Zapatista rebels mark 2 decades with same problems in Chiapas
By Leticia Pineda and Yemeli Ortega, AFP
January 2, 2014, 12:14 am TWN
MEXICO CITY -- When the masked Subcomandante Marcos emerged in Mexico's southern mountains with his band of Zapatista rebels on Jan. 1, 1994, they demanded change for the destitute indigenous people of Chiapas.
But 20 years later, the pipe-smoking revolutionary and his comrades have retreated to remote communities, the media spotlight has dimmed and Chiapas remains Mexico's poorest state.
The Zapatistas will mark their rebellion's anniversary with fiestas in their villages on Wednesday, but not with the same attention they received when they first burst into the scene.
The mysterious Marcos, who used to greet journalists in his jungle hideouts for interviews, has shunned the media, choosing instead to make occasional statements on his movement's website.
His latest missive on Dec. 28 was a rambling, 3,250-word statement that cites the classic “Moby Dick,” questions the veracity of biographies and rails against the Mexican presidents of the past 20 years.
“In December 2013, it is just as cold as 20 years ago, and today, like back then, the same flag protects us: that of rebellion,” Marcos wrote.
Taking its name from 1910 revolution hero Emiliano Zapata, the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) appeared the same day that the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into force.
Many in Mexico at the time desperately feared free trade with the United States would crush traditional lifestyles and farming — potentially upending cornerstones of traditional society.
But the emergence of thousands of leftist rebels on New Year's Day 1994 caught the government of then-President Carlos Salinas de Gortari off guard.
The army was deployed and dozens died in a 12-day battle that led to a ceasefire and a peace pact two years later.
Fast-forward to Jan. 1, 2014: Mexico boasts a thriving manufacturing sector and a growing middle-class fuelled by massive trade with the United States and Canada under NAFTA.
An old enemy of Marcos — the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) that was ousted in 2000 after ruling Mexico for 71 years like a single-party state — returned to power in 2012.
The new president, Enrique Pena Nieto, has pledged to lead a new, democratic PRI, even launching his “Crusade Against Hunger” campaign in Chiapas.