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on the border line between the US and Mexico

Monday, January 1, 2024

30 Years After The EZLN, What Become Of Commander Marcos?

"Sol Prendido" for Borderland Beat

Marcos became publicly known in January 1994, but what happened to the leader of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation?

Commander Marcos has always shown himself with his face covered. 

The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), led by Rafael Sebastián Guillén Vicente, better known as Commander Marcos, came to public light on January 1, 1994, with a highly decorated military background, although with the passing of time it became a political movement.

The Mexican organization that lasted until 2006 combined Zapatista ideologies, Marxism and libertarian socialism without leaving aside the military structure of a guerrilla group.

Thirty years after the armed movement orchestrated by indigenous groups that tried to occupy seven municipal capitals in Chiapas, when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), signed by Canada, the United States and Mexico during the government of Carlos Salinas de Gortari, came into effect, we explain what has happened to the so-called Commander Marcos.

Who is 'Commander Marcos', leader of the EZLN?

Dressed in guerrilla clothing, with his face covered by a balaclava to defend his identity, Commander Marcos made his first public appearance on January 1, 1994, in the middle of the Zócalo of San Cristóbal de las Casas, in Chiapas.

He led uniformed peasants, armed with shotguns and machetes, who claimed that the trade agreement did not respect indigenous rights.

With the First Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, the EZLN declared war on the government of former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari and took control of four municipalities in Chiapas.

Commander Galeano at an event of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) for the 25th anniversary of the Zapatista uprising. 

In 1995, former President Ernesto Zedillo announced on national television that behind Commander Marcos' ski mask was Rafael Sebastián Guillén Vicente, a philosophy professor born in Tampico, Tamaulipas, who before joining the guerrilla movement in Chiapas had taught at the Metropolitan Autonomous University (UAM), Xochimilco Unit.

Guillén Vicente had at that time the clandestine name of Zacarías, later changed to Marcos, and was also nicknamed by teachers and students at UAM as El Cachumbambé (The Cachumbambé).

Alfonso Guillén and María del Socorro Vicente González were identified as his parents. Marcos was the fourth of eight children, however, he denied being Rafael Guillén and his family said they were unaware of his whereabouts.

What did Marcos mean?

Given the lack of data and the then unknown identity of the subcomandante, many speculated that the name was an acronym, M.A.R.C.O.S.: Movimiento Armado Revolucionario de las Costas del Sureste (Armed Revolutionary Movement of the Southeastern Coasts).

Others claimed that it was the name of the main municipal capitals that the Zapatista Army of National Liberation had in 1994: Las Margaritas, Altamirano, Rancho Nuevo, Comitán, Ocosingo, San Cristóbal.

However, in an interview, the Zapatista leader denied the theories, assuring that it was a real name and not an acronym.

"Marcos is the name of a comrade who died, and we always took the names of those who died, in this idea that one does not die, but continues in the struggle (...) Even if I die, another person will take the name of Marcos and continue, continue fighting," he said.

Commander Marcos was accused of treason, terrorism, sedition, mutiny, conspiracy and rebellion.

What was the true identity of Commander Marcos'?

On January 5, 1994, the then Attorney General's Office of the Republic (PGR) released a portrait of Commander Marcos, with which the government linked him to crimes such as treason, terrorism, sedition and rebellion.

The photo with which the government of Ernesto Zedillo linked Rafael Sebastián Guillén.

What has become of 'Commander Marcos'?

On May 25, 2014, Commander Marcos attended a tribute to Zapatista Votan Galeano, in Chiapas, to say goodbye and announce this as his last appearance.

The Zapatista leader said goodbye to his relevant figure at the head of the EZLN through a letter, in which he explained that Commander Marcos was created because it suited his interests, but that it had become unnecessary for Zapatismo.

Thus, Commander Marcos disappeared to make way for Insurgent Commander Galeano, in homage to the Zapatista named Galeano who had been assassinated a short time before.

Marcos' first public appearance as Commander Galeano was on August 10, 2014. In addition to the ski mask, he wore an eye patch.

In October 2023, Commander Galeano left this character to make way for Insurgent Captain Marcos.  

"Commander Galeano died. He died as he lived: unhappy. He was careful, however, before his death, to return the name to the one who is flesh and blood inherited from the teacher Galeano. He recommended keeping him alive, that is, fighting. So Galeano will continue to walk in these mountains," wrote Insurgent Commander Marcos.

Commander Galeano with an eye patch.

Chiapas, México 

An old picture of a very young AMLO standing next to Commander Marcos

Milenio  Fred Alvarez Palafox


  1. What did he actually accomplish???

    1. He exploited the indigenous people, that's what he accomplished.

  2. Looks like he had more discipline than today's clowns in the cartels doing more killing than business But when will it end!? They already sent Mexico down the toilet and turned it into a cesspool a country that was once beautiful despite its poverty and corruption and was always known as

    1. Mexico is actually headed to be one of the most powerful countries on earth people line you make it seem lime its a shit hole

    2. @12;58 hell no it ain't

    3. 152 Economy top 11 in world Been like that since 2008. 1 decade ago it was predicted it would be top 7 in the world. Factually, it is heading that way...

  3. Is Comandante Marcos still alive?

  4. Mexico will not do that lmao

  5. You forgot to mention Sebastian's sister was AMLO's brother's girlfriend.


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