The tour begins on New Year’s Day – to coincide with the anniversary of a brief Zapatista uprising in the name of Indian rights 12 years ago. This time, however, the Zapatistas are not expected to carry weapons and declare war when they march into San Cristobal.
Subcomandante Marcos, the Zapatista leader, has said he will build a nationalist leftist movement that will “shake this country up from below” during a visit to Mexico’s 31 states.
Marcos has promised that the movement will not be violent, saying that he will no longer be a military sub-commander but a civilian known as Delegate Zero.
He said the Zapatistas would not run for elected office or join Mexico’s mainstream political process, which he described as corrupt and out of touch with the people.
“We have to unite with labourers, teachers, students and all the workers in the city and countryside”
Zapatista council statement
Many analysts and Zapatista sympathisers are confused about the rebels’ exact intentions.
Miguel Alvarez is head of Serapaz, a pacifist group that has helped with negotiations between the government and the Zapatistas. “What kind of movement is it going to be? That is the million-dollar question,” he said. “I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.”
When the Zapatistas first stormed San Cristobal on New Year’s Day in 1994, they called for equal rights for Mexico’s Indian minority and an end to the one-party rule of the Institutional Revolutionary party (PRI), which governed Mexico for most of the 20th century.
After the PRI lost power to Vicente Fox, who was elected president in 2000, the rebels focused on building a network of Zapatista-run schools and medical clinics in dozens of Indian villages they control in Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost state.
The third phase
The rebels say the national tour, which they have dubbed the Other Campaign in reference to presidential elections in July, is a third phase in the Zapatista revolution.
The Zapatista’s command council said in a recent statement: “A step forward in the struggle is only possible if we unite with other sections of society. We have to unite with labourers, teachers, students and all the workers in the city and countryside.”
Bertha Navarro, 60, a film producer who lives in Mexico City, said she saw a Zapatista-inspired movement as a way for ordinary Mexicans to get involved in politics.
Zapatista leader Marcos (C) has
“There are a lot of people in Mexico like me who are fed up with the corrupt parties and are looking for a new way of doing politics,” Navarro said.
Marcos has repeatedly criticised the leftist Democratic Revolution party and its presidential candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the former mayor of Mexico City, who leads most polls for the presidential elections.
Zapatista rebels have caught the imagination of many leftists from across the globe, especially European socialists and anarchists.
Paulo Carta, 28, a paramedic who has travelled to San Cristobal from Rome, said: “The way the Zapatistas live is very different from us in Europe. But the way they have organised and stood up for their rights is an inspiration to us all.”