Subcommander Marcos

The Man and the Mask

Subcommander Marcos

Book Pages: 528 Illustrations: 19 photographs, 3 maps Published: July 2007

Author: Nick Henck

Activism, General Interest > Biography, Letters, Memoirs, Latin American Studies > Mexico

Subcommander Marcos made his debut on the world stage on January 1, 1994, the day the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect. At dawn, from a town-hall balcony he announced that the Zapatista Army of National Liberation had seized several towns in the Mexican state of Chiapas in rebellion against the government; by sunset Marcos was on his way to becoming the most famous guerrilla leader since Che Guevara. Subsequently, through a succession of interviews, communiqués, and public spectacles, the Subcommander emerged as a charismatic spokesperson for the indigenous Zapatista uprising and a rallying figure in the international anti-globalization movement.

In this, the first English-language biography of Subcommander Marcos, Nick Henck describes the thought, leadership, and personality of this charismatic rebel spokesperson. He traces Marcos’s development from his provincial middle-class upbringing, through his academic career and immersion in the clandestine world of armed guerrillas, to his emergence as the iconic Subcommander. Henck reflects on what motivated an urbane university professor to reject a life of comfort in Mexico City in favor of one of hardship as a guerrilla in the mountainous jungles of Chiapas, and he examines how Marcos became a conduit through which impoverished indigenous Mexicans could communicate with the world.

Henck fully explores both the rebel leader’s renowned media savvy and his equally important flexibility of mind. He shows how Marcos’s speeches and extensive writings demonstrate not only the Subcommander’s erudition but also his rejection of Marxist dogmatism. Finally, Henck contextualizes Marcos, locating him firmly within the Latin American guerrilla tradition.


Subcommander Marcos is tenacious in its research, fair in its point of view, and eloquent in its portrait of Marcos and the indigenous Zaptatistas of Chiapas.” — Thomas Benjamin, The Americas

“[A] useful reference . . . . ” — Dan La Botz, Against the Current

“[An] exhaustive study. . . . Drawing on nearly every published work ever written by Marcos, Henck argues that while the guerrilla leader is most well-known for his media savvy, more important is his “great flexibility of mind,” which allowed him to put aside the theoretical priorities he had brought with him as a radical intellectual and to become a conduit for the demands of the indigenous population of Chiapas.” — NACLA Report on the Americas

“[F]ascinating. . . . Subcommander Marcos convincingly demonstrates that Zapatismo has created a new model in which taking up arms may no longer be incompatible with simultaneously taking up the cause of autonomy and democracy.” — Robert Ovetz, Z Magazine

“This formidable study is one of those rare books that one might deem necessary as well as likely to remain of lasting importance. Engagingly penned, supplied with useful maps, photographs, a frontspiece explaining the acronyms used, as well as a ‘cast of main characters,’ this book sheds significant light not merely on Marcos but on recent Mexican and Latin American history, and contributes to studies on globalization, social justice, indigenous studies, and the history of Marxism in the region. It is a must read for students of Mexican history and modern Latin American history.” — Mark Anderson, Labour/Le Travail

“Definitive. . . . Henck has done [Subcommander Marcos] justice with a biography that is as compelling as it is comprehensive. . . . This book will undoubtedly prove to be essential to scholars, students, and Zapatista aficionados across a range of disciplines.” — Adam Spires, The Latin Americanist

“Henck gives us a collage in which Subcomandante Marcos ultimately emerges as something of a pastiche. . . . Subcommander Marcos will appeal to those wanting an accessible English-language account of the various roles played by Subcomandante Marcos. . . .” — Deborah Eade, Development in Practice

“Henck strongly argues however that the EZLN had a large impact on the recent democratisation of Mexico. . . . [Subcommander Marcos] is very recommendable for readers wanting to understand more about the EZLN and the dominant role its leader played and continues to play within it.” — Matthias Schmidt-Eule, Iberoamericana

“Henck’s Subcommander Marcos is less a biography than an enlightening case study of how one of the possibly most influential political movements of the 21st century was born, faultered and was then rejuvenated by those it sought to lead. . . . This book has arrived just in time, when the anti-globalization movement appears to have run out of steam precisely because it has failed to provide a visionary model of the future in the present.” — Robert Ovetz, The Canadian National Newspaper

“Henck’s approach to Marcos’ philosophy is a good one for newbie readers in this subject: citing concrete statements to reveal the substance of their flexible approach to politics, one still within the tradition of Che Guevara, but more attuned to the realities of a post-Soviet world.” — Cassiodorus,

