COHA Libels the Zapatistas

The Washington DC-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) demonstrated this week that the “liberal” beltway may be paved with good intentions… but it still leads to hell.

A “do gooder” organization run by veteran Latin America watcher Larry Birns, COHA uses interns, mainly fresh out of college, to write drafts of its research reports that are distributed widely to the press on news and politics throughout the hemisphere. Typically, according to former interns, the draft then goes to Birns’ desk for final editing. Many of these reports have often been helpful in putting forward accurate information. Others, sometimes, miss the mark to embarrassing extremes.

When reporting on political movements of economically impoverished peoples South of the Border – who, after all, get so little accurate press coverage North of the Border, and deserve better – a gringo organization like COHA has a special responsibility to get it right. The consequences may not be felt over at Connecticut Avenue N.W. But they are felt from below, often in the form of arrest, imprisonment, torture and murder. Especially if those accusations involve narco-trafficking smears or invented associations with corrupt former narco-presidents, as COHA grievously committed this week in its “press release” that purports to be about Mexico and the recent Zapatista red alert…. The COHA document even has a bizarre title: Zapatistas Issue A General Red Alert: Resurfacing Unwanted Memories in Mexico. (Is that the title of a research report? Or of a self-help book on repressed memory syndrome?) The essay is purportedly about the Mexican government and the indigenous rebel Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN, in its Spanish initials).

But scratch the surface, and the COHA “press release” uses knowing falsehoods to call for a violent permanent solution in the war of extinction against Mexico’s indigenous minority.

The tome is purportedly authored by COHA “research associate” Federico Lozano. A Google search shows that Lozano has zero public experience analyzing the theme (COHA, however, offers the rookie “zapa-expert” for press interviews in English and Spanish to gullible reporters).

And yet, his report, largely based on conjecture, repeats one recent narco-smear against the indigenous movement while dredging up an aged discredited smear of association with political criminals that had been pushed a decade ago by the Mexican government, but rejected by Civil Society and Authentic Journalists as absurd and untrue.

Repeat of a Narco-Smear

According to COHA, last month’s Zapatista Red Alert “announcement followed a statement on March 19 (sic: the statement was in June, not March) by units of the Mexican armed forces stationed in Chiapas, boasting of  their destruction of 44 marihuana  plantations ‘within the area of influence of the rebel group, best  known as EZLN.’ However, on June 23, Rubén Aguilar, a government spokesperson, fully retracted the earlier statement, noting that the plantations were actually out of the EZLN’s range. This retraction most likely came out of fear of the General Red Alert’s possible destabilizing consequences on Mexico’s present political and economic status quo.”

That is a demonstrably false statement by COHA. The Mexican government’s retraction of the narco smear became necessary because the original claim had been proved by journalists to be untrue, causing a major public embarrassment for Mexico’s government.

Aguilar is the presidential press secretary for Vicente Fox. He did correct the false statements by his government’s secretaries of Defense, and of State, on June 23, but not “out of fear of the… destabilizing consequences.” Rather, he corrected them because the original claims had been widely demonstrated in the national and international press to have been invented and based on false geography.

The day before that retraction, on June 22, the Mexican national daily La Jornada’s Hermann Bellinghausen authored a story, “Defense Secretary Confuses Zapatista Geography,” documenting that the marijuana fields were well outside of Zapatista territory. Narco News, also on June 22, translated excerpts from Bellinghausen’s report, and added some additional investigation and analysis of our own: “Mexico: The False Narco-Smear Against the Zapatistas.” Other news agencies, in Spanish, English, and other languages, swarmed upon the correction, too.

The following day, June 23, many reporters were thus clamoring to Fox’s presidential press secretary to explain the factual and geographic discrepancies. That’s what led to the retraction: the government’s fear of having been caught in a lie. Not its fear of “destabilizing consequences” of the Zapatista red alert, as COHA invented out of thin air.

A McCarthyist Attack

In a particularly slimy section of the COHA press release, titled “Suspicious Origins,” COHA claims:

“The fact that several of Mexico’s most criticized political leaders have been allegedly linked to the origins of the EZLN, if true, makes the Zapatista movement more than just a cause in search of indigenous rights.  One of these is Raúl Salinas, the ex-president’s elder brother…”

Did you catch that phraseology, kind reader? Note the special manipulation of words: “The fact… if true.”

