Run for the Border: The Taco Bell War

Event Scenes

Run for the Border: The Taco Bell War

“General Diaz’s ideal was the petrification of the State… a death’s head had taken the place of the living man…”

– Francisco Bulnes, The Truth about Mexico

Jan. 1, 1994. Ejercito Zapatista de Liberation National, the EZLN, take over San Cristobal de las Casas, Ocosingo, Las Margaritas and Altarmirano without firing a single shot in order to defend the rights of the indigenous communities of Chiapas.

The temporal fractalization of dead capital has allowed a spasm of micro-invention to emerge and flicker in the liminal-space of the Lacandona jungle; occurring somewhere between the imaginary borders of the American hologram and the real Taco Bell power of neo-liberalism’s NAFTA: the Zapatistas. In the Lacandona, a jungle in delirium, floats a temporary construction of plant, flesh, and circuits that is attempting to play out a rhizomatic disturbance, an “ante-chamber” of a “revolution that will make revolution possible…” The Zapatistas are not the first postmodern revolution, but the last; they are a vanishing mediation between the breaking mirror of production (dead capital) and the shattering of the crystal of (de)materialization (virtual capital).

Jan. 3-10, 1994. The Mexican army counter-attacks aggressively and kills about 159 people, 427 people disappear, and close to 30,000 civilians are displaced.

The Zapatistas (re)historize the site of indigenous singularities within the hyper-deformations of the Mexican party-state, the PRI (The Revolutionary Institutional Party that has ruled Mexico for over 60 years) and the so called defenders of the “civil society” sector, PROCOMPO and the National Solidarity Program. Both of these elements dream of balancing the rupture that is Mexico with a neo-liberal free-zone of supply and demand, a dream that can never be realized under the signs of virtual capital.

Jan. 8-12, 1994. Civilian demonstrations demand “Stop the massacre!” President Salinas orders a unilateral cease fire.

“We believe that revolutionary change in Mexico will not be the product of action in a sole arena. In other words, it will not be, in a strict sense, an armed revolution or a peaceful revolution. It will be primarily a revolution which results in the struggle of different social fronts, with many methods within different social forms, with different degrees of commitment and participation. And its results will be, not a party organization or alliance of victorious organizations with its specific social proposals.”

Mar. 23, 1994. Luis Donaldo Collsio, PRI candidate for the presidency, is assassinated in Tijuana during a political rally. Jun. 11. Salinas picks Zedillo to head the PRI presidency. Aug. 8-9. The Zapatistas, in conjunction with the National Democratic Convention leaders convene at Aguascalientes in the jungle of Chiapas. Over 6,000 representatives arrive.

The Zapatistas are an inappropriate/d gesture that moves outside of the modernist narratives of “REVOLUTION” and towards a zig-zagging process that is inclusive of many methods. It seeks to hinder the type of coagulation that vanguard and collective political action has historically called for: the imposition by violent or peaceful means of a new social system by a single social entity. What has been fashioned is a decentralized force against the rule of the Party-State.

Dec. 12-19, 1994. As the peso falls the EZLN breaks out of the encirclement by the Army and moves “into freezones,” effectively occupying 28 villages & municipalities.

Chiapas is a counter-effect, an armed aporia, that has come from below and accelerated the multiplication of contestational gestures, that have now moved away from questions of reform and liberation to questions of direct action as survival and resistance. Here in the Lacandona surplus flesh gnaws at the dreams of virtual capitalism, exemplifying that, “mirrors are for cutting,” and “crystals are for shattering… and crossing to the other side.”

The Zapatistas run between walls of Third World starvation and the high-speed backbone of digital culture. From the Lacandona jungle they hail us daily, using a PowerBook, a modem, and a small satellite dish. Using these three elements the EZLN have moved to the forefront of what David F. Ronfeldt, a Rand Corporation security expert, has called “netwar”. This dangerous “destabilizing” force enables marginalized groups to enter into the nomadological arena by utilizing e-mail. The Rand Corporation feels this kind of power could make Mexico ungovernable, claiming that “the risk for Mexico is not an old fashioned civil war or another social revolution,” Ronfeldt notes. “The risk is social netwar.” (Joel Simon, Pacific News Service, Mar. 20, 1995.) The Zapatistas are hybrid real/net warriors who are developing methods of electronic disturbance as sites of invention and action.

Jan. 31, 1995. The Clinton Administration’s call for the rescue of the Mexican economy via a $40 billion bail-out rejected by the U.S. Congress; forced Clinton to turn to the special fund of 20 billion in the Federal Reserve of with other funds made available by the IMF and the G-7 nations for a $50 billion bail-out package.

