Guzman Urrero: Although lately we seem to forget it, the center of
journalism does not lie in the business of opinions, but in facts and their
balanced description. This commitment to the truth is what drives the admirable
career of Juan Restrepo, RTVE correspondent for more than three decades and a
direct witness to some of the decisive events in our recent history. Among
other experiences full of meaning,Restrepo headed the only television
team present in Tiananmen Square during that tragic night of June 3-4, 1989.
Talking with him is equivalent to recovering the essential principles of this
profession that allows us to put reality between quotation marks. And, as Ciryl
Connolly said, "the best journalism is to talk with a great
EXCERPT OF THE INTERVIEW TO Juan Restrepo journalist
of RTVE mentioning Tiananmen
Juan Restrepo: From Manila I began to cover the Far East until in
1989, a series of circumstances made me to witness, precisely in the country
that most interested me, an event that was a milestone in the contemporary
history of China.
Guzman Urrero: That's what I was going to refer to now ... In the
early morning of June 3-4, 1989, you were in Tiananmen Square with cameraman
José Luis Márquez and assistant Fermín Rodríguez. You were the only journalists
who witnessed that eviction. That day you got a world exclusive, one of those
that go down in the history of the profession. Before the Army acted, did you
ever think that the student movement was going to end the communist regime?
Juan Restrepo: Yes, I did. And not only me, and so did many
colleagues who were there for more than two months of crisis, as well as many
foreign ministries in the world. What was happening in the countries of Soviet
influence and in the Soviet Union itself made us believe that China would also
open up, that the communist regime was living its last days. We do not consider that in China the
parameters are always different from those with which we measure things in the
Guzman Urrero: The issue that brought so many Western journalists to
China at that time was the meeting between the two great leaders of world
communism. What happens when a great event is transformed, when you have to
improvise, when circumstances change? Are
working conditions also changing?
Juan Restrepo: As I already said, I was then based in Manila as a
correspondent in the Far East. From there I would travel around the region with
a team made up of a North American camera operator and her Filipino assistant.
We worked in great harmony and, as always happened when there was a foreseeable
event, we had applied for a visa to travel the three of us to Beijing, on the
occasion of Mikhail Gorbachev's visit to China on May 15 of
We were getting ready to leave when I received a telex
from Torrespaña telling me that I should leave my two collaborators in Manila
and that in Beijing I would work with the teams that were going from Madrid,
also to cover that meeting between the leaders of the two great communist
countries of the world, Gorbachev and Deng Xiaoping.
The instructions did not please me, but I had to follow them and I had to go
alone to Beijing to meet the people who had come from Madrid.
It happened that the director of the News had changed
not long ago due to the resignation of Pilar Miró, due to the
scandal that arose with the purchase of a personal wear (personal ladies’
clothing). Here I must add that the transfer of powers had not exactly been a
Versailles ceremony. The new director of the News, Diego Carcedo,
who came to replace Julio de Benito, arrived from New York with an
important memorial of grievances in his suitcase. Julio de Benito had
stopped him a year before in the TVE correspondent in New York, according to
what Julio himself told me, by direct instructions from Pilar
Miró, because the general director (Pilar Miró)did not like the way the
correspondent in that city covered the illness of the American President. Ronald
Regan had nose cancer and for Pilar the way in
which Carcedo reported that matter was similar as a joke, so
she ended up giving the order to dismiss him from office.
Pilar Miró was in the ideological antipodes of Reagan but
was clear that he was the president of a friendly nation and deserved respect. Carcedo,
who for various personal reasons did not want to leave New York, managed to be
appointed as delegate of the EFE Agency in that city until he was called by the
new General Director in Madrid to assume the position of News’ director. So he
arrived in a little bit touchy with all of us who belonged to Pilar's team,
so that when I received the order to travel alone to China, I couldn't even
suggest that I be allowed to take the Manila team. I was not trusted by the new
Director of the News.
I arrived at the Sheraton Great Wall hotel in Beijing,
in the northeast of the city, near the Embassies’ area, and there I met my
colleagues who had come from Madrid. For reasons that are not relevant now, the
work environment was tense, small discussions arose between them daily about
the most banal and inconsequential things. I remember that, almost every day, a
photographer from the Interviú magazine passed by our
makeshift offices in the hotel who, when he heard our discussions, said that
those from Televisión Española were in moments of daily catharsis.
For me that situation was very unpleasant and more, as
I have said, having had to do without the team with which I worked in harmony.
