Robin Alexander, Merrilyn Onisko, and Jennifer Harbury
OAXACA CRISIS: PLEASE SEND LETTERS, CALL CONGRESS
Let us begin with saludos solidarios, and our hopes that this letter finds you well in health and spirits. We are writing to share some very disturbing information about the current human rights situation in Oaxaca, Mexico. We had been reading about this for some time, and on Dec. 16th joined a delegation of human rights activists, reporters and lawyers. The news is grim, and we are asking that you fax or send letters to the President of Mexico via his web site, e-mail Mexican officials, and that urgent calls be made to Congress and the Mexican embassy, protesting violations of civil and human rights, including:
– the beating, killing and psychological torture of protesters
– forcing prisoners to sign false confessions
– targeting human rights attorneys
For more information:
Click here for a full report
Background on Oaxaca By way of background, the city of Oaxaca lies in southern Mexico. Like the state of Chiapas, the population is predominantly Indigenous, and 15 native languages are spoken locally. Not surprisingly, much of the traditional culture predates the arrival of Columbus. Large areas of land are still held and worked collectively, and the Guelaguetza community meetings (sharing in the Zapotec language) survive today.
Despite this proud heritage, the majority of the people live in extreme poverty. This economic situation has worsened with government indifference, falling coffee prices, exhausted land, and damaging trade policies. Not surprisingly, the people of Oaxaca began to organize and participate in peaceful popular organizations including Local 22 of the teachers union, SNTE, (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación) and many indigenous, womens, and other organizations and NGOs. These groups were often in direct conflict with the Oaxacan government which remained firmly under the heavy handed control of the PRI, which had governed Mexico for 71 years and Oaxaca even longer.
Matters came to a head last May, when Local 22 of the SNTE, comprised of some 70,000 teachers, went on strike. Their demands included raising the wages of teachers working in the state the a level commensurate with a higher cost of living, as well as assistance to students from impoverished regions. When their demands were not met, the teachers set up a makeshift encampment in the historical zócalo, or town- square, and there they stayed. At first the state government responded with a media attack. When that did not work, on June 14, at 4:00 a.m. armed police, accompanied by dogs, attacked the teachers who were sleeping with their family members and other supporters in the encampment and assaulted them with tear gas. At the same time, they took over the offices and the hotel of the union, detaining a dozen people including those who had been operating the unions radio station known as radio plantón. The police were subsequently supported by two helicopters, throwing grenades of pepper smoke and tear gas which affected not only the strikers, but neighbors and guests in nearby hotels. The tents were destroyed and burned by police in large bonfires. This also resulted in various detentions and disappearances as well as one spontaneous abortion due to exposure to tear gas. Members of the community reacted with outrage, fighting back with anything they could find. They chased the police from the square, and re-established the camp.
On June 17, several hundred local organizations came together to form the APPO, or Asamblea Popular del Pueblo de Oaxaca, demanding that Governor Ulises Ruiz step down. Meanwhile, the movement continued to grow, with large but peaceful demonstrations. On August 1, hundreds of women marched, and when denied air time by the government radio station, occupied the station and broadcast their position themselves. More than 1500 people from various organizations also joined for a forum entitled Building Democracy and Governability in Oaxaca, attended by former Bishop Samuel Ruiz.
Throughout this period police raids, beatings, and shooting continued. On October 28 four people were killed, including indymedia journalist and U.S. citizen Brad Will and a Mexican teacher, Emilio Alonso Fabian.
The Federal Preventive Police were then sent in by the Mexican government. On November 25 they appeared in full riot gear and encircled the entire area, firing tear gas. As people fled, many were arrested and beaten. Among the prisoners were many people who were simply on their way to work or to the market place that morning; 170 people were arrested that day, and most were taken to the far away prison of Nayarit. Thirty four were women, and five were minors.
Members of our delegation received testimony from more than twenty people. On our first day in Oaxaca, some of the Nayarit prisoners were released and we hurried to the square to hear the news. As we listened to civic leaders address the press, a woman ran by asking for a doctor. One of the prisoners was still suffering from broken ribs. Other released prisoners and desperate relatives came to visit us quietly. As word got out about our presence, more and more people lined up to speak with us. One indigenous woman found her husband dying. His body bore nine bullet wounds from above providing conclusive evidence he had been shot from the roof top. All the prisoners had been badly battered, kicked, struck with rifle butts, and bound so tightly some lost feeling in their arms or hands. Clearly these are violations of the Convention Against Torture (CAT).Many were seriously injured but received no medical care at all. One man, an attorney, was beaten so badly that his motorcycle helmet was broken. A broken rib had pierced his lung. He received no medical care for nearly a week. Meanwhile government threats continued against local NGOs, such as EDUCA, an organization dedicated to public educational efforts. Although the police were beginning to withdraw from the Zócalo as we arrived on Dec, 16th, the government repression continued. During the time we were in Oaxaca, an APPO leader and two activists were picked up leaving a meeting, badly beaten as a warning to others, then released. . More recently, Yésica Sánchez Maya, president of theMexican League for Defense of Human Rights (LIMEDDH), was threatened with arrest. The woman whose husband was shot to death has been subject to intimidation. The battered lawyer has had his office ransacked and remains in jeopardy. The National Commission for Human Rights issued its preliminary report on December 18, in which it concluded that 20 people had been killed, 370 injured and 349 imprisoned since June 2.
