|English | Español||March 24, 2018 | Issue #33|
The Last Interview: Authentic Journalist Amado Avendaño Figueroa (1938-2004)
They "Assassinated" Him in 1994, but He Continued Writing, Denouncing, and Fighting Another Ten Years
By Alex Contreras Baspineiro
Don Amado with a prized momento: a photograph of himself with Subcomandante Marcos
Photo: Alex Contreras Baspineiro D.R. 2004
In the interview he gave last week with Narco News, don Amado told us that he had worked 45 years as a journalist, based on one secret: “The truth must be told, no matter how hard it is to tell it: That is the key to good journalism.”
Avendaños said he felt as if they had already assassinated him, adding that he no longer feared anything, not even death. “They already assassinated me once. That’s why the government and my enemies don’t have anything left they can do against me now.”
He considered himself to have been a victim of a “low intensity war,” like the indigenous, the peasant farmers, the workers, the professionals, and other sectors who fight against the system. But in this interview, he told us that he had felt stronger and stronger.
Prior to the 1994 gubernatorial elections in the State of Chiapas, the governor, in the capital of Tuxtla Gutiérrez, invited all the candidates to a breakfast in that city. Avendaño was the candidate with the best chance of winning. He elaborately detailed for us that he traveled from Tapachula to the appointment, when halfway there, a tractor-trailer truck violently collided with the vehicle in which he had been traveling.
Amado with the cane of leadership he held as “governor in rebellion” of Chiapas
Photo: Alex Contreras Baspineiro D.R. 2004
“When did it happen?” we ask.
The journalist took a photo album down from the bookshelves to show us what happened in that “accident.” His eyes welled up in tears. It was on July 25th, 1994.
In different photographs one could clearly see the vehicle in which he had traveled, semi-destroyed, overturned, and very close to some sinister pools of blood: three people had tragically died. Miraculously, his life, that of his son, and that of a neighbor, were saved.
“I thought that I was dead. I don’t remember anything about the following ten days. I believe they were the longest days of my life. I had fractures in various ribs, one punctured my lungs, my skull was fractured and I had eight operations on my face. They assassinated me once, but I survived,” he said.
A communiqué signed on that date by Insurgent Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, directed at “to whom it may concern,” said: “Democracy in Mexico depends on the life of this man. Save him: Save your selves.”
The Mexican federal government then ordered the immediate transfer of the journalist and candidate for governor to one of the best hospitals in México City: the 21st Century Hospital, where specialists were able to save his life.
“The journalistic profession showed a lot of solidarity, as well as Civil Society, the Zapatistas, and my family. I remember that when I regained consciousness, my mother visited me and said: Here is the money we’ve saved to spend on your funerals. Take it. We are here. Enter this damn government, cabrón… This country must be changed.”
After that assassination attempt, on the watch of then-governor Javier López Moreno, the renowned journalist suffered brain damage and other ills.
Avendaño remembered that, in 1994, three months after the indigenous rose up in arms, they nominated him as candidate for governor of the State of Chiapas. “I was the first governor in rebellion,” he said with pride.
One day in April 1994 he had returned from Santiago de Chile, and found his family in a meeting. They told him the news that he had been nominated for governor by the commanders of the Zapatista Army. “This family is a democracy, and we all agree that you will be the candidate and that you must accept,” his wife, Concepción Villafuerta, known as Conchita, told him. There was no time for explanation. Almost immediately, they traveled to the mountains to interview Subcomandante Marcos.
The conditions, he recalled, were very simple: Manage a transition government for six month, during which a Constituents’ Congress would be called to present proposals, approve them, and call new elections under more democratic conditions, and, later, to deliver the cane of leadership to whomever was elected democratically. He accepted the challenge.
We could see this cane of leadership in the foyer of his house together with a photo of him and Subcomandante Marcos. “It’s the first photograph of Marcos that went all over the world.”
In this photo, taken in San Cristóbal de las Casas, don Amado can be seen writing the subcomandante’s words in a little notebook, as hundreds of people look on from behind.
“What did he say?” we asked him.
“’Hello, maestro, how are you?’ was the first thing the Sub told me,” he replied. “The Zapatista commanders knew who I was, what I did, where I lived, how I thought. They had me very well located. They were, and are, surprising.”
For a moment, he falls silent. There is more sadness in his face. He breathes deeply. On another wall of his small living room there is another photograph of the guerrilla in the ski-mask, shaking hands with him. Avendaño cries.
Like the Zapatistas, he had no political party to run for office, and since Mexican law doesn’t permit independent candidacies, he ran under the banner of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD, in its Spanish initials) of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas.
“I was Civil Society’s candidate, supported by the Zapatista army, backed by the indigenous, and under the banner of the PRD. We had everything we needed to win, we did it, and we won,” he told Narco News.
However, since the state election results had to be approved by the National Congress, the legislators there determined that the Insititutional Revolutionary Party (PRI, in its Spanish initials) was the winner. The party was not the winner at the ballot box, but, rather, by fraud. “This huge fraud also influenced the EZLN to retreat to the mountains and not participate in election campaigns, and instead begin to form a new state.”
The national government selected an imposter as governor. The Zapatistas selected Avendaño Figueroa as the governor in rebellion.
Today, the Zapatistas have already consolidated hundreds of Autonomous Municipalities into five regional Good Government Councils. “It’s spectacular to live in a time when those in the social basement rise up in arms,” he said.
“The Zapatistas continue building, and now that they are organized into ‘caracoles,’ well, they advance step by step but securely: meanwhile the government seems more like a crab because it can only walk backwards.”
Don Amado was editor of the newspaper El Tiempo where the first Zapatista communiqués appeared, signed by Insurgent Subcomandante Marcos. And until his dying day he was editor of La Foja Coleta (“The Coleta’s Page”). “Coleta” is a term that refers to the residents of San Cristóbal de Las Casas. In the early days of the Republic almost all of them walked around wearing a ponytail. That’s no longer the case, but the nickname persists.
Amado Avendaño Figueroa, from the town of Mapastepec along the Chiapas coast, was 65 years old when he died. We know that he was a model husband and father of six children: five work in the news media and one is a lawyer. Already, 3,200 issues of La Foja Coleta have been published and the newspaper will continue to publish.
In the Lacandon jungle we also heard that the remains of the journalist and rebel governor were laid to rest in the Cathedral of San Cristóbal de Las Casas where thousands of men and women said goodbye so he could be buried in his native land. We were witnesses that here in the insurgent territory of La Realidad that the Zapatistas knew him and will always remember him. It’s safe to say the same is true in all the autonomous towns.
Last Monday, April 26, as we said goodbye with a strong handshake, Amado Avendaño Figueroa told us: “In Bolivia, in Latin America, and throughout the hemisphere, the system and this low intensity war obligate us to fight, and the journalists must also enter this fight with everything we have.”
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism