We know What We're Doing;
It is Worth It

LA JORNADA, DECEMBER 13, 1994, PGS. 8-11

Zapatista Army of National Liberation
December 1994

To Whom It May Concern:

" I am the escaped one, after I was born They locked me up inside me but I left. My soul seeks me, through hills and valley, I hope my soul never finds me."

I write this, while reports from our companeros arrive about preparations for the advance of our units, and as I burn a last stack of unanswered letters. That is why I write to you now. I always told myself I would respond to each and every letter we received. It seemed to me that it was the least we could do, answer so many people who had bothered to write a few lines and risk putting their name and direction on it hoping for a response.

The war is imminent. I definitely cannot save these letters. I should destroy them because, if they fall into the hands of the government, they could cause many problems for many good people and a few bad people. Now the flames are high and their colors change. Sometimes they are an iridescent blue which never fails to surprise this night of crickets and far-away lightning which announces the cold December of prophecies and pending accounts. There were quite a few letters. I managed to answer a good part of them, but I would barely shrink a pile when another would arrive. "Sysiphus (who was doomed to roll a stone uphill forever)" I said to myself "or the vulture eating the entrails of Prometheus" my other adds, always opportune in its venomous sarcasm.

I should be sincere and confess that, lately, the little pile which arrives habitually was growing smaller. At first I attributed it to the nosy Government agents. Then I realized that good people get tired..and they stop writing..and sometimes, they stop fighting..

Yeah I know that writing a letter isn't exactly an assault on the Winter Palace. But the letters made us travel so far. One day we would be in Tijuana, the next in Merida, sometimes in Michoacan, or in Guerrerro, Veracruz, or Guanajuato, Chihuahua, Nayarit, Queretaro or the Federal District (Mexico City). Sometimes we would travel farther to Chile, Paraguay, Spain, Italy, Japan. Well, so those trips that gave us more than one smile and warmed cold sleepless night or refreshed the heat of the days, are over.

Anyway, I have told you I have decided to respond to all the letters, and we the walking gentlemen, know how to keep our promises (as long as they're not a romance). So I have thought your generosity would alleviate my heavy guilt if all of you accepted one solitary and overwhelming missive in which you each find yourselves as the solitary recipient.

Vale, since you cannot protest or express disagreement (you could do it but I won't learn about given the mail and etcetera will be useless), I will proceed then to give free reign to the insane dictatorship which takes over my agile hand when it comes to writing a letter. What better way to begin than a few verses from Pessoa, curse and prophesy, which say, I think...

"The gaze, which is looking where it cannot see, turns: Both of us are talking What was not conserved. Does this begin or end?"
Such and such a month of the ineffable year of 1994,

To Whom It May Concern,

I want to say a few things about what has happened since January. Many of you wrote to say thank you. Imagine our surprise when we read in your letter that you are grateful that we exist. I, for example, whose most affectionate gesture from my troops has been one of resignation when I arrive at one of our positions, was surprisingly surprised. And when I am surprised by a surprise unusual things happen. For example, I will bite my pipe too much and the stem breaks. Then, for example, as I look for another pipe I find some candy and commit the grave error of crackling it, a sound which only cellophane-wrapped candy makes and which that plague called "children" can hear from dozens of meters away, kilometers, if the wind is in their favor. It so happens for example, that when I raise the volume on the little tape player to drown out the noise from the cellophane with a song which says..

"The one who has a song
will have a storm,
The one who follows a good road
will have dangerous points
which will invite them to stop.
But the song has worth,
good storm
and the company
is worth the solitude.
The agony of haste
is always worth it
though the points
are filled with truth."

In the little room (all these things invariably happen in a little room with a roof of tin or cardboard or grass or nylon) appears Heriberto. He has a face of "I found you". I pretend not to see him and whistle a tune from a movie whose name I can't remember. Anyway, the hero had good results with his whistle, because a girl, who was [as good-looking] as Cejas said, smiled and came closer.

Then I realize that it is not a girl but Heriberto who comes near. Next to him comes Tonita with her corncob-doll. Tonita, she who gripes about a kiss because "it itches", the one with the cavities, who is between five and six, the favorite of the Sup. Heriberto, the fastest crier in the Lacandon jungle, the one who draws the Anti-SUP-marine ducks, the terror of the large red ants and the Christmas chocolate, the favorite of Ana Maria. Heriberto the punishment which some vengeful god sent to the Sup for being a transgressor of violence and professional of the law. What, wasn't that it? Well, don't worry about it...

