A Different Path for Latin America Rides Through Mexico
An Exclusive Interview with Zapatista Subcomandante Marcos: Part III
By Sergio Rodríguez Lascano
May 31, 2006
Rebeldía: Some years ago, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Eduardo Galeano said that the Latin American left – and to some extent globally – seemed like a child lost in the fog. I think the idea of this orphan has to do with the fact that today there is nothing “beyond capitalism.” Development and progress are only noticed if capital is present, if there is foreign investment, if the laws of the market are respected. And what then remains as the horizon for the left is to fight so that the poor are a little less poor and the rich are a little less rich. What is the opinion of the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) regarding this scenario? Is it valid for a project of the left?
Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos: Look, we are beginning in reverse. It’s not about whether development and progress are seen only in capitalism. We say that the destruction and misery of all are only possible in capitalism. Thus, if we don’t agree with being destroyed as humanity, or as a nation in the Mexican case, and we want to get out of this misery, we will have to destroy the system that is provoking it. It’s that together with development and progress there is an above and a below. Not only that. That fiction that a man builds a fortune can’t be sustained anymore. The rich and powerful of this country and the world are that way because of a fundamental crime which is looting and, in many cases, blood crimes, of death and destruction.
Progress and development for them has gone beyond their being rich over there and us beingpoor. Fundamentally, that wealth that they are brutally accumulating comes from looting, from exploitation, from repression and the disrespect that we suffer below. Their development and progress mean, necessarily, our destruction and our misery.
So, we are proposing this struggle, this anti-capitalist fight, at this moment and in this radical form because according to us it is a question of survival, not just as a nation, above all, as a project of the left. There is no political organization of the left that is going to survive this if it is really of the left. This is last call for political organizations of the left. I’m referring to the entire spectrum: socialists, communists, Trotskyites, guevarists, anarchists, libertarians, punks or Zapatistas. Not one project of the left is going to survive. It won’t have anything left to fight for as a political project. And this is fundamental because there are some who think: no, we have to let the lesser evil win because it will give us breathing room. We say no: It will not give us breathing room. If we don’t destroy it, there won’t be any air at all. We have to, first, construct this space and, next, confront it.
About this image of Eduardo Galeano… yes, in the global left we are like a child lost in the fog. But now we already know that ahead of us is an abyss and we have to look for something else. If we continue inside of the capitalist system – whether we see the precipice over there or not – we are going to disappear. That’s why we have to construct something else, because there is no other reference. Yes, there is… but no, there isn’t. Because what exists is a tradition of struggle, theory exists, a science that has constructed this exit door. It also does not exist, because at the cultural level it seems there isn’t this perspective, because everything was bet on that wall. What a paradox, no? A wall. That is to say, the Berlin Wall and what it meant, since everyone agrees that this is the symbol that surpassed all others, without there having been other things, but that is not our problem.
Yes, we can get out of this fog, or not. That isn’t the problem. We already know that if we keep advancing we are heading toward destruction. And, so, that is where the Other Campaign says: we’re going to do something else. We are going to look at our history, we are going to look at another theory. Everything that is already here and that was left to the side as if it was a suit out of style, and that, it turns out, was not a suit, but is a perspective of what is history, of what is society, and of what is struggle. And I don’t only refer to scientists but also to ethicists, morals, politicians. And when the correlation of forces says that something has to be done – invariably it is to sell out, surrender or betray – ethics say “no way… faced with the correlation of forces, I won’t sell out, I won’t surrender, I won’t betray.”
That, and also seeking and finding other people and saying: It’s okay, we’re going to add up the Berlin Wall and theory and all that. But are we going to propose something? What we are doing is so new, and so old at the same time. Rebellion, time and time again, is as old as humanity; not only along the chain of production, not only in the caves, not only at the pyramids, but in everything that has been the path of the history of humanity. Once more we find ourselves rebelling again and betting, again, with the enthusiasm of being incorrect – that for others is fear and for us is the enthusiasm to do something even if we are incorrect, but to do it – to create something new. Maybe it won’t happen, or not like we think, but yes it is going to be better than what there is now and, above all, it will mean our survival as a nation and also as a people: in the flesh.
