Interview to John Gibler, independent journalist, on the situation in Oaxaca, an update on the case of the murder of Brad Will, drug traffic and militarization in Mexican society.
This article is only available in Spanish.
Interview to John Gibler, independent journalist, on the situation in Oaxaca, an update on the case of the murder of Brad Will, drug traffic and militarization in Mexican society.
This article is only available in Spanish.
by Alejandro Reyes
On a large patio of a community in the sierra of Guerrero, surrounded by mountains and forests, stand hundreds of peasants with their weapons held high. Among them there are many youth and quite a few elders. Their weapons are very simple, their equipment, precarious. It is the Community Police, one of the most important projects of indigenous autonomy in Mexico, which, on October 14 and 15, 2008, celebrated their 13th anniversary in this town of Tilapa, municipality of Malinaltepec accompanied by commissioners and representatives of the Regional Coordination of Community Authorities (CRAC) and several dozen visitors: activists, researchers, members of alternative media, and organizations in solidarity.
Thirteen years after its foundation, the Community Police, which together with the justice system represented by the CRAC is one of the most important experiences in indigenous autonomy in Mexico, has every reason to celebrate. The insecurity and violence that in the 80s and 90s devastated the region is today under control. But more importantly, there is now a widespread awareness that the communities can solve their own problems without waiting for answers to come from the outside.
The sierra of Guerrero has a long history of rebellion. It is the land of the guerrilla movements of Genaro Vázquez and Lucio Cabañas and of a long tradition of indigenous and peasant organization. It is also the land of one of the most brutal repression campaigns in modern Mexico. The counterinsurgent violence of the 70s created a deep social instability which led to an uncontrollable situation of insecurity: assaults, robbery, rape, murder. In the face of this violence, the despair of the inhabitants met only with indifference on the part of the authorities, or outright complicity with the delinquents.
As a response to this situation, on October 15, 1995, the communities decided to create the Community Police, composed of voluntary members who serve their people without any remuneration. Today, there are over 800 policemen from 73 communities, and insecurity has diminished over 90 percent. Father Mario Hernández Campos, who participated in this experience since its beginnings, described the process:
“Given the violence and insecurity we lived, our communities responded assuming a role we had never assumed: that of being subjects. Becoming aware that the solution doesn’t come from the outside. But in order to get there we had to do a lot of work, we had to hold many assemblies y many communities. How many of you participated in brigades, going from town to town. How many participated in those meetings that went on till 3, 4 in the morning… How many women making tortillas, cooking beans, how many men carrying firewood, how many neighbors supporting us. Thus we started to learn that we are subjects and that we are responsible for the solutions we look for.”
This awareness also explains the fact that the Community Police was not conceived in isolation, but as part of a much broader project which aims at resolving the communities’ most pressing problems: communication, education, justice. These efforts resulted in some important victories. The demands of the communities led to the construction, albeit defective, of the Tlapa-Marquelia road four years ago (the signs that boast the kindness of the government that “does provide” are intact; the road is destroyed). Very significantly, on October 12 last year was inaugurated the Intercultural University of the Peoples of the South (Unisur), an autonomous university which aims at preparing intellectuals with deep ties to the communities, and which today has four campuses: Santa Cruz del Rincón, Cuajinicuilapa, Xochistlahuaca, and Xalitla. And during the event this October 15, the community radio that has been transmitting for two months from the community of Espino Blanco, was formally baptized “The voice of the people.”
During the first years of its existence, the Community Police detained the delinquents and handed them over to the authorities. But Cirino Plácido, one of the founders, explains that the corruption of government institutions meant that a few days later the delinquents would be free. “Insecurity is a great business for the State,” he says. “The policeman wants money, the lawyer wants money, the judge wants money.” This reality led to the decision to create, in 1998, the Regional Coordination of Community Authorities, which is in charge of administering justice. It is this body which receives complaints, analyzes denunciations, emits arrest orders, and presents the detainees to the community assemblies, where, according to traditional custom, it is the people who decide on the punishment.
