Are the zapatista indigenous communities worse off than before the uprising?

January 1999

For: Guadalupe Loaeza
Reforma Newspaper
Mexico, D.F.

From: Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos.
Chiapas, Mexico


I recently read your letter, published in the pages of the Reforma newspaper on December 31, 1998. I am grateful for your lines, as well as for the sincerity which inspires them and the honest interest which, from the beginning of our movement, you have had in Chiapas, and the Mexican indigenous in general.

I do not know Jean Marie Le Clezio's book, nor if Federal Express has service to the Selva Lacandona (but if it's gum and paste, the address is: Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, EZLN, Playa de Trigo Headquarters, mountains of the Mexican Southeast, Chiapas, Mexico). It would also be good if you were to send a copy to Senor Zedillo. In addition to avoiding being criticized for being biased that way, you would also be helping Zedillo read something which would open the narrow vistas of his political vision.

Good, let's get on to your letter. You ask if the zapatista indigenous communities are worse off than before the uprising. No. We continue without schools, teachers, hospitals, doctors, medicines, good prices for our products, land, technology in order to work it, fair salaries, food of sufficient quality and quantity, decent housing, exactly the same as before 1994. The communities which are not zapatista are in the same circumstances. We have not accepted the government's hand-outs. We have not accepted them, nor will we, because, as demonstrated by the living conditions of the indigenous who have accepted them, the problems are not resolved, and the quality of life does not improve on the most minimal level. But, above all, we do not accept them because we did not rise up for schools, credits and Conasupo stores for ourselves. We rose up for a better country, one where, among other things, our rights as Indian peoples are recognized, we are respected and we are considered to be citizens, and not beggars. Despite everything, we have tried to improve our conditions, and, in order to do that, in some places we have started schools, clinics and pharmacies with health workers. This little we have, we have built and re-built (because one of the "heroic" tasks of the federal Army in Chiapas is the destruction of schools, clinics, pharmacies and libraries) through our own efforts and with the help of good persons, organized and not, who come to these lands.

And, understand, Madame, that they have helped us very much (as never before in the long history of the indigenous peoples), but never to make war. No one has come to offer arms, bullets or military training.

All of them have come offering financial aid and knowledge, in order to improve the education, housing, food, health, work. These people live with us for a time, they see us as we are, with our defects (which are neither few nor small) and with our virtues (which we also have, but no more, nor greater, than people in other parts of the world, of other colors, cultures, races). Perhaps some day you can speak with some of these persons; any one of them would give you a more real and complete perspective than that which I am trying, ineffectively, to convey in these lines.

We have things now which we did not have before, and it is very little compared with all the needs. But the difference between what we lacked before and what we lack now, is that, before, it did not matter to anyone that we did not have the minimal necessities. What we did have before January 1, 1994, and what we have lost since then, is despair, is bitterness, is resignation.

We are poor, yes, but you will see that our poverty is richer than the poverty of others, and, above all, richer than that which we had before the uprising. And now our poverty has a tomorrow. Why? Well, because there is something more important, which we did not have prior to the uprising, and it has now become our most powerful and feared (by our enemies) weapon: the word. You will see how good this weapon is. It is good for fighting, for defending yourself, for resisting. And it has a great advantage over all the weapons which the government, its military and the paramilitaries have: it does not destroy, it does not kill.

I well know that Senor Labastida accuses us of being responsible for the deterioration in the standard of living in the zapatista communities. Labastida represents a government which has half its army in the indigenous communities, which keeps a substitute, interim, illegitimate and illegal governor in place with bayonets, which squanders thousands of millions of pesos, not in improving the standard of life of the non-zapatista communities, but rather in paying for costly press campaigns and for financing paramilitary groups, a government which orders its troops to thwart the working of the land, which rapes women, which promotes the cultivation and trafficking in drugs, which preaches the religion of alcohol and prostitution.

Tell me: is it not cynical to accuse us of what they classify in their manuals as "low-intensity warfare'? Is is not a mockery of all of us that the same government which has promoted the deterioration in the standard of living of the Mexican people (let me cite information from the newspaper which has the honor of having you among their editorialists: In 1999, 4 million poor persons will no longer be receiving assistance for food or for their community development, 1,116,000 children no longer receive subsidized milk, the spending for UNAM, IPN and UAM fell 50%, the financing for scientific research loses 42%, the construction of health units is reduced by 20%, Conasupo reduces its spending by 75% and prepares for its disappearance, 34 million Mexicans who buy maize in Diconsa stores are confronting a price increase of 100%. Reforma, 1/2/99), accuses us of being those responsible for the low standard of living in the indigenous communities?

