Words of the Indigenous Revolutionary Clandestine Committee-General Command of the EZLN, in the voice of Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés, on the 26th Anniversary of the Start of the War Against Oblivion
December 31, 2019. January 1, 2020.
Good afternoon, good morning, good evening, good day to everyone, [todas, todos y todoas]:
To the compañeras and compañeros who are Zapatista bases of support:
To the compañeras and compañeros who are Zapatista comandantas and comandantes:
To the Zapatista autonomous authorities:
To the compañeras and compañeros who are milicianos, milicianas, insurgentas and insurgentes:
To the National Indigenous Congress – Indigenous Governing Council:
To the National and International Sixth:
To the Networks of Resistance and Rebellion:
Brothers and sisters in Mexico and throughout the world:
Through me, the Zapatista Army for National Liberation speaks.
I read in a book that in the old days, the rulers wanted to call together armies to defend the lands they governed. First, they called up the cruelest men because they supposed that these men were accustomed to blood. So they drew their armies from the prisons and the slaughterhouses. But it turned out that when these people stood face to face with the enemy, they turned pale and threw down their arms. Then the rulers turned to the strongest men – the stonemasons and the miners. To these men, they gave armor and heavy weapons and sent them out to do battle. But again, the mere presence of the enemy instilled weakness in their arms and dismay in their hearts. The rulers wisely then turned to men who were neither strong nor fierce nor bloodthirsty, but were simply brave and had something rightly to defend – the land they worked, the women they slept with and the children whose laughter delighted them. And when the time came, these men fought with so much fury that they drove off their enemies and were forever free of their threats and persecution.” [i]
Sisters, brothers, hermanoas:
It was 26 years ago, on an afternoon like this one that we came down from our mountains to the big cities in order to challenge those in power. At that time, we had nothing more than our own death – a double death, because we were dying a physical death and also a death of oblivion. We had to choose: whether to die like animals or die like human beings who struggle for their lives.
So it was that when dawn broke on that January 1, we had fire in our hands.
The big boss we faced then is the same one who despises us today. He had another name and another face, but he was and is the same ruler.
We rose up and a space was opened for the word. So we opened our heart to the hearts of other sisters and brothers and compañeros, and our voice was met with support and comfort from all the colors of the world from below.
The big boss engaged in tricks and deception; he lied and continued with his plan to destroy us, just like the big boss does today.
But we resisted and kept the flag of our rebellion hoisted high. With the help of all the colors of the world, we began to build a project of life in these mountains.
Doggedly pursued by the strength and lies of the big boss, then as now, we have kept firm in our work of building something new. It’s true that we have made mistakes and errors. We will surely make more on our long journey.
But we have never given up.
We have never sold out.
We have never given in.
We sought all possible means to make words, dialogue and agreement the path to constructing freedom with truth and dignity. But then as now, the big boss played deaf and hid behind lies. Now as then, under the big boss’ rule, disdain is the weapon carried by his soldiers, police, National Guard, paramilitaries and counter-insurgency programs.
All the big bosses who have come before, and those who are in power today, have done the same thing: they have tried and continue to try to destroy us. Every year the big bosses console and deceive themselves with the idea that they’ve done away with us for good—that there are no Zapatistas any more, that there are very few of us left who resist and rebel, that perhaps there is only one Zapatista left. They celebrate this triumph each year and congratulate themselves saying that they’ve gotten rid of those indigenous rebels. They say we’ve been defeated.
But every year, we (nosotras, nosotros, nosotroas) Zapatistas show up and shout: Here we are!
And each year, there are more of us.
As any person with an honest heart can see, we have a project for life. In our communities, schools and health clinics flourish. We work the land collectively. We support each other collectively. We are a community, a community of communities.
Zapatista women have their own voice and their own path. Their destiny is not one of violent death, forced disappearance, and humiliation. Zapatista children and young people have healthcare, education and many different opportunities to learn and have fun.
We maintain and defend our language, our culture, and our way of life.
We remain firm in our commitment to fulfill our duty as guardians of Mother Earth.