That is what scares them – I think – that it doesn’t mean that we just have to re-read what we read before, but, rather, we have to understand again that what is being read, what is being heard, what is being seen, is saying: And you? And you? It is something that frightens the intellectuals, all of the sector of the cultural left: that you ask them, “And you, what are you doing?” That is what brings out, well, their marasmo.
Rebeldía: All of this has been reinforced by the arrival of governments of left in various South American countries. The victories by Lula in Brazil, by Kirchner in Argentina, by Tabaré in Uruguay, by Evo in Bolivia and by Chávez in Venezuela – the more tolerant types put Mrs. Bachelet (in Chile) on the list – are presented as evidence that the construction of an alternative to neoliberalism, that starts with a governmental policy, which is to say, from above, is viable. But when the government programs are analyzed (in the cases of Venezuela and Bolivia we have to give them time to see how they evolve) and above all their practice, it turns out that they respect the frames of reference of the neoliberal project. Why does the EZLN insist that we shouldn’t be looking toward above (the exception being when we point the finger up there) but, rather, we should look toward below?
SCI Marcos: Because we think that a fundamental, or different project, one that takes another path, is what Latin America needs. Not the path that we are seeing – above all in the case of Lula in Brazil, of Kirchner in Argentina, of Tabaré in Uruguay or of López Obrador in Mexico – which is: following the same path and – as he says – changing the horse for the horsemen. But the path is never stated. And the path is that which says: we have to maintain these macroeconomic variables and we are going to change the song that we sing along the path, or how we dress, all that, but the direction in which we are going is the same.
So, who is going to propose or from where will a proposal come that says we don’t want to go there? Not only because it brings us to an abyss, but also because what we want is something else and to change to a different path. Only the people from below and the grand social movements, spontaneous, organized, planned or that surge unseen by the mass media. That is where this is being proposed. Because this is the people, the people from below, that are seeing – at the same time that we are seeing our exploitation and at the hour that we begin to organize – a different path, another world, one where this exploitation, this looting, this racism, this disrespect, this repression, doesn’t exist.
So here the problem is not who is going to mount the horse or how the horse will be, as it is said, but, rather, to say: well, we’re seeing clearly, the problem here is not the horseman or the horse, but the path. Because we’re not going by horse, we’re not going by car, we’re just not going. They’re bringing us along at the point of a bayonet, or with tricks – according to how each person is touched – and we want to go somewhere else.
If Evo Morales, if Hugo Chávez – one in Bolivia, the other in Venezuela – or anyone in any place begins to follow another path it is going to be because fundamentally he is being pulled from below, not because he will understand things from up above. If the Cuban revolution was possible, any revolution that beats another path for a people, happened because a people said, “do it!” Although we understand that it centers around a figure: in Castro, or Guevara, in Lenin or in whoever. But fundamentally they were peoples those who turned to look somewhere else and said, “let’s go somewhere else!” And here is where political organization, the party, or the government, whatever, chooses: It will confront it – like Lula is doing in Brazil – or it will try to follow it, or try to find agreement.
But those from above are marking the path. Who is going to judge the role of Evo in Bolivia and of Chávez in Venezuela? The Bolivian people and the Venezuelan people: They are the ones that are going to say: Yes, they are with us, or no, they are not with us. Or that at times they are with us and at others times not. But fundamentally an Other Bolivia or an Other Venezuela is going to be produced from below; by the workers in the countryside and in the cities of those countries. And it’s the same anywhere else.
Now, the change of governments of Lula in Brazil, Kirchner in Argentina, and Tabaré in Uruguay doesn’t only mean, “well, they are going to administrate a neoliberal project with the left hand. We are not going to say neoliberalism, we are going to be capitalism with a human face and well managed.” It’s not just that. From here there is emerging – I think that López Obrador is the one who is proposing it in Mexico – a new Nation-State. More subordinated, more tailored, without any of the traces of autonomy and independence that the national States had before the fall of the Berlin Wall. And this remains to be seen, because everywhere it is happening, the social movement of the left that doesn’t resist is co-opted, destroyed. And when it is not destroyed, it is attacked as if it were the enemy. And at times this is the alibi that serves the right. At times, an alibi isn’t even necessary, as with the confrontations that Lula has had with the Sin Tierra movements in Brazil.
