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Narco News 2001

March 22, 2001

Caravanning Through Cuautla

Reflections on the EZLN March to Mexico

By Reber Boult

A family emergency bundled my wife, Susana Salazar, and I off to México on a few hours notice. It put us with the final few days of the Caravana Zapatista (the popular press there dubbed it the "Zapatour").

Explaining my sudden departure, I briefly summarized to a person in northern New Mexico the idea of the Caravana. The response was an incredulous "You mean demonstrating against VINN CENTY FAHX?!"

Where to start in the face of such aggressive ignorance? For a starter, I'll just nitpick it at the linguistic level. In most parts of this country such misperception of Presidente Fox' first name is excusable and understandable. Northern New Mexico has not at any time since the introduction of the Roman alphabet been one of those places. On the other hand, English pronunciation of an English surname seems reasonable.

We had a pleasant discussion on the plane with a young junior corporate executive from México. He agreed that things are bad in Chiapas. Something to do with lazy Indians, he opined. He advised us to keep some distance from the Caravana because otherwise the authorities would jail us and deport us under Articulo 33. That law prohibits foreigners from political activity. Last we ever heard of that. He said Marcos is only interested in Chiapas and is content to let injustice fester in the rest of México. I, thinking back several years, said "That's not what he says." He responded that Marcos' expressions of concern for all of México only started during the Caravana. I can't help wondering whether such ignorance is willful or media-induced.

The PRI continues to implode. Its remnants exude futility as they try to hang on to shards of its former power. I wonder if the PRI's implosion carries a message for the U.S. political party that has a heritage of fighting for the disadvantaged but now grubs for money as it flacks for big business.

Small businesses abound in México. They provide the services that in the U.S. are mostly the province of large chains. I wonder, in light of Presidente Fox' corporate background (Coca Cola), if he has the U.S. model in mind for México.

Columnist German Dehesa, writing in Reforma, called Fox a zero, hiding behind boots, Coca Cola, and ranchers. Reminds one of another ranching president with boots, baseball team, and oilmen.

The New York Times says about 10% of Méxicans are Indians (similar to the percentages of black or Hispanic people here). But a casual eyeball survey shows about 80 or 90% of the people to be, as Subcomandante Marcos reprises, "el color de la tierra."

We joined the Caravana, encamped for the night, at the fairgrounds in Cuautla, near the tourist mecca of Cuernavaca and its less discovered neighbor, Tepoztlán. We hadn't known where the Caravana was; we found out by asking an Indian woman cooking food for sale on a roadside south of México City.

Tepoztlán had, the night before, given the Caravana an even more generous reception than its had other host towns. It offered more food than the hungry caravanistas could eat. Tepoztlán, like most towns in the area, has a very limited municipal water supply. A few years ago a consortium of American and Mexican developers planned a resort there with one of those water hogs named "golf course." The townspeople resisted; there is no resort.

Caravanning through Cuautla was like NASCAR with busses. Dozens of federal highway patrol cars and 70 motorcycles, supplemented by local police, ambulances loaded with police, and pickups loaded with plainclothes police from more insidious agencies shepherded the Caravana throughout, clearing the route and sealing it off from other traffic. On an earlier day either a bus' brakes failed or its driver tried to ram the Comandantes' bus; it killed a motorcycle policeman.

Our first day included heavily attended rallies at Emiliano Zapata's grave in Cuautla (he was assassinated in 1919), in the hot sun in a couple of small towns, and at the night's encampment in Villa Milpa Alta, a remote suburb of México City. We followed the route Zapata's army took in 1914 through the state of Morelos to México City. In every city and hamlet, including one named Zapata, enthusiastic crowds lined the streets, shouting encouragement and flashing broad smiles, peace signs, and a few revolutionary fists. At the rallies people used periscopes and climbed trees and roofs. We must have seen 20,000 people showing support for the Caravana that day.

The only jibes from tiny number of hecklers complained of outside agitators. The extreme version was "If you've never touched Marcos' hand, how can you support him?"

The next day took us to a more remote suburb, San Pablo, high above the City. A rally was held at the church, now including a museum, where Zapata's army was quartered before its assault on the city below. Another encampment and rally in Milpa Alta, then on to Xochimilco, the final staging point to enter México City.

