view,” he says. “It is the setting for a group of communities that has been struggling against outsiders for centuries. Therefore, one should not be there except as a guest or visitor with authorization from the ceremonially constituted local authorities.” The region is also known for its land disputes, and recently several NGOs and a Guadalajara university have provided Huichols with high-tech surveying and sophisticated litigation strategies that have resulted in Huichol court victories over cooperative agrarian ejidos and powerful ranching and political interest groups. Enforcing their court orders, however, is another story. The area has also seen more than its share of anthropologists, journalists, and photographers \(including National Geographic and more recently, the And it is a favorite destination of “metaphysical tourists” Americans and Europeans inspired by Carlos Castarieda’s ersatz There is also some local ambivalence about fee-paying tourists and well-intentioned interlopers, conspicuously absent from True’s original proposal. Several days before True queried his editors, the Army arrested twenty-one Huichol men, women, and children on their way back from gathering peyote for religious use. Huichol use of peyote in religious ceremonies has long been protected by Mexican law, and the arrests were part of what agrarian reform activist Angeles Arcos describes as a pattern of harassment that has increased over the past decade. A UPI report quoted a Huichol traditional governor saying, “If the government and military are going to end our way to life by confiscating our religious items and putting us in jail for completing our spiritual obligations, then they might just as well kill us all right now.” The comments help explain the Huichol response to Rivard and others in the search party. “Disturbingly, a village leader in Almotita appeared highly agitated by the arrival of members of the search party,” Rivard said. “He angrily challenged their authority to land without a permit. He also complained about their presence as foreigners in the zone and Philip’s recent visit without citing any specific reasons.” And always, in Mexico, there is the drug question. After his death, the Express News published a story indicating that True had told a friend in New York that he had some concern about drug-trafficking, but believed there was little activity in the area. Ignacio Rodriguez, an investigative reporter and editor of the Mexico City magazine Milenio, says there are some plantations in the area where True was traveling. The poppy harvest, he says, occurs between November and January. There were other professional risks. In 1997, three journalists were killed in relation to their work in Mexico City, Guerrero, and on the border in Sonora. Veteran Tijuana journalist Jesus Blancornelas was severely wounded and his bodyguard killed when gunmen opened fire on them. And last year a reporter for an afternoon daily was killed in Mexico City. Most of those cases involve drug trafficking. More frequent are incidents of harassment and intimidation, such as that experienced by Maribel Gutierrez, a Guerrero reporter accused by state authorities of being a member of the Popular Revolutionary Army ing the deportation of foreigners from Chiapas were attacked by state judicial police. Yet no American journalist has been killed since Peter Steele, an American who was an editor at Mexico City’s daily La Jornada and a correspondent at Inter Press, disappeared under mysterious circumstances at a Puerto Escondido beach in 1987. So when True disappeared, President Zedillo offered full assistance and called out the Army. The results have been less than what was promised. Almost as soon as True’s body was discovered, there were leaks to the press indicating that he had been drinking and had fallen to his death. Then Mario Rivas, a veteran Guadalajara pathologist who performed the first autopsy, announced that True had been strangled. There were also reports of sexual abuse. The next time he was confronted by reporters Rivas could say nothing more because there had been orders from above. A second autopsy was performed in Mexico City at the offices of Mexico’s attorney general, with an F.B.I. pathologist from Miami present. While the results were delayed, two Huichol Indians, brothers-inlaw in their twenties, were arrested and charged with True’s murder. According to the first confession, True was killed be cause he was photographing sacred places; according to the second, because he was drunk and might harm their families. Finally, on January 8, the attorney general announced the findings of the second autopsy. They were inconclusive. True had not been strangled, but had died from a blow to the head. There were no signs of sexual abuse. The second autopsy left open the possibility that no murder had ever taken place. It was unlikely the case would ever be resolved, Rivard told the New York Times, and despite all the doubts he was confident that the right suspects were in custody. What happened out in the Sierra, he said, was something like Deliverance, a reference to the James Dickey novel and movie about a group of male friends who meet up with some truly bad ol’ boys out in the woods. There is something about this story that goes far beyond the realm of an unsolvable mystery. This is a story about myths myths about journalists, about Indians, about gringos, myths about wilderness and solitude, and myths about drugs the all-purpose cultural, political, economic and political myth of “civilization” at the close of the millennium. Groping for an answer, Arnoldo Kraus, an insightful physician who writes for La Jornada, decided that all the twists and turns and mysteries of the case of Philip True are the perfect metaphor for Mexico itself: “According to the autopsies, True had two deaths. Although nothing surprises us anymore, two deaths in a single person, hopefully, is still cause for disbelief.” In Mexico, everyone knows that nothing happens until after it happens. Something happened to Philip True. Barbara Belejack is a writer living in Mexico City. MARY NELL MATHIS C.P.A., 20 years’ experience in tax, litigation support, and other analy ses. 901 Rio Grande, Austin, TX, FEBRUARY 5, 1999 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23
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