Another month full of news. Several incidents occurred towards the end of September that required clarification due to conflicting or ambiguous news stories. Therefore, we waited to report them until this month when we had more clarity regarding the facts. They show that the counterinsurgency in Chiapas extends to actors within civil society beyond the Zapatistas and Other Campaign adherents. It seems clear that the state government is preparing for what it thinks will be a “social explosion” in 2010 (or is it merely an excuse for repression?). CSC
1. Repression of Social Protest Spreads to OCEZ-RC, Leader in Prison – On September 30, Chiapas state police dressed up in uniforms worn by Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) workers. They entered the community of 28 de Junio (June 28) in Venustiano Carranza municipality, asking if anyone had service problems. When they reached the home of Jose Manuel Hernandez Martinez, they took him out of his house, put him in a truck and drove him to the El Amate state prison. Hernandez Martinez, known as Chema, is the long-time leader of the Emiliano Zapata Campesino Organization-Carranza Region (OCEZ-RC). Several members of that organization attempted to follow the vehicle in which Don Chema was abducted, but their car was run off the highway and one person died in the crash. A second man died from his injuries two weeks afterwards. The OCEZ-RC has continuously struggled to recuperate indigenous people’s communal land in Venustiano Carranza. The charges against him have to do with a 2005 land takeover. Hernandez Martinez recently led a successful hunger strike to obtain the legalization of land and the speculation is that the illegal detention (no arrest warrants were shown and the police agents disguised themselves) is in retaliation for that protest action. A national and international campaign to free Chema is underway. Neither OCEZ-RC nor Hernandez Martinez have any current connection that we know of with the Zapatistas or the Other Campaign. Nevertheless, judicial authorities interrogated Hernandez Martinez about belonging to the EPR and the EZLN. After 2 weeks in a state prison, the state moved Chema to a high-security federal prison in Nayarit state, a long way from Chiapas. This, in spite of the fact that the crimes of which he is accused are common state crimes. Is the state afraid that Chema will organize social protests from prison in Chiapas?
2. Arson Attempt at Kinal Antsetik Center – On September 26, an unidentified person sprinkled gasoline around the Kinal Antsetik (Land of Women, in Tseltal) installations and lit a fire. The location includes a capacity building center and workshop for indigenous women and the facilities of Jolom Mayaetik (Maya Weavers), a weaving cooperative. Young women living at the center put out the fire quickly. Kinal’s founder, Yolanda Castro, is an outspoken activist in the National Front of Struggle for Socialism (FNLS) in Chiapas and has recently been involved in the resistance to mining. She has suffered break-ins and vigilance due to her activism. Castro has no current connection to the EZLN or the Other Campaign and, to the best of our knowledge, neither does Kinal Antsetik or Jolom Mayaetik.
3. Amnesty International (AI) Wants Clarification of Immigrant Detention and Death – Amnesty International (AI) has asked Mexican authorities to clarify an incident which occurred on September 18 near the city of Comitan, Chiapas. Mexican security forces opened fire on a group of undocumented Central American immigrants resulting in the death of a Salvadoran. The immigrants were in a vehicle belonging to those who traffic in undocumented immigrants. They passed a control post and agents ordered the vehicle to stop. Instead, the driver went faster and the agents followed and fired on the vehicle. AI reports that there were seven in the group. Three men escaped, one died from a bullet wound, two remain in the hospital with serious injuries and one is detained and will soon be deported. AI wants clarification of whether it was members of the Mexican Army or immigration agency that fired on the group of immigrants and clarification as to the beatings they received when captured and already injured.
4. Two More OCEZ Leaders Apprehended, Houses Searched – In the wee hours of Saturday morning (October 24), police and military carried out an operation in Venustiano Carranza municipality and arrested 2 more OCEZ-RC leaders. The 2 detained are Jose Manuel de la Torre Hernandez and Roselio de la Cruz Gonzalez. From the El Amate prison, both men have denounced that they were tortured. They are accused of land takeovers. Following the detentions, police and soldiers returned to 28 de Junio and Laguna Verde communities (the 2 bastions of the OCEZ-RC) and searched houses, looking for drugs and/or weapons. They did not find any. The state government suspects that members of the OCEZ-RC belong to a criminal gang that traffics in drugs, weapons and undocumented people. It also seems to suspect that OCEZ-RC has connections with a guerrilla organization.
5. Update on Mitziton and the Palenque Toll Road – The Chiapas government finally announced the plan for a new super-highway (toll road) to Palenque. It will not pass through Mitziton. Instead of adopting the plan designed by the Secretary of Communications and Transportation (SCT), which would have cut Mitziton in half, the state chose an alternative plan. The state government also committed to “consulting” with affected communities. The plan announced does not include the location of access roads to tourist attractions, but it does include agricultural requirements which affected communities will be urged to accept. The high-speed toll road will pass through part of the Meso-American Biological Corridor. Therefore, the World Bank and its conservation cohorts have special recommendations for what crops ought to be planted. Some will be for local tourism, but the majority apparently will go to the Yucatan Peninsula’s tourist Mecca, the Riviera Maya.