At the rallies the Delegates, being Marcos and 19 Comandantes and 4 Comandantas, would stand in ranks on the platform, Marcos the tallest by a head. They were never seen without their ski masks. Comandantes Javier and David topped their masks with beribboned straw hats. Marcos' curved-stem pipe emitted wisps of smoke. Men and women would speak, read EZLN and indigenous principles, demands, and declarations; they would lead the crowd in chants and singing the Zapatista Hymn. 2 or 3 Delegates would speak, often from notes in thick spiral notebooks. Sometimes Emiliano Zapata's son and granddaughter spoke. Usually when a speaker was being introduced the crowd would be shouting for Marcos. Often he would oblige, concluding the rally with a talk in his friendly, conversational, non-oratorical tone. The crowd went wild.

Earlier the Caravana stopped at the Indigenous National Congress meeting in Nurío, Michoacán. After that, Rallies included reading the Congress' demands for dignity, rights, demilitarization, release of political prisoners, political social and cultural development, ancestral habitat cohesion and collective work, enforcement of the San Andrés Accords, and preservation of the environment, and NEVER AGAIN A MEXICO WITHOUT US. (The document is translated at A workshop voted that the Indigenous National Congress should be represented always in public by a pair of spokespersons: one woman and one man.

Chants at the rallies and from the sidewalks:

"E-Z-L-N" (pronounced Eh Zeta Ele Ene, stands for Ejercito [Army]
Zapatista de Liberatión National)

Call: "Zapata Vive [Lives]"
Response: "La Lucha Sigue [The Struggle Continues]"
Call: "Zapata Vive Vive"
Response: "La Lucha Sigue Sigue"


"Los Acuerdos de San Andrés
"Son Ahora y No Después [Now Not Later]"

Banners and bus paint proclaimed "Paz," "Justicia," "Dignidad,"
"Sociedad Civil." "EZLN," "Democracia," "No Globalismo," "Derechos Indígenas," "Somos los Indios del Mundo," "Maiz."

When the Caravana reached México City's suburbs, headlines proclaimed: "MARCOSMANIA" "¡Ricky Marcos!"

Reforma polls showed a little over 50% support for Zapitistas on most questions.

When the rallies were close to México City, there were people hawking The Militant.

The progressive mainstream daily newspaper, La Jornada, sold out immediately wherever caravanistas were gathered. The issue that contained "Chomsky" in the main top-of-the-front-page headline and again at the top of an inside page headline was an especially hot item. La Jornada was not available at the México City airport the day after the Caravana concluded. They sell no Méxican newspaper in the Dallas airport.


15 days, 2000 miles, 12 states.

25 busses, more or less. Most chartered in México (sometimes pulled back by timorous owners), one each from New York and California. Several busloads of indigenous people, some in brightly embroidered traditional garb. 2 busloads of Italians, calling themselves Monos Blancos to announce the white ghost coveralls they'd don for the final day. A busload of Spaniards and Basques. Lots of French speaking people.

30-40 cars and vans. 2 vanloads of "New York Zapatistas," some of whom do medical work in Chiapas. Cars and vans full of Méxicans, some of their license plates from Texas, Nevada, and New Mexico. 11 white people from Oakland in one van. A would-be emigrant to the U.S. who'd been robbed by the Caravana's police escort.

Probably a little less than 1,000 caravanistas at any given time.

Hundreds of thousands watched the Caravana and attended rallies along the way.

A dozen or two press cars, motorcycles, and helicopters. A couple of big networks, Televisa and Red Monitor, were particularly obnoxious. The U.S. press was absent. Judging from the level of awareness here, so was coverage in the U.S. press.

On the final day, 100,000 gathered in México City's Zócalo, a huge plaza with the world's largest Méxican flag in the middle (larger than the world's largest U.S. flag that's at Tony Abraham's Chevrolet dealership on Calle Ocho in Miami). 2,000 police officers on duty. A newspaper tallied "Incidentes: Ninguno." 300 treated for heat related ailments.


The Zapatistas, the EZLN, burst into the international consciousness with their armed uprising in Chiapas on New Years Day 1994, the day NAFTA went into effect. Later a truce was worked out. The terms came to be known as Los Acuerdos de San Andrés [San Andrés Accords]. So the Zapatistas halted their offensive. But the government did little except lighten its obligation by rewriting the accords. It didn't follow through on the lightened obligation, either.

Currently the Zapatistas are asking the government to do 3 things to show good faith as a basis for further negotiations: 1) release political prisoners; 2) close a few of the 200-plus Army outposts in Chiapas; 3) implement the weakened version of Los Acuerdos de San Andrés. A goodly number of Chiapas' political prisoners have been released, mainly during the Caravana; release isn't happening in the other important states, Tabasco and Querétaro. Some Army outposts are closing, an almost entirely symbolic matter. Los Acuerdos de San Andrés will require Congressional action.
Marcos has announced the Zapatista supporters will stick around in México City until this happens (Mayor López Oprador welcomes them). Fox invited him in to talk about it; Marcos responded, "Why? For a photo opportunity?"


