Subcomandante Marcos , also known as Delegado Cero in matters concerning the Other Campaign, describes himself as the spokesman for the Mexican rebel movement, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). He is also an author, political poet, and outspoken opponent of globalization, capitalism and neo-liberalism. The internationally known guerrilla has been described as a "new and "postmodern Che Guevara.
The nick-name "Marcos" is the name of a friend killed at a military road checkpoint. It is not, as presumed, a nominal acrostic of the communities where the EZLN first rose in arms: Las Margaritas, Amatenango del Valle, La Realidad, Comitán, Ocosingo, and San Cristóbal.
The Mexican government alleges Marcos to be one Rafael Sebastián Guillén Vicente, of Tampico, Tamaulipas. Born in Mexico to Spanish immigrants, Guillén attended high school at Instituto Cultural Tampico, a Jesuit school in Tampico, where he presumably became acquainted with Liberation Theology. Guillén later moved to Mexico City where he graduated from the Metropolitan Autonomous University (UAM), then received a masters' degree in philosophy at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and began work as a professor at the UAM, after which he left. While Marcos has always denied being Rafael Guillén, Guillén's family are unaware of what happened to him and they refuse to say if they think Marcos and Guillén are the same person or not. Guillén's family is deeply involved in Tamaulipas politics. Guillén's sister, Mercedes del Carmen Guillén Vicente, is the Attorney General of the State of Tamaulipas, and a very influential member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, the party that governed Mexico for more than 70 years. During the Great March to Mexico City in 2001, Marcos visited the UNAM and during his speech he made clear that he had at least been there before.
Like many of his generation, Guillén was radicalized by the events of 1968 and became a militant in a Maoist organization known as the National Liberation Forces. However, the encounter with the outlook of the indigenous peasants of Chiapas, the political struggles within the FLN, and out of the failure of the Chipas uprising and he has embraced an approach to social revolution that has important parallels to the theories of Antonio Gramsci, which were popular in Mexico during his time at the university.
When asked about his first days in Chiapas in the documentary A Place Called Chiapas, Marcos said:
Imagine a person who comes from an urban culture. One of the world’s biggest cities, with a university education, accustomed to city life. It’s like landing on another planet. The language, the surroundings are new. You’re seen as an alien from outer space. Everything tells you: “Leave. This is a mistake. You don’t belong in this place.” And it’s said in a foreign tongue. But they let you know, the people, the way they act; the weather, the way it rains; the sunshine; the earth, the way it turns to mud; the diseases; the insects; homesickness. You’re being told. “You don’t belong here.” If that’s not a nightmare, what is?
Also in this documentary by Nettie Wild, one is allowed to listen to the powerful rhetoric of the Zapatistas. This is conducted in Spanish, not the native Mayan tongues. With only his eyes and pipe being visible he addresses the film maker: "It is our day, day of the dead". Marcos reveals the Zapatista belief that he is a dead-man and so are the Zapatistas,n't see him. Whatever the poor eat, he eats. When he's here, is he going to eat better food? What we eat, he eats. We eat vegetables, he does too. We don't believe he's from the city. We can't believe it.
Much of his writings – articles, poems, speeches and letters – have been compiled into a book: Our Word is Our Weapon. In 2005 he wrote a novel called Muertos incómodos (The Uncomfortable Dead), in conjunction with crime writer Paco Ignacio Taibo II.
One of Marcos's most widely known books, La Historia de los Colores, is a story written for children. Based on a Mayan creation myth, it teaches tolerance and respect for diversity. The book was to have been published in English translation with support from the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts, but in 1999 the Endowment abruptly cancelled its grant after questions to its chairman, William J. Ivey, from a newspaper reporter. The Lannan Foundation stepped in with support after the NEA withdrew.
Although Marcos's political philosophy has sometimes been characterized as "Marxist," his broadly populist writings concentrate on unjust treatment of people by both business and the State, giving Zapatista ideology a strong anarchist tinge. In a well known 1992 essay, Marcos begins each of his five "chapters" in a characteristic style of complaint:
"This chapter tells how the supreme government was affected by the poverty of the Indigenous peoples of Chiapas and endowed the area with hotels, prisons, barracks, and a military airport. It also tells how the beast feeds on the blood of the people, as well as other miserable and unfortunate happenings...A handful of businesses, one of which is the Mexican State, takes all the wealth out of Chiapas and in exchange leave behind their mortal and pestilent mark."
"This chapter tells the story of the Governor, an apprentice to the viceroy, and his heroic fight against the progressive clergy and his adventures with the feudal cattle, coffee and business lords."
"This chapter tells how the viceroy had a brilliant idea and put this idea into practice. It also tells how the Empire decreed the death of socialism, and then put itself to the task of carrying out this decree to the great joy of the powerful, the distress of the weak and the indifference of the majority."
"This chapter tells how dignity and defiance joined hands in the Southeast, and how Jacinto Pe'rez's phantoms run through the Chiapaneco highlands. It also tells of a patience that has run out and of other happenings which have been ignored but have major consequences."
"This chapter tells how the dignity of the Indigenous people tried to make itself heard, but its voice only lasted a little while. It also tells how voices that spoke before are speaking again today and that the Indians are walking forward once again but this time with firm footsteps."
The elliptical, ironic and romantic style of Marcos's writings may be a way of keeping a distance from the painful circumstances that he reports and protests. In any event, his huge output of words has a purpose, as stated in a 2002 book title, Our Word is Our Weapon.
On January 1, 2006, Marcos began a tour of all 31 Mexican states. In an interview several years before, Marcos explained his attitude toward the Mexican government:
"The State Party System is corrupt, it is involved in drug trafficking, it has a wake of deceit, of lies, and of loss of legitimacy with the Mexican nation."
He travelled on a black motorbike in remembrance of Che Guevara's 1952 journey through South America, immortalized in the slain revolutionary's personal memoir entitled The Motorcycle Diaries. During the tour, he also has changed his name to "Delegado Cero" / "Delegate Zero." He appeared on Mexican national television on Tuesday, May 9, 2006. Commenting on a riot that began after police tried to evict flower sellers from their stalls in the town of Texcoco, widely reported in Mexico, Marcos said, "The state police have always been distinguished by their brutality...Enter the state police, and things get out of hand. Enter the federal government, and things get out of hand, and one creates this atmosphere of repression.
Marcos and other EZLN spokespersons reject as models what they view as neoliberal regimes in South America, including the governments in Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Uruguay and Bolivia as of 2006, claiming that these governments did not and will not deliver meaningful changes. As potential leadership for Mexico, they say, in particular, that a government headed by Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador would resemble that of former president Carlos Salinas de Gortari and would refuse to abandon policies imposed by the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and the United States. The "Town Meeting" style of The Other Campaign, scheduled for January through July 2006, has had some effect on López Obrador, the former mayor of Mexico City and presidential candidate, who campaigned in Chiapas during December, 2005. Marcos never endorsed López Obrador and rebuked the entire electoral system.