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(en) Mexico, Chiapas, Marcos: in memory of comrade Elías Contreras: Intellectuals and rebels in Mexico

Date Wed, 05 Apr 2006 12:05:28 +0300

If the police and the armies are the stewards of the citizenry's good
behavior in the face of seizure, exploitation and racism, then who looks
after good behavior in intellectual thought and theoretical analysis?
> An Other Theory?
Long ago, the Guadalajara dawn found Elías Contreras, the EZLN's commissioner
of investigations, sitting on one of the park benches in front of that cathedral
which imposes its twofold power, the symbolic and the real, on the city of Guadalajara.
Elías Contreras had come to this city in order to meet with the Ruso at his sandwich stall
and, later, with the Chinese man Feng Chu in the public baths of the Mutualista, when he
was involved in solving that unknown case of the Mal and the Malo.

For those who don't know, Elías Contreras was an EZLN
support base, a war veteran, who helped the EZLN Comandancia
General in what you call “detective” work and we call
“investigation commission.”

But, before the Ruso's disconcerting sandwiches and the
Chino's taciturnity, Elías Contreras had been sitting on one of
the park benches in this city centre of Guadalajara, scribbling
sketches, odd phrases, complete paragraphs and imprecise lines in
his notebook, while waiting for the sun to mottle the eastern wall of
the cathedral.

I hadn't known of the existence of that kind of trip log or
campaign journal in which Elías Contreras, paradoxically,
hadn't written anything referring directly to that case in which
love, that other love, came to him just as love does come, that is,
where one least expects it. In his case accompanied by the confusion
and fear which usually accompany an encounter with the other. The
love which left him the way one always fears it will leave: by the
irremediable path of death. Because, perhaps some might
remember, La Magdalena fell fighting on our side, the zapatista side,
against the Mal and the Malo. And she was our compañera in two
ways: because she chose to be a woman and because she chose to be
with us. But that's another history which we may, perhaps, find
somewhere else.

Elías Contreras never said that he had fallen in love with La
Magdalena, the transvestite who saved his life in the streets of
Mexico City and who accompanied him in the pursuit of one
Morales. He never said so openly, it's true, but anyone who
learns to listen to words, silences, expressions and manners also
knows how to find secrets whose existence isn't even suspected.
And Elías Contreras, the EZLN's commissioner of
investigations, spoke of La Magdalena through his silence about her,
as if words would hurt her. I believe - it's something which
occurs to me now - that those feelings which Elías Contreras
harbored for La Magdalena were not returned in kind, and in some
way that soothed the chaos provoked by that emotion.

But perhaps I might tell you about the now deceased Elías
Contreras' hidden love for La Magdalena, and what there was
about it in his notebook, at another time. Or perhaps I won't
recount anything, because there are people who leave not only the
manifesto of their death as weight, but they also leave us the secrets
of their lives.

Now I would like to tell you about some parts of the notebook which
Elías Contreras carried. The dawn often found us standing in front
of the stove in his kitchen, and, when our silences stretched out long
enough, Elías would take the crumpled notebook out of his
rucksack and pass it to me without even looking at me or saying

I approached it as a clumsy intruder would. It took just a quick
glance to realize that only the author would be able to decipher what
was written or sketched there. As if it were a jigsaw puzzle whose
complete picture was unknown to everyone except to the one who
had designed the pieces.

Sometimes I would read a phrase out loud, and he, Elías
Contreras, would begin putting the pieces together. As if talking to
himself, he would rework an anecdote or an argument.

There were, for example, those simple and concise principles of the
guerrero which Elías Contreras must have copied from somewhere
in almost illegible strokes:

1. The guerrero should always put himself at the service of a noble

2. The guerrero should always be willing to learn and to do so.

3. The guerrero should respect his ancestors and care for their

4. The guerrero should exist for the good of humanity, live for that,
die for that.

5. The guerrero should cultivate the sciences and the arts and also,
with them, to be the guardian of his people.

6. The guerrero should dedicate himself equally to things great and

7. The guerrero should look ahead, imagining everything already
complete and finished.

Not at dawn, but one afternoon - as the sun was leaping from one
cloud to another until it concealed itself behind a mountain - with his
notebook in my hands, I read the following sentences to Elías
Contreras, which he himself had written:

“Resistance is averting the fate which is being imposed from
above, at just the right time, exerting the necessary force and thus
destroying that disaster and those who are contriving it for us.”

Upon hearing it, Elías Contreras said: “Guadalajara, during the
time of the Ruso and the Chino.” And he immediately told me
that he had written that thought during the dawn when he was
waiting in the centre of the Pearl of the West.

Another sentence followed. I read it aloud:

“The great minds who sell themselves for money lack
intelligence, as they lack courage, shame and good manners. As the
citizens say, they are mediocre, cowards, imbeciles and

Up above, Elías Contreras told me, looking down bitterly, they
didn't just invent a religion where what counts is what you have
and not what you are. They also make some into their priests, who
write and preach the doctrine of the powerful among those of above
and among those of below. They are like priests, but also like the
police and guards, seeing to it that we behave well, that we accept
exploitation and we are like meek little ones, our minds saying
“yes” or “no” according to the order. In other words,
the powerful also mess with thinking. And those priests of the
thoughts of those of above are the great minds who sell themselves
to money.

