Sign Up for Free Mailing List

Narco News 2001

March 16, 2001

The Preliminaries Are Over


By Nancy Davies

Don Miguel told us the Zapatistas would ride into the Mexico City Zocalo on horseback. And I believed him.

Don Miguel is as handsome a man as I can imagine, with white hair pulled back in a pony-tail, a bushy white moustache and perfect chocolate skin. Slender, dressed in a Mexican over-blouse of lightly embroidered linen, and linen pants. He's not exactly an indigenous campesino though; he owns a natural foods store in Querétaro.

We met up with Don Miguel (and I suppose the title "don" may be a tribute to his age but more likely to his presence; he's dignified and gorgeous; perhaps that's what we all mean by "don") on route to a bar on Calle Cinco de Mayo called La Opera, which features live strolling musicians in western suit jackets, and a bullet hole in the ceiling supposedly fired by the original Zapata, or maybe Pancho Villa. The food is excellent. The bullet hole is carefully preserved with a brass washer around it.

But wait a minute. First we have to be introduced to Don Miguel on the sidewalk near our hotel when George and I encountered by chance Al Giordano, an American Zapatista sympathizer, who writes for his own internet site,, for, and occasionally still for the Boston-based Phoenix newspaper. Beneath the alleged bullet hole, between bites of huachinango, Al answered his ringing cell-phone, "Narconews!"

So, astonished exclamations all around, and we meet Don Miguel. It's the eve of the entry of the Zapatistas into DF. George and I reunited when I flew up to the capital; he had arrived via caravan and other means. I was there not just for George; I was there to see Marcos and the leaders enter the city. On horseback? "Very symbolic", says Don Miguel. And I believed him.

On Sunday March 11 George and I headed out. Coincidences are the bread and butter of Mexico. (I would need a footnote to list the many friends we ran into in the middle of Mexico City, population twenty million, but fortunately they are relevant to this account only in the context of the old leftist saying, there are only five lefties in the entire world so no wonder they are all here. Wherever we are.) Then we ran into Rafael, a man we met a year ago when he worked at the Trotsky Museum, which he abandoned for a life as a writer. Rafael takes us in tow, and we head out toward the intersection of Calle Izazaga José Martí and 20 de Noviembre, where the caravan will turn for its entry. I'm set to see Marcos on horseback.

Traffic has been cordoned off. At 11:00 A.M. the zocalo is milling with people waiting to see the 2:00 P.M. entry; with vendors of Zapatista souvenirs, straw hats and baseball caps, fruit, popsicles and bottles of juices and water. The streets are filling with people, like us walking toward some astonishing vision. Youngsters kneel on the sidewalk to paint signs of Welcome EZLN. Be-feathered Indians dance to drumming. The Mexican humanity is overwhelming in its density and richness.

Mexico in many ways frightens me. Not because of any crimes or delinquency, or even because of the dirt or heat, now edging up toward 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

It frightens me because the density of humans striving to earn their $3 per day, shouting "Batteries! Powder for cockroaches! Socks for fifty cents a pair!", jostling for space on the sidewalks to set up their plastic sheets or their snow-cone wagons, crowded along corridors. A swell of fear initiates a rolling wave of bundling goods, unfolded again after the danger is past, a sure sign of the "informal" economy.

Indigenous peoples have camped in the Zocalo in tents, and under the portico on the pavement. "Rights are not written, they are exercised." More men in cheap sandals than in boots. Regions from the north, unaffiliated with the Zapatistas except by similarity of poverty, needs and demands. "Santa Caterina Tepotzlán, we are here!" "Puebla with the EZLN!", "Fox's peace no, peace and dignity yes!" Along the thin line of shade provided by the huge flagpole people stand waiting. The Mexican banner waves and wilts with the snatches of breeze. The costumed Indians burn sage, an odor that sticks in the hot air. A TV screen shows a video about health and education.

