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, the city’s main square, on the roof of the same green-and-white tour bus that carried them more than 1500 miles from the mountains of Chiapas to the Mexican capital.
From the reaction of the crowd of hundreds of thousands, most of whom had been waiting in the hot sun for more than seven hours, 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 ramshackle wooden stage and declared, “Brothers and sisters, indigenous and nonindigenous, we are here for one thing: to declare that we are here and we are here with you.”
History did not repeat itself this Sunday in Zócalo: neither the history of 1919 when Zapata was shot on his way to the capital to sign a peace agreement, nor the history of 1968 when several hundred students were killed while protesting a few blocks north in Tlatelolco.
Instead, history was remade as the rebels who declared war on the government just over seven years ago were welcomed right outside the government palace in the central plaza. Through their journey, the Zapatistas have grown from a small military rebellion with international support to a vast national and international social movement. “There is no more ‘you’ and ‘us’ because we are all now the color of the earth,” Subcomandante Marcos said on Sunday. “And this is what they fear.”
The Zapatistas have announced that they will stay in Mexico City until congress votes on the San Andrés Accords and meets the group’s three conditions of dialogue. In keeping with the spirit of the caravan, during their open-ended residence in the city they will stay not in a hotel but in a makeshift space at the National School of Anthropology and History. President Vicente Fox, after expressing his welcome, has urged the Zapatistas to meet with him personally and sign a basic peace agreement.
But for the Zapatistas, constitutional recognition is just one step in their long struggle. Although a few more conservative newspapers, such as El Universal, have ruminated on the possibility of “Marcos for President,” the Zapatistas have made very clear that they are not interested in political power. “We are rebels, not revolutionaries,” said Marcos in a personal interview with Julio Sherer of the magazine Proceso. “Political power poisons the blood and muddies thought,” he has said.
For the Zapatistas, this is no time to rest. In the next few days, they will meet with legislators, intellectuals, and activists, and set the details for their address to congress. Congress plans to vote on the Cocopa law — the congressional version of the San Andrés Accords — sometime in the next month. And the next big fights are already visible on the horizon. Marcos has directly laid out the Zapatistas’ 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.
No one, probably not even the Zapatistas themselves, knows what steps they will take in the next stage of their struggle. But it is clear that the triumphant arrival in the heart of Mexico is only the beginning: “Those (in power) say we’re few, we’re weak, we’re a photo, an anecdote, a spectacle, a product whose expiration date is here,” 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.”
Zapatista Teach-In and Dance Party
Saturday, March 17, from 6 P.M. to midnight.
235 West 23rd Street
420-9045 or 646-765-7441.
Autonomous Media Project and Paper Tiger Television premiere a video documentary from the Zapatistas’ historic trek to Mexico City, journey, and observers who accompanied the caravan describe their experiences, followed by a dance party with traditional Mexican music by Heidi y Tres Estrellas.
Solidarity groups on the road:
Little Yellow Schoolbus for Peace
Official site (in Spanish):
Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional: Zapatistas’ site
Part 1: Mexico City or Bust
Part 2: Public Relations War
Part 3: Road Kill
Part 4: Indigenous Woodstock
Part 5: Cult of Personality
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