Attention! Listen! Heriberto arrives and tells me that Eva is crying because she wants to see the singing horse and the Major does not let her because he is watching the BEDROOM OF PASSOLINI. Of course Heriberto does not say the title of the movie but I can guess by his description which is "..the Major is watching naked viejas.." For Heriberto all women who wear a skirt above their knees or higher is "naked," and any woman above the age of four like Eva, are "viejas". I know that this is one of Heriberto's sneaky schemes to take the cellophane-wrapped candy which rang like the siren on the Titanic in the middle of the fog. Heriberto and his ducks are coming to the rescue, because there is nothing sadder in this world than a candy without a child to rescue it from its cellophane prison.

Tonita, on the other hand, discovers, a "mud-proof" rabbit, in other words it's black. She decides to submerge it in a puddle which, in her estimation, has all the necessary characteristics to distinguish it as a quality test.

Before the invasion of the "general command of the ezetaelene" I play dumb and pretend like I'm very absorbed in my writing. Heriberto finds out and draws a duck. He titles it irreverently, the "Sup". I pretend to be offended because Heriberto argues that my nose is just like the duck's bill. Tonita meanwhile, puts the muddy bunny on a rock next to her corncob and looks and analyzes them with a critical eye. It occurs to me that the results don't satisfy her because she shakes her head with the same obstinacy she does when she refuses to give me a kiss. Heriberto, confronted by my indifference, seems to give up and I am satisfied with my complete victory. Then I learn that the candy is gone, and I remember that Heriberto made a strange movement as I gazed at the drawing. He took it from under my nose. And with this nose, that says a lot! I am depressed and more so when I learn that Salinas is beginning to pack to leave to the "World Trade Organization". It occurs to me that it was unjust when he called us "transgressors." If he knew Heriberto he would know that, compared to Heriberto, we are much more law- abiding than even the PRI leadership.

Anyway I was talking about my surprise when I read those "thank yous" in your letters. Sometimes they were written to Ana Maria, Ramona, Tacho, Moy, Mario, Laura, or any of the men and women who cover their faces to show it to others and show it to others to hide from everyone.

I rehearse my most reverent thoughts to appreciate so many thank yous when Ana Maria appears in the doorway. Heriberto is crying and holding her hand. She asks me why I won't give Heriberto any candy. "Not give him candy?" and I look at his face. The tracks of the candy has been covered with snot and tears which have won Ana Maria to his side. "That's right" says Ana Maria "Heriberto says he gave you a drawing in exchange for candy, and you didn't keep your word." I feel like a victim of an unjust accusation, and I put on the look of an ex-president of the PRI who is preparing to take over a powerful government department and climbing to the podium to give his best speech. Ana Maria, without comment, takes the bag of candy where the original came from and gives it! all! to Heriberto. "Here" she says "The Zapatistas always keep their word."

They both leave. I am reeeeaaally sad because that candy was for Eva's birthday. And I don't know how old she is because when I asked her mother she said six. "But the other day she told me she was going to be four" I complained. "Yes but she becomes four and begins to be five, in other words she's around six", she responded firmly. She leaves me counting with my fingers and doubting the entire educational system which taught you that 1+1=2, 6x8=48 and other transcendent things, which, in the Southeast mountains of Mexico, obviously do not hold true. Another mathematical logic functions here.

"We Zapatistas are very other " declared Monarch once when he told me that when he ran out of brake fluid, he would urinate into the container and get the same effect.

The other day for example there was a birthday party. The "youth group" got together and organized "Zapatista olympics". The master of ceremonies declared that the long jump competition was about to start, which really means who jumps highest. The high jump was next; which really means who jumps the farthest. I was counting on my fingers again when Lieutenant Ricardo arrived and told me that they had gone to sing happy birthday at dawn. "Where was the serenade?" I asked. I was happy that everything was returning to normal since it was logical that happy birthday be sung at dawn. "..in the cemetery" answered Ricardo. "The cemetery?" I began to count my fingers again. "Yes, well, it was the birthday of a compa who died in combat in January," Ricardo says on his way out (the drag races were next).

"Good" I said to myself "a birthday party for a dead person. Perfectly logical..in the mountains of Southeast Mexico.." I sighed.

