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by Diego Cevallos

Mexico Issues Report Critical Of Zapatista Rule In Chiapas (2004)

(IPS/Tierramerica) MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's Zapatista guerrillas are no longer thinking in terms of armed conflict, despite the state of "social indignation and rage" in the country, the group's leader said this week.

"Subcomandante Marcos" made the comments in an interview with the Televisa TV network, which he has criticized vehemently in the past for its political influence and power.

Marcos, who has been visiting the capitol since last week as part of a nationwide tour, was interviewed Tuesday on a Televisa news program, where he predicted that leftist candidate Andres Lopez Obrador would win the July 2 presidential elections, although he clarified that he does not support the candidate and does not see the former Mexico City mayor as a true leftist.

The interview, and another that he granted the left-leaning newspaper La Jornada on Monday, were the first he has given since 2001.

He said the barely-armed Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) does not plan on boycotting the elections, and is not interested in generating violence, as Sen. Diego Fernandez de Cevallos of the conservative governing National Action Party (PAN) has alleged.

Wearing his trademark face mask and military-style outfit, Marcos explained that his national tour is aimed at building a leftist political and civil society alternative to the country's political parties.

"That is why we are carrying out 'the other campaign,'" said the rebel leader, who was an important actor on the national scene, and enjoyed international support, between 1994 and 1999. "We want to build for the people down below, because great social tension and anger is building up."

"The other campaign" is a six-month tour that set out in January from the Native EZLN's stronghold in the remote jungles of the impoverished southern state of Chiapas. The idea is to forge alliances with leftist groups that are not participating in the elections but are interested in "changing the country from below, with the participation of civil society."

The tour is taking place parallel to the election campaign, in which PAN candidate Felipe Calderon has caught up to Lopez Obrador of the left-wing Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) in the polls, after months in which the latter was in the lead. Roberto Madrazo, the candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party -- which ruled Mexico from 1929 to 2000 -- is third in the polls.

"I believe that Marcos has the moral authority to reappear on the scene and express his positions, especially when there is a great lack of representativity in today's politics," Francisco Farina, at the Center for Labor Research and Consulting (CILAS), a non-governmental Mexico-city based group that advises workers and unions, told IPS.

A similar opinion was expressed by Pedro Gelert with the Mexican Solidarity with Cuba Movement. "There are many people receptive to Marcos' radical message against neoliberalism," he remarked to IPS.

The activist, who said he was speaking from a personal standpoint because in his movement "there are members who see Marcos in a different light," said the EZLN leader is an honest man who identifies with the best of social causes, and has a lot to offer.

But not everyone is impressed by Marcos' reappearance in public.

"I don't like Marcos' decision to cast himself as the ultimate conscience," writer Carlos Monsivais told the magazine Poder y Negocios. His fellow writer Guadalupe Loaeza wrote in a column for the daily newspaper Reforma that the guerrilla leader is a vain man driven by a desire for protagonism.

The Zapatista leader has drawn renewed attention since he announced that he was changing the itinerary of his tour and would stay on in Mexico City to lead protests demanding the release of some 200 demonstrators arrested last week after violent clashes between the police and local residents of the town of San Salvador Atenco, 15 kilometers from the capital.

The confrontations, in which a 14-year-old boy was killed and several police officers and a number of locals were badly beaten, were triggered by a police attempt to evict flower vendors who were hawking their wares in an unauthorized area.

Marcos warned that the protests would escalate if the imprisoned demonstrators were not released.

In his interview with La Jornada, a newspaper that has given the EZLN heavy coverage since it first burst on the scene in Chiapas in January 1994, demanding democracy, justice and Native rights, Marcos said that "as a whole, the political class no longer represents Mexican society."

According to Marcos, "not even (Madrazo's) family trusts him," and the election of the PRI candidate would imply "an impossible return to the criminal past" and the "enthroning" of organized crime.

And a victory by the ruling PAN's Calderon, he said, would lead to "fascism" -- a decision to call the army out onto the streets to crack down on protests.

A triumph by Lopez Obrador, meanwhile, would bring about "a state functional to capitalism, while establishing a new structure that would be authoritarian and would not resolve the problems of those down below," added Marcos.

For that reason, "the other campaign," which is a peaceful initiative to reach out to nongovernmental groups, "is the only possibility to ensure that change, which is inevitable, will not be violent," he argued.

The state intelligence services reported in 1995 that Marcos is Rafael Guillen, a former university instructor with a degree in philosophy who would be turning 49 on June 19. Guillen was active in a guerrilla group in the 1970s and reportedly went to Chiapas in the early 1980s to organize the EZLN among the indigenous people of that state, one of Mexico's poorest.

But Marcos has consistently denied that he is Guillen.

The EZLN has been holed up in the hilly jungles of Chiapas without firing a single shot since the second week of 1994, when the government of Carlos Salinas (1988-1994), under heavy public pressure, declared a ceasefire. The Zapatistas broke off peace talks with the government of Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000) in 1996.

After declaring a war that actually consisted of nothing but a few skirmishes with the army in the first two weeks of 1994, the group took refuge in the jungle, where it became a voice critical of the political system and a symbol of the anti-globalization movement, which earned it allies within Mexico and around the world.

But in late 2000, when the PRI lost its grip on the national government for the first time in seven decades, the EZLN began to fade into the background.

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Albion Monitor   May 11, 2006   (

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