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Mexico’s Subcomandante Marcos steps down

In this 2006 file photo Subcomandante Marcos looks out into the Zócalo, Mexico City''s main plaza, in Mexico.

Iconic revolutionary leader of Zapatista rebels calls himself a ‘hologram,’ says he no longer exists

MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s Subcomandante Marcos, who led an indigenous uprising in southern Mexico and became one of Latin America’s most iconic revolutionaries, said on Sunday he was stepping down as spokesman for the Zapatista rebels and would disappear.

The ski-masked, pipe-smoking guerrilla leader became an idol of the anti-globalization movement after he led the 1994 Zapatista rebellion in the southern state of Chiapas, but he had avoided public appearances in recent years.

“We have decided that today Marcos no longer exists,” he wrote in a lengthy statement published on the Zapatista website that he said was his last message as the rebel leader.

“Marcos, the character, is no longer necessary,” he added.

Marcos denied rumours he had become ill, saying he was making way for a new generation to take over speaking for the rebels, who still hold a handful of communities deep in Chiapas.

“I am not and haven’t been ill, I am not and haven’t been dead. If we fuelled those rumours it’s because it was convenient,” he said in the text.

Named for Mexican revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata, the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) launched a 12-day battle with the Mexican Army that claimed at least 140 lives, rising up on the day Mexico opened its borders to free trade.

Marcos became a hero to leftist activists and intellectuals by championing the rights of Maya Indians who had been oppressed for centuries, but he was seen as a self-serving publicist to his critics on the right.

Marcos has not made any major public appearance since 2006, when he travelled across Mexico to condemn the country’s political class during a presidential election campaign.

He banned media from a 20th anniversary celebration this year but did make a brief appearance this past Saturday, during the commemoration of a fellow member of the Zapatistas.

The government had identified him as a former professor, but Marcos denied it and mocked the government’s claims in his statement, calling himself a “hologram.”

He said that his figure, now emblazoned on T-shirts and the target of criticism from the right, had become a “distraction.”

“Those who loved and hated Subcomandante Marcos now know that they have hated and loved a hologram,” he wrote. “The persona was created and now its creators, Zapatista men and Zapatista women, destroy him.”

The Zapatistas brought to prominence the plight of the region’s impoverished Maya Indians, but Chiapas remains one of Mexico’s poorest states, where three-quarters of the population live in poverty.

In 2001, Congress passed legislation to give the indigenous more rights. But the Zapatistas rejected government efforts to appease them and set up their own autonomous governments in five municipalities in Chiapas known as caracoles, or shells.

About half the Mexican population still live in poverty, little change from when then-President Carlos Salinas signed up to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that came into force the day of the Zapatista rebellion on January 1, 1994.

Herald with Reuters, AP

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