The Zapatista Caracoles: Networks of Resistance and Autonomy

By Pablo González Casanova

A New Way of Thinking and Acting

Among the rich contributions of the Zapatista movement toward building an alternative is the recent project of the caracoles (conches),1 which undercuts many empty promises put forward by politicians and intellectuals. The project of the caracoles, according to Comandante Javier, “opens up new possibilities of resistance and autonomy for the indigenous peoples of Mexico and the world—a resistance which includes all those social sectors that struggle for democracy, for liberty and justice for all.” As a commentator in Spain noted: “Zapatismo has become a tool which can be used by all rebellious forces that sail the sea of globalization. It invites us to build towards community and autonomy with the patience and tranquility of a snail.”

The idea of creating organizations to be used as tools to achieve certain objectives and values, and to ensure that autonomy and the motto mandar obedeciendo (“lead by obeying!”) do not remain in the sphere of abstract concepts and incoherent words, is one of the most important contributions of the caracoles. Its creators are conscious of the limitations and the possibilities of the project.

Subcomandante Marcos recognizes with a mixture of modesty and enthusiasm that the caracoles constitute “a small part of the world that we aspire to, which is made up of many worlds.” They will be, he affirms, “like doors which allow entry to communities and which allow the communities to exit; like windows so that people can look inside and so that we can see outside; like megaphones to project our words into the distance and to hear the voice of the one that is far away. But above all to remind us that we should watch over and be responsive to the totality of the worlds that populate the world.” His words reflect the facts.

When the government failed to respect the San Andrés Accords2 and refused to recognize the rights of the indigenous peoples, thus reneging on its commitments, the Zapatistas did not call to arms. They started to build up the autonomy of the “rebel territories” (communiqué of 19 July 2003). They decided to set up “autonomous municipalities” (an objective which they had certainly raised since the beginning of the insurgency). The communities chose their own local authorities and delegates who would carry out their mandates at the various levels, knowing that if they did not fulfill them they would be removed from their posts. At the same time they continued to push forward practical measures for mandar obedeciendo. They also strengthened the special links of solidarity between the local communities of different ethnic groups. In addition, they formed larger units which included various municipalities and which were known as the “Aguascalientes,”3 today replaced by the caracoles.

The change has meant several things; among the most important would seem to be the transformation of areas of solidarity among like-minded localities and communities into a network of autonomous municipal governments, which in turn conjoin to form government networks encompassing wider areas and regions. All the communities are involved in building up essential government networks, as well as broader alliances. In all cases, they implement internal and external policies, of neighborhood and village, of the group of villages that make up the municipality, of the villages and authorities that connect various municipalities, and so on.

The scale and extent of this new project reflect this movement’s capacity to redefine its rebel agenda, in both thought and action, while at the same time maintaining its fundamental goal of a world with democracy, freedom and justice for all. What is more, in its reflections and elaborations the EZLN continues to use that particularly original style of thinking and acting which combines the narrative of old Antonio — who remembers the past to construct the future — with the utopias and dialectical certainties of Durito, the modern, post-modern and anti-systemic knight errant beetle.4

In reality a great part of what the caracoles propose has already been expressed since the very beginnings of the Zapatista movement, as the struggle for “autonomous rebel municipalities.” However, this and other fundamental concepts were forgotten or misunderstood by many compañeros, brothers, sympathizers, adversaries and enemies.

The new proposal of the caracoles not only clearly redefines concepts which lent themselves to the most diverse interpretations, debate, and even opposition, but formulates and proposes an alternative approach to organizing (both intellectual and social) which, starting with the local and the particular, moves on to a national and eventually a universal level. At both its starting point and its end-point, it leaves its participants fully responsible for how to make that journey, whether from the big picture to the small or vice-versa, or using both methods and dividing the work with one path for some and one for the others.

The project will have succeeded when the struggles for autonomy have evolved into networks of autonomous peoples. Its objective is to create — with, by, and for the communities — organizations of resistance that are at once connected, coordinated and self-governing, which enable them to improve their capacity to make a different world possible. At the same time, the project postulates that, as far as possible, the communities and the peoples should immediately put into practice the alternative life that they seek, in order to gain experience. They should not wait until they have more power to do this.

