CHIAPAS: THE MEANING OF A DEPORTATION

[Following Adso's question William comments] "...Bernard (the papal inquisitor) is interested, not in discovering the guilty, but in burning the accused..." P. 394,The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco.

[During the last half of my stay in San Cristobal I was reading this magnificent work by Eco; the setting was early 14th century Italy during the period of the inquisition. I could not have anticipated the relationship this text by Eco would have to my experience when I first placed it into my travel bag along with dictionaries, photographs and other papers before leaving the States on January 10th 1998 for Mexico.]

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The Charges: "International Observer" "Writer"

On 9 February, just one month after my arrival in Mexico, I went into the immigration office in San Cristobal to request a new 15 day visa, this is the customary extension given in this area. Nine days later, following numerous trips, telephone calls, and two days of responding to hours of questions, I was deported form Mexico.

Since returning to the States I have been asked: "So what did you do?" And my response is that the question, though understandable, is phrased incorrectly. The question should be: "What has the Mexican government done?" The prior question assumes the rightness of the government's action and my "guilt." In this situation the quote by Eco is most apt...The Mexican government is not interested in finding the guilty or the truth, they are only interested in "burning the accused."

During the last three weeks of February the government of Mexico deported 4 internationals: Maria Darlington, a 65 year old Quaker woman was deported on the 10th of February; my deportation was on the 17th; the former head of Pastors for Peace, Tom Hansen, on the 19th; and then most recently a French priest who had for the past 32 years administered to the communities of Chenalho and Acteal, the community in which the brutal massacre of 45 civilians occurred just over two months ago, was deported on the of February.

These deportations clearly indicate that the Mexican government is scared - it is afraid of the truth - and it is using it's most severe punishment - banishment - as an expedient political tool to arrive at it's end: to remove the eyes and ears of the internationals so that the government can more effectively control the flow of information; so that the government can pursue a public relations campaign of "make believe" regarding the conditions in Chiapas.

The Mexican government is also being methodical and selective in the its use of deportations, in order to intimidate and create fear in all sectors of the internationals present in Chiapas. The government wants to empty the peace camps, making the Zapatista communities even more vulnerable to the acts of impunity carried out by the paramilitaries, and the military. It is clear that they are doing this in order to pressure the Zapatistas to return to the "negotiations" on the government's terms, or worse, to provoke them to fight.

Remember that on 22 December, 1997, there was no peace camp in Acteal, there were no internationals present when the paramilitaries using AK-47s roamed the village and nearby countryside killing 45 women and children over a period of more than 5 hours. It would be a disaster of monstrous proportions if the international presence was to end in Chiapas. We must not be intimidated by the Mexican government's actions.

So what were the "charges" against me? First, I was an "International Observer" in Oventic, Polho and Acteal. And I was also an "independent journalist" who "attended the Dialogues of San Andres" (this I did over two years ago) and I continue to "write" - now for my home page (yes, writing for your home page could be used against you). Immigration claimed that these are activities which are not allowed when traveling with a tourist visa. These were my deportable "offenses."

Returning to the interrogation at the immigration office in San Cristobal, throughout the questioning process the immigration officials attempted over and over again to restate my answers (I was answering in English) using the Spanish words for "participating" and "working." Each time I said I could not accept this characterization of my activities." They said that I had written articles and had been to the Dialogues of San Andres and therefore I was working. I said that it had been nearly four years since I had had a magazine article published, and that I had received my credentials from COCOPA to enter the Dialogues of San Andres and the Special Talks which took place in late 1996. I also stated that COCOPA was fully aware that I was there with a tourist visa and had no problems with giving me my credentials at that time. I stated that the little writing I did at this time was completely without pay - my profession was never as a writer, I was an art professor and curator for a private art collection - and what I did write reflected my personal interest in the issues and struggle in Chiapas as they pertained to the impact of neoliberalism on a global scale; and that whatever I did write now was done primarily for my homepage on the internet. He then said "so you continue to write...are you writing now?" I said that it was my custom to keep notes on my observations and thoughts - as I would also write on art, culture, archeology, etc. during my travels.

It was no longer a issue of making money while in Mexico, actually working, that was a visa violation...it could be just writing for your homepage. "Writing" is now the crime, especially if what you write is not what the government wants others to know - and observing. I do believe a tourist can still observer the weavers in the market, but if you went to the areas where the weaver may live, and observed the military entering their villages, or the villagers fleeing their homes and fields to refugee camps in distant towns, then this observing would be "political" and this would be a violation of the immigration laws.

It should surprise no one that the Mexican government now "constructs" fictions to support deportations; remember that it was just two months ago (late December 1997) when they tried to make the world believe that the massacre in Acteal was merely a result of family differences.

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