August 21, 1995
(view of harbor panorama)
CHARLES KRAUSE: Guerrero is best-known for Acapulco's luxurious hotel and spectacular bay, reminiscent of the French Riviera. But despite the stunning beauty of its coast, Guerrero remains one of Mexico's poorest states, with a long tradition of poverty and political violence. Just 50 miles from the beaches and sophistication of Acapulco, dirt roads lead to villages like Paso Real, which might as well be in another world or on another planet. (Scenes of village life)
No telephones here, no doctors, no hospital, no discos or tourists ... not even running water. Paso Real is the other Mexico foreigners rarely see: rural Mexico, where subsistence farming, drug trafficking, corruption and political violence mix in what is often an explosive combination. It was here in the 1960s and 70s that Mexico's first guerrilla insurgency forced the Mexican army to occupy Guerrero for nearly a decade. And it was here, just a few miles from Paso Real, that the latest chapter in Mexico's bloody history was videotaped by the police themselves ... on the morning of June 28th. Two truckloads of Campesinos, many of them from Paso Real, were stopped on an isolated stretch of road ... a shot was fired ... then the killing began. (sounds of guns firing.)
Within seconds, 17 farmers were dead ... and more than 20 wounded ... gunned down at point-blank range by units of Guerrero's notoriously corrupt and repressive state police. Inexplicably, state authorities released a tape of the incident, which they apparently thought would support their version of what happened. Instead, the images have focused attention on Guerrero's near-feudal political system...as well as economic and social conditions that many observers fear could lead to another guerrilla insurgency, like the one that erupted last year in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas.
SERGIO SARMIENTO: It's very difficult for me to make a prediction, but the conditions are there.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Sergio Sarmiento is one of Mexico's leading political commentators.
SERGIO SARMIENTO: Armed revolutions take place in unthinkable times, at very unexpected--in very unexpected places. The conditions are there. The conditions are very similar. Guerrero is almost as poor as Chiapas and it's a highly politicized state. So I wouldn't be surprised if an armed rebellion like the one that we have seen in Chiapas takes place.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Tension in rural Guerrero has been building for at least the past several years, especially in the region around Paso Real. But until the killings in June, no one was paying much attention. Now, because of the killings, Guerrero is under scrutiny as never before. There have been several official versions of what happened ... of why dozens of state troopers were sent to Paso Real on the morning of June 28th. The latest version is that the police were there to set up a checkpoint to search for illegal weapons. Antonio Alcocer Salazar, Guerrero's Attorney General, says it was a routine operation to combat common crime.
ALCOCER SALAZAR: "The checkpoint, as I've said, was set up as part of an on-going campaign to confiscate illegal guns, in view of the fact that the area from Coyuca de Benitez and Pavo Real northwards is considered to be a very conflictive region with a high crime rate. For example, seven kidnappings were reported there last year alone. As a result, checkpoints are routinely set up to search for, and confiscate, weapons.
On the morning of June 28th approximately three platoons of state police were in the area. The moment the attempted to carry out the search, the first shot was fired by one of the persons in the blue pick up truck and --- as the video shows---the police react. That's when the shoot-out took place, with the result that 17 persons lost their lives in this unfortunate incident.
(shots of anti-government demonstration)
Shortly after the incident, 8 of the state troopers and 2 of the officers involved in the shooting were detained and charged with use of excessive force and abuse of power. But the arrests have not quieted the storm of protest that's continued to build over the killings. Led by Porfirio Munoz Ledo, President of Mexico's center-left Democratic Revolutionary Party, the opposition has staged a series of protests demanding the resignation of Guerrero's governor, Ruben Figueroa. A traditional caciquer or strongman, Figueroa is a hardline leader of the PRI, the Institutional Revolutionary Party that's governed Mexico, and Guerrero, with an iron hand for more than 65 years.
(shot of Munoz Ledo speaking to demonstration)
Munoz Ledo has had little trouble convincing his followers that the government is lying --- that there was nothing routine about the checkpoint set up the morning of June 28th. Instead, Munoz Ledo charges the killings took place because Figueroa was determined to stop an anti-government protest rally scheduled that afternoon.
MUNOZ LEDO: It is a classic cacique attitude. He didn't like this kind of campesino movement, and then he prepared the massacre, the killing. He called by phone, we have the directory of that. He averted some mayors of the region that the campesinos were going to those places, and he prepared --- he prepared a thing and he sent the judiciary police to kill that --- like that! It's a view increasingly shared by the Mexican press and most independent observers, among them political science professor Denise Dresser:
DENISE DRESSER: Guerrero is a state that's been ruled for over 40 years by the Figueroa family, and they've ruled it as their personal fiefdom. In this case, I believe that Ruben Figueroa probably tried to keep peasant organizations under control, and his way of doing that was resorting to repression, violence, clamping down on independent organizations so that they wouldn't create trouble for him.
