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The Prism

Eye on the Media
  by David Kirsh

Maria's expulsion and its coverage

I was somewhat surprised to hear Maria Darlington's name on the Pacifica Evening News on February 11. According to a woman being interviewed by Pacifica, the Mexican government's expulsion was unprecedented not only because her deportation was immediate but also because no one knew where she was. Immediate expulsions from Mexico are not unprecedented, according to experienced observers of Mexico, although they are not standard operating procedure.

Maria, who has written on Chiapas for the Prism (Oct. 97, Feb. 98), was safe in McAllen, Texas and had not been physically mistreated. I didn't know that on the night of the report. I learned it the next day after others, such as the Prism's Jeff Saviano and local peace activist Dirk Spruyt, had located her.

I called the News & Observer reporter who I discovered was trying to gather a story for the Feb. 12 paper. He wanted to find Maria to get the details of her expulsion. I couldn't help him with that but I pointed out that the situation in Chiapas would need to be explained in order to make clear to readers why she was being thrown out.

I was referring to the fact that in the aftermath of the Christmas massacre of 45 people (mostly women and children) at La Acteal, the Mexican military was intervening—not against the paramilitary death squads who were carrying out terror in Chiapas—but rather against unarmed indigenous civilians. Since January, the military has been conducting "sweeps" of Zapatista-sympathizing villages during which soldiers make house to house searches. International observers and human rights workers serve as witnesses and therefore to some extent may discourage abuses and atrocities. Deportation of foreigners from Chiapas serves to clear the decks for the military and paramilitaries to act with impunity.

The reporter's response to my suggestion about this point was that maybe such context could be provided in a longer article giving background but for now he just wanted the immediate facts of the event. The Feb. 12 and 20 N&O articles do give the Mexican government's reason for the deportation of Maria: she participated in an anti-government demonstration in Chiapas last April.

The Mexican government held a press conference expressly about Maria's deportation and in it showed as evidence a videotape of Maria holding a banner with the likeness of Emiliano Zapata.

Maria told me that she was watching that demonstration in San Cristobal, Chiapas, last April. A North American woman who was holding the Zapata banner asked her, "Could you please hold this while I get a drink?" Maria obliged. The woman never returned.

Maria was shown the video when she was interviewed by Mexican Immigration shortly before her forced exit. The camera shows her from the back with her hand on the pole, but the thirsty woman is not shown with the banner.

"I feel 99% sure I was set up." There is also a question of whether the thirsty North American was an employee of the US, or the Mexican government. Does anyone think Mexican labor is scarce in Mexico and a gringa could be hired at a lower wage?

The News & Observer articles both stated that Maria Darlington "is active in a Durham organization called Witness for Peace which promotes humanitarian, social-justice and political causes in Central America." Maria tells me that this is not true, much as she appreciates the work of WfP.

Incidentally, Weekly News Update on the Americas (Jan. 11) relates that the Mexican newsweekly Proceso (Jan. 4) has published secret Mexican military plans from 1994 to create paramilitary organizations in Chiapas.

The Mexican government has charged a paramilitary group called Red Mask with the Acteal massacre but denies supporting paramilitaries, as human rights groups, the local Catholic diocese and the Zapatistas have alleged. However, the plan proposes to "secretly organize certain sectors of the civilian population, including ranchers, small business owners and individuals characterized by a strong sense of patriotism, who will be employed under orders in support of our operations."

Power from the People!

What would it be like for Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Orange County to have its own cable TV system—and get out from under the dictatorship of TimeWarner? This is a ridiculous pipe-dream. Or maybe not.

I must thank Eva Metzger of People's Channel for tipping me off that there were some towns in the US that are already providing their own cable TV systems. Wait—it's better than that!

If you have internet access, go to: and check it out. Glasgow, KY is a rural town of 14,000, yet it provides not only cable connection, but e-mail and internet, dial tone and electricity. And provides technical back-up, too.

You can find out about Tacoma, WA through the internet as well. I've already contacted some local officials to propose that our area unplug from TimeWarner and maybe BellSouth and Duke Power too.

WUNC-FM drops its filters—for an instant

It was something the state's richest and most powerful public radio station scorned to do when an ad hoc coalition of grassroots groups led by Balance & Accuracy in Journalism suggested it in 1993.

During Duke University's Iraq Awareness Week (Feb.17), two bombing opponents were allowed to comment live about the reasons for their opposition to the Clinton Administration's intentions to destroy yet more of Iraq.

Just as Iraq Action Coalition's Rania Masri was saying, "If the Administration starts bombing Iraq it would be a crime. . .," the audio was abruptly and quite mysteriously cut off for several seconds. Rania told me that the beginning of the words that WUNC listeners were not privy to listen to were, ". . . under international law."

Perhaps equally surprising for WUNC was the eloquent morning commentary by Tariq Nasir stating his opposition to the anticipated bombing on the basis of his having lived through a bombing in Jerusalem during the Six Day War in 1967 and having experienced loss of all his family's possessions.

Let's hope that we can get more sustained discussion of this sort in the form of regular programming at WUNC. The station could probably stand some praise and prodding.


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