St. Lawrence University
Archivo General de la Nación, Mexico City, Archivo Fotográfico Diaz, Delgado y Garcia. In: Samuel Brunk, The Posthumous Career of Emiliano Zapata: Myth, Memory, and the Twentieth Century (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008): 44.


Marcos Ceases to Be:

“So here we are mocking death in reality,” Subcomandante Marcos concluded the announcement of his “ceasing to be.” On May 24, 2014, the EZLN released the speech by Marcos given at the commemoration of the death of compañero Galeano, a prominent Zapatista leader and symbol. In his announcement, Marcos announced that “SupMarcos went from being a spokesperson to being a distraction.” He discusses that distraction as having been intended to trick both those within the movement and the “criminals” outside into thinking that Marcos was an important player, “so that in the moment that they prepare to shoot, the ‘weapon’ goes back to being what it always was: an illusion.” Marcos then, was both the weapon and the illusion.[1]

Humor is always present in Marcos’s writings, passionate but also sarcastic and pointed.

“If you will allow me one piece of advice: you should cultivate a bit of a sense of humor, not only for your own mental and physical health, but because without a sense of humor you’re not going to understand Zapatismo. And those who don’t understand, judge; and those who judge, condemn.”

A crucial element of Marcos’s Zapatismo seems always to be humor, as a subtle manipulation of reality, of drawing in his audiences, and most importantly of keeping sane in the darker points in the movement. While the majority of the speech takes on a tone very different from many of Marcos’s writings, his several post-scripts end the speech on a lighter note, carefully straddling the line between comic and cautiously optimistic,

“P.S. 1 Game over?

P.S. 2 Check Mate? ...

P.S. 7 Hey, it’s really dark in here. I need a light.


[He lights his pipe and exits stage left. Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés announces that ‘another compañero is going to say a few words.’]

(a voice is heard offstage)

Good morning compañeras and compañeros. My name is Galeano, Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano.

Anyone else here named Galeano?

[The crowd cries, “We are all Galeano!]

Ah, that’s why they told me that when I was reborn, it would be as a collective.

And so it should be.

Have a good journey. Take care of yourselves, take care of us.”

As always, he ends “From the Mountains of the Mexican Southeast” but this time the signature is Galeano’s. Those are Marcos’s last words. His ending is especially fitting in that it highlights the humor of his “life” and the importance of collectivity in it. As a “hologram” meant to represent the movement, he existed as Marcos through the collective thoughts and efforts of the EZLN and with the humor of Zapatismo. He was both a product of the “reality” that each Zapatista occupies, but also a manipulator of that reality through Zapatismo.

The Zapatista “mocking” of death is part of the manipulation of reality that Zapatismo encourages. While Galeano was murdered, and could not be brought back in his original form by the movement, Marcos takes his place to the fullest extent that he can.

“…we have come as the General Command of the Zapatista Army for National Liberation, to exhume Galeano. We think it is necessary for one of us to die so that Galeano lives. To satisfy the impermanence that is death, in place of Galeano we put another name, so that Galeano lives and death takes not a life but just a name---a few letters empty of any meaning, without their own history or life…that is why we have decided that Marcos today will cease to exist.”

Marcos emphasizes the importance of nothing being done in his memory, no “funerals, honors…or anything else that the system does to promote the cult of the individual and devalue the collective.” Marcos’s assumption of Galeano’s spot in death emphasizes Galeano’s importance rather than Marcos’s, adhering gracefully to the idea that Marcos is less important for becoming a distraction above the collective. It also stresses the idea that reality can be changed and manipulated in some ways. While the Zapatistas and the EZLN are not able to bring someone back from the dead corporeally, Galeano exists again in name and story, and most importantly in collective memory.

In his usual cool and matter-of-fact tone, Marcos finishes his speech, “Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, self-proclaimed ‘Subcomandante of Stainless Steel,’ ceases to exist. That is how it is. Through my voice the [EZLN] no longer speaks.”

The Death of Emiliano Zapata:


By 1917, Carranza was in charge of Mexico City and Morelos, and the Zapatistas were slowly moving closer to a loss. Otilio Montaño, a close friend and advisor of Zapata’s took part in a mutiny, which Womack argues was the beginning of Zapata’s downfall. Following a mutiny in 1917, in which Zapatistas in Montaño’s group decided to recognize Carranza, Zapata quickly ended the mutiny and killed the leader. Many of the men involved, however, pointed to Montaño as the mastermind. While he had stayed in the rebel town, Zapata was slow to act, likely because he was reluctant to punish his friend and ally. Eventually though, Zapata was forced to put Montaño on trial, and he was found guilty of treason. After making a speech in which he accused Zapata of cowardice, and in which he claimed to have written the Plan de Ayala, Montaño was executed by firing squad. [2]

In June of 1917, Eufemio Zapata, Emilio’s brother, “famous already for drowning his miseries in alcohol, loudly and violently,” beat an old man that was a leading subordinate in Zapata’s army. In revenge, the man shot and killed Eufemio before marching all of his men into Carranza’s territory, accepting amnesty from the government. Womack notes that “after the deaths of Montaño and is brother, Zapata had become ‘dark, crabbed, irascible, [and] somewhat neurasthenic,’ to the point that even the men of his escort feared him when he called them.”[3]

