Interview with Marcos about neoliberalism, the national State and democracy

Autumn 1995

by Samuel Blixen and Carlos Fazio

Subcommander Marcos spoke about neoliberalism when he analysed the land theme within the context of peasant struggles.

In all of this there is a new phenomenon: the Indigenous theme. You explain how it has been decisive that there be a culture, a form of social relation of the Indigenous communities which determines the solution of the problem of growth and of the movement's own objectives. Is the land problem the determining factor of the entire struggle?

It was the drop that spilled the water. I point at three large causes: the closing of political action with the 1988 fraud; the 500 years (of America's conquest,)and the land problem. If one has a predominant role it is the land tenure problem.

In Latin America the problem of land tenure is not exclusively an Indigenous problem...

They see the land tenure problem not only as an individual problem, as a problem of small properties. My plot of land, what I need to live. It's a matter of solving the collective problem. In that sense, the "ejido" is more collective in the Indigenous communities than among the non-Indigenous farmers. That is why, in the land struggle in the Indigenous communities, it is very difficult to solve problems through cooption. The community keeps an iron fist control over the individual; it is very difficult to pretend, to be different. In the community they know what you do and why you do it when they see you behaving differently. Corruption is more difficult; not because they are better, more human or more honest, but because of the control of the collective over the individual. Collective and not individual solutions are accepted. That makes it more difficult for the Indigenous communities to solve the land tenure problems. The question is not solved by giving land to some...When the possibility of the agrarian land grants is closed, a possibility which had always been a door for the farmer's movement in general and for the Indigenous population,frauds and despoiling of land buying and selling also increase.

When the "ejido" lands are privatized, the large landowners and cattle ranchers begin to monopolize (hoard)land. Now not only extending their barb wire fences and their grazing lands or through murder, but by conducting frauds in the buying and selling of plots. When that legal avenue is closed, the Chiapanecan Indigenous farmer, not only the one in the Canions ("Ca~adas"), faces his death sentence. He says: "they are going to kill me because they are going to deprive me of my land". He is not even faced with the possibility that he may become part of the agricultural proletariat, or to emmigrate and become a seasonal worker. No. "They are uprooting me from my history and my culture. Not only from the place I need to survive". The moment the agrarian land distribution is closed, the Indigenous farmer looses his means of production, but he also looses his history. Add that to the reality of having an organized army handy. Your armed body. Then the "Ya basta!" ("Enough already!")comes to maturity...

The Zapatista movement is marking the reiniciation and the reactivation of a problem. The characteristics of the agrarian problem in Chiapas take on the revolutionary armed road because of this conjunction. But in reality a problem is being pointed out: the resurgence of the agrarian problem, at a national level, which neoliberalism has decided to sacrifice in the name of modernity. That is to say: to be modern and to become part of the First World is equal to stop being a farmer. In other words, to introduce the market economy, capitalism, into all and everyone of the social relationships. To cancel land distribution, but not only that. To privatize it, to open the doors to the agroindustrial companies, to a larger land concentration. And what this is going to cause is that farmer movements will begin to spring, which will not necessarily follow the Zapatista line, but which will point out the problem of how finantial capital takes over the land.

Is the Zapatista rebellion showing a way?

I believe so. As if we were an index finger: here there is a problem. I think that around that problem, many experiences and manifestations are going to come up. In 1993, before Zapatismo, land mobilizations took place in Ecuador; and there were those of the Indigenous people of the Brazilian Amazon basin, those in Paraguay We say that neoliberalism is a process of the reconquering of the land. They are the modern conquistadors. For the Indigenous people it has acquired that connotation. In reality they are the same conquerors as 500 years ago, against whom our forefathers rebelled. That's how the problem of the "Ya Basta" and the weapons arises. Of course, the conquest of the land is not going to follow the process of the Spanish conquest. It is going to follow the process of the conquest of the American West. It implies the physical, historical, and cultural annihilation of the peasants. The promise of capitalism as analysed by Marx: the disappearance of the peasant force is now, in fact, being completed by neoliberalism in a brutal fashion. Today the blood is indigenous, but tomorrow it may be mixed ("mestiza".) You are a nuisance. Not only are you dispensable, your are also an obstacle to our progress.

