Subcomandante Marcos

Subcomandante Marcos
Flag of the EZLN.svg Subcomandante Marcos

Subcomandante Marcos wearing his black balaclava while smoking his usual pipe.
Other names Delegado Cero (Delegate Zero)

Subcomandante Marcos is the spokesperson for the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), a Mexican rebel movement. In January 1994, he led an army of Mayan farmers into the eastern parts of the Mexican state of Chiapas protesting against the Mexican government's treatment of indigenous peoples.[1]

Marcos is an author, political poet, adroit humorist, and outspoken opponent of capitalism. Marcos has advocated having the Mexican constitution amended to recognize the rights of the country's indigenous inhabitants.[2] The internationally known guerrillero has been described as a "new" and "postmodern" Che Guevara.[2][3]

The nom de guerre "Marcos" is the name of a friend killed at a military road checkpoint.[4] He is known as Delegado Cero (Delegate Zero) in matters concerning the Other Campaign. He is only seen wearing a balaclava, and his true identity remains a topic of debate.



Subcomandante Marcos, smoking a pipe atop a horse in Chiapas, Mexico.

Like many of his generation, Marcos was radicalized by the Tlatelolco massacre and became a militant in the Maoist National Liberation Forces. In 1983, he went to the mountains of Chiapas to convince the poor indigenous population to start a proletarian revolution against the bourgeoisie.[5] The indigenous Mayans "just stared at him,"[5] and replied that they were not workers; that, from their perspective, land was not property but rather "the heart of their communities."[5] When asked about his first days in Chiapas in the documentary A Place Called Chiapas, Marcos says:

Imagine a person who comes from an urban culture. One of the world’s biggest cities, with a university education, accustomed to city life. It’s like landing on another planet. The language, the surroundings are new. You’re seen as an alien from outer space. Everything tells you: “Leave. This is a mistake. You don’t belong in this place.” And it’s said in a foreign tongue. But they let you know, the people, the way they act; the weather, the way it rains; the sunshine; the earth, the way it turns to mud; the diseases; the insects; homesickness. You’re being told. “You don’t belong here.” If that’s not a nightmare, what is?

Marcos immersed himself in Mayan culture. After the political struggles within the FLN, the outlook of the indigenous peasants of Chiapas, and the failure of the Chiapas uprising, he embraced an approach to social revolution that has important parallels to the theories of Antonio Gramsci which were popular in Mexico.

A Place Called Chiapas includes the powerful rhetoric of the Zapatistas spoken in Spanish. He addresses the film maker with only his eyes and pipe visible: "It is our day, day of the dead". Marcos reveals the Zapatista belief that he is a dead-man and so are the Zapatistas.


"Marcos, the quintessential anti-leader, insists that his black mask is a mirror, so that ‘Marcos is gay in San Francisco, black in South Africa, an Asian in Europe, a Chicano in San Ysidro, an anarchist in Spain, a Palestinian in Israel, a Mayan Indian in the streets of San Cristobal, a Jew in Germany, a Gypsy in Poland, a Mohawk in Quebec, a pacifist in Bosnia, a single woman on the Metro at 10 p.m., a peasant without land, a gang member in the slums, an unemployed worker, an unhappy student and, of course, a Zapatista in the mountains’. In other words, he is simply us: we are the leader we’ve been looking for."
Subcomandante Marcos (center, wearing brown cap) in Chiapas

The Mexican government alleges Marcos to be one "Rafael Sebastián Guillén Vicente", born June 19, 1957 in Tampico, Tamaulipas to Spanish immigrants. Guillén attended high school at Instituto Cultural Tampico, a Jesuit school in Tampico, where he presumably became acquainted with Liberation Theology.[6][7] Guillén later moved to Mexico City and graduated from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) majoring in Philosophy. There he became immersed in the school's Marxist rhetoric and won an award for the best dissertation of his class. He began working as a professor at the Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAM) while finishing his dissertation at UNAM, but after a couple of years left. It is thought that it was at UAM where Rafael got in touch with the Forces of National Liberation, the mother organization of what would later become the EZLN. Guillén's family is unaware of what happened to him and refuse to say if they think Marcos and Guillén are the same person.