We walk toward the intersection. A man passes carrying an infant in one dangling hand; Mexican style, the baby is bundled warmly despite the intense heat. An indigenous band passes, trumpets blaring. An older man holds up a sign, "We are here for a better inheritance for our grandchild 3 months old."

We were joined by a young woman from the caravan, white, with silver nose-rings. Who after attracting a lot of attention in our impromptu discussions eventually drifted away. We stopped several times to discuss the Zapatistas and the event. People often knew very little, sometimes knew a great deal. Rafael seems to know all the history of Mexico, all the movements, all the reasons. People clump and disperse. Sidewalk interaction is the heart of the day.

Finally we stationed ourselves at the intersection. As the Zapatista truck swung into view the crowd pushed and moved, swinging around the 20 de Noviembre corner as the commanders stood balanced. A yellow rope guarded them, a group of linked arms guarded them, we guarded them - but wait a minute. Damn, no horses! Marcos, distinguishable by his pipe and hat, waved. The other leaders waved. We didn't wave, we ran, moving so as not to get trampled until the crush diminished and we could walk at a normal pace, now retracing our steps back toward the Zocalo.

It struck me then and it does now, that there was no screaming, no teen-fan frenzy. The people shouted, "You are not alone! You are not alone!" Looking around at the crowd and the faces, it was ninety percent brown-skinned. On the street going along the route people appeared older; the younger people stood under the dismaying heat in the square.

Along the roofs and balconies "the intellectual elite" surely took their place, but also the elite who could afford reservations in the grand Hotel Majestic. And the not-so-elite were everywhere else. I saw figures under the massive green bell in the cathedral tower, small humans up on the roofs, 200,000 standing together in the zocalo in the sun.

The speeches were surprisingly on military time, 2:00. From the crowd the shouts, "You are not alone, you are not alone!" Raised arms and V-signs. The national anthem. The chant E-Z-L-N, Ay-Zayta-Ellai, Ennai! One after the other people in the audience with cardboard periscopes raised their mirrors. A man on stilts dressed to resemble Marcos hobbled through the crowd. "Greetings" from the stage. The invisible leaders, introduced by an invisible voice. I am too short, I stand on my aching legs and listen to fragments: "never in the 500 years of retreat to the mountains...the earth, moon, sun and Indians...chose to sign accords or make war against the people...we are here only to say we are more 'you' and 'us'...the color of all, not the color of money."

"You are not alone!" the crowd shouted. The Zapatista anthem sung on stage. The woman standing next to me burst into tears.

When it was over I realized I had not known which one was Marcos speaking.

Ya se mira el horizonte
combatiente zapatista
el camino macará
a los que vienen atrás.

Now you see the horizon
Zapatista warrior.
The road is marked
For those who follow.

Vamos, vamos, vamos adelante
para que salgamos en la lucha avante
porque la patria grita y necesita
de todo el esfuerzo de los zapatistas.

We are going, we are going, we are going forward
so we may advance the struggle
because the country cries and it needs
all the strength of the Zapatistas.

Hombres, niños y mujeres
el esfuerzo siempre haremos.
Campesinos, los obreros
siempre juntos, todo el pueblo.

Men, children and women
we will always be strong.
Campesinos, workers
always together, all the people.

Vamos, vamos, vamos adelante
para que salgamos en la lucha avante
porque la patria grita y necesita
de todo el esfuerzo de los zapatistas.

We are going, we are going, we are going forward
so we may advance the struggle
because the country cries and it needs
all the strength of the Zapatistas.

Nuestro pueblo dice ya
acabar la explotación.
Nuestra historia dice ya
lucha de liberación.

Our people say enough!
It's the end of exploitation.
Our history says enough!
Now is the struggle for liberation.

Vamos, vamos, vamos adelante
para que salgamos en la lucha avante
porque la patria grita y necesita
de todo el esfuerzo de los zapatistas.

We are going, we are going forward
so we may advance the struggle
because the country cries and it needs
all the strength of the Zapatistas.

