New York Times reports on nothing?!?
by Tom Hansen, Jul 10, 1998
This is one in a series of reports prepared by the Mexico Solidarity Network evaluating the reporting of the New York Times on Chiapas, Mexico.
In what may be a first in the history of journalism, the New York Times reported in the July 9 issue on what the Zapatistas have NOT said. Mexico correspondent Julia Preston taunted Subcomandante Marcos and other Zapatista leaders for not commenting on events in Chiapas over the past five months. It is doubly ironic that the Times reports on what Indian leaders DON'T say, when it so seldom reports on anything they DO say.
While criticizing his absence from the public debate, the article dismisses Marcos as "a prolific author of longwinded communiques, essays and political fables composed in colorful ironic prose that he issues by electronic mail from his hideouts believed to be in the jungles of Chiapas."
The article continues:
"In the last two months the government sent troops to crush offices of 'mayors' that the Zapatistas had set up in four towns in opposition to officials from the Government's party. At least six rebels have been killed in the attacks, and dozens have been jailed.
Yet Marcos said nothing....
On June 7 the leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese that includes most of the Indian villages of Chiapas, Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia, resigned as the central mediator in the peace talks between the Government and the Zapatistas, protesting the Government crackdown. Bishop Ruiz was the only person in the negotiations, which are stalled, whom the wary Zapatistas seem to trust.
Still Marcos said nothing when the Bishop stepped down."
While Marcos was silent on army invasions of Indian communities and the virtual public lynching of Bishop Ruiz by the government, civilian Indian leaders, the Catholic church, leading intellectuals, opposition parties, human rights organizations, the United Nations and US Congressmen, to name only a few, were highly critical of Zedillo's policies in Chiapas. If one's only source of news were the New York Times, one would hardly be aware of this widespread criticism.
While the Times speculates on several "rumors," i.e., "some say he (Marcos) is languishing in the jungle with malaria" or "Guatemala denied a swirl of reports that the army there had captured him," the "Paper of Record" appears unwilling to entertain more serious possibilities. Could it be that the Zapatista leadership is so firmly committed to participatory democracy that their silence is meant to open a space for the broad array of voices in civil society to be heard on the subject of Chiapas? Could it be that the Zapatistas see no need to repeat, yet again, their message of the past 2 1/2 years? In February of 1996, the Zapatistas and the government signed the first in what was envisioned to be a series of six accords. The government promptly refused to implement the accords. The message from the Zapatista leadership ever since has been eloquent but simple -- implement the San Andres accords, then continue with the peace process. How often do they have to repeat it before the Times gets the message?
Later in the article, the Times editorializes: "The lack of response from Marcos and the top Indian leaders has left the appearance of disarray in the guerrilla army. On June 10 in the town of El Bosque firefights erupted when Zapatista militia members shot back at Government forces. That was the first time that Zapatistas had broken a cease-fire in Chiapas in more than three years. The poorly armed militia members seem to have fired in a moment of panic to defend themselves against assault by hundreds of government troops." Eyewitnesses report something different. In a report prepared by the Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez, "Four members of the indigenous community stated that : 'We saw 6 of our colleagues injured, and one killed. The six injured were captured by soldiers and security forces, were taken alive and tied up, but we fear that they may have been executed on the way, because we have seen news reports that they are dead.' Representatives of the autonomous municipality of San Juan de la Libertad expressed that they had seen the 6 men alive, that there had not been an armed confrontation, that they supported the EZLN, and that it was the army that fired when they tried to escape into the mountains."
Ms. Preston opens the article expressing irritation "At the Zapatista rebels who were standing watch at the gated entrance to this village (Oventic) the other day..." She describes them as "terse when asked about the leaders of their guerrilla army. 'The top commanders are not here,' one rebel said gruffly..." No doubt these media savvy Indians know a little about the reportage of the New York Times. The Times follows the lead of the PRI by ignoring Indians when they speak, but paying close attention to their silence. For 500 years Indians have cried out for land, justice and democracy, but for the PRI and the Times, only their silence rings true.
For more information, contact:
Mexico Solidarity Network
4834 N Springfield
Chicago IL 60625
773-583-7728 or e-mail
More Chiapas articles
Back to Front Page