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Subcomandante Marcos

Subcomandante Marcos Mexican activist

Mexican activist
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro Mexican activist
Is Politician Military personnel Philosopher
From Mexico
Type Military Philosophy Politics
Gender male
Birth 19 June 1957, Tampico, Mexico
Age: 62 years
Star sign GeminiGemini
National Autonomous University of Mexico
The details

Rafael Sebastián Guillén Vicente (born (1957-06-19)19 June 1957) is a Mexican insurgent and former military leader and spokesman of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) in the ongoing Chiapas conflict. Widely known by his previous nom de guerre as Subcomandante Marcos, he has recently used several other pseudonyms; he referred to himself as Delegate Zero during the 2006 Mexican Presidential Campaign. In May 2014, he adopted the name of his dead comrade "Teacher Galeano", naming himself Subcomandante Galeano instead.

Born in Tampico, Tamaulipas, Marcos earned a degree in sociology and a master's degree in philosophy from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), and taught at the Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAM) for several years during the early 1980s. During this time he became increasingly involved with a guerrilla group known as the National Liberation Forces (FLN), before leaving the university and moving to Chiapas in 1984.

The Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) was founded in the Lacandon Jungle in 1983, initially functioning as a self-defense unit dedicated to protecting Chiapas' Mayan people from evictions and encroachment on their land. While not Mayan himself, Marcos emerged as the group's leader, and when the EZLN – often referred to as Zapatistas – began their rebellion on January 1, 1994, Marcos served as their spokesman.

Known for his trademark ski mask and pipe, and for his charismatic personality, Marcos led the EZLN during the 1994 revolt and the subsequent peace negotiations, during a counter-offensive by the Mexican Army in 1995, and throughout the decades that followed. In 2001, he led a group of Zapatista leaders into Mexico City to meet with President Vicente Fox, attracting widespread public and media attention. In 2006, Marcos made another public tour of Mexico, which was known as The Other Campaign. In May 2014, Marcos stated that the persona of Subcomandante Marcos had been "a hologram" and no longer existed. Many media outlets interpreted the message as Marcos retiring as the Zapatistas' leader and spokesman.

Marcos is also a prolific writer, and hundreds of essays and multiple books are attributed to him. Most of his writings focus on his anti-capitalist ideology and the advocacy for indigenous people's rights, but he has also written poetry and novels.

Early life

Guillén was born on 19 June 1957, in Tampico, Tamaulipas, to Alfonso Guillén and Maria del Socorro Vincente. He was the fourth of eight children. A former elementary school teacher, Alfonso owned a chain of furniture stores, and the family is usually described – including by Guillén himself – as middle class. In a 2001 interview with Gabriel García Márquez and Roberto Pombo, he described his upbringing as middle class, and "without financial difficulties". According to Guillén, his parents fostered a love for language and reading in their children.

Guillén attended high school at the Instituto Cultural Tampico, a Jesuit school in Tampico. Later, he moved to Mexico City and graduated from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), majoring in Philosophy. There he became immersed in the school's pervasive Marxist rhetoric of the 1970s and 1980s and won an award for the best dissertation (drawing on the then-recent work of Althusser and Foucault) of his class. He began working as a professor at the Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAM) while finishing his dissertation at UNAM, but left after a couple of years. It is thought that it was at UAM where Rafael got in touch with the Forces of National Liberation, the mother organization of what would later become the EZLN.

Marcos was radicalized by the Tlatelolco massacre (2 October 1968) of students and civilians by the Mexican federal government; consequently, he became a militant in the Maoist National Liberation Forces. In 1983, he went to the mountains of Chiapas to convince the poor, indigenous Mayan population to organize and launch a proletarian revolution against the Mexican bourgeoisie and the federal government. After hearing his proposition, the Chiapanecs "just stared at him," and replied that they were not urban workers, and that from their perspective the land was not property, but the heart of the community. In the documentary A Place Called Chiapas (1998), about his early days there, Subcommander Marcos said:

Imagine a person who comes from an urban culture. One of the world's biggest cities, with a university education, accustomed to city life. It's like landing on another planet. The language, the surroundings are new. You're seen as an alien from outer space. Everything tells you: "Leave. This is a mistake. You don't belong in this place"; and it's said in a foreign tongue. But they let you know, the people, the way they act; the weather, the way it rains; the sunshine; the earth, the way it turns to mud; the diseases; the insects; homesickness. You're being told. "You don't belong here." If that's not a nightmare, what is?

