First interview with EZLN CCRI-CG

[La Jornada, 2/4 & 2/5]
February 3 and 4, 1994
Blanche Petrich and Elio Henri'quez,
Lacandona Jungle,

Javier starts:

"I am going to explain a bit to you. How we, as companeros, have been commissioned to be members of the CCRI. How we came to be the CCRI, since we had been organizing ourselves for a long time. The fundamental base of our organization is all of the situation that has come about for our people, who have struggled peacefully for so many years in the face of the government. We have struggled in the way that many peoples have struggled over matters of land, of housing, for all that is needed. But instead of solving the problems, the government has responded with repression, beatings, assassination, evictions, and imprisonment of our leaders.

"So, we decided that there is no way other than to organize and rise up like this in armed struggle. So we began to organize ourselves like that, secretly, in a revolutionary organization. But, as it advanced, each people has elected its representatives, its leaders. By making the decision in that way, the people themselves proposed who will lead these organizations. The people themselves have named us. So first, someone from each people has been named responsible. In that way we advanced town by town, and so there was time, then, to name delegates. In that way we came to be the CCRI.

"Why are they the 'Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee?'

Well, 'Committee' because we are in collectives, [organized] collectively. 'Clandestine' because we know that the government is not in our interest; if we rise up like that, in armed struggle, they will not like it. For that reason we have been organizing clandestinely. 'Revolutionary' because we are conscious, and there is no other way left open to us than to rise up in arms, to struggle, to see if that way works for us and if they will respond to our needs.

"'Revolutionary' because we want a change. We don't want to continue in this situation of so many kinds of injustice. For that reason we want there to be a new society, with another, new life, for that we struggle for there to be a revolution."

Another voice, that of Isaac, the youngest:

"I want to add a little bit about the CCRI. It has already been said that it was elected democratically. If the people say that a companero who is a member of the CCRI is not doing anything, that we are not respecting the people or are not doing what the people say, then the people say that they want to remove us. Why not? How could someone be there, occupying a space without doing anything? We should try to do what the people have told us to do. A plan is made of what the people want to see.

"In that way, if some member of the CCRI does not do their work, if they do not respect the people, well compa, it is not your place to be there. Then, well, excuse us but we will have to put another in your place. [We do] what the people say, then. That is how the Committee is constituted: in a democratic way."

"How did you decide collectively to rise up in arms? How did you launch the offensive of January? Why don't you speak to us a little bit about these elections, about how they were?"

"Oh, that has been going on for months now, since we had to ask the opinion of the people and because it was the people's decision. Since, why would one small group decide to jump into war? And what if the people don't support them? What if the people haven't spoken yet? Then you can't struggle in that way.

"It was the people themselves who said 'Let's begin already. We do not want to put up with any more because we are already dying of hunger.' The leaders, the CCRI, the Zapatista Army, and the General Command, if the people say so, well then, we're going to start. Respecting and obeying what the people ask. The people in general. That is how the struggle began."

"How did you carry out your assemblies?"

"They are done in each region; in each zone we ask the opinion of the people. Then that opinion is collected from different communities where there are Zapatistas. And Zapatistas are everywhere in the state of Chiapas. They are asked their opinion, to say what they want: if we should start the war or not."

"Will the people also be asked whether they want to negotiate?"

"They will also be informed. If the people say, 'no, negotiate already, we don't want war any more, we are already tired,' then we have to analyze, we have to reflect deeply on what we will win with that, whether the demands will really be met like that, whether we will get the result we want. Any other way would be to fail in the struggle that we have been working on for years. It is a shame to leave it all, what we have organized and constructed over years. That is why we want to reflect on every step that we make.

"And we want to reflect on every proposal that the government, or Camacho in person, makes to us. We cannot go to take actions we are not sure of."


"Camacho thinks that we are going to negotiate everything without consulting. But we have to consult the people about everything. They have elected us to carry out the work of the revolution. But, in other towns, the people feel like they don't really understand. Why? Because we are advancing in one part of our state. But we hope that we will start taking this struggle to the state and national levels. Why? Because the situation that we're living in is not just about one state or just of some people. We know and have met brothers and sisters--many other peoples--who are suffering in many other states, just as we are suffering where we live. That is why are advancing. We have hope that the revolution will triumph some day."


