Luis Villoro, the Sentinel

Luis Villoro Toranzo received a recognition from the EZLN on January 4th, 2009, presented by Lupita and Toñita at the World Festival of Dignified Rage in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas.

by Raúl Romero

The events take place in 1996. After being introduced by Zapatista Comandante David, Don Luis Villoro Toranzo takes the floor. He speaks in the name of the group of advisors to the EZLN, in the Dialogue for Peace with delegates of the federal government. “In the first place, we want to reiterate the will of the EZLN and of the group of advisors who are trying to support it, the will to arrive at agreements in favor of a peace with dignity. We will do all that is necessary to arrive at these agreements. But there can be no agreement if there is denial of certain fundamental principles. And these fundamental principles should drive our negotiations,” Villoro Toranzo states firmly. 

He continues: “It is not, in any way, a question of obtaining aid to solve the problems that indigenous communities have suffered for so many centuries through welfare assistance. It is about a radical reform of the State. His brief speech reflects his knowledge of the indigenous question and also the serious problems of the Mexican State.” It also reflects the depth of the Zapatistas’ message: “The EZLN is not here only to defend the rights of the indigenous people of Chiapas, although it is here to do so. It is not here to only defend the rights of the indigenous peoples in the whole country, although it does take up the demands of all the indigenous peoples of the country. The EZLN, and we its advisors, are here to contribute in a radical new way to a reformed national state that truly recognizes the reality of our people and advances towards social justice and, above all, to contribute to democracy in the country.”

By 1996, the work of Luis Villoro Toranzo was already required reading in universities, and a reference in many different political, academic and social spaces. The Zapatista rebellion of 1994 would mean for Villoro Toranzo something similar to what happened to his friend and contemporary Pablo González Casanova. While for the latter, neo-Zapatismo was in dialogue with the reflections on internal colonialism initiated in 1963, for Luis Villoro the Zapatista rebellion was also in dialogue with the problems raised in his book Los Grandes Momentos del Indigenismo en México (The Great Moments of Indigenism in Mexico), in 1949.

Years later, in 1998, Don Luis would continue to reflect on the pluralist State, and on the pluralism of cultures in the crisis of the nation-state, and insist on the need for a radical reform — this in the context of globalization, the financial unification of the world, and the growth of corporate power. Villoro Toranzo would then propose a pluralist State, which “could not seek unity in the collective adherence to values shared by all, because it would extend over peoples and minorities that may be governed by different values. It would be obliged, therefore, to foster unity through a common project that transcends the values proper to each cultural group. It cannot present itself as a historical community, whose identity has been forged over centuries, but as a voluntary association born of a common choice. […] The link between the various entities that comprise it would not be the same vision of a past or of a collective life, but a decision: that of cooperating in a common destiny.”

Don Luis was a great philosopher who understood that in addition to thinking about the world, it was necessary to transform it. His philosophical reflection was always accompanied by his actions from different fronts, and it was in Zapatismo where he spent his last years performing the tasks of a post or sentinel: observing and being attentive to what is happening, building theoretical reflection from critical thinking.

Luis Villoro died on March 5, 2014, but it was not until a year later – due in part to the paramilitary attacks against the Zapatistas in which the maestro Galeano was assassinated – that the rebel Mayans paid tribute to him. In May 2015 in the caracol of Oventik, the Zapatistas revealed how Luis Villoro had asked to join the ranks of Zapatismo. The event was attended  by Juan Villoro (his son) and other relatives and friends of Don Luis, relatives of the 43 disappeared from Ayotzinapa, Adolfo Gilly, among others. Pablo González Casanova was unable to attend, but sent a heartfelt message in which he recalled that, in the face of certain challenges, Don Luis had told him that many times the answer is not logical, but ethical. Fernanda Navarro, Luis Villoro’s sentimental companion and partner in struggle, announced that they had decided to sow the ashes of the honoree in rebel territory.

Ethics and justice must be at the center of social life. We must not allow politicians from all ideological spectrums to expel them from there and turn them into mere phrases of discourse, wrote Luis Villoro in the interesting epistolary exchange he had with the late  leader Sup Marcos. Luis Villoro, the Zapatista, is an exemplar of life.

* Sociólogist

This piece was published in La Jornada on November 4th, 2022.
English translation by Schools for Chiapas.

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