Then, the farmers are the new revolutionary class?

No. I don't think so. We are planning a revolution which will make a revolution possible. We are planning a pre-revolution. That is why they accuse us of being armed revisionists or reformists, as Jorge Casata~eda says. We are talking about making a broad social movement, violent or peaceful, which will radically modify social relationships so that its final product might be a new space of political relationship. I think that the main actor has not been defined. It is what we call "civil society" and which cannot be delimited by the bourgeoisie, the proletariat, the farmers, the middle class. This process of globalization, at the State national level, touches upon so many wounds and so many spots that everyone is ill of the same thing, even though one is light skinned and the other dark skinned; even though one is a university professor and the other a member of the working class...

The structural changes will emerge from that pre-revolution, from that revolution for the revolution?

Yes, but they do not necessarily derive from a new social system. That new social system will be the product of the new political game. We can be mistaken. But we are not saying that neoliberalism colapses and at the same time a new social system is installed.

It is not, in short, the concept of the stages of the struggle toward socialism of the sixties and seventies in Latin America, the phase of national liberation, where the actors are many?

It's not the same. We are planning that in the new stage of capitalism, neoliberalism, there will be a destruction of the national State. For us, a fundamental thesis of the national front is that of the existence of the national bourgeoisie. We say that there is no motherland/fatherland. The concept of fatherland/motherland and of nation is destroyed, not only within the bourgeoisie but even among the ruling classes. It would be very difficult to think that there are sectors of the government that are in favor of defending the national project. Those who defend the national project are either assassinated or thrown out. The neoliberal project demands this internationlization of history; it demands the erasing of national history to turn it into international history; it demands the erasing of cultural borders. The great cost for humanity is that for the finantial capital there is nothing, not even fatherland/motherland or private property. Finantial capital only has numbers of bank accounts. And through that entire game the concept of nation disappears. A revolutionary process must begin by recuperating the concept of nation and fatherland/motherland.

Neoliberalism's main error is to think that one can go against history. That interference in the problem of land tenure pretends to do away with history, and to make believe as if here there was never a history,a culture or anything. And it is then when they touch and create one of their enemies, perhaps not the most powerful,but indeed the most tenacious: Zapatismo. The new Zapatismo, understood as the insurrection of the Indigenous farming communities, and which was born in Chiapas when the champion of neoliberalism,former president Carlos Salinas de Gortari (today "exiled" in the United States to avoid having to settle his account with justice), modified Article 533 of the Constitution, and abolished the main inheritance of the Mexican Revolution: the land belongs to those who work it. The landing of neoliberalism in the land tenure question, looking for its privatization, only managed to get the Indigenous farmers to rise up in arms.


"What there is right now isn't working"

In Chiapas, the guerrilla had to surrender before the Indigenous communities, Marcos tells us. That surrender imposed some changes upon the strategies, the objectives, and even some basic concepts, like that of democracy.

I was saying that the communities are promoting democracy. But the concept seems vague. There are many kinds of democracy. That's what I tell them (the Indians). I try to explain to them: You can do that (to solve by consensus) because you have a communal life. When they arrive at an assembly, they know each other, they come to solve a common problem. But in other places it isn't so, I tell them. People live separate lives and they use the assembly for other things, not to solve the problem. And they say, no, but it means that yes, it works for us. And it indeed works for them, they solve the problem. And they propose that method for the Nation and the world. The world must organize itself thus. That is what they call "to rule while obeying"("mandar obedeciendo"). And it is very difficult to go against that because that is how they solve their problems. And the one who doesn't work out, they dismiss him, and there is no big scandal. When the "ejido"'s head authority makes a mistake, they remove him and he goes on to become a member of the assembly.

