Fifteen Years Ago

Letter from Marcos to La Jornada

Zapatista Army of National Liberation Mexico
September of 1999.

"I am proposing to you, then, with the gravity of the final words of life, that we embrace each other in a commitment: we shall go out to the wide open spaces, we shall take risks for the other, we shall hope, with the one who extends their arms, that a new wave of history will raise us up. Perhaps it is already doing so, in a silent and subterranean manner, like the shoots that move beneath the winter ground."
Ernesto Sabato

Before the End

To: Everyone working at La Jornada
From: Sup Marcos

Ladies and gentlemen:

I was going to put "brothers and sisters," but journalists cannot be treated like that, because then Rodriguez Alcaine would ask for 'dittos,' and neither would one want to become related to criminals, no?

Where was I? Ah, yes! At "Ladies and gentlemen," I'll continue then:

I am writing to you in the name of the men, women, children and old ones of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, in order to wish you all a very happy 15th anniversary, and that you may have many more for ever and ever.

I shall not add to what I must already have said concerning the importance of the work of journalism, merely perhaps to remember, and to remind those many people with a poor and selective memory (like those jumping on the tops of cars; by the way, the idea of Monsivais having a position in the next cabinet does not bother us, it would be the first time that someone with a sense of humor occupied such a position, although one might suppose that he would lose it - the sense of humor or the position - staying awake in that way), that La Jornada has always been sensitive to social movements and to what is bubbling and babbling below.

When those from below are given "coverage," it is not just because their movement shakes the Mexican system, but also because there is someone who is concerned about taking notice of the event, and contributing, in that way, to that daily memory which today appears chaotic, disorganized and distressing, but which will then have to be fit into that which is called history. Not just La Jornada, certainly, but La Jornada has also become an important page in paying attention to our country's contemporary history for the sake of memory.

We should imagine that it has not been easy to reach 15 years being what you are, with so much against you, in the midst of so much jealousy, suspicion, ambitionand absences such as that of Don Rodolfo F. Pena. Because of that, in addition to congratulating those who are making La Jornada today, we would like to congratulate those who have made it and, from wherever they may be, in their way and their time, accompany the pride of "the jornaleros."

But, fine, we need not be dramatic, and we must remember that we are speaking of a celebration. And so, just this once (given 15 double, as shall be seen further along), we shall reveal a few of the special prizes that, year after year, the 'zapatones' award.

It must be clarified that, in order to decide who receives the prizes, we are verrry scientific and "postmodern," since (you're right) we carried out apoll! Conducted by the serious firm of "Marcos' Very Very Cheap Publishing Company," the 298 remaining zapatistas (well, 300 remain, but two of them were in bed) were surveyed, as well as the 4,265,312 former zapatistas who deserted and-who-have-returned-to-legality-because-Albores-has-his-pants-well-hitche d-up-and-not-bluster-no-rewrites-for-governor-Chiapas-needs-a-strong-hand-a nd-not-good-manners.

The prizes, for this 1999, are as follows:

The best political analysis column in 1999: Trino, for Cops and Robbers and the Little King.

The most read section in 1999 (and for the last 15 years): Socorro Valadez, for "El Correo Ilustrado."

The best cartoon in 1999: Hector Aguilar Camin, for himself.

The most hated section in 1999: (and for the last 15 years, truly): The one with the announcements and listings.

The greatest injustice in 1999: Sending the supplements only to subscribers.

The best union at La Jornada in 1999: Sitrajor

The best editor at La Jornada in 1999: It is not a "He," but a "She," Carmen Lira

The most thankless work in 1999 (and for the last five years): "Capturing" the Sup's communiques at a quarter to twelve (even though here, raza, we applaud them and we do not join in the demand that the pay should go up so that they don't say that we're increasing the size of our sheets of paper each time).

The best tribute to La Jornada in 1999: The seizure of the papers in Chiapas that El Croquetas ordered for several days.

The most regrettable of 1999: Not having invited us to the 15 year blow-out (you'll have a chamberlain in our category shortly?).

The rest of the awards cannot be revealed for obvious reasons (rather, there is no space).

Good, dear jornaleros and jornaleras, congratulations, and do not fill up too much on sandwiches and drinks, because then you are going to need an "errata" supplement equally as tedious as the "debate" between the four puppets.

Best wishes to those who, like you, take risks for the other.

Vale. Salud and may many, always better, calendars follow the 15. From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast.

Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos
Mexico, September of 1999.

15 Years

For Rodolfo Pena, Another mistaken embrace by death.

"When I go to write you the ink becomes moved; the cold black ink becomes red and trembling, and clear human heat arises from the black depths. When I go to write you My bones are going to write you; I write you with the indelible ink of my emotion."
Miguel Hernandez

The moon is a mother-of-pearl pick now, and her strumming on the strings of the night produces a storm of all manner. The moon, frightened, hides herself, darkening light who tucks herself in among the dark storm clouds. The lady of the night is now the storm, and the lightening sketches, in short and hurried strokes, trees and foolish shadows.

Down below it rains many times, as many as war brings pain. Pain and remembrance, because it is memory which turns pain fertile. Without her, one would just hurt painfully the painful hurt and nothing would be born and nothing, therefore, would grow, accumulating calendars, each one of which is a life.

The shadow writes or paints. There is a double 15, second of the seven, which is anniversary and fiesta and remembrance and pain and joy and memory.

Letter One, dove of death, has barely left, when the shadow that concerns us is already sharpening the point of the second. If the One was for the person who left, the Two is for the one who is following the path of the absent one. The long and humid movement of August until it reaches September and reaches dates of celebrations and remembrances.

