[This transcript is very long and we have divided it into 2 parts. Here’s part 1. Part 2 is below in a separate post.]
Part I of Transcription of the EZLN Press Conference with the free, autonomous, alternative, or whatever-you-call-it media, August 10, 2014, in La Realidad Zapatista, Chiapas, Mexico.
The words of SubGaleano
Good morning Gotham City… whenever you finish taking pictures of the stage over there, we’re going to start the press conference over here.
Please take your seats so that we can start in a few minutes, and so that afterward you can take your departure. Please find your places compañeros, compañeras. Please sit down.
Good morning Gotham City (that is a greeting to a compañero who uses that as a twitter handle).
What you just saw a few moments ago is what in military terms is called a diversionary tactic, and in laymen’s terms is called magic. And what took just a few minutes to actually happen, took someone 20 years of work to make happen that way. [i]
We want to begin, taking advantage of the fact that we have the free, autonomous, alternative, or whatever-you-call-it media here, as well as compañeros from the national and international Sixth, by thanking you. And in order to thank you, I am going to tell you the story of a death.
This August 25 marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of Infantry Lieutenant Insurgente Eleazar. In 2004, really in 2003, he began to show signs of the kind of illness that only appears on Doctor House or stuff like that. It is called Guillain-Barré, and it consists of a gradual decline of all systems of the body until the patient dies. There is no cure, and the patient must be kept connected to life support.
When he began to get sick they took him to a hospital in Tuxtla Gutiérrez. They diagnosed him with this illness and told him that he should just go home, that it wasn’t that serious. But when I heard what he had I knew what they meant by those instructions. The doctors, when they saw that he was indigenous, knew he would not be able to pay for treatment. It’s really treatment for survival, not a cure.
#&*%^$*… let’s see if the milicianos can be moved into the shade, they’re going to be cooked alive out there, Lico…
The eye patch is so everybody thinks I have a glass eye, but I don’t. Me and my damned ideas! Now I have to walk around with this thing on.
So, this illness… in Chiapas, and I imagine in the rest of the country, doctors calculate whether the patient is going to be able to pay for treatment or not. If, according to their calculations, the answer is no, then the doctor tells the patient they don’t have anything, gives them a few placebos so they think they are going to get better, and sends them home to die.
But we refused to accept that. We began to spend from the war funds, the resistance funds, until we couldn’t maintain him any longer. At that point, we’re talking about 2003 when a certain artistic intellectual sector still loved us, we asked them for help so that we could keep our compañero alive. They laughed at us. Apparently the indigenous can die of smallpox, measles, typhoid, all these kinds of things, but not of such an, shall we say, aristocratic illness, as Guillain-Barré, which happens to only one in a million.
When we couldn’t maintain him any longer, we took Lieutenant Eleazar to Oventic and, with the equipment we were able to get there, we kept him alive until one August 25, ten years ago, when he died.
Ten years later, along with the tragic assassination of the compa Galeano, paramilitaries from the CIOAC-Historic destroyed the autonomous school and clinic here in La Realidad, the ones that belonged to the local Zapatistas. In order to rebuild, we didn’t go to those people [the artist-intellectual sector] for help, but to the people below, our compañeros, compañeras, and compañeroas of the national and international Sixth.
Compañero Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés, present here, and Comandante Tacho, along with the Zapatista authorities of La Realidad and the compañeros who do carpentry, calculated the necessary materials and came up with 209,000 pesos and some change. At that point we were thinking:
Well, this crowd is really down and out, maybe really scraping the bottom of the barrel they will be able to come up with half of the money and we can take the rest out of the resistance fund or ask for support from the other caracoles.
You already know the story of what happened next, because you are the protagonists. And by “you” I don’t just mean those of you who are here, but all of those who, through you, find out what happens here, that is, our compañeros, compañeras, and compañeroas of the Sixth all over the world. You quintupled the request; in the last accounting we did, the support that had come in quintupled the budgeted amount.
We want to say thank you for this; never before has the EZLN received so much support, and this support from below was more than those who do have money had ever given. Because we know that the compañeros of the Sixth didn’t give what they had leftover; they gave what they didn’t even have. We have been reading in your free media, your twitter accounts and on your Facebook pages, stories that fill us with pride.
We know that many of you struggled to come up with the funds to come here, that some even struggle to feed themselves every day and to have a fresh pair of—I was going to say underwear—of clothes, and that despite that you made the effort to find a way to come and demonstrate what support between compañeros looks like, as opposed to hand-outs from above.
So the first thing I want you to tell your compañeros and compañeras all over the world in your languages, tongues, ways, times, and geographies, is thank you, for real. You have given a beautiful lesson not only to those above who divvy up crumbs as hand-outs, to the governments who abandon their obligations and even promote destruction, but also to us; it is the most beautiful lesson that we Zapatistas have received since the Sixth Declaration was released.
