The Death of Comandanta Ramona
by Magalí Rabasa
On the afternoon of January 6, 2006 in the Frente Cívico Tonalteco Auditorium in Tonalá, Chiapas, Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos suddenly stepped away from the stage for a few moments. He returned with news that Comandanta Ramona of the Zapatista Army for National Liberation (EZLN), died earlier in the day at the age of 47.
Marcos, now known as Delegado Zero, was appearing in Tonalá as part of his national tour for the Otra Campaña (the Other Campaign), a political strategy aimed at building a broad anti-capitalist, non-electorate left in Mexico. After informing the crowd of her death, Marcos explained that 10 years earlier, a kidney transplant saved Ramona's life. He noted that the operation was made possible, in part by the immense national and international support the Zapatistas have received.
Since then, the tiny Tzotzil woman from San Andrés Sac'amchen de los Pobres, continued to battle her terminal illness, cancer, spending a great deal of time in and out of hospitals. After years without a public appearance, Ramona surprised those attending the Plenary Sessions for the Otra Campaña in Caracol La Garrucha by attending the final day of the event, September 16, 2005. Only several months later on the morning of January 6, 2006, Ramona began vomiting blood and died on the way to a hospital in San Cristóbal de Las Casas.
In Tonalá, Marcos went on to state that the Otra Campaña tour would be temporarily suspended and the Caracol in Oventic would be closed briefly to allow the Zapatistas to grieve privately for Comandanta Ramona. Marcos said he hoped the press would act in a respectful manner in regards to Ramona's death and not transform it into a media event. Following his brief statement, Marcos and his accompanying caravan returned to the Altos region of Chiapas, spending the night in San Cristóbal de Las Casas before traveling to Oventic the following day. A private wake was held on January 7 at the Oventic Caracol. On Sunday January 8, in her hometown of San Andrés Sac'amchen de los Pobres, Ramona was buried in the municipal cemetery. Along with her family, more than 1,000 Zapatistas from the Altos region attended the funeral. Representatives of every autonomous municipality in Los Altos, the region surrounding San Cristóbal de Las Casas, were also present. On Sunday, over 1,000 kilometers away from Los Altos of Chiapas, a memorial for Ramona was held in Coyoacán, in the southern part of Mexico City.
Comandanta Ramona held a very significant position within the CCRI (Clandestine Indigenous Revolutionary Committee) of the EZLN as well as within the broader Zapatista movement. In 1993, before the Zapatistas introduced themselves to the world, Comandanta Ramona and Major Ana María undertook the immense task of consulting with indigenous communities throughout the state regarding the status of indigenous women and the vision they had for their future. The result of this extensive process was the Revolutionary Women's Law, approved by the EZLN on March 8, 1993: International Women's Day. As part of her work for women's rights, Ramona also fought for greater recognition and importance of indigenous artisans, the majority of whom are women.
As a high-ranking leader within the EZLN, Ramona was often at the heart of many crucial moments in the movement's history. She commanded the occupation of San Cristóbal de Las Casas on January 1, 1994 and was the first representative of the Zapatistas to speak in the peace talks with the government, following the cease-fire. In 1996, after the federal government prohibited the Zapatistas from participating in the National Indigenous Congress in Mexico City, Ramona was selected as the representative of the Zapatistas and, despite being very ill, traveled to Mexico City and spoke before 100,000 supporters who flooded the Zócalo in front of the Presidential Palace and National Cathedral. The following year, Ramona and Ana María were interviewed by the progressive Mexican newspaper La Jornada. The interview, titled “DO NOT LEAVE US ALONE!” appeared in the supplemental section Doble Jornada and addressed the need for continued support for the rights of indigenous women (Doble Jornada refers to the double workday of women, as well as being a play on words with the newspaper's title.)
In the twelve years since she first appeared publicy in 1994, Ramona has became an icon of Zapatismo, gaining comparable popular status to that of the most well recognized Zapatista, Subcomandante Marcos. She will, no doubt, remain an important icon of Mexican history and international resistance.
SOURCES: La Jornada (January 7, 8, 9, 2006), Diario de Chiapas (January 7, 2006), Expreso Chiapas (January 7, 2006), Cuarto Poder (January 7, 2006), chiapas.indymedia.org.
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