SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico – Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) leader Subcomandante Marcos said over the weekend that he “never lived” and his persona was simply a “strategy” to draw attention to the plight of Mexico’s Indians.
The guerrilla leader, who made his first public appearance in five years on Saturday, said in a statement that he would be known going forward as “Galeano,” the name of a recently slain comrade.
Marcos said he would cease being the spokesman for the overwhelmingly Indian Zapatistas, who launched an armed rebellion on Jan. 1, 1994.
“The Zapatista National Liberation Army will no longer speak with my voice,” the rebel leader said in a lengthy statement released early Sunday.
Marcos discussed his 30-year involvement with the rebel group and said he was “created” by the Indians after the armed uprising in 1994 in response to the attention the press was focusing on him for being mestizo, a person of mixed race.
“That is when a complex maneuver of distraction, a trick of terrible and marvelous magic started, a malicious play from our indigenous hearts, the Indian wisdom challenged modernity in one of its bastions: the media,” the guerrilla chief said, adding that the Marcos persona was created and was now being destroyed by the Zapatistas.
Subcomandante Marcos said the rumors that he had a terminal illness were part of the charade that ended on Sunday.
“I am not and have not been sick, nor am I now nor have I been dead. If we put out those rumors, it was because it was convenient. The last big trick of the hologram was to simulate a terminal illness, and even all the deaths I’ve had,” the guerrilla leader said.
Media reports said in March that the rebel commander had health problems.
Subcomandante Marcos went to La Realidad, a community in the jungles of Chiapas state, where thousands of Indians and hundreds of other EZLN supporters gathered on Saturday to remember Jose Luis Solis Lopez, known as “Galeano.”
The rebel leader had not appeared in public since January 2009, when he attended a festival in San Cristobal de Las Casas.
Marcos rode up on a horse and was surrounded by his supporters in La Realidad, a community outside the city of Las Margaritas in the Lacandona jungle.
The lengthy statement was released a few hours later, with the guerrilla leader saying that the disappearance of the Marcos persona had been planned for some time.
Mexican military intelligence suspects Marcos is a non-Indian, middle-aged former philosophy professor.
The government released a photograph in January 1995 and identified the Zapatista chief as Rafael Sebastian Guillen.
Marcos, however, has never admitted that Guillen is his real name.
The pipe-smoking rebel chief almost always wears a ski mask when he appears in public, so his definitive identification has been difficult.