Honest and Angry

Posted on June 11, 2016


Honest and Angry 

Robert Joe Stout



Editor’s Note: Last Year, I published Robert Joe Stout’s, “Molotov Cocktails,” in which he wrote about the most serious theme any writer can approach: injustice. Stout has written extensively about Oaxaca, and his piece highlighted the oppression suffered by a group known as the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca.

Stout’s new piece, “Honest and Angry,” is an interview with a man who fears so much for his safety that he agrees to be identified only by an alias. Can an interview qualify as creative nonfiction? One as dramatic as this one can. As Stout tells us, “Along with other members of the Asemblea Popular del Pueblo Juchiteco in Mexico’s tropical Gulf of Tehuantepec, he was surveying what he called the illegal invasion of communal lands by the Spanish owned Gas Fenosa wind energy corporation.” There is nothing banal about international corporations illegally invading people’s land.
The first thing that we agreed on, he and I, was that I would not use his real name so I asked him to give a name. He stood, thick shoulders hunched, thin lips twisted downward to expose small glistening teeth, then, chin thrust upward, “Campechano.”  The word, I learned later, means “cordial, open, hail fellow well met”—a description that probably fitted him well in less trying times but had given way to stubborn anger as he recounted the melee in which he’d been involved and the corruption that had triggered it. I added the first name of “Porfirio” because he spoke and moved like an unmustached Porfirio Díaz, the Oaxacan general who became Mexico’s dictator during the last half of the nineteenth century. Along with other members of the Asemblea Popular del Pueblo Juchiteco in Mexico’s tropical Gulf of Tehuantepec he was surveying what he called the illegal invasion of communal lands by the Spanish owned Gas Fenosa wind energy corporation.

 RJS: How did it start? And why?

PC: There were thirty of us, maybe more, campesinos and fishermen, walking slowly, you see, some of the women with little children, some elderly with walking sticks. We wanted to see what the intruders had done—intruders who were stealing our land, communal land that belonged to us, the people. They were constructing huge wind machines, they looked like gigantic airplane propellers, and had pushed onto land that they had no rights to, that was ours. They think because we are humble people, people of the earth, that we do not know our rights, but they are wrong, we are not stupid people, we know the law, we know that fifty years ago the President of Mexico decreed “This is your land, yours forever and ever.”

RJS: And they were there? Guarding the wind machines?

PC. No, no, they came by the road, in cars—Suburbans like the politicians drive, three big cars, and some men jumped out, they had rifles, rifles like the Army and the criminals use, and one of them, the leader, shouted at us, shouted all kinds of grocerías and told us to leave, all of us, or they would start firing. I and some others stepped forward. “This is our land!” we shouted, “You have no rights here!” Now all of the men, twelve or fifteen or twenty of them, jumped out of the cars. They all had guns and some of them fired at us. Can you imagine! Here we were with women and children and they were firing!

RJS: What did you do?

PC: What could we do? They were threatening us, firing at us, we had women with us, women and children, so we retreated but they started after us, screaming at us, saying they’d kill us. We ran back along the road, pushing the women ahead of us. We were scared, we had no guns, we were afraid they’d kill some of us, we had to protect the women and the young ones. One of our compañeros turned, holding up his hand, he wanted to reason but the pistoleros wouldn’t reason, they grabbed him and threw him on the ground, they kicked him then dragged him to his feet. We were scared but among us someone said ‘We can’t leave him!’ so we regrouped, we forced ourselves to be brave and faced them.

RJS: Then what happened?

PC: The leader told us to go back to our homes and stay away from the wind machines, that we had no rights there. No rights! It is communal land—the politicians don’t understand that. Or if they do they don’t care, they think because they are government they don’t have to obey their own laws. They took money from the wind machines people and signed false papers giving them permission to come in and pour concrete and build high fences. We could see that the gunmen they had with them were police—Pabics, they call them, police that companies can hire to guard property but here they were attacking us, their own people.

RJS: And your compañero that they captured, what did they do with him?

PC: Two of our women pushed in front of us. Our women, you see, are Juchitecas—very brave. They went right up to the leader and told him he and his men had no right to persecute us, no right to take young Eduardo prisoner. The ruffians and police jeered them, called them names—called them putas, whores, things like that. One of the police, he swaggered forward, said he would show her the only thing she was good for her and she jabbed her finger at him and said ‘Touch me and I’ll rip your pecker off!’ The ruffians behind him laughed and the leader pushed him aside. He said something, I don’t know what, and the pistoleros backed off.

RJS: They left then? They got back into their cars?

JC: Oh, no! They let the women talk. But it wasn’t pleasant. There were angry words. The leader—he was a wind machine person, mexicano but paid by the gachupines, the Spaniards who steal land and build wind machines to drive electricity not to the people but to the foreign corporations that want to come in—the leader said we were just a few dissidents, that at assembly our people had approved surrendering the communal lands for a price. I said he was lying, that we weren’t invited to the assembly, it was a fraud, the politicos paid outsiders to come in and vote, to come in and pretend they were comuneros but they weren’t. We were the people, we had proof, and we never were given the right to vote, to express our opinions.

RJS: And the leader, he accepted this?

JC: No, he insisted the wind machine people had permission, that the governor himself had inaugurated the project. He said they had a right to protect the wind machine property from our intrusions. He agreed to release Eduardo but said if any of us trespassed again—he glared specifically at the women—they would have us arrested and put into federal prison. I got angry, I argued that the land had been ours for fifty years by presidential decree, I said they had bought the land by paying bribes and the women pulled me away, they said ‘Not now, this is not the time for it, you will achieve nothing’ and I listened to them, I didn’t want to but I knew they were right.

RJS: And that was the end of it? They let you return and did nothing more?

JC: Claro que no! They followed us. We detoured along paths away from the road—they were blocking the road as if it were theirs, as if it didn’t belong to everybody, as though we were criminals, as though this land, communal land, hadn’t been the homes of our fathers and grandfathers and generations before that, this land that provided our livelihood, our sustenance.

RJS: The state government, have you gone to them? Presented your proofs?

JC: Chingada yes! Many times. But the perfumados with their white shirts and neckties won’t listen to us. They say the wind machines are good for Oaxaca, that they bring business, that they provide employment. But they take away our employment, our homes, they pollute the laguna with oil leakage from the machines, they kill the fish. They want to make beggars of us, they don’t care about us, they steal from us. But we are proud. We don’t give in.

RJS: And now what? You have accords? You’ve settled the disputes?

JC: No accords. We do not trust the wind machine people, they are criminals just like the government people who support them. Two of our compañeros are in prison, accused of violence, of having guns, but the police lied. They lie about everything. They say we are drunkards but they are the drunkards, they only know to persecute innocent people, women and old people and children, they let the real criminals do what they want, steal our land, sign false papers.  I was born here, I will die here. All of us say the same. They think we are stupid but we are not. They don’t know that we will win, they keep trying to deceive us but they’re only deceiving themselves. Unlike them we are honest. And we and our women are brave. Honest and angry and very, very brave.

Bio         Robert Joe Stout has written about Mexico for a variety of publications, including Commonweal, American Educator and Notre Dame Magazine. He was a member of two Rights Action emergency human rights delegations to Oaxaca. His books include Why Immigrants Come to America, published by Praeger, and Hidden Dangers, Mexico on the Brink of Disaster.


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