On September first, Zapata released a “Manifesto to the Nation,” in which he declared that “Carranza was a bogus revolutionary; the Republic’s true revolutionaries still fought for ‘principles, whose most concrete expression is the Plan de Ayala’; and the new regime would rest on the ruins of the latifundistas.”[4] The Zapatistas then began working on finding allies to support their proposition to Carranza in which they would agree to acknowledge his legitimacy in exchange for control over Morelos. The Zapatistas continued these negotiations through the fall, but then had to contend with the Spanish influenza in the winter. Short of men, supplies, and food, Zapata’s appeals became more “patriotic.” Many men, including Zapatista chiefs were forced to go back to their homes in Morelos to grow food for themselves and their families.[5]

Though Morelos seemed to be calming down, Carranza was still frustrated that Zapata remained “at large.” On March seventeenth, Zapata sent “an impressive indictment of the Carranza regime” in the form of an open letter. Zapata’s freedom meanwhile, undermined the Carranza regime in the views of other governments because it looked like an impactful lack of support.[6]

The Zapatistas meanwhile, hoped to wait for the collapse of the Carranza regime, so that they could then begin to take control, or at least to rejoin the revolution as formidable players. Most of Zapata’s advisors warned him that he should stay in hiding, but it had always been Zapata’s feeling that he should lead his men from the field. In April, Colonel Jesús Guajardo planned and led a fake mutiny in order to trick Zapata into believing he was joining the Zapatistas. Zapata was killed in what initially appeared to be an attack by the government on the mutinying troops, actually endorsed by Carranza.[7]

Carranza was also careful to make sure that Zapata’s body was videotaped, photographed, and displayed following his death.[8] The first photograph was taken shortly after Zapata’s death while his body was being displayed in the Cuautla police station in 1919. Four other men are squeezed into the frame, their faces are somber, sad, but not distraught. They appear to be crowded around the body, and likely rushed, as two are not looking at the camera, and none seem especially ready. In his death photograph, Zapata looks smaller than those around him. Though he still wears his iconic mustache, he is without his sombrero and black coat. He looks small and fragile in the image, which he would not have approved as an addition to his portrayal in photographs.

Regardless though, the others in the photograph also appear to be shocked and unconvinced. Womack argues that Zapata’s death did little to break the spirit of the people. He writes, “Many would not believe Zapata was dead,” and others circulated rumors about the body or the burial. The rumors that something was wrong with the body, or that it was a look-alike persisted as a way for those who were loyal to Zapata to keep their hope alive and their guilt at bay. Though González continued to control Morelos after Zapata’s death, he continued to face the rumors and loyalty of those who still believed in Zapata.[9]

In death, the image of Zapata was more readily utilized by those around him. (Link to discussion of Rivera?) While he would not likely have condoned Rivera’s image of him as a poor and humble peasant, nor the neo-Zapatista image of the indigenous country chief, his image was changed and manipulated in ways he was no longer able to control after his death.

“Mocking death in reality,” is also an interesting summation of Zapata’s death. While Zapata the man died in Morelos in 1919, Zapata the image continues to live on. Like Marcos, he was an important player in his own revolution, but was also an important representation of the collective group. Marcos was ultimately a hologram, made up by the PRI to serve their purposes, and give voice to the neo-Zapatista movement, but Zapata’s image was also carefully crafted to serve his goals, and always for the purposes of helping the peasants of Morelos.

Their disbelief and rumors, crowding into photographs with Zapata’s body, and the continued spirit of the revolution are all methods of mocking Zapata’s death. Though Zapata did not choose to “cease to be” in the same way that Marcos did, he still died fighting for the rights of the peasants of Morelos, leading his men, as always. While Zapata knew the risk he was taking in coming out of hiding, Marcos argued that his death was important for the preservation of the neo-Zapatista movement. Interestingly, if one types “cause of death of Subcomandante Marcos” into Google, the first answer generated is “ambush,” the same way that Subcomandante Galeano and Emiliano Zapata died.

Emiliano Zapata’s place in the neo-Zapatista movement was holographic. He was an important incarnation of the goals of “land and liberty,” of the rights of Mexican peasants in the “mountains of the Southeast.” The image of Zapata, the combination of the revolutionary, the Rivera mural, the indigenous spirit, and so many others came together to create the Zapata of the neo-Zapatista movement. Like Marcos to Galeano, the image of Zapata took the place of someone who had been real and became the collective movement.


[1] Subcommander Marcos, “Between Light and Shadow,” (ROAR Collective, 2014).

[2] John Womack Jr, Zapata and the Mexican Revolution (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1969): 283-286.

[3] Womack, 287-288.

[4] Womack, 293-294.

[5] Womack, 298-311.

[6] Womack 319-321.

[7] Womack, 321-329.

[8] Womack, 329.

[9] Womack, 330.