I have been sighing with nostalgia, remembering the good old times when the bad guys were the bad guys and the good guys were the good guys. When Newton's apple followed its irresistible trajectory from the tree towards some childish hand. When the world smelled like a schoolroom on the first day of class: of fear, of mystery, of newness. I'm sighing with true emphasis when, without previous arrangement, Beto comes in to ask if there are any balloons. Without waiting for my answer, he starts to look among maps, operative orders, pieces of guns, ashes of pipe tobacco, dried tears, red flowers colored with pen, cartridge belts and a smelly ski-mask. Somewhere Beto finds a bag of balloons and picture of a playmate, pretty old (the picture, not the playmate). Beto stops for a minute to decide between the bag of balloons and the picture and he decides what all children do; he takes both of them.

I've always said that this is not a general headquarters but a kindergarten. Yesterday I told Moy he should install some anti- personnel mines. "You think the soldiers will come all the way here?" he asks me, worried. I answer trembling "I don't know about them, but what about the children." Moy nods agreeably and begins to tell me about his complicated design for a booby trap, a fake hole, with stakes and poison. I like the idea, but none of the children are boobies so I recommend that we electrify everything and place machine guns at the entrance. Moy thinks a while and says he has a better idea and leaves me..

What was I saying? Oh yeah! About the candy for Eva which Heriberto took. There I am talking over the radio so they can look in every camp for a bag of candy for Eva. Eva appears with a little pot of tamales which "my mother sent me because today is my birthday" Eva says to me with that look that in ten years or so will provoke more than one war.

I thank her profusely and ask what else I can do for her, then say I have a present for her. "Whereizit?" she says-asks-demands and I begin to sweat because there is nothing more terrible than a look of "moreno" anger. Eva's face begins to transform itself like in that movie of "El Santo against the Wolfman", and all I can do is stutter. To make things worst, Heriberto arrives to see "if the Sup is still mad" at him. I begin to smile to give me time to calculate where I could place a good kick on Heriberto when Eva notices that Heriberto has an almost-empty bag of candy.

She asks him where he got it, and he says in a sugary and slurry voice the "Chup". I don't realize that he means the "Sup" until Eva turns and reminds me, "and my present?" Heriberto's eyes pop out when he hears the world "present". He drops the bag of candy, which by now was empty and gets near Eva to say with a sticky cynicism "Yeah, what about our present?" "Our?" I repeat as I figure where to kick him when I notice that Ana Maria is hovering nearby, and I quash my intent. So then I say "I'm hiding it" "Where?", asks Eva already tired of the mystery. Heriberto, meanwhile views this as a challenge and starts to open my backpack. He tosses out my blanket, altimeter, compass, tobacco, a box of bullets, a sock. Finally I stop him by screaming "It's not there!" Heriberto then starts on Moy's backpack and he is about to open it when I say "You have to answer a riddle to know where the present is".

By that time Heriberto was getting fed up with Moy's backpack and he comes to sit at my side. Eva does too. Beto and Tonita come near, and I light my pipe to give me time to measure the size of the problem of the riddle. Old Man Antonio comes near. He makes a gesture to point out a tiny statue of Zapata made of silver sent by sandal, and repeats...


The cold is harsh in these mountains. Ana Maria and Mario are with me on this exploration, 10 years before the dawn of January.

The two have barely joined the guerrilla. I am an infantry lieutenant and it is my turn to teach them what others taught me: to live in the mountain. Yesterday I ran into Old Man Antonio for the first time. We both lied. He said he was on his way to see his field, I said I was hunting. We both knew we were lying and we knew we knew it. I left Ana Maria to follow the path and I went towards the river to try to find a very high mountain and Old Man Antonio. He must have thought the same thing because he appeared at the same place where I found him before.

Like yesterday, Old Man Antonio sat on the ground, and leans against a patch of dark-brown green and begins to roll a cigarette. I sit in front of him and light the pipe. Old Man Antonio begins.

"You're not hunting"

"You're not on the way to the field" I answer.

Something made me speak to him in the proper tense, with respect, that man of undetermined age and cedar skin who I was seeing for the second time in my life.

Old Man Antonio smiles and adds,

"I've heard of you. In the canyons they say you are bandits. In my village, they're upset because you are here."

"And you, do you think we're bandits?" I asked.

Old Man Antonio releases a huge puff of smoke, coughs, and shakes his head. I'm encouraged and ask him another question.

"So who do you think we are?"

"I would prefer if you told me" he says and looks into my eyes

"It's a long story" I say.

So I begin to talk about the times of Zapata and Villa and the revolution and the land and the injustice and hunger and ignorance and sickness and repression and everything. And I finish by saying so "we are the Zapatista Army of National Liberation". I wait for some sign from Old Man Antonio who never took his eyes from my face.

