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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkNews Around the Republic of Mexico | January 2006 

Mexico's Zapatista Rebels Leave Jungle, Start Worker Campaign
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Masked rebel leader of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) Subcomandante Marcos smokes a pipe as he rests on a motorcycle in the hamlet of Francisco Gomez in Mexico's state of Chiapas January 1, 2006. Marcos rode a motorbike out of his jungle hide-out on Sunday to start a nationwide tour that seeks more support for Indians and the poor before July presidential elections. (Reuters/MicPhoto-Press)
Mexico's Zapatista rebel movement, led by the ski-mask wearing Subcomandante Marcos, kicked off a nationwide campaign today aimed at uniting Mexican groups that support worker and indigenous rights under a single banner.

Marcos left the Indian community of La Garrucha in the southern state of Chiapas at about noon en route to the city of San Cristobal de las Casas where he and other rebel leaders are scheduled to speak later today, Reforma newspaper reported on its Web site.

Marcos first announced an alternative political campaign that he dubbed the "other campaign" in June after he accused the nation's three biggest political parties of failing to help the poor, allowing the drug trade to flourish and bowing to pressure from the U.S. in a series of Internet statements.

The nationwide campaign is a final effort by the Zapatistas to rekindle the political clout they once held after briefly taking by armed force several towns in the southern state of Chiapas on Jan. 1, 1994, said analysts such as Georgetown's John Bailey. The rebel group and the government called a truce 11 days later and the Zapatistas since have been let alone to live in their jungle stronghold.

"They are isolated," said Bailey, who directs Georgetown University's Mexico project. "The more they stay isolated in Chiapas, the less of a factor they are in regional politics let alone in international politics."

Lost Its Appeal

Only days after the 1994 uprising, the rebel group, who call themselves the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, retreated after skirmishes with the Mexican Army that left more than 100 dead.

The pro-Indian movement and Subcomandante Marco's tirades against the government and free trade won over the sympathy of groups such as Oxfam International and celebrities such as movie director Oliver Stone and Inter Milan soccer team owner Massimo Moratti. Marcos was later identified as Rafael Sebastian Guillen, a former university professor.

The group that takes its name from Emiliano Zapata, the sombrero-wearing hero of the Mexican revolution who fought to return land held by the wealthy to indigenous farmers in the early 1900s, has lost its appeal among Mexicans for daring to stand up to Mexico's one-party rule.

Viable Option

President Vicente Fox became the first opposition party to win the presidency in 2000, ending the seven-decade grip on power by the Institutional Revolutionary Party. After taking office in December 2000, Fox attempted peace negotiations with the rebel group and supported a Zapatista march from their jungle camps to Mexico City. Indian leaders of the rebel group addressed a joint session of Congress during their trip to Mexico City in 2001.

Mexicans will elect a new president in July elections. Fox is barred by law from running for a second term.

The movement has also been undercut by the presidential campaign of Andres Lopez Obrador, the former Mexico City mayor who has put Indian rights at the top of his list of 50 campaign promises.

"There is a very viable, attractive option for the left in Mexico right now and that makes the work of some social movements less appealing," said MIT's Chappell Lawson, a professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The Zapatistas said early last year they would start a country tour on Jan. 1 in Chiapas before departing for other parts of Mexico on Jan. 9, starting with the states of Yucatan and Quintana Roo.

To contact the reporters on this story: Patrick Harrington in Mexico City at; Thomas Black in Monterrey, Mexico

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