Zapatistas on the March
Many compared it to marching through a dream. After seven years under siege by 70,000 Mexican Army troops in the jungles and highlands of Chiapas, the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) sent twenty-four delegates, including its pipe-smoking writer-spokesman Subcomandante Marcos, on a triumphant two-week motorcade that landed in Mexico City on March 11.
"I don't believe that in any place, in any space in this world--and I have the memory of my own revolution twenty-six years ago--I don't remember a more moving moment than I lived yesterday," declared the septuagenarian Portuguese Nobel Prize-winning author José Saramago the next morning.
The US press coverage of the march, limited though it was, hinted at such an apotheosis: the cheering multitudes that greeted the Zapatistas from the roadsides and at mass rallies in twelve states along the route, the flowery words of peace and civil rights coming to Mexico's mythical newfound democracy. But for the Zapatistas and Mexico's indigenous movement, the struggle now turns into a battle to codify the movement's progress into law.
The caravan came to demand constitutional recognition for Mexico's 10 million indigenous citizens, subjected to generations of repression, poverty, racism and exploitation of their lands and labor. As Mexico's President Vicente Fox passed his hundredth day in office, he reiterated calls to the Zapatistas to negotiate a peace. Not until the government fulfills the promises it has already made, answered the rebels: release of Zapatista political prisoners, closure of seven of the 259 military bases in Chiapas, and congressional passage of the law that would ratify the 1996 San Andrés peace agreements signed by the government [see Jerry W. Sanders, "Two Mexicos and Fox's Quandary," February 26].
The geographical advance was accompanied by a steady rise in the popularity of Marcos and the Zapatistas in opinion polls, an average gain of two percentage points per day, with over 50 percent in support. The implementation of the San Andrés Accords is now the sticking point. Marcos and the Zapatistas, with more than 1,000 delegates from the Indigenous National Congress, encamped at the base of Mexico City's Cuicuilco pyramid--a circular, 370-foot-diameter stone monument that has survived at least 2,600 years of lava flows, earthquakes and urban sprawl.
Underscoring their credo, "We will not sign a false peace," the Zapatistas caused a fierce uproar when, as the caravan was launched from San Cristóbal, Chiapas, they named architect Fernando Yáñez Muñoz as their representative to the federal Congress. Mexican police agencies have long claimed that Yáñez is Comandante Germán, the feared national guerrilla leader of the 1970s and '80s who, they say, helped found the Zapatista army in the jungle in 1983, a charge that Yáñez has denied. The Zapatistas have also, for the first time, called upon other guerrilla movements to protect their journey and remain alert, implying that if the state doesn't keep its word, an armed guerrilla response could explode nationwide.