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Tens of thousands greet EZLN leaders
By Ioan Grillo in Mexico City 15th March 2001

On Sunday 11th March, history was made when Subcomandante Marcos and other leaders of the EZLN (Zapatista National Liberation Army) completed their tour of Mexico to arrive in the sprawling metropolis of the capital, the world´s biggest urban jungle, and all masked up they took to the stage in the central square, the Zocalo, and spoke before the citizens of Mexico and the international media.

The colossal crowd that gathered to see the Zapatistas was at least several tens of thousands, with the most optimistic estimates putting the figure at one hundred thousand, either way signifying the vast popular sympathy for the movement particularly amoung the majority working class. Police presence in the actual square was virtually non-existent, minus several helicopters above, and the crowd entered and left peacefully and without incident.

The Zapatista Comandantes gave passionate speeches about the conditions suffered by the indigenous people in the rural areas and about how they can manage their affairs more effectively with autonomous control of their communities.

Furthermore they criticised the whole process of colonisation, which began five hundred years ago but still exists in the psyche and the social structure of Mexico today, and claimed pride in their indigenous languages, in their cultures, and in the colour of their skin. Marcos concluded the speeches, captivating the crowd with his entrancing poetical style of oration that helps reinforce the powerful personality cult built around him.


The EZLN first launched its campaign in January 1994 with the dramatic armed takeover of government offices in the Chiapas city of San Cristobal de las Casas, an action made in response to the poverty and lack of public services of the idigenous peoples in the region´s near feudal system.

After the army restored control, at the cost of a hundred and fifty lives, a seven year stalemate followed with the EZLN retreating into the fringes of the Lacandón jungle, a military presence including some sixty thousand soldiers in Chiapas and a tense situation between pro and anti Zapatistas that sometimes exploded into violence, like when paramiltaries massacred forty five Zapatista sympathisers in the village of Acteal in December 1997.

However during this time the EZLN made some significant achievements, gaining the control of many villages, farms and ranches which they operate in a communal way, and running an effective publicity campaign, including use of the internet, the clever marketting of a heroic revolutionary image, particularly of the leader Subcomandante Marcos, and the identification with Zapata, the libertarian leader of the Mexican revolution, considered by many to be the number one national hero.


The possibility of a break through has come with the election of the new president Vicente Fox, who took up office in December 2000 ending the seventy two year rule of the thoroughly corrupt PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party).

Fox offered the Zapatistas peace talks which have they have come to Mexico City for in their stage managed convoy. Public support for them is sensational, although some, particularly members of the middle and upper classes, fear their revolutionary rhetoric and the cult following Marcos has amoung the poor, many in desperate situations, across the republic.

The EZLN are demanding the removal of some of the military bases, the release of prisoners, and the legalisation of the San Andres accords, made with the previous government, that give autonomous control to some of the indigenous communities.

Making peace with the Zapatistas would be a great achievement for the populist Fox. However, although it seems he is genuinely trying to clean up Mexico´s badly corrupt system, he is ideologically a neo liberal and whether he will ultimately surrender the wealth of Chiapas, a big potential interest to the government and its corporate friends, to the indigenous peoples, remains to be seen.

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