Fans keep Mexico Zapatista flame burning 20 years after revolt

Wed Jan 1, 2014 8:15pm EST
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By Lomi Kriel

SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico (Reuters) - The picturesque colonial town high in the mountains in southern Mexico is filled with relics of the rebel Zapatista movement that rocked the region with violence in 1994 and catapulted it to worldwide fame.

Now thousands of tourists and sympathizers come here every year to drink mojitos at a bar called Revolucion, visit nearby Zapatista communities with masked guides, and pick up souvenirs emblazoned with the image of Subcomandante Marcos, who thrilled leftists across the globe and won comparisons with Che Guevara.

Twenty years after Marcos led armed indigenous insurgents in Chiapas state in a "declaration of war" against the government the day Mexico opened its borders to free trade, the Zapatistas have faded from national view and their legacy is in question.

Named for Mexican revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata, the Zapatista National Liberation Army sparked a 12-day battle with the Army that claimed at least 140 lives, becoming an early symbol for supporters of the anti-globalization movement.

Today Chiapas remains Mexico's poorest state, and Marcos, the Zapatistas' masked poet leader, has all but disappeared.

Skilled in courting publicity, the pipe-smoking Marcos has not made any major public appearance since 2006, when he rode across Mexico on horseback to condemn its political class. He banned all media from the 20th anniversary celebrations.

"It's December 2013. It's just as cold as it was 20 years ago, and today, like back then, the same flag protects us: that of rebellion," Marcos wrote in a 3,000-word communique published this week that railed against President Enrique Pena Nieto, his predecessor Felipe Calderon, and the "paid press."

The Zapatistas brought to prominence the plight of the region's impoverished Maya Indians, who were once so ostracized that they could not even walk on San Cristobal's sidewalks.   Continued...

A Zapatista shows the way to followers of the Zapatista movement who have come along with thousands of others to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the armed indigenous insurgency in Oventic December 31, 2013. REUTERS/Claudia Daut