|English | Español||August 15, 2018 | Issue #31|
In Battle on the Plains of Heaven
Mexican Hero, Carlos Sánchez López, 49, Assassinated
By Al Giordano
I am still in shock: receiving the news of his brutally violent murder felt as if the brick was slammed against my own head, and that of every human being who, defying all Power, risks his and her life to assert the will of the people over the imposed will of the tyrants.
His assassins, however, do not – they cannot possibly – understand the consequences of their evil deed, and the backlash they have just unleashed now comes hunting for them: Men like Carlos Sánchez never die. They come back from the tomb to exact justice from a thousand directions through the beating hearts and relentless fists of those of us left here to carry on.
Carlos Sánchez was my friend and colleague, and so I, like so many others, owe him justice. His friendship found me on a 100-degree summer afternoon in 1997 when I crossed through a door with a red star upon it on Avenida Cinco de Mayo in Juchitán de Zaragosa, in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. He was almost always there, at the headquarters of the Coalition of Workers, Farmers and Students of the Isthmus, the legendary COCEI, in its Spanish initials, the organization founded by Carlos when he was in his twenties and that delivered the first major defeat to one-party rule in Mexico, back in 1982.
I, a younger man than today, was just beginning to enter the worlds of indigenous Mexico, had wanted to hear the full story of how this bilingual city – where Zapotec and Spanish are spoken interchangeably, today still – had fought the dictatorship and won. After some days of reading the documents in the city’s House of Culture it was clear that this was the man I had to see, the one who lived it, the source artist who could teach me how it was done.
Crossing the threshold into his brick-and-rubble “war room,” I had entered a world from which I never came back. There, I was presented to Carlos Sánchez López. His face, his firm handshake, his eyes, the smile emanating from below his jet-black mustache, above his red-and-gold kerchief, were immediately recognizable: Carlos was like one of those swashbuckling union organizers from a Steinbeck novel – like Mac, or Jim, or Doc from In Dubious Battle – ready to take any and every struggle to the ultimate consequences. His enemies knew that about him. They feared and hated him, this brilliant labor lawyer who always lived in poverty, who gave all he had: “Everything for everybody, nothing for ourselves.”
In my experience, Carlos was one of the half-dozen most effective political organizers in the entire Mexican nation of 100 million people. He was, in recent weeks, it became clear: the man who perhaps most stood in the way of the colonial plans to turn his dear Isthmus into a “Panama canal of the land,” part of what is known as “Plan Puebla Panamá.” I wrote briefly about Carlos on these pages in the Spring of 2001. I now wish I had written more, provided him with more visibility. The images of other friends and social fighters like him, still alive, flash in my brain with urgency. To them we must, and will, provide the armor of brighter sunlight. And we must make sure that the intellectual authors of Carlos’ assassination live to regret their deed, as deterrence against them doing it to the next of us.
No matter what stories are invented by Power – and there are already various, each conflicting with the other – to explain and smear away his assassination as a “robbery,” or a result of his supposed drunkenness, that they’ve supposedly already arrested some poor guy and blamed the murder on him, or some other such pretext (all that is left, now, is to invent the story that he committed suicide bashing that brick against his own head and fracturing his skull multiple times), I know, in my gut, that the order to kill him came from above. The swiftness with which so many convenient lies were invented by state prosecutors and corrupt “journalists” in the hours after his death reveal Power’s desperation to avoid the blame for this war crime: Power ought to be worried. The 2,000 people who attended Carlos’ funeral yesterday know the same truth in their hearts: Carlos was assassinated, and now there will be hell to pay.
The dishonest political columnist of the daily Noticias of Oaxaca, Luis Ocejo Martínez, has already tried to piss on Carlos’ tomb, characterizing him as “an intransigent” and “a brute,” and, paradoxically, claiming there is no possible way such a man could have been assassinated for political reasons. Welcome to the Oaxaca press corps, where no lie is too large to invent.
