Sounds of Silence and the July '97 elections


Zapatista Army of National Liberation
July 1, 1997
To Whom it may Concern
In Some Place in the Mexican Republic

Greetings:

We have received your letters and the greetings and questions which come with them. I acknowledge, in the name of all my companeros and companeras of the EZLN, all the kind words which you dedicate to us and we accept the honor which you give us by giving us a place in your hearts. We are surprised at the fact that in the midst of all the electoral paraphernalia which assails you, you have taken the time and the dedication to think about the indigenous rebels who, in the Mexican southeast, continue to resist with dignity in this war which we began almost 1,300 days ago against oblivion, for democracy, liberty and justice.

And we know some say that we have "gone out of style". Compunction and dignity appear to have been "out of style" for a long time now. But you see how there are people like yourselves who still remember what has happened and is happening here. Memory is a persistent shadow (like us) which most try to ignore.

Anyway, in addition to saying hello to all of you, we want to attempt to respond to those questions which you send us. We'll try to avoid being long-winded. Sale [slang: here it goes, translator's note];

I. The sounds of silence

Old Man Antonio used to say that the oldest of the elders of the gods taught humanity to read the sky and the ground. On those two large pages of the notebook of the world (so said the great gods, the ones who birthed the world, according to Old Man Antonio), the true men and women could read direction from there, so their heart might walk. When the sky is silent, when the sun and the moon rule with silence, and when the ground hides behind its hardness the work it carries on inside, the men and women of corn hide their word and work by thinking. When the roof of the land yells with clouds, rain and wind, when the moon and the sun only peer out occasionally, and when the earth opens up with green and life, the true men and women re-birth the word in the mountain which is their home and their path.

In these past days we (and not just us) are silent. In order to look inside, in order to be re-planted, in order to grow stronger, in order that the heart and the word find new places to be made. This is why our silence rang out.

Some, the majority of whom have their heart and their hope on the left side of the chest, understood and understand that there are times of noise and times of silence, they understand that, especially when it comes from underground, silence can be very loud...

Others ask to speak. To be silent now-they said-is to cede a space which has been won, or make those happy accounts, which the powerful make upon our defeat, even happier.

Some have asked that we be quiet, they ask us for "humility", they asked us not to "get in the way", they asked us to understand that it is not the hour of the indigenous of the EZLN, they asked us to understand that it was the hour of the political parties. They asked humility of the humble, silence of those who have always been mute.

The military heard within our silence the impossible victory of the political barricade which their paraphernalia pretends. The supreme one imagines (and desires) divisions and terrible purges within Zapatismo. That is why, using the silence opportunely, the federal and local governments have increased the military pressure of the blockade against the rebel communities. They seek to provoke us in order to deploy all their forces and assuage the crisis which their electoral campaign announces. We resist and we continue to weave, in silence, the tomorrow which we deserve. Their bravados and grandstanding clashed time and again with that thing called dignity. Now they are weaker and we are a little stronger. This was our silence.

This was, then, the hour of the parties, their time, their critical moment, and in this way the turbulent and disputed ideological center shone intensely. The electoral hour, the hour of the campaigns, served as a thermometer of the terminal illness of the state-party system and revealed the depths of its crisis as its traditional electoral alchemy was questioned: the polls turned against it; the opening for the media made it difficult to control; the heavy burden of Carlos Salinas de Gortari became a powerful shadow which covered every PRI campaign; the absurd governmental economic program wanted to collect, at the ballot box the tab of national misery; the presidential figure, re-designed as a PRI slogan, was made into the best electoral propaganda for...the opposition; the fear of change and violence was overcome by the certainty that the present immobility is the nightmare and that violence is the only tangible and popular overture of the existing Mexican political system.