We have done all of this thanks to the strength, the sacrifice, and the dedication of our organized communities, and also thanks to the support of individuals, groups, collectives, and organizations around the world. Our obligation to them is to build life with their support. That is why we can say, with no shame, that our advances, our achievements, and our triumphs are due to their support and help.
The mistakes, errors, and failures are ours alone.
But just as our lives have grown and advanced, so has the strength of the beast that wants to eat and destroy everything—that machine of death and destruction called the capitalist system. That beast’s hunger is insatiable, and it is willing to do anything to make its profits. It gives no thought to the destruction of nature, entire peoples, millenarian cultures, or entire civilizations. The planet as a whole is being destroyed by the beast’s attacks.
But the capitalist hydra, the destructive beast, tries to hide behind other names in order to attack and defeat humanity. One of the names behind which it hides its project of death is “megaproject,” which means the destruction of territory—the entirety of a territory, including the air, water, land, and people.
The beast uses the megaproject to snuff out entire peoples, mountains and valleys, rivers and lagoons, men, women, others, and children. Once it finishes its destruction in one place, it’s off to another territory to do the same thing.
The beast’s trick—its deception—in hiding behind these megaprojects is to fool people into thinking that it stands for progress, that thanks to these megaprojects people are going to have wages and all of modernity’s advantages.
Now, in speaking of progress and modernity we have to remember our compañero of the National Indigenous Congress who was murdered this year: our brother and compañero Samir Flores Soberanes. We remember him now because he was always asking for whom all this progress was for. Our brother Samir always asked where the path of progress led, if “progress” was the sign worn by the beast of the megaprojects.
His own answer was that that path led to the destruction of nature and the death of the original communities. He voiced his opposition clearly and organized with his compañeras and compañeros to resist, without fear. And that’s why the current Ruler had him killed. The bad government murdered him because its job as overseer is to make sure that the beast, the overall Ruler, gets its profits. But neither the overseer nor the Ruler will admit that these megaprojects sow death wherever they are built.
A few days ago, our Zapatista compañeras held an International Gathering of Women Who Struggle. They have told us, taught us, and educated us about what they saw and heard during that gathering, and what they have described is a hell for women and children. They told us about murders, disappearances, rape, contempt, and diabolical violence, all of which occur within the “progress” of supposedly modern civilization.
A few days ago we were also with our compañeros of the National Indigenous Congress-Indigenous Governing Council, and then at the Forum in Defense of Territory and Mother Earth. During these gatherings we listened with concern to what people talked about: deserted villages with their populations expelled from their homes; illegal criminal massacres and sometimes “legal” ones as it is often the government itself which carries out such barbarities; little girls and boys abused and sold off like animals; young people, men and women, whose lives are destroyed by drugs, crime, and prostitution; the extortion of small businesses, sometimes by thieves and sometimes by politicians; contaminated springs, dried up lakes and lagoons, trash-clogged rivers, mountains destroyed by mining, forests laid to waste, animal species gone extinct; whole cultures and languages killed off; campesinas and campesinos who before worked their own land and now work as peons for a boss; and mother earth slowly dying.
As the Zapatistas that we are, we declare that only an idiot could say that the megaprojects are good things—and idiot or a cunning villain who knows he is lying and doesn’t care that his words hide death and destruction. So the government, and all of its defenders, should state clearly which they are: idiots or liars.
A year ago, in December 2018, the overseer who now rules over the plantation called “Mexico” carried out a sham in which he asked mother earth’s permission to destroy her. He had a handful of people there dressed up like indigenous peoples and they laid down chicken, liquor, and tortillas as an offering to the land. The overseer thinks that with this charade, Mother Earth has given him permission to kill her and impose a train that should really be named after his own family. [ii] This shows his contempt for original peoples and for mother earth.
But he didn’t stop with that. He then challenged the original peoples, saying he didn’t care what we thought or felt, that whether the indigenous peoples “like it or not,” he was going to do what he was told by his boss, the real Ruler, in other words: capital, just like the overseers during Porfirio Díaz’ time. That’s what he said and that’s what he’s still saying, because just a couple of weeks ago he carried out another sham—a supposed referendum [consulta]—where people were only told great things about the megaprojects but none of the tragedies they bring for people and nature. Even so, only a few people participated in the referendum to vote in favor of the megaprojects.