The triumphant procession from Xochimilco took 2 1/2 hours on Sunday
March 11, 2001 to traverse the 15 or so miles of cheering spectators. The rally in the city's heart lasted less than two hours. Subcomandante Marcos mesmerized the 100,000 listeners:

"We have arrived.

We are here.

We are the National Indigenous Congress and zapatistas . . .

If the grandstand where we are is where it is, it is not by accident. It is because, from the very beginning, the government has been at our backs. Sometimes with artillery helicopters, sometimes with paramilitaries, sometimes with bomber planes, sometimes with war tanks, sometimes with soldiers, sometimes with the police, sometimes with offers for the buying and selling of consciences, sometimes with offers for surrender, sometimes with lies, sometimes with strident statements, sometimes with forgetting, sometimes with expectant silences. Sometimes, like today, with impotent silences.

That is why the government never sees us, that is why it does not listen to us. If they quickened their pace a bit, they might catch up with us. They could see us then, and listen to us.

They could understand the long and firm perspective of the one who is persecuted and who, nonetheless, is not worried, because he knows that it is the steps that follow which require attention and determination.

Brother, Sister:

Indigenous, worker, campesino, teacher, student, neighbor, housewife, driver, fisherman, taxi driver, stevedore, office worker, street vendor, brother, unemployed, media worker, professional worker, religious person, homosexual, lesbian, transsexual, artist, intellectual, militant, activist, sailor, soldier, sportsman, legislator, bureaucrat, man, woman, child, young person, old one.

The Indian peoples, our most first, the very first inhabitants, the first talkers, the first listeners.

Those who, being first, are the last to appear and to perish…"

A poetic passage weaves around the names of México's indigent tribes.


"We are not those who aspire to make themselves power and then impose the way and the word. We will not be. We are not those who put a price on their own, or another's, dignity, and convert the struggle into a market, where politics is the business of sellers who are fighting, not about programs, but for clients. We will not be.

We are not those who are expecting pardon and handouts from the one who feigns to help, when he is, in reality, buying, and who does not pardon, but humiliates the one who, by merely existing, is a defiance and challenge and claim and demand. We will not be.

We are not those who wait, naively, for justice to come from above, when it only comes from below, as the liberty that can only be achieved with everyone, and the democracy which is all the floors and is fought for all the people…"

Poetically, he holds the door open for negotiation:

"We are not the cunning calculation which falsifies the word and conceals a new fakery within it. We are not the simulated peace longing for eternal war. We are not those who say "three," and then "two" or "four" or "all" or "nothing." We will not be.

"Ninety years ago the powerful asked those from below which
Zapata was called:

'With whose permission, Señores?'

And those from below responded, and we respond:

'With ours.'

And with our permission, for exactly 90 years, we have been
shouting, and they call us 'rebels.'

And today we are repeating: we are rebels.

Rebels we shall be.

But we want to be so with everyone we are.

Without war as house and path.

Because so speaks the color of the earth: The struggle has many paths, and it has but one destiny: to be color with all the colors that clothe the earth.

Now, and it is what they fear, there is no longer the 'you' and the 'we,' because now we are all the color we are of the earth.

It is the hour for the fox and the one he serves to listen and to listen to us.

It is the hour for the fox and the one who commands him to see us.

Our word speaks one single thing.

Our looking looks at one single thing.

The constitutional recognition of indigenous rights and

A dignified place for the color of the earth.

It is the hour in which this country ceases to be a disgrace, clothed only in the color of money."

After the speech, Popocatépetl emitted a wisp of smoke.

The entire speech, translated into English, is at

Sixteen times it refers to the people who are the color of the earth.

Around the time the Caravana got under way, National Public Radio reported that Fox and Marcos both would live or die politically from it. Marcos now has certainly demonstrated "Never Again an América Without Us"

Presidente Fox stayed home. Subcomandante Marcos said "the color of we who are the earth will dance with all the colors." And I recalled that México's money and power today is in the hands of those whose color is lighter than earth.

Reber Boult, a graduate of Vanderbilt University, practiced law for 35 years in Nashville, Atlanta and criminal law in Albuquerque. He was on the staff of the ACLU's Southern Regional office from 1968 to 1971. He worked with the National Lawyer's Guild Military Law Office in Japan in 1973 and 1974, helping U.S. Marines resist the war. He's worked in a small motorcycle shop, a large electronics retailer, the Institute for Southern Studies, a Federal Public Defender office and for the U.S. Navy.

With Whose Permission, Señores? With Ours.