Guillén's family is deeply involved in Tamaulipas politics. Guillén's sister Mercedes del Carmen Guillén Vicente is the Attorney General of the State of Tamaulipas, and a very influential member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party which governed Mexico for more than 70 years. During the Great March to Mexico City in 2001, Marcos visited the UNAM and during a speech said that he had at least been there before.[8][9][10]

In an interview with García Márquez and Roberto Pombo, Marcos spoke of his upbringing: “It was middle class. My father, the head of the family, taught in a rural school in the time of Cárdenas when, as he used to say, teachers had their ears cut off for being communists. My mother also taught in a school in the countryside, then moved and entered the middle class: it was a family without financial difficulties.” His parents fostered a love for language and reading: “In our family, words had a very special value. Our way of approaching the world was through language. We learnt to read, not so much in school, as in the columns of newspapers. Early on, my mother and father gave us books that disclosed other things. One way or another, we became conscious of language—not as a way of communicating, but of constructing something. As if it were a pleasure more than a duty.” When asked how old he was, Marcos replied: "I'm 518" and laughed.[11]

Political and philosophical writings

Flag of the EZLN

Marcos has written more than 200 essays and stories and has published 21 books documenting his political and philosophical views. The essays and stories are recycled in the books. Marcos tends to prefer indirect expression, and his writings are often fables, although some are more earthy and direct. In a January 2003 letter to Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (the Basque ETA), titled I shit on all the revolutionary vanguards of this planet, Marcos says "We teach [children of the EZLN] that there are as many words as colors and that there are so many thoughts because within them is the world where words are born...And we teach them to speak with the truth, that is to say, to speak with their hearts."[12]

La Historia de los Colores (The Story of Colors) is a story written for children and is one of Marcos' most-read books. Based on a Mayan creation myth, it teaches tolerance and respect for diversity.[13] The book's English translation was to be published with support from the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts, but in 1999 the grant was abruptly canceled after questions from a reporter to the Endowment's chairman William J. Ivey.[14][15] The Lannan Foundation stepped in with support after the NEA withdrew.[16]

Marcos' political philosophy is often characterized as Marxist and his populist writing, which concentrates on unjust treatment of people by both business and the State, underlines some of the commonalities the Zapatista ideology shares with Libertarian Socialism and/or Anarchism. In a well-known 1992 essay, Marcos begins each of his five "chapters" in a characteristic style of complaint:[17]

"This chapter tells how the supreme government was affected by the poverty of the Indigenous peoples of Chiapas and endowed the area with hotels, prisons, barracks, and a military airport. It also tells how the beast feeds on the blood of the people, as well as other miserable and unfortunate happenings...A handful of businesses, one of which is the Mexican State, takes all the wealth out of Chiapas and in exchange leave behind their mortal and pestilent mark."

"This chapter tells the story of the Governor, an apprentice to the viceroy, and his heroic fight against the progressive clergy and his adventures with the feudal cattle, coffee and business lords."

"This chapter tells how the viceroy had a brilliant idea and put this idea into practice. It also tells how the Empire decreed the death of socialism, and then put itself to the task of carrying out this decree to the great joy of the powerful, the distress of the weak and the indifference of the majority."

"This chapter tells how dignity and defiance joined hands in the Southeast, and how Jacinto Pérez's ghost run through the Chiapas highlands. It also tells of a patience that has run out and of other happenings which have been ignored but have major consequences."

"This chapter tells how the dignity of the Indigenous people tried to make itself heard, but its voice only lasted a little while. It also tells how voices that spoke before are speaking again today and that the Indians are walking forward once again but this time with firm footsteps."

The elliptical, ironic and romantic style of Marcos' writings may be a way of keeping a distance from the painful circumstances that he reports and protests. In any event, his literary output has a purpose, as stated in a 2002 book title, Our Word is Our Weapon, a compilation of his articles, poems, speeches, and letters.[18][19] In 2005 he wrote the novel The Uncomfortable Dead with crime writer Paco Ignacio Taibo II.

The Fourth World War

Subcomandante Marcos has also written an essay in which he claims that the neoliberalism and globalization constitute the “Fourth World War.”[20] He termed the Cold War the "Third World War."[20] In this piece, Marcos compares and contrasts the Third World War (the Cold War) with the Fourth World War, which he says is the new type of war that we find ourselves in now: “If the Third World War saw the confrontation of capitalism and socialism on various terrains and with varying degrees of intensity, the fourth will be played out between large financial centers, on a global scale, and at a tremendous and constant intensity.”[20] He goes on to claim that economic globalization has created devastation through financial policies:[20]

“Toward the end of the Cold War, capitalism created a military horror: the neutron bomb, a weapon that destroys life while leaving buildings intact. During the Fourth World War, however, a new wonder has been discovered: the financial bomb. Unlike those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this new bomb not only destroys the polis (here, the nation), imposing death, terror, and misery on those who live there, but also transforms its target into just another piece in the puzzle of economic globalization.”

