Some of the New and Old World’s finest political writers illuminate the many facets of Mexico’s Zapatista revolutionary movement—in a collection assembled by veteran activist and former California state senator Hayden (Irish on the Inside, 2001, etc.).
The ragtag indigenous army of Zapatistas, who from the impoverished region of Chiapas openly and vibrantly challenged the government of Mexico, captured the international imagination. And if “the seas of ink which darken our newspapers at first produced an intellectual tickle [but now] provoke an invincible yawn” (as Octavio Paz puts it), those seas have washed up some mighty fine material over the eight years since the Zapatistas’ Christmas Day uprising in 1993. Hayden has pulled together much excellent writing, including a splendid collection of the powerful communiqués and reflections produced by the Zapatistas themselves. He culls material from both likely and unlikely sources. It wasn't much of a stretch to reprint Gabriel García Márquez's interview with Subcomandante Marcos, or one of Alma Guillermoprieto’s New Yorker pieces, which paint Latin America with superb expressionistic swipes similar to Ryszard Kapuscinski’s writings on Africa. But Hayden has also dug deep into the small-press world and come back with gold: Regis Debray waxing (as he is entitled) on Marcos as a revolutionary figure; Daniel Nugent explaining why the Zapatistas are not the postmodernist darlings some northern intellectuals would like; John Berger fashioning a puzzle to illustrate the nature of the revolt; Naomi Klein, deeply suspicious of the press images, detailing the importance of outsider status. Best of all, these writers depict the future as a riddle, not a certainty, and show the Zapatistas—an indigenous, open, and popular force—busily engaging those riddles with their minds, not just guns. “The military man is an absurdity,” says Marcos, “because he must always rely on weapons.”
In a word: inspirational. In a few more: moody, heartbreaking, revelatory, jubilant.