Now, Madame, suppose I were a fraud with amazing powers of manipulation. Suppose that I had managed to trick the most important media of the 5 continents, the Non-Governmental Organizations of various countries, the millions of Mexicans, and you. Suppose I had deceived them, and, in indigenous Mexico and in Chiapas, nothing is happening: the indigenous have not lived in conditions of the most outrageous misery, nor is it true that the life of an Indian in Ocosingo is worth less than that of a hen, nor is it the truth that in 1993, the finqueros exercised droit du seigneur in the families of their peons. Suppose that it is an invention that the best example of the application of the State of Law in Chiapas is the history (true, believe me) of the indigenous, imprisoned for some years, and condemned to 30 years in jail for having assassinated his father ("with malice aforethought", read the sentence, signed proudly by the judge in charge of the case), who paid his "debt to society" in the Cerro Hueco Jail, while the only thing he received from the outside was a package of tortillas that, without fail, was personally delivered by...his papa! Suppose that it is a lie that the army and the police participate, and participate with singular enthusiasm, in the attacks against the indigenous communities, that it is untrue and that it is a slander that Mexico is hurriedly rushing towards modernity while trying to forget the more than 10 million first inhabitants of these lands.

Anyway, Madame, suppose that everything is as I have written. Yes? Good, now I beg you to answer me the following:

1. - If the EZLN had not risen up in arms on January 1, 1994, would the government, Mexico, the world, you, those columnists, what you pointed out, have turned around to look at the Indian peoples? Was it not, prior to '94, an insult to call someone an 'Indian'?

2. - If the fundamental (and national) causes which caused the marginalization of the Indian peoples of Mexico, and which are the root causes of the zapatista uprising, have not been resolved, nor has the groundwork been laid for their solution (that is, could provoke another uprising): would it not be irresponsible to sign a peace agreement, knowing that the war could come again? Is it not more responsible to demand that the zapatista uprising end, but also everything which caused it, and which made it possible and necessary, to end?

3. - If Marcos is the one responsible for the zapatista indigenous communities not having bettered their standard of living, because he 'induces' or 'obliges' (depending on the columnist) them to reject govenrment aid: why are the indigenous communities which are not zapatista the same as, or worse off, than those who suffer 'the zapatista opression'? Why, despite the thousands of millions that the government says it has invested in Chiapas, 'to resolve the cause of the conflict and the social backwardness', the more than one million indigenous persons have not raised their standard of living? Are they all zapatistas?

Good, now suppose that those columnists who keep you awake are telling the truth, and it is Marcos who is keeping the conflict from being resolved peacefully, and that he is only seeking to draw it out, just so he can correspond with the editorial page writers of the Reforma (something which would be impossible, they say, if the peace had already been signed), that the zapatistas say they want peace, but they do not return to the dialogue table with the government because, in reality, they are not interested in the Indian peoples, but rather in their political plans.

Suppose that Zedillo, Labastida, Rabasa, Albores, Green and the one you point out, are right, and the indigenous communities (except, of course, for the stupid zapatista peoples) are now living in the abundance which the government has had the goodness to provide them with. Suppose it is true that the government has given many demonstrations of its willingness to dialogue, and Zedillo's variously noted visits to Chiapas - in 1998 - were in order to support his will for peace, and not in order to threaten or to support the repressive strikes which Albores led throughout that year. Suppose it is true that the government does not see the EZLN as a military problem, but rather as a political one, and that it is true they want to resolve the problem politically.

Suppose all of that, Madame, and, then, answer these other questions:

4. - If we zapatistas are not a military danger, and they could finish us off in a matter of minutes, why does the government have more than 60,000 troops in what they call the 'conflict zone'? So that the indigenous communities can learn the 'advantages of Western life', that is, the prostitution, drugs and alcohol which accompany the federal garrisons when they are set up within the communities?