This punishment is neither fines nor jail, but what they call reeducation. This consists of community service such as paving roads, building infrastructure or anything else that the community might need. An important aspect of this reeducation process are the talks given by the elder council, which gathers regularly upon the commissioner’s request. These talks help the detainee to become aware of his or her errors. As in the case of the sentencing, the liberation takes place in an assembly, where the community commits itself not to treat him or her as a criminal, but as a member of the community in the process of reeducation. In other words, justice is understood as something that directly involves every member of the community.
The government’s response to this experience in community autonomy has been confrontation and criminalization. Over 40 authorities and community policemen have warrants for their arrest for the presumed crimes of illegal detention, usurping functions, and abusing authority. Curiously, what most bothers the government is not the existence of an armed organization outside of official institutions, but the administration of justice according to traditional customs. This opposition reveals the conflict between the “legality” of a system that the communities do not perceive as legitimate, not only because of its corruption, but because it does not reflect their reality, and the legitimacy of an autonomous experience that does not fit in the laws imposed by that system.
According to anthropologist Gillermo Bonfil Batalla, there is not only one Mexico but two: what he calls the “imaginary Mexico” (based on Western civilization) and the “deep Mexico” (based on indigenous civilization). Cirino Plácido says something similar: “They say there’s only one Mexico but that’s not true. There’s the Mexico that’s out there, but you only need to come here to realize there’s another Mexico, the forgotten Mexico.”
Among the murals by Diego Rivera that cover the walls of the National Palace in Mexico City there’s one that all visitors stop to look at. In it we find the image of an indigenous woman (with Frida Kahlo’s face) carrying a dark-skinned, blue-eyed baby on her back. “The first Mexican,” explains the tourist guide. In other words, the product of the encounter between Western civilization and indigenous cultures. An undoubtedly terrible encounter, but which supposedly engendered the great Bronze Race, the mestizo nation for centuries denied, which the Revolution managed to liberate from the shackles of history by recognizing our glorious pre-Hispanic past as a constitutive element of who we are today: a united, homogeneous, mestizo Mexico. But, in to this vision, where do indigenous peoples fit?
In a small, roadside restaurant on the way back from the Guerrero sierra towards Mexico City, in the heart of the Mixteca sierra of Puebla, the radio plays a dramatized version of a short story: an anthropology student from the US travels to Chiapas to study the Tzotzil Indians. Their customs and their life conditions horrify her, and the listener cannot help sympathize with her views: superstition, poverty, poor hygiene, primitivism. But when she decides to name her thesis “The savage condition of Mexican Indians,” Mexican nationalism rears its head in indignation: who does this racist gringa think she is? A rather difficult indignation to reconcile, given the previous conclusion that yes, Indians are primitive. Fortunately, a humble mestizo doctor, who travels from town to town, comes to the rescue. When he politely questions the appropriateness of the title, the student says, “But Indians live outside of civilization!” And the doctor responds, “Yes, that’s true. But that’s not their fault. It’s our fault, all of us.” Moral of the story: indigenous peoples of today are the unfortunate remnants of a destroyed past, and it is the duty of mestizo Mexico to civilize them in order to integrate them to the nation.
Bonfil Batalla proposes that things are not quite that way. He claims that what we have is the clash between two different (Western and indigenous) civilizations, and that Mexico’s history is the history of this conflict: the attempts on the part of the winning civilization to negate and destroy the vanquished one, and the latter’s mechanisms of resistance which have allowed it to survive for over five centuries. The ideology behind the mestizo nation represented by that “first Mexican” in Diego Rivera’s mural is just one more genocidal attempt against indigenous peoples, from which they defend themselves with the centuries-old arsenal of their civilization.
