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LAS AMERICAS Sexenio, Lies and Videotape BY BARBARA BELEJACK “The best thing you could do would be to keep quiet… if you say anything they’re going to send you off to the other world. This is a political question.” Dr. Atl, “Primitivo Ron,” in Ustedes les consta, an anthology of Mexican journalism, edited by Carlos Monsivais Mexico City DO YOU know anything about Mexican history? Just for the record, I once sat next to Porfirio Diaz on a flight from Nayarit to Chihuahua. It was August of 1990 and the occasion was the first National Solidarity Tour, a week-long orgy of superbly orches trated political theater pronioting President Carlos Salinas de Gortari’ s anti-poverty program. Presidential tours run on split-second precision timing; the man sitting beside me said he was a career army officer who was responsible for tour logistics. He asked whether I knew anything about Mexican history, then told me his name was Porfirio Diaz and that he was born in Oaxaca. He pulled out an official-looking credential and we talked briefly about the irony of growing up with the same name as the Oaxaca native whose 30-year rule led to the Mexican Revolution. Then a walkie-talkie beeped and he went off to do whatever it is that logistics people do on presidential tours. I never saw him again. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Porfirio Diaz, history and literature, las armas y las Tetras, Zapata and Zapatistas, Chiapas and Colosio, conspiracy theories and random acts of violence. Maya time, meet postmodernism. For nearly three months a man with a ski mask captured Mexico’s imagination. For nearly three months the numberone question in Mexico was either “Who is the real Subcomandante Marcos?” or “Que March 23, when PRI presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio was shot in the Tijuana barrio of Lomas Taurinas, time stopped. Everything changed and everything stayed the same. Now the number-one question was “Who killed Colosio?” And all the Barbara Belejack is a freelance writer based in New York She has been the Observer ‘s Mexico City correspondent. video in the world, all the graphics with circles and arrows, all the pained explanations of Jacobo Zabludovsky, the dour 24-hour . anchor on Televisa’s nightly news program, and his even more pro-government counterparts on the recently privatized Television Azteca, wouldn’t erase the suspicion that the road from Lomas Taurinas led to very high places. Political columnists looked to literature and history, and spiked their writing with references to Macbeth and Alvaro Obregon, the revolutionary general and expresident and president-elect shot to death in 1928 at a Mexico City restaurant. \(Officially his death was attributed to a religious fanatic. Unofficially it signalled the end of post-revolutionary infighting and the creation of the rough draft of the PRI, the InstiThe same video clip of the shooting of Colosio was broadcast repeatedly on Mexican television. At first it was supposed to represent the lone-gunman theory; then it was said to be conclusive proof of an expanding conspiracy theory that focused on disgruntled Baja Californian PRlistas. Ultimately the clip proved nothing except for Colosio’s vulnerability. See the candidate. See the crowd mob the candidate. See the candidate surrounded, yet terribly alone. See the arm stretched out with a gun pointed at the candidate’s head. See the video go out of focus; there is nothing more to see. THROUGHOUT the Salinas sexenio, Mexico was portrayed as a simple economic story, a textbook lesson straight from Macroeconomics 101: Inflation is down, foreign investment is up, growth and prosperity are just around the corner. The uprising in Chiapas changed some of that, but Chiapas also became a story about myths and masks, marketing and Marcos “the other side of Mexico,” as the recently conscienticized New York Times described it. Chiapas is only part of a story that is profoundly political, one that should not be construed as a simple struggle between modern technocrats and aging dinosaurios. The political legacy of the Salinas sexenio is the increased concentration of power in the office of the presidency, which has turned presidencialismo into Mexico’s strongest political institution. At every stop on the solidarity tour, local residents be sieged Salinas, like children looking to an all-powerful father, to fix problems with land tenancy, with drainage and sewage, with the operation of a local clinic. Without an independent electoral system and judiciary, an alternative tactic evolved to resolve electoral disputesendless protests, marathon marches to Mexico City, negotiations with federal officials, and campaigns in the international press. Salinas simply removed elected governors whose elections were challenged \(choosing not to address the circumstances in which they were Last December an interim governor was appointed to replace the previous interim governor in the state of Yucatan. Pushed by the Chiapas rebellion, Colosio began to distance himself from the political as well as the economic legacy of the Salinas Administration. To what extent he was sincere, and to what extent he was merely being politically expedient, will never be known. Nevertheless, in his last month of campaigning Colosio began to speak of the nation’s need to concern itself with family economics as well as macroeconomics, with a new federalism in place of presidencialismo; it was time for the PRI and the government to develop separate identities. Inevitably, the agenda has now changed. Talk of legislative reform, the evils of presidencialismo and the need for a new federalism may be nice, but the fear of violence and the threat of repression is far more powerful. After Colosio’s death, one branch of the intelligentsia, notably Hector Aguilar Camin, a writer and publisher with close ties to Salinas, blamed the press for fostering a climate of violence that led to the assassination. Segments of the press had acted as cheerleaders for the Zapatistas, he maintained. There is no such thing as “good” violence and “bad” violence, there is only violence. In the Mexico City daily La Jornada, Luis Gonzalez de Alba, who was imprisoned as a student activist in 1968, put the blame for Colosio’s death squarely on Marcos and the “apologists of violence” who celebrated the Chiapas uprising as if it were a spring festival. But political violence in the current sexenio did not begin with Chiapas. If Colosio’s death jolted the nation, so did the still-unresolved killing of Cardinal Posadas at the Guadalajara airport last May; 14 MAY 6, 1994