"Tell me more about that Zapata" he says after smoke and a cough.

I start with Anenecuilco, then with the Plan de Ayala, the military campaign, the organization of the villages, the betrayal at Chinameca. Old Man Antonio continued to stare at me until I finished.

"It wasn't like that" he says.

I'm surprised and all I can do is babble.

"I'm going to tell you the real story of Zapata".

Taking out tobacco and rolling paper, Old Man Antonio begins his story which unites and confuses modern times with old times, just like the smoke from my pipe and his cigarette which mingle and converge on one another.

"Many stories ago, in the time of the first gods, the ones who made the world there were two gods who were Ik'al and Votan. Two were one single one. When one turns the other could be seen, when the other turns the one could be seen. They were opposites. One was like the light, like a May morning in the river. The other was dark, like a night of cold in a cave. They were the same. One was two, because one made the other. But they didn't walk they were always stationary these two gods who were one. 'So what do we do?'. 'Life is sad like this', they lamented the two who were one. 'The night won't go' said Ik'al. 'The day won't go' said Votan. 'Let's walk' said the one who were two. 'How?' said the other. 'Where?' said the one.

When they did this they saw they moved a little bit. First by asking why, and then by asking where. Happy was the one who was two. Then both of them decided to move and they couldn't. 'How do we do it then?' One would move from the other and then the other would move. So they agreed that in order to move they had to do so separately. And no one could remember who moved first, they were just happy that they moved and said 'What does it matter who is first as long as we move?'. The two gods who were the same one said and they laughed and agreed to have a dance, and they danced, one little step behind the other. Then they tired of all the dancing and asked what else they could do and saw that the first question was "how to move" and brought the response of "together but separately and in agreement." They didn't care much that it was so.

They were so happy they were moving until they came to two roads: one was very short and one could see the end of it. They were so happy they could move that they decided to choose the long road which then brought them to another question. 'Where did the road go?". It took them a long time, but the two who were one finally decided that they would never know where that long road took them unless they moved. So they said to one another 'Let's walk it then" And they began to walk first one and then the other. They found it was taking them a long time and asked "how will we walk for such a long time?' Ik'al declared he did not know how to walk by day and Votan declared that by night he was afraid.

So they cried for a long time, then finally agreed that Ik'al would walk by night and Votan by day. Since then the gods walk with questions and they never stop, they never arrive and they never leave. So that is how the true men and women learned that questions serve to learn how to walk, and not to stand still. Since then true men and women walk by asking, to arrive they say good-bye and to leave they say hello. They are never still."

I chew on the now-short stem of the pipe waiting for Old Man Antonio to continue, but he never does. In fear that I will disrupt something very serious I ask "And Zapata?"

Old Man Antonio smiles "You've learned now that in order to know and walk you have to ask questions." He coughs and lights another cigarette and out of his mouth come these words that fall like seeds on the ground.

"That Zapata appeared here in the mountains. He wasn't born, they say. He just appeared just like that. They say he is Ik'al and Votan who came all the way over here in their long journey, and so as not to frighten good people, they became one. Because after being together for so long Ik'al and Votan learned they were the same and could become Zapata. And Zapata said he had finally learned where the long road went and that at times it would be light and and times darkness but that it was the same, Votan Zapata, and Ik'al Zapata, the black Zapata and the white Zapata They were both the same road for the true men and women."

Old Man Antonio took from his backpack a little bag of nylon. Inside there was a very old picture from 1910 of Emiliano Zapata.

In his left hand Zapata had his sword raised to his waist. In his right hand he had a pistol, two cartridge belts of bullets crossed his chest, one from left to right, the other from right to left. His feet are positioned as though he's standing still or walking and in his gaze there is something like "here I am" or "there I go". There are two staircases. One comes out of the darkness, and there are dark-skinned Zapatistas as though they were coming out of something. The other staircase is lighted but there is no one and one can't see where it goes or where it comes from. I would be lying if I told you that I noticed all those details. It was Old Man Antonio who told me. Behind the picture, it said;

"Gral. Emiliano Zapata, Jefe del Ejercito Suriano.
Gen. Emiliano Zapata, Commander in Chief of the Souther Army.
Le General Emiliano Zapata, Chef de l'Armee du Sud.
C.1910. Photo by: Agustin V. Casasola."

Old Man Antonio says to me "I have asked a lot of questions of this picture. That is how I came to be here." He coughs and tosses the cigarette butt. He gives me the picture. "Here" he says "So that you learn how to ask questions...and to walk."

