Zapatista rebels to launch six-month ‘alternative’ campaign prior to Mexican vote
LA GARRUCHA, Mexico – Mexico’s Zapatista rebels are emerging from their jungle hideout for a six-month campaign tour of Mexico designed to be an “alternative” to this year’s already contentious presidential race.The tour begins Sunday, on New Year’s Day, to coincide with the anniversary of a brief Zapatista uprising in the name of Indian rights 12 years ago. This time, however, the Zapatistas are not expected to wield Kalashnikov rifles and declare war when they march into San Cristobal.Instead, the ski mask-wearing, pipe-smoking Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos has promised to build a nationalist leftist movement that will “shake this country up from below” during a visit to Mexico’s 31 states.Marcos has promised the movement won’t be violent, saying he will no longer be a military “sub commander” but a civilian known as “Delegate Zero.” But he said the Zapatistas won’t run for elected office or join Mexico’s mainstream political process, which he describes as corrupt and out of touch with the people.Many analysts and Zapatista sympathizers, hundreds of whom have swarmed here to see the rebels ride into town, are confused about the rebels’ exact intentions.”What kind of movement is it going to be? That is the million-dollar question,” said Miguel Alvarez, head of Serapaz, a pacifist group that helped with negotiations between the government and the Zapatistas. “I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.”When the Zapatistas first stormed San Cristobal on New Year’s Day in 1994, they called for equal rights for Mexico’s Indian minority and an end to the one-party rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which governed Mexico without interruption for most of the 20th century.After the PRI lost power to President Vicente Fox in 2000, the rebels focused on building a network of Zapatista-run schools and medical clinics in dozens of Indian villages they control in Mexico’s southernmost state of Chiapas.The rebels say the national tour, which they have dubbed the “Other Campaign” in reference to Mexico’s July presidential election, is a third phase in the Zapatista revolution.”A step forward in the struggle is only possible if we unite with other sections of society,” the Zapatista’s command council said in a recent statement. “We have to unite with laborers, teachers, students and all the workers in the city and countryside.”On Saturday in the Zapatista village of La Garrucha, pickup trucks and buses formed a line along the dirt road leading out of town in preparation for Sunday’s journey to the main Chiapas city of San Cristobal de las Casas, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) southwest.Inside wooden huts painted with red stars and murals of ski-mask wearing rebel Indians, the Zapatistas pored over final details of their tour. Meanwhile, in the village square, men in sombreros and baseball caps drank soda while listening to Mexican folk ballads on the local Zapatista Radio Insurgente as smiling children ran about and played.”We want to show people that we really have something to offer,” said 45-year-old Zapatista Pedro Bautista.As the day wore on and the new year approached, the village began to take on a festive atmosphere with a band playing nortena and cumbia music and young women appearing in the square dressed in their finest clothing. Some villagers participated in a basketball tournament.Zapatista sympathizer Bertha Navarro, 60, a Mexico City film producer who flew to San Cristobal on Friday, said she sees a Zapatista-inspired movement as a way for ordinary Mexican people to get involved in politics.”There are a lot of people in Mexico like me who are fed up with the corrupt parties and are looking for a new way of doing politics,” Navarro said.Marcos repeatedly has lashed out at the leftist Democratic Revolution Party and its presidential candidate, former Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who leads most polls for the July race.Zapatista rebels have caught the imagination of many leftists from across the globe, especially European socialists and anarchists.”The way the Zapatistas live is very different from us in Europe,” said paramedic Paulo Carta, 28, who arrived in San Cristobal from Rome. “But the way they have organized and stood up for their rights is an inspiration to us all.”Some analysts say Marcos may use the Zapatista tour to leave his life of hiding.Since the uprising, the self-styled warrior poet – identified by Mexican authorities in 1995 as former university instructor Rafael Sebastian Guillen – has led a clandestine life in the jungle, making only a few public appearances.Earlier this year, Fox floated the idea of giving Marcos a pardon.”Eleven years is long time to be behind a ski mask,” Alvarez said. “Perhaps he wants to come up for some air.”
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