Comandanta Ramona: the first of many steps

Comandanta Ramona

By: Raúl Romero*

On October 12, 1996 in the Zócalo of the capital, in front of thousands of people, a small woman with a giant heart, brilliant eyes and a sincere gaze, dressed in a white Tsotsil huipil with red embroidery, and covering her face with a ski mask, took the microphone and pronounced an important message: “I am Comandante Ramona, of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN, Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional). I am the first of many steps of the Zapatistas into the Federal District and all parts of Mexico. We hope that all of you will walk alongside us.”

It was the first time that a member of the Indigenous Revolutionary Clandestine Committee of the EZLN (Comité Clandestino Revolucionario Indígena del EZLN) arrived in the city, which meant not only breaking the military siege, but also reenforcing the dialogue and meeting with many other native peoples and social sectors of Mexico: “We came here to shout, along with everyone, that never again a Mexico without us,” Ramona said. And she continued: “That’s what we want, a Mexico where we all have a dignified place. That is why we are ready to participate in a great national dialogue with everyone. A dialogue where our word is one more word in many words and our heart is one more heart within many hearts.”

In clandestinity Comandanta Ramona had played a key role inside of Zapatismo. She participated in a revolt inside the revolt, or what the late Sup Marcos called the “EZLN’s first Uprising.” Together with Comandanta Susana and other women, before January 1, 1994, Ramona promoted the “Women’s Revolutionary Law,” a document that among other points established that “women, without importance to their race, creed, color or political affiliation, have the right to participate in the revolutionary struggle in the place and grade that their will and capacity determine.”

Ramona became the most visible figure for several generations of Zapatista Maya women who went from living in submission to the colonialist, patriarchal and capitalist structures, to being at the front of a political-military insurgent organization. Let’s remember, for example, that in the middle of 1993 Chiapas finqueros (estate owners) exercised the “derecho de pernada” in the families of their peons; in other words, they practiced their “right” to rape women who married one of their peons. In 2013, regarding the escuelita zapatista (little Zapatista school) –an initiative in which the Zapatista communities showed thousands of people from all over the world their achievements in everyday life–, different women support bases told how that practice led to the “Women’s Revolutionary Law.” The exercise was fantastic, and also led to a proposal to expand the law with 33 new articles.

In May 2015, 20 years after the war against oblivion, at least six generations of Zapatista women, shared their word on how the situation has changed for women in those 20 years. The stories, compiled in the “The struggle as Zapatista women that we are” section of the book titled Critical thought versus the capitalist hydra I, are exceptional documents of collective and trans-generational self-evaluation. There, the Zapatista support base Lizbeth said: “We as […] young Zapatistas of today, no longer know what a capataz (foreman) is like, what a landowner or boss is like […]. We now have freedom and the right as women to give our opinion, discuss, analyze, not as before.” In the same sense, in April 2018, at least six generations of Zapatista women would recount the advances and the challenges of Zapatista women.

A painting of Comandanta Ramona by Ariel Segura.

Comandanta Ramona died on January 6, 2006, but her steps continue resonating in Zapatista Chiapas, in Mexico and in the whole world. In 2019, in the Seedbed “Footprints of Comandante Ramona,” the 2nd International Gathering of Women Who Struggle with thousands of women from different countries would be celebrated, and in 2021, the “Zapatista Land-Sea Training Center” would be installed there,” the place in which the almost 200 Zapatistas who would later travel by ship and by plane to rebellious Europe would stay.

Comandanta Ramona was the first of many steps of the Zapatistas into the Federal District, and she was also the first part of a long road ahead: one that has led them to travel to other parts of the world, and that has also invited them to rethink the multiple dominations in exploitive relationships. 29 years after the war against oblivion, Zapatismo continues to be a dream that encompasses many worlds, and Comandanta Ramona became a star that guides their navigation.

* Sociologist

Twitter: @RaulRomero_mx

Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada, Wednesday, January 11, 2023, and Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee

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