The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

85° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    “Marcos acts with patience, intensity”

    Mark Poepselguest columnist
    Mark Poepsel
    guest columnist

    Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, who in his latest campaign is also known as Delegate Zero, dropped in for a meeting with area indigenous groups Saturday afternoon near Magdalena, Sonora, and conducted what should long be remembered as a patient, thoughtful and peaceful meeting focusing on the airing of grievances from borderlands Indians.

    Marcos became famous as the spokesperson and one of the leaders of the Zapatista rebellion in southern Mexico in 1994. Starting the same day the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect, Jan. 1, 1994, the Zapatistas took control of a handful of cities and villages in Chiapas. The bulk of the fighting lasted only 12 days. Now, 12 years later, the nonviolent campaign of words continues. This was a chance for interested people north of the border to join local indigenous groups to see Marcos and hear what he has to say now that NAFTA is old news and now that its effects are more fully known.

    NAFTA has not been kind to indigenous people. Corn subsidies in the United States keep prices so low that it can be sold in Mexico for lower than the cost of production for small farmers. After being pushed off their farms, many indigenous people have few options: look for poorly paying work in the informal economy, try to find work in an urban center like Mexico City or migrate to the United States looking for a job that pays in a day what they might earn in two weeks in parts of Mexico.

    With a group of Latin American studies and anthropology graduate students, I attended the event on a farm on Highway 15 in Sonora near Magdalena – roughly two hours south of Tucson.

    The sights and sounds of the event burned vivid memories. The smells of the dust of the farm and of Marcos’ tobacco pipe are the first to come to mind. There is also the taste of beans, rice and roast beef in red chili sauce, which is hard to forget as that meal warmed and filled my stomach on a cold desert night.

    “”He taught me one lesson: leadership is knowing when to take action and when to be patient. Beneath dangling 60-watt bulbs, in front of a crowd of no more than 250 people, on a tiny farm in the southern half of the Sonoran desert, Marcos demonstrated when to shut your mouth and open your eyes.””

    Working to connect the indigenous Zapatista movement in the south of Mexico to political efforts of indigenous tribes and communities in Mexico’s north, Marcos has been traveling throughout the region for a couple of weeks on the “”Other Campaign.””

    This is opposed to Mexico’s presidential campaign – one that ended in a statistical tie and that was ultimately decided by Mexico’s highest election court. Marcos had no part in it because in the view of Delegate Zero, all major party candidates (and some from minor parties, for that matter) are sellouts who don’t care about the minority indigenous populations.

    The most remarkable concept to share from the event in Sonora is that everything was perfectly normal. It was a meeting for people – most importantly, indigenous people – to air their grievances and push for political change.

    Marcos’ presence is meaningful because he is a world-famous symbol (maybe a celebrity) of opposition to neoliberalism. That can be a daunting term. Put simply, what the man in the mask represents is the indigenous person against the big, subsidized corporate farm of the United States and Canada and the indigenous person against the big, subsidized royal expeditions of Spain and Portugal. In case the average reader has forgotten, indigenous people are still alive across the hemisphere and still working to preserve their cultures and lives against invading forces.

    You may have heard of Marcos as a terrorist, and he has been criticized for not working within Mexico’s democracy for his cause. To that accusation, Marcos often quotes Martin Luther King Jr. In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, King wrote: “”Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.””

    Marcos is an intellectual – smart enough to know when violence is necessary and smart enough to put violence on the shelf for more than a decade to conduct meetings, take notes, smoke his pipe and laugh. We students in Latin American studies and anthropology noticed that he sat and listened to representatives from local indigenous groups for six hours without eating or drinking – never leaving the table.

    He taught me one lesson: Leadership is knowing when to take action and when to be patient. Beneath dangling 60-watt bulbs, in front of a crowd of no more than 250 people on a tiny farm in the southern half of the Sonoran desert, Marcos demonstrated when to shut your mouth and open your eyes.

    He’s continuing with a relatively small project that holds keys to the biggest secrets of lasting global peace. He finds power in patience, in silence and in a 12-year-old threat.

    Mark Poepsel is a Latin American studies graduate student.

    More to Discover
    Activate Search