That first day, that first time I shook the hand of Carlos Sánchez, six summers ago, he immediately agreed to an interview but asked that I, first, sit and observe the assembly underway in the COCEI offices: once a week, in those times, any citizen of this largest indigenous city in América and its outlying farm zones could come to the COCEI offices with their problems and seek solution. Carlos chaired the assemblies. One mother has no food for her kids. Another man has broken his back on the job and the boss refuses to compensate him. Carlos, the labor lawyer, took on cases like that one, usually for free, and brought his tremendous force of personality to stare down the bosses and get, for the worker, what was due him under the laws of State and nature.
There are parallels between the assassination this week of Carlos Sánchez and the 1968 assassination, in the United States, of another lawyer: Robert F. Kennedy. Carlos was the younger brother of the leading opposition politician in the state of Oaxaca, Hector Sánchez López, who has been a national senator, congressman and was the 1998 opposition candidate for governor in Mexico’s only state that is majority indigenous. It was Hector who, speaking in Zapotec in the national hall of Congress, introduced the Zapatista delegation in the Spring of 2001, and who helped draft the so-called “Cocopa Law” to codify the indigenous rights treaty known as the San Andrés Accords for peace and autonomy in Chiapas and all indigenous regions.
At Carlos’ invitation, I observed the March 8, 1998, kickoff of his brother Hector’s campaign for governor. As with the Kennedy brothers before them, the younger Carlos was campaign strategist, the one with the maps and the tallies and the historic memory of decades of struggle to organize the state. The election, of course, was lost under a cloud of vote buying and allegations of fraud: the candidate of the ruling Insitutional Revolutionary Party (PRI, in its Spanish initials) José Murat, was declared the victor.
Almost a year later, in May 1999, the elder Sánchez brother, Hector, then a federal Senator, survived an assassination attempt when gunmen fired upon his vehicle in Chalcatongo de Hidalgo, Oaxaca. Hector took a bullet in his leg. His campaign aid, Oscar López Cruz, was shot in the neck, and journalist Isaac Gabriel López Cruz, survived a bullet wound to the head. “The Oaxaca government was behind the attempt,” the Senator told reporters from his hospital bed.
As Senator, Hector was once visited in his Mexico City office – he was the leader of the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) in the upper house – by U.S. Embassy political officer Jan Erik Hall, during the dark Embassy regime of Ambassador Jeffrey Davidow, veteran of the 1973 military coup in Chile. I had arrived at the Senator’s office shortly afterward and saw Hall’s business card on his desk. I asked, “What did he want?” The Senator replied that the Embassy wanted to know what kind of opposition would be offered to the multi-national corporate plan to build a mega-highway across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec: It was not even called “Plan Puebla Panamá” yet, but the Embassy already had a hard-on for this project on another nation’s soil.
The Senator was a source, someone to interview. But his younger brother, Carlos, was my pal. I had been to the Senator’s office. But I had been to Carlos’ house: a house so spartanly furnished, along side the train tracks, that it was clear, this man cared nothing for money or its trappings. Carlos once invited me to his family’s section at a vela, one of the all-night parties that the Zapotec culture is famous for. We spoke for hours amidst the music, the dancing, the abundant Juchitán cuisine, the setting off of fireworks – it was the anniversary of a famous battle in which the people of Juchitán had driven out invading troops from France – and we realized that we had both been in Nicaragua in the 1980s. In fact, Carlos named one of his daughters for a Sandinista Comandanta. During their pre-revolutionary times in exile, Nicaraguan leaders, including Daniel Ortega, had hid out in Juchitán, with Carlos’ help. He had organized truckloads of food and aid from Juchitán to Nicaragua during that era. In Carlos I met someone who had already been my friend, decades before I met him.