The project, moreover, is not built on the logic of “state power” which entrapped previous revolutionary or reformist groups, leaving the main protagonist — be it the working class, the nation or the citizenry — bereft of autonomy. Nor is it built on the logic of creating a society without power — a logic which prevailed among anarchist and libertarian groups, surviving in such infelicitous expressions as “anti-power” (which even its authors do not understand) and revived now with concepts of self-government of a civil society “empowered” by participatory democracy, which knows how to have its interests represented and how to control its representatives.

The project of the caracoles envisages the direct rule of pueblos-gobierno5 which are inter-connected and which seek to impose peaceful routes wherever possible, without depriving themselves of moral or physical weapons — especially in situations where the repressive organs of the State and local oligarchies, with their various systems of cooptation and repression, are waging an increasingly aggressive and cruel war using the neoliberal weapons of hunger, unsanitary conditions, and “enforced ignorance” on the immense majority of the people, in order to weaken them and even to decimate or remove them if necessary when the techniques of intimidation, cooptation and corruption fail to achieve their ends.

The new proposal of the caracoles combines and integrates in practice both approaches: that of constructing power through networks of autonomous villages and that of integrating existing organs of power as self-governing bodies for those who are struggling for an alternative within the system. The proposal is anti-systemic in that the creation of autonomous rebel municipalities strengthens the people’s capacity for resistance and for the creation of an alternative system. Both policies — that of construction and that of integration — are indispensable for a politics of resistance and for creating communities and networks of communities that will make the strengthening of democracy, dignity, and autonomy the basis for any strategy for struggle.

The caracoles give communities engaged in resistance a new way of exercising power, in which their commanders bow to the communities’ authority in formulating and implementing plans for struggle and organization. They do so without giving up the right to express their opinion, but they must always respect the autonomy and dignity of persons and communities, who see in any paternalistic attitude — in any “humanitarian” act of generosity — something akin not only to the “civic action” of the enemy, but also to the mistaken actions of friends, brothers and compañeros who have not understood the importance of committed and respectful solidarity.

The caracoles express not so much an ideology of power of the pueblos-gobiernos as they do a culture of power that arises from 500 years of resistance by the Indian peoples of America, which inserts itself into universal culture in order to construct a world which is multinational, multicultural, with different civilizations, but which at the same time has the characteristics and values common to those who created it.

The changes that led the Zapatistas to formulate the caracoles plan represent a most novel approach, which we should spell out clearly for ourselves without fear of making mistakes, or of being corrected by those who find in it or give it a different meaning. We must also make this way of thinking, now identified with Zapatismo, into a kind of common sense, in which our distinct ways of thinking, of expressing ourselves and of acting will appear. The necessary dialogue will highlight affinities and differences and will make possible common languages and increasing points of consensus, which will facilitate multicultural steps toward an alternative world.

Although the “way of thinking” is not everything — to it we must add the “truths of the heart,” so important to Mayan culture, we must be continuously working it out, for ourselves and others, through dialogues and examples which reflect its application from the start of the Zapatista project through the period of the San Andrés dialogues, when they fought for the rights of the Indian peoples, until now, when they assume those rights that they were officially denied. In this new phase of their history, the Zapatistas are building a peaceful transition towards a viable world which is less authoritarian, less oppressive, less unjust, and which can continue to struggle for peace with democracy, justice and liberty.

Their more or less constant method of acting and thinking seems to have seven main characteristics: The FIRST consists of combining rather than separating. Instead of saying or doing “this or this,” they say and do “this and this.” The whole is much more than the sum of the parts: it is the combination of the parts. Allies must avoid practices of exclusion. The power to resist increases when the Indian peoples join together not only among themselves, but also with non-Indian peoples who are struggling for the same goals, provided always that personal, religious, cultural or tactical differences are respected. The SECOND characteristic consists of generalizing the concepts while generalizing the networks of communities. When thoughts are generalized, taking into account the thinking social actors who join networks of resistance, it is easier to identify problems of unity in diversity and to recognize when different actors are waging the same struggles (whether in the same way or in different ways). Thus, for example, if one generalizes about the union of distinct Mayan communities and if one then goes on to encompass Nahoan, Mixtecan and Tarasco communities, the generalizations are enriched with the particular experiences that the other communities live and express. The strength of current generalization is even greater when it includes peasants, workers and students who think and act with the same goals but who may have different strategies and tactics for reaching them.