We have insisted upon the fact that what the EZLN proposes is not a representative democracy, that of the political parties. And they tell us in articles, and in the newspapers, that we are wrong, that in reality the Indigenous communities have been defeated, because what is worth here is the individual, and the communities want to have the collective will valued. Yes. That's why we say: we need another, different non-partisan political force. When we propose that, we do it as when we started the war in 1994. At that time I used to tell them (the communities who had decided to start the offensive), we are going to go to hell, they are going to fuck us up; the international correlation of forces is against us, they are going to cut us to pieces. And the brothers saying: Let's go, let's go, and let's go to war. And now it's let's go, and let's go for this type of democracy. And how do you tell them that it is no good. If they have used it for years...What better result than to have resisted all the annihilation campaigns! That is why they say: the country must organize itself like this.

How is that about the non-partisan political force? The political parties do not help the type of democracy that is being proposed?

Try to place yourselves on this side of the ski mask. On this side there are people who have lived twelve years in Indigenous communities. Who have lived with them. He is an Indian, as they say. "Marcos is an Indian like us". And he thinks like them. For them, what do the political parties do? A political party arrives to divide a community. The parties look for the people to back them up, and those who don't follow another party. The strongest one wins. Political parties divide the communities and fracture everything. That's how the communities were fractured when the EZLN arrived. That's the truth. When we first went into the communities we did it as a political rganization. And it was only until they began to look for a consensus that we were able to go in. Otherwise we would have been unable to do so. We were coming in to divide, as the Federal Army is doing now. It is putting its arms to the service of one part. Just like our weapons were at the service of one of the parts. And that's not good. What's good is for the community to agree. And political parties prevent the community from agreeing, because a political party is out to win individuals.

Then it is necessary to build a political force which will not divide. Which will not confront. And these people who are behind these ski masks have to find a way to translate this to those on the outside. And if in order to find that I have to quarrel with Mu~oz Ledo (President of the opposition party" Party of the Democratic Revolution" or PRD), I'll quarrel with him. My duty is to convey that. Maybe it is succesful, maybe not. Maybe it's another January 1st of 1944 and it's successful. Maybe it's a February 9, 1995 and it fails.

A political force that looks for that and not for power is needed. Political parties come in and they as: "Who is going to be the "ejido"'s head authority?" The brothers say: "The problem is not who is going to be the head authority of the "ejido" but that this authority complies with the wishes of the community." Then, what is needed is a political force which organizes the community to be able to demand that the "ejido"'s head authority, the mayor, the governor, the president of the republic, and congress serve the community and the nation...I know I am delirious...

They are going to tell you: "Enter the Parliament and impose your view point by majority vote."

Yes, I know. But the brothers are saying: "That Parliament should obey those it claims to represent." I know I am talking about something new which is difficult to understand...

What you are saying is to take over the power...

To exert it.

What you are not saying is how to embody that.

Because we don't have the fucking idea of how to do it. I can imagine an assembly in a "canada" (canion), even within an ethnic group.

Why? Because I have seen it. I know how they organize themselves and how they go on solving their problems in the midst of a sort of mixture of representativity and assembly.

And you honestly believe that that can function for a nation?

I know that the other way does not work. What there is right now does not work.

And you are giving the people the idea that this is something that might work?

We are going to "dialogue" it, as we say. We have that experience, but maybe the Yaqui Indians, or the workers, or the transporttion workers of "Ruta 100", or the National Meeting of Citizenship Rights ("Encuentro Nacional de Derechos Ciudadanos",)have other ideas that can be amalgamated.

What you are proposing...Isn't it the political arm of the guerrilla?

No. It is a new world. It's that simple.

The guerrilla then is the base of support of a communal indigenous movement?

That's how it had been planned, but the actual outcome is no.

The result has been that the EZLN guerrilla is like the "ejido"'s head authority: it is useful as long as the community feels it is useful. The moment we cease being useful they are going to dismiss us.

The question related to the base of support was meant in the old sense of cadre, a more prepared militant...

