“BORDERING ON CHAOS”: READ IT, BUT BE A SKEPTIC

Andres Oppenheimer, a Central America hand reporting for the Miami Herald, has put out a very interesting book on the roots — and likely outcome — of the current economic and social crisis in Mexico. His “insider” (he has personal relationships with several of the big players in the ruling party) accounts of the secret meetings and Byzantine plots that characterize the crumbling oligarchy are fascinating. His politics, however, sucks.

Oppenheimer is (not surprisingly, considering where he works) a vociferous anti-Castro anti-Marxist idealogue. He looks for evil commies eager to enslave gullible and unsophisticated native peoples and comes up with the Zapatistas. Having “unmasked” subcomandante Marcos as a mestizo (he keeps saying “white”) college trained Maoist, Oppenheimer dismisses the Zapatistas as just another opportunist leadership looking only to destabilize Mexico in favor of a proletarian dictatorship. That he doesn’t even give lip service to the idea that Marcos may have been converted in his nearly 15 years of working with the indigenous leadership — that is to say, may be exactly whom he says he is — clues us in to his prejudices.

Despite this, and other myopiae that prevent him from seeing some parts of the picture, Oppenheimer’s book is a fascinating window into the world of Mexico’s dinosaurs: the ruling class and their lackeys in the PRI; and makes the case that peaceful change is unlikely in the near future.

HOBNOBBING WITH A COUPLE OF GUYS FROM THE “MAJORS”

The US media is smelling blood, and the news vultures are beginning to circle. Since I got back, I have spent a day with Charles Krause (of the Macneil – Lehrer News Hour), and a half hour on the telephone with Ed Barnes of Time Magazine. Both wanted to know if I could put them in touch with the Popular Liberation Army (EPR). I can’t. And wouldn’t if I could. For several reasons, starting with I am chicken. I don’t think I would enjoy being tortured by the security forces to reveal my “contacts” (right now I have none).

Krause and I, fellow passengers on a plane from MexCity to Oaxaca, met when I recognized him and introduced myself. Barnes found me on the Net.

Krause was one of the authors of the recent National Geographic issue on Mexico. It was his notes, compiled during a 2-month stay here, that formed the basis for the narrative. Geographic brought in the pilot guy at the last minute to write it because they disagreed with Charles’ viewpoint, which they regarded as too pollyana. The flyboy wrote it after one week. I asked Krause if he was bitter about the experience. He said that he was grateful to PBS for giving him leave and to Geographic for providing him with a marvelous all-expenses-paid sojourn. As for the rest, well, in the words of my downstairs neighbor, that’s show biz…

SO HOW ABOUT THAT EPR, EH?

Here is a little insight into the incredible speed with which things develop around here. First, I am going to tell you what I just learned this morning, and then what I wrote just yesterday.

TODAY: Hot off the presses: the EPR held a press conference yesterday in the mountains of Oaxaca state, about 60 miles from where I live. They said that they are an umbrella group, composed of some 14 guerrilla armies scattered throughout Mexico. They revealed that they finance themselves through kidnapping wealthy Mexicans and robbing banks.

They said that they have no intention of open warfare with the Mexican army at this time (contrary to El Sub’s evaluation of them), calling it “social suicide”. They announced the formation of a “civil” wing, to assist legitimate people’s organizations and spread the word about the coming revolution. The reporters, who were led to the site individually by several different routes, said the meeting was well organized and secret. This was the second such conference held by the EPR: the first one was in the northeastern corner of Veracruz state.

Also yesterday, armed groups dressed in the uniforms and full-face bandana masks of the EPR were seen in Chiapas, Morelos and Guerrero. In Puebla, fliers were distributed bearing the name of the EPR and that of a local group calling themselves the People’s Democratic Revolutionary Party. In Veracruz, PRD senator Castillo called them “a product of the violent and impoverished times”, and in Tuxtla Guttierez a bomb went off outside the telephone company office (EPR is suspected but no-one took credit).

HERE’S WHAT I WROTE YESTERDAY:

Do the EPR really exist? And whose EPR are they, anyway? My advice is this: table the first question until you can answer the second one.

The interior minister, Sr. Emiliano Chauyffet, blames it all on “outside agitators”. Sounds like Governor Faubus: our niggers just want to be left alone to sing and dance, and here these Yankees come in and stir things up. Emiliano (have you ever noticed how many of these repressive reactionaries are named after revolutionary heros?) claims that elements of the Baader-Meinhoff and (Italian) Red Guards, having been in Mexico for decades, are involved. The German and Italian embassies, and the foreign minister, Sr. Gurria, all deny their existence in Mexico, but no matter… Chauyffet says that these foreigners are at the base of an old urban Maoist group known as PROCUP, and that PROCUP is behind the EPR.

The opposition parties say it is the ruling PRI and the secret police that are behind the EPR. As proof, they cite the picture recently published in the newspapers showing two men arrested for taking over a radio station in Tabasco in the name of the EPR. It is a picture of the security detail surrounding Tabasco PRI governor Roberto Madrazo on one of his campaign swings. They have circles drawn around them. One of the men said that until recently, he was responsible for leading raiding teams to disrupt opposition PRD rallies, trash PRD offices, and beat up PRD organizers.

The Zapatistas say that they don’t know who the EPR is, and they don’t care. In a recent “open letter” printed in La Jornada, El Sub said while he understands how circumstances could create such a group, and that while he shares their stated goals of democracy and justice, the path the EPR espouses – refusal to negotiate – is divisive to the people and counter productive. The EZLN, he says, does not want their help – or their interference. Good luck, don’t call us we’ll call you.

Recently, in Oaxaca city where I live, there was a shootout between three civilians and a police patrol in a park, in the early hours of the morning. Two police were wounded, two civilians got away, and the third – a teenager – was captured with a .45 automatic. At first, the headlines screamed EPR, but later on they dropped that in favor of “criminal”. Apparently, there have been some EPR slogans spraypainted on buildings, and a supposed EPR banner draped over a highway overpass. Whether this was serious EPR stuff or pranks remains a mystery. The teener said he had been recruited from his stall in the market by two strangers who promised him 500 pesos for “something dangerous”, but was never told what it might be.

There have been accounts of EPR recruiting activity in Mexico City’s worst slums, but in a country where anyone you talk to could be a genuine EPR or a government provocateur looking for possible subversives, quien sabe (who knows)?

STAN’S FEARLESS ANSWER: If the EPR didn’t exist, the government would have had to invent them. Whether or not they existed when the government (maybe) invented them, they – or folks very much like them – will be created by the current government crackdown on dissidence.

US AND BRITAIN DECLARE MEXICO DANGEROUS FOR TOURISTS:

Once again, the US State Department is issuing warnings about traveling to various points in Mexico. My advice: ignore them. Here is a statistic you might find heartwarming: There have been more terrorist attacks in the US in one year (80 in 1995) than in the last 30 years here: 70.

So far, there have been NO attacks on tourists. The raid in Huatulco was on the police in Cruzesita, not the resorts in Tongalunda. Buses that have been attacked were victimized mostly by criminal gangs or police (often the same), and so far no buses have been robbed on the main cuotas (toll roads, such as the one between MexCity and Oaxaca) used by all first-class buses.

There is no doubt that the level of danger has risen as the domestic economy continues to worsen, but I would argue that just a smidgeon more caution is all it takes.