“The government will need to eliminate the Zapatistas to demonstrate their effective control of the national territory and security policy… While Chiapas, in our opinion, does not pose a fundamental threat to Mexico’s political stability, it is perceived to be so by many in the investment community,” states Chase Manhattan Bank in the Jan. 13th “Political Update on Mexico,” which was passed on to “CounterPunch” by a banking insider. With this update, the neo-liberal agenda (de)masked not only the “face?” of sub-commandante Marcos, but the fundamental purpose of the NAFTA agreement. Chase, of course, was under no illusions that the December crash of the peso was prompted by the Zapatistas. It was fully aware that the implosion of the Mexican economy was the product of an overvaluation of the peso, orchestrated to enable U.S. investors to convert their killings on Mexican Bonds into dollars – the always/already of neo-liberal economy.

Feb. 9, 1995. Zedillo orders the Army to launch an offensive in Chiapas aimed at taking over all the indigenous territory, as well as communities occupied by the Zapatistas, and apprehend the leaders of the EZLN. This offensive includes the detention of people in Mexico City, Chiapas, and Veracruz accused of being Zapatistas; almost all of whom were not.

“The EZLN does not want war, but it will not turn over its weapons… We are prepared to respond, but for now, in the near future, the order is to resist (combat), so it is clear that the one who wants war is the government and not the Zapatistas. We want dialogue, but not like this, surrounded.” Suddenly Zapatistas are everywhere and nowhere, they are everyone and nobody, the PRI follows its orders from Wall St. and begins the hunt.

In the jungle almost ten thousand people hide and consider the proper method of drinking one’s piss, or is it “better to drink someone else’s?” As the days pass and starvation grows, an abundance of liquid shit flows out of the Zapatistas: they are surprised that the PRI army with its U.S. donated equipment (for the Drug War) can’t smell them as they pass by in the jungle.

The Zapatistas are an excremental force that criss-cross the wired world as base matter. A kernel of the real that cannot be eliminated or flushed out. They remain unmoved in the gut of Mexico, in NAFTA, and in the neo-liberal databody. Here the flesh still struggles against the recombinant speed of the virtual will by becoming something else: Blockage. A hyper-blockage that does not seek the elimination of dead capital, the utopian crash that neo-luddites desire, or the netopian apocalypse of extropian implosion (the complete downloading of humanity into the datascape).

Instead, the Zapatistas, play within the fractures and fissures of these models, forcing the spew to backup until these organs-without-bodies begin to taste their own waste. Even the virtual tongue must think twice before eating its own sacrifices from the digital toilet bowl, and in that moment of reflection, a voice calling for dialogue to invent something unnamed maybe briefly heard. A call to an impossible possibility.

Mar. 22, 1995. Communiques from Subcommandante Marcos reappear, calling on the PRI army to leave the Indian villages as a preamble to moving from an “epistolary” dialogue to face-to-face talks with the government, and calling for such talks to be held in Mexico City. Zedillo rejects the proposal, but appears to be open to some type of talks being held.

“Bankrupt factory owners are finding themselves marching arm-in-arm with bankrupt peasants. And in between is a large chunk of the middle-class…” (John Rice, Associated Press, Mar. 20, 1995). The bail-out forced Zedillo to order astronomical increases on the interest rates for loans, mortgages and the time-payments of goods such as cars and TVs: key sites of desire for the Mexican middle-class. Former interest rates of 20% and 30% rose to 70% to 80% in a matter of hours. To the already poor, about 41 million in number, this meant little; they never expected anything from NAFTA. But to the middle-class, it meant an end to the carnival of the Salinas miracle bubble, an addicts dream, and the start of a class scrabbling for a little Prozac to control the spasms of this Zedilloshock economy.

The neo-liberal will to virtualize Mexico has dismantled the “productive apparatus;” labor has come to an end in a society where there was no labor to begin with. It has intensified inequalities, diminished savings, as well as decreased the number of multimillionaires from 24 to 12. The virtual economy does not need millionaires to function, it does not need a middle-class; the only thing it needs now from late-capital is a tactical model of rapid speculation, hyper-transactions, and digital acceleration. Only a few bodies are really needed for this new social contract: perhaps just Newt and a few of his boys.

Apr. 24, 1995. Peace talks between the Mexican government and the Zapatistas were reactivated on Apr. 23, and then recessed the next day. The Zedillo government says it will not withdraw its troops from Indian communities, while the Zapatistas say there can be no peace until they do. Talks are to resume on May 12, after the indigenous leaders have consulted with their communities.

