LAT: Mexico Silencing Dissent, Jul 30 (fwd)

Jim Jaszewski ab975 at
Wed Aug 2 15:34:18 MDT 1995

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 2 Aug 95 12:17:25 CDT
From: Harry M. Cleaver <hmcleave at>
To: Jim Jaszewski <ab975 at>
Subject: LAT: Mexico Silencing Dissent, Jul 30

This posting has been forwarded to you as a service of Accion Zapatista de Austin.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 1 Aug 1995 11:35:44 -0700 (PDT)
From: Hugo Perales <hperales at>
To: MEXICO94 at
Subject: LAT 30/7, Mexico silencing dissent

Los Angeles Times


Sunday July 30, 1995


Mexico Seen Expertly Silencing Voices of Dissent - Latin America: Rights
activists, others say government tactics range from obvious to subtle.


   It was a classic ritual of seduction: a five-hour lunch in one of the
   capital's finest restaurants, pleasant conversation from a top
   national security official--and an offer "to join the great historical
   project" of then-President Carlos Salinas de Gortari.

   But human rights activist Sergio Aguayo was not buying it. He turned
   down a third-tier job in the national security apparatus, but did
   agree to write an academic paper for a government-sponsored
   conference, for which he would receive an honorarium. Then he said he
   would persist in organizing Civic Alliance, a nationwide system of
   election monitors.

   The official, so cordial at first, called Aguayo a traitor to his
   country. "It was a threat," Aguayo says, "a surprisingly direct threat
   from someone at that level."

   Such is the price of dissent in Mexico. The government's methods for
   restraining the news media--advertising, bribes, controls over
   newsprint and broadcast licenses--are well known here. Less publicized
   are the ways in which officials stifle intellectuals, social activists
   and other potential critics.

   The government traditionally has tolerated criticism by intellectuals
   as long as it was confined to academic papers and newspaper columns,
   where ideas circulate among "the 200 of us who read each other," as
   one wag jokes.

   But increasingly, intellectuals are stepping out of their ivory towers
   and acting on their ideas. They speak out on drive-time radio and at
   public rallies. They head civic groups that insist on clean elections
   or respect for human rights and the environment. They are inspiring
   judges, labor leaders and other citizens to talk openly about what is
   wrong in Mexico.

   Recent reminders of how high the price of speaking out can be have led
   many Mexicans to fear that a crackdown is coming.

   Last month, three foreign priests were deported--accused of fomenting
   rebellion in the troubled, southernmost state of Chiapas. And Abraham
   Polo Uscanga, an outspoken appeals court judge, was slain after he
   said publicly that officials had tried to sway his rulings in
   high-profile cases.

   "When Polo Uscanga was killed, people got nervous," says political
   analyst Denise Dresser.

   No one has been arrested in the killing.

   Despite the failure of police to link the death to any officials--or
   perhaps because of it--Polo Uscanga's slaying has had a chilling
   effect on dissent, observers say.

   "Murder in Mexico is committed by insinuation," says Homero Aridjis,
   an author and environmentalist. "Bosses do not say, 'Kill this
   fellow.' They say, 'This fellow bothers me,' and their subordinates
   are expected to understand."

   Pressure on the government's critics usually stops short of homicide.
   If analysts and activists cannot be co-opted, opponents try to isolate
   or discredit them.

   Mexico "is not like other countries that are openly repressive,"
   Aridjis says. "But the result is very oppressive. One of the most
   complicated things about the Mexican system is its ambiguity. The
   control is not uniform. You never know where it comes from."

   Not all socially active intellectuals are convinced that controls

   "I do not know in what way people feel they are hurt," says Jose
   Woldenberg, a writer known for his advocacy of clean elections and
   voting reforms. "A good number of leaders in non-governmental
   organizations also write newspaper columns, and I cannot see where
   their careers have been hurt. On the contrary."

   Affronts against dissidents are usually subtle and often explainable
   as error or oversight: invitations not received, prizes not awarded,
   promotions not given. There is little proof of repression.

   "Being excluded from an event is not censorship," concedes Aguayo, but
   the effect is the same: "It prevents others from hearing what you have
   to say."

   Aridjis says he has "never had a direct response to my environmental
   activism. They always attack me as a writer."

   Aridjis' name was left off the list of the Mexican delegation to the
   Frankfurt Book Fair recently, excluding him from activities connected
   with that major international publishing event. And Mexican publishing
   houses have printed three of his books, tn nodistributed them, even
   though they sold well outside Mexico, Aridjis said.

   Besides subjecng outspoken people to telephones that repeatedly go
   dead and other such irritations that are not unusual in Mexico, the
   government actively attempts to discrit critics, many intellectuals

   "The first thing they try to do is cast doubt on your independence,"
   Dresser explains.

   Dresser learned that early in her academic career. Her doctoral
   dissertation examined the political aspects of Solidarity, the
   government anti-poverty program that launched the presidential
   candidacy of the late Luis Donaldo Colosio. She was immediately
   labeled as being in league with--even romantically involved
   with--another presidential hopeful.

   "That shed doubt not only on my academic independence but also on my
   personal independence," she recalls.

   Sometimes, officials attempt to compromise analysts and activists, as
   one did with Aguayo. "They try to trap you," says Aguayo. "They plan
   it like a seduction, looking for your weaknesses: women, money, the
   trappings of power or honors. Once they have corrupted you, you become

   Charges of corruption in connection with government contracts were
   used earlier this year to jail leaders of the municipal bus drivers
   union, who also headed the Independent Proletarian Movement, or MPI.
   The MPI organized protest marches by disaffected citizens and in
   support of the guerrillas in Chiapas. The men's dual roles raised
   questions about the real motives for their arrest, especially because
   nobody on the government side of the contracts was jailed.

   Attempts to discredit dissidents are often just the beginning of a
   campaign against them.

   In the case of political analyst Jorge Castaneda, a well-informed
   political insider who frequently criticizes administration policy, the
   government told reporters he was a member of an opposition political
   party, which he denies. Then, he began to receive death threats.

   Castaneda continues to write commentary in major Mexican and U.S.
   publications, including the Los Angeles Times, but is far less
   available to reporters for comments in news stories than he was in the
   past. He could not be reached for comment.

   Increasingly, independent thinkers are finding ways to protect

   First, says Aguayo, "economic independence is important. I live on my
   salary as a professor and what I write. That is not easy."

   Publishing and speaking outside Mexico also provide forums for ideas
   that might be more difficult to promote inside the country and help
   build international reputations that can be helpful.

   But that has drawbacks. "There is still the attitude that you
   shouldn't betray your country by writing anything critical," says

   Activists also fight isolation by building their own support groups.
   Aridjis founded the Group of 100, an organization of intellectuals
   concerned about the environment. Besides Civic Alliance, Aguayo helped
   start the Mexican Human Rights Academy and independent publications
   such as Este Pais magazine and La Jornada daily newspaper.

   After the five-hour lunch at which Aguayo felt threatened, he reported
   the incident to both the academy and the editor of La Jornada, as well
   as to the government's National Human Rights Commission. He believes
   that letting others know about the threat provides him with some

   "Over the past 20 to 30 years, we have been winning the battle to open
   a space for free expression," says Aguayo. "This does not mean that we
   have defeated authoritarianism. But we have had a spring of free
   expression. I hope it is a prelude to a more democratic country."


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   Jim Jaszewski   <jjazz at>

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