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LAS AMERICAS F fifteen years ago, in early 1987, I journeyed to the capital of the southern state of Oaxaca, searching for a massacre. At an activist farmers’ con ference in the north, a young campesino had painstakingly written out on ruled schoolbook paper for me, the names of 28 men, their 22 widows, and the 70 orphan children they had left behind when they were ambushed in the southern sierra of Oaxaca on April 11, 1986, by armed men from a rival village. Oscar had seen the rigid, bloodcaked bodies sprawled everywhere in the forest with his own eyes and he gave me the address of lawyers in the Oaxaca capital who knew of the killings. The lawyers, in turn, drew me a map and told me where to find the bus that would take me to Santa Maria Zanisa in the district of Sola de Vega, a heavily forested region in the mountains above the Pacific beach towns of Puerto Escondido and Puerto Angel, where Zapotec Indians, Mixtecos, Chatinos, and Mestizos live in isolated and often rival communities. Be careful who you talk to, the lawyers warned me. But in Santa Maria Zanisa no one would talk to me about what had happened that April day when men with guns from Amoltepec had lain in wait in the forest, the ownership of which has long been in dispute. The killings were already six months old when I came to Zanisa and the bones of the dead had grown cold in the town graveyard. Instead of a story, I wrote a sad poem and went away. Today, in 2002, the man who was convicted of organizing that murderous attack, Antonio Roque, is the municipal president of Amoltepec. He arrived at that position after spending the past 13 years in the state penitentiary, where he led a prison uprising that resulted in an additional 10 deaths. In the district of Sola de Vega, where 300 campesinos have been killed in such blood feuds since 1935, men like Antonio Roque, who are prepared to kill to defend their village lands, are heroes. The killings were already six months old when I came to Zanisa and the bones of the dead had grown cold in the town graveyard. Instead of a story, I wrote a sad poem and went away. The violence and bloodshed has never abated. Gunfire again broke out last month when 28 men and boys from the Zapotec community of Xochiltepec returned from work at the sawmill in the next county. As the workers, with their paychecks in their hands, rode home, the dump truck rounded the curve at the stop called Agua Fria trees and blasted away with automatic weapons. Then they forced the driver, who was not from Xochiltepec, to dump the dead and dying out on the ground, where the killers supplied those who were still alive with coups de grace and stripped them of their earnings, before disappearing back into the forest. The vital statistics were no less horrific than at Zanisa 16 years before and just a few miles west of Agua Fria-26 dead, 16 widows, 87 orphans. Massacres are measured by such score cards in Mexico. It took state police a day to reach the crime scene from the capital 300 kilometers awaythey explained that they had no money for gas. Then they rounded up 17 men and boys from a settlement two mountains away, Las Huertas, and hauled them off to the state penitentiary. The villagers of Las Huertas complain that the police broke into their homes and stole money. Such massacres have persisted in the district of Sola de Vega ever since the Conquest. In 1725, theSpanish Crown awarded the forest to one town \(Textitlan, the jurisdiction to which another \(Teojomulco, the jurisdiction to tle was on. In this century, the bodies of Indians have continued to. fall. In 1935, after land reform under President Lizaro Cardenas rearranged ownership of forest lands in the region, 20 Indians were evisceratedmachetes and not machine guns were the weapons of choice back then. In 1954, a score more were sacri ficed in the war in the forest, which now had been joined by five municipalities and countless villages. In 1986, Amoltepec went up against Zanisa and 28 were killed. In 1996, 10 died in a gunfight between Teojomulco and Texmelucan, another ancient rivalry, and in 1998, 14 more fell when Teojomulco and Textitlan faced off. Now it has hap pened again. “Up here, if someone kills your grandfather, you go and kill him. Then his son comes to kill your son. It is never finished,” a veteran campesino from Xochiltepec recently told a big city reporter. Massacres in Mexico BY JOHN ROSS 18 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 6/21/02