A light mist was falling in Selva Lacandona on the night of May 24, 2014. More than 2,000 Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) base supporters, dozens of the organization’s militants, members of the free media, and some 800 members of the Sexta (EZLN sympathizers) filled the basketball court at the Caracol of La Realidad, where the Autonomous Zapatista Government is headquartered.
They were sure that Subcomandante Marcos would mount the stage, where a table with two chairs and a microphone had been placed. They were expecting a speech about José Luis Solís López, better known as Galeano, the head EZLN base supporter assassinated on May 2 at the Caracol of La Realidad by members of the Historic Independent Agricultural Workers and Campesinos Central (CIOAC-H) – an organization the Zapatistas call “paramilitary” – of the National Action Party (PAN) and the Green Ecologist Party of Mexico (PVEM) – represented in Chiapas by Governor Manuel Velasco Coello, whom the EZLN consider the “ultra paramilitary boss.”
Galeano, who had been head of the Zapatista Little School and candidate for a seat on the Good Government Board of La Realidad, was killed by three bullets, beatings with a club on various parts of his body, and a machete strike to the mouth during the attack, which was the first violent incident at a caracol (community center whose name refers to the spiral shell of a snail in Spanish), and can be seen as an attack on the very idea of Zapatista autonomy.
So on May 24, Zapatistas and members of the Sexta and free and independent media were convened by the EZLN at the La Realidad Caracol, to pay tribute to the deceased, and mark the worldwide week of action in solidarity with Galeano, together with organizations across the planet.
Zapatista base supporters gathered that morning in the Caracol’s main plaza, encircled by militants armed with sticks. The emotional Sexta members began murmuring when Subcomandante Marcos arrived on horseback, with his pipe and a pirate patch covering his right eye, raising his middle finger. It is the same patch that EZLN militants don before they march, as ordered by the subcomandante. “We wear a patch over the right eye to keep looking downward and to the left,” explained a friendly militant to a free media journalist.
“We came to La Realidad, the town of compañero Galeano, his family and his compañeros and compañeras, where there is anger and pain,” said Subcomandante Moisés as he read the comuniqué from the EZLN General Command. “When we look at compañero Galeano, we see the murderers, and we also see who is behind the murderers. They think that by assassinating compañero Galeano, our organization’s struggle will end, but no. That is why we are here, to clarify that the Zapatista struggle has not ended. What they have done to our compañero Galeano is sad and painful for us, but we’re not going to go from one bad thing to another.” Justice is what should be sought, wrote the EZLN Command, not vengeance.
So on that same day the Zapatistas commemorated Galeano, they also raised him. “We think it is necessary for one of us to die so that Galeano may live”, wrote Subcomandante Marcos in the comuniqué that was read during the night from the central stage in front of the Caracol of La Realidad. “So we have decided that Marcos shall cease to exist today. And in the end, those who are listening will know that someone who was never here cannot leave, nor can someone who was never alive die.”
The former military head of the EZLN explained that Marcos was nothing more than a mask, a hologram, a character created out of the wisdom of indigenous Zapatistas to distract and challenge modernity through the media. Before an astonished and emotional audience, he clarified that his decision was because of internal reasons at the EZLN and not due to illness (nevertheless, the day after his last public appearance, where he was seen to be in optimal health, La Jornada journalist Julio Hernández López continued to report that “regularly informed” sources were diagnosing him as terminally ill). The generation gap within the organization stood out, as well as the change in its leaders, who went from being middle class mestizos to indigenous campesinos.
“It is our conviction and our practice that we don’t need leaders or chieftains, messiahs, or saviors, in order to rise up and fight, only a little humility, a lot of dignity and a great deal of organization; the rest either serves the collective or is useless,” Marcos said, suggesting a criticism of the revolutionary vanguard, as the EZLN managed to transform “leading by obeying” into the centrality of the collective in the face of the individual. Marcos the media myth’s exit therefore seems the decision most consistent with Zapatista principles and practices.
“So there won’t be a museum-house or metal plaques of where I lived and grew up,” he affirmed. “Nor will there be anyone living who used to be Subcomandante Marcos. No one will inherit his name or position. There won’t be any all-expense paid trips to give speeches abroad. There will be no transfer or care in luxurious hospitals. There will be no widows or heirs. There will be no funerals, or honors, or statues, or museums, or prizes, or anything that the system does to enhance the cult of the individual and devalue the collective.”
So that is how Subcomandante Marcos decided “to do away with himself,” and to announce that he convened his bases, EZLN sympathizers and the independent media committed to the struggle, to explain his motivations and leave them with concerns, reflections and, implicitly, tasks for the future.