We Are Ugly, But We Are Prepared To Die: Comandanta Fidelia

Jaime Áviles, correspondent.

English translation for publication by NAP
courtesy of Irlandesa

Originally published in Spanish by La Jornada
Translated by irlandesa

La Jornada
Friday, March 9, 2001.

From Cuautla, Morelos to Milpa Alta, DF
March 8.

So that history might record it: at 8:08 AM on the 8th, the zapatista Comandantas set foot on the soil of Mexico City, and, through the voice of Fidelia, they said this, which is their word: “I invite you to fight together with us against this monster we carry in our bodies and which attacks us and which is a very great poverty. Help us to secure that right which we do not have, to lull our children with sweetness. We, the ugly women, with their faces covered. But our hearts are not ugly, and we are prepared to fight until the death. We are illiterate people, but we do know how to defend ourselves, and we are here.”

Filled to overflowing, the Milpa Alta civic plaza reacted instantaneously: “You’re not ugly, you’re not ugly!”

In order to receive the rebel delegates — who had come from the bad vibes of Cuautla — the valley of Milpa Alta had set up, in the twilight, a majestic carpet of nopales, and, under the guidance of Teutli, an extremely ancient volcano which means God of the Road (because “utli” is road and “teu” god), they had hung for them a moon painted by Velasco (who never painted moons, but today, a hundred years after his death, an exception was allowed), before an enthusiastic crowd took them to their bosoms with shouts and slogans, which the travelers have heard over and over and not tired of.

But twelve days and twelve states in the federation after having met in the San Cristóbal central park, the 24 zapatistas admitted today, for the first time publicly, that a dark shadow had been attempting to pursue them, at least since yesterday. Concerning which, the Subcomandante said: “Our feet on these lands are causing some people to feel…it’s like ants in the pants. That’s why we only want to ask you to look after us.”

He was referring, obviously, to the incident which had taken place this morning in the center of Cuautla, where the security teams reported they had found an unidentified man carrying a weapon. That sinister discovery was enough for the event — which was going to take place at the foot of the statue which looks over the mortal remains of General Emiliano Zapata in his natal and mortal land — to be swiftly and definitively cancelled.

The Delegation Received the Delegation

To tell the truth, the comuneros and political officials of Milpa Alta, went to a lot of effort in the preparations for the ceremony, which would be remembered as the one which marked the beginning of the historic visit by the zapatistas of the 21st century to Mexico City, on the International Day of the Woman, without whom, according to Comandanta Esther, “the world will not be transformed.”

And, being that it was such a noteworthy day — not just because those who arrived had arrived — but also because it has been what it has for the last 147 years, the zapatista delegation — also taking advantage of the fact that there was such a round and feminine moon high in the night sky — organized their presentation to the Mexico City zapatistas of the southeastern outskirts of the DF, in the format of a volley of words, spoken solely for those who are half the sky.

And it happened like that, while the delegation was welcoming the delegation — and everyone knows what we’re talking about here — Comandanta Susana, acting as mistress of ceremonies, expressed the procession’s appreciation, in the name of the highest leadership body of the EZLN — which is their militants and support bases — and immediately ceded the microphone, the audience, and the attention of future historians, to Comandanta Yolanda, who started right off by saying:

“Nothing has changed in Chiapas, because Fox has not carried out the three signals that we have asked for in order to sit back down to dialogue. Releasing all the zapatista political prisoners in Chiapas, Querétaro and Tabasco, which were already more than one hundred, but there’s still many more left. Withdrawing the armies from the seven military positions, when they have already left four, but there are three remaining. Because we do not need the armies to take care of us, we know how to take care of ourselves.”

She then spoke about the third signal, which is monumentally difficult and has to do with the approval of the Cocopa’s legislative proposal based on the San Andrés Accords. And with that said, she returned to her seat on the podium so that Fidelia could take the necessary steps to the front, and, in an improvised address, brilliant and irrefutable, she conquered the demanding capital public from the first sentence.

