Subcomandante Marcos Steps Down as Voice of Zapatistas

Subcomandante Marcos, the charismatic leader of Mexico's Zapatistas rebels for the past 20 years, has announced he will no longer speak for the group and will no longer exist as Subcomandante Marcos. (The Zapatistas are rebels fighting for the rights of indigenous people in Chiapas, Mexico's poorest state.) He will now be known as Subcomandante Galeano.

I've been a longtime fan of Marcos. He is a prolific writer -- 21 books and more than 250 essays and articles. I especially recommend Our Word is Our Weapon: Selected Writings by Subcomandante Marcos.

In a 10 page communique posted on the EZLN website (in Spanish), Marcos says he no longer exists and has never existed -- that his persona is a hologram created by the group to advance its goals, but that the persona of Marcos has now become a distraction. The group is changing, a new generation is coming in, and it was collectively decided to end the persona of Marcos. He also says rumors of his death and illness are untrue, just a false story put out by the group, in an attempt to separate the group from his persona. Vice has posted the audio of his 55 minute announcement, in Spanish. [More...]

The voice of the group will now be Subcomandante Moises. Marcos will now be known as Subcomandante Galeano. (Galeano is intended to be a collective persona, a rebirth of a member of the group who was murdered earlier this month.) It's not clear if Moises will be the new leader, or just the new spokesperson. Marcos may be saying the group does not need a singular leader:

....“It is our belief and our practice that in order to rebel and struggle, we need neither leaders, nor caudillos, nor messiahs, nor saviors. ...."

[Added: Subcomandante Moises has now given this speech.]

My favorite Zapatista communique was one written years ago, in response to an article that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle quoting Marcos as saying he once worked in a restaurant in San Francisco, but was fired for being gay. The mainstream press in Mexico picked up the story and declared it scandalous that Marcos was a "queer revolutionary." The Zapatistas' response was "Subcommander Marcos is More Than Just Gay."

The Mexican Government has identified Marcos as Rafael Sebastian Guillen, and says he has a Masters Degree in Philosophy and used to teach at Metropolitan Autonomous University (UAM) in Mexico City. Marcos has never confirmed this.

Marcos, who has rarely appeared in public in recent years, is always photographed with a black ski mask. He attended the recent funeral for Galeano, but before that his last major public appearance was in 2009. (In 2006, he announced he would be known as "Delegate Zero.")

Marcos mentions in his statement that he knows nothing about social media. Perhaps he is not riding off into the sunset, just ceding responsibility for the group's communications to those more in tune with today's preferred means of media communication.

So while he will no longer be known as Subcomandante Marcos, and Subcomandante Marcos will no longer be the voice of the Zapatistas, I hope we will still hear from him as "Subcomandante Galeano." Here's an excellent analysis of his announcement.

When the EZLN took five municipalities in Chiapas on January 1, 1994, the world came to know the mysterious masked Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos as its spokesperson.

...Seeing the fascination of the Mexican and international media with the mysterious persona of Marcos, the EZLN decided to take advantage and “use” this allure in order to attract more and more attention and stay in the spotlight.

The strategy was not without its costs, however. The catapulting forward of Marcos actually produced a boomerang effect: the movement became personalized in the persona of Marcos, and the biggest achievement of Zapatismo as such — the autonomous, leaderless communities — remained in the shadow. The EZLN realized that “the movement became Marcos” and “Marcos became the movement,” and they have long been trying to find a way to tackle that — to the extent that they even deliberately fuelled rumors of Marcos’ serious illness that circulated for the past few years.

....And 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.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Viva Chiapas (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by fishcamp on Mon May 26, 2014 at 05:23:18 PM EST

    going on 20 years, and still no victory? (none / 0) (#1)
    by cpinva on Mon May 26, 2014 at 03:33:43 PM EST
    they might want to consider re-thinking their approach. taking lessons from the US, on how to fight a war, maybe isn't the best way to go. I notice the glaring lack, of any mention of democratic elections, in that list of "autonomous zone" accomplishments, just that "there are people who have learned how to govern themselves in an autonomous, horizontal way.", which I'm not even sure what that means.

    one the big reasons the Mexican gov't hasn't crushed this "revolution", is because they've had to focus their efforts on the drug cartels. as those cartels lose power, with the legalization of pot, mexico will turn its attention to the Zapatistas, and they too will be gone. not that I don't think they have a valid point, just that they don't really command the military assets to take on a government able to concentrate on them.

    Defying Political Pigeonholery: (none / 0) (#3)
    by Mr Natural on Thu May 29, 2014 at 10:12:09 AM EST
    from wiki:

    Although the ideology of the EZLN is reflective of libertarian socialism, paralleling both anarchist and libertarian Marxist thought in many respects, the EZLN has rejected[3] and defied[4] political classification, retaining its distinctiveness due in part to the importance of indigenous Mayan beliefs in Zapatismo thought. The EZLN aligns itself with the wider alter-globalization, anti-neoliberal social movement, seeking indigenous control over their local resources, especially land.