In addition, I had not worked for more than two years with cameramen from
Madrid. And here it is necessary for me to stop again on the way that we take
to the Tiananmen night. In Spanish Television, at that time - I don't know what
the habits/trends (abitudini/tendenze) are today - there was a hidden
confrontation between some cameramen - not all of them, I have to say - and the
editors. To begin with, they did not allow themselves to be called
"cameramen" but "photojournalists." In addition, there was
a small group, among which was José Luis Márquez, who considered
themselves the true factotum of television. "We take the images,
television is image, therefore we are the ones who make television" was
more or less their motto, and even openly, they tended to disregard what the
editor asked of them or to do it reluctantly.
That attitude was unpresentable/smart to me. In all
work there are hierarchies and no matter how much Spanish cameramen considered
themselves above editors, the way of doing television around the world worked
like this: an editor gave the order and the cameraman had to attend to what was
asked of him, for more than they thought otherwise. If to this is added the
tension that I have already described before between different members of the
team from Madrid - editors, producers, image’ editors - we have the picture of
the environment in which I had to work.
We all arrived before Gorbachev's visit,
but the street demonstrations and occupation of the square by students and
people from the people of Beijing had been going on since April 15, when was
learned the death of Hu Yaobang, who was the fuse that fired the
protest against the Beijing regime. Two days before the army seized the square,
a column of very young and inexperienced military police from the provinces
tried to clear the square, and in the vicinity of Tiananmen they were disarmed
and publicly subjected to strong reprimands by students in the early morning
That was one of the many strange episodes that we
lived in Beijing those days, but I bring it to mind to better illustrate what I
have told you so far. At a certain point, when we were recording all those
somewhat surreal sequences, it occurred to me to ask the cameraman to take some
shots of a bag with food that was lying around on the ground. I remember
perfectly. Then Márquez, absolutely furious, put the camera on
the ground and left. The assistant, Fermín Rodríguez, then took the
device and did what he could, because we could not lose what was happening on
It was close to three in the morning. An episode like
these on a North American television, for example, would have allowed the
editor to call his headquarters, report what happened and his protagonist being
fired. In TVE it is not this way, there could happen those things and other
more serious and nothing happened. I had already worked with José Luis
Márquez on other occasions. We had traveled outside of Spain, I knew
he was a good professional, brave when the issue required it, intuitive, but
with some personal shortcomings that I don't want to mention.
Guzman Urrero: I know you have referred it many times, but could you
tell me some significant scenes that you witnessed that night?
Juan Restrepo: Yes, I have told it on numerous occasions, but this
time I am trying to put some context to the work circumstances, not only to the
events of that day, so that will be clear what happened to the material
recorded by the TVE team during the night of June 3-4, 1989 in Tiananmen.
June 3 arrived and the tension was palpable/visible in
the atmosphere. Márquez, Fermín and I were in the crowded
square at dusk. Not only students but ordinary people and many journalists; It
was a sunny day, but in the middle of the afternoon, some clouds covered the
sky of Beijing giving a slightly heavier and oppressive air, and to make the
atmosphere more disturbing, some military helicopters began to fly over the
square and its surroundings.
The 38th brigade of the army was already inside
Beijing and there was talk of dead and wounded. Around 5:00 in the afternoon, a
boy appeared with a bloody shirt and a soldier's helmet in his hand. I didn't
know what he was saying at the time. Our translator was not with us. The thing
is, that indicated that some more or less serious incident had happened outside
the square and that boy was bringing news.
We went to the hotel because a piece had to be edited
and a telephone chronicle dictated. It had started to get dark. It would be
after 7:00 when we got to the Sheraton. I sat down to write the chronicle when
I received a call from AliciaRelinque, our translator,
telling me that near the neighborhood of the diplomatic legations a tank had
attacked a group of people, that there were shots being fired and that there
were probably some wounded people. Around 9:30 at night I heard on an English
radio, I don't remember which one, maybe the BBC, that the square had been
completely cleared of journalists. It seems to me that CBS radio was the last
team to leave Tiananmen that night.
One fact that supports the precariousness of the means
we had was not having a permanently hired car and that we moved by taxi at all
times. By this time, most of the people who had come from Madrid to cover Gorbachev's
visit to Beijing had already returned and (taxis) with them. Also, they had
been taken editing teams with them. In Beijing there were only Márquez,
Fermín and I, and a producer, Santiago de Arribas, who was
in charge of managing everything related to the transmission and shipment of
the material to Madrid.
I called Márquez and Fermín to
their rooms and told them that we should try to go to the plaza. It was crazy
seen after what happened, but it seemed normal to me at the time. The three of
us left the hotel shortly before 11:00 at night. When we got to the hall, it
was dark and quiet, half empty. An impressive contrast to what had been in the
previous days that was bustling with people and animation. Several television
crews such as ABC, BBC and CNN were staying there, as well as journalists from
the written media whose presence helped to bring life to that place. That
night, there was nothing there.
