Chiapas. Mexico. On the 27th anniversary of the EZLN’s rebellion, Subcomandante Moisés stated: “We did what we had to do”. This is a conversation with the current Zapatista spokesperson who held the rank of major back on January 1st, 1994. We talk about the orgins of the uprising by the indigenous rebels.
-To understand 94, we have to go back, could you tell us about the years prior to the uprising?
-Yes, 1983 was the year when some of our members arrived to the mountains of the Mexican southeast and began to recruit comrades which is why the membership of the organization grew. Then from ‘83 to ‘93 was the period of recruitment in the villages, the ‘underground period’.
The comrades began to look for people one by one but then we changed our recruitment methods because the people, the indigenous communities, have a certain way of meeting people in groups, collectively. And this is how we recruited those with moral authority. And yes, from that point on we continued to organize ourselves with towns and other areas. A region can be made up of lots small towns and communities. Some regions are made up of 20 communities or 30 communities, which is what we call a region.
As our political influence grew in these towns and regions, we made military preparations. We organized the compañeros and compañeras, until the day came when it was decided: It is time for us to head out.
-How did the arrival of members from the city affect the organization in the towns during that time?
-Small communities began to see things differently because they (members from the city) organized in a different way. What I want to say is that with the arrival of the EZLN, women began to have an important role, where before they weren’t even considered. Although there were some organizations (with women), they weren’t really taken seriously. That’s what changed during that time, there was more organization and respect for women.
-On January 1st, 1994, you were a major, not yet a Subcomandante. What was it like to experience the preparations for that day?
– We all arrived, insurgents and troops, we all got ready. Before I became a major I was Insurgent Moisés. We had trained in the mountains and helped our fellow comrades prepare; It was there that the troops had to take exams to become a commander. Starting from second lieutenant, lieutenant, then second captain, first captain, then major and so on. So, yes, the rank I had when we left on January 1st, 1994 was major, as is publicly known. We received training and on top of that, other special trainings courses, because we also had to go out into the city. The mountains are very different than the city. I had to be with my commander, Subcomandante Insurgente Pedro, who was teaching, preparing and training me.
And yes, there were a lot of the things he taught and explained to us before 1994 that I had to learn. He prepared me for times just like today with you, where we have to explain who we are, and talk to the people of Mexico; the teachers, the students, the workers and others.
-What other advice did Subcomandante Pedro give you during that training period?
-He would also say that we have to be prepared, because we do not know who will die, and he was right. We used to be underground but today we have organized ourselves with our comrades, for example with the National Indigenous Congress. We’re now openly working with the people. What happened in the past, is the past, as he would say. When we left at dawn in 1994, I had to do my part. He told me no matter happened I had to continue and take responsibility for my actions. Of course, I understood what he told me from the beginning: that whatever happens we have to continue fighting and here we are, still fighting.
-What was January 1st, 1994 like for you?
-Well, it was my duty to take over the Town Hall of Ocosingo along with Subcomandante Insurgente Pedro. He was in front of the town hall and I was off to the side, where the police were set up. Then we got separated, but we had said that we would be in communication when we were ready to head into the town hall.
I was waiting for his order, but it never came so I sent him a message to find out what was going on. I waited for a long time, but then I received a message that Sub Pedro had fallen in combat. So from then on, I had to take command and decide what we were going to do. The first thing we did was to check on our comrade Subcomandante Insurgente Pedro, so I took him outside, lifted his head, talked to him to see if he was still alive, but nothing. We got him out of there and took his body to a Zapatista community.
So then, we had to continue, we had to move forward. And that’s what I was organizing, because we had to go to another city, which was Comitán, and that’s what I was getting ready for. But then we recieved the order from Subcomandante Marcos that we had to retreat, and we had to retreat because that was the order. And that was that.
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