By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The U.N. rapporteur’s visit also prompted bitter criticism from an unexpected corner of the Chiapas conflict. In a lengthy communiqué that coincided with Jahangir’s arrival in Chiapas, EZLN spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos blasted the United Nations for its complicity "in reducing Yugoslavia to ashes" during the NATO bombing onslaught in the Kosovo hostilities. "The U.N. has lost all credibility," Marcos wrote, because it has become a tool of the White House and its allies, and "it would be unethical for us" to endorse United Nations intervention in Chiapas on human-rights issues.
For Marcos, the real United Nations are the many international non-governmental organizations that are so vital to the rebels’ cause. "Amnesty International has more moral authority," he said, than the organization Jahangir represents. The Zapatista leader also accused the U.N.’s High Commission on Refugees of providing a pretext for the Mexican military’s destruction of the EZLN autonomous municipality of Tierra y Libertad on May 1, 1998, and took United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan to task for commending a Television Azteca anti-drug foundation when the network features "known cocaine fiends" in its roster of stars.
The subcomandante’s tongue-lashing is believed to be the first post-Kosovo rejection of United Nations human-rights intervention by a group that has been a frequent target of abuse. Usually, the U.N. is sought out by hard-pressed national-liberation movements to establish international legitimacy.
Yet, like the PRI, the EZLN also sought to have it both ways; while it condemned Jahangir’s visit, the communiqué listed 41 Zapatista victims of presumed extrajudicial executions that the rapporteur might investigate. Jahangir’s response to the subcomandante contrasted with her thinly veiled disdain for government pronouncements. Denying that she is a U.N. official, the rapporteur conceded that the multilateral institution was not above criticism and professed her willingness to meet with the EZLN to further explore the insurgents’ charges.
And so the rapporteur made her sojourn to Acteal, where she gazed in puzzlement upon the "Tower of Infamy," a monument to the mass killing whose Danish creator was expelled from Mexico by immigration authorities. She also met with family members of presumed victims of extrajudicial executions in Ocosingo and the Ejido Morelia in January 1994 (19 victims), and at El Bosque in the autonomous EZLN municipality of San Juan de Libertad (10 killed in 1998).
A driven, tireless interrogator, Jahangir worked long into the night in unlikely settings such as the posh Casa Vieja hotel, where she received groups of Indians, decked out in ceremonial hats and chujs (short serapes), who presented graphic evidence of abuse by local authorities. Asked how she remained sane after hearing such horror stories day after day, she smiled mischievously and wondered if she was still sane.
During the U.N. special rapporteur’s passage through the Mexican landscape July 16 to 28, Chiapas was repeatedly shaken by violence and fresh extrajudicial executions. On July 19, an opposition-party official was assassinated in Ixtapa, and on the 20th, a Tapachula rancher gunned down a demonstrating farmer. A few days earlier (the 15th), Zapatista supporters at El Portal on the Guatemalan border, who were demanding that local PRI officials resume delivering water to their colony, were tear-gassed and beaten — two were shot — before being hauled off. Up in San Juan Chamula above San Cristobal, armed PRI-istas violently evicted a group of evangelical Christians and generally got so rowdy that the army had to be called out.
"This is a Machiavellian plot to give Chiapas a bad name while the U.N. is visiting the state," Chiapas Attorney General Eduardo Montoya complained.
But such violence is more the stuff of everyday existence here, a fact the family of José Hidalgo knows only too well. On June 14, this youngest brother of a San Cristobal family that has long staunchly defended beleaguered Bishop Samuel Ruiz disappeared into thin air. Two weeks later, state judicial police returned what they said were José’s bones — they were dressed in his clothes — to the family doorstep. But what most alarmed Manuel Hidalgo, who suspects that his kid brother was the victim of an extrajudicial execution carried out by a local death squad, were the great numbers of unclaimed bones he kept finding while searching for José’s remains.
"They are everywhere in these mountains," he told the U.N. rapporteur during a San Cristobal interview.