This clash of civilizations and the imposition of one over the other is evident in the experience of the Community Police of Guerrero. In its 13 years of existence, it has managed to accomplish what the state has failed to do anywhere in the country: to control insecurity in a region that was particularly violent. One of the work sessions in Tilapa focused on the national situation of security and justice. In it the participants evaluated where Mexico is today: an unprecedented explosion of insecurity and violence, militarization of the country, a law enforcement and justice system with a severe credibility crisis, a politics of fear manipulated by the media, and the criminalization of social movements. The state has not only failed miserably in the war against insecurity, but its relations with the drug trade and organized crime have become increasingly evident. That being so, it is at least paradoxical that the state, instead of coordinating efforts with this successful organization and promoting its growth in other parts of the country, insists in criminalizing it.
Like the Zapatista communities in rebellion, the experience of the Community Police is clear proof that this other Mexico, the deep, forgotten and ignored Mexico, is a live source of alternatives capable of facing the problems that most affect society. And if the Mexico in power, following its centuries-old tradition of denying that other reality, continues refusing to recognize its vitality and relevance, the Community Police will continue to serve as an inspiration for all of those from below, in Mexico and the world, and proof that it is indeed possible to create alternatives outside the system, learning from these peoples who have been resisting for over five hundred years.
13th Anniversary of the Community Police, Tilapa, Guerrero. (More info)
Lomas del Poleo: Father Bill Morton speaks from El Paso, Texas, about the history of Lomas del Poleo in Ciudad Juárez, the concentration camp-like situation created by millionaire family Zaragoza, the binational economic interests involved, and the most recent aggressions against residents and supporters.
Full interview (20 min) (Descarga aquí)
Short interview (8 min)(Descarga aquí)
Special report with interviews to relatives of political prisoners from San Salvador Atenco.
Sounds from the October 2 march in Mexico City from Tlatelolco to the Zócalo.
by Alejandro Reyes
When the parents of Oscar Hernández Pacheco were told that their son would be free in late August or Early September, they were overwhelmed with happiness. At the prison of Molino de Flores, don Paco and other relatives of political prisoners — who since the violent repression in San Salvador Atenco on May 3 and 4, 2006, had faced uncertainty, fear, and indignation — celebrated the news. “You see, don Paco,” said the father of another young prisoner from the town of Texcoco, “the kids will soon be free, we just need to stick it out a little longer.” “We’ll celebrate back in our town,” answered don Paco.
But some days later, on August 21 this year, they heard the terrible news: their son, like all other political prisoners held at Molino de Flores, were sentenced to 31 years and 10 months in prison, accused of kidnapping, while Ignacio del Valle was given an additional 45 years, on top of the 67 which he had already been sentenced to.
When doña Francisca learned of the decision, she fell ill. At 63 years of age, both she and her husband suffer from diabetes, an illness which has worsened in these two hears of anguish. “My children didn’t want me to go to the prison because they were afraid for my health, but I went anyway. I was a bit calmer, but when I got there I felt like I was no longer myself. I felt very ill. The next day I went to the hospital and the doctor told me I had to calm down, or I would have to be hospitalized. But how? He’s 30 years old. In another 30, he will be 60. How can they do that to him? And with such young children… the girl is eight years old, the boy is about three.”
As most of the prisoners sentenced, their son did not participate in the confrontations on May 3 and was not even a member of the Peoples’ Front in the Defense of the Land (FPDT), the organization that in 2006 was defending the flower vendors of Texcoco from being evicted from their place of work.
In the municipal auditorium of San Salvador Atenco, on one side of the central plaza, a small group of relatives of political prisoners recount what they have lived through these past two years and their indignation with the sentences of August 21, while the preparations continue for the Independence day celebration, on September 15, 2008, organized by the FPDF. Doña Francisca continues:
“The day they captured him he was going to see a relative that was very sick. They stopped him on the highway. They beat him, they injured his head, his face. We have a picture where the police are beating him, and one officer has a piece of concrete block with which he’s hitting him on the head. I didn’t know anything because that day he’d been at home. We were having breakfast, eating pozole, which is his favorite dish, and he told me that he would pick up the girl and he would come back to eat some. When the troops started coming into the town, we locked ourselves up. At around 3 pm my sons knew they had arrested him, but they didn’t tell me because they were afraid for my health. But then I saw him in the news, and that’s how I found out.”
