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That masked man

September 17, 2006|Josh Kun

LAST year, during the prelude to the Mexican presidential election, the country's favorite masked insurrectionist, Subcomandante Marcos, invited leading leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to spar with him in a public debate. Lopez Obrador declined. For Marcos, it was proof that his most familiar mantras had come true: Dialogue is dead, party politicians can't be trusted, and there is nothing left about the Mexican left.

When Marcos emerged from the jungles of Chiapas in 1994 as the charismatic, pipe-smoking leader of the Zapatistas, he launched a people's revolution that was armed and multimedia dangerous. He got plenty of attention but the government did little to change.

So for his 2005 comeback, he went after the system itself, devising La Otra Campana (the Other Campaign), a nationwide tour to mobilize local communities. Instead of stumping for election like official candidates, Marcos said he was stumping for large-scale ideological change. He didn't want power, he wanted a return to dignity.

He kicked off the campaign by issuing the "Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle," part progress report and part manifesto. It's the centerpiece of "The Other Campaign" (Open Media Series/City Lights: 176 pp., $8.95 paper) -- a book credited to Marcos and the Zapatistas -- where it's sandwiched between a helpful essay by Mexican journalist Luis Hernandez Navarro and a brief interview Marcos did with KPFK-FM radio's Aura Bogado, all laid out on facing Spanish and English pages.

"The Other Campaign" lacks the poetic vibrancy that characterizes Marcos' previous writings. Still, it remains a potent read, like a south-of-the-border "Communist Manifesto" but with more jokes. Discussing his meetings with groups from Asia and Africa, Marcos quips: "We say they are 'intergalactic' encuentros, just to be silly and because we also invite those from other planets, but it appeared they have not come." Elsewhere, he suggests that a massive international Zapatista meeting be held somewhere with a large jail so that if everyone gets arrested they won't be uncomfortable.

Mostly, though, Marcos is brimming with moral outrage, the bulk of which he saves for Mexican politicians, whom he accuses of turning the country into a sample sale for North American chief executives. Regardless of party divisions, he suggests, Lopez Obrador and president-elect Felipe Calderon are equally "employees in a store" owned by the U.S. and they sell Mexican labor, goods and land for the cheapest dollar.

Marcos is fuzzier when it comes to overhauling the present system. He calls for a new constitution to protect the underclass, but it's hard to say what his anti-capitalist Mexico would look like. No matter. In the end, his greatest achievement is that he continues to exist, giving voice to Mexico's most marginalized constituencies in the face of an increasingly chaotic political future.

-- Josh Kun

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