In the THIRD place, the method allows for increasingly profound understanding, making it possible to tell who may strengthen the resistance and who may weaken, corrupt, or destroy it, whether deliberately or not. The concept and strength of the networks grows deeper (and this is a FOURTH characteristic) when both action and reflection move from struggle against the local boss to struggle against the governor who supports him, and from there upwards to a whole “type” or “class” of “rich and powerful” that support not only the local boss against whom they are fighting, but also other bosses, politicians and businessmen who support any of the transnational companies that dominate or seek to dominate vast territories with projects such as “El Plan Puebla-Panamá.”6 Suddenly we realize, individually and collectively, that the struggle against the local boss is not just the struggle of one people, but of various peoples, and that all “men of power and money” not only support the local boss or bosses when they feel themselves to be threatened, but will even unleash a secret or open war using conventional or non-conventional, military and paramilitary weapons, with the aim of defending their interests and values and of winning new riches, territories, and settlements whose inhabitants they see as future desplazados (displaced people), enterrados (buried people) or asalariados informales (contingent workers). FIFTH: In order to resist this assault of the rich and powerful, which has been repeated again and again for 500 years, it is necessary to gradually increase the connections between like-minded forces that currently or potentially are fighting for the same objectives in los Altos or the forests of Chiapas, or wherever, in Mexico and in the world.

A SIXTH characteristic is “to go beyond…,” in the sense of rising from the abstract or the formal to the concrete or actual. This brings together the need to overcome any weakness from the past with the need to maintain from the past whatever gave strength to the resistance and to the construction of an alternative—with all the adaptations suggested by the narrative of the old Antonio. A SEVENTH and last characteristic in this incomplete list has to do with utopias; it involves the need to go beyond the ideas of the knights errant who seek to “right wrongs,” and to construct social systems—personal, social, and cultural relationships—that could eventually attain such goals as “democracy, justice and liberty.” This is the characteristic of the dreams and the impertinences of Durito, those subversive dreams and impertinences nourished by the imagination of the entire world, Mayan or non-Mayan, Western or non-Western, classical or modern or postmodern.

Here it would seem necessary to explain that in any case the methods of old Antonio and of Durito come together. Both affirm the dignity of individuals and collectives as an unshakable element of strength — non-negotiable, and the fiercest weapon against the dictatorship of the market and commercial colonization of life. To be effective, dignity is based on autonomy of both the individual and the collectivity. Not only is it inclusive, in the best liberal tradition of respect for all beliefs, religions, races, nationalities and civilizations, but it encourages all those who want to build a different world—Indians and non-Indians, Mexicans and non-Mexicans — to organize themselves in autonomous networks where they live, bringing in close and distant neighbors, conversing with them, sharing their dreams, and going far beyond solidarity (which is valid but insufficient) to build networks of autonomous peoples and other forces in the struggle for a world of democracy, justice and liberty.

The project of the caracoles is the synthesis of many earlier Zapatista demands. It links up with all those forces that fight against neoliberalism, against economic and military war that wreaks havoc in the countries subject to systems of debt and plunder imposed by the World Bank, the IMF, the World Trade Organization, the great powers headed by the government of the United States and its allies and local subordinates such as the current Mexican government, and all the parties that in the Mexican Senate and Chamber of Deputies denied and stripped the indigenous peoples of those rights that they had promised to recognize.

The short-sightedness or blindness of the dominant forces is such, and their arrogance and capacity for self-deception so obstinate, that they cannot see the immense opportunity that is opening up with the march of the caracoles, to impose a peaceful historic change by means of direct negotiation and without cooptation. The Zapatistas offer a new route to peace for Mexico, with doors and windows open to humanity.

