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(en) US, The Agitator Index*, International Women's Day: Twelve Women In The Twelve year: The Moment Of War

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Wed, 16 Mar 2005 06:47:54 +0100 (CET)

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[In honor of International Women's Day, we reprint this Zapatista
communique of March 11, 1996 By Subcomandandte Marcos.]
From that moment on, the impeccable military action of the taking of San Cristobal
is blurred, and with it the fact that it was a woman - a rebel indigenous woman -
who commanded the entire operation is erased. The participation of other rebel
women in the actions of January 1, and during the ten-year-long road since the
birth of the Zapatistas, become secondary. The faces covered with ski masks
become even more anonymous when the lights focus on Marcos. The major says
nothing, and she continues to watch the back of that enormous nose, which
now has a name for the rest of the world. No one asks her name.

Twelve Women in the Twelfth Year

The Moment of War

MARCH 11, 1996

During the twelfth year of the Zapatistas, many kilometers and at a
great distance from Beijing, twelve women meet March 8 with their
faces erased...

I. Yesterday...

ALTHOUGH HER FACE is wreathed in black, still one can see a
few strands of hair upon her forehead, and the eyes with the spark
of one who searches. Before her she holds an M-1 carbine in the
"assault" position. She has a pistol strapped to her waist. Over the
left side of the chest, that place where hopes and convictions reside,
she carries the rank of infantry major of an insurgent army that has
called itself, this cold dawn of January 1, 1994, the Zapatista
National Liberation Army.

Under her command, a rebel column takes the former capital of the
southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas, San Cristobal de Las Casas.
The central square of San Cristobal is deserted. Only the indigenous
men and women under her command are witnesses to the moment
in which the major, a rebel indigenous Tzotzil woman, takes the
national flag and gives it to the commanders of the rebellion, those
called "The Indigenous Clandestine Revolutionary Committee." At
02:00 southeastern time, January 1 of 1994, over the radio, the
major says, "We have recovered the flag. 10-23 over."

For the rest of the world, it is 01:00 hours of the New Year, but for
her, those words mark a decade-long wait. In December 1984, not
yet twenty years old, she arrives in the mountains of the Lacandon
Jungle, carrying the marks of the whole history of indigenous
humiliation on her body. In December 1984 this brown woman
says, "Enough is enough!" so softly that only she hears herself. In
January 1994 this woman and several thousand indigenous people
do not just say, but yell, "Enough is enough!" so loudly that all the
world hears them...

Outside San Cristobal another column of indigenous rebels, who
attack the city under the command of the only man with light skin
and a large nose, has just taken the police headquarters. It frees
from these clandestine jails the indigenous who were spending the
New Year locked up, guilty of the most terrible crime in the
Chiapanecan southeast: being poor.

The indigenous rebel Tzeltal-Capitán Insurgente Eugenio
Asparuk-together with the enormous nose, is now overseeing the
search and seizure of the headquarters. When the major's message
arrives, Capitán Insurgente Pedro-an indigenous rebel Chol-has
finished taking the Federal Highway Police Headquarters, and has
secured the road that connects San Cristobal with Tuxtla Gutierrez.
Capitán Insurgente Ubilio-also an indigenous rebel Tzeltal-has
taken the entryways to the north of the city and with it the National
Indigenous Institute, symbol of the government handouts to the
indigenous people. Capitán Insurgente Guillermo-an indigenous
rebel Chol-has seized the highest point of the city. From there he
can observe a surprised silence peering out the windows of the
houses and buildings. Insurgent and equally rebellious Capitáns
Gilberto and Noe, indigenous Tzotzil and Tzeltal respectively, end
their takeover of the State Judicial Police Headquarters and set it on
fire before marching on to secure the other side of the city and the
roads that lead to the barracks of the thirty-first Military Zone in
Rancho Nuevo.

