Zapatistas on final leg of march to Mexico City

CUAUTLA, Mexico, Reuters

Zapatista rebel leader Subcommander Marcos prepared late on Wednesday to march on Mexico City in the footsteps of revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata, after a day of commemorating Mexican guerrilla movements.

On the eve of the Zapatista leadership’s Thursday arrival in the federal district, Marcos took another dig at President Vicente Fox and the business establishment.

“Fox’s plan … would support those who want to convert the Mexican countryside into a panorama of gas stations, shopping centers and amusement parks,” said the masked rebel, a fierce opponent of globalization who has frequently criticized Fox’s brand of free-market capitalism.

“The most dangerous enemy of the countryside is not land invasion but the bankers who provoke instability in rural Mexico,” Marcos said amid a few cheers of “death to the rich.”

In central Morelos state, where Zapata was born, Marcos paid homage to the peasant champion who marched on Mexico City in triumph in 1914 and from whom the Zapatistas take their name.

Marcos in turn was presented with a portrait of himself alongside Zapata and Francisco “Pancho” Villa, another rebel hero from Mexican history.

“For him (Marcos) I would go to the death,” said Alfonso Benito, 75, of Cuautla, dressed a T-shirt proclaiming “Yes to peace” and a cowboy hat. “We love these heroes the way we love the leaders who gave us our country. We are still not free.”

Earlier in Mexico’s historically warlike state of Guerrero, Marcos showered praise on local guerrilla movements.

He lambasted local political bosses, or “caciques,” saying Guerrero “epitomizes the national drama showing concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, the problems of drug trafficking, government corruption and armed rebellion.”

Marcos is leading 24 Zapatista leaders on a 15-day trek from their stronghold in Chiapas that will culminate on March 11 in Mexico City. There, the Zapatista leadership will lobby lawmakers to pass a bill granting indigenous communities the right to run their affairs according to traditional customs.

On Wednesday night both houses of Congress agreed to meet with the Zapatista delegation over the bill, despite earlier reservations among lawmakers about holding talks with masked rebels. Congress members announced their “openness to dialogue” after a four-hour meeting with a Congressional peace commission.

The march, which has received saturation coverage in the Mexican media and international attention, has raised hopes for a peace deal between rebels and the government to end the seven-year Zapatista rebellion launched on New Year’s Day 1994.

Fox, who took office on Dec. 1 to end 71 years of single-party rule reviled by the Zapatistas, has welcomed the march as a “bridge to peace” and repeatedly emphasized his commitment to Indian rights.

In the packed square at Iguala, Marcos said the state of Guerrero, which means “warrior” in Spanish, had produced many armed revolutionaries, among them Lucio Cabanas, a guerrilla shot dead by the army in the ’70s.