archivi delle proteste globali
archives of global protests

Zapatistas Launch International of Hope

by Peter Brown
La Realidad, Chiapas, Mexico, Planet Earth
Aug. 3, 1996

Ankle deep in the ubiquitous mud, under a blazing tropical sun storm, in an amphitheater constructed with the machetes of Maya insurgents, thousands sit in hushed silence as the masked "Subcommandante Insurgente Marcos" summarizes a week long international conference held in five rebel communities of southeastern Mexico.

"Who can say in what precise locale, and at what exact hour and date this 'Intercontinental Encounter for Humanity and Against Neoliberalism' began? We don't know. But we do know who initiated it. All the rebels around the world started it. Here, we are only a small part of those rebels, it's true. But to all the diverse fences that all the rebels of the world break every day, you have added one more rupture, that of the fence around the Zapatista R/reality." Marcos continued his cadenced speech introducing an often mentioned word play on the convention center's name . "In order to achieve that, you had to struggle against your respective governments and then confront the "fence" of papers and procedures with which the Mexican government thought to detain you. You are all fighters, men and women who break through fences of all kinds. That's why you made it to R/reality. Maybe you can't yet see the greatness of your achievement, but we do see it."

Before crossing our own personal fences to enter La Realidad (translation: reality), the delegates representing 45 countries knew the Maya enjoy a long history of constructing impossible structures and contemplating definitions of reality. Most suspected the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) had a few new ideas. A week in the mountains and rain forests of Chiapas confirmed that the contemporary Mayas persist in stretching the limits of human understanding.

"During the last years, the power of money has presented a new mask over its criminal face. Disregarding borders, with no importance given to races or colors, the Power of money humiliates dignities, insults honesties and assassinates hopes. Re-named as "Neoliberalism", the historic crime in the concentration of privileges, wealth and impunities, democratizes misery and hopelessness," related the original call to the encounter. "Each country, each city, each rural area, each house, each person, everything is a large or small battleground. On the one side is neoliberalism with all its repressive power and all its machinery of death; on the other side is the human being."

Often the words of individual Zapatista rebels, spoken in heavily accented Spanish or translated from one of the five indigenous languages of the EZLN, summarized more immediate realities. "I speak the voice of the mountains to those who have traveled from the five continents of the world," exclaimed Major Ana Maria at the end of an astonishing opening address to three thousand delegates from 45 countries seated among an equal number of indigenous of Chiapas. "There are thousands of different paths present ... each is of you are a guiding red star. Welcome to a small corner of the world where everyone is equal."

Equality was a difficult reality for many delegates to experience. "We must listen to everyone; our strength is in our diversity. Please share with us your opinions and your experiences," was the repeated message as the encounter officially began. By word and action, leading Zapatistas invoked tolerance and respect for the myriad, and occasionally voluminous, perceptions of reality offered by delegates.

The veiled eyes of the commandantes watched from early morning to late at night, their eyes respected the readings of hundreds of position papers, their eyes encouraged the thousands of responses and debates apropos these papers, their eyes welcomed the tens of thousands of comments and proposals that echoed back and forth in dozens of languages in four sub-round tables at five main round tables in five diverse indigenous communities!

Other indigenous eyes guarded the perimeters and surrounding hill of each Aguascalientes; still more masked eyes oversaw the cooking of healthy, interesting food for the assembled thousands on open fires without refrigeration or city water, the maintaining of latrines and shower facilities, the sound and occasional electrical system and finally laughing indigenous eyes welcomed us for dancing late into the night. That's right, after all those papers and debates and discussions we danced every night. From=20near and far performers took the stage celebrating extraordinary cultural diversity and beauty!

"We only wear our "paliacates" (red bandanas) at these gatherings," explained the dark eyed, young Totsil woman from Zinacantan. "We're all Zapatistas here and anyway there's plenty of protection." In other words, the no alcohol or drug policy of the EZLN and the strong presence of PZ (Policia Zapatista), create an environment where respectable women and girls - with laughing eyes discretely watching from behind red Zapatista veils - can shatter repressive social norms and dance freely until three in the morning.

