January 4, 2006

Masked Mayan rebels greet leader near jungle ruin

By Manuel Carrillo

PALENQUE, Mexico (Reuters) - Thousands of Maya Indians
greeted Mexican rebel icon Subcomandante Marcos near the jungle
ruins of Palenque on Tuesday, as he took off on a national tour
to rail against poverty before July elections.

Groups of tourists watched the Mayan Zapatistas, who wore
black ski masks and chanted pro-poor slogans as Marcos drove
into Palenque, which is famous for its sprawling pre-Colombian
ruins surrounded by thick forest.

The pipe-smoking and masked Zapatista leader emerged from
his jungle stronghold on Sunday and traveled to San Cristobal,
where the short but bloody guerrilla uprising began 12 years

He now plans to lead a tour to every Mexican state urging
leftist groups to join a broad anti-capitalist front that aims
to influence politics, though he will not seek office.

In Palenque -- where he arrived in a long convoy of
Zapatistas, journalists and police and was greeted by about
6,000 supporters -- the apparently unarmed Marcos blamed
Mexican poverty on corrupt politicians and called for grass
roots activism.

"This all has to change, and not from above where the
right-wing is spreading its lies, but from below and from the
left," he said.

The Zapatistas burst from the jungle on New Year's Day in
1994, taking over towns and attacking police and army positions
in Chiapas, Mexico's poorest state, in clashes that claimed
about 150 lives.

Since a ceasefire shortly after the 1994 attack there has
been little fighting, but Marcos' colorful Internet communiqu©s
have made him a hero of the global anti-capitalism movement.

The rebels are focused on building a rotating system of
self-government at strongholds in Chiapas, with transportation,
education and health services supported partly by funds from
foreign nongovernmental organizations.

In 2001, the Zapatistas crisscrossed Mexico in a two-week
tour to promote an Indian rights bill, but the subsequent
legislation was watered down.

The decision to go back on the road came after agreeing
they could only sustain their system of government and promote
wider rights for Indians and the poor by joining with workers,
peasants and students across Mexico's cities and countryside.

Leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is the front-runner in
the campaign for Mexico's July 2 election.

While many on the left want the Zapatistas to throw their
influence behind Lopez Obrador, the rebels have branded him a
fraud, saying his party would do little to help the poor.

Although Marcos declines to publicly remove his mask, the
Mexican government has said he is really a non-Indian
university professor born in northern Mexico.