LAT: Mexico Silencing Dissent, Jul 30 (fwd)
ab975 at main.freenet.hamilton.on.ca
Wed Aug 2 15:34:18 MDT 1995
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Date: Wed, 2 Aug 95 12:17:25 CDT
From: Harry M. Cleaver <hmcleave at mundo.eco.utexas.edu>
To: Jim Jaszewski <ab975 at main.freenet.hamilton.on.ca>
Subject: LAT: Mexico Silencing Dissent, Jul 30
This posting has been forwarded to you as a service of Accion Zapatista de Austin.
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Date: Tue, 1 Aug 1995 11:35:44 -0700 (PDT)
From: Hugo Perales <hperales at ucdavis.edu>
To: MEXICO94 at profmexis.dgsca.unam.mx
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
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
"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
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 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 freenet.hamilton.on.ca>
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