“The intellectuals of above?” I asked.

“Those,” said Elías Contreras, commissioner of
investigations for the EZLN, and, sitting on a tree trunk, looking
towards the west, he repeated for me the argument he had
constructed here in Guadalajara when he was following the trail of
the Mal and the Malo in that still unfinished work of ours, of us, the

I took the following notes from that argument which Elías
Contreras expounded to me in Tzeltal and which, therefore, has
words for which there are no equivalents in the dictionaries of the
dominant and dominating idioms:

The Intellectuals of Above

If the police and the armies are the stewards of the citizenry's
good behavior in the face of seizure, exploitation and racism, then
who looks after good behavior in intellectual thought and theoretical

If the legal system, which sees the violent imposition of capital as
being “rational and human”, has judges, guards, police and
jails, then what are their equivalent in the culture of Mexico, in
research and academia, in theoretical work, analysis and in the
debating of ideas?

Answer: The intellectuals above who say what is science and what is
not, what is serious and what is not, what is debate and what is not,
what is true and what is false. In sum, what is intelligent and what is

Capitalism doesn't just recruit its intellectuals in the academy
and in the culture, it also “manufactures” their sounding
boxes and assigns them their territories. But what they have in
common is their foundation: feigning humanism where there is only
thirst for profits, presenting capital as the synthesis of historical
evolution and offering the comforts of complicity through grants,
paying for publicity and privileged colloquy. There is no appreciable
difference between a self-help book and the magazines Letras Libres,
Nexos, Quién? and TV and Novelas. Not in the writing, not in the
price, not in their location in Carlos Slim Helu's Sanborns.
Except, perhaps, in that more of the latter two are sold and read. In
the contents? All offer the impossible mirror to those who above are
what they are.

The Intellectuals in the Middle

Just like in the impossible center of the impossible geometry of
power, are those intellectuals in the fragile crystal towers of
“neutrality” and “objectivity” who are navigating,
flirting discreetly or blatantly with the system, without caring about
the color of the one holding political power.

Looking above, these intellectuals answer the explicit or implicit
question with which they start their work: “From where?”
And other questions are tied to this question: “Why?”,
“With whom?”, “Against whom?”

From the threshold of power, on their best behavior in the mandarin
court of the current administration, these intellectuals are not in the
middle, but rather in transit to above. They put themselves on offer,
with the tools of analysis and theoretical debate, at the banquets of
political and economic power in Mexico, with a sign that reads:
“Speeches made. Government programs justified.
Businesspersons advised. Magazines produced at your pleasure.
Entertainment provided for parties and for shareholders' and
cabinet meetings.”

Next to those intellectuals are the ones who, slowly or quickly, lose
their principles, give in, and desperately search for an alibi which will
save them in front of the mirror. They are the prudent, mature and
sensible intellectuals who have put away the weapons of criticism for
the blandishments of those who see their work of the right as being
of the left.

But the dishonest position of these intellectuals who belong to the
system doesn't cease to amaze. The weak alibi of deliberate,
rational and responsible change isn't enough to sanctify that den
of thieves which is the self-styled electoral left. They clothe
themselves in the fragile transience of the media and in that way
they conceal not only their lack of principles, but also their
renunciation of all critical analysis of the political class. Beset by the
ghosts their prudence has created, they confirm their profound
contempt for intelligence.

And there are the ones who say they belong to the radical left and are
even zapatistas (certainly in the same way Guajardo says he's a
zapatista). From the comforts of the academy they set themselves up
as the new judges, the neo-commissars of good manners in the
debate on what AMLO's irresistible ascent in democratic
modernity – in the polls, that is – really means.

They are the ones who say that any criticism of the political class
promotes abstention, and with Thomist logic, that that will help the
right. The ones who choose and edit national reality in order to
present the unpresentable. The ones who remain silent in the face of
the way the municipal president of Tulancingo, Hidalgo, of the
PRD, treats indigenous and senior citizens. In the face of the
frenzied leap by the PAN and the PRI into the open arms of the PRD
anywhere in the nation. In the face of the nepotism of the PRD city
halls in Tabasco. In the face of the selling of their franchise to the
current cacique of any state. In the face of the approval of laws of
neoliberal destruction by the sol azteca wing. In the face of the
suspicious similarity of first and last names on the lists of PRD
candidates to those of PRI and PAN ones of days gone by.

They are the same ones who want us to swallow the millstone that
we have to put up with the macro-economic program, at the same
time the macro-political changes.

They are the same ones who sell the illustrious “retirement to
home.” The increasingly lesser evil is the only – comfortable
– option.