CHARLES KRAUSE: But if that was the case, Figueroa's strategy seems to have backfired. Munoz Ledo and the Left continue to protest the killings in Acapulco and Mexico City. Many of the relatives of those killed and their sympathizers have seized the town hall in Coyuca de Benitez, the administrative capital of the region where the killings took place. Jorge Luis Salas told us that before the incident in June, there was growing tension in the area due to a political vendetta on the part of the local mayor.
An ally of Figueroa's, the mayor was withholding essential fertilizer from campesinos in Paso Real and elsewhere he believed to be sympathetic to the left. As a result, a group called the Campesino Organization of the Southern Sierra, or OCSS, had planned a protest for the afternoon of June 28th...and many of those aboard the trucks from Paso Real were on their to the protest when they were killed. Not much is known about the OCSS. But Sarmiento says he's been told by intelligence sources that the group is committed to radical, but peaceful political change.
SERGIO SARMIENTO: "They're not involved in guerrilla--guerrilla actions, for example. But they do have links, or some of their people have links to very small armed groups that are operating in Guerrero at this point. The OCSS is an organization that stems from other leftist organizations and other small guerrilla groups that operated in the 1970s in Guerrero. But it is not an armed organization as far as I can see.
CHARLES KRAUSE: But there are some armed organizations in Guerrero?
SERGIO SARMIENTO: My information indicates that there are. Despite continuing denials, even many of the governor's supporters suspect there was a connection between the planned protest and the killings.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Ron Lavender, an American real estate broker who's lived in Acapulco for more than 40 years, says he believes it's the OCSS leadership that's to blame, not the governor.
RON LAVENDER: After all, we have to accept the fact that these people apparently were headed toward the village of Coyuca de Benitez where they had the intention of taking over the city hall. That, as far as I'm concerned, is simply anarchy, and something has to be done to stop that. Now, why the measures were as drastic as they were, I really haven't any idea. But I think that certainly the majority of the people in Acapulco, certainly from the business community and so forth, support the governor and support the government in this. It's not that we sanction or condone killing great numbers of peasants, but if I were placing any blame on it, I would place it on the leaders who bring all this about.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Lavender heads a charitable group called Friends of Acapulco, which provides money for a health clinic, an orphanage ... and other activities to help the city's poor. But despite his good works, Lavender's support for Governor Figueroa, and his views about keeping Guerrero's campesinos in their place, appear to be in a distinct minority. Even the quasi-official Mexican Human Rights Commission recently called for the investigation of senior state officials for attempting to cover up evidence related to what it called "the massacre."
While the report stopped short of directly implicating the governor, it did recommend that Attorney General Alcozar be dismissed. As evidence against the state government has grown, the incident has become a national issue in Mexico because it seems to be an example of the kind of political repression which Mexico's new president, Ernesto Zedillo, has promised to end. Yet, so far, Zedillo has refused to order a criminal investigation of the incident, much less remove his friend and political ally, Governor Figueroa, from office. Dresser and many others interpret Zedillo's failure to act ... as a sign of political weakness.
DENISE DRESSER: On the one hand Zedillo has said that he wants to modernize the Mexican presidency, that he wants to stop intervening in local politics. But what Guerrero reveals is that if the president doesn't sanction governors who govern against the law, then lawlessness will become rampant, and the perception that there's nobody home at Las Pinos, the presidential residence, is creating a climate of lawlessness in which governors govern at their whim.
The perception in Guerrero, I think, from the perspective of Ruben Figueroa, is that he doesn't need to be accountable to the president because the president is weak, he's isolated, he doesn't have a coalition of support, and that therefore regional caciques will govern in the traditional way that they always have been able to do so.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Political scientist Sergio Aguayo heads Mexico's most broadly-based citizens group, the civic alliance.
SERGIO AGUAYO: It's like if in Kent State you had not had a clear and credible explanation of what happened that day the National Guard assassinated a few students. We have not had--we have had hundreds of Mexicans assassinated and we have never had the credible explanation why that happened. And in Guerrero, that's happening again, and that's why we are so disappointed. We have had enough words. We want facts, we want actions. We want a proof, a demonstration that President Zedillo and his government are on the side of justice and not on the side of the powerful, as has been the case in our history."
CHARLES KRAUSE: For his part, Munoz Ledo warns that if Figueroa is not removed, and if those responsible for the killings are not punished Guerrero will fester ... then one day explode.
MUNOZ LEDO: Any moment there can be rebellions everywhere, and we are living in the worst of the political moments in 50 years of Mexican history. Zedillo has to change economic policy and has to change his relationship with the political forces. He has to punish--he has to punish those responsible for political crimes. That's the essential problem now.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Sensing real danger, Figueroa's government has moved quickly to try pacify the area around Paso Real. An elaborate tomb has already been built for those killed, while their families have been offered the equivalent of nearly $10,000 and a new home ... to keep silent. There have also been death threats against those who continue to speak out.
Called plomo or plata, carrots or sticks, it's a tactic that many Mexican academics and politicians say has been used for decades by the government to keep itself and the PRI in power. But most recently in Chiapas, there's come a time throughout Mexican history when neither the bribes nor the repression is enough to overcome the anger that's so evident in Paso Real ... and elsewhere in Guerrero.
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