Subcomandante and The Media


            Revolutions have been a popular stance in the developing world for decades now and more so in South America where they occurred in plenty during the 20th century. Challenged by a growing gap between the rich and the poor, most populations became agitated by the fact that they were unable to afford basic life amenities while the rich were living wild lives at their expense (Zapatista Film).

These revolutions were therefore brought up to ensure that the population would be off the hook of poverty and healthy living where equality would be attained would be restored considering the huge disadvantage applied to the poor (Evans 85). One such revolution was one conducted by the Zapatistas in the year 1994 on the first of January. The revolution came up after an a10 year-long preparation for war in the Chiapas state of Mexico. This revolution was developed to claim back the hard struggle that the individuals had faced throughout their lives. The poor were significantly disadvantaged while the rich continued to live in affluence and no support or help was coming from the individuals living in these environments. The people in the region, otherwise known as the Zapatista formed a union known as the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) which they used in fighting for their rights. The members of this union marched to Mexico city and led an armed revolt against the government, but the government responded with its troops which led to the massacre of numerous individuals. The struggle went on for a 12 day period after which the EZLN lost and retreated to the forest to continue with their effort as a Guerilla army. The person behind this fight was Subcomandante Marcos whose real name is Rafael Sebastián Guillén Vicente who functioned both as the Spokesperson and the leader of the EZNL.

Zapatista Uprising

            The revolution was based on opposition to globalization which had been a significant cause of Zapatista suffering. To begin with, NAFTA, a regional agreement between Mexico, Canada, and the US had caused a change in the constitution (Vargus). This action led to the removal of Section 7, Article 27 of the Mexican law which promoted land reparations for indigenous inhabitants of the land. They perceived globalization as an element that helped the ideology of capitalism which implied that those weakened  by past events would continue to be weak since it was hard for the poor such as the people living in Chapia to advocate for their rights adequately considering the fact that such platforms were in no way available to them (Evans 85). The Zapatistas were also advocating for participatory politics whereby all individuals would be engaged in the political decisions that a country made. Some of the most radical changes that the organization was seeking to establish was the reduction of public servant terms and policies that would ensure that the electorate had to continually refer to the population to be in a position to find the needs of the populace rather than making all of the decisions on their own (Zapatista Film). Macros even stated, “My real Commander is the people.” This was a statement he was making to stamp the fact that the people were the supreme authority and the electorate was just, but representatives appointed to act on behalf of the people. They felt that the government was not doing much to advocate for their needs and interests and therefore finally decided that a revolution was paramount. Thus, after preparing for ten years they entered Mexico city ready to battle out with the army, and though they lost, their guerilla tactics enabled them to continue fighting, and the organization exists to this date.

Sub Commandante

            Rafael Sebastián Guillén Vicente was born in the year 1957 to a family that owned furniture shops across Mexico. He studied through to University where he studied Sociology at the Bachelor’s level and Philosophy for his masters which he obtained from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. After gaining his Masters, he went on to lecture at the Autonomous Metropolitan University, and this went on up until the 1980s. He played a crucial role in promoting the establishment of the EZNL since he was the commander and the spokesperson of the group through his time leading the organization up until the year 2014 when he decided to leave the seat as the head of the group and chose to become a retiree. Since then, he has maintained a low profile in the group and only gives press conferences from time to time. As a matter of fact, during the EZNL silver Jubilee celebrations in the year 2019, he did not make an appearance but left the role to some of his generals who made the statements since he has since left the position (Vargus). Rafael played a crucial role considering that he was at first a teacher at the University and therefore he had the right skill set and knowledge to enable him to convince his fellow countrymen. Throughout his existence and membership in the EZNL, little was known of him until the government and his group came to the negotiating table whereby it was decided that a ceasefire would have to be established to enable the presence of peace in Mexico. Therefore, his role at the organization cannot be diminished through his twenty-year rule. Despite the significant role the Subcomandante Marcos is perceived to have played in running the EZNL, How did the media Portray Sub-comandante Marcos in the period between 1994-2019.