Shocking Pattern of Techniques Originating in U.S. There were certain aspects of the testimonies that were particularly shocking. In listening to the witnesses we were struck by their description of three techniques that clearly originated in the United States. For example, several reported that the police had terrorized them with ferocious dogs, an image we all remember from Abu Ghraib photographs. This practice was also documented long ago in the cases of Sister Dianna Ortiz and Inez Murillo, both of which involved U.S. agents. A second technique was the threat to throw the prisoners from helicopters into the sea, obvious psychological torture which also violates the CAT treaty. This action was in fact carried out by the U.S. in Vietnam, and often used in Latin America by U.S. backed military regimes. A third was the humiliation technique of denying toilet privileges, leaving people to defecate in their pants. Again, this is a documented U.S. technique. It would be interesting to know how many of the Federal Protective Police have direct or indirect links to the School of the Americas.
Disturbingly, we have learned that one of Ulises Ruizs officials, Manuel Moreno Rivas, has been responsible for much of the police action and was himself trained in Guatemala with the Kaibiles. The Kaibiles are the military officers who were responsible for much of the brutal counter-insurgency campaign in Guatemala, later found by the U.N. Truth Commission to have constituted genocide against the Indigenous peoples there. The report also cited daily acts of terror against the civilian population, and sharply critiqued the CIA for its long time supportive role. Moreno Rivas is now head of the Policia Ministerial Oaxaquena.
A second pattern that emerged was the obstruction of justice and blatant disregard for domestic and international law. Many of the serious violations occurred between the time that victims of such violence were picked up and the time they were taken to prison. We heard from prisoners that they had been forced at gun- point to signfalse confessions.
Meanwhile, the attacks have also been focused on local human rights attorneys, including the man whose helmet was broken, along with his ribs. He had long been working with the rural organizations, and had defended friends who were imprisoned this year. He remains in hiding now as he recovers from his emergency surgery for a collapsed lung. His office has been ransacked and many files stolen. The police continue to look for him although he does not even know what the charges against him are. Another attorney has been forced to flee the country. Threats against Yésica Sánchez are another example. As the threats and attacks against local popular leaders and organizations continue, so does the popular movement. As we left, people were planning another march. More violence is imminent.
Steps You Can Take
PLEASE Take the following steps:
1. Call your U.S. senator or representative. The switchboard number is 202-224-3121. The following links are a really easy way to e-mail your reps: email the House and email the Senate
Briefly explain the crisis and ask them to call the Mexican Embassy to express their concern over the human rights violations. Ask that they especially voice their concern for the safety of leaders of APPO, and for Yésica Sánchez.
2. If you can, please also call the Mexican Embassy or your nearest Consulate directly to express your
concern about the use of torture, the obstruction of justice, and the ongoing safety of civilian leaders.
3. Below you will find the English version of the letter which was sent to President Calderón by Lawyers Guild President Marjorie Cohn, expressing concern about the violation of civil and human rights in Oaxaca. Please feel free to use it as a model or draft your own.
We have also included information below for those of you who wish to make tax-deductible contributions.
Draft Letter You can either Fax your letter to Caldron to 011 52 (55) 5277 2376 or you can paste your letter into the web site at: http://contacto.presidencia.gob.mx/
The format is very easy: first name, last name (father’s), last name (mother’s if you use one), e-mail address and text. Then simply click “enviar.”
In any case, please emails copies to:
Licenciado Francisco Javier Ramírez Acu a [Fespinosa [at] segob.gob.mx],
Dr José Luis Soberanes Fernández [Correo [at] cndh.org.mx],
Lic Genaro Garcia Luna [Blanca.medina [at] ssp.gob.mx],
Lic Genaro Garcia Luna [Oficialia.mayor [at] ssp.gob.mx],
Ulises Ruiz Ortiz [Gobernador [at] oaxaca.gob.mx],
Dr Jaime Perez Jimenez [Quejas [at] cedhoax.org],
Dr Jaime Perez Jimenez [Correo [at] cedhoax.org],
Carlos De Icaza [Mexembusa [at] sre.gob.mx],
Lic. Rosa Lizbeth Cana Cadeza [Procuraduria7 [at] oaxaca.gob.mx],
Tnte. Jose Manuel Veras Salinas [Dgspoaxaca [at] hotmail.com],
Lic. Jorge Franco Vargas [Sriagral2 [at] oaxaca.gob.mx],
Lic Bulmaro Rito Salinas [Presidencia [at] congresooaxaca.gob.mx],
Ambassador Antonio O. Garza Jr [Embeuamx [at] state.gov]
(You will find their complete names and titles in the cc portion of the letter below if you wish to be more selective).
