Encounter
with Rebels

Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico
3/5/2001

In the midst of a grueling, overland excursion through Central Mexico, my son and I decided to cut in half the eight-hour bus trip from Guadalajara to Mexico City by spending a night in Morelia, capital of the state of Michoacan.

We discover a beautiful colonial city, with 400-year-old buildings of pink stone and sidewalks worn smooth from billions of slapping sandals. The twin towers of the enormous cathedral rise above all, surrounded by a series of open plazas, all buzzing with trinket merchants and food stalls, street performers, beggars and children.

But something is amiss. The city's main avenue has been blocked off by a giant stage. Police try to sweep the street of stray vehicles as a crowd quickly grows. People are hanging giant banners, waving flags, raising clenched fists and shouting slogans that I cannot understand.

Quickly we are trapped in a vibrant mass of sweaty humanity, slowly inching toward the stage. Suddenly, there is a distant roar of voices, coming from the other end of the city, moving toward us like echoes from a thunderclap -- "Viva, Michoacan! Viva Zapatistas! Viva Marcos!"

Subcomandante Marcos and his caravan of revolutionaries, en route to Mexico City to petition the government on indigenous rights, have entered the city and are slowly pushing their way through the crowd.

The leadership of the EZLN, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation takes the stage, all wearing face-concealing ski masks. Speeches are made, anthems sung, slogans chanted. Then, Marcos, puffing his ever-present pipe, takes the microphone. The crowd is frenzied.

At the climax of his speech, I turn, hold my camera high above my head, and snap the photograph above.

(First published in The Spokesman-Review 7/22/01)

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