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,, OW IS IT that we’re going to the National Democratic Convention and there are Zedillo stickers all over this bus? Forget the Boys on the Bus and Woodstock 25. We are all that and more. We are medieval pilgrims on our way to Santiago de Campostela, via Comitan and Las Margaritas. ,Nothing starts at five o’clock in the morning in Mexico, but we have been lined up outside the church of Santa Lucia since five o’clock in the morning and are now starting to feel punchy. After nearly six hours we are off, only to stop again before leaving San Cristobal. We have argued over press credentials, signed away on the dotted line, promising not to take pictures where we are not allowed, promising to agree to follow the instructions of our press handler, and promising not to stray from the grounds at Aguascalientes. We have packed sleeping bags, insect repellent \(ignoring the warnraingear, cameras, recorders, film and food, \(To be precise avocados, almonds, oranges, our best to support the lagging economy of San Cristobal by stocking up on boots we will never wear again after this adventure. We are bus No.11a European film crew crew, Gordon from Granta, a Swiss oceanographer and amateur videocineaste, a Mexican anthropologist off to do “political work” in the jungle and a gringa wire service reporter. Among our group is a young Mexican photographer who finally rips away the last offending Zedillo sticker and receives a round of applause. We arealong with the rest of the pressthe end of the caravan of 200. Whenever someone stops ahead of us, we stop. From time to time we spiderwalk across the television equipment and make our way out of the bus. We lose the young Mexican photographer to the Polio Loco restaurant in Comitan and find him again when his taxi driver catches up to us. We tell stories about Mexico and stories of our lives. The strange young man who says he writes for an alternative paper in Ohio is busy pumping everyone for details about Mexico. I ignore him as best as I can. We talk about a photojournalist who reported on human rights abuses in Central America and now does privatizations for multitIational companies in Argentina. We talk about the “Zaps” as the wire service reporter refers to the Zapatistas. She mentions that she has a collection of Marcos dolls and Gordon from Granta begins scribbling away in his composition notebook. \(I later mention this to her and she protests that she also has a collection of Virgen de Guadalupe memorabilia and hopes that tures of the people who gather at the road to wish us well, to flash the “V” for peace sign, to chant political slogans or to merely look at the spectacle of us all. We listen politely to the polite young soldier who boards before we pass into Zapatista territory: “Have a nice day and be careful with the road up ahead,” he says. From time to time, the wire service reporter, who has been this way before, tells us that we are nowhere near our destination, the village of Guadalupe Tepeyac. The paved road ends and the dirt road begins. Night falls. We could be anywhere. This part of Chiapas looks like Central America or the highlands of Peru. In the middle of the night we hear the driver talking on the radio about spare parts and trips back to San Cristobal, and it is 10 o’clock the morning of August 8 when we arrive at Guadalupe Tepeyac, the village where so many of the stories datelined “somewhere in the Lacandon jungle” originate. In 1993, the president of Mexico visited Guadalupe Tepeyac to dedicate a health clinic, a fact he now elites to prove to the naive that he had no advance knowledge of the Zapatista uprising. Presumably there were no young women with bandanas covering their mouths, marching along with wooden sticks as there are today. We wash up at an outdoor well, feast on potato chips and soda and follow a roundabout route to a cornfield. There is one more Zapatista body search and then a long march through rows of barbed wire and another checkpoint staffed by university students who seem to be studying to be fascists. At the other end of the field, Bruno Lopez, the Mexico correspondent for the Spanish-language network, Univision, walks away from the camp, escorted by two Zapatista, guards. The UniviSion journalists, who had battled for their credentials in San Cristobal, were being escorted away “not because we’re cabrones and want to deny them information,” Marcos will later explain, “but because we want to make it clear to the people of Mexico that Televisa [which owns a stake in Univision] makes up what they produce. We don’t want be accomplices in this lie … They’re vetoed and they’re going to continue to be vetoed until they veto us, that is, until they kill us.” As the saying goes, “This is a war. And we in the media are the soldiers.” It is not a good beginning, but Aguascalientes is impressive. The amphitheater looks like a Mayan pyramid carved into a hill. Rows and rows of logs have been cut and stacked to form “benches,” and about half of the seats are protected by a tarpaulin which shields the convencionistas from the sun. “This is very dangerous,” says the French camerawoman who rode on our bus. This is going to fall down and someone is going to get killed.” Gordon from Granta later assures me that she is simply being very French. We convene under the tarp that evening. For those in the press, the convention is a work of theater in several acts. We, miss the opening actsthe local conventions and the sessions in San Cristobal, where, with few exceptions, the press was prohibited. We catch glimpses of sectarian politics at Aguascalientes and from time to time talk to “special” delegates who are either cheerfully enthusiastic or diplomatically evasive in their response to the convention. On the night of the eighth, we watch as several hundred Zapatista supporters, including children and old men, file by. They wear bandanas over their mouths and they carry wooden sticks. “They are and were and will continue to be the sustenance of the EZLN,” says Tacho, a comandante introduced that afternoon. “They fed us. They are the ones who kept the most profound secrets in Mexico. These compalieros, these children, these old people, these women, brought us coffee, corn… they took care of us when we were just a few… They are the true heroes of the jungle.” Later, Zapatista soldiers file by. They have tied white ribbons around their rifles. The night is quiet except for the chirping of crickets and the tramp of boots. Finally Marcos takes to the platform and delivers a sermon/speech/monologue/dialogue. “Fight. Fight without rest. Fight and defeat the government,” he says, “fight and defeat us. Never will victory be so sweet, if the victor is the pacific transition to democracy, liberty and justice.” The night is full of symbolism: Mayan symbolism, Christian symbolism, national symbolism. Two giant flags are draped across the stage, where the panel of special guests convened by Marcos remain seated. Marcos delivers a flag to Rosario Ibarra, a longtime human-rights advocate and radical political figure whose son was disappeared nearly 20 years ago. The sound of the conch shell echoes along with the chants of “E -Z-L-N!” and “Zapata Vive! La lucha sigue!” Patria y bandera. Nation and flag. The Zapatistas turn over the convention to the convencionistas, and whether by act of God or act of Marcos, the convention never really gets underway. But the rains do. The tarp begins to blow and sag, like a blimp that has crashed. We are told to stay calm and orderly. I keep thinking of the French camerawoman. The lights go out and I can see nothing ahead of me as I run out into the rain. I can’t find my casa, the Telebut I make my way to the back of the stage and manage to stay more or less out of the rain. My companions for the night are from Oaxaca. They have been shooting videos and I ask if their equipment is as soaked as mine. They are not happy about answering questions. From their conversation, I gather THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11