ricardo dominguez on Mon, 24 May 1999 22:56:03 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> LA REALIDAD, Mexico and Marcos

AP 24-May-1999 2:19 EDT   REF5225

 LA REALIDAD, Mexico (AP) 
Associated Press Writer

More than five years have passed since he blazed into
view, leading a band of Indian rebels armed more with anger
 than with weapons but who still unsettled all of Mexico.

   Subcomandante Marcos demanded the government
give greater respect to the peoples who originally inhabited
the land. Then he agreed to a truce, and stepped back as
peace talks took shape, sputtered and finally stalled in
1996. Marcos occasionally emerged from the tangled
jungles of Chiapas state with often offbeat statements
before slipping back into obscurity. His movement,
the Zapatista National Liberation Army, or EZLN,
suffered a similar fate, with public attention dwindling.

    But after more than two years' absence, Marcos
resurfaced this month at an Indian rights gathering in
the remote hamlet of La Realidad, his familiar curved
pipe peeking through his black ski mask.

    Last week, he gave a rare interview to The
Associated Press, to declare that the Zapatistas are
still waiting for justice, that their movement has
not died. He pointed to a nationwide "consultation"
in March in which 3 million people participated,
the May 7 gathering of 2,000 people he attended in La
Realidad, a meeting of 3,000 in the Chiapas city of
San Cristobal last year.

    "Why do these things happen if the EZLN
is only a media phenomenon, if the EZLN is
only an empty shell, if the EZLN depends on
the figure of Marcos?" he said.

    It is clear that support for the movement still exists 
but also clear that the charismatic Marcos is the
Zapatistas' most igniting force.

  The government says Marcos is former university
professor Rafael Sebastian Guillen, a leftist intellectual
who set off into the mountains in the mid-1980s to
found a guerrilla movement. Marcos has refused to
discuss his identity.

    Marcos' masked image is made larger than life on
T-shirts and posters. In person, he is almost petite,
and speaks calmly and softly. His brown eyes, flecked
with blue and green, narrow when he makes a point. Bits of
gray dot the beard showing through his mask. He wears
a wedding band, having recently married an Indian woman.

    The faded military cap he wore into the wilderness
15 years ago is mended with black thread. The red bandana
he has worn since the Jan. 1, 1994, Zapatista uprising is
hardly more than shreds.

Despite his disappearances from the public eye, Marcos
remains in close touch with the outside world, monitoring
current events over television and radio, looking for chances
to use his sense of humor to poke fun at politicians, even
following the Oscar race.

    "The cultural life" is what he misses most,
Marcos said -- that and walnut ice cream.

    Asked his favorite film genre, he quipped:
"El porn -- anything more than XXX." Then he
said he likes all types of movies and saw most of the
 Oscar nominees on video. The last movie he saw:
"You've Got Mail," with Tom  Hanks and "the
precious Meg Ryan."

    Life in the jungle has its advantages, he said.
"You don't have smog,  traffic jams, high crime rates
or sexual harassment -- all that is suffered
 by a tall, handsome, good-looking guy like me."

    The humor is part of the personality that still
catches the popular imagination.

    This village of 800 people fell still when Marcos
rode in on his chestnut-colored horse, Lucero.
Children hushed their playful shouting, and
adults respectfully stayed away from the huge ceiba
tree where Marcos sat  in the shade, an AR-15 assault
rifle on his lap. La Realidad -- Reality -- reflects the
reality of life for many of Chiapas' Indians. Far from
the attention of policy makers in Mexico City,
it is a collection of poor clapboard shacks, dirt paths
and outhouses. The town's power generator is turned on only
for special occasions. Women wash clothes on rocks
in the river and cook rice and beans over wood fires.

    Improving the standard of living for Indians like those
of La Realidad remains one of the Zapatistas' central
demands, Marcos said.

    "It is not possible that in Mexico there be a sector of
the population living as if in Switzerland and another
sector of the population  10 million people -- who live
as if in prehistory," he said. "We believe it
 possible that this country go forward together."

    The government must also give Indians an active
role in shaping policy, especially matters affecting them,
he said. For example, he said, each community should
decide how to run their local economy.

    But Marcos contends the government would just as
soon destroy the Indians because their homes "are seated
on top of petroleum and uranium deposits."

    "The fundamental proposal of the government is
to disappear these communities, disappear them because
they are rebels and disappear them because they are
Indians," he said. "They (Indians) do not see the earth as
merchandise ... but as history, as culture, as magic,
as religion."

    He pointed up to the ceiba tree, which Mayan Indians
believe gives a community life.

    Life abounds in the jungled hills surrounding La Realidad.
It hides the Zapatista rebels and is home to the countless insects
that crack the still darkness with their electric hum.

    It also hides from sight the approaching military convoy
that rumbles through town twice every morning. Each time,
soldiers stare blankly at a pair of European women 
sympathizers of the Zapatistas  recording military movements.
Men perched atop the Humvees videotape and photograph
the women. A military reconnaissance plane flies in low overhead.

    That foreigners still come to Chiapas to join the Indians is
another sign the movement is strong, Marcos said. They are
attracted by the Zapatistas' message that Mexico must be allowed
to be diverse, that dignity  be given to Indians as well as to women,
young people, gays and lesbians and the unemployed 
"all those who are treated as Indians in society."

    Foreigners, though, do not give financial or military aid to
the rebels, as some in the government have alleged, Marcos said.

    "What bothers the government is that there are witnesses from
 other countries" who will see any abuses, he said. "In a globalized
world, it is now difficult to do something since the world is watching."

    He laughed at the government's other suggestion that Zapatistas
buy arms with marijuana profits, saying that if it were true they'd
have better weapons and supplies. He insisted the movement is
supported by Indian communities.

    The future of "Zapatismo," he said, is strengthening
connections  With the public and building the movement as
a social-political force.  Increased public support will pressure
the government to fulfill  agreements made in the peace talks
and to abandon violence, he said.

    Meanwhile, Marcos will wait in the jungle. He said he is
prepared to spend the rest of his life there, even if a political
settlement is reached, because the Zapatista uprising angered
vested interests.

    "It seems that what happened will not be forgotten easily.
 In this sense, I see it as unlikely that Marcos will be able to
leave," the leader said, referring to himself in the third person.

    "And he's fine here. But meanwhile, put in a movie theater
and ice cream shop -- and send some walnut ice cream."

 Copyright 1999. The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

 The information contained in the AP news report may not be published,
 broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written

 authority of The Associated Press.

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