Yes, that was the plan. We could try to build a political party starting from the EZLN, that would do the work of the indigenous communities. We can't. We can't because it is another culture, another way of practicing politics. They are not politically illiterate. They have another way of conducting politics. And what those in power want to do now is to teach them political literacy, that is to say, to corrupt them within the current political system.

And how does this fit into the kind of verticality a military structure must have?

Surrendering (to the communities), which is what we did in 1990.

The scheme is in the sense that in a military organization which is growing and goes through a consensus, any member may question an order with the criterium of the communal assembly.

Yes. It's accepted. I need the ethnic groups permission. That is why I need the command. That is not to say that I am willing to obey the Indigenous Revolutionary Clandestine Committee. I need it. Otherwise I cannot give orders to an Idigenous guerrilla force.

And once you give the orders, do they obey them?

Yes, because on top of it all it is publically known who gave them. I say:"We are going to wage war." And they can answer me: "You are crazy. No way." "No, it's that it was an order from over there." I cannot command militarily. That is what noone understands. Marcos does not need the Clandestine Committee as a justification, because that is undeniable. In order to make political decisions and to be able to exert the military command, Marcos needs the authority that prevails over the communities. He needs the communities permission to give the order of war, in order to give the order of withdrawal. If I don't have that permission, I do not exist as a military commander. Without that permission from the Indigenous military leaders of the communities, the EZLN des not exist. This goes so far, that the EZLN's existence itself depends on this. The moment the communities say: "You go", the way they can tell the "ejido"'s head authority to go, I have to go. Or I risk being left alone.

And what happens if Marcos disappears?

Within the structure of the EZLN there is a scale of command. There is one who follows me. The brothers know who follows. In general I keep The Clandestine Committee and those who follow me in the scale of command informed of everything I do, or am doing, because I make so many stupid mistakes! That is to say, the brothers have the direction of the organization. They know where we are and which way to procede.

In other words, if Marcos disappears nothing ceases to work.

Theoretically, no.

And that translator's role?

That one wasn't planned. It is the media's fault, since they wanted to come in but did not know how. They were faced with a resistance movement in which the color of the skin has an ideological meaning of oppression, exploitation, lies. How were they to know a movement made up of dark skin! In other words what entered the body of the guerrilla was the structure of the ethnic groups and it breakes with all the criteria of previous armed organizations.

We can say on paper what we want. But reality is always more intelligent.

That would explain the fact that you are always changing; that there isn't a corporeal strategic plan. It explains the process that takes off at the Aguascalientes Convention, with the laying out of the National Liberation Movement, the visits of Cuauhte'moc Ca'rdenas to the jungle; the plebiscite, the option in favor of "civil society", and the laying out of forging a pole with those without a political party a broad front ("frente amplio.") Does the EZLN have a policy of alliances?

We are thinking at two levels. That of an ample or broad front with political organizations, and that of the new political organization. When we say that in the discussion of the national dialogue there is a theme called "creation of a new political force based in the EZLN", it is when we ask: "Do we become a political force?." Yes. Well, that new political force we want to build it without the political parties, and we will enter a relationship with the political parties in the Broad Opposition Front ("Frente Amplio Opositor") or in the Broad Opposition Movement ("Movimiento Amplio Opositor".)


"MAO" (the pun is not obvious in English, n.t).

Now that political force we want to build is not meant to have access to positions of popular election. It is not a force against the existing political parties. It is meant as a force the government and the parties should take into account. In the worst of cases that they take it into account; in the best of cases that they obey it. But no matter how, there is the problem of the political organizations which lay out the problem of power. The meeting place of these people, as long as they are an anti-system of the State party and anti-neoliberal, would be the Opposition Broad Front ("Frente Amplio Opositor".) There would be two levels. That is what the PRD does not understand, or some of its leaders, like Porfirio Mu~oz Ledo and Pablo Go'mez. They produce very good analysis. But one must take the cover off the binoculars; otherwise one cannot see. If you don't take off the cover, binoculars turn into mirrors.

