Mexico, Lies, and Video: Police Nabbed in Killing

As in a recent California incident, the attack on a popular activist is captured on tape

SUNDAYS at Tepoztlan are usually festive days. Partly an artist colony, partly a hotbed of leftist thinking, and partly a typical Mexican pueblo, this town hosts throngs of visitors from nearby Mexico City on weekends. They come to take in the relatively unpolluted air and enjoy the view of high cliffs to one side and a relatively unspoiled rural valley to the other.

This past April 14 was different, however. Tepoztlan should have been celebrating the previous day's announcement that the exclusive golf and country club project, which many here had fought, was cancelled. But Tepoztlan instead was in mourning.

On April 10 one of the town's most venerated activists, Marcos Olmedo Gutierrez, was shot dead by police as he made his way with other Tepoztecos to a commemoration of the Mexican revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata, who himself died in an ambush by authorities 77 years ago.

Mr. Olmedo, a sexagenarian who founded the local chapter of the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution, helped organize the town roadblocks, city hall sieges, and alternative local elections that stalled the job-creating but too-exclusive golf project that locals considered a "violation of the land."

On April 14, after a "last walk" through familiar surroundings accompanied by flowers, loved ones, and a few tambourines, Olmedo was laid to rest.

The effect on the town was palpable. Dusty parking lots, which normally would be brimming with the vehicles of out-of-towners, sat empty - as did the terraced restaurants where visitors often spend part of their afternoon.

The shops were open. Many displayed, like a wanted poster, a photocopied portrait of the regional governor, Jorge Carrillo Olea, along with a typed condemnation of one more death in Mexico of an unarmed demonstrator at the hands of heavily armed police. Yet the weekend artisan street market was eerily quiet, with but a few foreign tourists looking over the pottery, wooden carvings, glassware, and clothing.

From the moment word of Olmedo's death got around Tepotzlan, people were calling it "Aguas Blancas II," after the police ambush last June in Aguas Blancas, Guerrero, of a convoy of political activists in which 17 campesinos (peasants) were murdered.

Governor Carrillo denied the resemblance between the two events, but locals begged to differ: For one thing, in both cases video recordings of the ambushes turned up and disproved initial pronouncements of local authorities that the police were simply acting in self-defense.

The existence of a video recording encouraged some comparison of the Olmedo killing with the beating earlier this month of two undocumented Mexican migrants at the hands of Riverside County, Calif., sheriff deputies - an event that was also captured on videotape. Before and even after the April 10 ambush of Olmedo, many Mexican political commentators and elected officials - often most strident among them members of the ruling PRI party - filled the nation's front pages and news hours with indignant diatribes on the lack of human rights for Mexicans seeking employment in the US.

THIS stone-throwing left little time or space for self-scrutiny, but a few observers bucked the crowd in their juxtaposition of the two events.

"How the hypocrisy of our condemnation of American authorities surges forth when we don't even bat an eye at the barbarity of our own local officers!" wrote respected columnist Miguel Angel Granados Chapa on April 14 in the Mexico City daily Reforma, in a column entitled "Death, Lies, and Videotape."

In a sad commentary, one Tepozteco said the fury over events in Riverside County reflected an expectation of something better from the US, while deaths of campesinos at the hands of other Mexicans was, if not accepted, at least nothing new.

As one shopowner said from a store bereft of any browsers, "People were afraid to come after what happened last week. But at least they've cancelled the golf club, so maybe now things can get back to normal."

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