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Friday, 16 March, 2001, 15:54 GMT
Marcos vows to fight on
Subcomandante Marcos sings the national anthem
Marcos: I'm not the new Che Guevara
Mexico's Congress has opened a new session to be devoted largely to an indigenous rights bill demanded by Zapatista guerrillas.

The rebel leader, Subcomandante Marcos, says there can be no peace negotiations without the legislation.

He says he wants to address parliament to present the Zapatistas' case, and not just the commission of 20 legislators proposed by congress.

The BBC's Hernando Alvarez talked to Marcos, five days after he led in a procession into Mexico City to demand Indian rights.

President Vicente Fox
Mr Fox has to decide if he is willing to dialogue, says Marcos
Hernando Alvarez: You have rejected congress's proposal, what will happen now?

Subcomandante Marcos: Congress will draw up a new proposal. We are requesting a dialogue with the legislators to present our position.

HA: You accuse President Vicente Fox of using the issue for publicity purposes...

SM: There is a conflict we have to resolve, and the only way that will happen is if Mr Fox decides to answer one question: Is he willing to embark on a dialogue with all that that entails?

If he starts haggling over each aspect, which appears to be the case, the dialogue will never come to a good end. The conflict will just be prolonged.

HA: President Fox has been in office only 100 days. Isn't it too soon to judge him?

We do not want to be the international, or even the Mexican, left's martyrs

SM: We understand that some steps take time, but others, such as a military withdrawal, only require the 15 minutes Mr Fox famously mentioned in his campaign. We are only asking the army to withdraw from seven of their 259 positions.

We are not judging the government itself, only its attitude towards us. This is not about Mr Fox's or Marcos's popularity, but about the resolution of a conflict which is an embarrassment to any Mexican - that is that the country's original inhabitants are treated as animals.

HA: Aren't you trying to sign a peace accord when in reality there is no war, when no bullets are fired?

Zapatista rally at The Zocalo, Mexico City's central square
More than 100,000 supporters cheered the Zapatistas in Mexico City
SM: Of course there is a war. If not, why do they need 60,000 soldiers and 259 military bases? Why do they fly over the area in helicopters and reconnaissance planes? Why are the barracks in a permanent state of alert.

HA: What will happen to you and the Zapatista movement if the indigenous bill of rights is not approved. Will you return to the jungle?

SM: Yes. We specialise in waiting and resisting. We would wait until someone else comes along who really is willing to find a solution.

HA: And if you achieve your goals?

This is not about Mr Fox's or Marcos's popularity, but about the resolution of a conflict which is an embarrassment to any Mexican - that is that the country's original inhabitants are treated as animals

SM: We would immediately begin a process of dialogue and negotiation.

HA: The international press have often compared you to Ernesto "Che" Guevara. Is Subcomandante Marcos the new Che?

SM: No, not at all. First of all, we are not proposing to take power. Secondly, we are not trying to form a school of thought. Thirdly, the world in which Che was born, lived, fought and died has nothing to do with ours.

We do not want to be the international, or even the Mexican, left's martyrs. We want to show that we can develop as communities and not live with the stigma that being indigenous means being poor.

Indigenous woman in Chiapas
"Mexican Indians are treated like animals," says Marcos
HA: Don't you think there is something ingenuous in the struggle against the world's great powers?

SM: No, I've heard that many times. Before change is achieved, it seems impossible. Then, afterwards one always says it was inevitable.

I don't deny the enemy is powerful, but its internal contradictions are generating problems, multiplying wars and frontiers.

HA: Subcomandante Marcos, would you take your mask off for BBC radio listeners?

SM: I am doing it at this moment. I am taking my mask off and those around me have fainted... not because they are moved, but in fear [laughter is heard in the background]. But people who faint cannot laugh.

HA: So we are "seeing" the real Marcos?

SM: It's an exclusive for the BBC.

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See also:

15 Mar 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
In the footsteps of Zapata
11 Mar 01 | Americas
Rebels ride into Mexico City
10 Mar 01 | Media reports
Press alarm at Zapatista arrival
09 Mar 01 | Americas
Fox's flying start in Mexico
01 Dec 00 | Americas
Profile: Vicente Fox
03 Dec 00 | Americas
Mexico's peasant revolt
03 Dec 00 | Americas
Mexico rebels to talk peace
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