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LATIN AMERICA: Its giddy head (Mexico) and its restless spine

Marcos has sharply divided WAISers. Detractors and admirers have used unWAIS terms in expressing themselves. It is clear that he has more admirers among Latin Americans than among Americans. I have selected this message from Miles Seeley, who expresses the prevailing American view in temperate terms:

"I admire Linda's humanitarianism more than I can say. My problem is with those who seek power by violent revolution. It seems to me that history shows all too clearly that when the "idealists" gain power, they almost all become no better than those they overthrew. Does power corrupt, and does absolute power corrupt absolutely? No doubt the achievements of Castro's regime in the educational and medical fields deserve recognition, but his democratic ideals, even if initially genuine, soon gave way to autocratic rule. I know little of Marcos and his band, but I would happily take bets on what they would be like if they had power. We cannot forget the USSR or China or Sadaam and the Baath Party...and on and on. Sorry I cannot believe as Linda does. My experience has left me all too cynical. "

The contrast between the US and Latin American assessment was clear when an Univisión reporter from Miami interviewed a Mexican intellectual, Luis González Souza, who is as white as Fox of Marcos. To questions implying condemnation of Marcos, he answered with a strong defense of him. Fox chose a meeting of Mexican businessmen to stress that he was prepared to discuss all issues with Marcos, whom he invited to the presidential residence, Los Pinos. Marcos replied that he would not meet with him until his conditions were met. Of the seven army bases in the Chiapas territory where the EZLN operates, Fox had agreed to withdraw the troops from four. Marcos demanded that they be withdrawn from the remaining three. This would give him a territory of his own, somewhat like that of the FARC in Colombia. Marcos said his troops would remain in Mexico City until pro-Indian legislation was passed. Answering the comment that this would take at least three years, González Souza did not regard that as a problem; the EZLN would transform itself into a political party. Fox would in principle approve such legislation, but González Souza did not face the possibility that the talks might fail. What then?

Students were a problem. Televisa usually runs a seminar for a large number of students wishing to enter the TV profession. This year it was decided to hold the seminar in Toluca, away from Mexico City. Fox enjoys strong backing from the American business community. He will address in Los Angeles later this month, tickets quickly sold out. Mexican attitude toward the US and US business was mixed. American students on the spring break did not help. They reportedly acted like spoiled unprincipled brats in places like Matamoros, just across the border from Texas. Jaqui White lives near there, so I ask her to report what she knows.

Americans do not distinguish between "bandits" like Pancho Villa and Zapata, but Mexicans do. While some striking students at Mexico City's UNAM started a Villista Front, which came to nothing, Marcos mentioned only the more educated Emiliano Zapata (1879?-1919). He joined the revolt of Francisco Madero against Porfirio Díaz, but then, viewing US style democracy as inadequate, accused Madero of betraying the revolution, and he demanded radical agrarian reform in the 1911 Plan of Ayala. Marcos implied that he likewise would reject reforms proposed by Fox.

A recent posting pointed out that there is unrest all the way down the spine of Latin America. The relationship between the movements was shown yesterday when Mapuche leaders in southern Chile referred to Chiapas. The most dangerous situation is in Colombia, where 27 foreign representatives accompanied Fox to the jungle for talks with FARC leaders. We know little about the background of Marcos, and I know nothing about that of the FARC leader, Manuel Marulanda. alias Tiro Fijo. Interviewed by foreign journalists, he seemed to me unscrupulous. What about the innocent civilians killed or kidnapped, whose relatives had appealed to the foreign envoys for help? Too bad that they got caught in the fight between government troops and the FARC. What about the financing of the FARC by the drug traffic? All lies. (How could he say that when television has shown drug- making laboratories controlled by the FARC?). The meeting with the envoys led to the creation of a commission of seven of them, including Cuba, to continue negotiating. What about the US? It could join the commission if it agreed to his conditions. How would the press fare under his system? There would be freedom of the press. (Tell that to the World Press Report!)

The revolutionary movement in other countries avoided mentioning the FARC. In sum, the response of Latin Americans to Castro and Marcos seemed to be a qualified yes, but a loud no to Tiro Fijo.

Ronald Hilton - 3/10/01