Querétero, Querétero — Governor Ignácio Loyola vowed to hang Subcommandante Marcos. As the caravan snaked along the deserted highway, surrounded by fields of nopal cactus and blue-green hills, a small band of supporters waved signs and shouted, “Querétero is with you.” Then caravan bus No. 38 lost control of its brakes, sped out of control along the shoulder, hit two motorcycle police, and crashed into a truck, which hit the bus carrying the Zapatista delegates. One of the policemen was killed, the other seriously injured. Four other people were hurt as well. The driver of bus No. 38 disappeared immediately, leaving some to wonder about the timing of the accident.
The accident has required the Zapatistas to think seriously about security for the first time on the march. Although the caravan stops sometimes have the intense passions (and screaming teenagers) of a Britney Spears concert, the Zapatistas walk to each stage with only a few volunteers to keep away the crowd. The rebel leaders speak from simple wooden platforms set up in each town square. There are no video monitors, press packets, or bodyguards. There’s not a cell phone or laptop computer in sight among the caravan coordinators. Although there are 75 official caravan vehicles, only five federal police cars and seven motorcycles accompany the group. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which provided the Zapatistas with security during past peace talks, refused them escort this time.
After the crash on the highway, the Zapatistas chose the Italian group Ya Basta! to act as security. Four Ya Basta! buses now follow the Zapatista delegates and at each stop they form a human barricade around the Zap bus.
The increased visiblilty of the Italians has created some problems for the caravan. Some Mexicans have denounced the march as “pure gringos.”
“I think it’s foreigners who started it all,” said Betty Martínez, a schoolteacher in Querétero. “The Indians of Chiapas are poor, how could they get the money to get all those guns and to do this tour?”
The Zapatistas, in reply, seek to convey the idea that Zapatismo is fundamentally a Mexican ideology. The front of the bus is draped in both the Zapatista and Mexican flags. The banner atttached to the back of the Zap bus reads, “We are rebel dignity, the forgotten heart of Mexico.” In Querétero, Subcomandate Marcos gave Governor Loyola a “free history lesson,” reminding him that when Emperor Maximilian sought refuge in Querétero over a hundred years ago, it was “the traitors like him who were hanged, not the patriots like ourselves.”
Midway through the Zapatista caravan, the warring calls for peace from Marcos and President Vicente Fox begin to echo each other. During the day, in stops in Morelia and Nurío, Mexicans come out by the thousands to hear Marcos calling for “peace with dignity and justice.” At night, watching TV or listening to the radio, they have the oddly disorienting sensation of hearing Fox’s badly written version of the same speech, saying the country needs peace, but “peace with justice.” All of Mexico, Fox says, wants peace. The question many accompanying this caravan are asking is whose peace? And at what price?
As the third National Indigenous Conference gets under way — a two day gathering in the mountains of central Mexico — the question is whether the Zapatistas and other indigenous leaders can get the message out that peace, indeed, will require fundamental change, not the least of which is an increase in indigenous rights and autonomy for Mexico’s 62 indigenous groups (approximately 10 million people). As Marcos said in Actopán, “Mexico will have to choose the kind of peace there should be in this country — an advertising dove, or one which flies and doesn’t leave anyone underneath anyone else.”
Next: Indigenous leaders in Nurío develop a unified strategy; an interview with one of the Zapatistas.
Solidarity groups on the road:
Little Yellow Schoolbus for Peace
Official site (in Spanish):
Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional: Zapatistas’ site
Part 4: Indigenous Woodstock
Part 5: Cult of Personality
Part 6: Rebels Enter Capital
Part 1: Mexico City or Bust
Part 2: Public Relations War
On the Road With the Zapatistas is a two-week, on-the-scene series that will chronicle the historic trek of Subcomandante Marcos and the Zapatistas from the Lacandon jungle to Mexico City to demand rights for indigenous peoples.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 27, 2001