Marcos explains the effect of the financial bombs as, "destroying the material bases of their [nation-state's] sovereignty and, in producing their qualitative depopulation, excluding all those deemed unsuitable to the new economy (for example, indigenous peoples).” [20] Marcos also believes that neoliberalism and globalization result in a loss of unique culture for societies as a result of the homogenizing effect of neoliberal globalization:[20]

“All cultures forged by nations—the noble indigenous past of America, the brilliant civilization of Europe, the wise history of Asian nations, and the ancestral wealth of Africa and Oceania—are corroded by the American way of life. In this way, neoliberalism imposes the destruction of nations and groups of nations in order to reconstruct them according to a single model. This is a planetary war, of the worst and cruelest kind, waged against humanity.”

It is in this context which Subcomandante Marcos believes that the EZLN and other indigenous movements across the world are fighting back. He sees the EZLN as one of many "pockets of resistance."[20]

“It is not only in the mountains of southeastern Mexico that neoliberalism is being resisted. In other regions of Mexico, in Latin America, in the United States and in Canada, in the Europe of the Maastricht Treaty, in Africa, in Asia, and in Oceania, pockets of resistance are multiplying. Each has its own history, its specificities, its similarities, its demands, its struggles, its successes. If humanity wants to survive and improve, its only hope resides in these pockets made up of the excluded, the left-for-dead, the ‘disposable.’”


"Subcomandante Marcos, a principal member of the Zapatistas in the Chiapas region in Mexico, eludes easy definition, has slipped in and out of media attention, but struggles on in his own small, bloodless, but eloquent ways. He’s issued essays, stories, books, and most recently more demands for indigenous rights as part of the 'Other Campaign' decrying Mexico’s election-system, a campaign he conducted on a motorbike in honor of (Che) Guevara’s travels. Marcos is a post-modern rebel, a local, non-violent guerrilla who’s still found many ways, often through technology instead of guns, to short-circuit the dominant network of power."

However, most would agree that Marcos is the man responsible for putting the impoverished state of Mexico's indigenous population in the spotlight, both locally and internationally.[2]

On his 3,000 kilometer trek to the capital during the Other Campaign, Marcos was welcomed by "huge adoring crowds, chanting and whistling."[2] There were "Marcos handcrafted dolls, and his ski mask-clad face adorns T-shirts, posters and badges."[2]

Asked if it was a burden to be Marcos, he responded: "Yes, it's a great burden because the idea is still prevalent that the EZLN's mistakes are Marcos's, and the good ideas come from the communities. Although we've often been lightning rods, among the compañeros this division of labor makes people worry, because they say: 'In any case, if there's an attack, it'll be on you.'" Asked if this threat made him feel vulnerable: "Yes. Mostly when I go out on the Other Campaign. I feel ill at ease because it's not my territory, there's no media, no compañeros, resources.'" Despite the uneasy feeling of being a potential target, Marcos said, "if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't change a thing [...] if I did think about changing something, it would be this: I wouldn't have taken such a prominent role in the media."[22]

Subcomandante Marcos knows of the possibility of being assassinated but stands committed to the cause: "We don’t fear to die struggling. The good word has already been planted in fertile soil. This fertile soil is in the heart of all of you, and it is there that Zapatista dignity flourishes.’”[3]