5. - If the government has 60,000 soldiers 'enforcing the Firearms and Explosives Law' in chiapaneco territory: where did the paramilitaries, Peace and Justice, Red Mask, MIRA, Chinchulines, Los Punales and Albores of Chiapas, obtain, and where do they obtain, their arms, ammunition, equipment and training? Where are the high-caliber arms used in the Acteal massacre?

6. - If the objective of the dialogue and negotiations is to reach accords (such as those at San Andres, signed by the government and the EZLN on February 16, 1996), and the accords are not carried out: what are the dialogue and negotiations for?

7. - If the government did not carry out the first peace accords which it signed, what guarantees the zapatistas that the government is going to carry out the final accords when the return to civil life is agreed?

No, Madame, it is neither task nor punishment. It is Old Antonio's old method: ask in order to walk.

If, despite all of this, confusion prevails, let me suggest something to you. Call your friend Sofia, and invite her to visit, along with you, the indigenous communities of Chiapas (the zapatista and the non-zapatista). Come incognito, that way we won't be able to set a stage in order to deceive you. If you want to experience directly the xenophobic atmosphere which the government has managed to create in Chiapas, remember not to speak Spanish at any of the military or immigration checkponts (English or French is good, although, for Immigration, anything which is not Spanish, is English). Take the plane to Tuxtla, from there travel to San Cristobal de las Casas, and, making your base there, you can travel throughout the zapatista and non-zapatista communities in Los Altos, La Selva and the Northern zones of Chiapas. With the "look" of foreigners, you will be able to enjoy the humiliating treatment which the military and immigration agents give the people from other countries who dare to leave the tourist routes. Come. Come to the communities. See and listen to the people. Perhaps you will not find the absolute truth, but it is certain that you will discover where the lie is.

Almost at the end of your letter, you say, and say well, that we do not want another Acteal. No, neither you, nor we, want it. But they, those who say they are governing, are willing to repeat it as many times as might be necessary in order to destroy, not just the zapatistas, but the Indian peoples as a whole. They want to repeat it until the Indian peoples cease to be so and, or, disappear or are "westernized".

We would not think of allowing it, and we believe that many, such as you, would not allow this horror to be repeated either. That is why we are making a new effort for peace and dialogue with THE CONSULTATION FOR RESPECT FOR THE RIGHTS OF THE INDIAN PEOPLES AND FOR THE END TO THE WAR OF EXTERMINATION. Yes, I know the name is quite long, but what it aspires to is even greater.

That is why I am telling you to talk with your friend Sofia, and come to an agreement with her, form your brigade for promoting and publicizing the consultation (note: this does not mean that you would be on our side, that you would turn into zapatistas, or that you, either completely or partially, endorse our positions), registering at the CONTACT OFFICE FOR THE CONSULTATION (telephone and fax: (967) 8-10-13 and (967) 8-21-59; e-mail:, and begin explaining to your friends and acquaintances (which are not always the same) that the consultation will be on March 21, 1999 throughout the country, and in those countries where Mexicans organize themselves in order to give their opinions, that there are only 4 questions, and that all Mexican men and women, over the age of 12, can participate.

I am not trying to recruit you, Madame (as some of your acquaintances are most certainly going to tell you), I am only inviting you to work for peace. That is why I am telling you something very simple and urgent: Acteal must not be repeated, and, in order for it not to be repeated, it is necessary to recognize the rights of the Indian peoples and to stop the war of extermination. Does that seem like a slogan? Believe me, Madame, it is not, it is something more definitive: it is a duty.

If, after all and everything, you are still confused, do not worry, Madame. Look at that bridge which joins the head with the heart, the thought with the emotion (the soul, some say). Look, and listen, I am certain that you will know what is good, which is not always the best, but which is never unnecessary. Finally, in order to increase your confusion, here goes a zapatuda anecdote: Around here, they set up a fashionable cooperative, it was called The Elegant Zapatista, and its motto was Against Reactionary Bad Taste, Revolutionary Elegance. How about that, eh? Isn't our perversity obvious?

Vale. Salud and, you will see, the only thing we are really guilty of is having let down the hem of hope.

From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast
Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos Mexico,
January 1999.

P.S. - We send you our best regards and we thank you for the reference to the little ski-masks. There are not any...yet, but we will keep you informed.

NUEVO AMANECER PRESS-N.A.P.To know about us visit:  (spanish)

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