There are several rumors that Marcos left Mexico in the mid-1980s to go to Nicaragua to serve with the Sandinistas under the nom de guerre El Mejicano. After leaving Nicaragua in the late 1980s, he returned to Mexico and helped form the EZLN with support from the Sandinistas and the Salvadoran leftist guerrilla group FMLN. Some believe that this contradicts the view that the first Zapatista organizers were in the jungle by 1983, however it is known that the real founders of the EZLN foco were the brothers Fernando (a.k.a. German) and Cesar (a.k.a. Pedro) Yañez-Muñoz, who were previously part of the FLN guerrillas. Marcos took over the remnants of the FLN after Pedro was killed and German captured.

Guillén's sister Mercedes del Carmen Guillén Vicente is the Attorney General of the State of Tamaulipas, and an influential member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party.

Zapatista Crisis

Military site

Subcomandante Marcos (center, wearing brown cap) in Chiapas

Once Subcomandante Marcos was identified as Rafael Sebastián Guillén Vicente, on 9 February 1995, President Ernesto Zedillo decided to launch a military offensive to capture or annihilate Marcos and the Zapatistas. Arrest warrants were issued for Marcos, Javier Elorriaga Berdegue, Silvia Fernández Hernández, Jorge Santiago, Fernando Yanez, German Vicente, Jorge Santiago and other Zapatistas. The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) was besieged by the Mexican Army in the Lacandon Jungle.

Marcos' resolve was put to the test in his camp in the Lacandon Jungle when the Zapatistas were under military siege by the Mexican Army. Marcos' response was immediate, sending Secretary of the Interior Lic. Esteban Moctezuma the following message: "See you in hell." There were conflicting signals in favor of a fast military solution. The facts seemed to confirm Manuel Camacho Solis' 16 June 1994 assertion that the reason for his resignation as the Chiapas Peace Commissioner was due to sabotage done by the presidential candidate Ernesto Zedillo.

Under the political pressure of a highly radicalized situation, Moctezuma believed a peaceful solution was possible. He championed a negotiated solution to the 1995 Zapatista Crisis, betting on a creative strategy to re-establish Mexican–EZLN dialog. Taking a strong position against the 9 February actions, Moctezuma submitted his resignation to President Zedillo. Zedillo refused the resignation and asked Moctezuma to try to restore conditions that would allow dialog and an attempt at negotiation. For these reasons the Mexican army moderated their actions, providing an opportunity that Marcos capitalized upon to escape the military site in the Lacandon Jungle.

Faced with this situation, Max Appedole, a childhood friend of Guillén and colleague at the Jesuits College Instituto Cultural Tampico, asked for help from Edén Pastora, the legendary Nicaraguan "Commander Zero"; they prepared a report for Under-Secretary of the Interior Luis Maldonado, Moctezuma, and President Zedillo about Marcos' natural pacifist vocation and the consequences of a military outcome. The document concluded that the complaints of marginalized groups and the radical left in México have been vented through the Zapatistas movement, while Marcos maintained an open negotiating track. If Marcos was to be eliminated, his work at social containment would cease and more-radical groups could take control of the movement. These groups would respond to violence with violence, threatening terrorist bombings, kidnappings and belligerent activities. The country would be in a very dangerous spiral, with discontent in areas other than Chiapas

Decree for reconciliation and peace

On 10 March 1995 President Zedillo and Secretary of the Interior Moctezuma signed the Presidential Decree for the Dialog, the Reconciliation and a Peace with Dignity in Chiapas Law. It was discussed and approved by the Mexican Congress.

Restoration of the peace talks

Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) insurgents in Mexico.

On the night of 3 April 1995 at 8:55 pm the first meeting between representatives of the EZLN and those of the Zedillo's government were held. Moctezuma sent his under secretary, Luis Maldonado, to deliver a letter to Zapatista representatives in radio communication with Marcos. The letter expressed the Secretary of Interior's commitment to find a political path to resolve the conflict.

In contrast to many other talks – with broad media exposure, strong security measures, and great ceremony – Maldonado decided on secret talks, alone, without any disruptive security measures. He went to the Lacandon Jungle to meet with Marcos. Secret negotiations took place in Prado Pacayal, Chiapas, witnessed by Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Batel. Marcos and Maldonado established parameters and a location for the peace dialog between the parties. After several days of unfruitful negotiations, without reaching any specific agreements, Maldonado proposed an indefinite suspension of hostilities. On his way out, he said: "If you do not accept this, it will be regretted not having made the installation of the formal dialog in the time established by the Peace Talks Law." Marcos took this as a direct threat, and did not reply.