"It's better to say good-bye when you arrive. That way it's not so painful when you leave" he says giving me his hand as he leaves, while he tells me he is arriving. Since then, Old Man Antonio says hello by saying "goodbye" and leaves by saying "hello".

Old Man Antonio leaves. So does Beto, Tonita, Eva and Heriberto.I take out the photo of Zapata from my backpack and show it to them.

"Is he climbing up or down?" says Beto.

"Is he going or staying?" asks Eva.

"Is he taking out or putting away his sword?" asks Tonita.

"Has he finished firing his pistol or just started?" asks Heriberto.

I'm always surprised by how many questions that 84 year old photograph provokes and that Old Man Antonio gave me in 1984. I look at it one last time and decide to give it to Ana Maria and the picture provokes one more question; Is it our yesterday or our tomorrow?

In this climate of curiosity and with a surprising coherence for her 4-years-almost-five-or-six, Eva asks "What about my present?" The word "present" provokes identical reactions in Beto, Tonita and Heriberto. They all start yelling "Where's my present?" I'm trapped and at the point of sacrifice. Ana Maria who saved my life in San Cristobal almost one year ago (in other circumstances) saves me again. Ana Maria has an enormous bag of candy with her. "Here's the present the Sup had for you" says Ana Maria while she gives me that I-don't-know-what-you-men- would-do-without-women look.

While the children decide, or fight over how they will divide the candy, Ana Maria salutes me and says:

"I report. The troops are ready to leave."

"Good" I say as I strap the pistol on. We will leave as always--at dawn. "Wait" I tell her and give her the picture.

"What's this for?"

"We need it"

"For what?"

"So we'll know where we're going"

Above flies a military airplane..

In conclusion I will answer some questions you are surely asking;

Do we know where we're going?

Do we know what awaits us?

Is it worth it?

Whomever has answered the previous questions with a yes can surely not sit and do nothing without feeling that something deep inside is tearing.

Health and a flower for this tender fury, I think it deserves one.

From the mountains of the Mexican southeast.
Sub-Comandante Insurgente Marcos.
Zapatista Army of National Liberation.
Mexico, December 1994

P.S. For writers, analysts and the general public. Brilliant pens have found some valuable parts in the Zapatista movement. Nevertheless they have denied us our fundamental essence: the national struggle. For them we continue to be provincial citizens, capable of a consciousness of our own origins and everything relative to it, but incapable without "external" help of understanding and making ours concepts like "nation" "homeland" and "Mexico". They will chime in during this grey hour with small letters. For them it is all right that we struggle for material needs, but to struggle for spiritual needs is an excess.

It is understandable that these pens now turn against us. It's too bad, someone has to be responsible, someone has to say "no", someone has to say "Ya Basta (Enough)!" Someone has to leave prudence to one side, and give higher value to dignity and shame, than to life, someone has to...Well, to these magnificent pens; we understand the condemnation which will flow from your hands. All I can argue in our defense is that nothing we ever did was for your pleasure, what we did and said was for our please, the joy of struggle, of life, of speech, of walking...Good people of all social classes, of all races and generations helped us. Some helped to relieve their conscience, others to be fashionable, the majority helped because of their convictions because of their certainty that they had found something good and new.

We are good people, that is why we are letting everyone know what we are about to do. You should prepare yourselves you should not be taken by surprise. This warning is a disadvantage for us, but not as great a disadvantage as would be a surprise.

To those good people I want to say I hope you continue to be good. That you continue to believe, that you not allow skepticism to bind you to the sweet prison of conformity. That you continue to search, to seek out something in which to believe, something for which to fight.

We have had some brilliant enemies. Pens which have not been satisfied with the easy condemnation, pens which have sought out strong, firm coherent arguments with which to attack us. I've read some brilliant texts which attack the Zapatistas and defend a regime which must pay and dearly, for the sake of appearances for someone to defend it. It's a shame that in the long run, you wound up defending a vain and childish cause which will be demolished along with that building which is crumbling...

P.P.S. On horseback and with mariachi, Pedro Infante sings that song called "They say I am a womanizer" and ends with...

"Among my sweet loves
One is worth more than others
which has loved me without rancor
of my tarariraran...
A sweet old woman
Who I don't deserve
Who with all her heart
Has given me the most divine love. "

In front of a grandmother one is always a child,
and it hurts to leave..
grandmother I am coming.
I've finished,
I'm beginning...

Translated by: Cecilia Rodriguez
National Commission for Democracy in Mexico

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