Foreigners Contradict Mexico Story
ISAAC A. LEVI
Apr. 14, 1998
MEXICO CITY (AP) _ Foreigners expelled from Mexico on Monday said they were ousted because they witnessed a large-scale military operation to shut down a maverick town council in the conflict-ridden southern state of Chiapas.
Chiapas Gov. Roberto Albores Guillen and federal officials said the foreigners were advised they had violated immigration laws by allegedly helping rebel sympathizers set up a parallel town council in Taniperlas, broken up Saturday in a pre-dawn raid by 750 police and army troops.
``As far as I can see, we were witnesses to a large-scale military incursion, and that's the last thing they wanted us to see,'' said Jeffrey Conant, 30, one of the deported Americans.
Leftist Zapatista rebels staged a brief armed uprising in Chiapas in 1994, demanding improved rights and living conditions for the region's impoverished Indian peasants. Peace talks between the government and rebels have been stalled since August 1996.
The maverick township established Friday in Taniperlas supported the rebels.
Travis Loller, another of the three deported Americans, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press she saw the column enter the town and ``hundreds of heavily-armed men in blue and black (police) uniforms jump off trucks'' at the head of the convoy.
Albores Guillen says the first columns of state police were unarmed.
For two days, immigration police refused to tell the foreigners why they were arrested or allow them lawyers.
Loller, 26, of San Francisco, said she was pushed to the ground by a uniformed police officer in the first moments of the raid. ``He said if I had sex with him I could go free,'' Loller said.
Conant said ``none of us were wounded, but we were bruised, pushed along the with rifle butts and kicked along the ground.''
Officials said the deported foreigners were not mistreated.
Conant said they were flown on a small plane to Mexico City, where they were detained in ``a small, windowless room'' for several hours.
``We talked to the consulate, and found we were going to be deported, but we were never given a reason why,'' said Conant, who said he had been in Chiapas since November as an independent human rights observer.
Loller said she, Conant and another American, Michael Savato, had visited a forest park and Mayan ruins on a trail outside of Taniperlas on Friday, and had to stay in the town Friday night because no buses were running back to San Cristobal due to Holy Week celebrations.
Speaking after arriving at Madrid's Barajas airport on Monday, one of four expelled Spaniards said the government did not want witnesses in its war on the Indians.
``We could see how the police and the army entered the town ... attacking the Indians, and all of the foreigners were beaten and arrested to avoid our being witnesses to them burning the native's houses,'' Maria Pilar Lopez Castillejo said.
Lopez Castillejo, Marta Sanchez Zaragoza, Olga Claveria Iranzo and Julen Cobos Errasti said they were on an observation committee for human rights.
The others included two Canadians, Julie Marquette and Sarah Mireille Baillargeon; two Belgians, Charles Marie Lambot Gautier and Jean Dominique Bergere, and a German, Marion Silke Ladich.
Foreign Secretary Rosario Green claimed the government was fully justified in its actions. ``The foreigners were expelled because they violated Mexican laws,'' she said.
``I think that if any of us went to another country to incite and help set up absolutely illegal parallel authorities you would face difficulties greater than a mere expulsion,'' she added.
In Washington, State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said Monday the the Clinton administrations hopes ``that foreign observers will continue to be permitted to travel to Chiapas or to live and work there to conduct activities that are consistent with Mexican sovereignty and respect Mexican law.''
Meanwhile, a peasant organization said Monday that military and state police forces broke up a protest against the security presence on Sunday, injuring two local rebel sympathizers.
Marcelino Jimenez Ruiz, president of the Rural Association of Collective Interest, said in a statement that soldiers and police fired tear gas and discharged their weapons near the protesters. Details on the injuries and conditions of the two people were not available.