Against a jungle backdrop with a pipe and a ski mask, a lone ranger stands poised to write a new chapter in Mexico's history.
Due to the efforts of Sub-comandante Marcos, two weeks of armed conflict seven years ago has become a "revolution" poised to achieve historic gains for Mexico's native population. Through brilliant political posturing and an uncanny ability to manipulate and control the media, Marcos fashioned an internationally-known revolutionary force, the Zapatistas of the Mexican state of Chiapas.
It is a cause that galvanized the grievances of the impoverished and disenfranchised native population, pitting them against the wealthy, powerful and primarily non-native ruling classes. Even in the Chiapas region, there is a distinct dichotomy between the Indian farmers and the ranchers and politicians wielding the power in the region.
"We won't allow it," stated Chenalho (a Chiapas municipality) mayor Antonio Arias Perez boldly when asked about the collectivization of land demanded by the Zapatistas. "We're going to demonstrate, we're going to picket. We're not going to allow it, because we are the majority and we are in the right. Private property must be respected."
This demonstrates the uniqueness of this revolution. It is an ideological stand-off and while both sides are armed, violence is the exception, not the rule.
There have been outbursts however, the most notorious being the 1997 massacre of 45 pro-Zapatista civilians in Acteal, a hamlet in Chenalho. These offences committed by priisatas (supporters of the former ruling party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party) played a large part in the recent election of President Vicente Fox Quesada, who promised peace and has since pulled out many of the troops stationed in the region.
"Unfortunately, it was necessary," conceded Indian Affairs advisor Xochitl Galvez. "I would have liked it not to be. I hope it will end in much fairer treatment for all
Currently, the dialogue necessary to resolve the situation--a dialogue both sides desire --is a little over a week away. Marcos is leading 50 busloads of sympathizers and supporters on a 15-day, 12-state tour en route to the capital, Mexico City--a trek the media has dubbed Zapatour 2001.
While there is suspicion and self-interest on both the side of the government and the Zapatistas, level heads are prevailing and co-operation is supplanting conflict. Marcos laid down his weapons while Fox let down his guard and both are warily wading towards a peaceful dénouement.
This is a revolution that we must acknowledge and admire. It is an ideological battle fought in Mexican hearts, minds, media and, most importantly, ballot boxes. In a democratic state whose democracy has often been suspect at best, the people ousted a 71-year-old hegemon, the PRI, in the interests of peace, human equality and human dignity. The insurgency is ideological, the weaponry is information and the impending dialogue is a shining example of what can be achieved through democracy and the willingness to progress rather than regress.