Rebel Dignity

Dispatches From the Zapatista Trek to Mexico City

Timoteo Adame, a 70-year-old man from near Anenecuilco, waited since five in the morning for the Zapatistas' arrival. He had written them a long letter, thanking them for reviving Zapata and asking that they ask congress to help fix the unpaved, impassable roads in his village. One young man held a sign: "Marcos is the son of Zapata, and I am the son of Marcos."

In Cuautla, where Zapata's tomb rests, an anonymous group calling itself the National Voice distributed a newspaper denouncing the "pretend Zapatistas" and declaring that Marcos belonged in jail, and not in Los Pinos, where President Fox resides. "We have a democratically elected president," said a taxi driver in Cuautla, who asked not to be named. "Who elected Marcos?"

Mexico City is preparing itself not for an election but an invasion of people who want to witness the caravan's entrance into the city. Streets have been closed off and people are sleeping in the Zócalo, the city's main square. And on every newspaper cover, on every T-shirt, Marcos's masked face stares out. For many Mexicans as well as foreigners, Marcos has the extra-political appeal of a messianic leader. Marcos has begun to directly address the cult of personality that follows him everywhere he goes. "I am just a mark," he said in Tepotzlan. "Nothing but a point, a mirror between worlds."

History, remade: The rebels who declared war on the government seven years ago were welcomed right outside the governmental palace.
photo: Tim Russo
History, remade: The rebels who declared war on the government seven years ago were welcomed right outside the governmental palace.

Mexico City—The Zapatistas did not, as some rumors had it, arrive in Mexico City on horseback. They did not, as some had insisted, march in on foot. Instead, they entered the Zócalo on the roof of the same white and green tour bus that carried them 1900 miles from the mountains of Chiapas to the Mexican capital. From the reaction of the crowd of about 100,000 they might as well have dropped from the sky. Shouts of "No están solos!" (You are not alone!) filled the plaza as the Zapatistas stood on the narrow, quickly constructed wooden stage and Marcos declared, "There is no more 'you' and 'us' because we are all now the color of the earth. And this is what they fear."

History did not repeat itself on Sunday, March 11, not the history of 1919 when Zapata was shot on his way to the capital, nor the history of 1968 when several hundred students were killed while protesting a few blocks north of the Zócalo. Instead, history was remade as the rebels who declared war on the government just over seven years ago were welcomed right outside the governmental palace. The Zapatistas have grown from a local military rebellion with international support to a still-expanding national and international social movement.

The Zapatistas have vowed to stay in Mexico City until congress votes on the San Andrés accords, which may take more than a month. In keeping with the spirit of the caravan, they will stay in a makeshift space at the National School of Anthropology and History.

Although some newspapers have ruminated on the possibility of "Marcos for President," the Zapatistas insist that they are not interested in political power. "We are rebels, not revolutionaries," Marcos said. "Political power poisons the blood and muddies the thought."

Some of the next big fights are already visible on the horizon. The Zapatistas have declared their opposition to Plan Puebla-Panamá, an international development deal signed by Fox that would create a corridor of tax-free high-tech and clothing factories from central Mexico down to Panama. They have also criticized the upcoming meeting of the Free Trade Area of the Americas summit in April in Quebec.

Was the caravan successful? Certainly, the Zapatistas have returned to center stage nationally and internationally. But it is far from clear whether congress will pass the San Andrés accords, and what that might mean. If the Zapatistas renounce their declaration of war, they may channel some of the support of the caravan into a sustained social movement.

No one knows what is next, not even the Zapatistas themselves. But it is clear that, for the Zapatistas, the arrival in the capital is only one stop on the journey: "Those [in power] say we're few, we're weak, we're a photo, an anecdote, a spectacle, a product whose expiration date is near," said Marcos in the Zócalo. "We can be with or without faces, with or without arms or firepower, but Zapatistas we are; we are and always will be."

For an expanded version of this report, see "On the Road With the Zapatistas" by Rachel Neumann.

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