetings and assemblies of political and social organizations, through the churches of the poor, through national and foreign nongovernmental organizations, along freeways, highways and neighborhood roads, through breaches, and sailing over the rivers, lagoons and seas of this country, now abundant in water, and of this awakening world, which although late, is waking nonetheless.
In silence these indigenous people see and are seen. In silence they sense the direction in which the winds from the worlds below are blowing. In silence these indigenous people know. In silence they finish this new and absurd Noah's ark and, knowing that the wind is blowing for democracy, liberty and justice, they raise high the double sail of hope, the motor and light of this ship, the one of the same people as always, the ship of life. With art and science they built the ark and elected thousands of their own to crew it. The rest will remain behind to await the outcome.
If war and destruction come, they will resist with dignity as they have learned to do in the harsh school of the centuries. If it is democracy, liberty and peace, they will know how to share it as they have known throughout their history.
All Aboard: Honesty Is Your TicketMexico, mid-1998. After a long silence, these indigenous people talk boat and call everyone aboard. Following such a long silence, these indigenous people talk ship, a Noah's ark, a floating tower of Babel, an absurd and irreverent challenge.
And if there were any doubt about who is crewing and steering it, the figurehead is clad in a balaclava! Yes, a balaclava, the mask that keeps watch, the silence that talks. The flag, a red five-pointed star on a black background, which shines from the main mast, is adorned with the words "for everyone, everything, and for us, nothing." In golden letters on the port, starboard and stern are the words "Vote Zapata," showing the origin and destination of this ship, so powerfully fragile, so thunderously quiet, so visibly hidden.
"All aboard!" sounds the captain's cry-order-invitation. The only ticket needed is honesty. Several thousand rowers wait - ready to go? No, not yet...
With that strange and repeated tendency to complicate matters, these men and women of masks and silences built their ship... in the middle of the mountains! "And now?" I ask them. As could be expected, they answer with silence. But behind their masks they are smiling as they hand me a message and a bottle.
I do what is generally done in such a situation and put the message in the bottle, stop it up well with a piece of chewing gum and a bit of chamoy given me by the sea, set myself firmly at the edge of the ceiba tree and throw the bottle as far as I can with all my strength. It is gathered up by a wisp of cloud, which sails away, carrying it who-knows-where. Off floats the bottle. Whoever finds it and breaks it open will break the silence and find several answers and many questions. They will also be able to read the Fifth Declaration of the Selva Lacandona.
Well, that's all. So, good health and be ready. Get your umbrellas, waterproofs and life jackets ready. Who could now deny that words can summon up the waters?
From the mountains of southeastern Mexico,
Subcomandante Marcos In the name of the 300.