Carlos Sánchez, as a young student at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in the nation’s capital, organized occupations of foreign embassies to call attention to the early 1980s battle underway for the autonomy of Juchitán. He was a political prisoner, multiple times. He was never one to put his face in the photo (indeed, it is difficult for me, today, to find photographs of him: even I’ve taken many pictures of his brother, but, somehow, none of Carlos… and now, I never will). But he was the one who was always there, behind the door with the red star on it, ready to solve your and my problems with his keen strategic mind, his legal education, his fearless zest to win the struggles, and his big generous heart.
My friend Barry Crimmins called me yesterday from the United States. “Do you think Carlos’ murder was a warning to you and to others?” Of course it was: a paramilitary style terror campaign is now underway along the route of “Plan Puebla Panamá.” It was escalated last Spring, with the arrest of Carlos Manzo, a founder of the Indigenous National Congress from the town of Union Hidalgo, near Juchitán, and his colleague, Luis Alberto Marín, still in prison.
The Oaxaca governor, José Murat, claims, to the press through his functionaries, that he has nothing to do with any of it. The President of the Republic, Vicente Fox, tries to steer clear of the bloody photo. But here, kind readers, comes the proof that the terror campaign against the social leaders and movements of the Isthmus has its roots in the National Palace.
Manzo, the indigenous leader, is married to a respected academic and social fighter, Sofía Olhovich, who, obviously, has a Russian surname. When Manzo – a leading opponent of “Plan Puebla Panamá” – was arrested for participating in a public protest that blockaded a road, the National Insitute of Immigration office in Salina Cruz, Oaxaca, served notice on Olhovich to report to its offices about supposed violation of her supposed immigrant status. Those brilliant public servants apparently didn’t know: Olhovich is a Mexican citizen, born in this country, the daughter of a former Mexican Ambassador to the Soviet Union. So, obviously, the “migra” had no jurisdiction and quickly shut up about the matter.
But with that action – the use of federal immigration authorities as part of the terror campaign on behalf of “Plan Puebla Panamá” – the Fox administration tipped its hand and revealed its role in imposing the dark and brutal methods of the regimes Fox claimed he would change. Immigration authorities answer only to the president and his Interior Minister, Santiago Creel. When they interfere in social struggles, it is on direct orders of the president and his men (just as Fox’s immigration authorities expelled some gringo students who were in San Salvador Atenco last year during the opening protests against the now-defeated multi-billion dollar airport project, also part of “Plan Puebla Panamá,” just as his predecessor, Ernesto Zedillo, abused the immigration laws to illegally expel 400 journalists and foreign observers on Zapatista lands from Mexico in the 1990s… needless to say, Fox has never expelled his Texan political consultant, Rob Allyn, who worked for him clandestinely for three years here, in the election campaign, on a tourist visa…).
Now the terror campaign has been escalated, and we have lost one of our best social fighters in all América, Carlos Sánchez López (who, not incidentally, was legal counselor to the imprisoned Manzo’s political organization). Some good people are calling for state and national “investigations” into Carlos Sánchez’s assassination. But the game is fixed: you can’t ask the guilty party to investigate itself. And the Fox government is guilty, at very least, of having sent the signal – with the immigration authorities’ harassment of Olhovich – that lawlessness, and not the law, will continue to prevail on Oaxaca’s Isthmus if that is what is required to force the super-highway and its mega-projects for looting the Mexican Southeast through it. Fox might as well have placed a bounty upon the head of Carlos Sánchez López. The signal was sent: there will be no protection from the national government: greed can get away with murder in Oaxaca, with impunity, if it serves the foreign interests behind “Plan Puebla Panamá.”.
And so, my surviving friends, today we mourn Carlos Sánchez. Tomorrow, who? But Carlos is not dead. His memory looks over my shoulder as I type and over yours as you read. “All is not lost,” as Milton wrote: “the unconquerable will… And study of revenge, immortal hate… And courage never to submit or yield….”
Carlos Sánchez López was one of a handful of people who defined “unconquerable will” for me. ¡Viva Carlos Sánchez López! ¡Viva! And although he now continues his battle on the plains of heaven, may his will be done here on earth. We owe him that, and so much more.
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism