We at FIU all remember the disturbing episode that shook our hemisphere and most of the world at the beginning of the year: More than 40 Indians were killed in one night in Acteal, a small town in Chiapas, Mexico. This news would have not been so shattering had the killings not been made by a paramilitary arm of the Mexican Armed Forces, the military body which by definition defends the homeland and its people. News of the massacre spread like wildfire all over the globe, only to ignite a series of protests and cries against injustice from Mexico to the US, from Spain to Italy, from Argentina to Colombia. The world was startled to see the Mexican government taking part in such horrendous acts of cold-blooded assassination against defenseless Mexican Indians.
It was not after a few days that we learned in more detail some of the reasons behind the killings. Many reports shed light on the divergences between Indian groups within Chiapas, and about the existing conflicts between pro-guerrilla and con-guerrilla Indians. To be sure, paramilitary soldiers had been active in the massacre but the reasons behind the acts seemed more complex than it was thought at first. For the purposes of this article, let me make clear my point: international protest was impressively quick to arise after the slaying of more than 40 Chiapan Indians whom it is still today not clear whether were part of the Zapatista Guerrillas, an armed revolutionary movement which has engaged in a quasi-civil war with the Mexican Armed Forces over the last 5 years or so.
On July 13, 1994, another incident occurred where 41 people died. That morning a tugboat carrying more than 70 Cuban citizens was trying to reach international waters. As soon as it left the harbor in Havana other ships followed it and eventually sunk it, seven miles away from the coast. Out of 41 deaths, 10 were minors and many others were women. No one was armed.
The day this incident happened. I was spending my holidays in Spain, bathing under the Mediterranean sun. No popular demonstrations were organized to protest the Cuban state's boats attacking and assassinating --even by omission, if you please-- 41 unarmed civilians. I can't recall any sort of public outrage in Europe or even the U.S. --leave apart Miami and New Jersey-- in response to such cold-blooded assassinations. The international response to the killings was, at most, timid.
Again, let me present my point in a clearer way: the killings of the 13 de Marzo, many of which were women and children, by Cuban State boats passed through the newswires without raising the public voice in the international arena. As an anecdote, we recently saw the surprise the American public received when they learned about this incident only a few weeks ago, during the Popes visit to Cuba.
The obvious question arises: why was there such widespread angered response in one case, and such widespread passivity in another? There are as many responses to this question as political tendencies in the planet. Unfortunately, I have the impression that even in the case of a massacre, like these two were, politics take the stand and prevent the public from seeing through the curtain of partisanship. A friend of mine argued that the left is extremely efficient in propagating favorable news, whereas the right is not. Others might argue that the conflicts in Chiapas are more trendy and thus attract more attention than the everlasting case of Cuba, which is seen by many as routine. In any case, I must admit a certain degree of embarrassment when I see how a massacre occurring during an armed conflict is given more attention than a massacre where unarmed civilians, many of them women and children, are forced into the sea inside the engine rooms of a sinking ship. Both situations are located in the spectrum of state terrorism, and both situations are worth energetic international condemnation.
The Mexican government, forced by these protests or out of a will for justice (the reasons are not relevant for this article), quickly investigated the case and found most, if not all, the perpetrators of the killings. Even the regional political establishment trembled during the investigations. On the other hand, the Cuban government not only did not investigate the incident but blamed the escaping civilians for their own deaths. Even after Amnesty International requested the government to dig further in the case it continued ignoring the situation. The result was that the perpetrators of the 13 de Marzo killings were never brought to justice and continue their lives with impunity.
In this article I am not implying that Cuban deaths have priority over Mexican deaths, neither that the Mexican government is fairer than its Cuban counterpart. These are issues for another commentator. Here I am simply appealing to common sense: do we care that much for human rights after all? Do we really think these are important matters, the lives of 40 people? Are we imposing too much of a political hue on a matter of mainly extrapolitical origins? Politics are impossible to disassociate from human rights. Nevertheless, we should be able to grasp where is the limit between the two.
Copyright © 1998 yara!
Copyright © 1998 yara!