Marcos, bard of Mexico, scotches death rumours

Rebel leader sends long-awaited and poetic message from a hammock in the jungle

Quoting a Shakespeare sonnet and relating how he fell into cow-dung while retreating before the Mexican army, the masked guerrilla leader, Marcos, has broken several weeks of silence and dispelled rumours that he may have been killed.

In a letter to the media, the subcomandante - or el sub, as he calls himself - said the Mexican army and federal agents were still advancing against the guerrillas' jungle hide-outs last week, despite a newly passed law granting temporary amnesty pending peace talks.

The letter predated an announcement by President Ernesto Zedillo that the army would move out of towns and villages it was occupying in the southern state of Chiapas to allow renewed dialogue. But reports from the region suggested the troops had simply regrouped to encircle towns and hamlets and were still blocking roads to cut off the guerrillas' supply routes.

The reports also said troops had built bridges across rivers to get to the Lacandon jungle and were cutting paths, apparently to allow army patrols to go in.

The long-awaited missive from the man in the black balaclava and crossed bandoliers painted a picture of the guerrilla chief smoking his pipe in a hammock in the Lacandon jungle, reading Shakespeare, talking to his alter ego and a beetle called "little hard man" and tapping out short stories on a laptop computer.

"When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,/ I all alone beweep my outcast state,/ And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,/ And look upon myself and curse my fate," went the cited sonnet. It did, of course, have a more upbeat ending when Shakespeare, and presumably Marcos, scorns "to change my state with kings''.

"Somebody should tell the feds about the new [amnesty and dialogue] law," the leader of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) wrote. "They keep on advancing. If we keep pulling back, we're going to bump into a sign that says `Welcome to the Ecuador-Peru border'. I wouldn't mind a trip to South America but being in a three-way crossfire must be a trifle disagreeable.''

He described how he ran from a bull while fleeing the army on the edge of the jungle one night last month, fell in what he thought was mud but discovered it was cow-dung. And after enclosing a skilfully written short story, in which he converses with "the other me'' and the pipe-smoking beetle "Durito" (the little hard man), the rebel chief said his radio was playing "I'll get by with a little help from my friends''.

He and his mainly Mayan peasant guerrillas continued to get support in Mexico City and elsewhere. Yesterday thousands of peasants from Chiapas remained camped in the capital's main square, backing the EZLN and demanding better conditions for Mexico's Indians.

An EZLN statement at the weekend, accepting the government's dialogue offer but only if troops pull back to their barracks, brought some hope that the Chiapas conflict, which began with the insurrection of 1 January 1994, could soon end. But there were reports from Chiapas of human rights violations by the army and an apparent policy of trying to starve out the guerrillas - estimated at up to 2,000 men - and up to 11,000 peasants who fled with them for fear of the army.

Human rights groups accused the army of occupying deserted homes, stealing or destroying money, food and belongings and burning crops. More famine, disease and death were likely, because the army had prevented the sowing of crops.

Ofelia Medina, an actress from Chiapas who supports Indian rights, said 11,000 Indian men, women and children were believed to be hiding in the jungle, living on three tortillas a day and very little water. Peasants who returned spoke of an outbreak of bronchitis and diarrhoea among children.

Human rights workers who reached the village of Pamala said nine children had died while fleeing the army's advance; peasants still in the village lived in terror after troops burgled their homes. The apparent aim was to discourage support for the Zapatistas.

Soldiers were bribing children with sweets, chewing-gum or money to tell them which families had supported the Zapatistas, the rights workers said. And ranchers had entered churches in areas where the Zapatistas have sympathisers and threatened Catholic priests.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager - Salesforce / Reports / CRM - North London - NfP

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and reputable Not for Profit o...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger & Credit Control Assistant

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all