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Zapatistas Aim to Reshape Mexican Politics

January 2, 2006

SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico (AP) _ Zapatista rebels have left their jungle strongholds for the first time to launch a six-month tour of Mexico aimed at reshaping the nation’s politics.

The rebels’ ski-masked spokesman Subcomandante Marcos, arrived Monday in a caravan of minivans, SUVs and pickup trucks for meetings with non-governmental organizations and religious refugees in this mountain city in southern Mexico.

On Sunday, Marcos launched the nationwide tour with a speech railing against capitalism, free trade and the Mexican government before 15,000 rebels and sympathizers who waved banners ranging from black and red anarchist flags to communist hammers and sickles at a platform beside the city’s cathedral.

Standing in front of a mural of Mexican revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata _ the rebel group’s namesake _ Marcos said the enemy ``has many faces but one name: capitalism.″

It was the first time in four years the rebels have left their jungle strongholds in southern Mexico.

The Zapatistas made a triumphant march on Mexico City in 2001, but then largely disappeared. This time, they plan to travel to all 31 states and Mexico City to reach out to leftist groups across the country ahead of Mexico’s July presidential election.

Standing in front of a mural of Mexican revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata _ the rebel group’s namesake _ Marcos said Sunday the enemy ``has many faces but one name: capitalism.″

Another rebel leader Commandante Kelly, clad in a red and white traditional Indian dress and a ski mask, spoke in favor of women’s rights.

``Women are not only for the bed and the kitchen,″ she said. ``We can also wear the trousers.″

In the capital, Mexico City, meanwhile, President Vicente Fox’s office said the Zapatista tour would strengthen democracy.

The government ``recognizes the Zapatista caravan that is attempting to make its ideas and points of view known by political means,″ Fox spokesman Ruben Aguilar said, drawing a contrast with the Zapatistas’ guerrilla origins.

Twelve years ago, the Zapatistas seized San Cristobal de las Casas and several other Chiapas towns in the name of Indians rights and socialism. A cease-fire with government forces quickly took hold, but there has since been sporadic violence between rebel supporters and other Indian groups in southern Mexico.

Fox closed some military bases near Zapatista territory and freed jailed rebel sympathizers shortly after starting his six-year term in December 2000, but peace efforts stalled when Congress watered down a Zapatista-backed constitutional amendment for Indian rights in 2001.

Marcos, who has never revealed his true identity but has been identified by the government as a former university instructor in Mexico City, said the tour would consist not of big marches, but of meetings with ordinary people.

The rebels have pledged to move away from armed struggle and toward politics, but the group has not defined what form of political participation it will adopt.

Marcos has abandoned his military title in favor of the civilian moniker ``Delegate Zero.″

Fox ended 71 straight years of single-party rule when he took office in 2000, but is barred from running again. A favorite to replace him during elections in July is former Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party.

Marcos has sharply criticized Lopez Obrador and has said the Zapatistas won’t run for elected office or join Mexico’s mainstream political process.


Associated Press writer Will Weissert from Mexico City contributed to this report.

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