6. Three Detained with Arsenal in Frontera Comalapa – The Chiapas government released information that on October 12, three men (none originally from Chiapas) were detained near Frontera Comalapa, very close to the Chiapas/Guatemala border. They allegedly admitted to 3 murders and police determined that they belonged to a criminal gang. It claimed that one of them belonged to a group with “the facade of a social organization” and “called OCEZ or OPEZ.” Two of them allegedly claimed that they were sent to Guatemala for training in weapons, disarmament and survival techniques by kaibiles upon the recommendation of a catechist from Altamirano (municipality). During interrogation, the men disclosed the location of a ranch in Frontera Complapa where weapons were stored. When police went to the ranch house, they found a large arsenal of all kinds of weapons, cars and 2 race horses. What is interesting about this press release is that it implicates a “catechist,” and refers to 2 social organizations as being a facade for violent activity. Some Chiapas government officials are leaking slanderous statements to local press about the Catholic Diocese of San Cristóbal, individual priests and catechists, as well as Las Abejas, in connection to violent activity. It got so bad that the 2 bishops from that diocese issued a statement denouncing the slanderous attacks!
7. Response to Repression: Demonstrations – On Monday, October 26, social organizations with different political demands converged on the city of San Cristóbal de las Casas to march in protest of diverse issues. Las Abejas protested against the release of those imprisoned for participating in the Acteal Massacre. Pueblo Creyente (People Praying) demonstrated in support of the Catholic Diocese of San Cristóbal. OCEZ-RC protested the detention, torture and imprisonment of its leaders and the searches of homes conducted in its communities. Other Campaign members from different municipalities were there with banners demonstrating against the toll road to Palenque because it will destroy jungles, forests and their lands. Several organizations also demonstrated for the release of political prisoners. I cannot remember the last time such a diverse assortment of Chiapas organizations demonstrated together. Approximately 150 members of the OCEZ have remained in a sit-in on San Cristobal’s main plaza ever since, demanding the release of their 3 prisoners and the removal of soldiers and police from their communities. Additionally, 20 OCEZ members “took over” an office of the United Nations in San Cristobal, claiming they were refugees, and demanding the release of the 3 imprisoned leaders.
8. Chiapas Government Cancels Local Elections in 2010 – Mid-term elections for local municipal councils and presidencies, as well as local deputies to the state Congress, were scheduled for 2010. In a somewhat clandestine move, the Congress voted to cancel those mid-term elections and change the state’s constitution. Local deputies will continue in office until 2012 and they will appoint, YES! appoint, the local municipal councils and presidents. Chiapas is governed, at least on paper, by the Party of the “Democratic” Revolution (PRD). Many Chiapas citizens are furious and an appeal was taken to the Supreme Court. As of now, it appears that the government may back down.
9. Gloria Arenas & Jacobo Silva FREE! – Gloria Arenas was released from prison on October 28, after serving 10 years for rebellion. Jacobo Silva, her husband, was released the next day (October 29). Gloria is the former Colonel Aurora and Jacobo is the former Comandante Antonio of the Revolutionary Army of Insurgent People (ERPI). Upon their release, both announced that they will now struggle openly and peacefully with the Zapatistas Other Campaign!
In Other Parts of Mexico…
1. Union Busting ala Calderón – In the wee hours of Saturday, October 10, President Felipe Calderon sent 6,000 soldiers and heavily armed Federal Police to take over the state-owned Central Light and Power installations in Mexico City and the states of Mexico, Puebla, Morelos, and Hidalgo. Immediately following the takeover, Calderon issued an executive order closing Central Light & Power. The government’s official justification for closing Light and Power is that the company’s operating expenses exceed those of other state-owned companies. like the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE). It claims the takeover was a pre-emptive strike to prevent a militant union from taking control of the facilities and cutting off power in protest of the closing of Light & Power. However, a week prior to the police and military takeover, the union specifically stated that it had no intentions of striking or cutting off power to customers. Most analysts believe that it is a preliminary move to privatizing an enormous and growing industry. And, the right-wing Calderon government gets the special benefit of busting the SME, a union that has been part of many social protests over multiple issues and has formed strong alliances with social organizations in Mexico. Tragically, approximately 44,000 workers lost their jobs in the government’s move. The SME is calling for mass mobilizations against the closing of Light & Power.
2. The Drug War Numbers – According to reports by Mexico’s Attorney General of the Republic (PGR) and Secretary of National Defense (Sedena), 5, 570 executions have been counted so far this year. The number of people murdered due to alleged ties with organized crime during the nearly 3 years of the Felipe Calderón government now exceeds 15, 400, while during the whole 6-year term of Vicente Fox 13, 000 homicides of this kind were counted.
Compiled monthly by the Chiapas Support Committee.
The primary sources for our information are: La Jornada, Enlace Zapatista and the Fray Bartolome de las Casas Human Rights Center (Frayba).
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News Summaries from previous months are now posted on our web page.
Chiapas Support Committee/Comité de Apoyo a Chiapas
P.O. Box 3421, Oakland, CA 94609
Tel: (510) 654-9587