The point of this press conference is to honor a promise. Originally this press conference was going to be held in Oventic, along with the exchange with indigenous peoples that was meant to happen there. Later it was going to happen when we had the funeral for compañero Galeano, the homage that is. And it was principally meant to say the last words or the farewell of Subcomandante Marcos, and the first words of Subcomandante Insurgente, now Galeano—at that point it was going to be another name.
It’s important that I tell you what this event was going to be, that is, how we had conceived it, in order to propose to you another possible reading of the homage to Galeano and this transition between death and life that was created by the disappearance of the late Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, due to whom the devil is holding his nose. Now it must be said, that was one good-looking guy, to each their own… That was sarcasm, I don’t know if you got it… I can still distinguish these things.
Look, compañeros, in order to understand what happened in the wee hours of that morning of May 25, you have to understand what had happened before, what was going to happen. I have read and heard various interpretations that are more or less correct, and a whole bunch that are absolutely ridiculous, about what that May 25 morning meant. Some are quite clever, such as for example the one that proposed that it was all a trick to avoid paying child support.
But most accounts completely disregarded everything that had happened. For example, they said that the Zapatistas had said that the paid media don’t exist, that they were now the enemy, that this was an action aimed against the paid media, etc. But if you have even a little bit of memory, you’ll recall that in the original invitation the event was open to everyone, when it was to be held in Oventic. That meant the paid media could also attend.
What was gong to happen originally was that Marcos was going to die and bid farewell to the paid media, explaining how we viewed them and thanking them kindly and then he was going to speak and introduce himself to the free, alternative, autonomous, or whatever-you-call-it media. What I am implying is that one reading, perhaps not the most correct, is that what happened in the wee morning hours of May 25, 2014, meant that the EZLN was changing interlocutors. That is why I told you the history of the late Infantry Lieutenant Insurgente Eleazar, war veteran, who fought in 1994.
Yes, the Zapatistas have not only not said that the paid media don’t exist—somebody out there circulated that stupidity—but we said something entirely different: that what is happening with the paid media has nothing to do with us and has everything to do with the advance of capitalism at a global level.
The paid media present something truly marvelous within capitalism because they represent one of the few times that capitalism has managed to convert non-production into a commodity. Supposedly, the job of the communications media is to produce information and circulate it for the consumption of its various audiences or listeners. Capitalism has managed to pay the media to not produce, that is, to not inform.
What has happened over the past few years is that with the advance of mass communications media that are not privately held—that is, they are currently being litigated or disputed, such as the battleground of the internet—the traditional press has lost power—both the power of dissemination and of course, the capacity to communicate.
I have a few facts here and I am going to cite the author because he asks that he is cited any time his information is used, Francisco Vidal Bonifaz. He does an analysis of the print runs of the principal newspapers in Mexico (note: it is probable that the speaker is referring to the book “Los Dueños del Cuarto Poder”, published by Planeta editing house, where the author Francisco Vidal Bonifaz does an exhaustive analysis of the press in Mexico. In this book and in the blog “The Wheel of Fortune,” ruedadelafortuna.wordpress.com, you can find this information, the print run of each publication, as well as the economic and educational levels of their readerships, etc. The book and the blog are recommended for anyone who wants an in-depth understanding of the situation of the Mexican Press. Note courtesy of “Los Tercios Compas,” “The Odd Ones Out”). The newspapers classified as the principal newspapers in Mexico, in that inverse provincialism characteristic of Chilangos [people from Mexico City], are the ones that are produced in Mexico City, even though the print run of newspapers produced in the states may be greater.
In 1994 they put out, sometimes in a more than a figurative sense, more that a million copies of the principal newspapers. In 2007, production had fallen to 800,000, and the number of readers had gone down scandalously. One way or another, investigative journalism and journalistic analysis, which is the ground on which the paid media would have been able to compete with the instantaneous information possible through the internet, was abandoned or left aside.
The paid media, which really isn’t an insult, it’s a reality; it is media that lives off of money, right? Some may say “no, the thing is that “paid media” sounds really bad, it’s better to say ‘commercial media’.” But commercial media sounds worse than paid media.
Newspapers don’t live off their own circulation, that is, off the sale of their paper; they live off of advertisements. So in order to sell advertisements they have to show those buying advertising space what public they are targeting, who their readers are. For example, they say—and this is data from before and up to 2008 because after that all of the newspapers censured any information about their own publications—that El Universal and Reforma took about 70% of the paid advertising in Mexico City, and the other newspapers fought over the remaining 30%.