If that’s how he disrespects the thought and feeling of the people, he’ll be equally disrespectful of nature and our communities. And that’s because his boss doesn’t care about people or nature, but only about profits.
When the government says “like it or not,” what that really means is, “With you all dead or alive, we’re going to do this. We as Zapatista peoples take this challenge seriously, that what he is saying is that he has the force and the money on his side and who will dare to oppose his orders. He is saying that he’s going to do what he chooses, not what the peoples choose and he doesn’t care about their reasons. We as Zapatista peoples take up our part in that challenge. We know that the current overseer for the powerful is asking us a question. He’s asking us:
“Are the Zapatista peoples willing to lose everything they have gained in their autonomy? Are the Zapatista peoples willing to suffer disappearances, imprisonments, murders, slander, and lies in order to defend the land that they keep watch over and take care of, the land where they are born, raised, grow up, live, and die?”
And with these questions, the overseer and his security forces put this challenge to us: “dead or alive, you will obey.”
In other words, he is asking us if we are willing to die off as a societal alternative, as an organization, as original peoples of Maya roots, as guardians of mother earth, as Zapatista individuals.
As Zapatista peoples we do things our own way and on our own calendar. We also made an offering to mother earth here in our mountains: instead of liquor, we offered her the blood of our fallen in the struggle; instead of chicken, we gave her our flesh; instead of tortillas, we offered her our bones, because we are the people of corn. We made her this offering not to ask permission to destroy her, or sell her, or betray her, but just to let her know that we will defend her—and we will give our lives to do so, if necessary.
We did some accounting of how many people it would take to defend the land. It turns out that one Zapatista is enough. One Zapatista woman, or one Zapatista man, or one Zapatista other, whether they be old, young, or just a child is enough. One Zapatista dead set on defending the land so that Mother Earth knows that she was not abandoned or left alone. One person dead set on resistance and rebellion is enough.
We went to the collective heart that we are in search of one Zapatista person willing to do anything and everything to defend her. We didn’t find one, or two, or one hundred, or a thousand, or ten thousand, or one hundred thousand. We found an entire Zapatista National Liberation Army willing to do anything and everything to defend the earth.
So we have our answer to the question asked us by the overseer. Our answer is:
“Yes, we are willing to die as guardians of the earth. Yes, we are willing to be beaten, imprisoned, disappeared, and murdered as Zapatista individuals.”
The overseer has his answer, then. But, as is our style as Zapatistas, our answer carries with it a question for the overseers:
“Are the bad governments willing to try to destroy us, at whatever cost, to beat us, imprison us, disappear us, and murder us?”
Sisters, brothers, hermanoas:
Compañeros, compañeras, compañeroas:
We call you to this task:
As the National Indigenous Congress-Indigenous Governing Council…
As individuals, groups, collectives, and organizations of the national and international Sixth…
As Networks of Resistance and Rebellion…
As Human Beings…
Ask yourselves who of you are willing (dispuestos, dispuestas, dispuestoas), to stop this war on humanity, each of us from our own geography, on our own calendar, and by our own ways, and when you’ve thought about it and you have your answer, let the bosses and overseers know. Every day, in every corner of the earth, the beast asks humanity the same thing. Only the answer is missing.
From the mountains of Southeastern Mexico In the name of all of the Zapatista women, men, and otroas,
Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés.
Mexico, December 31, 2019 – January 1, 2020.
[i] Passage from Canek: History and Legend of a Maya Hero (1940) by Ermilo Abreu Gómez, a novel dramatizing part of the life of Jacinto Uc de los Santos (1730-1761), an indigenous Maya from the Yucatan Peninsula better known as Jacinto Canek who led an uprising against the Spanish in 1761. This uprising was a precursor to the Caste War that began in 1847. Translation based on that by Mario L. Dávila and Carter Wilson.
[ii] The government’s name for the railroad megaproject slated for five states of southern Mexico is the “Tren Maya,” widely criticized for the environmental destruction, displacement, and dispossession it would imply for the territories of the Mayas.