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Photos: Mexico's aging rebels

The first generation of Zapatistas looks back.

JUAN DIEGO, Mexico — In 1994, the Zapatista rebels put their balaclava-clad faces on the world map. Indigenous peasants from Chiapas disenchanted with the injustice of life in Mexico's poorest state, they fought for equality, peace and dignity.

With the elusive Subcomandante Marcos as their reluctant leader, the movement advanced slowly over the years. The Zapatistas have seen many successes and improvements, tempered by constant challenges and setbacks.

A generation has passed since the armed beginning of the movement. Zapatistas who were once rebels in their prime have grown older and are starting to look back at how far they've come.

In the Zapatista village of Juan Diego, a 66-year-old farmer named Adan (the majority of Zapatistas refuse to give their full names, and request to be photographed with covered faces) said the armed struggle against Mexico's capitalist system was worth the cost.

"They're still screwing us over because we're poor," Adan said. "But it's not as bad as it was before because we've made progress and now we have a place to work."

The Zapatista Army of National Liberation recovered more than 600,000 acres of land from landowners who would hire indigenous peoples to work their fields for next to nothing. Zapatista campesinos now occupy these territories and work the land for themselves.

Even elders like Adan still contribute to the village's communal way of life. Wearing bright blue pants and a cowboy hat, Adan rides a horse along a dirt track every day to care for his livestock and cornfield.

"I'm getting up there in age," he admitted. "But I'm happy because we're here, living in this place, this village. The landowners used to not even let us step over here onto their land. But it's all different now. We have what we didn't before: the land."

Of all the Zapatistas' demands for justice and equality, land rights was always the most important. Although the Zapatistas now control scattered plots of land, their territory is under constant threat from outside forces.

The Mexican military patrols regularly, and maintains a number of bases. Pro-government paramilitary groups with alleged ties to political parties continue to apply pressure, especially in certain communities. A variety of factors, including the attention-suck of the drug war, fading international support, the leadership's unexplained retreat from the public eye and long-dormant negotiations with the federal government, have left many skeptical of the Zapatistas' influence today.

Juan Pedro Viquiera, author of "The Indigenous of Chiapas and the Zapatista Rebellion," believes that as the movement's original leaders fade away, Zapatismo will go with them. In fact, he said the Zapatistas' disappearing act has already begun.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/mexico/100928/zapatistas-rebels-chiapas