Mexico's battling peasants keep spirit of Zapata alive on

`Golf War': Developers abandon plan to build new course after protester is killed and 18 are wounded in shoot-out with police
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Elderly Indian peasants in the Mexican state of Morelos truly believe local revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata never died on 10 April 1919. Even though the Mexican army laid his body out in a town square after ambushing him, the superstitious peasants believed he had taken to the hills with his famous white stallion.

That is why the elderly sincerely believe Zapata was present last Wednesday, 10 April, when Morelos peasants were ambushed by police on a country road near the little town of Tepoztlan. The outcome was gory: one peasant killed and 18 wounded. But the incident resulted in a peasant victory over big business of which the great moustachioed revolutionary would have been proud.

The peasants were residents of Tepoztlan, a small town 35 miles south of Mexico City and a stone's throw from Zapata's birthplace. Some were his direct descendants, others were sons of the men who fought alongside him during the 1910-17 revolution.

They had been heading in a convoy of buses to the town of Cuernavaca, where Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo was giving a speech to mark the 77th anniversary of Zapata's death, traditionally a big day on the Mexican calendar. But the peasants had not gone to listen.

They had gone to protest against plans to build a golf course and tourism complex around Tepoztlan, one of Mexico's most picturesque Indian villages, which they said would ruin the landscape, endanger wildlife, use up scarce water supplies and desecrate pre-Columbian burial sites.

They had occupied the town of 13,000 since last September, erecting barbed wire barricades and taking over the town hall, after the developers began bulldozing the golf course to be designed by Jack Nicklaus's Golden Bear Course Management company. Local media billed the stand-off as the Golf War.

To prevent the protesters reaching the president, policemen were dispatched to block their path at the town of Tlaltizapan. After news of a clash emerged, not for the first time in Mexico, the police insisted they had been unarmed and that the gunfire must have come from the peasants. An amateur video confirmed, however, that the police were armed and opened fire - demonstrating that Mr Zedillo still has some way to go in his pledge to improve his nation's human rights record. Six policemen have been charged with murder, 54 others with abuse of authority.

A 62-year-old Tepoztlan resident called Marcos Olmedo was killed in the gunfire but his fellow-protesters now bill him as a martyr who did not die in vain. At the weekend, saying the violence had undermined investors' confidence, the developers ceded to the locals and called off the golf project. "The conditions no longer exist that would guarantee our investment," said a spokesman for the Grupo KS investment company. "But the land is legally ours and we will not give it up, although we don't know what we will finally do with it."

That suggested the conflict may not be finally over. But after their victory, the peasants appear to have the bit between their teeth.

Demanding justice for the victims of the shooting, they have vowed "to fight on" until the state government of Morelos resigns. The Golf War may yet become the Golf Revolution.