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ A Masked Marxist on the Stump by James McKinley, The New York Times, January 6, 2006
  2. ^ a b c d e BBC Profile: The Zapatistas' mysterious leader by Nathalie Malinarich, March 11, 2001
  3. ^ a b Zapatistas Launch ‘Other’ Campaign by Ramor Ryan, The Indypendent, January 12, 2006 issue
  4. ^ quoted in "First World, Ha! Ha! Ha! The Zapatista Challenge" Interview: Subcomandante Marcos, by Medea Benjamin. City Lights Books, San Francisco 1994. pg.70.
  5. ^ a b c d Farewell to the End of History: Organization and Vision in Anti-Corporate Movements by Naomi Klein, The Socialist Register, 2002, London: Merlin Press, 1-14
  6. ^ Gabriel García Márquez y Roberto Pombo (25 Mar 2001). "Habla Marcos". Cambio (Ciudad de México).  A discussion of Marcos's background and views. Marcos says his parents were both schoolteachers and mentions early influences of Cervantes and García Lorca.
  7. ^ Gabriel García Márquez and Subcomandante Marcos (July 2, 2001). A Zapatista Reading List. The Nation.  An abbreviated version of the Cambio article, in English.
  8. ^ Alex Khasnabish (2003). "Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos". MCRI Globalization and Autonomy. 
  9. ^ Hector Carreon (Mar 8 2001). "Aztlan Joins Zapatistas on March into Tenochtitlan". La Voz de Aztlan. 
  10. ^ El EZLN (2001). "La Revolución Chiapanequa". Zapata-Chiapas. 
  11. ^ The Punch Card and the Hourglass by García Márquez and Roberto Pombo, New Left Review, May – June 2001, Issue 9
  12. ^ Zapatista National Liberation Army (Jan 9 2003). "To Euskadi Ta Askatasuna". Flag. 
  13. ^ Patrick Markee (May 16, 1999). "Hue and Cry". New York Times. 
  14. ^ Bobby Byrd (2003). "The Story Behind The Story of Colors". Cinco Puntos Press. 
  15. ^ Julia Preston (Mar 10 1999). "U.S. Cancels Grant for Children's Book Written by Mexican Guerrilla". New York Times.  This article was retitled "N.E.A. Couldn't Tell a Mexican Rebel's Book by Its Cover" in late editions.
  16. ^ Irvin Molotsky (Mar 11 1999). "Foundation Will Bankroll Rebel Chief's Book N.E.A. Dropped". New York Times. 
  17. ^ Subcomandante Marcos (1992). "Chiapas: The Southeast in Two Winds". Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional. 
  18. ^ Alma Guillermoprieto (March 2, 1995). The Shadow War. New York Review of Books.  This book review recounts problems faced by residents of Chiapas.
  19. ^ Paul Berman (October 18, 2001). Landscape Architect. New York Review of Books. 
  20. ^ a b c d e f g The Fourth World War Has Begun by Subcomandante Marcos, trans. Nathalie de Broglio, Neplantla: Views from South, Duke University Press: 2001, Vol. 2 Issue 3: 559-572
  21. ^ SideVue: Che What? by Brian Gibson, Vue Weekly, April 9, 2009, Issue #703
  22. ^ “Learning, Surviving: Marcos After the Rupture” by Laura Castellanos, NACLA Report on the Americas, May – June 2008, Vol. 41 Issue 3: 34-39

Further reading

  • Anurudda Pradeep (අනුරුද්ධ ප්‍රදීප්) (2006). සැපටිස්ටා : Zapatista. 
  • Nick Henck (2007). Subcommander Marcos: the man and the mask. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. 
  • Mihalis Mentinis (2006). ZAPATISTAS: The Chiapas Revolt and What It Means for Radical Politics. London: Pluto Press.
  • John Ross (1995). Rebellion from the Roots: Indian Uprising in Chiapas. Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press. 
  • George Allen Collier and Elizabeth Lowery Quaratiello (1995). Basta! Land and the Zapatista Rebellion in Chiapas. Oakland, CA: Food First Books. 
  • Bertrand de la Grange and Maité Rico (1997). Marcos: La Genial Impostura. Madrid: Alfaguara, Santillana Ediciones Generales. 
  • Yvon Le Bot (1997). Le Rêve Zapatiste. Paris, Éditions du Seuil. 
  • Maria del Carmen Legorreta Díaz (1998). Religión, Política y Guerrilla en Las Cañadas de la Selva Lacandona. Mexico City: Editorial Cal y Arena. 
  • John Womack, Jr. (1999). Rebellion in Chiapas: An Historical Reader. New York: The New Press. 
  • Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (1999). Marcos: el Señor de los Espejos. Madrid: Aguilar. 
  • Ignacio Ramonet (2001). Marcos. La dignité rebelle. Paris: Galilée.  Subtitled Conversations avec le Sous-commandant Marcos.
  • Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (2001). Marcos Herr der Spiegel. Berlin: Verlag Klaus Wagenbach.  German translation of Marcos: el Señor de los Espejos.
  • Alma Guillermoprieto (2001). Looking for History: Dispatches from Latin America. New York: Knopf Publishing Group. 
  • Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (2003). Marcos, le Maître des Miroirs. Montréal: Éditions Mille et Une Nuits.  French translation of Marcos: el Señor de los Espejos.
  • Gloria Muñoz Ramírez (2008). The Fire and the Word: A History of the Zapatista Movement. City Lights Publishers.  ISBN 978-0-87286-488-7.

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  • Subcomandante Marcos — (links) mit Comandante Tacho in Chiapas (1999) Subcomandante Marcos (* 1957) oder auch Delegado Zero ist das Pseudonym eines mexikanischen Revolutionärs und Autors. Er bezeichnet sich selbst als das Sprachrohr der EZLN (Zapatistische Armee der… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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  • Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos — Subcomandante Marcos (links) mit Comandante Tacho in Chiapas (1999) Subcomandante Marcos oder auch Delegado Zero ist das Pseudonym eines mexikanischen Revolutionärs und Autors. Er bezeichnet sich selbst als das Sprachrohr der EZLN (Zapatistische… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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