Like dissatisfied memory, the rain taps its impatience above the little roof, and, more than once, the mocking wind turns out lights and sends papers and ink into the mud. The shadow toils between lighting candles and picking up papers, as if it were about winds for one who is sailing.

A sheet of paper remains in a corner of the little hut, and, beneath the blinking of the lightning bolts, it can be read. One moment. I will try to draw near. Right, the mud. And this fog that just fell like this. It is difficult. Good, there it is. This is what I managed to read:

Letter Two

P.D. As you will see below, explains the why of the 15 double, as this is the second of the seven.

Fifteen Years Ago

Every August, year after year, the mountains of the Mexican southeast arrange themselves so as to give birth to a particularly luminous dawn. I know nothing of the scientific causes, but during this dawn, a single one throughout the disconcerting August, the moon is a hammock of swaying iridescence, the stars arrange themselves so as to be background and object, and the Milky Way proudly illuminates its thousand wounds of clotted light. This August of the end of the millenium, the calendar was announcing the sixth day when this dawn appeared. And so, with the swaying moon, the memory returned of another August and another 6, when, 15 years ago, I began my entrance into these mountains that were and are, without wanting it or willing it, house, school, road and door. I began to enter in August and I did not finish doing so until September.

I should confess something to you, when I laboriously climbed the first of the steep hills that abound in these lands, I felt that it would be the last. I was not thinking of revolution, of the high ideals of humans, or of a shining future for the dispossessed and forgotten of always.

No, I was thinking that I had made the worst decision of my life, that the pain that was increasingly squeezing my chest would end up definitively closing off the ever more skimpy entrance of air, that the best thing would be for me to return and to let the revolution arrange itself without me, along with other similar reasonings. If I did not go back, it was simply because I did not know the return path, and I only knew that I should follow the companero who preceded me, and who - to judge by the cigarette he was smoking while crossing the mud without difficulty -seemed to be merely out for a stroll. I did not think that one day I would be able to climb a hill smoking and not feeling that I was dying with each step, nor that a time would come when I would be able to negotiate the mud that abounded below as much as the stars did above. No, I was not thinking then, I was concentrating on every breath I was trying to take.

Finally, what happened is that at some point we reached the highest point of the hill, and the one who was in charge of the meager column (we were 3) said that we would rest there. I let myself fall into the mud that appeared the closest, and I told myself that perhaps it would not be so difficult to find the return path, that it would be enough to walk down another eternity, and that some day I would reach the point where the truck had dropped us off. I was making my calculations, including the excuses I would give, and that I would give to myself, for having abandoned the beginning of my career as a guerrilla, when the companero approached me and offered me a cigarette. I refused with a shake of my head, not because I didn't want to talk, but because I had tried to say "no thanks" but only a groan came out.

After a bit, taking advantage of the fact that the person in charge had retired some distance in order to satisfy biological needs referred to as basic, I got up as best I could above the 20 caliber shotgun I was carrying, more as a walking stick than as a combat weapon. In that way I could see from the top of that mountain something which had a profound impact on me.

No, I did not look down, not towards the twisted scribble of the river, nor at the weak lights of the bonfires that were dimly illuminating a distant hamlet, nor at the neighboring mountains that painted the canada, sprinkled with small villages, fields and pastures.

I looked upwards. I saw a sky that was gift and relief, no, more of a promise. The moon was like a smiling nocturnal hammock, the stars sprinkling blue lights and the ancient serpent of luminous wounds that you call the "Milky Way" seemed to be resting its head there, very far away.

I remained looking for a time, knowing I would have to climb up that wretched hill in order to see this dawn, that the mud, the slips, the stones that hurt the skin on the outside and the inside, the tired lungs, incapable of pulling in the necessary air, the cramped legs, the anguished clinging to the shotgun-walking stick in order to free my boots from the prison of mud, the feeling of aloneness and desolation, the weight I was carrying on my back (which, I knew this later, was only symbolic, since, in reality, there was always three times that or more; finally, that "symbol" weighed tons to me), that all of that - and much more that would come later - is what had made it possible for that moon, those stars, and that Milky Way to be there and in no other place.

When I heard behind me the orders to renew the march, up in the sky a star, certainly fed up with being subjugated by the black roof, managed to break away, and, falling, left on the nocturnal blackboard a brief and fugitive tracing. "That's what we are," I said to myself. "Fallen stars that barely scratched the sky of history with a scrawl." As far as I knew, I had only thought this, but it seems I had thought it out loud, because the companero asked: "What did he say?" "I don't know," replied the one in charge. "It could be he's already come down with a fever. We have to hurry."

This that I am recounting to you happened 15 years ago. Thirty years ago, some scribbled history, and, knowing it, they began calling to many others so that, by force of scribbles, scratches and scrawls, they would end up breaking the veil of history, and the light would finally be seen, that, and nothing else, is the struggle we are making. And so if you ask us what we want, we will unashamedly respond: "To open up a crack in history."

Perhaps you are asking what happened to my intentions of returning and of abandoning the guerrilla life, and you might suppose that the vision of that first dawn in the mountain had made me abandon my ideas of fleeing, had lifted my morale and solidified my revolutionary conscious. You are wrong. I put my plan into operation and went down the mud. What happened is I made a mistake about the side, instead of going down the slope that would take me back to the road, and from there to "civilization," I went down the side that took me deeper into the Selva and that led me to another hill, and to another, and to another

That was 15 years ago, since then I have continued climbing hills and I have continued making a mistake about which side to go down, August continues birthing a special dawn every 6th, and all of us continue to be fallen stars barely scratching history.

Vale de nuez, salud, andone minute! Wait. What is that shining brightly in the distance? It looks like a crack

The Sup, on top of the hill, tossing a coin in order to see which side of the hill leads down

Originally published in Spanish by La Jornada 
Translated by irlandesa

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