Zapatistas Welcome Fox´s Peace Plan

Marcos´ Absence Encourages Peace Process

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MEXICO CITY, MAR. 29, 2001 ( The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) addressed the Mexican Congress, acknowledging the «peace signs» given by President Vicente Fox and announcing its willingness to renew talks with the government.

Subcomandante Marcos was not among the Zapatista speakers. To date, Marcos had been both the military chief and spokesman of the group.

Four Indian commanders addressed the Congress: Esther, David, Zebedee and Tacho. They were hooded but unarmed, and called for the approval of a law that recognizes the rights of Indian peoples. The speakers expressed their respect for Mexican institutions and their desire for peace.

Commander Esther explained Marcos´ absence, saying that those who really control the EZLN are the «commanders,» and not Marcos, who fulfilled his mission when he led the group´s leaders to Congress.

«We have a thoroughgoing and formal respect for Congress,» Esther said. «The military leader of a rebel army is not on the platform, but that part of the EZLN that represents the political line of a legitimate movement whose legacy is to achieve, through dialogue, the reconciliation and peace merited by Chiapas.»

The Zapatistas have thus responded to Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel´s homily last Sunday, when he applauded the EZLN´s decision to lay down arms and engage in political dialogue. Bishop Arizmendi, of San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas, was opposed to Marcos´ intransigent positions.

«Much hope is offered by giving the EZLN time and space to be heard in the Chamber of Deputies, because in this way the war in Chiapas is deactivated,» the bishop said. «The Zapatistas no longer want to kill or expose themselves to being killed.»

«They are demonstrating that they have opted for being a political force that fosters changes in favor of greater justice for all,» he added. «Many of us are in agreement with this, despite the intransigence and very aggressive language of its highest leader.»

«If he was more just and balanced in his evaluations, and not bent on intransigent positions, the [Zapatistas] would have the support of many more Mexicans,» Bishop Arizmendi said, referring to Marcos. «It is high time to accept the Indians, with their right to be fully Mexicans, although different in their cultures.»

He added: «Let us acknowledge the Indians as our brothers. … Let´s hope that the lawmakers and the rest of us citizens will open our hearts to them and celebrate, because they were excluded, and are now with us forever.»

As a sign of its desire for peace, the EZLN instructed its official spokesman, Fernando Yáñez, to begin contacts for the renewal of talks with the government. The talks were suspended in 1996.

Commander Esther acknowledged that President Fox´s proposals «have been a sign of peace» to which we do «not respond with a sign of war.» This is why the EZLN told Marcos, its military chief, that the Zapatista troops should not invade the land where military barracks were established in the conflict zone, which the president ordered be evacuated.

More than 650 reporters, some 150 lawmakers and hundreds of «guests» attended the Zapatistas´ intervention in Congress. Marcos and the 23 commanders will return to Chiapas, as they achieved their objective, having left the Lacandona forest on Feb. 24 and remained in Mexico City for 18 days.

Despite the optimism sparked by the Zapatista declaration, both EZLN commanders as well as President Fox were circumspect in their comments, admitting that there is a long road ahead before peace is achieved and the Indians´ rights are constitutionally recognized.

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