“Good evening, children and old ones. We are certain that you are glad to see us. It equally fills our hearts with joy and makes everything we are feeling go away,” she said, but the common sense of this journalist preferred to understand it as “everything we are suffering.” And she said more: “ I invite you to fight together with us against this monster we carry in our bodies and which attacks us and which is a very great poverty…”

But here, it has been said before, the plaza broke out with an incredible response: “You’re not ugly! You’re not ugly!” It was shouted by the residents of the towns of Momoxco, which is the Milpa valley where the Nahua towns of Tecoxpa and Tecómitl live together, who were there under their banners. And by those from the Francisco Villa Popular Front, and by the students from the IPN and the UNAM. And it was shouted by the Collective of Rebel Women, and those from the CIMAC. And it was shouted by those from the Ethnic Research Group, “in support of the fight for the rights of the Indian peoples.” And it was shouted by Chimalhuacanos, and it was shouted by those from the PRD and those from the Maderas del Pueblo. But also by the mestizo neighbors from the area, and even by women from so many countries in the world who could not be immune from the contagion of generalized euphoria.

Comandanta Esther, lastly, said that “we remember the 147th anniversary of the death of our sister workers in New York, who rebelled because they were not being paid fairly, but they did not die in vain because they achieved their eight hour day.” Following that — and this was also the announcement that Marcos would not be speaking — Esther read the fifth of the seven messages which the Subcomandante had promised in Temoaya on Monday, which he would be sending to the heart of the Federal District, with the following words: “When the moon is queen and carries three sorrows, light will be made more strong and the new day shall dawn.”

Good Security Measures

And the moon was most truly queen of the night, without clouds or stars or cold or wind, but the crowd hadn’t understood that the Sup had relinquished his turn on the list so that the women speakers could impose their absolute majority, even on the syntax of this sentence, and, from every corner of the plaza, the voices began growing, calling and demanding, as if they were in a theater: “Marcos, Marcos, Marcos, Marcos!”

Very serious, as he had looked all day, serious and with his head bowed, except when it was his turn to speak — as he had briefly in Anenecuilco and later in Chinameca — trying not to be entreated any more by the Milpa Alta residents, he limited himself to communicating to those who had waited for him for so long: “I only want to ask you to look after us.”

The cancellation of the farewell event in Cuautla, the attitude of the police forces in Morelos — which varied from indolence to aggression — the anxiety on the faces of the federal police when they crossed through the horrible city with the procession, was wearing down their spirits. On the other hand, security measures had suffered changes since the day before. When night had fallen in Cuautla, a woman had gotten through the human shield formed by the Italian militants from the Ya Basta Association.

In the words of Federico Mariani, the president of that NGO, interviewed today in Chinameca, “there has been a lot of pressure by the press against us. In addition, the compañeros from Morelos are better organized than in other parts of the country. That’s why we fell back today, and we took advantage of the time off to send our white monkeys out to wash up.”

Mariani, however, commented, sorrowfully, about the incident in which a reporter had approached him, in Cuautla, and asked him: “And why don’t you bathe?” An insolence which reflects the degree of xenophobic persecution still cherished by some of the media against international civil society.

But all the bad vibes disappeared when the caravan crossed the Federal District border, and the landscape spilled out its carpets of nopales which extended over broad hectares of light. And the moon painted by Velasco post-mortem, and the enthusiastic crowd in the Milpa Alta plaza, where the delegation had established discreet but extensive wire fencing for the delegation’s protection, everything quickly contributed to a sea change in the atmosphere.

And, in that doubly benign climate, that of the people and that of the atmosphere — sweetened by an ensemble which sighed Inti Illimani’s nostalgic version of “Run run se fue pal norte” by Violeta Parra — Julián Flores Aguilar, in the name of the zapatista comuneros from the last century, delivered the topilxóchitl, or staff, to those of the new century. And the elderly María del Carmen Rodríguez Mesa recited an emotional oratorical work inspired by a line of Eduardo Galeano. And Tomasa Sandoval spoke for the National Coordinating Group of Indigenous Women of the CNI. And, lastly, after the national hymn which opened the ceremony, Comandante Gustavo prepared to close it, intoning the zapatista hymn — as he has done with his great tenor voice at all the events of these 3000 kilometers traveled over twelve days — but, as a prize for his songbird like efforts, he was accompanied by two guitars which made many men cry, but especially many women, who were the majority on this, their international day.