Nonetheless, a surprise Zapatista womens' theater piece did imply a critique: in the skit, a planeload of first-world feminists with funny hair (played by the companeras) lands in the jungle to deliver the poor Indian women from oppression.
Among international delegations in attendance were women representatives from agrarian movements as far removed from Chiapas as Brazil and Senegal, organized by Via Campesina, an alliance that represents millions of poor farmers in the third world, and a group of militant women from Venice, Italy who have been battling expansion of a U.S. military base in that historic city. Political prisoners were represented by Trinidad Ramirez, partner of imprisoned Ignacio del Valle (who is serving a 67-year sentence), leader of the farmers of Atenco. A message from "Colonel Aurora" (Gloria Arenas), a jailed leader of the Popular Army of the Insurgent People (ERPI), who now supports the EZLN, was read. Although he reputedly lives only a few villages away, Subcomandante Marcos (or his penis) did not put in an appearance at the women's gathering.
Ladling out chicken soup at her makeshift food stand, Dona Laura told La Jornada chronicler Hermann Bellinghausen that once the womens Encuentro had concluded, everything would return to normal - "only normal would be different now."
Although the Encounter amply demonstrated the increasing empowerment of the Zapatista companeras, how much of what was said actually rubbed off on those who came from the outside is open to question. "I didn't really get a lot of it," confided one young non-Spanish-speaking activist on her way home to northern California to report back on the women's gathering to her Zapatista solidarity group.
Be that as it may, the EZLN is going to need all the women - and men - it can muster in the months to come. 2008 looms as a difficult year for the rebels with the mal gobierno threatening to distribute lands the Zapatistas recovered in 1994 to rival Indian farmer organizations and paramilitary activity on the uptick.
As has always been the case since this unique rebellion germinated, the Zapatistas turn the corner into another year in struggle.