Something similar happened with Julio César Espinoza Ramos, son of Maribel Ramos Rojas. At the time Julio was 18 and he hadn’t even heard about the FDPT. He liked to play soccer, worked in sales at the town of San Pablito Chiconcuac, and helped his grandmother take care of the cattle. On May 3, 2006, Julio César was riding his scooter on the highway that goes by San Salvador Atenco. Near the gas station of Tocuila he was detained at a police blockade. There he was brutally beaten, and then taken to the police station, before being transferred to the high-security prison of Santiaguito, in Almoloya, in the state of Toluca.
Julio César doesn’t understand why all of this is happening to him. Why was he sentenced to so many years in prison, if he didn’t do anything? And why such a heavy sentence, while the true kidnappers, those who maim people, those who murder and rape, are free? “He had so many dreams,” says his mother, “and now those dreams are truncated, locked up behind those prison walls.”
Juan de Dios Hernández, the FDPT lawyer who defends Atenco’s political prisoners, argues that the sentence was made without convincing proof, through legal proceedings full of irregularities and contradictions. One of the relatives even claims that, when he questioned the judge about the harshness of the sentences, he answered that he didn’t have full control over it and that the decision had come from above.
The political motives behind the sentences are evident in the fact that they were announced the same day that a highly publicized meeting of the National Council on Public Security was being held at the National Palace. In this meeting one of the topics that most concerns Mexican society was discussed: the insecurity that is currently lived in the country. There, a National Security Agreement was drafted, through which police and judicial institutions will be strengthened, with a focus on fighting kidnapping, money laundering, and organized crime. Among other legal reforms is a proposal for a general law on kidnapping. The sentences against Atenco’s political prisoners, precisely for kidnapping, should be read by Mexican society as a sign of alarm, since they criminalize dissidence and the defense of basic rights, equating political activism to organized crime. “We’re indignant,” says Trinidad Ramírez Velázquez, wife of Ignacio del Valle. “How dare they compare someone who defends the land and his rights to someone who kidnaps, murders, mutilates, rapes, and so on.” One of President Felipe Calderon’s proposals is to apply life in prison to convicted kidnappers. The sentence of 112 years to Ignacio del Valle is nothing less than life in prison.
It’s important to note that, regarding insecurity, the wave of kidnappings that are increasingly the topic of front-page headlines, and the drug-related violence that plagues the country, state corruption and impunity are two of the main contributors. Practically all known kidnapper gangs have members who are agents or former agents of precisely the same police forces which are in theory in charge of combating them.
At the same time, while political prisoners are given these absurd sentences, those responsible for the blatant human rights violations committed in San Salvador Atenco enjoy complete impunity. The events of May 3 and 4, 2006, represent one of the darkest moments of state repression and violence in the history of modern Mexico: murders, mass sexual aggressions against women and men, breaking and entering without a warrant, destruction of property, beatings, torture, humiliations. The savagery committed in Atenco were not just the uncontrolled actions of unprepared police forces, but rather a premeditated act of state violence designed to provoke terror in the population and to set a precedent that serves as an example to other social movements. The sentences of August 21 are just one more ingredient of these politics of terror.