They are the same ones who shamelessly say that the government is
protecting the Other Campaign so that it will attack López Obrador,
while various police forces are photographing, watching and
harassing members of the karavana, state, regional and local
coordinators. The same ones who feel a profound contempt for their
readers and who, without any shame whatsoever, say that Rosario
Robles is a heroine one day and on the next if they see her they
don't remember her.

They are the same ones who discredited the young students of the
CGH who, in 1999-2000, managed to keep the UNAM as a public
and free university with their movement. The same ones who
silently applauded the repression of young altermundistas in that
disgrace to the Jalisco calendar which is May 28, 2004.

They are the same ones who sigh with delight for the Segundo
Pisos, the bullet train, the trans-isthmus project, the co-investors in
Pemex and in the electricity industry, Mexico's entrance into
major league baseball, the concerts in the Zócalo in Mexico City,
the privilege of colloquy with officials.

Ah! Finally a high-class, Segundo Piso, scene, so we don't see,
or we pretend not to see, those of below, the provocateurs, the
hyper, the pelos parados, the rebels, the commoners, the wretched,
those of below.

Who cares if the same ones are in the politics of above and if it's
the same “macro-economic” program as before? Who pays
attention to that minutia? Who is worried that the program
represents the continuation and deepening of the destruction of the
Mexican nation?

They are the same ones who offer the calamity of not being satisfied
with what is, man, nor do you have to be too demanding, man,
whether Madrazo or Calderón, whether the PRI or the PAN, well,
what would the foreign nations say? The big investors, man, well,
they already understand, now we just need those of below to
understand, to obey. But everything's all wrapped up, man,
it's ours, man. Now we really did do it. A consultancy, trips,
meals, rubbing shoulders with the big shots.

They are the ones who carry their leaking buckets of water to
confront the promise written in Guanajuato: “There are still a lot
of corn exchanges to set on fire.” They're the ones with the
thin skins who crack at the first criticism, and they scream their
heads off, doling out labels like “intolerant”,
“Stalinists”, “ultras”, “outdated”,

The intellectuals in the middle…While the Other says “wake
up”, those intellectuals say, beseech, beg, implore: “Stay

The Other Intellectuals

From below and from the left, a movement which is building itself,
the Other is also building new realities. We neo-zapatistas think
these new realities, which are already emerging, and which will go
on appearing further ahead, need another theoretical reflection,
another debate of ideas.

This places demands on the other intellectuals. First, the humility to
recognize that they are facing something new. And, secondly, to join
in, to embrace the other, to learn about themselves through it and to
come to know the indigenous, the worker, the campesino, the young
person, the woman, the child, the old one, the teacher, the student,
the employee, the homosexual, lesbian and transgender person, the
sex worker, the street vendor, the small shopkeeper, the Christian
base, the street worker, the other.

We think they should participate directly in the meetings of
supporters in their states and, in addition, listen to what all the
supporters throughout the country are saying. Thanks to the
alternative media, the other media, it is possible to closely follow this
beautiful lesson in contemporary national history. In their way and
with their means, the other intellectuals will certainly produce
analysis and theoretical debates which will astonish the world.

As zapatistas we think that the Other Campaign can proudly say that
it deserves this country's best intellectuals to be part of it. Now
they will say, with their own work, whether they are deserving of the
Other Campaign.

The Missing Word

In the old and battered notebook of Elías Contreras, the
EZLN's commissioner of investigation, there is an errant page,
carefully folded, where it reads:

There are stones which are still silent. When they speak the secrets
they keep, nothing will be the same again, but it will surely be better
for everyone. The being and not the having will be valued. Another
hand will raise the flag, and the world will be scented, will be heard,
will know and will feel as it should be: the honourable home of those
who work it.

Another Vigil for Shadow

Dawn. Above, the moon continues her pale disrobing of the blue
which clothes her. The dark is forgiving of scars and generously
offers her another veil for her shamelessness. Below, shadow curls
up in the last corner of his sleeplessness.

Is that a wind rising up or a bridge, seeking the faraway riverbank in
order to complete its reach?

A sigh, perhaps.

And once again the half-sleep and its illusions: a streamer, yearning
and wrapped around an absent neck, longing rising and falling in the
lower abdomen, the faint breathing of shadow in the ear of the night,
desire clothing the dark of the half-light, a long and damp kiss on
other lips, the hand writing a letter which will never reach its

I would give anything to be entangled between your legs, to mingle
our damp, to exhaust myself in the cleft moon of your hips. I would
give anything, except giving up doing what it's my duty to do.

Dawn breaks.

The sun is beginning to help the houses and buildings in their
languorous bowing to the west.

The other Jalisco is honing word and tuning ear.

Outside they are asking:

“Are you ready?”

Inside, shadow carefully folds the longing, puts it in the left pocket of
his shirt, close to his heart, and answers:


From the other Guadalajara.
Subcomandante insurgente Marcos
Mexico, March of 2006

Originally published in Spanish by the EZLN
Translated by irlandesa
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