The sounds from below might have been used before to solidify a structure which each day looks more and more like the photo of Fidel Velasquez's lonely coffin. But no more. Not the rebellion of the teachers, nor the clashes with the guerrilla in Guerrero, nor the bold and unquestioned militarization all over the country, nor the rejection by the entire political system of millions of indigenous people, who in the "electoral celebration", denounced their condition of sub-citizens thanks to the government's refusal to carry out the San Andres Agreements. None of this served to convince us that the Nation and the PRI are historic equivalents. Today the political system, through a Justice Secretary disguised as a specialist in volcanoes, measures its hopes that Popocatepetl will define its support for the regime and annul the vote of those who will vote against the PRI in the Valley of Mexico, burying them in ashes and contingency plans for natural disasters.

Now that the electoral campaigns are over, now that sky and ground have spoken in the mountains, we the Zapatistas say our word and repeat...

II. The Political Proposal of Zapatismo;

In electoral moments or outside of them, our political position is and has been clear. We are not partisan, neither are we anti-party, we are not electoral nor are we anti-electoral. We are against the state-party system, against presidentialism, and for democracy, liberty and justice, we are of the left, we are inclusive, and anti-neoliberal.

There have been many criticisms which we have received because of this position which seeks to construct "another" politics, and there have been many attempts to dilute or "normalize" politically those civic manifestations which are non-partisan. There is the case of Civic Alliance, which was asked to give up its right to observe the elections in exchange for its "register" as a political association. There is a sample of the monopoly which exists in politics. To the political parties (and some intellectuals, found today in the presidency of the IFE), everything which is non-partisan appears partisan to them.

But the "other" politics does not seek to occupy the space of partisan politics, it is born from its crisis and tends to occupy the space which is not covered by partisan activity. The "other" politics seeks to organize in order to "overturn" the logic of partisan politics, it seeks to construct a new relationship of the Nation with its parts: citizens who have the right to be full-time citizens, differentiated and specific, united by a history and by what arises from that history. This new relationship implicates the government as well as the political parties, as well as the means of communication, the Churches, the Army, private business, the police, the Judicial Power, as well as the Congress.

Politics today is the affair of entities. To democratize them does not mean to amplify the elite class or replace them with others, but "liberate" politics from the trap set up by politicians and "take it below", where there are those who should rule and in whom resides sovereignty; the citizens. The Zapatista "rule by obeying" implies this "turn" of politics and it is a process, not a decree. That means, said in all Zapatista "modesty", it is the revolution which will make the revolution possible.

The hour of the parties (synonymous with the electoral hour) should not be momentary, but constant. There should be full-time political parties, immerse in the social causes and respectful of Indian specificities. Then there would be no need for armed organizations, or wars, or indigenous rebellions or unpunished silences. But, as long as this is not so, as long as there are political parties limited to functioning only at election time, then they must acknowledge that there are other non-partisan forms of making politics, and they should allot that space.

The rejection of the political class (along with the politicians and the pretentious) of any and all political activity which does not fall within the logic of the parties and within the "rules of the game", has been a constant in the new Mexican reality.

What is this new Mexican reality? It is something complex, but we can point out some of its characteristics (without a lengthy explanation) of...

III. The new Mexico and its new realities

Indian peoples as social actors. After the Zapatista rebellion of 1994 the general conception of what Indian peoples are has been radically altered. They are not solely a fragment of past history, but acting parts of the present. The "never again a Mexico without us" which the National Indigenous Congress raised as a banner is more than an aspiration, it is a warning: with the indigenous people, or without a future. The recipient of this message is the entire Nation. Far from partisan logic, the indigenous movement (as has been evident) does not participate in the urban enthusiasm for the electoral adjustment. Its time is another, and its present has been one of internal reflection, re-organization and preparation. The Mexican political system, including the political parties has not only ignored the specificity of politics in indigenous thought and life, it has also been distressed by that distance which the indigenous establish between themselves and everything the elections represent.

Civil society and non-partisan movements. If 1985 and 1988 were the indicators of a civil insurgency, after 1994 the non-partisan mobilizations (and/or those in which the parties do not have the principal role) have become more frequent and more important. Something happened and is happening in Mexican society, something which announces and denounces that nothing will ever be the same. The monopoly of politics is being questioned more and more.