A New Structuring of Power

The caracoles approach, grounded in the old “Aguascalientes,” allows for the restructuring of power by peaceful means, within the framework of the Constitution. Without losing its subversive commitment, it generates a new legislative logic that comes from civil society and whose innovative character quite likely extends like the firmly drawn spiral that don Antonio engraved in the bark of a tree.

From the concise explanation of Comandante Brus Li (9 August 2003) and others that sum up the nature of the caracoles, one can derive certain priorities of political action towards the restructuring of power. These priorities will certainly spread among many alternative movements (inside or outside the system) in a universal dialogue, which is real and not just virtual, distant and close-by, as is already happening with websites and listserves, meetings and marches from Lacandona and the World Social Forum to Seattle and Cancún.

To define what the caracoles priorities mean for the restructuring of power in various parts of the country and the world, presents difficulties of translation from one language to another, from a metaphorical language to another which is more or less direct, from a particular social-historic and cultural reality to a different one. One must take into account the different aspirations of different populations, rural and urban, of all the regions of the world. The generalizations and the universal explanations are clear enough, and this allows us to identify more precisely the remaining differences which must be respected and preserved and those which must be addressed in the global dialogue. Good conceptual, rational and emotional translations facilitate the understanding of what the Zapatistas are trying to do with the foundation and organization of the caracoles—that rare metaphor which contains something of Mesoamerican culture and something of the most profound and up-to-date critical thought. The masses will have to analyze apply common concepts with the necessary variations. They will have to prioritize dialogue and debate—the kind of argumentation which approaches the most treasured objectives with precision but which recognizes the point at which, for the sake of mutual understanding, it becomes necessary to step backwards, repeating this process until one arrives at fundamental consensus.

From the words of Subcomandante Marcos, we can see that the caracoles signify consciousness of what is internal and what is external, the vision of someone who looks not only at himself but at others, someone who motivates himself and others—however far away they may be, and however lost they may be in their dreams and their hideaways—to participate in increasingly effective actions in order to achieve the intended goals. The right way to listen and to talk is suggested by the Mesoamerican myth of the gods who entrusted one of their number to hold up the sky. In order to fulfill his mission, the “sostenedor del cielo” hung a shell at his chest and with it he listened to the sounds and the silences of the world to see if everything was good, and with the shell he called the other “sostenedores” so that they would not fall asleep or so that he could wake them” (4 August 2003). Another myth links the ancient teachers of the Mayas with the heart of Pascal in a new philosophy for the “Age of Communication,” which posits knowledge as the alternative power.

A correct reading of the principles of the thought/action of the new Zapatista organizations encompasses everything from knowledge of self to the high points of historical development. Beyond this, a greater understanding of the metaphorical, narrative, reflective, accusatory, and persuasive texts of the EZLN requires that each one of its expressions be associated with the enormous capacity for resistance that the Zapatistas have demonstrated during those years of siege and pain, poverty and deception, without all this having destroyed their hope, their resolve, or their immense capacity for seeking new ways of building another possible world, in words and deeds.

In this same spirit, it is useful to outline some of the priorities of the caracoles, putting in context what is sometimes said about them while keeping in mind the obvious—that this is only one reading and that there may be others, even by the same authors:

1. To create an effective autonomy within the legal and national framework, and not to depend on the State recognition to organize it, which means to take upon oneself both the task and the implementation of autonomy and self-government. Self-government takes responsibility for applying the principles of democracy, justice and liberty, and for making these norms explicit within its communities.

2. To combine participatory democracy with electoral democracy, giving democracy its real meaning: government of the people, for the people and with the people, with the self-governing bodies being multi-ethnic and respectful of different beliefs and philosophies, as well as of a secular approach to education, research and cultural diffusion.

3. To move from oppositional spaces, which generate hope and plans of action, to “Juntas of Good Government” that listen, act, decide and lead, obeying the communities and their territorial organizations.