The writer wants you to believe a piece of gossip that he can’t prove. And so he begins by stating it is a “fact” then burying his qualification of it with the afterthought, “if true.” He knows damn well it is not true. But he repeats the big lie – infusing it with the power of “fact."

Later in the COHA press release, after flying with a bizarre list of possible co-conspirators between the Zapatistas and the Salinas brothers going back three decades, Lozano adds another afterthought: “All of these are allegations, not established facts.” Well, if they are not established facts, why base so much of the analysis on them?

The writer reveals through such sloppiness that he knows that he is spreading a lie. He doesn’t disclose his motives or his personal opinions as to why he wants you to believe a claim that he can’t document. But somehow he got it past Larry Birns and it now has COHA’s imprimatur on it, and the lie has spread halfway around the world before the truth can put its pants on.

The COHA smear continues:

“Raúl Salinas, better know (sic) as the ‘uncomfortable brother,’ has been allegedly linked in national publications to Mexico’s traditional Maoist factions of the 1970s and 1980s. The movements of Antorcha Campesina (Peasant Torch), as well as Política Popular (Popular Politics, PP), were both identified in Mexico’s Proceso magazine as being possible precursors  to the EZLN.”

After all, what would a McCarthy-style “guilt by association” smear be without the obligatory reference to “Maoist factions” and similar commie-hunting terminology?

Here, the Lozano-COHA claim is based whole hog on an article in Mexico’s national weekly magazine, Proceso, and is penned in such a way that reveal’s COHA and Lozano’s ignorance about Mexican political history. For example, the group “Antorcha Campesina” has never been linked, in any way, by any source, to the Zapatistas – and not by the Proceso story, although COHA claims that it did. As Mexicans know, the Antorcha group is transparently a front for the same Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI, in its Spanish initials) that the EZLN took up arms to topple.

As for the “PP” and others of the plethora left wing brigades that existed in Mexico throughout the seventies and eighties, virtually every college activist of that era – many of whom serve in positions of power in all political parties and businesses today – participated in marches or cell-groups and such with radical groups. Does that link them to the Zapatistas or vice versa? Of course not: so why the rhetorical gymnastics to try and fit such garbage into a COHA “press release”?

Lozano seems to be making a “six degrees of separation” conspiracy theory out of thin air. His logic is that if the disgraced Raul Salinas de Gortari and his narco-president brother Carlos were involved with left-wing politics in college, and if some people associated (or not, it’s not documented by Lozano and COHA) with left-wing politics during that same era were also later associated with the Zapatistas, that therefore there are
”suspicious origins,” that according to Lozano and COHA, “make(s) the Zapatista movement more than just a cause for indigenous rights.”

How many things are wrong with that sentence? The Zapatistas have always said openly that they are “more than just a cause for indigenous rights.” Lozano’s “gotcha game” innuendo – as if he is exposing them for not being what they say they are - is unnecessary and inaccurate in tone and in deed. It is, in a word, malicious.

But why doesn’t Lozano just come out and say what he implies: that the evil narco-president Carlos Salinas and his “inconvenient brother” (a better translation of “incómodo,” Federico, than “uncomfortable”) formed the Zapatistas to take up arms against their own government, to destroy their own political party, to lead to the present situation in which both men live under investigation by multiple governments turning them often into a fugitive and a jailbird, and those whacky Salinas brothers have been pulling the strings on the indigenous of Chiapas through them ever since?

Isn’t that the implication? But Lozano can’t say it aloud because it is so patently ridiculous. So, instead, he hints at it, cajoles the reader to distrust this indigenous movement, to sleazily suggest that the Zapatistas are not what they appear to be (as if twelve years of keeping their word, under intense scrutiny, has not proved otherwise).

Worse, Lozano and COHA take what were essentially gossipy asides and afterthoughts in the Proceso magazine story (which were more along the lines of observing the ironic coincidence that Raul Salinas, as a youth, dabbled in leftwing militancy, and a supposed contact between one of those groups and the bishop of Chiapas) and turned them into central theses for their press release.

That there is an upper class of Mexicans that speak and think in English (Vicente Fox being a poster boy, as well as Carlos Salinas, for the oligarchy that fell from grace) is a fact. And it is also a fact that in their lofty circles people have always pushed Zapatista conspiracy theories that “someone must be behind those damn Indians.” It is, essentially, a form of racism, one that believes that “the indigenous obviously could not organize them selves into such a potent force” and therefore, by extension, there must be some white shadowy figure behind them.