At 02:00 hours, southeastern time, January 1, 1994, five insurgent
officials, indigenous rebel men, hear over the radio the voice of their
commander, an indigenous rebel woman: "We have recovered the
flag. 10-23 over." They repeat this to their troops, men and women,
all indigenous and unconditionally rebellious, and translate the
words: "We have begun... "

At the Municipal Palace, the major secures the positions that will
protect the men and women who now govern the city, a city now
under the rule of indigenous rebels. An armed woman protects

Among the indigenous commanders there is a tiny woman, even
tinier than those around her. Her face is wreathed in black; still, one
can see a few strands of hair upon her forehead, and the gaze with
the spark of one who searches. A twelve-gage sawed-off shotgun
hangs from her back. Wearing the traditional dress of the women
from San Andres, Ramona, together with hundreds of women,
walks down from the mountains toward the city of San Cristobal on
that last night of 1993. Together with Susana and other indigenous
people, she is part of that indigenous war command which, in 1994,
gives birth to the CCRI-CG, the Clandestine Indigenous
Revolutionary Committee of the General Command of the Zapatista
National Liberation Army, the EZLN.

Comandante Ramona's size and brilliance will surprise the
international press when she appears in the Cathedral-where the
first Dialogues for Peace are held-and pulls from her backpack the
national flag, seized by the major on January. Ramona does not
know it then, nor do we, that she carries an illness that takes huge
bites of her body, eats away at her life and dims her voice and her
gaze. Ramona and the major, the only women in the Zapatista
delegation who show themselves to the world for the first time,
declare, "For all intents and purposes, we were already dead. We
meant absolutely nothing." With these words they can almost
convey the humiliation and abandonment. The major translates to
Ramona the questions of the reporters. Ramona nods and
understands, as though the answers she is asked for had always
been there, in her tiny figure that laughs at the Spanish language
and at the ways of the city women. Ramona laughs when she does
not know she is dying. And when she knows, she still laughs.
Before she did not exist for anyone; now she exists, as a woman, as
an indigenous woman, as a rebel woman. Now Ramona lives, a
woman belonging to that race that must die in order to live...

The major watches as the light takes possession the streets of San
Cristobal. Her soldiers secure the defense of the old city of Jovel
and the protection of the men and women who are now sleeping,
indigenous and mestizos, all equally surprised. The major, this
indigenous rebel woman, has taken their city. Hundreds of armed
indigenous people surround the old city. An armed woman
commands them...

Minutes later the rebels will take the city of Las Margaritas; hours
later the government forces that defend Ocosingo, Altamirano, and
Chanal will surrender. Huixtan and Oxchuc are taken by a rebel
column that heads toward the principal jail of San Cristobal. Now
seven cities are in insurgent hands, following the seven words said
by the major.

The war for the word has begun.

Elsewhere, other indigenous and rebellious women remake that
piece of history that had been given them and that, until that
January 1, had been carried in silence. They too have no name or

Irma. Capitán Insurgente Irma, a Chol woman, leads one of the
guerrilla columns that takes the plaza at Ocosingo that January 1,
1994. From one of the edges of the central square, together with the
soldiers under her command, she attacks the garrison inside the
Municipal Palace until they surrender. Then Irma undoes her braid
and her hair falls to her waist as though to say, "Here I am, free and
new." Capitán Irma's hair shines, and continues to shine, even as
the night falls over Ocosingo in rebel hands.

Laura. Capitán Insurgente Laura is a Tzotzil woman. Fierce in
battle and fiercely committed to learning and teaching, Laura
becomes the captain of a unit composed only of men, all novices.
With the same patience as the mountain that has watched her
grow, Laura teaches and gives orders. When the men under her
command have doubts, she sets an example. No one carries as
much or walks as far as she does. After the attack on Ocosingo, she
orders the retreat of her unit. It is orderly and complete. This
woman with light skin says little or nothing, but she carries in her
hands a carbine that she has taken from a policeman, he who only
saw someone to humiliate or rape as he gazed upon her, an
indigenous woman. After surrendering, the policeman ran away in
his shorts, the same one who until that day believed that women
were only useful when pregnant or in the kitchen...

Elisa. Capitán Insurgente Elisa still carries mortar fragments that
are planted forever in her body as a war trophy. She takes command
of her column when the rebel line is broken and a circle of fire fills
the Ocosingo market with blood. Capitán Benito has been injured
and has lost his eye. Before losing consciousness, he explains: "I've
had it, Capitán Elisa is in command." Capitán Elisa is already
wounded when she manages to take a handful of soldiers out of the
market. When Capitán Elisa, indigenous Tzeltal, gives orders, it is
a soft murmur... but everyone obeys.