Subcomandante Marcos gave a statement to the Witness of Honor, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Batel:

You have been witness to the fact that we have not threatened or assaulted these people, they have been respected in their person, property, their liberty and life. You have witnessed that the Zapatista Army of National Liberation has a word and has honor; you have also been witness to our willingness to engage in dialog. Thank you for taking the trouble to come all the way down here and have contributed with your effort to a peaceful settlement of the conflict, we hope that you will continue contributing in this effort to avoid war and you and your family, continue accepting to be witnesses of honor in this dialog and negotiation process.

Marcos asked Batel to accompany Moctezuma and Maldonado to Ocosingo to verify their departure in good health having been unharmed. The meeting ended 7 April 1995 at 4:00 am.


Without much hope of dialog, Maldonado began his return to Mexico City under hostile conditions. When passing by the Ejido, San Miguel, a Zapatista patrol beckoned them to stop. Maldonado, surprised and not knowing what was happening, was handed a radio. Using it, Maldonado and Marcos resumed their dialog, and made agreements in accordance with the law to start the formal peace talks. Marcos convinced the Zapatista movement to put aside their arms and begin the talks to reach a peace agreement.


By 9 April 1995, the basis for the Dialog Protocol and the harmony, peace with justice and dignity agreement negotiation between the Mexican Government and the Zapatistas was signed. On 17 April the Mexican Government appointed Marco Antonio Bernal as Peace Commissioner in Chiapas. The peace talks began in San Andrés Larráinzar on 22 April, where the Zapatistas rejected the Mexican Government's proposal. Peace talks resumed on 7 June 1995. The parties agreed with Alianza Cívica Nacional and the Convención Nacional Democrática to organize a national consultation for peace and democracy. The basis for the dialog protocol was renegotiated, in La Realidad, Chiapas. On 12 October 1995 peace talks resumed in San Andres Larráinzar, Chiapas.

The Other Agenda

The difficulties encountered during the peace talks between the government and the Zapatistas were due mostly to the initiatives promoted by the Attorney General of Mexico (PGR). On 23 October 1995, in order to derail the peace talks, the PGR arrested and sent Fernando Yañez Muñoz to prison. These actions violated the governing peace talks law, which granted a guarantee of free passage to all Zapatistas during the negotiations and suspended outstanding arrest warrants against them. On 26 October, the Zapatista National Liberation Army denied any association with Muñoz and announced a Red Alert, while Marcos returned to the mountains. That same day, the PGR dropped all charges against the alleged Comandante German. The COCOPA (Comisión de Concordia y Pacificación, Commission of Concord and Pacification) agreed with the determination. On 27 October, Muñoz was freed from the Reclusorio Preventivo Oriente. He said: "I was arrested for political reasons and I guess I am set free for political reasons, my arrest was with the objective purpose of sabotaging the peace talks." On 29 October 1995 the Zapatistas lifted the Red Alert and negotiations were resumed.

Executive decision

Finding a non-military, peaceful solution to the 1995 Zapatista Crisis was politically and honorably correct, saving many lives in México. After a rocky start because of conflicting intelligence, Moctezuma was able to give to President Zedillo proper information. Zedillo avoided innocent bloodshed by changing the course of action, reversing his 9 February 1995 decision which brought him heavy political criticism at the time.

Release of the prisoners

On appeal, the Court dismissed the previous sentences given on 2 May 1996 for the crime of terrorism to the alleged Zapatistas Javier Elorriaga Berdegué and Sebastian Etzin Gomez, of 13 and 6 years of imprisonment, respectively. They were released on 6 June 1996. The EZLN then suspended their troops' alert status.

Political and philosophical writings

Flag of the EZLN

Marcos has written more than 200 essays and stories, and has published 21 books documenting his political and philosophical views. The essays and stories are compiled in the books. Marcos tends to prefer indirect expression, and his writings are often fables, although some are more earthy and direct. In a January 2003 letter to Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (the Basque ETA separatist group), titled "I Shit on All the Revolutionary Vanguards of This Planet", Marcos says: "We teach [children of the EZLN] that there are as many words as colors and that there are so many thoughts because within them is the world where words are born...And we teach them to speak with the truth, that is to say, to speak with their hearts."

La Historia de los Colores (The Story of Colors) is a story written for children and is one of Marcos' most-read books. Based on a Mayan creation myth, it teaches tolerance and respect for diversity. The book's English translation was to be published with support from the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts, but in 1999 the grant was abruptly canceled after questions from a reporter to the Endowment's chairman William J. Ivey. The Lannan Foundation provided support after the NEA withdrew.

