SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, MEXICO -- Subcomandante Marcos, leader of of the long-quiescent Zapatista rebels, said here that Mexican security forces are losing the battle against violent drug cartels, a fight that has been one of the centerpieces of President Felipe Calderon's agenda.
He also used his first speech at a gathering of Zapatista supporters in this southeastern highland city to criticize President-elect Barack Obama, saying that apparently "he also supports the use of force" against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
With regard to Mexico, Marcos said Calderon decided "with the backing of one gang of drug traffickers, to undertake a war against the other gang," although he did not specify which of the country's numerous drug mobs he was referring to.
He also criticized the president for sending the army into the streets in some states to battle the drug cartels, an effort that thus far has failed to stem the violence and has resulted in instances of torture, rapes and extrajudicial killings, according to the autonomous National Human Rights Commission.
Drug cartels and other organized-crime elements are blamed for more than 8,000 killings in Mexico since Calderon took office just over two years ago.
The president has deployed more than 30,000 soldiers and federal police to nearly a dozen states in a bid to stem the violence.
But the anti-drug operation has failed to put a dent in the violence due, according to experts, to drug cartels' ability to buy off the police and even high-ranking prosecutors.
Speaking about Israel's ongoing military offensive in the Gaza Strip and Obama's reaction to it, Marcos said that those who supported the Democrat in last year's balloting - partly in hopes that he would change the United States' foreign policy in the Middle East - could be disappointed by the president-elect.
Obama, who was on vacation in Hawaii when the crisis began, has issued no statements either about Israel's offensive or about Hamas rocket attacks against the Middle Eastern country. During the campaign, he offered resolute support for Israel's security and said that peace talks beween Israel and Palestinians would be a top priority of his administration.
The self-styled subcomandante made his remarks Friday on the first day of a gathering of close to 3,000 supporters of the Zapatista movement in Chiapas state.
The meeting, which is known as the 1st World "Dignified Rage" Festival and which coincides with the 15th anniversary of a brief uprising by the Zapatista National Liberation Army, or EZLN, is being held at the Center for Indigenous Training.
Presentations on the theme of communication and culture are planned for Saturday, while on Sunday the gathering will focus on aspects related to sexuality. The event will conclude on Monday.
In an interview released in December 2007, Marcos said the Zapatistas were considering launching a new form of action in 2009 that would aspire to be a "new revolution" - not an armed struggle like that of a century ago in Mexico but one that "alters the political system and refounds the country."
The Zapatista movement, named after early 20th-century revolutionary peasant hero Emiliano Zapata, began as a guerrilla force that took over several towns in January 1994. The fighting, in which some 100 people died, ended after a little more than a week, when army troops forced the rebels to retreat to remote regions.
The EZLN, which espouses a leftist agenda highlighting Indian rights, since then has acted almost exclusively in the political sphere.
A definitive peace accord still has not been signed 15 years after the taking up of arms, launched to draw attention to the problems faced by the country's indigenous population, who make up roughly 10 percent of Mexico's 104 million people.
The group's main achievement has been the establishment of autonomous municipal seats in Chiapas known as "caracols," which in turn are made up of various communities with their own good government boards.
The caracols serve as political and cultural centers and a point of contact between the Zapatistas and civil society, while the good government boards function as executive bodies in communities sympathetic to the EZLN.