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Subcomandante Marcos steps down as Zapatista spokesman

May 26, 2014
Subcomandante Marcos said it was a "difficult decision" to step down as EZLN spokesman.

Subcomandante Marcos said it was a “diffiult decision” to step down as EZLN spokesman.

Enigmatic Zapatista spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos announced on Sunday his retirement as the mouthpiece for the indigenous rebel group.

“My voice will no longer be the voice of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN),” Marcos said, citing unspecified “internal changes” within the movement.

An iconic and charismatic figure forever hidden behind military fatigues, ski mask and his trademark pipe, Marcos helped draw global media attention to the plight of Mexico’s marginalized indigenous population for over 20 years after leading the initial Zapatista uprising in the southern state of Chiapas on January 1, 1994.

However, aside from issuing sporadic communiqués peppered with humor and poetic denunciations of the Mexican political establishment, he had kept a notably lower profile of late. Within hours of making his first public appearance in five years, Marcos declared that he would “stop existing” because his persona had become a “distraction” for the Zapatista movement.

“The handover of command is not due to illness or death, not to an internal shift, purge or purification,” Marcos said in a statement issued at 2:08 a.m. on May 25.

Marcos had rarely been seen in public since mounting “La Otra Campaña,” a national campaign to unite disaffected groups across Mexico that coincided with the 2006 presidential election. The campaign was met with a somewhat underwhelming response, while current President Enrique Peña Nieto, who was then governor of Mexico State, dealt the movement a fierce blow by launching a brutal crackdown on protesters in San Salvador Atenco.

Marcos only reappeared on May 25 to attend a memorial service for Jose Luis Solis Lopez, a Zapatista teacher better known as “Galeano,” who was viciously murdered by militant agricultural workers during an attack on the autonomous community of La Realidad earlier this month. Wearing an eye patch and carrying a machete, Marcos stood before some 3,000 Zapatistas while his companion Subcomandante Moises delivered a eulogy for their fallen comrade.

Although he made clear the following morning that he will no longer serve as the primary Zapatista spokesperson, Marcos did imply that he would continue to serve the movement under a new alias. “We think it is necessary for one of us to die so that Galeano can live,” Marcos said. In order for Solis to “cheat death,” he explained that he would kill off the “Marcos” persona and assume the name “Subcomandante Galeano.”

Marcos’ announcement was met with surprise and some criticism. “Marcos retires from media narcissism. He spoke for the indians without being indian, and he sent them to die armed with sticks for rifles. They’re worse off today,” tweeted former Mexican presidential candidate Gabriel Quadri, making reference to the poorly armed rebels that participated in the 1994 uprising.

The Zapatistas have always favored non-hierarchical power structures and advocated participatory democracy, so while Marcos served as their symbolic figurehead he was always a spokesperson, not a leader. Thus no direct replacement need be appointed, although the aforementioned Subcomandante Moises has already become one of the movement’s more prominent representatives in recent years.

Ending his farewell address on a typically humorous note, Marcos, who was identified by the Mexican government as Rafael Guillen Vicente, a former philosophy professor from the northern state of Tamaulipas, but has never appeared unmasked in public, joked, “Can I walk around naked now?”

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