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Subcomandante Marcos Vows Political Involvement

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

For the first time in four years, a Mexican rebel commander has come out of his hideout in the jungles of southern Mexico. Subcomandante Marcos, as he's known, has been holding a series of meetings in the state of Chiapas, and he's been lashing out at Mexico's political parties ahead of next year's elections. As NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from Mexico City, some analysts say he could have an effect on the outcome of the vote.

(Soundbite of applause)

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO reporting:

Standing in front of hundreds of people, Subcomandante Marcos lights up his pipe. He's wearing his black ski mask, and he has a pistol strapped to his waist. He's gotten more portly, but his rhetoric is still pointed.

(Soundbite of speech)

Subcomandante MARCOS: (Through Translator) We looked up to those in government to see if they would recognize us, and we saw that it produced no results; only betrayal, mockery, lies and contempt from the political parties who are fighting over the presidency.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Apart from a detective novel he co-authored with a Mexican writer, there have been few words from the leader of the 1994 armed Indian uprising in Chiapas these past few years. Addressing the group in Carmen Patate in southern Mexico over the weekend, he says that is about to change.

(Soundbite of speech)

Subcomandante MARCOS: (Through Translator) We are inviting you because we have been walking with you these long years, working on the indigenous question to join us for a new fight, one that includes the workers in the city and the countryside.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Marcos says his new campaign will last for years, and it will seek to create a broad political force to push leftist values. His reappearance on the scene has prompted many opinions on whether or not he still has what it takes to influence Mexican politics. Galfason Gastro(ph) is a professor at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico.

Professor GALFASON GASTRO (Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico): I don't think Marcos anymore has the strength to destabilize Mexico and not really to make a big impact in public opinion. Marcos has become a little isolated. He's not that important anymore, even in Chiapas. And why? Well, because there's been a lot of investment in Chiapas. Now Chiapas has a very good governor, and I do believe Marcos is a bit isolated. So I don't see a big thing there.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Others, though, very much disagree. Zedillo Sarmiento(ph) is an editorial writer for one of Mexico's biggest papers, La Reforma.

Mr. ZEDILLO SARMIENTO (Editorial Writer, La Reforma): I don't think Subcomandante Marcos is irrelevant. I think he has a very strong core of supporters. Maybe he is not popular enough to win a presidential election, but that doesn't mean that he doesn't have the popularity to actually affect the outcome of an election.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Though he wants to push Mexican politics to the left, Marcos has been aiming his harshest words at the leftist candidate for the presidency, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a former Indian rights activist. Marcos has called him a false leftist. And while he's urging his followers to turn their back on AMLO, as Lopez Obrador is called here, it's not clear what real alternatives he's offering or what his real motives may be for criticizing the first leftist presidential candidate who might have a shot at winning. Whatever his goal, Marcos has always been a savvy political player, and Mexico is again talking about him and his movement. Though his identity has never been confirmed, he's widely believed to be a non-Indian Mexican academic.

At the end of his address in Carmen Patate, the masked leader put down his microphone and dramatically disappeared into the surrounding jungle. But Mexicans are fairly sure he won't be staying there this time for long. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.
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