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During the Great Depression, when Americans were desperate, many faculty members and students felt the system had failed them. and quite a lot became Communists. They were condemned and suffered, but their reaction was natural. Similar despair is now apparent in many less prosperous countries, including Mexico, where earthquakes and floods have added to the misery. We must be prepared for major trouble there. The fighting in Chiapas is on a much smaller scale than in Colombia, but it may well get worse.
Everywhere Chiapas is being observed by people who believe that revolution is the only solution. The concentrated interest in Chiapas even in American universities is extraordinary. Large student bodies are a powder keg, liable to blow up if a match is struck.
The enormous National University of Mexico (UNAM), on which the government has spent a fortune, exploded a long time ago, and since then it has been paralyzed. Students wishing to continue normal academic activities complain that it is the work of a minority of trouble-makers, but to no avail. Students are going to other state universities, or, if possible, to private universities like the University of the Americas in Puebla (UDLA). Outsiders have now targeted these universities.
For decades since I taught there I have been interested in UDLA, and I established the tie between UDLA and Stanford/Hoover. Every year UDLA sponsors a series of conferences, to which, beginning four years ago, Hoover has sent a delegation. I have received special invitations from UDLA and went the first two years, being very well received. For the last two years I have been unable to go.
These two congresses went off very well, the 1999 congress being especially successful. However, in was in the last two congresses that a nasty fly appeared in the ointment. Unfortunately Hoover is still regarded as a bastion of mindless reaction, and I still receive messages to that effect from alumni who were at Stanford years ago, when the tension was at its height.
Timothy Brown is a Hoover Fellow with an extraordinary knowledge of Mexico and Central America, and unafraid to express his hatred for totalitarians, especially Communists and their useful idiots. Last years he arranged for some repentant guerrilla leaders to come to the congress and explain the error of their ways. Naturally the Zapatistas viewed them as traitors.
Tim Brown reports: At my first panel a perfectly good video turned out unintelligible, the session was somehow "not recorded" by a $25,000 professional sound system. The professional simultaneous interpreter turned out to be a high cost incompetent. The video system for which I provided all the equipment "could not be made to work." Finally, my last session was officially announced with posters all over the campus as "Cancelled". I had to go back to Nicaragua, Miami and the mountains to redo three interviews for my forthcoming book "When the AKs Fall Silent" (Hoover Press, 2000). I was almost convinced it was sabotage then. This year a friend at UDLA confirmed they had investigated and I was right".
This made me suspicious. Four years ago, I spent hours, with the blessing and support of UDLA President Enrique Cárdenas, interviewing UDLA faculty members about their research, and with historians visited the incredible monuments of the Puebla-Cholula area. It was a great effort, and the film promised to be a noteworthy success. There were plans to show it all over the United States. There was nothing controversial in the film.
The film failed to arrive, and I was unable to find out why. When I was next at UDLA, I inquired and was simply told that the student who headed the camera crew was incompetent and that the film had been accidentally erased. After Tim's experience, I am beginning to wonder.
This year the congress was a great success, but Tim reports that the old problem recurred:
"The New Left, essentially neo-hippies were there in force, sort of old pro-Sandinista Sandalistas in new Zapatista zapatos, giving an excessive number of essentially non-academic pro-EZLN propaganda pitches disguised as academic comments. What I find most fascinating is that the New Left, like the old, hates real freedom of expression, whereas this year both Cubans and mainland Chinese were sufficiently interested in hearing about the very same panels that I've been invited to Beijing and Havana to talk about them, albeit privately."
My comment: WAISers who have been in China recently report that they can have quite free conversations with Chinese colleagues, but there is no publicity. The same may be happening in Cuba. WAIS stands for reasonable discourse, and abhors the kind of talk Tim talks about, whether it comes from the left or the right.
An interesting sidelight: An active link between Mexico and her friend Castro is a granddaughter of Zapata. She reportedly had a Jewish grandmother, but I have been unable to establish the family tree. She also serves as a link between Castro and Israel.
Nothing in the above should be interpreted as indicating a lack of compassion for the suffering Mexican people. A solution must be found. I have an open mind. However, it should be obvious that, in the complicated modern world, mastery of technology is essential. Yelling mobs of students will not acquire that mastery.
Ronald Hilton - 10/12/99