Silvia. Capitán Insurgente Silvia was trapped for ten days in the
rathole that Ocosingo became after January 2. Dressed as a civilian,
she scuttled along the streets of a city filled with federal soldiers,
tanks, and cannons. Stopped at a military checkpoint, she is let
through almost immediately. "It isn't possible that such a young
and fragile woman could be a rebel," say the soldiers as they watch
her pass. When she rejoins her unit in the mountains, the
indigenous Chol rebel woman appears sad. Carefully, I ask her the
reason why her laughter is dampened. "Over there in Ocosingo,"
she answers me, lowering her eyes, "I left my backpack, and with it
all the music cassettes I had collected. Now we have nothing."
Silence and her loss lie in her hands. I say nothing. I add my own
regrets to hers, and I see that in war each loses what he or she most

Maribel. Capitán Insurgente Maribel takes the radio station in Las
Margaritas when her unit assaults the municipality on January 1,
1994. For nine years she has lived in the mountains so she could sit
in front of that microphone and say, "We are the product of five
hundred years of struggle; first we fought against slavery... "[1] The
transmission fails due to technical difficulties. Maribel takes
another position and covers the back of the unit that advances
toward Comitan. Days later she will serve as guard for a prisoner of
war, General Absalón Castellanos Domínguez.[2] Maribel is
Tzeltal and was not yet fifteen years old when she came to the
mountains of the Mexican Southeast. "The toughest moment in
those nine years was when I had to climb the first hill, called 'the
hill from hell.' After that, everything else was easy," said the
insurgent official. When General Castellanos Domínguez is
released, Capitán Maribel is the first rebel to have contact with the
government. Extending his hand to her, Commissioner Manuel
Camacho Solís asks her age. "Five hundred and two," replies
Maribel, who is as old as the rebellion...

Isidora. Capitán Insurgente Isidora, on that first day of January, a
buck private, goes into Ocosingo. After spending hours rescuing
her unit made up entirely of men, forty of whom were wounded,
she leaves Ocosingo in flames, mortar fragments in her arms and
legs. When Isidora arrives at the nursing unit and hands over the
wounded, she asks for a bit of water and gets up again. "Where are
you going?" they ask her as they try to treat the bleeding wounds
that paint her face and redden her uniform. "To get the others,"
answers Isidora as she reloads her gun. They try to stop her and
cannot. Buck Private Isidora says she must return to Ocosingo to
rescue their compañeros from the dirge of mortars and grenades.
They have to take her prisoner to stop her. "The only good thing
about this punishment is that, at least, I can't be demoted," says
Isidora, and she waits in a room that to her appears to be a jail.
Months later, given a star and a promotion to infantry official,
Isidora, Tzeltal and Zapatista, looks first at the star and then at her
commander and asks, "Why?" As though she were being scolded,
she does not wait for an answer...

Amalia. First lieutenant in the hospital unit. Amalia has the
quickest laughter in the Mexican Southeast. When she finds
Capitán Benito unconscious, lying in a pool of blood, she drags
him to safety. She carries him on her back and takes him past the
circle of death that surrounds the market. When someone mentions
surrender, Amalia, honoring the Chol blood that runs through her
veins, gets angry and begins to argue. Notwithstanding the ruthless
explosions and the flying bullets, everyone listens. No one

Elena. Lieutenant in the hospital unit. When Lieutenant Elena
joined the Zapatistas, she was illiterate. There she learned to read,
to write, and to administer medicine. Dealing with diarrhea and
giving vaccines, she goes on to care for the wounded in a small
hospital, which is also a home, a warehouse, and a pharmacy. With
difficulty, she extracts from the Zapatistas' bodies mortar
fragments. "Some I can take out, some I can't," says Elenita, an
insurgent Chol, as though she were speaking of memories and not
of pieces of lead.

In San Cristobal, that morning of January 1, 1994, she
communicates with the great white nose: "Someone just came here
asking questions, but I don't understand the language, I think it's
English. I don't know if he's a photographer, but he has a camera."

"I'll be there soon," answers the nose as he rearranges the ski
mask. Putting the weapons that have been taken from the police
station into a vehicle, he travels to the center of the city. They take
the weapons out and distribute them among the indigenous who are
guarding the Municipal Palace. The foreigner is a tourist who asks
if he may leave the city. "No," answers the ski mask with the
oversize nose. "It's better that you return to your hotel. We don't
know what will happen." The tourist leaves after asking permission
to film with his video camera. Meanwhile the morning advances,
and with the curious arrive the journalists and questions. The nose
responds and explains to the locals, tourists, and journalists. The
major is behind him. The ski mask talks and makes jokes. A
woman who is armed watches his back.

