One of the shorter novels by Gabriel Garci'a Ma'rquez bears the title "Cro'nica de una Muerte Anunciada". My last days in Diez de Abril during January 2000 bore an uncanny similarity to the story that unfolds in the pages of that book. It seemed as if everything had already been announced, pre-determined by some power external to the characters who acted out the sorry, rather pathetic drama. Much of that last week was spent shaking people's hands, saying goodbye to friends I would not see again for some time. Constantly repeating the same phrases about helping from Ireland, about not forgetting this little community where I had spent most of my 14-month stay in Mexico. Promising that I would return again. The people nodded confidently. "Te hallaste aqui' " they said - you settled in here. Of course I would return.
They were right of course. Diez de Abril had changed my outlook on life irrevocably, rather as if they had effected some kind of emotional hijack on me. More than the possiblity of my coming back to the community, what was really in doubt was my ability to actually leave it. I possessed a dishevelled Irish passport and a crumpled airline ticket that would physically transport me to a cold, distant island on the western edge of Europe, and yet it was doubtful whether that would really suffice.
As usual, life in the community during those final days proved far from predictable. I had planned to head to San Cristobal on January 25th, to attend a mass given by Samuel Ruiz on the 40th anniversary of his becoming bishop of the diocese. Rumour had it that a lot of people planned to travel down from the communities, so it was certainly going to be a colourful, lively event. Samuel is due to retire soon, and his auxiliary bishop Raul Vera had been told he was being sent away to the diocese of Coahuila in the north. The Vatican had failed the people once again.
The extreme tension which prevailed in the communities during those days meant that we had seen very little of the local authorities since before Christmas. Many of them were friends of mine and I particularly wanted to spend time with them before leaving. So it seemed like a pleasant surprise when a couple of them rolled up just a few hours before I planned to leave.
They were both grim-faced. The army was in El Nantse, a rickety collection of wooden huts just four or five miles down the road. It was a divided community, with some 20 odd families in the PRI and the rest in the "organisation". Trucks occasionally stopped there to buy petrol from the shop, but otherwise no one ever gave it a second thought. Until today. President Zedillo had obviously decided to snub his nose at the Zapatistas by making an appearance in the conflict zone, bringing Governor Albores Guillen and a handful of journalists from the official media with him. The woods were swarming with commandos from the Air Force, and the approach to the town was being held by hundreds of armed police agents.
After some deliberation the locals had obviously decided there wasn't much to be gained by taking a potshot at the Prez, but they were worried about the fate of the EZLN supporters in the community. So they had decided to ask the peace campers to take a run down and check things out. Dodging the police and army would not be a problem.
As we made our way along the valley, we heard the noise of the departing helicopters overhead. After about an hour we emerged in one of the houses in El Nantse, slightly out of breath but curious to know what had occurred. It transpired that none of the people had been harmed, although they had been kept virtual prisoners in their houses for about 18 hours prior to Zedillo's arrival. One woman had been prevented from using the latrine behind her house - this being a clearly subversive acitivity. More than anything, the people were outraged that a poverty-stricken community with extremely tense relations between the two factions should have been so cynically used for a cheap publicity trick.
A passing truck gave us a lift back to Diez, and I ventured out the following morning. Some days later my plane touched down in Dublin airport. I was back where I had come from over a year ago, in a grey sluggish world where life revolves around sliced pans and instant coffee, and where it seems like most of us have forgotten how to fight. A depressing prospect perhaps, but when you carry an indigenous community around in your heart there is only one possible response.