Ejemplares hay que ser
y seguir nuestra consigna
Que vivamos por la patria
O morir por la libertad.

There are examples of how to be
and to follow our signals
So we may live for the country
or die for liberty.

The next morning, Monday, we went out again to the Zocalo. Lined up against the wall of the municipal palace a hundred indigenous men and women stood holding the red flags with the black axes and hammers of their struggle Frente de Lucha Popular. Their signs were hand-scrawled on cardboard with magic marker. These people from Guerrero had walked eight days to get here - but not for the first time. They represented 56 communities, more than 700 people from San Luis Acatlán. And the signs read: Primary School. Electrification. Clinic. Secondary school. Housing. Potable Water. A Car for Municipal Services. Day Work. Community Store. Fences for Family Parcels. Musical Instruments. Roofs on Houses. Road Repair. Musical Band. Typewriters. Sound Equipment. Ball Field. Teachers. Medicine. Street Pavement. Sewer System. Interview With the Secretary of Development (SEDESOL). WE DEMAND.

One leader, Eliseo Emiliano Francisco, told us the people are from four indigenous groups in Guerrero; and Ñahñü from Hidalgo and Toluca, in the state of Mexico. Most of them speak no Spanish, and Eliseo apologized to me, "My Spanish is not very good."

"Nor mine," I replied.

A caravan group came with the Zapatistas, but these, lined up against the wall, are long-term, here to stay until their demands are addressed. A brown-skinned woman less than five feet tall told us they had no choice but to be here - they are starving. The price of their coffee crop has fallen to one peso per kilo - ten cents. They have no money for communication by phone, no money to return except on foot. They have little to eat. Tears stood in her eyes. I looked around me. We had become the center of yet another sidewalk group. Two men, one Mexican, one foreign, pulled out tape recorders. The woman said they had come with a truck of sugar cane and pineapple but the police grabbed them.

The police told them to take off their blouses and pants. They stole their money. The police stole their food.

"They said 'Go Back', but where? There's nothing. Aid goes to the rich, and fuck the poor. We've been here twelve weeks. We want to buy a TV so we'll know what's going on, what the government is saying." They've been told that three people can go in to negotiate, but the deputy who was supposed to be here at 11:00 has not yet appeared. It's now 12:00. An old woman in our small crowd says, "It's not the army that owns your land; it's yours!" She hands the small woman a fifty peso bill. "Buy food!"

What these people want is exactly what the Zapatistas want for everyone, including the army out and the political prisoners freed. But they plead for government assistance, too. Their people are on the brink of starvation.

As I try to think of what I have heard for the past five years, I would say: home rule, or autonomía; human rights and specifically rights for indigenous people, inclusion in the political processes of an indigenous voice. La Jornada published an article on March 12 by Floriberto Diaz, a Mixe born in the mountains, who died several years ago. Diaz lists as the fundamental rights of indigenous people world-wide 1)the right to land or territory; 2)the right to be recognized as a people; 3)the right to free determination; 4)the right to their own culture; 5) the right to their own system of justice.
Of all these, only the first strikes against a wall which Fox and the neoliberalists will not easily dismantle. Territory means their land cannot be opened to exploitation for oil, minerals, gas, bio-diversity, whatever, without the express consent and participation of its occupants.

Fat chance.

The struggle represented by the townships that receive no services whatsoever as the monies drift away in the hands of caciques or outright thieves, seems to me to be more easily met. And it will be in the interests of Fox to say, See we gave them this and that; we gave them electricity and musical instruments and we gave them food and sewer systems and typewriters. No problem. WE gave THEM, is the message, and will be the fact.

But for the lands held in Chiapas and other heavily indigenous states like Oaxaca, how will Fox wrest territory for, let's say, the vaunted Panama-Puebla plan? How will he comply with the San Andrés Accords and still get the goods?

The preliminaries are over.

The Battle Is Only Beginning