Opening speech to American encounter

(April 1996)

Message from the EZLN during the inaugural ceremony of the American Planning Gathering of the Intercontinental Meeting for Humanity and Against Neoliberalism.

La Realidad, America, April 4th, 1996

A journalist and videoproducer who had been covering the Zapatista uprising since January, 1994, Javier Elorriaga Berdegue', introduced himself one day as a volunteer to try to find a political and peaceful solution to the conflict. I listened to him, he gave me arguments in favor of peace and against the war. He seemed to me to be one of those men who believe in what they say, who are consequent with their ideas. I told him that we would not lose anything by trying. On September 16, 1994, on the anniverssary of the Mexican Independence, he arrived with the first of a series of letters from Mr. Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leo'n. After December 1st, 1994, Javier came and went with messages from then Secretary of the Interior ("Gobernacio'n",) Este'ban Moctezuma Barraga'n. His work as peace liaison lasted six months. I told him that we saw no sign at all of a willingness to establish a dialogue on the government's part. He insisted in looking for a new peace encounter. As he was leaving the Lacando'n Jungle, on the morning of February 9, 1995, Javier Elorriaga was detained and accused of "terrorism".

The government began an offensive against the Indigenous communities of the Lacando'n Jungle and arrested dozens of Mexicans in several locations of the country. It accused them of "terrorism" and exhibited as proof a "terrible" arsenal: paper bombs and some old weapons. While in the press the government congratulated itself for having recovered its "national sovereignty", in the Lacando'n Jungle Swiss planes bombarded the communities' surroundings, North American helicopters machine-gunned the mountain, French tanks occupied the homes of the Indians who were fleeing into the jungle, Spanish policemen interrogated suspects, and North American military advisors checked very carefully an artifact which might contain some dangerous military device. This artifact travelled all the way to the Pentagon and was checked by means of the most advanced and modern devices of military technology.

After a few days, the experts turned their findings in to Washington, and from there it was forwarded to the offices of the Mexican military, the political police, and the National Palace. The report said that everything seemed to indicate that said artifact, snatched from the forces of the law transgressors, had all the looks of being...a little toy car, made of metal and plastic. The report also said that they had found a small inscription, probably made with a black ball point pen, which read: "This small car belongs to "el Heriberto..."

420 days have passed since then. Mr. Zedillo occupies the Mexican presidential seat, Heriberto lives in the mountains, the army lives in his house, and Javier Elorriaga, and 17 other Mexicans are in jail, accused of "terrorism". One of the 17, Joel Marti'nez, has respiratory problems as a result of having been tortured. Because of his serious condition, he has just been hospitalized. Today, they have him chained, hand and foot, like an animal with rabies, as if dignity could be chained.

Today, 420 days after the facts have shown who the terrorist is we want to dedicate these words to Javier Elorriaga Berdegue' and, through him, to all the incarcerated Zapatistas.

In the definition of their future
many more things are defined
than those imagined by their jailers.


Through my voice speaks the Zapatista Army of National Liberation.

American brothers and sisters:

Welcome to La Realidad ("Reality"). Our special thanks to the men, women, and children of La Realidad who are the ones who have given us permission and have supported us to bring about this planning meeting in their community. I want to ask everyone that, together, we greet our Indigenous brothers of La Realidad.

We welcome the brothers and sisters of the delegations from Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Ecuador, Brasil, Peru, Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina. We welcome the observers from France, Germany, and Spain. We welcome the Mexican brothers and sisters from the Organizing Comission. Our thanks and greetings for an effort which takes shape today.

We want to thank all of you for having accepted our invitation to this planning meeting and the effort you have made to travel from your countries to the Lacandon Jungle.