Of course the Zapatista rebellion is best known for its armed seizure of four major southeastern Mexican cities on the first day of the North American Free Trade Agreement, Jan. 1, 1994. But delegates found the insurrection reaches far beyond government confrontations or personal relations. As Major Ana Maria explained to one U.S. activist, "I sometimes laugh when people get emotional about our weapons. I'll tell you something really emotional ... the day we finally convinced the people in the villages about the importance of boiling the water they drink and cook with =2E.. that was hard work ... it took such a long time."

These modern Maya rebels believe, as explained by Marcos, that "the weakness of the first Tower of Babel was not the intent to reach for heaven, but the lack of an effective translation team." The extraordinary diversity of the participants, and of the discussions in each round table, was neither coincidental nor unexpected but reflected a profound belief in the power of diversity. The invitation to the encounter was addressed to the following,

"To all who struggle for human values of democracy, liberty and justice.

To all who force themselves to resist the world crime known as "Neoliberalism" and aim for humanity and hope to be better, be synonymous of future.

To all individuals, groups, collectives, movements, social, civic and political organizations, neighborhood associations, cooperatives, all the lefts known and to be known; non-governmental organizations, groups in solidarity with struggles of the world people, bands, tribes, intellectuals, indigenous people, students, musicians, workers, artists, teachers, peasants, cultural groups, youth movements, alternative communication media, ecologists, tenants, lesbians, homosexuals, feminists, pacifists.

To all human beings without a home, without land, without work, without food, without health, without education, without freedom, without justice, without independence, without democracy, without peace, without tomorrow.

To all who, with no matter to colors, race or borders, make of hope a weapon and a shield."

All these folks and more were present as hundreds of partially nude foreigners sporting hair of every shade, hue, texture and style bathed in the bubbling brook dissecting the small village of La Realidad; some that worried local Maya tolerance could never accept our diversity. "We're going to be so sad to have you leave," sincerely explained an elderly resident of La Realidad during an emotional private meeting with Zapatistas and Mexico/U.S. border activists, "these nine days of the global encounter are the first time we've been free from army patrols since they invaded the Lacandon last February."

But what next?" asked an ironic Marcos during his final address. "A new number in the useless enumeration of the numerous international orders? A new scheme that calms and alleviates the anguish of a lack of recipes? A global program for world revolution? A theorization of Utopia so that it can continue to maintain a prudent distance from the reality that anguishes us? An "organigram" that assures all of us a position, a task, a title, and no work?"

Rising from the babel of the First Intercontinental Encounter and against the traditional absurdities of the left, the Maya propose to construct global towers of resistance and communication. They propose building a global network of all opposed to neoliberalism. This activist network "is not an organizing structure; it doesn't have a central head or decision maker; it has no central command or hierarchies. We are the network, all of us who resist."

Second, they plan an alternative communication network that "is not an organizing structure, nor has a central head or decision maker, nor does it have a central command or hierarchies. We are the network, all of us who speak and listen."

Marcos described the reasoning behind the previous, and final proposal, like this. "The indigenous communities have taught us that to resolve a problem, no matter how great it may be, it is always good to consult all of the people we are. That is why we propose that this declaration be distributed around the world and that consultation be carried out, at least in all the countries in attendance, on the following question: 'Do you agree to subscribe to the Second Declaration of Reality for Humanity and Against Neoliberalism?"

Expect this extra governmental, global consultation to hit your home town during the first two weeks of December 1996. No need to register in advance, but be sure to read a copy of the second declaration (see sidebar), share it with your friends and family, and make sure they all vote - vote via internet, vote at your local Zapatista coalition, vote by snail mail, or vote in any other creative way you can invent to build this global project of democracy, liberty, and justice. Fernando Navarro summed up a fundamental agreement of the encounter while achieving a clever play on the Spanish word "globo" meaning balloon.

