With the 20th anniversary of the Zapatistas' rebellion in Chiapas upon us, I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at the origins of one of the major characters to appear in Zapatista lore: Durito, later known as Don Durito de la Lacandona. In his book, A Poetics of Resistance: The Revolutionary Public Relations of the Zapatista Insurgency, Jeff Conant offers a brief synopsis of this beloved character that is well-worth reading.
Durito originated as a character in a letter Subcomandante Marcos wrote for a child. Durito translates into English as "little tough guy." He is not a "tough guy" in the sense of picking fights and taking on all comers, but rather he is tough in the sense of persevering under adverse conditions. As the character developed, he became self-identified as a knight-errant in the tradition of the classic novel, Don Quixote, and serves to offer both comic relief and serious theoretical exposition. Much of what Don Durito discusses has to do with an approach to neoliberalism, that while arguably not unique to the Zapatistas, has certainly been easily identifiable with them, and is certainly compatible with a variety of leftist analyses of neoliberal capitalism. In a few words, neoliberalism is not in crisis, it is the crisis.
Ultimately, what the character of Don Durito served to do was to allow Marcos to tell a story about not only the situation in Chiapas, but globally, and to do so in a way that was both theoretically sound and entertaining. Regardless of whether we choose to agree or disagree with portions (and perhaps significant portions) of Marcos' theoretical analysis, we would all do well to learn a lesson from Marcos as to how to present our ideas to our specific target audiences.
Today marks the 20th anniversary of the initial Zapatista rebellion. Later this year, we will mark the 20th anniversary of a seemingly insignificant beetle who turned out to possess enormous wisdom.