Hideout of law transgressors, and dignified corner of America, the Lacandon Jungle has already been visited by diverse representations from your countries' governments. We have been visited by bomber planes, armed helicopters, war tanks, spy satelites, military advisors and agents, some secret, and some not so secret, from all the spying organizations of several countries. All of these visitors have a common objective: assassination and robery. The most sophysticated and modern war technology is set forth against the wooden weapons, the broken feet, and the ancestral philosophy of the Zapatistas, which declares, without shame or fear that the place of knowledge, truth, and speech is in the heart. Modern death against ancestral life. Neoliberalism against Zapatism. Why do they fear us? Why so much death for so few and so small a group? Because we have defied them, and the worst part about defiance is that it becomes an example.

On April 3rd, 1911, those citizens of the Americas named Ricardo and Enrique Flores Mago'n wrote: "Companeros, think well, keep on going, and work, without wasting time, before your help arrives too late. Try to imagine the danger under which we have to confront every government in the world, who see in the Mexican movement the appearance of social revolution, the only one the governments of the world fear."

Today, 85 years after, history repeats itself. In the past death only came to visit dressed as illness and misery, today it comes also with an olive green uniform, with led and war machines. All of this signs announce destruction. A true armed multinational force percecutes us, and tries to destroy our example. The powerful of the world are bothered by our existence and honour us with their threat. They are right. The Zapatista defiance is a world defiance. We never pretended it to be so, we never imagined it. But given that role, we will be as uncomfortable as possible. A world system makes it possible for crime to become government in Mexico. A national system makes it possible for crime to rule in Chiapas. Struggling in the mountains of the Mexican Southeast, we struggle for Mexico, for humanity, and against neoliberalism. That is why the world's power persecutes us, jails us, murders us, that is why it wants to destroy us.

After the visit of these foretellers of death, it is an honor for us to receive your visit, the visit of those who struggle for life and for humanity in the American Continent. We are sure that the trip to La Realidad has not been easy. "Reality" has never been easy, but it is well worth reaching it. The trip to La Realidad is a journey towards suffering, but also towards hope.

Several thoughts from several nations are summoned today at "La Realidad". They are called together, not because of their nationality, not because of their sex or color, not because of their culture or their language. Only one thing has summoned us, the struggle in favor of humanity and against neoliberalism.

80 years ago, in 1916, General Emiliano Zapata dreamt that life and thought could be free if a new reality was built. Those in power then dreamt his destruction.

Today, on the desks of the great Mexican and U.S. there exist diverse plans, complicated military operations, and 77 different types of life threats, one for each year which has elapsed since Emiliano Zapata's assassination. And all those plans have as their objective the destruction of La Realidad.

Why? because they have discovered that in La Realidad human beings, that is to say, dignified human beings live, and power cannot tolerate human beings to live.

That is the enemy facing us, persecuting us, murdering us, jailing us, raping us, humiliating us. A power which pretends to bring about the absurd notion of destroying La Realidad.

That is what they pretend...They, those who concentrate crime and wealth in power, transforming them in siamese twins getting hold of the latter through the exercice of the former. They, those who in power monopolize the future and announce it exclusive of everything that does not convert itself into an accomplice or a victim. They, those who in the exercise of power forget that by acumulating power they acumulate fear. They want to destroy La Realidad because today in La Realidad there are human beings, and the sole existence of human beings is already a defiance that can be turned into an example. We, all of uus who nourish the heart and the word with the bitter bread of hope. We, those who see in the past a lesson and not a nuisance, those who turn towards yesterday to learn and not to repent. We, those who look at the future as something which is built in the present, those who aspire to a tomorrow with everyone. We, those who balance fear with shame, prudence with courage, and indifference with memory. We, the human beings who exist, that is tto say, who defy power, We want to transform La Realidad, to change her into something better, into something new, into something good.

That is the fight for La Realidad.

Some want to build it, and some want to destroy it.

They through the absurdity of denying it through oblivion, destruction and death.

We, through the absurdity of building it again by means of history, creativity, and life.

That is the dilemma upon which we came to think and to begin to decide, the dilemma of La Realidad. This is the definite and fundamental theme in favor of humanity and against neoliberalism. La Realidad: The dilemma of its transformation or its destruction.

