We Weren't Conquered!
August 13th, 2021. Madrid, Slumil K'ajxemk'op. As the voices of Maritime Squad 421 rightly emphasized to us, “Living is not just about not dying, about surviving."
August 14, 2021.
Madrid, Slumil K'ajxemk'op - The orange light of the Madrid streetlamps washed over the crowd. It contrasted with the faint blue emanating from the police patrols in proximity, prowling alongside the march like wasps. On Friday, August 13th, the streets of Madrid protested against the reign of capital.
The Travesía por la Vida ("Journey for Life: Ixchel's route in search of conquest in reverse") began months ago, but in the boiling capital of the Spanish state the commemorative point of the clamor "they did not conquer us!" was witnessed by the old Puerta del Sol.
The seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries witnessed the idiosyncratic madrileña tradition that attributed to this area (and other similar areas) the term «mentidero», with la Puerta del Sol being considered as one of the largest of this category. Historically the «mentideros» belonged to unofficial jurisdictions, fixed enclaves where rumors were spread and reputations destroyed, but also where conversations were had and information shared. Hence historians, in a quasi-clinical way, have determined the «mentidero» structure to have been a primitive form of "oral journalism".
("How little the world has changed!" reflect the authors, in retrospect.)
Before the march, the equestrian statue of Carlos III, expectant like a buzzard, hovered over the public. A murmur reminded us: "Because, where reasons are lacking, statues abound." The bronze constitutes the monument to the monarch –a proponent of enlightened despotism– and deceives the naked eye, feigning an antique semblance that does not belong to it. Although Carlos III ascended the Spanish throne on August 10, 1759, the monument was erected in 1994. Yet, from his horse, he seemed to watch, stoic, immobile.
The pedestal of the statue to Carlos III has an anachronistic description, 2000 characters simulating the rustic uppercase lettering of the Roman style of writing. The text, attributed to Professor Carlos Sambricio, is inscribed in stone. A fragment stands out to the naked eye:
[CARLOS III] PROMOTED SCIENTIFIC EXPEDITIONS TO AMERICA AND AVSTRALIA. AND DEVELOPED POLICY FOR THE CREATION OF WEALTH IN THE VIRREINATES. RECONQUVERED MENORCA. LAVNCHED THE MODERNIZATION AND IN (sic) BEAUTIFIED THE PENINSVLAR AND AMERICAN POPULATIONS...
The reign of Carlos III is credited with the implementation of the "Spanish Black Codes". These resolutions were inspired, in part, by the French Code Noir. Its objective was to create new legal mechanisms to regulate slave activity and thus increase agricultural profits. The Code Noir, a decree approved by the French King Louis XIV in 1685, established strict restrictions, in addition to the imposition of slavery in the French colonies.
It controlled the activities of free black people, ordered the conversion to Roman Catholicism of all enslaved people in the entire empire, defined the punishments applied if facing insubordination, and ordered the expulsion of all Jews from the colonies of France. It is clear that to attribute the locutions “development” and “beautification” to the reign of Carlos III, as found on this pedestal, does not seem out of place in such a celebrated «mentidero».
At the beginning of the August 13th march, an individual felt his colonial pride threatened. Imitating the Francoist salute, he began a provocation directed at several comrades. When confronted with the scene, a fellow protester responded to the presence of the fascist salute. After several shoves, other comrades decided to separate them so as not to fall for the crude instigation. Shortly after, the servants of capital and the state, the Civil Guard, arrived for the Francoist dictatorship partisan, and accompanied him calmly to the outskirts of the square, as if they were old friends.
Meanwhile, the activity continued its course. This demonstration was already outlined to a degree since October 5, 2020, when Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés shared his COMMUNICATION FROM THE INDIGENOUS REVOLUTIONARY CLANDESTINE COMMITTEE-GENERAL COMMAND OF THE ZAPATISTA NATIONAL LIBERATION ARMY. In it — in that stimulatingly poetic style that characterizes his prose – he expressed:
Thus, various Zapatista delegations, men, women, and others, the color of our earth, will go out into the world, walking or setting sail to remote lands, oceans, and skies, not to seek out difference, superiority, or offense, much less pity or apology, but to find what makes us equal.
It is not just our humanity that unites our different skin, our different ways of life, our different languages and colors. It is also, and above all, the common dream we have shared as a species as of the moment, in a seemingly distant Africa, from the lap of the very first woman, when we set out on the search for freedom that guided our first steps and which continues its path today.
Our first destiny on this planetary journey will be the European continent.
We will leave Mexican lands and set sail for Europe in April of 2021. After journeying through various corners of Europe below and to the left, we plan to arrive in Madrid, the Spanish capital, on August 13, 2021, 500 years after the supposed conquest of what is today Mexico. We will then immediately continue our journey.
We want to speak to the Spanish people. Not to threaten them, scold them, insult them, or make demands of them, and not to demand they ask our forgiveness. We are not there to serve them nor demand they serve us. We want to tell the people of Spain two simple things:
One: You didn’t conquer us. We continue to resist and rebel.