When the three of us left, silence reigned in the
gloom of that modern hotel. Then one of those strange things that happen in
these kinds of circumstances happened and that is that a single and lonely taxi
driver, half asleep, was there near the hotel door, inside his vehicle, as if
he was waiting for us. It was the only vehicle available. The man only spoke Chinese
but understood that we wanted to go to Tiananmen. He accepted our request and
we started our tour through the city.
We walked around the northeast of Beijing for about an
hour and a half, looking for an exit to the square, but we found the roads
blocked by burning vehicles and barricades that people improvised like burning
car tires or wheels, until at a crossroads of large avenues - rebuilding later
I have always thought that it was at the intersection of Chaoyanmen and
Dianmen, although today I am not so sure - we found something that had a great
impact on us.
The streets were dark, we stopped next to a group of
people who were milling around, almost all young boys who, seeing that we were
foreign press, led us a few meters ahead where there was another group of
people. There were about ten or twelve bicycles crushed by army tanks hours
before, twisted like a mess of wire, and next to them the corpse of a young
man, his head shattered and his brain mass spilled on the ground. A few meters
from there, we saw, as we were leaving, a military transport truck and inside,
quiet and calm as if they were waiting for someone, very young soldiers. The
truck was surrounded by people who, obviously, did not allow its movement or
the departure of the military.
We resumed our march until we entered the Qinmen
hutong minutes later. The Beijing hutongs are old neighborhoods that were close
to the Forbidden City, with very narrow streets and low houses with an inner
courtyard. Today many of them have disappeared. Paradoxically, those alleys
were quiet, outside the houses you could see people talking, as if nothing was
happening in the city. Our taxi continued without stopping but at a slow pace,
so that I could see through the open windows of the houses people listening to
the radio or watching television. We recorded images from inside the vehicle
and I remember Márquez commenting: "This is very nice,
Suddenly, without us waiting for it although our taxi
driver knew what he was looking for, we found ourselves in front of the square.
We had reached the southwest corner of Tiananmen. We had reached the Qinmen
gate south of the square. We entered Tiananmen, we left our vehicle next to the
pavement on the eastern side when at that very moment a pedal vehicle with a
wooden platform that was very common then in China appeared at the scene,
loaded with several wounded and perhaps some dead. This was not the time to
check it out. The driver of that tricycle was looking for a nearby hospital, he
was heading north, towards Changan Avenue, the great artery that passes in
front of the Forbidden City and crosses Beijing from east to west.
Shortly after, another vehicle looking in the same
direction, this time a small flatbed truck, also loaded with bloody bodies,
appeared from the same place. He managed to overcome, not without some
difficulty, some obstacles that were there on the ground and continued on his
way. Naturally, we recorded all of that.
It was after midnight on June 3 when we entered the
great Tiananmen esplanade, past the Mao Tsetung Mausoleum, and
headed towards the Heroes' Monument in the center of the square. We found
thousands of students gathered around the monument. Then I calculated about two
thousand but it could be many more. They were calm, silent. Explosions and
shots were heard outside the square. The place was dimly lit and a voice could
be heard from the loudspeakers giving some indications from time to time.
From there you could see the glow of fires or
bonfires lit outside. The other three corners that gave access to the square
were blocked by the army.
When we approached the students and they saw that we
had the camera on, they began to sing the Internationale. For me it was one of
the most moving and moving moments of that night. A boy broke away from the
group and came towards us waving a huge Chinese flag. I did a presentation on
camera committing an imprudence which was to turn on the flash, which may have
drawn the attention of us from the military under the Tiananmen Gate. A boy who
heard me speak came up to us and told us in Spanish what it felt like to be
surrounded by the army. No one from the army or the police approached, however,
nor did they prevent us from recording, but that was indeed one of the risks we
ran, and that is precisely the key to what happened to the material recorded
As we realized that we could be arrested and we were
in danger of having our material confiscated, we began to record on tapes that
lasted only five or ten minutes for half an hour. We recorded, we changed tapes
to protect what was recorded, we camouflaged it as best we could and put a new
tape, until they were exhausted and we had to use the already used ones and
record in the remaining queues of those already recorded. This meant that the
material was recorded loosely on the cassettes. What was recorded did not
correspond to the chronological order in which things had happened and that is
important to understand what happened later with the material.
