Amado Avendaño Figueroa

Journalist who became a thorn in the side of the Mexican government
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The Independent Online

Amado Avendaño Figueroa, lawyer, journalist and politician: born Mapastepec, Mexico 14 September 1938, married 1954 Concepción Villafuerte (three sons, three daughters); died Comitan, Mexico 28 April 2004.

Amado Avendaõo Figueroa was the journalist who told the world that the poor and dispossessed of the southern Mexican state of Chiapas had risen up and declared war on the government and the Nafta trade agreement on 1 January 1994.

He was the first to interview Subcomandante Marcos, spokesman for the Zapatistas, the masked rebels who briefly took over his adopted home town, the former state capital of San Cristobal de las Casas, and a few days later it was to El Tiempo, the newspaper that he and his brother Elmer founded in 1968, that the command council of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) chose to send their early communications.

From then on it was via the house where Avendaño and his wife, the journalist Concepción Villafuerte, lived and worked, that a stream of Marcos's elegantly penned, often humorous but always poignant missives found their way on to the front pages of the world's media.

"Ama" was born on the Chiapan coast, in Mapastepec, in 1938. He left to study law and set up home in San Cristobal where he and "Conchi" brought up six children.

An indefatigable exposer of corruption, he had taken on the role of challenging abuse of and contempt for the indigenous inhabitants of the region long before the uprising of 1994. That year, after Marcos suggested he run for state governor against the candidate for the PRI, the ruling party which had, at that time been in power for almost 70 years, Avendaño found himself embarking on yet another career trajectory.

Until then, he not been allied to any political party, but, with the endorsement of the centre-left PRD, he became the first candidate to journey into remote areas where his manifesto was translated into Tzotzil and Tzeltal. As he wasn't planning to buy or steal the vote, he said, he needed to go to meet those he hoped to represent.

The PRI leadership reassessed their attitude towards him and, a month before the elections, the interim state governor invited him and other candidates to an urgent meeting.

In a tragic episode that echoed the fatal ambush of the peasant leader Emiliano Zapata 85 years previously, the car that Avendaño and members of his team were travelling in was rammed by a huge truck while they drove on the only, isolated, road to the meeting.

His campaign manager and two relations died instantly, while the candidate sustained a fractured skull. He was out of the race and would wear an eyepatch for the rest of his life.

Disregarding the subsequent PRI victory, the Zapatistas and Chiapan civil society went ahead and installed Avendaño as their governor "in rebellion" anyway, and in spite of continued threats he successfully completed his six-year term of "office".

Elizabeth Mistry