The Mexican and U.S. intelligence agencies, and their bosses, have for twelve years pushed these conspiracy theories through those gullible aspiring oligarchs and their brat children in the top universities because, after all, if the Zapatistas are, indeed, what they say they are, that is cause for international shame over how the indigenous have been treated for so many centuries right up through this day. And so the liars from above have pushed these fantastic conspiracy theories, using rent-a-journalists like Bertand LeGrange formerly of Le Monde in France and Maite Rico formerly of El Pais in Spain to pen pseudo-books based on government documents that spin all these hairbrained theories about the Zapatistas and their supposed origins.

(LeGrange and Rico, in particular, made claims, for example, that my good friend and colleague, the Mexican journalist Mario Menendez, when they say he went to the Chiapas jungle as a collaborator with early Zapatista organizers in the 1980s, had offered the Zapatistas a B-52 bomber, courtesy of Fidel Castro, to help with their guerrilla war! The absurdity of such claims has buried the spyware authors in the dustbin of history. Now Lozano and COHA seem eager to jump into the dustbin with them.)

Where does this disrespect and racism toward the indigenous come from? And, more worrisome, how does COHA end up endorsing such vicious libels?

Lozano’s Transparent Call for State Violence

The transparent agenda of the COHA communiqué is revealed by its own words. It says, in the subheadlines:

“Mexico must resolve the matter of the EZLN’s status soon if the country wants to increase investor confidence and participate in the world market as a credible international player.”

Those are bone-chilling words, evocative of Chase Manhattan bank’s 1995 memorandum calling on the Mexican state to crush the Zapatista rebellion. That memo said:

"The government will have to eliminate the Zapatistas to demonstrate their effective control of the national territory and security policy."

Lozano, humming in harmony with that 1995 attempt to goad the Mexican government into a violent “final solution” to eliminate the Zapatistas militarily, says essentially the same thing, suggesting to Mexican President Fox that he will be remembered kindly by history if he would just commit a little bit of genocide:

“If the situation does not change in the near future, the tensions will mount until confrontations with the Zapatista fighters become inevitable, offsetting Fox’s persistent efforts to make Mexico a stable and safe environment for investors…  In fact, Fox may even conclude that an armed encounter with the Zapatistas might be a good thing for his image as well as for his legacy, once he steps down. Fellow Mexicans might be prepared to say (according to Fox’s way of thinking), that the president was willing to preserve Mexico’s sovereignty and cohesiveness at any cost.”

(The implication that the Zapatistas are somehow a threat to “Mexico’s sovereignty and cohesiveness” - as if Mexico currently has either sovereignty or cohesiveness, in any real sense - is also based on thin air. It does not reflect anything close to reality.)

Lozano and COHA continue:

“…if Mexico wants to be perceived internationally as a country that  is prepared to compete against economic heavyweights China and India in international  trade, it will need to resolve the EZLN issue with dispatch. If the country’s politicians fail to do so because of inter-party wrangling and internal power struggles, Mexico’s highly applauded, if often contested, steps toward development, which began with the creation of NAFTA (North American  Free Trade Agreement) in 1994, will soon be rapidly diminished.”

There it is. COHA argues for a violent final solution to exterminate the indigenous Zapatistas of Chiapas, in order to save the “applauded” North American Free Trade Agreement.

COHA’s every press release contains the claim that the organization was praised in the U.S. Congress as “one of the nation’s most respected bodies of scholars and policy makers.”

After this falsehood-filled smear job against the Zapatistas, and its bloody call on a violent state to “resolve the EZLN issue with dispatch,” COHA is far less respected today.

COHA owes an apology not only to the Zapatista Army of National Liberation but also to all the indigenous subsistence-level farmers that make up its bases in Chiapas, Mexico, and elsewhere.

To call a poor person a narco, or to claim an association exists between him or her and an accused narco-trafficking politician, is per se defamatory. It places innocent people at greater risk of imprisonment and torture. It is unfair. It is bullying behavior, based on falsehood, mirroring U.S. policy toward Latin America, emanating from Washington with the same bigotries and injustices that COHA claims to oppose. The lie stops here.

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About Al Giordano


Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.