Media must not let light on Chiapas die

Christmas day is memorable for the vast majority of Americans. It’s a time generally reserved for relaxation, celebration and goodwill.
This year my Christmas was exceptionally memorable, as I spent the day in the mountains of Chiapas, Mexico attending the funeral of 45 murdered indigenous Mayans. I will never forget the sights and sounds of the aftermath of the most brutal event that I have ever personally witnessed.
The day etched a picture in my mind that I cannot, and will not, ever escape. Life would be a lot easier if I could black this entire event out of my mind and forget that innocent people were murdered 12 miles away from that uncomfortable hotel bed where I was sleeping.
I would like to forget the dirty face and huge brown eyes of that bedraggled little boy with the muddy rubber boots who I saw at the funeral. I would like to forget the way he sat alone and leaned on a tree with a stare of utter bewilderment as his parents’ coffins were carried down and placed among 43 others. I would like to forget the way that wrinkled old man painstakingly knelt next to the coffins of family members for so long he had to be helped to his feet.
And I’ve never smelled 45 corpses after they’ve gone without refrigeration for three days; God knows my life would be easier if I could erase memory. And I wish I hadn’t seen that journalist’s photo of a tiny infant with his head chopped in half by a machete.
The fact is, I cannot, nor will not, ever forget. I experienced it. I saw it. I smelled it. I felt it. I feared it.
Christmas 1997 completely turned my frame of reference upside down. My ideas about the decency of humankind, the way I took for granted the peace of mind and safety I feel as a North American and my attitude about world governments have all been changed.
Sure, I knew before I traveled to Mexico that its politics and government, just like many countries of the world, are corrupt. But not until I saw it first hand did I truly understand the magnitude of that corruption. Honestly, I am a young idealist. The world, and all of its opportunities, is at my front door just waiting for me to take advantage. Now I realize more than ever that with these opportunities come many horrible and frightening possibilities. However ugly they may be, we must not ignore them.
I applauded the prompt arrival of the media in San Cristobal de Las Casas after the massacre in Acteal on Dec. 22. I felt some sense of justice would be realized as dozens of journalists attended the funeral, and thousands of photographs were taken.
This event, I thought to myself, is going to shift the world’s attention to the grave problems that have plagued this area of the world for so very long. I was partially right in my assumptions. The world’s attention did shift to Chiapas, but only for the immediate aftermath of the massacre that tore apart an entire village.
These 45 individuals are not the first nor the last casualties of the economic, social and political struggles in the area. The violence and bloodshed in Chiapas has continued since the massacre on Dec. 22, but press coverage has been basically nonexistent.
More than a month after the murder of one American businessman in Mexico City, it is still possible to find information about the investigation and prosecution of his killers — common street thugs. However, less than one month after the massacre of 45 Mexican people, there is very little in our media about the investigation of a massacre for which the government of one of our largest trading partners may or may not be partially responsible.
I have had to look to online Mexican newspapers to find information. Before I left Mexico, I repeatedly heard villagers in Chenalho complaining that the same people who were investigating this massacre were the people who planned it. I feel as though a legitimate investigation will not be carried out, nor will blame be placed on those truly responsible unless we, the people and media of the United States, continue to focus on this region.
Adequate media coverage is our best weapon against corruption. We need to let the Mexican government know that the violent death of 15 children, 20 women and 10 men will not be forgotten.
As readers and followers of this event, you need not understand the specifics of the complex and long-standing political situation in Mexico to want to see that justice is carried out. Imagine the people and their faces, the violence they experienced and the hellish fear they must have felt as they tried to outrun their killers.
Our continued attention is the only way that all those responsible — the ones who organized this massacre, the people who carried out the task and those who funded the weapons — will be brought to justice.
Eileen Mackey is a graduate student in the Program in Teaching English as a Second Language. She will give a presentation on her experience in Chiapas at 10:30 a.m., Feb. 7, at the Resource Center of the Americas.