In order to solve that dilemma, we have to face a very powerful enemy, power dressed in the costume of neoliberalism. Its crimes recognize no borders, they represent the globalization of despair. Neoliberalism offers us a new world doctrine: Surrender and indifference as the only means of inclusion, death and oblivion as the only future for those excluded, that is to say, for the majority. Stupidity and arrogance turned government in the nations of the world. Crime and impunity as the highest law. Robbery and corruption as the main industry. Assassination as the source of legitimacy. Lying as the supreme god. Prison and grave for those others who are not accomplices. War always. That is neoliberalism. But its power is also based on our weaknesses. To our lack of alternative proposals, they offer the continuation of the nightmare.

We have to go beyond lamentations and propose new ways.

We did not invite you to add complaints. We did not call on you to embody our misfortunes. We did not summon you to give a continental dimention to our nightmare.

We invited you to multiply our hopes. We called upon you to lessen hardships. We summoned you to give hope a continental dimention. Let not the grotesque and terrible image of the enemy we face dull the mirror which is needed to look at our own road. Let us not hide within ourselves arbitrariness and laziness, covering them up under the daily crime of a world order which turns into dust history, nations, and individuals. Let us not offer a new nightmare of a different sign. Let not the location of the evermore complicated political geometry, which multiplies centers and extremes to the infinite, signify impunity for the errors committed nor the changing of guards of dogmas in our thoughts.

We did not come together today to change the world. We are here today with the most modest of purposes. Only to make a new world.



In America.

A continent of legends, the American continent is a piece of land where all the bloods in the world meet.

A land without land, that is to say, a people without a homeland, the migrant in America dreams that he can work and live in peace and dignity on any land, regardless of the borders left above or under. The migrant finds neither work nor land in American soil, he finds only war and humiliation on these lands where he steals nothing and gives everything. The migrant in America is a stranger in America. For the American to enter a xenophobe nightmare, it is not necessary to cross an international border, sometimes it suffices to cross, even momentarily, one of the many cultural, political, social, religious, and sexual borders which the skies of America pulverize making that collective thought may not include more than one. The migrant of America is the great solitary made up of millions of beings in search. The migrant of America is the struggle of always, the legend...

And, among many, the legend becomes a balad and survives to the lack of books, the press, television, radio. The legend of Gregorio Corte'z, being chased by the "rinchers" but never caught, is the legend of history being chased by oblivion, history always escaping and becoming collective memory. The legend comes to La Realidad and there it represents all migrants who venture on American soil and try to become a part of a new culture without losing their own.

Like the legend, power chases after the migrants for not wanting to be what they are, for trying to built something new but different which destroys neither the past nor the present, and that might have a place in the future of North America, a dignified future, a future that does not have prison bars or a grave stone on its horizon. As in the "Balad of Gregorio Corte'z", the American migrant will always escape and will continue building the collective memory that those in power insist in destroying all over America, especially in...

A country synthesizes as no other the great contradictions that squeeze the American continent. A nation built with the effort of migrants from all over the world, the United States of America rise up as a symbol of power and modernity. The arrogance of power which usually finds its hideaway in North America, has succeeded that the world rejection that its foreign policy deserves to contaminate, more often than not, the noble North American people. But that arrogance of power is only possible at a great cost to the people of the United States of America. Not only to he so called latin, asiatic, and black minorities, also to the whites, the crisis elevated to a world economic system, neoliberalism, claims its high cuota of suffering North of the Ri'o Bravo. In the United States, 5.7% of the economically active population is unemployed, while in Canada it is 9.5%, according to the statistical data provided by The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The people of the United States of America, that complex mixture of British and Irish blood,Spanish and Mexican, European, African, and Asiatic, Latinamerican, and Idigenous, American always. The people of the United States of America, that great forgotten people at solidarity time, that always remembered people at complaining time. The people of the United States of America, the people who, in spite of its government, knows when to look below and find there a brother and not a victim.

