FOR those who have been wondering why the Mexican government suddenly reversed direction after launching a high-visibility manhunt for Zapatista rebel leader Subcommander Marcos, an explanation has emerged: the Internet.
Marcos, it turns out, is on-line. Punching out communiques on a laptop computer powered from the cigarette lighter in his car, and then passing them along via modem and cellular phone, Marcos has connected with peace and human rights activists over computer bulletin boards such as PeaceNet, Chiapas-List, and Mexpaz.
And when President Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon announced his military offensive intended to capture Marcos, peace organizations distributed his statement over computer bulletin boards. In response to the call for ''urgent action'' to press the president to reverse course, members flooded his office, and that of Interior Minister Esteban Moctezuma, with messages: The bulletin board posting had included fax numbers for both offices.
Eventually the manhunt for Marcos was abandoned, but reports of human rights abuses in the Mexican military's attempt to put down the Zapatista rebellion continue. Pastors for Peace, based in the United States, last week charged Mexican soldiers with torturing two peasants in Chiapas, and said that three others are missing, presumably in detention.
The Zedillo government disputes this, spurring a lively Internet traffic in charges and countercharges.
Meanwhile, fresh charges have arisen in the investigation of last year's assassination of presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio. A second gunman has been arrested, indicating a conspiracy that could involve disaffected elements in Mr. Colosio's, and Zedillo's, own Institutional Revolutionary Party.
This development, along with the ongoing rebellion in Chiapas, stirs the bubbling mix that is Mexican politics today. At least, however, that politics is increasingly open to view.
The Marcos-Internet phenomenon shows how Mexico is being tied more securely into the global community through demands that it meet international human rights standards -- just as the North American Free Trade Agreement and international loan guarantees are tying it into larger economic communities. The adjustments are wrenching, but ultimately should be good for Mexico.