"Lo unico que no saben los jerarcas de la globalizatici=F3n es que los globos se revientan." "The only thing the hierarchs of globalization don't understand is that balloons burst!"

However perhaps they suspect that lots of us around the world are watching with very sharp needles.

Don't forget to vote!


Two sidebars: one on publications/internet sites and the other about the five communities hosting the encounter;

Side bar I: Getting to know the Zapatistas

I. Organizations:

National Commission for Democracy in Mexico 601 N. Cotton Street, #A103
El Paso, TX 79902 USA
phone/fax (915) 532-8382

San Diegans for Dignity, Democracy and Peace in Mexico 3909 Centre Street #210
San Diego, CA 92103
phone (619) 232-2841 FAX (619) 232-2841
Will e-mail the text of the "Second Declaration of Reality"

Zapatista Solidarity Coalition P.O. Box 1083
Sacramento, CA 95812
(916) 9271260 FAX (916) 692-4828

Chiapas Urgent Call
6437 SW Virginia
Portland, OR 97201

Acci=F3n Zapatista 707 Highland Ave. #C
Austin, TX 78703
phone/FAX (512) 478-5237

II. Internet Access

A. Via e-mail:
1. The Chiapas-L list is a free electronic mailing list discussing the Chiapas rebellion and the situation in Mexico and will automatically send lots of material to your mail box.
To subscribe send an e-mail to with the words, "subscribe chiaps-l FirstName LastName" in the body of the message.

B. Via electronic newsgroup:
1. news://

C. World Wide Web Pages

1. Zapatista Movement Links
An excellent page with great links and an impossible address as follows: Machine/Links/zapatista.html

2. Accion Zapatista

3. National Commission for Democracy in Mexico

Printed Books and Publications:

1. Zapatistas: Collected Documents
South End Press

2. Roots of Rebellion

3. Libertad Newsletter: See National Commission for Democracy in Mexico

4. EZLN: Documentos y Comunicados (I) (II) (Spanish)
Edicioines Era, S.A. de C.V.
Calle del Trabajo 31, 14269 M=E9xico, D.F.

Side bar II: The five indian communities...

Round table 5 was held in Roberto Barrios, a Chol community, in a muggy jungle climate near the famous Maya ruins known as Palenque where repression of popular organizations has traditionally been intense. At this round table indigenous realities were explored under the theme "Many worlds fit in this world."

Round Table 4 was held in Oventic, Zapatista built city in the Tzotzil speaking highlands where clouds appear or disappear at a whim and bitter cold winds witness a grinding indigenous poverty of landlessness. The encounter was begun in this rebel city/convention center just 45 minutes from the major metropolis of San Crist=F3bal de las Casas. After thousands left by bus for their respective round tables, the remaining delegates investigate civil society and struggle with the question, "Is there a society that is not civil?"

Round Table 3 was held in Morelia is located far away in an hot jungle climate populated by Tzeltal people. "All cultures for everyone, And the means? From Graffiti to Cyberspace" was a popular round table hosted by Commandantes Magadalena and Salvador both of whom always wear traditional clothing. This round table was populated especially by artists and featured a special stage for "the beautiful sounds and expressions of the planet" plus a booth "for the reception and demonstration of languages. All of the languages of the world. The liberation of Babel."

Round Table 2 was held in La Garrucha, in the municipality of Francisco Gomez (formerly Ocosingo), where dozens of Zapatista died during the first days of the insurrection. With responsibility for examining "The Economic Question. Histories of Horror" this round table drew a large number of academic (many famous) who detailed the development of neoliberalism.

Round Table 1 was held in La Realidad, that small community of mixed heritages deep in the Lacondon Jungle whose Zapatista name (reality) sparks endless word plays regarding what is ,and is not, real in the late 20th century hosted a discussion of politics, "What politics do we have and what politics do we need?" After working in their respective round tables participants from every round table traveled to (R)reality for the final two days of the encounter.

Please forward comments to:

Peter Brown
1631 Dale Street
San Diego, CA 92102
(619) 232-2841
(619) 232-0500

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