Not as victims, not as exxecutioners. As what we are, as brothers, we greet today the people of the United States of America, represented with dignity at La Realidad.

Brothers and sisters of America:

Today, here, in La Realidad, we must set apart a place for memory, for history, for that mirror which reminds us who we were, shows us wht we are and promisses what we may become...

30 years ago, in 1966, after having been nowhere, a man prepared the memory and the hope so that life would return to America. Ramo'n was then his nom-de-guerre. In one of the many corners of the American Reality (La Realidad), this man was remembering, and in his memories lived all the men and women who lived and died for the life of America. His name and his memory were burried by the reiterated grave diggers of history. For some, his first name is Ernesto and his last names Guevara de la Serna. For us he was, and is El Che.

In Punta del Este he denounced the politics of power which, from the offices of the World Bank, proposed the building of latrines as a solution to the grave conditions of misery of the countries of America. Since then, poverty in America has developped at the same rate at which its wealth has been plundered by the rich of always. The "Latrinocracy" also evolved but only in name. In one of the American countries it took up the name of "solidaridad". Nevertheless, in spite of the nominal mirages, the basic functioning of the "latrinocracy" keeps on being the same: today, as yesterday, the poor's place is at the bottom of the latrine while the rich get to sit on top.

His criticism of power was not translated into the acceptance of one's own defficiencies and into the acceptance of a system. Criticizing that the same logic was applied against those in power, barely disguised under a new surname, he wrote in 1964: "I do not pretend to have exhausted the topic and much less established the papal amen over these and other contradictions. Unfortunately, a system's apologetics reaches the eyes of the majority of our people, and my own eyes, before its scientific analysis."

Citizen of the world, Che recalls what we already knew since the times of Spartacus, and which we often forget: humanity finds in its fight against injustice a step which elevates it, which makes it better, which turns it more human.

Sometimes later memory and hope held his hand to write in his farewell letter: "One day they came in asking who should be notified in case of death and the real possibility of that fact struck us all. Later we learned that it was true, that in a revolution one triumphs or dies (if it's a true revolution). (...)Other lands in the world call for my modest efforts." And then the Che continued on his journey.

When he said goodbye, in order to say "'til later", Che used to say "Until victory always" as someone would say " see you in a while".

30 years later, during one of those dawns when the moon recovers pieces of light that the monhly bite of time natches from her and a comet disguised as a flashlight stands its useless guard at night's entrance, I have looked for some text upon which to support the initial words to this gathering. I have gone from Pablo Neruda to Julio Corta'zar to Walt Whitman to Juan Rulfo. It was useless, time and again the image of Che dreaming in the school at La Higuera claimed its place between my hands. From Bolivia come those half closed eyes and that ironical smile saying what had happened and promissing what would happen.

Have I said "dreaming? Should I have said "dead"? For some he died, for others he fell asleep. Who is wrong? 30 years ago Che was preparing the transformation of American Reality (La Realidad) and those in power prepared its destruction. 29 years ago, those in power told us that history was over at the El Yuro mountain pass. They said that the possibility of a different reality, better, was destroyed. They said that rebellion was over.

Is it over?

A fast glance at these last days press might help us answer that question:

During the last days of march several protest meetings against actual economic and privatizing policies which are going on throughout the continent are reported. Neoliberalism faces resistance and rebelliousness. There are millions who ignore that history, and with it dignity, ended.

On March 28, the international agencies Afp,Dpa,Efe, and Ansa informed that in La Paz, Cochabamba, and Santa Cruz, in Bolivia, thousands of people marched demanding raises in salary, and against the privatization of the Fiscal Bolivian oil fields. In Cochabamba the police detained 250 hunger strikers, most of them elderly, who were protesting for the same reason. Rebel old men,. Long live America! The same day, but in Paraguay, the workers began a general strike demanding a salary increase of 31 % and called for a referendum on the privatizations. The democratization of the decisions oposes the imposition of economic measures...and of educational measures...During those days more than five thousand Brazilian students were repressed by the police while protesting against the education policies of president Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

In Chile, thousands of farmers blocked the southern highways in protest against Chile's inminent inclusion in the South's Common Market (Mercosur), which will result in the unemployment of more than 800,000 farmers. The severe economic adjustment which is growing nearer in Venezuela has already sprung a "pts and pans" movement and a growing social discontent. Global economy, modern crime,have met with resistance among the clients of the death who sells.