4. To take on the role and logic of “legislator of the alternative” in order to put into effect the rights of the Indian peoples in organizing their autonomy. The Good Government of the caracoles should be the first to recognize and exercise these rights in order not to act arbitrarily as does bad government. If some rules should prove inconvenient in practice, the Good Government will change them after consulting with the communities. If the Good Government should become a bad government, it will be removed by the communities. (A custom, moreover, much practiced in Mesoamerican cultures and which today is enriched by the experience of other cultures and political organizations that aimed for self-government but did not achieve their aim because of mistakes or because of populist or autocratic governments over which they lost control).

5. To fix in good time any breach of autonomy or unity, since both are the strength of communities and can only be preserved if Good Government prevents, with the daily exercise of democracy, the formation of mafias and systems of patronage that break away from their communities in order to satisfy merely personal or group ambitions, as happened in many countries of America, whose oligarchies since the 19th century destroyed the Bolivarian ideal, or in Yugoslavia, whose failed project for self-government was the origin of the mafias which, after the debacle, displayed and augmented their ill-gotten fortunes and their inveterate authoritarianism. If morality is not simply an illusion, it is suicidal to forget the historic lessons of immoralities past and present. These lessons are clear within Zapatismo, when it denounces those who abuse power or bow before power, those who use their power to make personal and paternalistic concessions and gifts, and those that vilely receive such gifts.

6. To have the capacity to change as a rebel without ceasing to be one. To have the integrity to move without hesitation from armed insurrectional projects to projects of negotiation (as in San Andrés) or to strategic positions in the resistance (e.g., after Congress denied the rights of the Indian peoples) or to the restructuring of local power with the caracoles networks after a long period of eloquent and reflective silence, during which the experience of preliminary and local organization of autonomous good government made it possible to envisage a project with strong national and international links.

7. Having abandoned the forcible taking of power, to build the power of communities as a project combining the micro and macro levels of organization, with variations as needed according to country or region. At this point it is again necessary to clarify that the Zapatista project does not fit anarchist or libertarian logic, however up to date it might be, nor with the logic of taking over or reforming the State, however discredited the latter may be. Rather, the project seeks to build power from a base in civil society, conscious that in many parts of the world when political struggles have been exhausted and the people are suffering armed persecution, that project obliges the inhabitants to exercise the right to defend themselves and their homes. Then if at some point they consider taking up arms in rebellion against a power which is unjust, oppressive, predatory, exploitative and exclusory, they once again confirm their peaceful disposition with a new path which as far as possible will be rebellious but will operate within legal frameworks, and which will do everything necessary within its political and social structures to prevent cooptation, which would damage the autonomy of persons and communities. The politics of dignity starts with the self-respect which demands and elicits respect from others.

The struggle to construct power, from small communities and municipalities to entire zones and regions, is the real struggle of the Zapatistas. It contributes importantly to the accumulation of force needed for the transition to a new world, but without in any way implying the validity of some kind of “general theory” whereby everyone, everywhere, all the time must be working toward the transition in the same way — an absurdity believed in only by those who forget the vastness and variety of the world.

The Zapatistas are neither anti-party nor seeking to found a party. The Zapatistas do not propose to take over the State, nor do they wish to fight in the elections as a new State party. They seek to follow the new path of building autonomous communities and networks of communities. If this results in a “redistricting” and “remunicipalization” recognized by the Government, this fact, like the San Andrés accords, will certainly not imply any concession of principles; it will simply allow the people to continue their struggles within a formally recognized legal framework.

In any case, the policy of redistricting and remunicipalizat ion presupposes, as minimum requisite and proof of good faith on the part of the Government, that the military and paramilitary will cease their harassment of the Indian peoples. The end of such harassment is indispensable if a new path is to be forged. If this does not take place, it is because blindness and pettiness continue to prevail in the government—attitudes which led Congress to reject the Indian peoples’ rights, going against the will of the Mexican peoples and the Mexican nation. The lack of legal recognition of autonomy will cause difficulties but will not stop the march of the caracoles, whose project is consistent with the Constitution and with the right of association of peoples and citizens.

