"Oaxaca, Mexico: An

Expatriate Life"

Writing by Stan Gotlieb

Pictures by Diana Ricci

Mexico Electronico
Banners like this are to be seen in every state capital. This particular one demands that the pro-government forces that are believed to have committed political assassinations in several rural areas be brought to the bar of justice, an unlikely occurrence under the oppressive regimes that rule most of southern Mexico. Before television, these banners were often the only way for the nation's poor to inform each other of what was going on. [Photo by Diana Ricci]

Technology is changing the face of Mexico. As in the U.S., the new technologies manifest themselves in strange and unpredictable ways; and affect the political landscape with outcomes which are alternately prosaic and bizarre...

In the state of Guerrero, in July, 1995, seventeen peasants on their way from their mountain villages to the nearest regional center in an open truck, were stopped near the village of Aguas Blancas by combined units of state and local police forces. They were on their way to a protest demonstration sponsored by their peasant's syndicate. According to a witness, they were forced to lie upon the ground, and executed.

Rubén Figueroa Alcocér, the now-disgraced ex-governor of Guerrero, had long been accused of running the state like a personal kingdom. Much, some say, like his daddy did before him. Figueroa stonewalled on the massacre, and the Human Rights Commission moved in and began its own investigation. Then, three important technological events took place.

The Commission "acquired" telephone tapes of Figueroa, on the night before the slaughter, ordering that the peasants be stopped however it could be done. On the day after, in another telephone conversation, he said "They wanted war, so they got war. Are we not the authorities?"

Later, the Commission was given a video tape apparently taken by a member of the raiding party. In the tape, only one peasant is shown to possess a machete (scarcely unusual for a mountain peasant), and no guns are seen among them (although at a show-and-tell the next week, four or five weapons were displayed by the Judiciales who claimed that they came from the truck). Men wearing the insignia of the State Judicial Police are shown brutalizing one of the victims. At this point the tape was apparently edited. Disjointed sequences showing the pickup, now bullet-riddled, are seen. Also seen are glimpses of what may have been armed men, on the other side of the road from the government forces.

Based on the video, various witness accounts, the phone tapes, and other document searches, the Commission recommended that Figueroa fire his Executive Assistant, the Vice-Governor, the heads of the Public Safety Department and the State Judicial Police, and about a dozen others. In a surprise move, Figueroa agreed.

Months later, after the official investigating ground to an inconclusive halt, the unedited tape was leaked to a TV station and the world was treated to 16 minutes of unprovoked executions of unarmed peasants. "Aguas Blancas" now took its place alongside Mi Lai, and Figueroa resigned.

In the wake of the falling peso and the slide of the Mexican economy into a serious long-term recession, and under pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to tighten the budget, the Mexican government has decided to bolster the economy by cutting marginal government handouts to the rural peasantry, such as free public education. Some cynics are saying that aside from a cost savings, keeping the peasants illiterate will also help keep them in their place. If you can't read, the wisdom goes, you have a harder time finding out how ruthlessly you're being exploited, and so you tend to be more accepting.

Others point out that nobody needs to read to watch television, and that even in a well-controlled media environment such as Russia it was impossible to keep the average Ivan from getting the picture; that the electronic genie is out of the bottle, never to be put back.

Mexico, like all third world countries, is going in two directions: maquiladoras (low-wage, no-benefits sweatshops producing for the Global market), and internet-connected laptops. We sure do live in interesting times.
(November, 1995)


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