Between midnight and almost 4:00 a.m. on Sunday we
filmed all over the square, which was a huge deserted esplanade. The students
continued to huddle around the Monument to the Heroes. Shortly after we got
there, around 1:00 in the morning, a tank with pneumatic wheels entered the
plaza from the western side, from Changan, not a tank, a small tank (una
tanqueta). Some students came out of the monument and confronted it by throwing
sticks and bottles at it or whatever they found there. The driver turned and
went back the way he had come.
The students sang again in chorus, while the
authorities continued to broadcast slogans and instructions to evacuate the
square over the loudspeakers. This I learned later because at that time I did
not understand what they were saying. We even got close to filming up to
Changan Avenue, in front of the Tiananmen Tower where, under the large portrait
of Mao that dominates the square, about a thousand soldiers
remained impassive awaiting orders. On our way through the remaining tents we
saw some lonely boy sleeping as if nothing happened there.
Our driver, who was very scared, began to hurry us to
leave there and making turns with his hand indicated that the place was
surrounded, while saying the only word in English he could pronounce:
He understood, probably by talking to one of the
students, what the situation was in the place. The square was surrounded by
soldiers, and as he felt anguished he wanted to get out of there.
We decided then that I would take him to a discreet
and safe place and I went out with him after 4:00 in the morning, when all the
lights in the place had gone out. Tiananmen was completely dark and I took the
taxi out to neighboring Qinmen Hutong, where we had entered. We agreed that on
my return we would find ourselves at the foot of one of the sculptural groups
that flank the Mao Tsetung mausoleum to the south.
It was important to keep the vehicle to get out of
there later on, so that, in effect, I left it in one of the streets I have
described before and walked back to the square, where the eviction had already
When I went to the monument where I had met with Márquez and Fermín,
they were not there of course. The chaos was total. Thousands of soldiers
emerged from within the Forbidden City, some with truncheons/batons in hand and
others with rifles with fixed bayonets, pointed at the crowd.
Thousands of soldiers also emerged from the Great Hall
of the People building, on the western side of the square, under the same
circumstances as those in the Forbidden City: some pointing their rifles and
others with batons in hand. The idea was to move in an inverted L shape towards
the monument and move the students towards the south western corner, which was
the only one of the four entrances that was not blocked by the army.
Given the confrontational conditions that I had
with Márquez during all that work, in the midst of that chaos
I had time and courage to prevent another possible upset. As I already imagined
what would happen if we did not meet, to leave proof that I returned to the
indicated place and appointment, I climbed the pedestal, which was low, just
over a meter, and embedded within the folds of carved stone of that sculptural
group a small plastic object with the naive pretense of showing it to my
colleagues the next day. A naivety, because the square could not be re-entered
for several weeks after that tragedy.
As the soldiers advanced, pushing the students toward
the southeast corner, they dismantled and burned the remaining tents. A tank
toppled the statue of the Goddess of Democracy that the Fine Arts students had
installed in front of Mao's portrait, at the north of the square.
The eviction was rude, energetic and firm,
but the massacre of which everyone spoke later did not occur.The students left the plaza in an orderly
fashion and finished at 6:00 in the morning. They were sad, defeated, some of
them were crying, hugging. They carried the instruments that had served them to
make propaganda during the weeks of occupation of the square, such as
loudspeakers and small manual printers. Then I ran into a colleague from
the English magazine The Spectator, Richard Nations,
who told me that he had seen my two companions leave at the head of the march.
Márquez and Fermín were accompanying the
students who turned right down Qinmen Xi Dajie Avenue and then headed north,
towards Peking University, surely. But reaching almost Changan, near the
Beijing Concert Hall, tanks and troops appeared and began firing at the crowd.
I guess some students wanted to head back down Changan toward the plaza. There,
after seven in the morning there were more deaths and injuries, but
this happened outside the square, not in Tiananmen as many media reported
Guzman Urrero: So why does everyone knows it as the Tiananmen
Juan Restrepo: Because that was how all the world's media presented
it as soon as the tragedy occurred and the TVE images contributed, without our
intention, to create that confusion. There was tragedy, yes, and deaths too,
many, even today we do not know how many. Throughout these years, there was a
dance of figures ranging from 250 to 3,000.
In any case, they did not die inside the square, but at night, in the area of
Muxidí, east of the square, and in the morning not far from the seat of
government called Zhongnanhai, west of Tiananmen. And the fact that the
slaughter was outside the square has its importance, because surely the order
that the army had was to preserve the entrances to blood and fire and that
there was no bloodshed inside because of the symbolic value of the place.
I remember that a colleague told me, when I told him:
"What difference does it make if it was outside or inside, it was a
massacre!" Well, it turns out that for the Chinese it did have its
importance, Tiananmen is a "sacred" place for Chinese communism.
