Zapatistas Deny Kidnapping ‘Jefe’ Diego

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The Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), the 17-year old rebel group based in the southern state of Chiapas, denied responsibility for kidnapping one of Mexico’s most prominent politicians, Diego Fernandez de Cevallos.

The two editors of the leftist group’s website, Enlace Zapatista, said that the group “does not resort to kidnapping to obtain resources nor for political propaganda.”

In a statement published Saturday by Spanish news agency EFE, an alleged member of the EZLN, called “El Guerrero Balam,” said that the Zapatistas were behind Cevallos’ kidnapping last year. The politician was held by unidentified captors for over seven months until he was freed in December, reportedly after his family paid millions of dollars for his release.

Initial theories speculated that organized criminal groups were behind Cevallo’s disappearance. But the mystery continues with the appearance of El Guerrero Balam. Aside from claiming to be a loyal associate of “Subcomandante Marcos,” leader of the EZLN, Guerrero Balam said that Cevallos was a “main enemy of the project” to obtain indigenous independence in 1994, when Cevallos ran for president. 

The EZLN, however, has distanced themselves from Guerrero Balam and whatever group he may be representing, if any. In a statement signed by Javier Elorriaga and Sergio Rodriguez Lazcano, the editors of Enlance Zapatista, the group said that Balam’s statement was intended to “seek the limelight, generate confusion and serve the interests of those in power.” Kidnapping has never been practiced by the EZLN in the group’s 17-year history, they added.

The EZLN announced its presence on January 1, 1994, the day that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Mexico and the United States took effect, by overruning the town of San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico. But the group has always been known more for its ability to garner attention than fight battles with the military. While technically still in existance, the EZLN has not attacked the government for years.

The group that initially claimed responsibility for Cevallos’ kidnapping called itself the Network for Global Transformation. In statements allegedly issued by the group, it appears to adhere to an extreme leftist ideology, criticizing Cevallos for advancing “criminal” and “neoliberal” policies. Many analysts attributed the kidnapping to the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR), a small rebel group that operates mostly in the state of Oaxaca.

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