Controversial New York Times piece about Oventic

New York Times

A New York Times writer visited the Zapatistas in Oventic in 2008 and came back with a blog report that infuriated supporters and readers sympathetic with the indigenous rebels. In the Village of the Zapatistas by Matt Gross, garnered many passionate responses, including the acerbic wit of a journalist very familiar with the Zapatistas, John Ross:

The commodification of the Zapatista movement recently reached absurdist heights with the New York Times designation of rebel villages in southeastern Chiapas as a hot budget tourist destination. “Chiapas Is Cheap! Indian Villages Flourish And The Price Is Right!” read the cut line in the NYT’s Sunday Travel section November 16 –ironically, the eve of the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN.)

The double truck spread also featured a photo of the Zapatista cultural/political center, or caracol, at Oventic, a 45-minute drive from chic San Cristobal. “Their failed revolution (sic)” has given the Zapatista zone “a frisson of danger” the Times’ so-called “frugal traveler” Matt Gross wrote a few days later after tricking his way into the caracol for a self-serving hit piece that even listed the bargain price of quesadillas at Oventic’s Che Guevara general store.

Typical of the avalanche of outrage expressed in the comments section of the newspaper is this from one Juan Carlos:

“The Ugly American” is alive and well. What a horrendous article […] Why didn’t you take the time to learn about the struggle? You don’t even understand that Oventic is not a “village” but a hub for the Zapatistas. You didn’t even explain that Oventic is part of a larger structure created by the revolutionary movement (EZLN). You lied about your identity, you were lazy by not doing your homework and your paternalistic approach is pathetic […]

Indeed, the writers decision to conceal his profession was highlighted by another reader (‘Karina’) in the comments section:

In fact, the Junta of Good Government in Oventic has gotten wind of the lies people like this writer tell them, and they have begun to refuse long-term entry to many people because of it. Too many liars have come to stay, citing their interest in supporting them, learning about and from them, only to turn around and write dissertations, reports, articles. The identities of the indigenous people there can become compromised through such activities; the danger of them being killed increases. Information about checkpoints and locations, activities and plans can be laid bare on the page for those who threaten the indigenous way of life to take advantage of. The indigenous of Oventic have the right to protect themselves–to refuse entry to writers, or to–upon finding out the person is a writer–discuss what they feel is proper protocol for written accounts of their activities and way of life. The writer did not give them that chance. I understand he wanted them to be themselves, not on edge from his occupation. Still, this is what the colonial world tends to do to the indigenous–make pacts and break them, lie because they have an “important” agenda, manipulate because the indigenous “wouldn’t understand anyway”. I could go on and on. What patronizing! What an insult! What gall! If I let you, a stranger, into my home under one pretense, and you turned around and exploited my kindness, I would never again let a stranger in. The indigenous of Oventic need media coverage–but they don’t need it from liars, from tricksters, from those with hidden agendas. They are in danger of LOSING THEIR LIVES, and this writer could have brought death ever closer to their front gate.

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