             Despite gaining widespread support across the world with even professional bodies offering support for the EZNL, there are still numerous occasions perceived and displayed Subcomandante Marcos (SM) in a negative light also though his efforts were sincerely positive. To begin with, he was recognized by the media as an individual who was overbearing and dictatorial. This is mainly evident in the number of years that he had ruled the organization (Ponce 47).  Media has for the past 25 years utilized several attributes about him to stamp this as truth and one that should be accepted universally. One of the main factors is his time of rule which stood for an extent of 20 years long. The fact that he did not show any sign of surrender to a younger individual to lead the party on his behalf stands as proof that he was overbearing. This is a statement that has not missed in any of the three newspapers that this essay has drawn information from which shows that it is a widely accepted fact. Despite not being a significant proof that he was dictatorial, the fact that it is mentioned continuously may give him away as dogmatic. In addition to that, another effect that continually proves this is the way he led the organization by leading the organization through two positions (Evans 86). He was both the spokesperson and the leader of the group which appeared to make the EZNL a one-person show organization rather than a representation of the scores of people whose rights it advocated for. This is a representation that has widely been utilized by newspapers. Even though it is not a direct accusation, how it is displayed stands as proof that it is possible media houses perceive him in that light.

Image 1: Picture of Macros on a Horse


             Newspapers as well perceived SM as a gangster and this is evident through the factors that they were keen on when writing about him. For instance, Beauregard writes about the physical features that the Zapatistas adorned when going for any event. His primary focus is on the masks they wore when going into war.

             A good example is that in image one displayed above where SM is on a horse wearing a mask and while holding onto his pipe smoking. This is evidence of a 19th and early 20th-century gangster and is a look that is mostly portrayed on movies with gangsters since it shows people on the move willing to perform a theft and then escape on their way. Also, SM led the EZNL through the use of guns which they refused to give up to the government at the time of the war during the call for a ceasefire in 1996. The arms, though held back in a bid to protect themselves against coercion by the government were perceived as tools that were to be used to wreak havoc in the country and therefore this made the group be seen as a gangster group and SM as the primary perpetrator of gang activities. The valid expressions of newspapers and their high focus on the masks is a clear sign that SM was generally perceived as a gang leader (Zapatista Film). This was totally against the intentions of SM and his revolutionary group mainly because he was more motivated towards promoting independence for his state and better lives for his countrymen. The Newspapers fail to focus much on his actions of war to liberate his community from the segregation caused by poor government policies. Instead, there is more focus on his gangster look through his mask and weapon.


             As Evans puts it (85), no intention of violence was promoted by the EZNL as supported by the SM. Instead, many more groups were aimed at wreaking havoc in the country through violence, and this is evident through multiple actions. For starters, there are the actions of the group when it decided to retreat from the war and refuted the call from the government to return arms. The reason they give is that they will not use the weapons but will only keep them as a way of protecting themselves and ensuring that the government was going to keep its side of the bargain as it had been discussed at the 1996 negotiations attended by SM. Despite such statements existing that account for SM as a non-violent individual, there is a lot of perception within the media of SM as a violent individual, a very wrong presumption. The statement that SM was violent is promoted by the 1994 act where the EZNL troops moved into Mexico city and sought to be redeemed from the entanglements of private entities and oppressive government. There is the propulsion of SM’s methods as utter violence whereas there is less consideration on the factors that had caused them to use these methods. The media dramatically ignores these factors and therefore mainly portrays the individual as one who longed for war and thus used it in a bid to ensure that he maintained his position of strength (Subcomandante 198). This is undoubtedly a fabricated statement since it is evident that SM did little with regards to violence and generally used means that would promote peace. Various social groups not associated with EZNL joined in to support it, and if the group were focused on violence as developed by SM, then it would have been hard to obtain such a high level of support.


                         The media has as well perceived Subcomandante Marcos as a bipolar individual, one who changes between emotions and identities over short periods. However, this has been shown in a very mild way, and this begins with when he was a teacher at the University. The El Universal state that SM used to confuse his students by offering them different instructions. For instance, it writes, “The teacher taught the subject of Graphic design for communication at UAM, but his in his homework he asked to read texts by Michael Foucault, Karl Marx or Louis Althusser. This shows an individual who drew instruction from a lot of areas, and he may appear confusing to some as the newspaper perceives him. However, according to El Universal, he was trying to help the students gain a unique perception of things, and therefore he utilized socialism to assist in promoting communication. Also, there is the comment that some of the students out of this confusion left the class and dropped out of school because they could not withstand the confusing methods he used in instructing them. Another factor that shows the media’s perception of SM as a confused person is the use of the various stages that he acclaims to himself.