Electoral competition is better, more equal, and slowly the electoral arena takes on a civic aspect. When the reference point is the immediate and distant past great differences can be appreciated. The successive electoral reforms have been the product of the labor of the opposition parties (PAN, PCM, PSUM, PMS, PRD), but above all of a citizen attitude which has different manifestations ranging from abstentionism as a form of sanction, to mobilization against electoral fraud. Nevertheless, a great deal remains to be done before it can be said that impartiality rules in electoral contests. Electoral democracy must fulfill at least the following requirements: equity in access to the media, completely independent and citizen organizations which organize the elections, secure voter registration, transparency in the management of funds, political and social stability, governability, the guaranteed right to information, the opening to participation by citizens and non-partisan organizations, forms of participation for Indian peoples according to their specific needs, and respect for the vote. None of these requirements are completely fulfilled today. In the small arena which is electoral democracy, there remains much to be done.

The need for an opening of the media/its crisis. The crisis of legitimacy and credibility suffered by the state-party system has extended itself to the mass media. This should be resolved by the transformation (in other words, opening), or by sharing the institutional discredit, and often, the ridicule.

Presidentialism in question but not yet in terminal crisis. The state-party system goes into crisis when one of its fundamental elements fails: the presidential figure. This is evident since 1994 with Carlos Salinas de Gortari and after the eruption of the EZLN in national political life. The "personal governing style" of Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon has only confirmed this crisis.

Nevertheless, varies aspects of Presidentialism persists. One of them (not the only one) is subordination (which at times becomes servility) of the Legislative and Judicial powers to the whims and capriciousness of the Executive Branch.

Exhaustion and crisis of the state-party system. This crisis is perhaps entering its terminal phase, but in order for this to happen something must occur which prevents the re-construction, with another name, of the state-party system,. The revolution which will liquidate it does not have a date, but it is underway. Its end, and the social cost it will entail, depends upon the activities of a great front of political and social forces.

Polarization in the intellectual arena. Slowly, the crisis of the system has produced a kind of "fault line" in the intellectual and artistic arena in Mexico. Neutrality has come to an end and with major or minor emphasis, the intellectuals and artists express opinions about the political life of the country, its options, its possibilities. Artists and intellectuals "take sides" in national politics.

Militarization on a national level and the appearance of armed groups. The militarization occurs not only within the physical invasion of civilian spaces all over the country, but also within the military invasion of political spaces. It is not just a reaction to the emergence of armed groups. It is above all, a prevention of the explosion of a discontent whose "aroma" is present in the countryside and in the city. All of Mexico is now suspected of subversion. Extreme conditions of misery and lack of political channels, such are the fundamental conditions of the emergence and permanence of the rebel political-military groups. Both (national militarization and the emergence/permanence of rebel political-military groups) are the product of the failure of the politics of the party system. The party system is not an alternative for political struggle, not even when they are in Power have they been the effective means which resolve the demands which give banners and, look carefully, the social bases to Mexican guerrillas.

This new reality should not be out of sight. We point out that, after the elections and no matter their result, there will be much to be done. That is why we speak...

IV. The present electoral juncture

There is not much to say which is not already evident for the informed citizen in regards to the electoral process which culminated on the 6th of July. From the beginning of the campaigns the intent began to relegate to second place, or silence or "disappear" other actors who were not the political parties and the electoral organisms. The electoral campaigns (with few exceptions) were marked by themes "of actuality" and not by social problems; the kidnapping of politics was patent on behalf of the "political class" and the electoral confrontation with society was focused on almost exclusively by the mass media (again, with few exceptions). The total silence in regards to the San Andres Agreements and the government's lack of implementation deserves special mention.

We will not say much about the political parties and their campaigns: It is possible to see that the PRD's proposal to "smooth away the sharpest spines of neoliberalism" ran into a hedgehog whose embrace wounds and kills. Only a new total alternative will allow the survival of the Mexican Nation.

About the PRI, a Justice Secretary deserves special mention. One who watches as one of his rivals for the race in the year 2000 is liquidated. Indeed the state-party system has abandoned crime as a method of purifying and achieving rank, and now resorts to electoral immolation in a territory like the Federal District, always rebellious and dignified, in order to free itself of those who are in the way or who are too ambitious.

