- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 14, 2005

MEXICO CITY — The enigmatic masked leader of the Zapatista rebels is drawing a little extra attention these days — for his added pounds.

At his first public appearance in four years earlier this month, the man known as Subcomandante Marcos showed up with a paunch straining against his ammunition belt, leading to joking by Mexican news media.

The once-trim Subcomandante Marcos acknowledged his weight gain with typical wry self-deprecation in a message published last week by the newspaper La Jornada.

He said it could have been worse. If he had removed the belt, “there would be a paunch like a six-month pregnancy.”

“Well, yes, and what of it?” he asked. “Fat but pretty.”

Subcomandante Marcos joked about the mystique of the tall, sexy military leader in a black ski mask that arose around him in the early years after the Zapatista National Liberation Army burst into the news by seizing several towns in the southern state of Chiapas on New Year’s Day in 1994.

“No more of that ‘sex symbol’ now,” he wrote. “I tell you, now I don’t even heat up the coffee.”

He also quipped that the photographers who covered his appearance must have been working for his foes. “If not, well, they would have warned me, and I could pull in the belly at the moment of the shot.”

Subcomandante Marcos still uses the mask in public, but survival has become a less desperate struggle as the Zapatistas move steadily toward political rather than military activity. Despite scattered skirmishes with paramilitaries and rivals, the group has not fought open battles with the army in more than 11 years.

On a more serious note, Subcomandante Marcos’ message in La Jornada expanded on his recent criticism of Mexico’s main leftist political party, Democratic Revolution.

He deplored that the party’s lawmakers accepted a watered-down Indian-rights bill that substituted for a stronger, Zapatista-backed measure the party promised to support.

He said the party failed to take action when a Democratic Revolution-controlled municipal government in Zinacantan clashed with Zapatistas over water service.

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