                         To begin with, the first of all identified himself with his real name Rafael. However, he states that the person died in 1994 when the Zapatistas conducted a revolutionary move and Subcomandante Marcos was born (Evans 91). However, he died in 2014 when SM acquired the term, Subcomandante Galliano. All of these changes stand as a fact of proof that the individual was utterly confused and had no idea what he was talking about entirely.


                         In the year 2006, Mexico went on a vote which sought to find the various elective positions for leaders across the country which included the President, Members of the National Assembly as well as many other individuals. However, in seeking for that vote, SM out of a feud with one of the favorite candidates Lopez Obrador commanded all the Zapatistas to boycott the elections. After they boycotted the polls, they as well destroyed some of the votes and this contributed a great deal to Lopez’ loss by a significant margin. This stood as a great sign that the general was unpatriotic because he was willing to cause harm to a political process due to the desire for personal gain. The media generally portrays him as an individual who had no interest in protecting the wishes of the country. This thoroughly explains their perception of him which is undoubtedly a limited point of view that has no basis or right standing (Inclan 1325). The media perceives him as a person who is willing to go to any extent to ensure that he has attained the goals he aims at reaching. This is a way of tainting his image in that this perception conflicts entirely with his kind of leadership. Whereas his leadership is designed to ensure that there is an equal division of resources, the media considering his various actions perceives the individual as one who is unwilling to operate for any gains of the country (Esteva 133). For instance, the continual addressing of this issue is meant to patriotic state then he should have asked his supporters to vote for an alternative President who had ideas similar to those of the Zapatistas rather than calling for an election boycott.

Enemy of Development

                         The media has portrayed SM continuously as an enemy towards development based on the Maya Train project which is aimed at going through a course of 1500 KM stretch through Mexico. The Train will pass through various natural habitats, and the aim of the Zapatistas in fighting against the train is to ensure that the train does not harm the livelihoods of people. There is the challenge of the areas in which the train is going to pass (El Pais). The train is set to pass through such regions as Bacalar, Calakmul, and Palenque. However, these areas have small populations of around 10,000 people at the expense of such areas as Cancun which have about 630,000 inhabitants. These individuals are the ones in more need of a boost in their lives through a commercial venture. However, the project has not put them into consideration. Also, there is little concern from the government on the environmental impact that the project will have on the government, and this is an adverse effect on the government as a whole. It is preferable if at all the government is to channel such a project to areas that are more in need. However, the media, considering SM is the main leader of the organization portrays him as an opposition to development since the train project might spur economic growth (Subcomandante 198). The media and especially newspapers fail to comment on the adverse effects that the project will have on the habitat. It only reports that the Zapatistas led by the SM is responsible for the opposition against the train. This portrays SM as a complete enemy to development and one who is unwilling to see the lives of his people Improve. This, therefore, proves that the media perceive him as an enemy to progress which is a baseless and unfounded perception.

Community Hero

                         The media as well as perceive SM as a community hero based on the various contributions that he made towards ensuring that the Chiapas people can live life comfortably. While living a comfortable life as a lecturer of Philosophy after obtaining a masters degree, he went out of his way to look for means through which he would promote better livelihoods for people of the Chiapas region. He left the University and went out to seek for better lives for his people (Vargus). This shows self-sacrifice and a willingness to give up whatever belonged to him for the greater good of many (Zapatista Film). Also, he was willing to perform negotiations on behalf of the Zapatistas with the government despite the possible dangers that were involved. He did not have a fear that it was possible for the government to betray and kill him. He was relentless on the demands of his community (Evans 85). For instance, he knew that if they gave up arms, then the government would turn around and fight all of them without fear and ensure that they lost the war for equality. However, he was adamant enough to stand for the Zapatistas and ensure that weapons would not be taken back to the government. This generally went a long way in ensuring that the Zapatistas would no longer live in fear of the government since they had weapons to protect themselves. Therefore, it is evident that SM is portrayed as a hero for his community and the media is willing to state all of the positive deeds that he undertook as a leader. This is a positive portrait of the leader despite the many negative ways in which he is portrayed.