To the PAN we must be grateful for the lesson in the capital of the country. With it they show us that it is not the same thing to lead a party through the web of Salinismo, as it is to confront the citizens and the media as a candidate for popular election.

The tiny fissure provoked by the crisis in government credibility has been opened in the mass media. A different Mexico is not understand by the two great monopolies of electronic communication, but others understand. They are transformed and they transform.

So today we say...

1. Presidentialism is one of the components of the state-party system, but it is not the only one. A popular, autonomous legislative power, independent and critical would be a resounding blow to the arbitrary authoritarianism of the presidential system in Mexico, but only one step (surely important) in the liquidation of the state-party system and the democratization of Mexico.

2. Democracy is not solely electoral, but it is also electoral. The electoral arena does not just refer to the confrontation of candidates and/or political proposals at the ballot box. It has to do as well with the viability of that route, the equitable conditions it demands, and the relationship of the elected officials with the electors (who become present even after the swearing in).

3. Democracy is not an alternative of Power. If the political system continues to exclude its citizens, if it continues to "kidnap" political labor, if the only thing achieved is a "widening" or "alternating" of the leadership of authoritarianism (yesterday one-party, tomorrow bi or tri-party), then democracy will continue to be out of reach of the citizens and other forms of struggle which are non-partisan, including the armed struggle, will continue to be not only a possibility but a reality in any Mexican mountain or street.

4. If in some places, the vote is the possibility of rebellion and a blow against the Mexican political system, the citizen should exercise at the ballot box his right to say "Ya basta!"[enough is enough!] to the politics which conducts us to a war and national disintegration.

5. If in other parts, the vote is only the legitimization of authoritarianism, in addition to facilitating and complying with the imprisoned conditions of entire communities, then the citizen can abstain and demand, in exchange, new and better political and social conditions, not only for voting, but for living, not only to be citizens for a day, but at all times.

6. In the Mexican south and southeast (particularly in the states of Hidalgo, Guerrero, Oaxaca and Chiapas), the Indian and rural Mexico lives in an authentic state of siege and the specific needs and affairs of the indigenous in terms of government and culture are ignored by the actual political system and its parties. The militarization in indigenous zones makes normal life impossible. There can be no planting, walking, meeting, conduct of commerce, washing of clothes. Now the Mexican political system pretends to simulate a return to normality in those zones, but only for a few hours so voting may occur. Afterwards all will return as it was. Therefore indigenous communities, Zapatistas and non-Zapatistas, of the Mexican South and Southeast have decided not to participate in the next electoral process for three fundamental reasons:

First.-As a protest of the militarization and the climate of civil war promoted by the local and federal governments.

Second.-As a protest for the failure to implement the San Andres Agreements, signed by the federal government, which recognize the democratic rights of Indian peoples.

Third.-As a call to attention to the political parties which have ignored the particular social and political reality of Indigenous Mexicans and only address themselves to them during electoral junctures and/or pretend to replace, with deals and fees for indulgences, their lack of serious proposals and political labor in the heart of the national indigenous movement.

Who can object and how can this decision of the indigenous communities be called into question? On the basis of what can these communities be called to vote when they don't even live in normal conditions? Can they be asked to pretend a civic normality one day and return to the daily terror for the rest of the year?

7.-The EZLN supports the decision of these indigenous communities, many of whom live in rebel resistance, as well as the decision made by citizens who can freely exercise their right to vote.

This is our word and our position in regards to the electoral juncture. This is all...for now. As you see we are still here and, as the communities say (who now dedicate themselves to subverting the rhythm of the slogans). "Don't say no, don't say yes, here we come again!..."

Sale. Take care of yourselves and give it all you've got. No matter how far away, tomorrow is still closer than yesterday...

Vale. Health and may we never lose the shadow or memory. Even though it does not seem like it, both define hope.

>From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast
Indigenous Revolutionary Clandestine Committee
General Command
Zapatista Army of National Liberation
Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos
Mexico, July of 1997.

 

Translated by: Cecilia Rodriguez
National Center for Democracy, Liberty and Justice


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