It is hard to describe the pain of the families. “I’m a single mother,” says Maribel Rojas. “My son is all I have, and I’m all he has. This has affected me a lot at work because I’ve had to miss many times and I’m afraid to lose my job, but I can’t leave him alone. It’s also affected my health because I have diabetes and I’ve been hospitalized many times. And of course, it’s been very hard economically. I have to take him food, there are many expenses, and if I don’t work, how am I going to get the money, especially being alone? It hurts me a lot seeing him there. The day he called after the sentence, he seemed strong because he didn’t want to hurt me. But when I went to see him, he seemed an entirely different person, he was entirely broken.”
Doña Francisca can’t hold back her tears when she speaks of her son. “I feel very bad when I can’t go see him, but it hurts me a lot when I go to the prison. Since he was in Toluca, I used to go see him. But I feel terrible when I see my son like that. That’s why he tells me, ‘Don’t come, mother, because I get very sad when I see you cry.’ And we both cry together. But God willing I’ll be able to go see him and I’ll be calm and I won’t cry.”
For don Paco, his son’s imprisonment has also been devastating. He is a farmer, he plants corn in Atenco. “These two years have been very difficult. There are times I can’t go see him, because I have to work. There’s no money. We have to take money and food to him, and we make every effort to do it. And we spend 500 or 600 pesos in just one day. Imagine that, and we have no money. So we go crazy trying to find a solution, because I can’t work like I should.” Doña Francisca explains: don Paco is also diabetic and he often falls ill for one or two weeks at a time.
For Trinidad Ramírez, these two years have been a veritable ordeal. Her son César was in jail for almost two years. Her daughter América is in hiding. And her husband Ignacio faces a sentence of 112 years in prison. Nonetheless, she seems strong, firm, decided. “I think about them,” she explains. “I think of Ignacio in jail, always so optimistic. I’m afraid of falling into a depression and not being able to get up to continue fighting. But love can do so many things.” She says that, despite the sentence, Ignacio holds his head up. “He is very secure in his beliefs, in his ideals, in his cause. That’s why when I say that Ignacio is doing well, it’s not because he is well being there, because the conditions in prison are very tough, but because he believes in his ideals.”
But the repression and especially the sentences, which were intended to provoke fear and to silence people, had another effect. Maribel Ramos knew nothing about the FPDT, she had never participated in any struggle, she had never expressed indignation against the injustices she sees.
“My vision has changed a lot,” she says, “because we used to be very shy about expressing what’s happening in our country, the repression we suffer. Because what the government is doing is repression. They want to use us as an example and tell people: if you rebel, this is what can happen to you, you can have the same fate as these people. But instead of intimidating me, that has made me stronger, and I think it’s really important for me to express my indignation as a mother, to defend my son, because he’s completely innocent, and to denounce all this injustice we’re living. It’s time to raise our voices. If they said, ‘You better be quiet,’ well, I don’t think so. We have to face them and denounce everything that’s happening.”
Doña Francisca and don Paco, like other relatives of political prisoners who had never participated in any struggle, have also approached the FPDT, joining forces to struggle together for their son’s freedom.
For Trinidad Ramírez, “all bad things have a good side.” The sentences reawakened indignation and gave a new impulse to the struggle, in Mexico and around the world. This September 15, the FPDT organized an Independence Day event in the main plaza of San Salvador Atenco, and on September 23 a march is planned from the Angel to Los Pinos in Mexico City. At the same time, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) announced that the encampment in front of the Molino de Flores prison would be reinforced and that it would be transformed into a space of encounter for the Other Campaign. The EZLN also called for a renewal of the national and international campaign for the freedom of political prisoners.
For many people, demanding the release of Atenco’s political prisoners is an urgent necessity, because what is at stake, besides the lives of innocent people, is the right to resistance and the defense of basic rights. It is, in sum, a struggle for justice, democracy, and freedom in Mexico.
Interview with Trinidad Ramírez Velázquez, wife of Ignacio del Valle recorded at San Salvador Atenco. Doña Trinidad speaks of the new sentences against the 13 political prisoners from Atenco, the struggle for their liberation, the conditions at the maximum security prison, and Ignacio del Valle’s reaction.