"We cannot dialogue or negotiate by ourselves. First we have to ask the people. At the state level, where there are companeros, we have to consult about whether we are going to negotiate or not over there. If the people say so, we are doing what the people say. Why? Because we are fulfilling our commitment to the people. Because the people have lived with this for so many years: a life that is so hard, with every kind of injustice. Because of this, it isn't easy to enter the dialogue so quickly. If the people go to dialogue, well fine. If not, 'sallright. No. That's why it is not easy.

"What do you think of the proposal for dialogue that Manuel Camacho, Commissioner for Peace, has made to you?"

"As we are still advancing in war, we have not yet decided whether we will go to a negotiation with Camacho. We know that we are invited to negotiate, but we still have barely begun the war and we don't yet know what reality we could bring to a negotiation. As long as there are no solutions to our problems--to the necessities--as long as the people are not given what they need, then it is not easy to go to a negotiation unless we have expectation that they will come, that they will meet our demands.

"We don't just want a hand-out, to rise up quickly and then negotiate quickly. We know that so many suffer, and that there are so many kinds of injustice that we know they have laid on us as Indigenous peoples, campesino peoples, working peoples.

"We feel that Camacho has been changing his tone, as if it were easy to manage to calm or negotiate the war. But we are conscious that it will go further. There is no way other than to demand the fulfillment of the peoples' demands."

"Mr. Camacho has sent you the message, in one of his communique's, that all of Mexican society is demanding you follow the path of peace. What do you think of this petition?"

"Yes, we know that there are many people, that we have to come to a negotiation. But we are still waiting to see. We're waiting to see how it advances and how things are carried out. If things are carried out, if we have reached our objective, some day we will go to dialogue, to see whether our demands are met. That is what we are waiting for. Because the same government that asks us to negotiate, to dialogue, but... but we are still thinking. Because we are conscious that what we are asking of the government cannot be accomplished quickly.

"Years and years have passed like this. Because we have been negotiating where we live, since 1974 I think, for land, housing, the construction of roads, rural clinics. But it has not resulted in anything. The only response we have gotten is deceit, false promises, and lies."

"Did you, those of you present here, participate in the struggle for land in campesino organizations before taking up arms?"

"Yes we did, yes. But even that way we didn't accomplish anything."

"What organizations do you come from?"

"Well, some independent organizations. We have struggled that way, but we haven't achieved anything. Many of us have struggled that way, but the only thing we have gotten is imprisonment, murder and repression. Those are the reasons that we are participating in armed struggle.

"Because the government tells us that we aren't right, that that isn't the solution to our problems--the needs of our people--rising up in arms like this. But we have certain needs. If we had been able to find a solution peacefully, not militarily, well, good.

"You could say that we don't have patience, that we aren't right. But we have struggled in a peaceful way, a legal way, to ask for our needs to be met. But the state and national officials have not listened to us. That is why we had no other way left. To rise up in arms to see if they would listen to us. But when we rose up with our arms on the first day, we had a good objective. Not to threaten or fuck up or kill the civilian population. We have to respect the population. We have to respect them. Why? Because we know well who is the enemy and who is the friend of the people. Because even though many people say: 'Ah, they've already sent them to kill us; they are already killing us...' No, it's not about that, it's not true. We respect the lives of the civilian population."

"One of your protests in the Declaration of the Lacandona Jungle is for land: land to work and to live on. Don't you have your parcels?"

"I am going to answer that question. In these parts, it is a miracle that the people are alive, because families of seven to 12 people have survived on a piece of land of about one hectare, one-half of a hectare of infertile, uncultivatable land. That is how our people have survived. And that is why we feel an urgency to have land in our hands, as campesinos. We need that land. And yes, we understand that it is not just one village, one town, one township that is lacking that land. All Indigenous peoples need land. That is why, for 30 or 40 years, we have been struggling for a piece of land that they have not given us. We know that there are people who are not campesinos who own thousands of hectares of land where cattle are fed. This means that it is better to have hundreds of cattle than hundreds of campesinos. That means that we are worth less than animals. For those reasons the people have always demanded the land, but the government has never understood, never listened."

