Part two of two
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Text-Only Version of Part Two
©1996,1997 Andar Publications
The Days of the Dead in early November were tranquil. Campesinos harvested and sold the orange marigolds planted in summer. Altars were made, as always, to honor the deceased, tombs cleaned and painted. "Even the young people who leave Tepoztlán come back for our feast of los muertos," says resident Nuria Jimenez.
There were no police and no state authorities in town, and it didn't seem to matter. There was very little crime. Weddings and funerals were recorded by hand in a little book at a city hall that had no state notary. "We tried to spend those days in peace," says Nuria.
But by December, divisions between residents over the Club de Golf and the CUT election had become aching chasms. Associates and family of Alex Morales, the ousted mayor, were stewing angrily, anxious to re-take city hall.
Alex Morales's relations, the Barragán family, thought they might be able to take city hall by surprise. And Rocio Ortiz, the new local deputy of the PRI party, was just fed up with a "Cantinflesque" state of affairs that had the mayor and state authorities exiled by a bunch of old women and environmentalists throwing sticks and rocks, while the government stood by, doing nothing.
On December 2, the Barragáns were furious: their business had been vandalized and they had received death threats. A confrontation began brewing early in the morning. Rocio Ortiz arrived at her market stall around 7 am, where several Barragáns met with her. According to some witnesses, Ortiz and the Barragáns discussed their frustration there, working themselves up until they fumed with anger. Other observers blame the town's "defenders" for pushing things too far. "A faction of the CUT, the real fanatics, threatened Rocio," says Nuria Jiménez. "[That morning], they also harrassed Alex's family, who had a meat market. Well, Rocio pulled out a pistol, and the meat market guys pulled out an UZI." Ortiz fired shots at people, buildings and the sky. A bullet hit the town clock and stopped it.
"It was around 7:20 am. I heard the bells, I heard the racket -we all heard the shots, and I ran out to see what was going on," says Raúl (not his real name), a 25 year-old merchant who witnessed the shooting and agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity. "These guys were shooting at people walking by. Then the chase began: the townspeople against 'them.' But they had high caliber weapons, machine guns."
Rocio Ortiz was subdued by city hall guards, all armed CUT people, for possessing a weapon and "shooting at the people in front of her stand," according to Raúl.
"Then the confrontation with the other three [Barragáns] started. At first, we followed them from the plaza up the hill, running. And they fled, shooting people. The three were escaping when their brother, Pedro Barragán, joined their group. They would just stop in the street and fire at people. At one point, they waited, standing at a corner. Pedro Barragán was last, so that he could shoot behind them. His brother -I think it was Félix- he turned nervously. He was tense because the people were surrounding him from all sides. He started shooting, and he hit his brother in the back. I saw when he fell."
Newspapers reported that Pedro Barragán died eight days later in the hospital. Though some hospital personnel claimed he never regained consciousness, a document was produced by the police, signed by Pedro Barragán, naming his killers. Rocio Ortiz also signed a statement naming four men as the assassins. One, Mauricio Franco Sánchez, was later released. The other three, Gerardo Demesa, Fortino Mendoza and José Carrillo, are still in prison.
The white high-walled penitentiary in Cuernavaca looks like a moorish citadel from an old movie. Women and kids stream in and out, only their moist eyes admitting desperation.
Gerardo Demesa walks through a sea of prisoners' fingers reaching for handouts and hustling small crafts for sale. There are women all around, chatting, feeding their men. Older señoras sell quesadillas and some guys play soccer. "It's not the worst jail in Mexico, not like I've seen in Guerrero," Gerardo comments.
Later, I would learn that Demesa was referring to the jail where his brother died. Aarón Demesa was involved in a well-known but doomed rebel movement of the late 1960s, led by teacher Lucio Cabañas in the state of Guerrero. "Aarón was imprisoned in Chilpancingo," says Nuria. "And they killed him in jail, too. Perhaps that's why Gerardo is so scared right now. He's afraid that what happened to Aarón will happen to him."
Gerardo Demesa always spoke out about social issues when he taught school in Tepoztlán. Later, he went to work for the teachers' union in Cuernavaca. His sister says "Gerardo is well loved here. He always stood up for what he thought was right."