I know that the logical question is: well, but how is it going to be possible to build a political force that isn't a political party? I don't have the slightest idea. What we are offering the people is: We are going to come to an agreement.

We make politics with bullets. To make ourselves heard. No longer to take over power. If we hadn't shot any bullets, forget it...

Uruguayans in the Lacandon Jungle

Subcommander Marcos refers several times to Uruguay in the course of the long interview.

"The best homage to the Tupamaros is that I don't remember the name of the officer who wanted to kill Rau'l Sendic when he came out during the shoot-out screaming 'I am Rufo and I don't surrender'", he recalled. "My generation grew up admiring the structure, the technico-military aspects and the creativity of the Tupas, and, besides, in political terms, the layout of an all inclusive, non-sectarian movement.

However Marcos refuses a "mate" (a bitter tasting type of infusion drank in Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil. n.o.t.), which gives him a pretext to comment:

"I always wanted to be an Argentinian or an Uruguayan writer. When I discovered that there was a relationship between literary quality and "mate", I decided to become a guerrillero."

Once the laughter stops, he is asked about the origin of his humor: He replies, with humor: "When we joined the orgnization we had to be serious, respectful, boring. Rock was counterrevolutionary, imperialist. Anything that wasn't 'fatherland or death, we shall overcome' ('patria o muerte, venceremos') and protest songs, was bad. If you listened to classical music, they didn't shoot you but you were already under suspicion; and if the books you carried were not Materialism and empirical criticism and were for instance 'Historia de cronopios y de famas'( a book of vignettes by famous Argentinian author Julio Corta'zar, about human urban archetypes) or benedetti's love poems, they stared at you in a strange way."

Benedetti's mention (B. is one of Uruguay's leading living authors, t.n) led him to recall his first days of work in the Indigenous communities, "when we taught literacy with Juan Gelman's poems and 'The Open Veins of Latin America' ( Eduardo Galeano's masterful analysis of the plundering of Latin America by the various imperialist powers since 1492) was a grammar text. But Mario Benedetti played a key role for our troups: his love poems were textually transcribed to seduce "compa~eras." By the way, I thought Galeano would be around here."

The Gringo's presence


"Regarding the U.S. government's interference, we know that at least since June, 1994 they have been sending a group of advisors, rangers or their equivalent, under the denomination of a System of Secret and Covered Operations. The man in charge is a certain Propp, a U.S. Army major. We detected him since June of 94 in San Crist'obal de las Casas, and he reappears again on February 10, 1995 in Guadalupe Tepeyac, together with the unit that takes over that community.

We know from the prostitutes that service the army, that they had been taking care of a group of soldiers we asume were from the U.S., because they were tall, blond, blue eyed and they spoke in English. Obviously we did not see their passports. Then we learned that Propp was in San Quinti'n, and that he was already showing off his lieutenant colonel's insignia. He got promoted right here, in Chiapas; they promoted him from major to lieutenant colonel.

We know that the U.S. government intercepts our communications and passes them on to the Mexican authorities. At least it was doing so during the talks in San Andre's. It intercepted the communications we had with our delegation and it had them delivered to the governmental delegation. That has also been confirmed. To do that one needs technology the Federal Army lacks. Another bit of information we have is that the U.S. army was functioning as an intermediary in bringing here the Argentinian mercenaries who are present in Chiapas; there are those who claim they are with the paramilitary squadrons, with the "white guards". The Federal Army denies that it has Argentinian advisors.

We have the pictures of some of those advisors, from when they were training others in Honduras. We located one of them here, preparing explosives and training people on the use of mortars.

In Las Tacitas, in the canion of Las Tazas, there is a military unit that advances on San Francisco, the "ejido" of La'zro Herna'ndez, the PRI deputy (representative), and some observers saw four or five Guatemalan army officers. We never confirmed this. On the other hand we did confirm that the Mexican army received counterinsurgency training from the Guatemalan kaibiles.

Taken from Uruguay's "Brecha" newspaper:
(trans Lemaitre Monique j <>

The original Spanish version can be read at

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