                         In portraying SM, the media is not shy to describe him as a person of pride, and this shows how they perceive him as an individual that loves peace and desires for good understanding among multiple parties. Satisfaction is mainly expressed in the way he is shown as a person who willingly retired from his leadership at the EZNL. There was no specific war between the two parties, but instead, they were willing to have an agreement, and the younger generation allowed him to leave while taking the lead without much of a challenge (Esteva 136). The willingness of SM to go the power at the organization without any wrangles portrays him as a person of dignity. His advocacy for peaceful means in fighting for peace and justice for the Zapatistas is proof that he was a man of pride that had no thirst for violence. He was willing to fight for the community to ensure that the desires of the population were fully met and no force was used. No media outlet has reported any instance of abuse by the members of the Zapatista among themselves as they fought for power. His dignity is proven by the fact that he promoted peaceful ways of action (Beauregard). As such, no sense of indignity can be associated with him. Also, his movement composed of all individuals regardless of their age or gender provided they were unwilling to dwell under the oppression of the government any longer. The lack of controversy in the EZNL is proof that the media perceives him as a person of dignity and therefore dare not paint him in bad light which is a positive perception.


                         Some newspapers have stated that SM asked some of his students to read books written by Karl Marx and other individuals who shared the same mind. The Zapatistas were opposed to the idea of globalization since it promoted the oppression of indigenous people. For instance, it was sure that they would no longer have lands of their own and therefore they would be forced to live impoverished lives. SM was on the forefront leading the group and himself advocating for equality among all Mexicans where the division between the reach and the poor would be slimmed down. In addition to advocating for such policies, while lecturing as a University lecturer, he as well promoted the study of books that helped a form of socialism (Beauregard). This, therefore, led to the perception that he is a socialist. There exists no absolute opposition to this statement because most of his ideologies promoted such an idea and therefore this kind of portraiture may be significant and substantial in the whole process of research. As such, the media might have been justified in promoting the idea that he was a socialist. His approach towards matters regarding the social environment he lived in was proof enough that he was of the notion that division of property was to be fair. The indigenous people had lost their lands to international organizations, and therefore he was advocating for a process whereby everyone would be assured of land regardless of their economic standing (Vargus). This, in general, is proof that he was a socialist and therefore the media promoted this image as they perceived it although this is a more accurate portrait of him as other authors have stated.

 Left Wing Politics

                         The media and primarily through Newspapers has for an extended period perceived SM as a left-wing politician based on his long-standing ideologies (Mejia et al. 27). As earlier stated, SM viewed himself as a servant of the people since he considered the people to be of a higher authority than he was. As such, there was nothing that placed him a hierarchy above the populace, and so he was committed to making efforts that would enable him to serve the people and not burden them. As seen from his style of leadership, every person deserved to be served equally, and people were to be allowed to do whatever they desired without social strata brought about by standards of living hindering them from doing so. He was a voice for the poor, and his struggle through the EZNL was developed to try and ensure that the common man would be availed for all their rights and privileges and nothing was to stand as a deterrence to that (Jiménez). Instead, every person was supposed to be accorded equal opportunity for instance in the offering of healthcare and education to promote dynamic growth in the population. Through his advocacy, the media perceived and perceives him as a left-wing politician who has nothing to do with actions that oppress some people while leaving others outside in the cold with no person to cry out on their behalf.


                         In conclusion, Zapatistas were a group of individuals from the Chiapas state of Mexico who led a revolt against the government on first January 1994. However, they were met with the full force of the government through the use of military, and the struggle ended after a 12-day battle where scores of Zapatistas died, and the rest retreated. The EZNL was led by Subcomandante Marcos, a former University lecturer who held socialist beliefs. He led the group through twenty years till 2014 when he retired from his role. Through his activities up to date, the media has portrayed him in various dimensions some which are based on absolute truth while others are mere instances of complete fabrication and bias. The media perceives SM as a violent individual because he advised his colleagues not to let go of their guns and he also led the revolt into Mexico city on 1st January 1994. This stands as proof to the media that his intentions were based entirely on propagating violence against the government and individuals supporting the government. There is also the common perception that he was violent based on the way he and his colleagues dressed as expressed on image one above where he is seen sited on a horse wearing a mask and smoking using a pipe. He is as well discussed as confusing or confused considering the kind of teaching methods he utilized with his students as a lecturer. Also, he claims to have lived three lives which the media portrays and therefore seems to be propagating that he is a confused individual. Also, there is as well the feeling that he is a good fighter for the rights of the community since some media houses have portrayed him as a man who was thoroughly interested in the needs of his community as a whole and not individual differences.


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