An interview in jail is framed in a kind of code. The prisoners want to get out, so they deny any significant involvement in the CUT organization. But reports in the Mexico City daily La Jornada connected Fortino Mendoza with the movement early on and José Carrillo freely describes himself as a staunch defender of campesinos' rights. La Jornada described Demesa as a founder of the CUT.
Fortino speaks first. "The day of the killing, I was in Ahuantepec, and at noon I came back. Five of us were picked up at first. I was at the toll booth in Oacalco when I asked them to show me my arrest orders. The police beat me up. They said I had supposedly run over a child. A couple hours later, they let me go, apologizing. But later they took me to Cuautla and charged me with the murder."
Fortino adds, "We've spent long days here. There are lots of abuses, and we consider ourselves political prisoners."
"I'm a campesino and a taxi driver. I was arrested on January 3," says José Carrillo. "There was no arrest order. Basically, I was kidnapped. They beat me [where they picked me up], and they beat me again at the police station. They said that we were from the CUT, that's why they picked us up. They told me to say that I was in favor of the Club de Golf. But I am from Tepoztlán and I defend my lands," he says, raising his voice.
"Hours later, they brought me here. At the time of the murder, I was just working in my taxi. We all had witnesses of where we were. None of us were near the site."
Gerardo finally speaks. He says, and others have corroborated, that he was at home "putting up an adobe wall" when the shooting took place. "More than a thousand people saw [the killing]." Gerardo is shaking. He holds his arm with the other one to still it.
The three claim they were chosen as the fall guys "only because we had spoken out against the Club de Golf," says José. "It was easier to grab us taxistas, outside of town," says Fortino. "That way no one could see." Plenty of coworkers saw police storm the teachers' union offices and haul Gerardo away on January 19. "They grabbed me in Cuernavaca at 10 am." He was beaten and dragged out the door. "The way we see it, we're not really political prisoners-we're political hostages. We do have ideals. But they captured us to make the people of Tepoztlán calm down."
Later, Raúl describes the state's exact terms of negotiation: "Up to now, what the government has proposed is to have an ideal person, from the state's perspective, in office in Tepoztlán. I think it's going to be very a difficult time, because the people of Tepoztlán will never accept that. And as long as it doesn't happen, the government will not let [the prisoners] go."
Carlos Basurto, a veteran journalist who lives in Tepoztlán, agrees. "They won't let them out until the state gets what it wants. Not until the CUT leaves town."
After the citizens' takeover of Tepoztlán, the Club de Golf promoter Francisco Kladt moved his Grupo KS offices from Tepoztlán to safer quarters in nearby Cuernavaca, where many of the town's PRI leaders-in-exile now reside.
In Washington, GTE's President of Information Services Don A. Hayes had already announced the company's investment of $27.1 million dollars to house its Mexican headquarters in the Club de Golf project, adding, "We're proud to be part of the future of Mexico." GTE and its affiliates had become major post-NAFTA players, having partnered with one of Mexico's largest banks to gain a concession in the country's rapidly growing long distance market. Hayes concluded that the KS/GTE project was to be the first "Intelligent Corporate Park for high-tech businesses" which would communicate via fiber optics and satellite and would represent an international model of an "integral urban concept based on the premise of harmony and respect for nature."
Yet, well into the winter of 1996, ecological studies had stalled the project's progress, and construction permits were denied for parts of Kladt's holdings, based on the Mexican government's own environmental impact reports. "It's unjust that these things can still happen in Mexico," Kladt complained. The network TV Azteca, whose owner Ricardo Salinas was a Club de Golf investor, called those opposing the project a group of "troublemakers and drunks," while Kladt explained that the CUT was supported by "loud and aggressive women who have funded drugs for hippies."
Meanwhile, the press revealed Mexican government plans for massive high-tech developments, with Kladt's Club de Golf project serving as a "magnet." "The idea is to convert this zone into suburbs of Mexico City," said Jaime Alatorre, head of the Mexican Investment Council (CMI). Outlining the details of a planned high-tech corridor that would stretch from the Cuernavaca valley to the valley of Tepoztlán, Alatorre explained that the Club de Golf was "an important detonator to attract foreign businesses." In addition, a September 1995 issue of Proceso magazine described state and federal government plans to literally surround Mexico City with a corridor of transnational high-tech corporate parks that would traverse the states of Morelos, Puebla, Querétaro, Hidalgo and Tlaxcala.
