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Mexico's Subcomandante Marcos makes a rare appearance

At a Chiapas conference, rebel leader Marcos, in his signature ski mask, holds forth on Mexico's war on drugs, the bloodshed in Gaza, even the perceived shortcomings of President-elect Barack Obama.

January 05, 2009|Tracy Wilkinson

MEXICO CITY — Who was that masked man?

Fifteen years after his uprising shocked Mexico's status quo, and a year after he more or less dropped out of public view, Subcomandante Marcos had made a comeback appearance.

At least, it seemed to be Marcos. He was, after all, wearing his trademark black ski mask.

Followers were convinced. They listened over the weekend as Marcos ticked off complaints and critiques -- of Mexico's war on drugs, the events in the Gaza Strip, even the perceived shortcomings of President-elect Barack Obama.

Apparently a year out of the limelight had given Marcos lots to say.

"We came to know each other in war, and in war we continue," he said.

Marcos spoke in San Cristobal de las Casas, in Chiapas state, at a four-day conference marking the 15th anniversary of the short-lived rebellion by his Zapatista National Liberation Army. It was part of a "first annual" event called the Festival of Dignified Rage, which ends today.

In January 1994, the Zapatista guerrillas launched an offensive aimed at dramatizing the bleak living conditions, poverty and alienation of Mexico's indigenous population. They managed to seize control of several towns in Mexico's southernmost province, Chiapas, before the army beat them back into remote hills. It was over in less than two weeks.

Since then, the Zapatistas functioned as a largely political movement. A folk culture emerged around the masked Marcos, meanwhile, as he gave interviews, received visitors from around the world and saw dolls and T-shirts bearing his likeness. And although he and his followers brought attention to the plight of Mexican Indians and achieved some voice in local governments, Chiapas remains mired in poverty and violence.

Marcos had choice words for both President Felipe Calderon's center-right government, which he accused of being in cahoots with some drug gangs in order to wipe out others, and for Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, under whose stewardship the left has been badly fractured. Marcos accused Lopez Obrador of sectarianism and intolerance.

He said Americans who voted for Obama in hopes of major change in U.S. foreign policy would probably be disappointed; he cited the fact that Obama has not condemned Israel's attack on Gaza as evidence.

He also criticized Calderon's decision to send more than 40,000 army troops into several Mexican states to battle drug traffickers. The action, he noted, had failed to stop the bloodshed while inflaming the crisis because of allegations of human rights abuses by soldiers.

Marcos spoke to about 2,000 followers and was flanked by two fidgety little girls who also wore black ski masks.

About a year ago, Marcos said he felt his movement had "gone out of style" and was failing to attract the support it once did. He announced that he would stop making appearances. It was not clear whether his decision to speak out now signaled a new political campaign.

Marcos offered his own suggestion for an ongoing government contest to name the most useless bureaucratic procedure that Mexicans must endure: presidential elections.

"In addition to being extremely expensive, and we have to put up with the stupidities that the candidates repeat, it's really being decided elsewhere who will sit in the presidential seat," Marcos said.

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wilkinson@latimes.com

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