A journalist, from behind a television camera, asks, "And who are

"Who am I?" repeats the ski mask hesitantly, fighting off sleep after
a long night.

"Yes," insists the journalist. "Are you 'Commander Tiger' or
'Commander Lion'?"

"No," responds the ski mask, rubbing his eyes, which are now filled
with boredom.

"So, what's your name?" asks the journalist as he thrusts his
camera and microphone forward. The big-nosed ski mask answers,
"Marcos. Subcomandante Marcos."

Overhead, Pilatus planes begin to circle.

From that moment on, the impeccable military action of the taking
of San Cristobal is blurred, and with it the fact that it was a
woman-a rebel indigenous woman-who commanded the entire
operation is erased. The participation of other rebel women in the
actions of January 1, and during the ten-year-long road since the
birth of the Zapatistas, become secondary. The faces covered with
ski masks become even more anonymous when the lights focus on
Marcos. The major says nothing, and she continues to watch the
back of that enormous nose, which now has a name for the rest of
the world. No one asks her name.

At dawn on January 2, 1994, that same woman directs the retreat
from San Cristobal and the return to the mountains. Fifty days later,
she comes back to San Cristobal as part of the escort that
safeguards the delegates of the CCRI-CG of the Zapatista National
Liberation Army to the Dialogues for Peace at the Cathedral. Some
women journalists interview her and ask her name. "Ana Maria,
Mayor Insurgente Ana María," she answers with her dark gaze.
She leaves the cathedral and disappears for the rest of the year,
1994. Like her other compañeras, she must wait, she must be

In December 1994, ten years after becoming a soldier, Ana María
receives the order to prepare to break out of the military blockade
established by government forces around the Lacandon jungle. At
dawn on December 19, the Zapatistas take positions in thirty-eight
municipalities. Ana María leads the action in the municipalities of
the Altos of Chiapas. Twelve women officers are with her: Monica,
Isabela, Yuri, Patricia, Juana, Ofelia, Celina, María, Gabriela,
Alicia, Zenaida, and María Luisa. Ana María herself takes the
municipality of Bochil.

After the Zapatista deployment, the high command of the federal
army surrounds their ruptured blockade with silence, and,
represented by the mass media, declares it is pure propaganda on
the part of the EZLN. The federales' pride is deeply wounded: the
Zapatistas have broken the blockade and, adding insult to injury,
various municipalities have been taken by a unit headed by a
woman. Much money is spent to keep this unacceptable event from
the people. Due to the involuntary actions of her armed
compañeros, and the deliberate actions of the government, Ana
María and the Zapatista women at her side are ignored and kept

II. Today...

I HAVE ALMOST finished writing this when someone arrives...

Doña Juanita. After Old Don Antonio[3] dies, Doña Juanita
allows her life to slow down to the gentle pace she uses when
preparing coffee. Physically strong, Doña Juanita has announced
she will die. "Don't be silly, grandmother," I say, refusing to meet
her eyes. "Look, you," she answers. "If we must die in order to live,
nothing will keep me from dying, much less a young brat like
yourself," says and scolds Doña Juanita, Old Don Antonio's
woman, a rebel woman all her life, and apparently, a rebel even in
response to her death.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the blockade, she appears.

She. Has no military rank, no uniform, no weapon. Only she knows
she is a Zapatista. Much like the Zapatistas, she has no face or
name. She struggles for democracy, liberty, and justice, just like the
Zapatistas. She is part of what the EZLN calls "civil society"-a
people without a political party, who do not belong to "political
society," made up of leaders of political parties. Rather, she is a part
of that amorphous yet solid part of society that says, day after day,
"Enough is enough!"

At first she is surprised at her own words. But over time, through
the strength of repeating them, and above all living them, she stops
being afraid of these words, stops being afraid of herself. She is now
a Zapatista; she has joined her destiny with the new delirium of the
Zapatista National Liberation Army, which so terrorizes political
parties and Power's intellectuals. She has already fought against
everyone-against her husband, her lover, her boyfriend, her
children, her friend, her brother, her father, her grandfather. "You
are insane," they say. She leaves a great deal behind. What she
renounces, if one is talking about size, is much greater than what
the empty-handed rebels leave behind. Her every-thing, her world,
demands she forget "those crazy Zapatistas," while conformity calls
her to sit down in the comfortable indifference that lives and worries
only about itself. She leaves everything behind. She says nothing.
Early one dawn she sharpens the tender point of hope and begins to
emulate many times in one day, at least 364 times a year, the
January 1 of her sister Zapatistas.