So each newspaper has a profile, we could call it, of its readers —a particular class strata and educational level it targets— and that is what it presents to companies buying advertising space. So if I am El Despertador Mexicano and my primary consumers are indigenous people, then I’m going to sell one page of advertising space to El Huarache Veloz [The Fast Huarache] in order to sell huaraches or pozol or whatever. [ii]
The thing is that all of the newspapers, absolutely all of them, including those that say they are leftist, present an analysis of their readership profile that has 60 to 70% of their readers in the upper ranges of buying power. The only ones who openly recognize that their readers are of low buying power and low educational background are Esto, Ovaciones, and La Prensa. All the others target the upper class, that is, those above.
It is evident that this class with high buying power can reach information via a more instantaneous route. Why wait for the newspaper to come to see what is happening in another part of the world if in an instant I can know what’s going on in Gaza, for example? Why I am I going to wait for the TV news or the newspaper if I can see it immediately?
There is no competitive terrain there, because what the super-high speeds of these forms of media means is that the idea of first or exclusive access to news vanishes in the face of high-speed competition. So all of these media outlets, including the progressive ones, are fighting for a rating, that is, for an upper middle class and upper class audience. There is another class that is very rich, beyond every measure; I think they’re the ones that produce the information.
Paid media have only two options in order to survive, precisely because they are paid. They can contract their survival with those who can still pay, that is, the political class, in return for its commercials and propaganda, but in its own way. You can see this in the fees that each newspaper charges for a full page ad, a half page, three quarters page, down to the smallest section you can buy, and there is a special charge for non-commercial advertising, which are the governmental advertisements, and another fee for the “miscellaneous” news, for example those interviews that no one knows why appear in the newspaper because nobody cares what that person has to say—those are paid. The highest fees are for the non-commercial ads, that is, the ones paid by the government, and the miscellaneous news—paid insertions disguised as information.
The other option they have is to develop investigative journalism and journalistic analysis that isn’t offered on the Internet. Well, it wasn’t offered on the Internet until spaces like what we now call free, autonomous, alternative, etc. media existed. What they could do is make an analysis, a dissection, of the information that is flowing through incoherently, and investigate what’s behind it, for example, the Israeli government’s policy in Gaza or Manuel Velasco’s policy in Chiapas and so on, wherever the case may be.
No one with even minimum standards informs themselves about what is happening through the newspapers. (You are all a bad example because you are neither upper nor upper middle class, if you were you wouldn’t be here.) But, who says, “well I want to understand what’s going on in Chiapas, I’m going to read the profound journalistic analysis of Elio Henríquez?” Nobody.
Nobody says, “What’s happening in Gaza?” I’m going to read Laura Bozzo to see how it is being explained.” No, that terrain has been completely abandoned [by newspapers], now it is webpages and blogs that cover that terrain.
This lethargic withdrawal or disappearance of the paid media is not the responsibility of the EZLN, nor of course of the late SubMarcos. It is the responsibility of the development of capitalism and the difficulty of adapting to the new terrain. The paid media are going to have to evolve into entertainment media, that is to say that if I can’t inform you, then at least I can entertain you. Because, as any honest reporter from the paid media will tell you, they can’t have an impact via investigative and analytical journalism, “the thing is if I write that, they won’t publish it.” And the newspaper earns more for not publishing those kinds of articles than for publishing them.
That’s what I mean about how non-production becomes a commodity; in this case, silence itself. Any reasonably decent journalist with even minimal ethical responsibility who does an investigation on the involvement of the state governments of Salazar Mendiguchía, Juan Sabines Guerrero, and Manuel Velasco with the CIOAC-Historic will find that there is a lot of money moving around there, including the money that Mrs. Robles distributes from the National Campaign Against Hunger.
But it is more marketable to not publish that article than to publish it, because who is going to read it, the enemies of these heroes of the homeland? On the other hand, keeping quiet about that and talking instead about how nice the capital Tuxtla Gutiérrez is looking with the new urban developments that municipal president Toledo and Manuel Velasco are putting into place will sell well, even if it’s all a lie. We check the twitter accounts of the paid journalists, those who work for the paid media that is, and they are in fact reporting on this, on the image of war presented in the Chiapan capital by these totally anachronistic and absurd constructions.
But for example, people from Veracruz come here, and I think if we said, “Well, if we want to see what’s going on in Veracruz we read the Xalapa Herald” (if that even exists), they would say, “Man, Sub, don’t fuck around, those people have nothing to do with anything.”
So the problem the whole world has is that if there is no longer information, nor analysis, nor investigation in the communications media – if there indeed at some point ever were – then where are we going to find these things? There is a gap, then, in the media sphere that is currently in dispute.
