Translator’s Note

I first read the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle in September 2011. At the time, I was studying abroad in Argentina, in part to improve my Spanish skills, so I read the Spanish original instead of seeking out a translation. In January 2012, I reread the Sixth Declaration as an assigned reading for my study abroad program. Once again, I opted for the Spanish original. It was not until February 2012, in Oventic, Chiapas, Mexico, that I read the English version of the Sixth Declaration.

Our study abroad group, composed of U.S. residents, sat around a table to do a group reading of a section of the Sixth Declaration. I was no translation expert, but it did not take an expert to tell that the “translator” had taken some serious liberties in reinterpreting the document. Words and phrases that were inconvenient to translate were simply left out of the English version. Commas were added where once there were none, and periods were added where once there were commas. And anecdotes which had been told in present tense were changed to past tense.

When I decided to make my own translation of the Sixth Declaration, I took a closer look at the existing English version. The version of the Sixth Declaration found on many websites—including Enlace Zapatista, the official website for Zapatista communiqués—is translated by someone who is only ever cited as “irlandesa,” which is Spanish for “Irish woman.” After a close look at the Irlandesa Version, I found that the defects were far greater than I had earlier imagined.

At best, a poor translation of a political communiqué will convey the same facts and data as the original. For the most part, the Irlandesa Version does this. However, there are some places in the Irlandesa Version where even this low standard is not met. The phrase “pensamos hacer,” which means “we intend to do” appears as “we are thinking about doing” in the Irlandesa Version. Other examples include nada que nadie dice (mistranslated as “no one says anything” instead of “nothing that anyone says”) and de izquierda (mistranslated as “of the left” instead of “left-wing;” the phrase, “of the left” in Spanish is “de la izquierda”).

The Sixth Declaration is a document of great importance in Mexican history and in social movement literature. As such, it deserves a translation that effectively relays the facts as well as one that preserves the meaning contained within its unique writing style.

I am strongly opposed to arbitrary changes in tense and other “translation” practices used in the Irlandesa Version. Irlandesa has taken the Sixth Declaration—a document that powerfully communicates an intense sense of urgency—and turned it into a coldly rational description of past events and future plans. So much has changed that I personally would not consider the Irlandesa Version to be a translation. Much of the information was relayed into an English version, but so much was lost that it reflects irlandesa’s vision for what the Sixth Declaration should be as much as it reflects the authors’ vision.

In this translation, I have made every effort to preserve and interpret all possible dimensions of the original. I have preserved original punctuation to the maximum extent possible, translated every word for which there exists a functional translation, preserved original tense usage, translated the subjunctive mood accordingly and the indicative mood accordingly, and searched not for the most convenient translation but rather the one that best reflects the Spanish word or phrase.

If an anecdote is told in present tense, I have translated it to English in present tense. Regardless of whether or not the events in question occurred in times past, a narration in the present tense gives the story an emotional weight and live importance. A narration in the past tense cannot provide the reader with the same experience, and should not be considered an acceptable translation.

In this translation, you will notice certain key differences from the Irlandesa Version and other translations of Zapatista declarations, most notably the translation of “mal gobierno.” As with the English adjective “good,” the Spanish adjective “malo” can be used to convey either a superficial quality (good ice cream) or to convey a moral character (a good person). For example, while “mal” is most often translated as “bad,” the translation to Spanish of “good and evil” is “el bien y el mal.” A reading in Spanish of the Sixth Declaration leaves no doubt in the reader’s mind that the phrase “mal gobierno” is making reference to a government of despicable moral character rather than one which merely is frustrating or ineffective. Thus, I find “bad government” to be an inadequate translation, since it immediately invokes images of inefficiency and burdensome bureaucracy rather than moral wrong. In its place, I have opted for the translation, “evil government.”

I have checked, double-checked, and triple-checked this translation to ensure that it is the best that I am capable of producing. If something is strangely-phrased in my translation, it is because it is strangely-phrased in the Spanish original. The Sixth Declaration is not an instruction manual and as such should not be translated merely to interpret the facts, but rather should be translated to tell also the stories and narratives that lie within its unique literary style.

I hope that you enjoy reading this translation as much as I have enjoyed writing it. I also hope that the Irlandesa Version serves as a warning on how much meaning can be lost in a botched translation attempt. I ask that every bilingual critically examine any translation they come across before passing it on to others, providing appropriate warning when deficiencies are present.

My translation should be no exception to this high level of scrutiny. I, Henry Gales, am the sole translator of this Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, and am responsible for any errors found within. If you have any questions or notice any mistranslated words or phrases, feel free to contact me by email:


Henry Gales
June 23, 2013