Our Word is Our Weapon

June 1, 2001 / New Internationalist


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The words of poets rarely make manifest the worlds which they describe. But the words of Subcomandante Marcos of the indigenous Zapatista rebels of Mexico – his political communiqués, fiction, poetry, letters – have a potent, magical power of their own.

The Zapatistas rose up at midnight on 1 January 1994, the day that the North America Free Trade Agreement came into force. Since then, Marcos’ whimsical, funny, furious, beautiful words have proved the most powerful weapons of the Zapatistas – written on scraps of paper in the Lacondan jungle of Chiapas, smuggled in saddle-bags across military lines, tapped into ageing laptops, posted on to the internet and out to the world. More than any other writer, Marcos has made it possible for people around the world to refuse neo-liberalism.

With his black ski mask, big nose and ubiquitous pipe Subcomandante Marcos is iconic, as the little masked Zapatista dolls sold around the markets of Chiapas attest. But Our Word is Our Weapon proves he is also one of the most important literary figures of Latin America – one who has earned the respect of contemporaries such as Eduardo Galeano and José Saramago.

Our Word is Our Weapon tells the story of this insurrection of hope, a story as old as the invasion of the Americas by the conquistadores, and as young as the international resistance movement against globalization.

But the power of these words is dangerous. Turning dreams into actions means joining a fight, a real-life battle where real blood has been spilled upon the ground. These words are weapons indeed.