03 January 2006

Zapatista rebels come out of jungle to shake up Mexican politics


3 January 2006

ZAPATISTA rebels riding in dilapidated lorries and buses have left their jungle strongholds for the first time in four years to launch a six-month nationwide tour of Mexico aimed at reshaping the nation's politics.

About 15,000 rebels and sympathisers, waving banners ranging from black and red anarchist flags to communist hammer and sickles, marched on Sunday to a cathedral in the centre of the mountain city of San Cristobal de las Casas, the first stop.

Standing in front of a mural of revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata - the movement's namesake - Subcomandante Marcos, the Indian rights group's ski-masked spokesman, and other Zapatista leaders gave speeches railing against the Mexican government and free trade.

Marcos, a hero of the anti-globalisation movement, said the enemy "has many faces, but one name - capitalism".

He said the tour would avoid rallies, aiming instead to forge links with "those who work machines and the land, take goods and services everywhere but end up with nothing".

Thousands of supporters had cheered earlier on Sunday as Marcos roared out of the village of La Garrucha on a black motorcycle with a Mexican flag tied to the back and EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) painted on the front.

The trip will take the convoy to all 31 states and Mexico City in an effort to make an impact on the July presidential election. Zapatista is not, however, seeking office. Marcos has said the tour will allow Zapatista leaders to reach out to left-wing groups across the country, creating a national movement that will "turn Mexico on its head".

The rebels have pledged to move away from armed struggle and toward politics, but the group has not clearly defined what form of political participation it will adopt.

Marcos, known for the pipe and guns he often carries in public, has abandoned his military title in favour of the civilian moniker "Delegate Zero".

It is the first time that the group has left its strongholds in the jungles of the southern Chiapas state since a tour to Mexico City in the name of Indian rights that made international headlines in 2001.

Vicente Fox, the Mexican president, ended 71 straight years of single-party rule when he took office in 2000, but he is constitutionally barred from running again in July's poll. A favourite to replace him is a former mayor of Mexico City, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, of the left-wing Democratic Revolution Party.

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