There the mummy of Mao rests, her gaze contemplates the place
from the entrance to the Forbidden City. The People's Republic of China was
officially born there, there is the monument to the heroes of the anti-Japanese
struggle and it is on an axis with the Temple of Heaven whose meaning only the
Chinese can understand.
What they could not avoid is that it is known as the
"Tiananmen massacre" because of a tremendous paradox derived from our
images. When we arrived at the hotel on the morning of Sunday June 4 with those
images, several colleagues wanted to have them. I decided to share them with
the American ABC, because it was the only way to get them out of China
immediately. With all those dead and wounded, all the media were already
talking about the Tiananmen massacre when our images arrived, carried by hand
by an ABC messenger to send TVE to Madrid and distribute to the whole world;
But, as I have told - and that is why I insisted on it before - the
recording that was in our cassettes was not in the chronological order as the
events had occurred. There were dead and wounded in them before
entering the square and then in the morning shooting, but only we would have been able to edit those images in chronological
order and not those who did it in Hong Kong and Madrid. Everyone was sure,
from what the agencies and other media said, that those images were inside the
square. The famous image of the man in front of the tank that everyone
remembers and is one of the icons of the 20th century was even attributed to a
massacre in the square that did not exist. That image is from the 5th,
taken from the Peking Hotel by other colleagues, not by us, when the column of
tanks was withdrawing from the square after having cleared and occupied it.
That coverage was very important to me, but it left me
some bitterness and frustration with the conditions in which I worked. The
version that José Luis Márquez gives of those events, and that
anyone who wants can search the Internet on the National Radio of Spain on June
4, and that he has repeated for a quarter of a century, is an insult to
intelligence: he only took a taxi, and as he was smarter than the 2,500
journalists who were in Beijing at that time, he went to the square - he did
not even have an assistant - he carried, in addition to the seven kilos of
camera weight, a bag with fifteen cassettes, cables , microphones, etc., he
fell asleep a little sleep while the tanks arrive and amidst the bullets he
left there with the students. All a hero. [Audio: Interview
with José Luis Márquez in RNE]
Guzman Urrero: And what was the fate of all the material recorded?
Why hasn't it been used to turn it into a Spanish documentary that records,
based on that exclusive, everything that happened during those hours?
Juan Restrepo: I
have to say in his defense that years later, already very ill, at his house in
Brihuega he asked my forgiveness and admitted his mistake. He did it in front
of witnesses. Later on,
several private production companies have wanted to use that material, and
because it has never been put in order, it has been very difficult for them to
locate it. Paradoxically, the best documentary that has been made about those
events using TVE images was made by the North American Carma Hinton,
but this company gives the credit to ABC and not to Televisión Española. The
confusion has been such that people chose for a special program that was made
on the occasion of TVE's 50 years among the best images of the man in front of
the tank that, as I said, was not ours. It is surely in the TVE archive, in the
same disorder in which it was recorded, and a report could never really be made
telling how the events occurred. There are even unpublished images such as
those of the entire process of making the Goddess of Democracy that were never
broadcast. A year later, when Carcedo rewarded my work by
closing the office and sending me to Madrid, Manu Leguineche, who
was then director of En Portada, commissioned me, on the first
anniversary of the tragedy, a program, but insisted on the version of
the massacre inside the plaza against my criteria and my personal testimony. He
even gave a presentation of the program telling how the tanks entered the
square and crushed the students. It is in the TVE archive
in case anyone doubts what I say.
Guzman Urrero: All this confusion that you
describe takes me to another point, and that is that it seems that the world
has opted for amnesia in the face of the Tiananmen tragedy. Over the years,
and with the twists and turns of international politics since then, has your
perspective of what that terrible episode meant changed?
Juan Restrepo: No, it has not changed. That was traumatic for China,
which took years to return to the political course that Deng Xiaoping had
taken. Tiananmen was a slowdown and today integrates that trilogy of
conflicting terms for the Chinese nomenclature: Taiwan, Tibet and Tiananmen.
On the other hand, people stayed with the idea of the
"Tienanmen massacre" and it will continue to be used from time to
time when it is wanted to remember that in China there is an iron dictatorship.
Always, as long as the current regime survives, it will be a way of saying to
the Chinese leaders: "Yes, a lot of economic prosperity, but you are
violators of human rights."
(End of the excerpt related to the Tiananamen Square
What part will your country play in World War III?
By Larry Romanoff, May 27, 2021
The true origins of the two World Wars have been deleted from all our history books and replaced with mythology. Neither War was started (or desired) by Germany, but both at the instigation of a group of European Zionist Jews with the stated intent of the total destruction of Germany. The documentation is overwhelming and the evidence undeniable. (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10) (11)