The masked revolutionary icon of Latin America, Subcommander Marcos, emerged from the Mexican jungle for the first time in four years over the weekend as his Zapatista movement rebranded itself as a non-violent proponent of alternative politics.
Wearing his trademark military fatigues and black ski mask, the rebel appeared to be kick-starting a recently declared shift towards political engagement by the Zapatista National Liberation Army.
He carried with him a chicken dressed to look like a penguin -- the unlikely new symbol of a revolutionary movement made up mainly of Maya Indians from the jungles of the southern Chiapas region.
The mysterious revolutionary, who led a brief armed uprising in Chiapas in January 1994 in the name of Indian rights, did not reveal where he had been hiding out over the past four years.
While his base is thought to be in the jungle of Chiapas, he found time over the past four years to co-author a novel, Uncomfortable Dead, with the crime writer Paco Ignacio Taibo II.
Mexican officials have identified Marcos as the former university lecturer Rafael Sebastian Guillen. Marcos, who always denied being Guillen, was educated by Jesuit priests and got a masters degree in philosophy from the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
Marcos' pronouncements in recent years have generally been issued via e-mail letters published in the Mexican newspaper La Jornada. Last month, the Zapatistas declared a "red alert," recalling top commanders to hold high-level discussions, consulting its followers and announcing days later a move toward politics and away from armed conflict.
"Like penguins in the jungle, the Zapatistas will make an effort to stand upright and find a place for themselves in Mexico, Latin America and the world," Marcos explained in a recent missive quoted by Spain's El Periodico daily. "We are coming out, you might as well get used to the idea."
Marcos has said the rebels will embark on a pre-election cross-country tour aimed at uniting workers, students and activists. The new phase of Zapatista action "is not to draw lines, is not to promote the armed fight in another state," he said.
"It is to go and ask the people what they think and how their problems are being resolved," he said.
The main target of Marcos's weekend attacks on established politicians, delivered at a meeting of leftwing groups in the tiny settlement of San Rafael, was the former Mexico City mayor, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Lopez Obrador, himself a former Indian-rights activist, is the leading candidate to become the country's new president next year.
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