8. To clarify that while the new policy is neither insurrectional nor reformist nor libertarian nor anarchist, it recognizes the validity of many categories discovered by these movements and also by movements before them, such as the liberals and patriots of our America; however, in any case it relies on the collective thought and action of the Indian peoples in order to find the definitions and languages that communicate critical, alternative, systemic and anti-systemic thought, in its distinct reformist, revolutionary, nationalist or libertarian versions and experiences.

Furthermore, it is necessary to point out repeatedly and in all ways possible that there are elements of European and North American postmodernism, in its more creative and radical manifestations, that are and will be included in the texts and contexts of Good Government with its present limitations and with those that appear through the doors and windows of “the smallest of the alternatives,” from anywhere in the world. This is not just a Zapatista or indigenous, or Chiapan or Mexican project, but one that seeks out dialogue with similar projects everywhere.

9. To stress that the project of the “Caracoles” goes from mere protest or demonstration to resistance and the organization of thought, will and action. It has as its priorities education and health policies, and it seeks to resolve as far as possible problems of food, clothing and housing, work and just retribution for the communities and workers. At the same time, it encourages basic commercial networks between communities, small-scale producers and traders within the “informal economy” giving preference to local and national markets. The limitations and contradictions within these areas are well known by the Zapatistas. Their aim is to endow those that seek to stand up for themselves with a greater capacity for resistance in the face of “unfair trade” and “unequal terms of exchange,” by connecting local markets and producers as part of a politics of survival. The ability to achieve better “terms of exchange” with the “main centers” or exploiters that buy cheap and sell dear will depend on the networks that they forge and on their performance when the communities are restructured in the face of the colonized markets. There is no doubt that this is one of the most difficult things to resolve and that it is precisely the one facing the poorest of the poor: the exploitation of ethnic workers in all senses, and the particularly unfair trade with the ethnic groups.

10. To restore respect for women, children and old people as a deep-rooted custom of daily life.

11. To support and to find support in the authentic organizations and movements of workers, peasants, students, marginalized urban settlers, the “displaced,” national and foreign migrants, ecologists, and in the movements of gender, age and sexual orientation, those that defend lands and territories, social and individual human rights.

12. To adopt and give voice to the growing struggle within Latin America and in the world as a whole against neoliberal policies of looting, pillage and conquest; those that are particularly threatening being the FTAA, the Proyecto Puebla-Panamá and the World Bank, the IMF, and the World Trade Organization, and the triad of the United States-Japan-Europe with its network of collaborators and hangers-on.

13. To radically oppose any act of terrorism (whether State or non-state) and any collaboration or business with drug dealers.

14. To establish information and cultural networks, with spaces for reflection and local, regional, national and international dialogue, thus promoting not only true information and socio-political dialogue but also the dialogue of “universal arts and sciences.”

Up to now, the project of the caracoles would seem to confirm the decision of the Zapatistas and the Indian peoples to fight peacefully for the rights of their peoples, for democracy with autonomy and self-government. It seeks also to link its fight for democracy, justice and liberty with other peoples of Mexico and of the world. In practical and political terms, it tries to impose a negotiated transition in order to attain the rights of Indian and non-Indian peoples.

The project of the caracoles aims to increase the strength of the peoples and their networks so that they can achieve negotiated solutions based on non-negotiable principles. Conscious of the fact that it is only “a very small part” of the world movement, Zapatismo challenges and demands an end to the war of impoverishment, to military and paramilitary harassment, to cultural and social discrimination, to policies of lack of sanitation, of ignorance and hunger, that have claimed so many victims in Mexico and in the world. This goes beyond mere rebukes to imperialism and collaborationist governments, their bosses and the mafias. Indeed, it proposes a worldwide alternative, not only to the oppression and dictatorial domination of peoples, but also to the colonialist offensive of neoliberal imperialism and to the world capitalist system. In its fight for democracy, liberation and socialism, it seeks to overcome the bad experience of earlier revolutionary, reformist or autocratic governments. The new universal project, born among poor peoples, tends to bring together all existing struggles and to enrich them with struggles for political morality and for the autonomy and dignity of individuals and communities — and, to begin with, for doing oneself what one would wish others to do.

