Mexico's EPR guerrillas pressure government at gunpoint
Group vows more strikes if elections are fraudulent
July 1, 1997
Web posted at: 11:15 p.m. EDT (0315 GMT)
From Correspondent Harris Whitbeck
OAXACA, Mexico (CNN) -- Over an improvised field stove originally designed by the Viet Cong in the 1960s, a young Mexican guerrilla prepares a pot of coffee.
The cold and rain can make life miserable in the remote forests of the state of Oaxaca, where hundreds of members of the Popular Revolutionary army are entrenched, prepared to fight Mexican army troops at any moment.
On the first anniversary of the EPR's first public appearance, some 40 combatants have gathered to stage a simple ceremony.
Masked teen-agers armed with aging rifles sing the internationalist anthem, but they also proudly display the Mexican flag in their small jungle camp.
A year after it surfaced, the EPR says it does not intend to overthrow the government. Rather, it wants to serve as an armed support for organized civilian opposition to the current political system.
"Declaring a war would bring an important social cost," EPR commander Antonio says. "We believe that should not be our decision, it should be a product of current social conditions."
The EPR has carried out more than 200 armed attacks against government targets and claims to have inflicted more than 150 casualties on government forces. It claims it has lost only nine of its fighters.
Nobody knows for sure how big the EPR is or how much of a military threat it might pose to the government. The group won't say how many members it has, but insists it has established a presence in at least a third of the country.
The Mexican Army does appear to take the movement seriously. The military presence in several Mexican states where the EPR has struck has increased.
The EPR says even though it plans to continue its strategy of walking into villages with arms visible to preach its political message, it is prepared to combine its acts of armed propaganda with armed combat.
That is why in jungle camps young guerrillas learn the art of warfare and the science of political expression.
"The state does not seem to be leaving any political options to the people, and that would force us to intensify the levels of confrontation," Antonio says.
EPR commanders say poverty and repression are on the increase, and if the scheduled congressional elections slated for next weekend turn out to be fraudulent, it will launch new attacks against government targets.
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