"But how will you achieve it? You are at war. Can the government, in a negotiation such as the one Camacho wants, resolve your problem of land?"

"That is why we distrust this dialogue proposed by Mr. Camacho. Because we see that it will not solve our problem, because our demands are really very large. What has not been resolved in 20, 30 years cannot be solved in 20, 30 days. Because the proposal of Camacho is just to calm us down, or that we as Indians are just playing, that is what they want us to understand. How can Mr. Camacho think that our struggle does not have transcendence, that it does not have long-term process?"

"What do you think is needed for campesinos to have their land? To return Article 27 to the way it was before? Another agrarian reform? Another revolution? A revolution like Emiliano Zapata's?"

"We would have to make use of new laws made by the people themselves, and we have to make new laws to divide up the land, maybe different from how Zapata said: to give one piece of land to each campesino. We now understand this differently. We see that if the land is divided in pieces, it may run out. We need another form of working, of organizing ourselves. But ownership of the land should pass into the people's hands. That is why we have to make use of some revolutionary laws that the people themselves have made."

"And what about the Indigenous reality?"

"We think that we have to have our Indigenous people. There are many ways. But it can be a simple way. As Indians, we believe and feel that we have the capacity to direct our own destiny. There is no need for them to hold our hand. As mature people, as conscious people, we can direct our own destiny. We can govern our own destiny, we can govern our own people. We believe that our people are capable of governing themselves because our people are aware.

"That is why we don't need a government that only wants to manipulate us, to have us under its feet."

"Would it be a government of each ethnicity? What kind of self-government do you propose?

"It could be like that: that each ethnic group have its own government. We have not decided exactly yet, but it could be like that. Each Indigenous people, each ethnicity, could have its own government. But they would govern with autonomy, and that there is no need to be crushing or manipulating anyone. As Indians, we need our own autonomy, we need that identity, that dignity. Dignity to live and respect."

The CCRI speaks about the vision of Indigenous insurgents of politics and democracy in this second part of the interview:


"Yes, Mr. Salinas and Mr. Camacho have spoken to us about there being democracy, that there should be justice. But we don't understand what kind of democracy they are talking about, because, with each election that happens, there is only the imposition of the government. They don't take us into account."


"Salinas says that now there is already a candidate for president who might occupy the presidency of the republic, who is Colosio. And for us, as campesinos, as Indians, that is where the distrust starts. Because no campesino and no Indian has said that this candidate Colosio should be president. And who has elected him? A group of people who occupy the great powers: the legislators, the senators. They are the ones who have elected this person, but when Colosio goes out to campaign, he says that he is elected by the people. Not a single campesino, not a single Indian, no Indigenous campesina woman has said that that person should stay.

"That is why we are clear that the democracy that Salinas speaks of is a joke for us. He treats us like dolls, like puppets that support them, so that they can get into power. That is what we feel. And Salinas still says: Colosio cannot be changed. He is a candidate of force. But when have we campesinos elected anyone? When did Salinas come to ask us if he could name Colosio as our candidate?

"We have not elected him. Even if Salinas says a thousand times, a hundred times that there is democracy, there is absolutely no democracy in our country."

"And why does the PRI always win so many votes in Chiapas? They win 90%...many, sometimes even more...?"

"We are conscious of the fact that it is not like that. That it is pure fraud. Even when we don't vote, they count it as if we did, grabbing our hands, putting our cross as if we had voted that way.

"The officials and the candidates know that it is easy for the politicians to use us Indians as a step towards their rising to power; and then, when they are in power, in their cabinet, they go and forget.

"When we go to ask for a solution, the only response we have been given is repression, torture, disappearance, murder of our leaders. That is the solution that we have received, that is why we are not going to forget anything. We have to advance in our struggle until we change things.