Two: There’s no reason for you to ask our forgiveness for anything. Enough of this toying around with the distant past to justify, with demagoguery and hypocrisy, the current crimes in process: the murder of community organizers, like our brother Samir Flores Soberanes; the hidden genocides behind the megaprojects, conceived and carried out to please the most powerful player—capitalism—which wreaks punishment on all corners of the world; the pay-outs to and impunity for the paramilitaries; the buying off of peoples’ consciences and dignity with 30 pieces of silver.[ii]
We Zapatistas do NOT want to return to that past, not on our own, much less accompanied by someone trying to seed racial resentment and feed his outmoded nationalism with the supposed splendor of the Aztec Empire which built itself from the blood of its neighbors, and convince us in turn that with the fall of that empire, the originary peoples of these lands were defeated.
So it happened.
As the saying states: "there is a long way from words to deeds.” It wasn't an unchallenging path, but the deed took place as promised. The Zapatistas affirm that the word is the most powerful weapon, and they do not take this lightly. Their promise was kept despite the circumstances of the global stage. Or, to continue with the allegory, their promise was carried out to the letter.
Said communiqué was received with skepticism and the conviction that, this time, the Zapatistas could not keep their word to travel to the continent previously known as Europe.
Regardless, on August 13th, 2021 and shortly before 10:30 p.m. (Madrid time) Plaza Colón witnessed the Squadron 421 Maritime Delegation of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation collectively read the last lines of the statement "Only 500 Years Later" in unison:
Someday when someone asks you, “Why did the Zapatistas come?” together we can respond, without any shame on your or our part, “They came to learn.”
Five hundred years later, the Zapatista communities came to listen to us.
From Madrid, in the geography called Spain, in the lands and under the skies renamed
SLUMIL K´AJXEMK´OP or “rebellious land”.
In the name of the Zapatista communities.
The Zapatista Maritime Squadron, known as the “421st Squadron”.
Planet Earth. August 13, only 500 years later.
The reading was carried out with the voices of the Squadron 421 united like a choir, surrounded by rebels and dissidents in Madrid. This speech confirmed the basic political coherence of doing what is said and saying what is done. And all in the same place that witnessed the extreme right frequently perform fascist and right-wing provocations in previous months.
However, this Friday, the various collectives, organizations, groups, unions, and individuals next to Squadron 421 took over the plaza to fill it with dignity and rebellion. They would not give up, and they were not conquered. Their struggle, they declared on the torrid sidewalks of the capital, was, after all, for life.
Yuli, Carolina, Ximena, Lupita, Marijose, Bernal, and Felipe, members of the EZLN delegation, reaffirmed, with the reading of the communiqué and their presence, that the Zapatista Army of National Liberation continues to practice a very high level of consistency. Zapatismo – despite the incessant attempts to categorize it, to minimize it, to tame it – is inherently radical, dangerous, and a challenge to the capitalist paradigm in which we live ... no, rather, in which we survive. As the voices of Maritime Squad 421 rightly emphasized to us, “Living is not just about not dying, about surviving: living as human beings means living with freedom. Living is about art, science, joy, dance, and struggle."
In their speech, an open invitation to join the resisting networks of struggle was like a seed sown in the hearts of each one of those present and truly listening. The exhortation was clear, concise, and true:
We, the Zapatista communities, name what is responsible for these wrongs and call it “capitalism.”
We also say that it is only through the total destruction of this system that it will be possible for each person, according to their own ways, calendars and geographies, to be able to build something else.
It won’t be perfect, but it will be better.
What is built after that, those new relations between human beings and between humanity and nature, will be named whatever people want to call it.
We know it won’t be easy: it’s not easy now.
We know that we won’t be able to do it alone, with each person on their own plot of land fighting against the head of the hydra they happen to face, while the heart of the monster remakes itself and grows even larger.
Above all, we know that we will not live to see the day when, in the end, the beast burns and crumbles until all that remains of it is a bad memory.
But we also know that we will do our part, though it may be small and future generations may not remember it.
Because we Zapatista communities have come to listen and to learn the history that exists in each room, house, neighborhood, community, language, and the ways that you do and don’t do things.
After so many years, we have learned that in each act of dissidence, rebellion or resistance, there is a clamor for life.
In our view as Zapatista peoples, that’s what this is all about: life.
The metaphorical call for cross-pollination of our pain, our fury, our collective rage, and our struggles seems to arrive at the most absurd moment, as we stand listening to the call for action while unable even to breathe in public without a mask, despite the heatwave dominating Madrid. It is not only the heat: a wave of futility also accompanies the suffocating temperature. The stupor made the ambiance feel dreamlike. It was absurd… no, it seemed absurd.
To the left of the Zapatistas, from the Garden of Discoveries, the phrase of Saint Isidore of Seville has been inscribed in stone:
BESIDES THE THREE PARTS OF THE WORLD
THERE IS ANOTHER CONTINENT
BEYOND THE OCEAN
It's true. The testament of its existence is present in us, Mexicans and witnesses of the taller ahuehuete currently addressing you. It is in the Zapatistas, who have triumphantly traveled the concrete rivers of the Spanish state capital in their colorful ship.
A Zapatista vessel plowed the Route of Ixchel, and not even the burning pavement could prevent their promise from being fulfilled. A faint whisper reaches us (Durito's voice?). It mumbles that to truly eviscerate the heart of the hydra it is necessary to look beyond the plausible.
(It is a hydra we're contending with, after all.)
Faced with the storm on the horizon, with fervor let's discover unexplored (and frankly, unorthodox) routes. It is essential to steer beyond what seems logical, congruent, and even... possible.