Martin Langfield

Subject: Mexico's Zapatista rebels ride the Internet

Mexico City (Reuters) - Click here for revolution

Whizzing through the electronic ether of cyberspace at thousands of information fragments per second, a familiar masked, pipe-smoking visage etches itself onto your computer screen.

Subcommander Marcos is in your home.

Welcome to Ya Basta, the Internet homepage of the Zapatista National Liberation Army, which rose up in arms in Mexico's poor, rural southern state of Chiapas on New Year's Day, 1994

It is a page which, along with other World Wide Web sites lending support to the rebel demands for greater democracy and indigenous rights, is changing the nature of guerrilla action and civic protest.

For though there has been little shooting in the two years since the uprising began, the information war is raging at full strength, and the Internet has become a key theater of the conflict.

In a speech earlier this year, Mexican Foreign Minister José Angel Gurria derided the Zapatista rebellion as a "war of ink, of written words, an Internet war."

Yet some analysts say that is precisely what the uprising has become and that the rebels are winning.

"Mexico, the nation that generated the prototype social revolution of the 20th century, is now the scene of a prototype transnational netwar of the 21st century," Rand Corp. social scientist David Ronfeldt wrote recently.

Ronfeldt argues that the Zapatista uprising has led to the emergence of a network of disparate opponents of the Mexican Government's Chiapas policy, in Mexico and abroad, who are able to communicate and plan strategy via modern technology, including the Internet, its cousin Peacenet and its Mexican arm La Neta.

He dubs the phenomenon "netwar."

Zapatista supporters around the world, for example, acted on Internet-broadcast calls to bombard the office of President Ernesto Zedillo with faxes protesting an army push against the Zapatistas in February this year.

Without such rapid-fire expressions of international support, Ronfeldt says, the Zapatistas may well have been militarily crushed on several occasions since the uprising began.

Government officials recognize that at various stages of the uprising, they have lagged behind the rebels and their international supporters in getting their version of events out to the world.

"We have tried to get up to speed with the times (...) it is clear that some of our means of communication were obsolete," said one official, who declined to be identified.

He was referring not only to the Chiapas rebellion but to the economic crisis Mexico suffered last year, when as the peso crashed and the country teetered on the verge of insolvency, vital information such as central bank reserves data was tightly held by the government and not generally available, even to panic-stricken investors.

Now the Government publishes weekly reserves updates and other key economic data on the Internet and on dedicated pages carried by Reuters, as well as more general information about Mexico and on Chiapas at various Web sites.

The Ya Basta page-named after the Spanish cry of "Enough" which graced the early Zapatista communiqués announcing the uprising-features hypertext links to a compendium of the literate, often humorous discourses of Marcos as well as news updates, opportunities to contribute to aid caravans and an FAQ section-Frequently Answered Questions in Netspeak-about the rebels.

There one learns, for example, that Marcos does not actually have an e-mail address.

Although he types out his statements on a lap-top computer plugged into the cigarette socket of a truck and has addressed a Mexico City audience by satellite phone from the jungle, Marcos is not believed to hook up to the Internet directly-though with a modem and a cellular of satellite phone that would theoretically be possible.

Instead couriers are believed to carry his communiqués out and hand them over to others for scanning and Net insertion.

The high-tech, graphics-loaded pages also have a sense of humor. One Chiapas site consulted by Reuters used an image of Marcos' trademark pipe to mark the page's subheadings.

By permission of Reuters.

Ya Basta is at