1. The conch is a large and cavernous seashell, pointed and spiral, which can amplify sounds – both what one hears and what one emits. The indigenous people of Chiapas, writes Subcomandante Marcos, “held the figure of the conch in great esteem.” It was, for them, a symbol of knowledge and of life. They used it “to summon the community” and as “an aid to hear the most distant words.” Marcos, Chiapas: La Treceava Estela, July 2003.

2. Agreements signed in February 1996 between the Mexican government and EZLN representatives in the town of San Andrés Larrainzar, Chiapas. The government recognized Indian people’s autonomy and agreed to enact the necessary Constitutional reforms that would guarantee indigenous political participation and indigenous political and cultural rights. The March 2001 Senate approval of a constitutional reform disregarding the proposal elaborated by the government appointed Peace Commission (COCOPA) based on the San Andrés Accords marked the end of the negotiations maintained until this moment by president Vicente Fox.

3. Name given to certain towns in EZLN-controlled territory in reference to the Convención Revolucionaria (Revolutionary Convention) held in the town of Aguascalientes on October 1914 by representatives of the popular armies led by Emiliano Zapata and Francisco Villa as counter to the increasingly conservative position assumed by the middle-class and elite constitucionalista fraction of the Mexican Revolution.

4. Recurrent characters in subcomandante Marcos’s writings. Durito (the “little hard one”) of the Lacandón, a knight-errant and beetle with a penchant for storytelling, represents subcomandante Marcos’s “other self.” Marcos, the beetle’s lackey, endures verbal abuse, sleepless nights, and many hours of dictation with great humor and a healthy dose of self-mockery. Through his tales of Don Antonio, a Mayan shaman whom Marcos comes to know in the course of a decade, the author passes on the oral tradition that has been kept by the indigenous communities. As Marcos’s editor Juana Ponce de León remarks, these characters “serve to highlight the indigenous belief that only by asking questions do we begin the process of change and that everyone is needed to ask and answer questions together…” See Juana Ponce de León, ed., Our Word Is Our Weapon: Selected Writings by Subcomandante Marcos (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2001), p. xxvii.

5. Literally, “people-governments,” as distinct from representative assemblies.

6. The brainchild of President Vicente Fox of Mexico and sponsored by the Interamerican Development Bank, the Plan Puebla Panama is a multi-billion development project encompassing the eight Central American governments and nine southern Mexican states and aimed at the transformation of this impoverished and conflictive region of more than one million square kilometers and 64 million people into a free-trade zone.

From El nacimiento de los caracoles, 9 August 2003
(; audio versions at
*Comandante Brus Li, Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN), “Plan la Realidad-Tijuana”
Comandante David, EZLN, “Palabras de Bienvenida”
EZLN, “Palabras para los hermanos indígenas que no son zapatistas”
EZLN, “Palabras de clausura”
Comandanta Esther, EZLN, “Para los pueblos Indians de México”
Comandante Fidelia. EZLN, “A las mujeres”
“Fragmento de la presentación de radio insurgente”
EZLN, “A las juntas de buen gobierno zapatista. A los municipios autónomos rebeldes zapatistas. A la sociedad civil nacional e internacional,”
Comandante Omar, EZLN, “A los jóvenes”
Comandanta Rosalinda, EZLN, “Resistencia y autonomía”
Comandante Tacho, EZLN, “Para los campesinos de México”
*Comandante Zebedeo, EZLN, “Para los pueblos del mundo”
Subcomandante insurgente Marcos. EZLN:
Chiapas, la treceava estela (Pt. 1): “un caracol”; (Pt. 2): “una muerte”; (Pt. 3): “un hombre”; (Pt. 4): “un plan”; (Pt. 5): “una historia”; (Pt. 6): “un buen gobierno”; La Jornada, 24-29 July 2003.
“Falso,” el reporte sobre encuentro con la Cocopa: Marcos, La Jornada, 7 August 2003


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