What we were also trying to signal in that farewell was that the media that had so prided themselves on creating media figures—they were so proud of having themselves created Marcos—now, despite their efforts, can’t manage to create an international figure much less a national one, even when they are paid to do so, as in the case of López Obrador.
It can’t be done. Now the figures that have emerged, that have moved people or moved information at a national level, are created not by the media but despite them. I don’t know if I’m saying it correctly, but Julian Assange became a referent when his revelation of documents showed the communications media at a global level that they were not reporting what was happening. Although he is part of a collective, the media only report on him. There is even a film about him as a person, even though we all know it is a collective at work.
The young woman Chelsea Manning, who underwent an operation to become Chelsea Manning, and Snowden—what all of these people have done is uncover what was hidden and what should have been the work of the communications media to reveal. But those who have truly disrupted the world of information are the collectives where the individual is completely dissolved, like Anonymous. You hear it said “but nothing is known about Anonymous anymore, they don’t show themselves,” which is absurd because if they are anonymous how are we going to ask them to show themselves.
In sum, what we have seen is that the anonymity of the collective is coming to replace and to put into crisis that penchant of those above to find, and make in the media, individuals and personalities.
We think that this has a lot to do with the form or structure of the media. If the structure of the paid media is the envy of any army in terms of verticality, authoritarianism, and arbitrariness, the media collective—that is the alternative, free, autonomous, etc. media—has another structure of being and way of working.
In the paid media, what matters is who does the reporting. If you look at what came out in the paid media on the 20-year anniversary of the uprising in January of this year, the majority of the articles were about what journalists did 20 years ago, not what happened during the anniversary: “I interviewed Marcos,” “I did such-and-such interview,” “I was the first to get in,” “I wrote the first book.” What a shame that in 20 years they haven’t done anything else worth remembering.
But this is the kind of thing that carries weight. The exclusive. You have no idea how important it is and what a journalist will do to get “the exclusive.” The exclusive right to have the last interview with Marcos or the first with Galeano has a value and a cost, even if it is not published, because as I said, keeping quiet is also a commodity and can be sold.
In contrast, I want to think that in the collectives to which you belong and in others that couldn’t come, the way you work makes the information more important than who produced it. There are of course those who still have to learn to write properly, but the great majority can compete with their ingenuity, analysis, depth, and investigation of what is happening.
What we see is that in this shitstorm that is the capitalist world, the question is, where do we get information? If we go to the Internet and Google something, such as Gaza, we can find there that the Palestinians are a bunch of murderers that are burning themselves alive just to demoralize the Israeli army, or the reverse. You can find pretty much anything. Where are you going to find information about what is really happening? Ideally, the Palestinians would tell us what was happening themselves, not through others.
In this case, for example, we say, wouldn’t it be better to know what the Zapatistas themselves are saying? Wouldn’t that be better than someone else saying what they think we should have said, not even what they think we said, but what we should have said. Like those who say that in the text “The Light and the Shadow,” Marcos says he’s not going to write anymore, which means Galeano isn’t going to be able to write. But they didn’t notice that when everyone else bid farewell, the cat-dog remains. There are a lot of things one can examine there, but that doesn’t matter right now.
What we want to point out is that the best information is that which comes from the actors themselves, not from the person who is reporting on the event. Those who can do this are the free, autonomous, and alternative media. What I am explaining to you, compañeros and compañeras and compañeroas, is still a tendency, not something that is happening right now. Meaning, don’t start acting like peacocks saying, “now we’re the shit and the whole world depends on us.”
It is a tendency that we see due to that curse we’re under of seeing things before they happen. We see that the paid media, as information media, are in free fall, not through any fault of their own, but because they embraced a political class that is also in decline. They did this in order to survive and that is understandable.
We do not criticize those who work for the press and make their living from this. We do think that dignity and decency have a limit and there are limits that are being crossed, but this is something for each person to evaluate on their own; we are not going to judge them. But what we do see is that the problem for the paid media is survival, and while their [long-term] possibilities for survival indicate one direction, they are going in another, one of more immediate concern.
In the long run that paid media, like anything you buy and consume, is going to disappear. Why would you buy the newspaper if you can check the internet? But additionally, you aren’t going to look for information there; you aren’t going to look there for analysis of what’s happening.
So we think, if we want to know what’s happening in Michoacán, ideally it would be people from Michoacán who would tell us. We think that if people in other parts of the world or the country want to know what’s happening with the Zapatistas, there should be at least some space where they can find out.
What I mean is that we are not looking for militants for that work, militants of Zapatista communication; for that we have the cursed idea of the “Odd Ones Out” Press [Los Tercios Compas]. What we want are listeners, so that people who want to find out what is going on can find something that is true, or they can find an in-depth analysis or a real investigation, keeping in mind that the important thing is the news or the information, not who produces it.