Zedillo in gamble to capture rebel chief

Does the fate of Che Guevara await the guerrilla leader Subcomandante Marcos?

With such a question on their lips, Mexicans braced for a guerrilla war in the southern state of Chiapas, or even wider civil conflict across the country, after President Ernesto Zedillo unexpectedly switched to hardline tactics on Thursday in the hope of crushing the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN).

Unshrouding some of the mystery surrounding the charismatic guerrilla leader in the black balaclava, Mr Zedillo named him as Rafael Sebastian Guillen Vicente, Jesuit-educated son of a successful furniture dealer in the northern city of Tampico, and ordered his arrest. Even as the President spoke, in a surprise nation-wide television address, troops were occupying towns and villages in Chiapas and closing in on rebel-held areas of the Lacandon jungle along the Guatemalan border.

The guerrillas responded that they were going on "red alert" and mining access roads. But there was a widespread feeling that the guerrillas were surrounded and that Mr Zedillo would not have made his move without solid intelligence that he could quickly capture Subcomandante Marcos and his mostly Maya Indian force of several thousand men and women.

Dozens of peasant families, fled rebel-held areas last night, fearing fighting between the guerrillas and the army.

It is a huge gamble for Mr Zedillo, in power for only 10 weeks but already battered by the rebellion, an economic and debt crisis, and growing splits within his long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Analysts said he apparently hopes to kill several birds with one stone by ending the rebellion, shedding his image as a weak leader and thus winning over party hardliners, and sending a message to his US lenders and international investors.

"I think he is taking a really big gamble. This could go horribly wrong," according to one Mexico City diplomat. Many Mexicans agreed. By identifying Subcomandante Marcos, and ordering his arrest, Mr Zedillo clearly hoped to pick him up quickly. If that does not happen, the President's image will suffer with each passing day.

Despite a massive army presence in Chiapas, judicial sources revealed that the guerrilla chief had slipped through army lines and spent last Christmas with his girlfriend in Tampico. This time he might escape to the Guatemalan side of the border where he could find refuge among left- wing guerrillas there.

If Subcomandante Marcos survives for weeks, launches any form of successful counter-attack or simply manages to embarrass Mr Zedillo by issuing press statements, the President's own survival could be at stake. The PRI is already tipped to lose gubernatorial elections in the big state of Jalisco tomorrow to the conservative National Action Party - at least if the elections are clean - further reflecting its steady downfall after 65 years in power at the national level.

In his speech, Mr Zedillo revealed what many Mexicans had suspected: that the EZLN, unheard of before it launched its rebellion on 1 January last year, had cells beyond Chiapas. He said police had uncovered weapons arsenals last Wednesday in Mexico City and in the Gulf state of Veracruz which, he said, suggested the guerrillas had planned "new and greater acts of violence".

In fact, the arms caches hardly seemed capable of much more than the odd terrorist attack. They included one machine-gun, 10 pistols, 10 hand grenades and "22 sausage-shaped explosive devices".

"Unveiling" Subcomandante Marcos as a middle-class left-winger in his thirties, Mr Zedillo was at pains to point out that the EZLN leaders were "neither popular, nor indigenous, nor Chiapan". In Chiapas, however, everybody knew the guerrilla leader was white or of mixed race and well-educated. If anything, it made him more popular since he had risked his life on behalf of the Mayan Indians.

Mr Zedillo's television appearance was a complete turn-around from the conciliatory approach he and his predecessor, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, had taken since the start of the rebellion, which left 145 people dead before the two sides ceased fire on 12 January, 1994. Mr Zedillo even sent his Interior Minister, Esteban Montezuma, to the jungle to talk to Marcos last month. It was seen as an embarrassing climb-down for the government but it now seems likely Mr Montezuma gave the guerrilla chief an ultimatum.

Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

News
A Brazilian wandering spider
news

World's most lethal spider found under a bunch of bananas

Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

News
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech

Company decides to go for simply scary after criticising other sites for 'creepy and targeted' advertising

Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
News
news

Footage shot by a passerby shows moment an ill man was carried out of his burning home

Voices
Sol Campbell near his home in Chelsea
voices
News
i100
News
Kimi the fox cub
newsBurberry under fire from animal rights group - and their star, Kimi
Sport
Fans of Palmeiras looks dejected during the match between Palmeiras and Santos
footballPalmeiras fan killed trying to 'ambush' bus full of opposition supporters
News
people
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
filmsIt's nearly a wrap on Star Wars: Episode 7, producer reveals
Travel
travel

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business StudiesTeacher

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Bu...

***Are you a Support Worker? or a Youth Worker? ***

£50 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Preston: The RoleDue to demand we are cu...

**SEN Primary Teacher Serf Unit **

£110 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Preston: We are looking for an experie...

ICT Teacher - NQTs encouraged to apply

£110 - £130 per day + TBC : Randstad Education Reading: ICT Teacher needed up ...

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past