People Profile: Spokesman Subcomandante Marcos

Subcomandante Marcos, the Zapatista rebel leader, at a press conference, Mexico City, October 1st 2007Subcomandante Marcos

By Deborah Bonello

Of all Mexicans that one might have known prior to arriving here, SubCommandante Marcos – or Delegado Cero as he now prefers to be known – is definitely one of them. His image abroad as the mask-wearing, pipe-smoking mestizo who fights for the indigenous cause rivals that of another Latin American icon – Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara.

That it is hard to tie down the facts about Marcos adds to his enigma. It’s generally accepted that he is (or was) Rafael Sebastián Guillén Vicente, born in Mexico to Spanish immigrants and educated in a Jesuit school in Tampico, Tamaulipas. Marcos denies this.

Guillén, a middle class academic, who graduated from the Metropolitan Autonomous University (UAM) went on to earn a masters’ degree in philosophy at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) where he also worked briefly as a professor before leaving Mexico City and embracing the indigenous cause.

The seductive persona of the jungle-dwelling revolutionary clad in combats and battered brown cap lends itself to the iconic, romantic idolatry often favoured by Latin America. His abilities as both speechmaker and raconteur are legendary. This verbosity has resulted in stacks of both children’s books and novels.

In a recent interview with British newspaper the Guardian, Marcos confessed to occasionally letting the fame go to his head. But those who know him say his intelligence and strong sense of humor apparently keep his ego in check.

Some say his mask is a strategy for anonymity even though it has achieved something of the opposite. “Todos Somos Marcos” – the Zapatista slogan – signals the sense of solidarity generated within the movement: behind their masks the Zapatistas are no one and everyone.

But the powerful personal image may exaggerate Marcos’ relevance, which is a matter of opinion and debate. His importance is rumoured to be waning.

Inside Mexico November IssueThis profile appeared in the November 2007 issue of InsideMexico, available here. The photograph is the journalist’s own.


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