Hundreds of street vendors faced the Peruvian police when they pretended to expell the from the center of Lima. There were more than 20 wounded. In order not to become criminals, some of America's poor try out the mini-micro-business. It's useless, for neoliberalism, any earnings that do not come from theft and despoiling is "ilegal". In America the innocent fill the prisons, and those who are guilty the governments' seats.

Antiriot police forces repressed thousands of Costaricans in the city of Santa Ana who were protesting against the instalation of a garbage dump. More than one thousand tons of garbage a day that neoliberalism throws atop Costarica's people, but it won't be done without punishment. America's entrails also protest. Simultaneous to the announcement of the increase of the aggregate value tax, a 5.7 in the Richter scale quake shook the city of Quiuito, Ecuador.

All this took place in only 2 days...30 years later. Has rebellion stopped?

30 years ago Che dreamed and repeated the dream of a transformed, new, better reality. The dream of rebellion. That dream crossed over time and the mountains of the Mexican Southeast. The dream that summons us together today is one of rupture and continuity with that dream of Che Guevara, just as his dream was one of rupture and continuity with that other dream which kept awake at night equally Simo'n Boli'var and Manuelita Saenz. In 1816, Simo'n Boli'var and Manuelita Saenz kept awake the dream of a unified America. The history sold by those in power tells us that the fertile insomnia which liberated Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru', and Bolivia was truncated years later by borders which with its walls fragmented Bolivar's dream. Was it truncated? In 1826, Boli'var conceives the first hemispheric conference of America, the Panama' Congress. Today, 170 years later and in the American La Realidad, the dream proposed by Boli'var begins again.

Crystal and mirror, the dream of a better America makes itself comfortable as best it can in order to dream in La Realidad.

And the intellectual madmen of this delyrium which summons us, the madmen who dared to dream our hope before us are: Manuelita Saenz, Simo'n Boli'var, Ricardo and Enrique Flores Mago'n, Emiliano Zapata, and Che Guevara.

180 years, 85 years, 80 years, 30 years later, we are and are not the same.

We are the end, the continuation and the beginning.

We are the mirror which is a crystal which is a mirror which is a crystal.

We are rebelliousness.

We are the stubborn history which repeats itself in order to no longer repeat itself, the looking behind in order to be able to walk forward.

We are neoliberalism's maximum defiance, the most beautiful absurdity, the most irreverent delirium, the most human madness.

We are human beings doing what must be done in La Realidad, that is to say, dreaming.

But it just occurred to me that what is more important to dream in La Realidad is to know what is ending, what continues, and especially what is beginning...

180 years after Boli'var and Manuelita's sleepless nights, 85 years after Flores Mago'n's prophecy, 80 years after Emiliano Zapata's dream, 330 years after che's dream dreaming the sleeplesness of all true and hoest Americans, today, April 4, 1996, in the American La Realidad, in the name of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation I declare formally inaugurated the American planning meeting of the Intercontinental Encounter for Humanity and against Neoliberalism, ay (...) Southeastern time.

Brothers and sisters of America:

The great world power has not yet found the weapon to destroy dreams. As long as it doesn'y find it, we will keep on dreaming, that is to say we will keep on triumphing...

Welcome, brothers and sisters of America. Here in La Realidad we finish, we continue, we begin...the dream. And this is our dream...

For all of America!


From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast
Subcommander Insurgent Marcos
La Realidad americana, April, 1996

Translation draft:  Monique J. Lemaitre..
La Jornada, 6 de abril de 1996

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