It was heartening to see a picture of Subcommander Marcos in the New York Times May 10, even if it was on page 12. The masked Zapatista leader sat down in a Televisa studio for a nationally-broadcast interview May 9, as the political crisis sparked by violence at the village of San Salvador Atenco, just outside the capital, continued to escalate. Politicians of all stripes are baiting the rebel leader as a demagogue and extremist, even as the press continues to portray him as a washed-out has-been. Pretty funny. An excerpt from the Times story:
Felipe Calderon, the candidate of [President Vicente] Fox’s conservative National Action Party, said the times had passed Marcos by. “What Mexico wants is to live in peace, to live a democratic life – that is to say, just the ideals that Marcos probably does not share,” Mr. Caldero’n told reporters as he left a campaign event near the capital. “He doesn’t share them because he has opted for violence, while Mexicans are choosing democracy.”
The violence last week started when the local police in the town of Texcoco, about 20 miles northeast of the capital, tried to evict some flower vendors from their traditional spot in a market. The vendors looked for help from a militant farmers’ coalition closely allied with Marcos’s Zapatista rebels, and decided to stand and fight.
For 24 hours the farmers, who call themselves the Front of Peoples for the Defense of Land, battled the police with machetes and homemade firebombs. They set up barricades of burning tires, blocked a major highway and threatened to blow up a gasoline tanker truck.
The police prevailed in the end. When the tear gas cleared Friday morning, a 14-year-old was dead from a gunshot wound, more than a dozen police officers bore machete wounds – one lost a hand – and at least four protesters had been beaten badly enough to be hospitalized.
Most of the violence was televised, rattling a country where political passions were already running high.
Marcos has ridden the riot like an expert surfer catching a wave, using it to raise his public profile and catapult himself into the national debate once again, agreeing to sit down on the air with Carlos Loret de Mola, a Televisa reporter who had been seeking an interview for months.
Once on the air, he vowed to remain in the capital until the 211 people arrested in the riot were released. He also used the interview to opine about the presidential race.
Marcos predicted victory for Andre’s Manuel Lopez Obrador, a populist whom Marcos has disparaged as a phony leftist. He belittled Mr. Calderon and Roberto Madrazo of the Institutional Revolutionary Party. He said electing Mr. Madrazo would empower organized crime and asserted that Mr. Calderon would govern ineptly.
“Between these three mediocrities there will be a fight for a business, not the course of the country, but a business,” Marcos said. “There will be a certain hope that, yes, this time things will change. Then comes disillusionment, and then is when something else is needed.”
Through their spokesmen, Mr. Lopez Obrador and Mr. Madrazo declined to comment. Rube’n Aguilar, a spokesman for Mr. Fox, carefully avoided starting a public dialogue with Marcos, saying he had a right to speak his mind so long as he did not break the law.
One reporter asked if Marcos had become such a cult figure that the police could not touch him, even if he had incited violence. “In a democracy, no one is above the law,” Mr. Aguilar said.
The Televisa reporter raised the possibility with Marcos that he had helped orchestrate the riot, pointing out that Marcos had always been a master at manipulating public opinion. “But not a genius in manipulating political instability,” Marcos quickly responded. “In any case I have failed in all those attempts.”
In a case of wishful thinking, the Fox administration is paradoxically trying to use this re-escalation as an opportunity to formally end the Zapatista rebellion. From AP, May 10:
MEXICO CITY – Mexico’s peace negotiator for Chiapas on Wednesday urged leftist Zapatista rebels to lay down their arms and to end their support for causes he termed violent.
Luis H. Alvarez also accused rebel leader Subcomandante Marcos of taking a contradictory position by supporting protesters in their violent clash laset week with police in San Salvador Atenco, about 15 miles northeast of Mexico City.
“The Zapatista National Liberation Army has an obligation to hand over their weapons, and leave behind the deplorable threat of violence they represent,” Alvarez wrote in an open letter to the rebels.
“Marcos is being incongruous by taking up causes that have expressed themselves violently,” Alvarez wrote. He has put “aside the interests of the Indians he claims to represent,”
Alvarez, whose invitations to meet with Marcos have long been rebuffed by the rebel leader, also suggested the Zapatistas are losing support in Chiapas state, where the rebels held a short-lived revolt for Indian rights and socialism in January 1994.
“In contrast with the attitude of the Zapatista leadership, several communities that were identified with them have changed their way of thinking,” the letter said in an apparent reference to the fact that some towns allied with the Zapatistas are starting to accept government aid.
In a rare live broadcast interview Tuesday, Marcos said the battle between police and protesters that left one person dead and scores injured shows the country’s brewing tensions.
The rebel leader came out of his jungle hideout in January and is touring Mexico trying to forge a national leftist movement. But his recent talks and tour appearances have not drawn large crowds, leading some to suggest he is trying to capitalize on street violence to revive his movement.
The Bishop of Ecatepec, Onesimo Cepeda, got into the act by demanding that Marcos be arrested for pro-violence “agitation.” (APRO, May 8) Gerardo Fernandez Norona, spokesman of the left-center Democratic Revolutionary Party accused Marcos of “inciting” attacks on the party’s presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. (APRO, May 9)
All this violence-baiting is pretty damn ironic, given the charges of horrific abuses mounting against the security forces. Mexico’s official human rights agency announced May 9 it has filed complaints with prosecutors after nearly two dozen women said they were raped or sexually abused by police following the Atenco protests. The allegations are the most serious to arise against police during the Fox administration, said Guillermo Ibarra, spokesman for the Mexican National Human Rights Commission. He told a press conference seven women reported that they were raped and 16 others, including three foreign nationals, said they were sexually abused by police who detained them after the Atenco clashes. (AP, May 9)
In as joint press conference with Amnesty International, the independent Miguel Agustin Pro-Juarez Human Rights Center (PRODH) aired a videotaped interview with Mexico state police officers who admitted that excessive force was used during the confrontation with Atenco villagers on May 3. The officers’ faces were blurred and their voices altered in the video. Lawyers from the PRODH said their identities were not revealed to protect them from reprisals. In the interview, the officers said one of their companions shot and killed Javier Cortes Santiago, a 14-year-old boy who authorities initially said was killed by a firecracker during the Atenco clashes. The officers said Cortes was killed by a bullet fired from a .38 special handgun. (El Universal, May 11)
In a quote from his TV interview not picked up by the NY Times, Marcos reiterated his call for a nonviolent civil response to the repression, and put the violence of the protesters in a little perspective. From the Mexican news agency APRO, May 9: “The violence can’t be compared. What can Molotov bombs and machetes do compared to the pistols of the state police? The civil population is responding to an aggression by those supposedly charged with maintaining security.”
On May 10, a judge freed 144 arrested in the recent disturbances pending trial, but ordered another 28 to be held indefinitely, inluding Atenco social leader Ignacio del Valle. (APRO, May 10)
Mexico City authorities have mobilized 3,000 police in preparation for protests expected today in support of the Atenco struggle. (El Universal, May 11)
All sources via the Chiapas95 list and archive.