One of the things is that the candidates of the PRI are the only ones who have reached the government and the presidency. Why have the people supported them? Well, there are several reasons: One, the government takes advantage of the ignorance of the Indigenous campesino by illiteracy, because it knows that Indigenous campesinos don't know how to think, don't know a single letter, don't have opinions, and believe everything that they are told. That is why the government, when it is campaigning, brings a gun and a cookie, and fools the campesino, the people. And from not knowing, from ignorance that has not been cured, from the lack of education, from the lack of many things, the campesinos accept it, even though they are given garbage. Why? From the lack of experience, from the lack of consciousness, from lack of education, from the lack of many things.

"That is why the government has always won its elections. But, on the other hand, just because they win the voting, it does not mean that the people have voted, although maybe, out of their ignorance and illiteracy. No. Of course, the majority of the people have not voted, but, shamefully, those are PRI frauds: piles and boxes full of papers that a person gives their vote on. They fill out those pieces of paper so that, a little bit later, the candidate says that the people have already voted, and that they supported the PRI candidate; but it isn't true. That is what we don't want any more of.

"That is why we, as we already said, govern the people according to what they want, whether they see us, whether they recognize our work.

"That is why we are no longer taking up arms to ask for candy, like before, or for them to give us money, to give us a sombrero to cover our eyes. What we are going to ask for is freedom, justice and democracy. That is what we have come to ask for. We are not asking for candy or a piece of bread or a t-shirt that the government should give us, as has always been done before."

"How will you end caciquismo in Chiapas? What do you propose?"

"In order to end caciquismo in the towns it is necessary for the people to become conscious, for the people to speak, to demonstrate. If the people are going to always be there, quiet all of their life, then the caciques are going to be happy in power, because they will have political power, economic power, power at all levels. If the people start to become conscious and to demand their rights, they will have to say 'I won't allow the caciques to keep dominating me.'

"But while the people let themselves be manipulated by the caciques, those caciques are also clearly supported by the State. It will be difficult for the people to get out of this domination. But, shamefully, there are now many poor people--but really poor like us--who are supporting the caciques, the government, and are saying that the Zapatistas are evil, assassins, killers. They don't understand that we are also fighting for them to have a better life. They don't understand that. That bothers us and makes us sad as well, that people who are so poor could not understand that the struggle has a just cause. This is because they are manipulated by the caciques."

"How many commanders are there in the CCRI? How is it organized?"

"We are a fuck of a lot of people. Those of us that came here are just a few, we were just delegated."

"Are there hundreds?"

"All over, yes, we could say that there are a hundred in the committee because there are committees all over, so we are many."

"How long ago did you come together?"

"The Committee only started a few months ago; not years, since we saw that the time had come to start to struggle stronger, so we had to organize more, structure things more."

"And Subcommander Marcos follows you? You are the highest authority?"

"The highest authority is the Clandestine Committee."

"And Marcos is beneath that?"

"Well, Marcos is a subcommander. Marcos speaks good Spanish. We still make a fuck of a lot of mistakes. That is why we need him to do many things for us."

"Who commands the military?"

"In military matters, over all, Subcommander Marcos... We are more in the political and organizational questions."

"Why have men, women and children participated in a revolutionary organization?"

All eyes turn to Ramona, the small commander.

"Well..." and she lets fly a cascade of words in her Mayan language. Quickly, the order is issued to find a compan~era soldier of the same ethnicity to translate:

"Because women are also living in a more difficult situation; because women are the most exploited and strongly oppressed, still. Why? Because women, for so many years, for 500 years, have not had the right to speak, to participate in an assembly.

"They do not have the right to have an education, to speak to the public, or to hold any position in their town. No. Women are totally oppressed and exploited.

"We get up at three in the morning to prepare the corn, and from there we have no rest until everyone else is sleeping. If there is not enough food, we give our tortilla to the children, to the husband.

"We demand that we be truly respected as Indians. We also have rights. All discrimination against our rights should end, so that we can participate as a people, as a state, as a country, because they have not let us, and many of our officials have left us like that, like a stepping stone.

"And my message is that the exploited compan~eras feel like they are not taken into account, they feel that they are very exploited, that they should decide to rise up in arms, as Zapatistas."

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