This is going to be seen according to how it all goes. The proposal in Mexico is: we’ll grab a sector of the old political class, give it a new sheen, and from that we will draw the new Mexican State. It’s the biggest stupidity in the world. I don’t know how they are swallowing it up above – they need a lot of TV spots and many cups of coffee with the intellectuals – but who is going to say that a new project of the nation is coming out of this? Or how is it put? An alternative national project – recycled from the PRI political class? No, that’s not possible.
Rebeldía: One of the statements that caused a polemic among detractors of the Other Campaign (columnists, cartoonists, etcetera) was that in which you said that the EZLN didn’t have to go to the inauguration of Evo Morales and, later, at another moment, you said that the EZLN doesn’t look toward Bolivia and later that what was being done in Mexico was the greatest fucking thing and it had no comparison in the world. To what were you referring? Could you explain a little more what it is that you are saying with phrases like those?
SCI Marcos: First, the EZLN said that it should not go to the inauguration, not just that it didn’t have to, but that it should not do it, because that would mean looking toward above. The fundamental aspect of the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle is this rupture.
Prior to the Sixth Declaration, the EZLN looked toward above. Not only toward the Evos, not only toward the columnists, cartoonists and progressive intellectuals, but also toward the Mexican government. And its privileged interlocution was with them. But now – after the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, in relation to your question – the EZLN says: we should not do this because we have chosen another path, which is to look below.
And the richness of what we see below is such that it demands more attention than any other view, and that’s why we should not do it. What’s more, ethically, it would send a mixed signal. The reproach of not going to Evo Morales’ inauguration or any other is so elemental as to say: okay, at what time will you get the passport and the visa. It was, rather, that to go off to the inauguration of Evo Morales would be an immediate endorsement of the campaign of López Obrador. It would say that, yes, it is possible to change things from above. And later, we said that the EZLN doesn’t look toward Bolivia, that it doesn’t turn its view toward the Bolivia of above, but, rather, at the Bolivia from below. And these are the values that are taken into account: those of the popular movement that caused Bolivia to crash and opened the possibility that the government of Evo could decide for one side or the other.
Now, regarding the other one, what is being done in Mexico has no comparison because the EZLN is investing everything in the process.
It’s not the story of a group of illuminati that generates consciousness in the masses and that says we are going to fight for this and we are going to convince you to fight for this. Rather, the EZLN says: we are going to construct from below. From what I know – and I don’t know much about world history – there is no other process that began this way, that leaves the fundamental definitions in the air, that sketches nothing more than the general panorama and begins to construct from below, trusting that below – trusting in the people, really – that what comes from below will be an organic proposal for the direction, the steps, the company, the rhythm, the speed. All that has been proposed even before the Sixth Declaration, as a group decision, as an organization or a group of organizations.
And then, once this movement is constructed, we think that the problem of the government – and of seizing power – becomes inverted: it stops being the central goal of a movement of transformation and it becomes just one piece more in that movement. Look out: here comes another piece, and its not excluded from this movement. Yes, it will have to be done, but it is not the stepping off point, nor the point of arrival. It is one of the steps that will have to be taken in organizing society. And, probably – we think – we can construct a global reference that won’t be a wall, like that in Berlin, but that will be something else. It is a jigsaw puzzle whose shape is not defined and that is modified with every new piece that is added. And since it is from below, the problem here is not what image it will project in the end, but rather that each piece has one’s figure and color; that one is here.
And this is what the movement that the Other Campaign is accomplishes… that the jigsaw puzzle continued being put together from below, not from above. And, eventually, the piece that is government is going to fit, or the piece that is electoral democracy, or that of rights… many things that, well, are here. But it is not the first step nor – beware – the point of arrival. But it does not attempt to avoid it, either. That is what the EZLN is saying again and again.
Click here for Part I
Click here for Part II
Coming Next in Part IV: An analysis of the attack on Atenco, the counter-attack through the mass media, the simulation of upcoming elections in Mexico and why Mexico in 2006 seems a lot like Chiapas in 1992.
This is a translation of the third part of an interview that appears in the current issue (#42) of Rebeldía magazine, a special edition about Atenco that is available throughout Mexico and will soon be available online at its website.
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