- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 19, 2001

MEXICO CITY — When an obscure rebel group exploded three bombs no bigger than oversized firecrackers in Mexico City earlier this month, they touched off a tremor of anxiety out of proportion to the blasts.
Mexico's government has long said that rebel groups pose no major risk to national security. Officials maintained that imperturbability in the face of the explosions set by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of the People, known by its Spanish acronym FARP.
The blasts themselves weren't much — from explosives somewhat larger than big firecrackers that caused minor damage at three banks on Aug. 8. No one was injured.
The FARP targeted Banamex-Accival, a financial group taken over this month by Citigroup in what some Mexicans called a sellout to their rich northern neighbor.
After the explosions, Mexican authorities arrested five persons in raids on properties in and around the capital believed to be used as safe houses by the Marxist-inspired Popular Revolutionary Army, or EPR, the FARP's parent group.
The rebel groups denied the suspects were members. Still, the explosions shook a nation still scarred by a brutal revolution nearly 100 years ago and which watched in horror as three of its southern neighbors — El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua — tore themselves apart in Cold War-era civil wars.
"My fear has to do with the growing conviction that we are sitting on a powder keg that could blow at any moment," reporter Epigmenio Ibarra wrote in a column in the daily Milenio.
He and others argue that worsening poverty spawning popular resistance has intensified since Marxist movements aimed at overthrowing the government reached a height in the 1970s.
Ironically, the most incendiary development may prove to be the inflated expectations raised by last year's watershed election of President Vicente Fox, which raised high hopes for democracy, some experts and activists say.
While Mr. Fox tossed out the authoritarian Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which ruled Mexico for 71 years, he is essentially a conservative businessman.
And his proposals to extend a 15 percent value-added tax, or VAT, to food, medicines and other items, and passage of a watered down Indian rights bill have disappointed the poor and disenfranchised.
"As long as conditions worsen for the poor and indigenous the same thing could happen as in Chiapas. They prefer to die by a bullet than from hunger or illness," said Hector Sanchez, an Indian legislator with the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution.
Already Mexico is struggling with an entrenched rebel group. On New Year's Day 1994, the Zapatista National Liberation Army in impoverished Chiapas state stunned the world by seizing several towns to begin its rebellion for Indian rights.
A cease-fire was quickly declared, but the group has remained in the jungle on Mexico's border with Guatemala as peace talks have gone nowhere.
In the poorest parts of Mexico, like Chiapas in the south and the Pacific coast state of Guerrero, some peasants and laborers say their alternatives to armed struggle are dwindling.
"Soon enough we'll all be involved [in uprisings] because we'll all be hungry," said Lucrecia Colima, a mother and activist from Atoyac in Guerrero, a fertile breeding ground for rebels.
But the Zapatistas and their less famous counterpart, the EPR, are very different, experts say.
The media-savvy Zapatistas have been willing to negotiate and accept reform. The EPR, which emerged in 1996 and is descended from Marxist movements, is far more radical and dedicated to revolution, said author Carlos Montemayor, an expert on Mexican insurrections.


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