Crusader pays the price for his politics: Don Amado is one of a rare breed of Mexican journalists who cannot be bought off. Phil Davison examines what lies behind a 'crash' that almost cost him his life

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THERE have been too many 'accidents' and 'isolated incidents' in Mexico recently. First, the Archbishop of Guadalajara, Cardinal Juan Posadas, was killed at that city's airport last year. The authorities insisted he had been 'caught in crossfire' between police and drug traffickers, or 'mistaken for a drug baron'.

The fact that he had been wearing full clerical garb, was hit 12 times, that the gunmen boarded a plane that had delayed its departure and that he had been an outspoken critic of involvement in drug trafficking by local government officials made the official version difficult to swallow.

Then there was the murder of Luis Donaldo Colosio, presidential candidate of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in Tijuana earlier this year. The fact that the killer got close enough to place his pistol against Colosio's temple and had been seen earlier with locally hired security men made it difficult to believe the official conclusion that a 'lone, crazed gunman' had killed him. Colosio, promising more democracy in a country that has for 65 years been run by an almost Soviet-style one-party system, was known to have been upsetting the PRI's old guard.

This week the journalist and political candidate Amado Avendano, 55, one of a rare breed of Mexican journalists who would not be bought off by cash or favours, was almost killed in a 'car crash' in his home state of Chiapas. Don Amado, as fellow-journalists call him, is now in a Mexico City hospital with a punctured lung, six broken ribs and other serious injuries. His son, Amado jnr, 23, also survived but three fellow passengers died.

Don Amado's family are not in the slightest doubt that the crash was an attempt on his life. Planning to run for Chiapas state governor for the left-wing opposition Party of Democratic Revolution, he had suddenly been invited to a Monday morning breakfast in the state capital, Tuxtla Gutierrez, by Governor Javier Lopez Moreno, of the ruling PRI.

En route from his home in San Cristobal de las Casas, a lorry rammed his car head-on. The lorry was empty, was without number plates and had no papers. The driver disappeared.

Don Amado knew he was a marked man. For 26 years he and his family have run a small but scrupulously honest six-page newspaper in San Cristobal called Tiempo. During the January Chiapas uprising by Zapatista guerrillas fighting for greater rights for local Indians, the paper was snapped up by local residents and foreign journalists anxious to have a view of events that had not been manipulated by the Mexican presidency. The latter moved its entire press team to San Cristobal to ensure we journalists had 'everything you need'.

Many of us spent more time in the tiny cluttered home-cum-office of Don Amado, where he wrote his stories and editorials, then printed them on a 19th-century press before delivering copies by hand around town.

It was clear he had good relations with the hooded Zapatista guerrilla leader, Subcomandante Marcos. Marcos would deliver guerrilla statements by courier to Don Amado's office.

Don Amado would respond to news of the latest army attack on civilians with a cry of 'Ay, cruel humanidad]' The last time I saw him, two policemen listened intently from the next table as we lunched. He did not care. He had been given plenty of proof that his phones were tapped. He described how he had recognised most of the 'Zapatistas' when they took over San Cristobal's town hall on 1 January. On mention of Marcos, there was a twinkle in his eye. 'You know, he did look somewhat familiar, those honey-coloured eyes. I think perhaps he reminded me of someone I know.'

(Photograph omitted)