Marcos' political philosophy is often characterized as Marxist and his writings, which concentrates on strong criticism of people by both business and the State, underlines some of the commonalities the Zapatista ideology shares with Libertarian socialism and Anarchism.

The elliptical, ironic, and romantic style of Marcos' writings may be a way of keeping a distance from the painful circumstances that he reports on and protests. His literary output has a purpose, as suggested in a 2002 book titled, Our Word is Our Weapon, a compilation of his articles, poems, speeches, and letters. In 2005, he wrote the novel The Uncomfortable Dead with the whodunit writer Paco Ignacio Taibo II.

Fourth World War

Subcomandante Marcos has also written an essay in which he claims that neoliberalism and globalization constitute the "Fourth World War". He termed the Cold War the "Third World War". In this piece, Marcos compares and contrasts the Third World War (the Cold War) with the Fourth World War, which he says is the new type of war that we find ourselves in now: "If the Third World War saw the confrontation of capitalism and socialism on various terrains and with varying degrees of intensity, the fourth will be played out between large financial centers, on a global scale, and at a tremendous and constant intensity." He goes on to claim that economic globalization has created devastation through financial policies:

Toward the end of the Cold War, capitalism created a military horror: the neutron bomb, a weapon that destroys life while leaving buildings intact. During the Fourth World War, however, a new wonder has been discovered: the financial bomb. Unlike those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this new bomb not only destroys the polis (here, the nation), imposing death, terror, and misery on those who live there, but also transforms its target into just another piece in the puzzle of economic globalization.

Marcos explains the effect of the financial bombs as, "destroying the material bases of their [nation-state's] sovereignty and, in producing their qualitative depopulation, excluding all those deemed unsuitable to the new economy (for example, indigenous peoples)". Marcos also believes that neoliberalism and globalization result in a loss of unique culture for societies as a result of the homogenizing effect of neo-liberal globalization:

All cultures forged by nations – the noble indigenous past of America, the brilliant civilization of Europe, the wise history of Asian nations, and the ancestral wealth of Africa and Oceania – are corroded by the American way of life. In this way, neoliberalism imposes the destruction of nations and groups of nations in order to reconstruct them according to a single model. This is a planetary war, of the worst and cruelest kind, waged against humanity.

It is in this context which Subcomandante Marcos believes that the EZLN and other indigenous movements across the world are fighting back. He sees the EZLN as one of many "pockets of resistance".

It is not only in the mountains of southeastern Mexico that neoliberalism is being resisted. In other regions of Mexico, in Latin America, in the United States and in Canada, in the Europe of the Maastricht Treaty, in Africa, in Asia, and in Oceania, pockets of resistance are multiplying. Each has its own history, its specificities, its similarities, its demands, its struggles, its successes. If humanity wants to survive and improve, its only hope resides in these pockets made up of the excluded, the left-for-dead, the 'disposable'.

Marcos' views on other Latin American leaders, particularly ones on the left, are complex. He has expressed deep admiration for former Cuban president Fidel Castro and Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara, and given his approval to Bolivian president Evo Morales, but has expressed mixed feelings for Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, whom he views as too militant, but still responsible for vast revolutionary changes in Venezuela. On the other hand, he has labeled Brazil's former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Nicaragua's current president Daniel Ortega, whom he once served under while a member of the Sandinistas, as traitors who have betrayed their original ideals.


Marcos is often credited with putting the impoverished state of Mexico's indigenous population in the spotlight, both locally and internationally. On his 3,000-kilometre (1,900 mi) trek to the capital during the Other Campaign in 2006, Marcos was welcomed by "huge adoring crowds, chanting and whistling". There were "Marcos handcrafted dolls, and his ski mask-clad face adorns T-shirts, posters and badges."

Relationship with Inter Milan

Apart from cheering for local Liga MX side Chiapas F.C., which relocated to Querétaro in 2013, Subcomandante Marcos and the EZLN also support the Italian Serie A club Inter Milan. The contact between EZLN and Inter, one of Italy's biggest and most famous clubs, began in 2004 when an EZLN commander contacted a delegate from Inter Campus, the club's charity organization which has funded sports, water, and health projects in Chiapas.

In 2005, Inter's president Massimo Moratti received an invitation from Subcomandante Marcos to have Inter play a football game against a team of Zapatistas with Diego Maradona as referee. Subcomandante Marcos asked Inter to bring the match ball because the Zapatistas' ones were punctured. Although the proposed spectacle never came to fruition, there has been continuing contact between Inter and the Zapatistas. Former captain Javier Zanetti has expressed sympathy for the Zapatista cause.

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