“Having now a collective name, we discovered that death shrinks, and ends up small on us. The worst death, that of oblivion, flees so that the memory of our dead will never be buried together with their bones. We have now a collective name and our pain has shelter. Now we are larger than death…” So reads the memo from the indigenous communities of Chiapas on Mar. 12, 1995. It calls for an end to a society that has always stood before a “mirror of pain,” and for a sovereignty that will represent this 40% of the Mexican population. As for many indigenous peoples, sovereignty over land is a contradiction in terms, since the whole earth belongs to no one, and is to be shared by all. But there is a strong sense of primordial right to the land based on tenure and working it. Indeed, this was the definition of Mexican land within the ejido (communal land) philosophy as stated in the Mexican Constitution – NAFTA did away with the ejido under Salinas. With the end of what little constitutional rights were promised, there was only one choice possible – armed resistance. It was not the first time this had to be done, it will not be the last.

Over 230 different languages have gathered together to speak as a singularity (Mexico has the largest population of Indigenous people in the Western hemisphere), and call for a hybrid autonomy for themselves and the landless campesinos. Here in this liminal-land a new viral revolution has arisen, an electronic cell, that is willing to confront virtual capital at its own game: netwar. The people of Chiapas will use any media-system to speak for dialogue, and to push the PRI party out of the loop. “Dialogue by any means necessary!”

Jun. 1, 1995. Summer is wet and hot, dialogue opens and closes, opens and closes, it becomes a long ride on a merry-go-round. Nothing seems to work. Pan (National Action Party) wins some elections. They are a fundamentalist right-wing party, a Jurassic party. For the Zapatistas, this means things are going from bad to worse.

The Zapatistas decide to call for an international consultation concerning 5 questions:

  • “Do you agree with the principal demands for: land, housing, jobs, health, education, culture, information, independence, democracy, liberty, justice and peace?”

The Zapatistas consider these demands basic human needs and the question “refers to the need for a new social pact.” The EZLN argues that if these demands reflect the will of the majority of the Mexican people, “then the economic direction of the country should be redefined such that a fundamental objective is the satisfaction of these needs.

  • “Should the different democratizing forces unite in a broad-based opposition front to struggle for the 13 principal demands?”)

Collaboration has always been part of the process that the Zapatistas have worked with. The question is really about putting a face on a civil movement, a movement “that has no defined face or clear political project yet has a capacity for indignation and imaginative responses that surpass the great personages of politics.”

  • “Should a profound political reform be made in terms which guarantee: equity, citizenship participation (including the non-partisan and non-governmental), respect for the vote, reliable voter registration of all the national political, regional, and local forces?”

According to the Zapatistas, this question is about the necessary pre-conditions for peaceful political struggle. The lack of these conditions obliges citizens to take up the clandestine and illegal struggle, or adopt skepticism and apathy.

  • “Should the EZLN be converted into a new independent political force?”
  • “Should the EZLN unite with other forces and organizations to form a new political organization?”

According to the Zapatistas, “The fourth and fifth questions are mutually exclusive. To say ‘no’ to both means that one is saying ‘no’ to the question of whether the EZLN should make itself a political force… To say ‘yes,’ then one still has to ask whether it should be done alone… or should it unite with other forces in Mexico… We are not asking if we should incorporate ourselves into one of the existing political forces… because we do not feel represented by any of the existing ones.” Further, “we are not asking if we should disarm or not… Nor are we asking if we should become a political party, as this is only one of the many forms that a political force can take. Until now the EZLN has only called for organizing and struggle for democracy, liberty, and justice. But as it is clandestine and armed, the EZLN has not organized. We are not a political force. We are a moral force or a catalyst of new organizing forms… Our opinion is listened to by many people, and perhaps, followed.

But it is not translated into an organization. Perhaps our role is only to point out the scarcities and open space for discussion and new participation. Perhaps that is our historic role. Or perhaps, the time has arrived for the Zapatista word not only to move people or create consciousness: perhaps, the time has arrived for the ‘organizing’ to be Zapatista as well. This is what we are asking.”

The Zapatistas are a virtual dialogue about a specific form of flesh: the indigenous communities. These communities have become a mutating site for a world that has no single form, with a will to become something the world has not yet dreamed of. They call for the end of Man and the beginning of a people who are no longer bound by the mirror of production or the revenge of the crystal.

Aug. 27, 1995. On this Sunday the people voted, the slips were in glass boxes all over Mexico. Some were in “plain sight” of government police. Voting was heavier in “indigenous” areas. On the 28th, 41% of the votes had been counted: 95% said “yes” to the 16 demands of the Zapatistas, 56% thought that the EZLN ought to form a separate political party, “and by a small majority, voters rejected sharing control of the party with others.”

Ricardo Dominguez is part of the editorial collective of Blast 5: an experimental journal of objects, Managing Editor of ARTLINK: a Site Electronic Invention (under construction), a member of the New Committee for Democracy in Mexico, and a former member of Critical Art Ensemble.