Much of the land procured for those developments is "ejido," owned for generations by peasant families. When former President Carlos Salinas reformed Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution, allowing ejidos to be sold to outsiders, he effectively reversed the most significant gain of the Mexican Revolution: land reform. The loss of the ejidos initiated a buying spree of Mexican land by foreign corporations and paved the way for the high-tech corridor.
It seemed ironic that Emiliano Zapata's state, Morelos, should serve as the first stop, the designated welcome mat for foreign investors.
April 10, 1996 was the 77th anniversary of the death of Emiliano Zapata. Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo and Morelos governor Jorge Carrillo wanted to grace the date with personal appearances in Tlaltizapan, Morelos.
On the morning of Wednesday, April 10, approximately 800 Tepoztecos and their supporters also commemorated the campesino hero's death. This year, the legacy of Zapapta had a more intimate significance. After exhausting months of fighting KS and the government, weary from lack of progress and disconsolate from the continued incarceration of "our prisoners," the Tepoztecos needed to recharge. Mayor Lázaro Rodríguez and his supporters wanted the people to be reminded that it was the continnuum of their state's history that had swept them along this path, and because of that continnuum, they were never alone.
The group, including many women, elders and children, traveled in cars and buses along a route that would pass through places significant in the life of Zapata: Anenecuilco, where he was born, Cuatla, where he fought, and Chinameca, where he died, shot in an ambush. The procession would end in Tlaltizapan, where, face to face with the President of the Republic, they would deliver a letter.
Children were dressed as Adelitas (revolutionary supporters) and Zapatistas, and carried plywood rifles and cardboard machetes. Some sported fake Zapata mustaches. The pilgrims left flowers at each town along the way. They entered Cuatla, placed wreaths at the foot of Zapata's statue, and headed for Villa de Ayala. The caravaners reached an isolated bit of road just outside of Tlaltizapan when several hundred armed state police and granaderos (riot police) stopped and surrounded them. "Just like Zapata, we were ambushed," says Lázaro.
The police shouted that they had orders to prevent the pilgrims from proceeding to Tlaltizapan. While children cried, adults shouted at the policemen. Chief of Police Juan Manuel Ariño demanded, "We need your mayor [Lázaro Rodríguez] and the rest of the Tepoztecos to come forward." "You have no right to obstruct us, you old f-er!" shouted a woman. The marchers surged toward the police, shouting, "Viva Zapata! Viva Tepoztlán!" until it became a thunderous chant.
At that, the police went after the marchers. "They beat our elders," teacher Leticia Moctezuma said later. Gunshots were heard. Marcos Olmedo, 65, nicknamed "El Chipi", crumpled to the ground. "Run! They killed El Chipi!" a woman shouted while shots still cracked in the air. In reality, Marcos had been shot, but was not dead. "I was next to Marcos and we ran and I saw him fall when the bullets started," says Refugio Marquina. "The granaderos were still beating him when he fell." "Soldiers dragged him away from view. Three more shots were heard. "Leave him alone!" a man pleaded.
The Zapata marchers were detained for four hours. The children were locked up in a tightly packed van, while the wounded were left to agonize until President Zedillo had safely left the area. Nearly 40 Tepoztecos were arrested and hauled away, charged with destroying four patrol cars and carrying illegal weapons. A statement was issued by Morelos government official José Abraham Mejía, who declared, "It's important to note that the police did not carry weapons." It was officially announced that Marcos Olmedo was dead of "a bullet in the head; he has signs that he had been dragged and left many hours in the sun." Most of the CUT supporters were in jail, and according to business as usual in the state of Morelos, no one outside had any reason to know what really happened.
The affair would likely have been handled in the usual manner: the prisoners might have been tortured, perhaps would have confessed to various crimes, including the killing of Marcos Olmedo. The Tepoztlán problem would soon be resolved, the Club de Golf project could proceed and the PRI could move back in and take control. All but for one important detail: two foreign reporters and one CUT member had videotaped and photographed the whole ambush.
It was no longer arguable: the police not only had weapons, they had used them on an unarmed crowd. An especially chilling moment in the CUT tape showed Police Chief Juan Manuel Ariño carefully aiming his own pistol at the crowd. Seeing that he was being filmed, Ariño quickly turned and pointed his weapon at the videographer. Apparently having second thoughts, he tucked the gun into his waistband and disappeared into a mass of policemen.
