Celebrities Beat a Path to Lair of Mexico Rebel Is It a Desire for Peace - or Merely Radical Chic?

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THE jungle paths of Chiapas are being worn deep by a procession of international personalities who are making a visit with Mexico's masked rebel leader, Subcommander Marcos, the world's latest "correct" pilgrimage.

American filmmaker Oliver Stone, French intellectual Regis Debray, Argentine human-rights activist Hebe de Bonafini, and most recently Danielle Mitterrand, France's former first lady, are among the luminaries who in recent days have made the trek to the remote Mexican jungle. Some critics dismiss the parade as mere radical chic, but others say it is a legitimate expression of a global desire for peace and of international solidarity with a just cause.

In any case the visits, coming at the invitation of the bearded, pipe-smoking, and often horse-mounted Marcos, are clearly designed to rekindle both national and international interest in the southern Mexican state's two-plus-year-old Indian rebellion. Despite his confinement to a reduced section of the Chiapas jungle, the charismatic leader of the Zapatista National Liberation Army is fully aware that over the last year the armed rebellion that exploded onto the Mexican scene on New Year's Day 1994 has lost much of its drawing capacity among Mexicans. At the same time, it has retreated from the news pages and TV news hours that form international public opinion. "This is very clearly part of a strategy to maintain national and international attention on the Zapatista movement," says one Mexican government official. "Marcos himself has confirmed this in some of his comments with visiting media." With the Zapatistas having concluded with the government an indigenous-rights accord and now involved in drawn-out negotiations on such complex issues as democratic reforms and land-access guarantees, the rebel movement is no longer high drama. But Marcos and his fellow Zapatistas appear to be convinced that the government still considers a military operation one option for ending the rebellion. And the best way the rebels see to rule out such an alternative is to maintain international interest in the Zapatista movement. Do visits weaken image? According to prominent Mexican political observer Jorge G. Castaneda, writing in this week's Proceso magazine, the foreigners' parade risks making the Zapatista movement look weak and desperate. But he says Marcos is willing to pay that price if it forestalls a "government offensive. …