The leader of the Zapatista rebels has given a pledge to listen to the people of Mexico as he visited poor Indian communities during a nationwide campaign to launch a leftist movement.
Marcos - who recently dropped the title Subcomandante in favour of Delegate Zero - arrived in a caravan of minivans, four-wheel drives and pick-up trucks at the University of the Earth, a school for Indians in a dirt-road slum on the outskirts of San Cristobal.
Accompanied by a dozen masked companions, he met non-governmental groups and neighbourhood leaders representing poor Indians, including thousands forced out of their homes in the nearby city of San Juan Chamula for being evangelical Protestants in a heavily Roman Catholic area.
"We will listen to everybody," he told a crowd of more than 300 people who gathered at the university. "We are not a government or a political party or, the worst thing in the world, a house of lawmakers."
Touring the country
Marcos launched a tour of the country's 31 states on Sunday, promising to form a national leftist movement that will "turn Mexico on its head". His mission is timed to coincide with the 2006 presidential campaign, leading up to elections in July.
Apparently competing for the attention of Mexico's 13 million Indians, Vicente Fox, the president, also began a tour of the country's indigenous communities on Monday.
"We will listen to everybody. We are not a government or a political party or, the worst thing in the world, a house of lawmakers"
Marcos, Zapatista leader
Xochitl Galvez, the head of the government's Commission for the Development of Indian Communities, told a news conference that there were several issues on the agenda.
"There are issues pending about the use of natural resources," he said. "There are issues pending about land and territory. There are issues pending about the judicial standing of Indian communities, and these are things that will have to be dealt with."
Fox closed some military bases near Zapatista territory and freed jailed rebel sympathisers 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 is making his trip on a black motorcycle nicknamed Shadow Light, drawing some comparisons to the socially oriented trip of Che Guevara, the Latin American revolutionary, in the 1950s.
Community leaders who met Marcos on Monday said they hoped that his campaign would help change the plight of poor Indians in the southernmost Mexican state of Chiapas and elsewhere.
Juan Banuelos, a poet and former Zapatista adviser, said the Zapatista movement is part of a wider struggle of the 60 million Indians in Latin America.
"The election of Evo Morales in Bolivia and the Zapatista movement are part of an uprising of indigenous people that will change the continent," he said.
The latest Zapatista campaign has brought the rebels out of their jungle strongholds for the first time in four years, and this time renouncing any use of their weapons.
President Fox has embarked on
a rival tour to woo Indians
Marcos formally launched the tour on Sunday with a speech railing against capitalism, free trade and the Mexican government before 15,000 rebels and sympathisers.
"Everywhere the 'other campaign' passes should become a nucleus of activism and agitation," he said.