In Mexico's Guerrero state, poverty surrounded by luxury foments violence

September 17, 1995|By Los Angeles Times

PASO REAL, Mexico -- Just eight miles up a rutted mountain road from the modern highway linking glitzy Acapulco with the new Ixtapa resort sits a concrete mausoleum for five men who lived and died in a Mexico that few international beach-goers will ever know.

This Mexico is so poor that peasants must sell pigs to buy fertilizer, so unsafe that, for fear of robbers, they dare not carry cash from those sales with them when they go to the county seat for supplies.

And it is so violent that even such a precaution ultimately did not protect them.

All five died in June in a massacre that the federal government's National Human Rights Commission blames on the government of the state of Guerrero.

In a report widely lauded as the federal agency's most thorough investigation of human rights abuses, the commission called for the firings of nine state officials and police. It stopped short of demanding that Gov. Ruben Figueroa resign.

It also drew attention to "the conditions of poverty, marginality, isolation and insecurity suffered in various zones in the state of Guerrero, where promised solutions have been long postponed, producing disappointment in some cases and, in others, irritation and desperation."

Guerrero is Mexico's third-poorest state, following Oaxaca and Chiapas -- where a rebellion has simmered for 20 months -- and by reputation, its most violent.

Add to that mix the proliferation of high-powered weapons linked to a flourishing drug trade, and it is clear why government officials privately worry that Guerrero could erupt in guerrilla war just as Chiapas did.

Guerrero's rugged mountains, extending to a coastline of hidden coves, combined with the seething resentment of impoverished

farmers living so close to the wealth of two international resorts, makes the state an incubator for rebellion, analysts say.

"Maintaining Acapulco as a first-class resort takes a lot of the state's investment," said Vicente Diaz Fuentes, a longtime Guerrero politician for the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party.

"That creates a lot of inequality. Look at the Highway of the Sun [the four-lane toll road from Mexico City to Acapulco]."

In contrast, farmers have barely passable dirt roads for getting their products to market.

Besides the tourists, there are the "caciques," or local political bosses. Since the Mexican revolution at the beginning of this century, Guerrero has been run by families such as the Figueroas -- ancestors of the current governor -- the Ruizes and the Massieus, who married into the family of former President Carols Salinas de Gortari. A host of lesser-known families control rural areas throughout the state.

"The caciques have all the economic power," said Mr. Diaz Fuentes. "This produces a lot of resentment among the peasant population."

The result is a smoldering anger.

"Guerrero has been one of the states where development has fallen behind," said Pindaro Uriostegui, leader of the state's congressional delegation.

He added: "The state has constantly been attacked by armies from the center of the country because it has been a focal point for rebellion. That has created a tradition of struggle that has made people combative."

That tension may have cost the five men from Paso Real their lives.

Florente Rafael Ventura, a 35-year-old father of five children, thought he was lucky that day in June when he saw two truckloads of farmers from the neighboring town of Tepetixtla traveling down the road to a protest march at Atoyac de Alvarez.

Mr. Ventura had sold a pig earlier in the week to a butcher from the county seat of Coyuca de Benitez. He asked his customer to keep the money for him until he could get into town to buy fertilizer. The march gave him a chance to go. The protesters would pass though Coyuca de Benitez on their way, and he could get a ride down the hill.

He and four of his neighbors -- Jose Rebolledo, Fabian Gallardo, Gregorio Analco and Amado Sanchez -- jumped on to the back of one truck. They had almost reached Aguas Blancas, halfway to Coyuca de Benitez, when the trucks were stopped at a police blockade.

Mr. Analco, who was riding on the bumper, clinging to the back of the truck, got down. A policeman told him to get back on the truck and jabbed him with a rifle, according to witnesses. The gun went off and Mr. Analco fell to the ground. Another man tried to help him and the policeman shot him also, witnesses said.

Suddenly police were firing. People cowered inside the trucks for cover, and those on the outside ran. Within minutes, 14 people were killed. Three more died later, including Mr. Ventura.

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