Technology, which the Morelos government had so eagerly courted, was now its downfall. With the speed of a satellite beam, the situation escalated. Within hours of Mejía's statement, the Mexican media had all seen the tapes. Television and newspapers were describing the contents over and over. The National Human Rights Commission saw the footage. The state was forced to release the 34 Tepoztecos it still had in custody. On Friday, April 12, Ariño was arrested, along with 54 other policemen.
That evening, the TV Azteca network aired an exclusive interview, one seen all over Mexico.
Due to "the extreme disorder and violent events of last Wednesday," Francisco Kladt announced, the Club de Golf project was "definitively cancelled."
Now that the company has backed out, we just want to go home to our families," says José Carrillo. "We don't want to keep fighting. The problem is over."
The trial of Demesa, Mendoza and Carrillo ended in mid-July and was scheduled for a judge's verdict (there are no jury trials in Mexico) in mid-August. Then, in August, the verdict was postponed indefinitely. "They're not getting out." says Raúl, the merchant. "Only, maybe, if international groups apply pressure."
Passing other cells lining a cement hallway, Gerardo Demesa looks up with tired, gentle eyes. I tell him that he looks like César Chávez. At first he doesn't know who I mean. I say he was a leader of the Unión de Campesinos in California. The corners of his face lift a little as he brightens. "Oh, yes, he was also a fighter for social justice," says Gerardo.
It's the "also" that resonates for hours. This is a clue. It's how Gerardo keeps himself from falling apart in jail: he has the small comfort of seeing himself as a martyr. A hostage taken for a greater cause. Maybe that's his only way to survive seven months in prison and the prospect of many, many more.
"Therefore I speak to them in parables. Many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which you see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which you hear, and have not heard them."
-The Parable of the Sower, Matthew 13:1317
Like death, like birth, the process of democracy hurts. A town meeting is called to choose the date for an election of barrio representatives to the city council. As usual, the people are summoned with cuetes (fireworks) and bells. It takes quite a while for older people to walk from the outlying fields and neighborhoods to the town auditorium. Farmers in straw hats, sweating from a day behind the plow, stand in back until they are urged to take empty seats in front. Women, the majority here, wrapped in rebozos, half-watching the kids running up the aisles, are already seated. The ones on stage are all men: Lázaro Rodríguez and his CUT associates. As the dialogue unfolds, much of the discussion comes from the women in the audience.
No one has even decided how this meeting is supposed to be run, so that debate alone takes half an hour. Eventually, the floor is yammering with emotional outpourings from all corners: one viejito who doesn't understand the ballots keeps getting upset; a man on stage patiently explains that the candidates will not merely be listed by number, but that their names will also be on the ballot. Discussion of the anti-CUT "traitors," the PRI and the prisoners takes place. It is announced that the state has decided to financially compensate those who were arrested and abused at the April 10 ambush. Leticia Moctezuma, the teacher who was there, asks impassioned, unanswerable questions: "Who knows how long this trauma will hurt our children? How can they ever repay us for that?" She brings a mother up front who describes how the children saw their grandparents beaten and bleeding, how they saw bullets fly, how they were locked up, not knowing if their parents were alive or if they would be safe. When she's done, tears are falling. The meeting ends with a reminder that the CUT still has three unmet demands: a guarantee in writing from Kladt that the Club de Golf is forever cancelled; state recognition of the CUT as a legal governing entity; and the release of the three prisoners.
"The PRI-ism that existed in all the states and in all the cities, was just people who had money. They played it like a business," says Raúl. "This period is going to be so difficult because the people are no longer willing to take orders." He pauses. "And that's good because, finally, they have demanded democracy."
Beyond the town's barricades, the unwieldy political system of the nation bows under the weight of corruption, tradition and compromise. Here, inside, Tepoztecos labor with an elementary task: how to be fair. Nearly four hours later, most of the crowd has endured the process, heard the candidates speak and chosen an election date two weeks later. It was an exhausting evening. But for the people of Tepoztlán, there is no other way. This baby democracy did not come from outside. It was born in the fields of the Sacred Valley. Old folks and young people who have never been listened to are suddenly raising their voices. Democracy requires that they be heard, even if it takes all night. As much as it hurts, Tepoztecos know that this accomplishment is their reward. Making a democracy, in its simplest and best form, is now their beautiful burden and their difficult destiny.