Hair braided and decorated with a white gardenia, wicker basket hooked over her left arm, the Oaxaca Trique vendor turned away from the appliance store window through which she’d seen a telecast of the Zapatista “Silent March” and announced, “Caminan con orgullo” (“They walk proudly.”)
I nodded agreement. Their appearance on the twenty-first of December vibrated throughout Mexico. Forty thousand strong, clad in jeans and jackets, many with ski masks, they demonstrated strength and discipline as well as pride. Without a word (or only a few from the near legendary Subcomandante Marcos) they disproved years of government propaganda about their diminishing resolution, their diminishing health, their diminishing ability to govern. They looked hearty, strong, determined.
They looked happy as well.
These were not the Zapatistas of the 1994 uprising. The majority were under thirty-five; many were teenagers. They had grown up in the communally governed caracoles, been educated there, imbued Zapatista values. Despite constant paramilitary harassment, despite being isolated from mainstream Mexico, they had done more than scrabble for survival: They had created a lifestyle, a community, dependent on no one but themselves. No barricading of highways, no pounding on bureaucrats’ doors and pleading for food, for medicines, for jobs. Many of those looking on, both in Chiapas and on television, did so with envy. In a country where over fifty million live in poverty these Zapatistas had created a beautiful little island all their own.
Not that their lives have been easy. According to OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) standards they fall into the “living in extreme poverty” category. Money is scarce. Their lives include few of what more prosperous societies deem necessary to meet basic needs.
El Sup—Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos—couldn’t remain silent for long. In his communiqué to the world—particularly to the “bad government” of newly elected Enrique Peña Nieto’s Mexico—he challenged:
“They (the bad governments) don’t need us in order to fail.
“We don’t need them in order to survive.”
And he promised that the Zapatistas would announce a series of initiatives to reassert their campaigns to forge better governments and better lives for what they call “the original peoples of Mexico and the Western Hemisphere”.