She smiles. Once she merely admired the Zapatistas, but no longer.
Her admiration ended the moment she understood that they are a
mirror of her rebellion, of her hope.

She discovers that she is born on January 1, 1994. From then on
she feels that her life-and what was always said to be a dream and a
utopia-might actually be a truth.

In silence and without pay, side by side with other men and
women, she begins to knit that complex dream that some call hope:
"Everything for everyone, nothing for ourselves."

She meets March 8 with her face erased, and her name hidden.
With her come thousands of women. More and more arrive.
Dozens, hundreds, thousands, millions of women who remember
all over the world that there is much to be done and remember that
there is still much to fight for. It appears that dignity is contagious,
and it is the women who are more likely to become infected with
this uncomfortable ill...

This March 8 is a good time to remember and to give their rightful
place to the insurgent Zapatistas, to the women who are armed and

To remember the rebels and those uncomfortable Mexican women
now bent over knitting that history which, without them, is nothing
more than a badly made fable.

III. Tomorrow...

IF THERE IS to be one, it will be made with the women, and above
all, by them...

From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast

a very high index of marginalization, all six of which have a large
indigenous population: Puebla, Veracruz, Hidalgo, Guerrero,
Oaxaca, and Chiapas.

The stratification of the Mexicos is repeated in the municipalities.
On a national level there are 2,403 municipalities. Of these, 1,153
have a level of marginalization considered high or very high, 1,118
have medium and low levels of marginalization and only 132
municipalities have very low levels. States with high indigenous
population have the majority of their municipalities with high and
very high levels of marginalization: 94 out of 111 in Chiapas; 59 out
of 75 in Guerrero; 431 of 570 in Oaxaca; 141 of 217 in Puebla; 10
of 18 in Queretaro; 33 of 56 in San Luis Potosí; 130 of 207 in
Veracruz; 70 of 106 in Yucatan.

In Basement Mexico one lives and dies between the mud and
blood. Hidden, but in its foundation, the contempt that this Mexico
suffers will permit it to organize itself and shake up the entire
system. Its burden will be the possibility of freeing itself from it. For
these Mexicans, the lack of democracy, liberty, and justice will be
organized. It will explode and shine on...

JANUARY 1994...

...WHEN THE ENTIRE COUNTRY remembered that there was a
basement. Thousands of indigenous, armed with truth and fire,
with shame and dignity, shook the country awake from its sweet
dream of modernity. "Enough is enough!" this Mexico calls
out-enough dreams, enough nightmares. Ever since steel and the
gospel dominated these lands, the indigenous voice has been
condemned to resisting a war of extermination that now
incorporates all of the intergalactic-technological advances.
Satellites, communications equipment, and infrared rays keep
watch on every move, locate rebellions, and on military maps
pinpoint the places for the seeding of bombs and death. Tens of
thousands of olive green masks are preparing a new and prosperous
war. They want to cleanse their dignity in serving the powerful with
indigenous blood. They want to be accomplices in the unjust
delivery of poverty and pain.

The indigenous Zapatistas will pay for their sins with their blood.
What sins? The sin of not being satisfied with handouts, the sin of
insisting on their demands for democracy, liberty, and justice for all
Mexico, the sin of their "Everything for everyone, nothing for us."

[1] Opening lines of the Zapatista Declaration of War.

[2] General Absalón Castellanos Domínguez, governor of
Chiapas from 1982 to 1988, was believed to be responsible for many
deaths in the state. He was kidnapped by the Zapatistas in an effort
to send a message out to the Mexican government and the people.

[3] Old Don Antonio was a Mayan shaman who befriended Marcos.
Their decade-long relationship is the inspiration for the Old Don
Antonio tales, in which Marcos passes on many of the creation
myths that are written in the Popol Vuh, a sacred Mayan text.

* By the antiauthoritarian anticapitalist revolutionary
Bring the Ruckus! initiative.

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