“Henck’s meticulous research, clear and engaging prose, even tone, and considered evaluations of the achievements and setbacks of zapatismo make the book an important contribution to the scholarship of zapatismo and a valuable resource for teaching.” — Julia E. Murphy, Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies

“In this first English-language biography of Marcos, Nick Henck makes a noteworthy contribution to the extensive literature on the Zapatistas. His research and firsthand knowledge about the movement position Henck well for the task. . . . Henck’s story is easy to follow and well suited for a student audience.” — Glen David Kuecker, Hispanic American Historical Review

“Marcos comes alive in Henck’s book.” — Jeffrey H. Cohen, Ethnohistory

“Nick Henck offers the reader a scrupulously fair sifting of the sources. . . . He depicts a personality at times prickly and pleased to be at the center of attention; though also willing to endure personal sacrifice, having earned legitimacy through ten years of discomfort and obscurity in the jungle before the movement went public.” — Richard Stahler-Sholk, A Contracorriente

“Nick Henck’s biography of the enigmatic Subcomandante Marcos is a major undertaking and the first of its kind in English. . . . Subcomandante Marcos, the most charismatic revolutionary since Che Guevara, is in many ways the perfect subject for a biography. . . . [T]his is an exhaustive, well-written biography. . . .” — Stephen E. Lewis, Latin American Perspectives

“This biography of Rafael Sebastián Guillén Vicente, better known as Subcomandante Marcos, is the product of thorough investigation of all kinds of records of the Zapatista movement in southeastern Mexico, and as such should be welcomed by everyone interested in this rebellion.” — Dick Papousek, European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies

“In this encyclopedic biography, Nick Henck draws on almost everything ever published on Subcommander Marcos. The result is an analysis that first highlights Marcos’s intellectual and political formation prior to his entering the Lacandon jungle in late 1983, and then illuminates the Subcommander’s unique cultural and political flexibility, which ultimately served to let the EZLN be directed by the priorities of the indigenous communities of Chiapas. As Henck points out, this flexibility is what distinguished Marcos from other twentieth-century guerrilla leaders; it was pivotal in permitting the EZLN to play a central role in the democratization of Mexico after seventy years of one-party rule. This is a valuable reference book for all those interested in a detailed account of the rise of Subcommander Marcos and the EZLN in Chiapas.” — Lynn Stephen, author of Transborder Lives: Indigenous Oaxacans in Mexico, California, and Oregon

“Nick Henck’s meticulous research and careful rendering of the myths and facts behind Subcommander Marcos’s life and rise to prominence as a guerrilla leader and media darling is a major accomplishment in biography. This intriguing and insightful portrait of the man and his times will interest anyone seeking a greater understanding of recent Mexican politics.” — Roderic Ai Camp, author of Politics in Mexico: The Democratic Consolidation


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Nick Henck is Visiting Associate Professor in the Faculty of Law at Keio University in Tokyo.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Illustrations xi

Acknowledgments xii

Abbreviations and Acronyms xv

Cast of Main Characters xix

Introduction 1

Part I: Rafael

1. Birth and Family 13

2. School Years 20

3. High School College 23

4. UNAM 29

5. The Gradate 42

Part II: Marcos the Guerilla

6. Chiapas 57

7. Guerilla Inception 65

8. The Wilderness Years 76

9. First Contact 82

10. Promotion and Expansion 88

11. A Jungle Wedding 107

12. An Election, Exponential Growth, and a Rift 112

13. Bust and Boom 124

14. Fallout 129

15. From the People’s Guerilla to a Guerilla People 133

16. Indigenous Indignation 143

17. An Internal Coup and the Road to War 163

Part III: Marcos the Star Spokesman

18. The Uprising 195

19. “Waging a Masterful Media War” 213

20. A Cease-Fire 221

21. The Cult of Marcos 226

22. Peace Talks 247

23. Courting Civil Society 253

24. The Elections and Their Aftermath 262

25. Marcos Unmasked and Rafael Revealed 278

26. Nationalizing and Internationalizing the Struggle 301

27. A March and a Massacre 315

28. Speedy Gonzalez Breaks the Silence 321

29. A Consulta, a Story, and a Strike 330

30. A Change of Government 336

31. The Zapatour 342

32. Marcos Today 353

Conclusion 361

Notes 369

Glossary 467

Works Cited 469

Index 487
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3995-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3978-6
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