January 22, 2007
President Felipe de Jesús Calderón Hinojosa
Residencia Oficial de los Pinos
Dear President Calderón:
Three attorneys from the National Lawyers Guild had occasion to travel to Oaxaca where they had the opportunity to speak directly with some of the many people whose civil and human rights were violated by the Ministerial and Federal Preventive Police or by plain clothed police over the past months. They reported to me that they heard numerous, highly credible accounts of beatings, psychological and physical abuse, intimidation, disappearances, killings and attempted murder.
On their first day in Oaxaca, some of the Nayarit prisoners were released and went to the square where a rally was taking place to hear the news. As they listened to civic leaders address the press, a woman ran by asking for a doctor. One of the prisoners was still suffering from broken ribs. Other released prisoners and desperate relatives came to visit them. As word got out about their presence, more and more people lined up to speak with them. One indigenous woman found her husband after he was shot during a peaceful march: his body bore nine bullet wounds from above providing conclusive evidence he had been shot from the roof top. Virtually all the prisoners they spoke with had been badly battered, kicked, struck with rifle butts, and bound so tightly some lost feeling in their arms or hands. Clearly these are violations of the Convention Against Torture (CAT). Many were seriously injured but received no medical care at all. One man, an attorney, was beaten so badly that his motorcycle helmet was broken. A broken rib had pierced his lung. He received no medical care for nearly a week.
Although the police were beginning to withdraw from the Zócalo as they arrived on December 16th, the government repression continued. During the time they were in Oaxaca, an APPO leader and two activists were picked up leaving a meeting, badly beaten as a warning to others, then released. Meanwhile threats continue: Yésica Sánchez Maya, president of the Mexican League for Defense of Human Rights (LIMEDDH), was threatened with arrest; the woman whose husband was shot to death has been subjected to intimidation; the battered lawyer has had his office ransacked and remains in jeopardy, to list just a few examples.
There were certain aspects of the testimonies that were particularly shocking. In listening to the victims, the Guild attorneys were struck by their description of three techniques that clearly originated in the United States. For example, several reported that the police had terrorized them with ferocious dogs, an image we all remember from Abu Ghraib photographs. This practice was also documented long ago in the cases of Sister Dianna Ortiz and Inez Murillo, both of which involved U.S. agents. A second technique was the threat to throw the prisoners from helicopters into the sea, obvious psychological torture which also violates the CAT treaty. This action was in fact carried out by the U.S. in Vietnam, and often used in Latin America by U.S. backed military regimes. A third was the humiliation technique of denying toilet privileges, leaving people to defecate in their pants. Again, this is a documented U.S. technique.
A second pattern that emerged was the obstruction of justice, including reports from prisoners that they had been forced at gun-point to sign false confessions. Also of grave concern are the threats and attacks against organizations and lawyers committed to the defense of human rights. One disturbing example is the continuing campaign against Yésica Sánchez Maya, president of the Mexican Leagu for the Defense of Human Rights. The most recent development involves letters from recently released political prisoners alleging that she had incited them to violence and coerced their support of the PopularAssembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO). These same inmates declared in a Dec. 31, 2006 press conference, that they were forced to sign the letter in exchange for their release from prison.
In addition, we are aware that one of the first acts of your administration was to arrest Flavio Sosa and other APPO leaders who had traveled to Mexico City to engage in dialogue with Lic. Francisco Javier Ramírez Acu a, and that neither the state nor national commissions responsible for ensuring the protection for human rights have issued any recommendations to ensure that human rights are protected, despite the fact that they have been documenting such violations for over six months .
With all due respect, we would encourage you to take steps to resolve this situation through negotiation and dialogue and to ensure respect for civil and human rights. We are deeply concerned that what appears to be a policy of harsh repression will only exacerbate the situation by forcing more radical forces in what has to date been a largely peaceful movement to resort to more violent forms of protest. This would no doubt make it even more difficult to address the underlying problems of poverty or corrupt government by the PRI over many decades, not to mention the impact on business and tourism in what is one of the most beautiful regions of Mexico.
We therefor urge you to engage in a serious effort to reach a political solution and to resolve the issues which have been raised through negotiation and dialog rather than through repression. In doing so, we would encourage you to release all prisoners still being held in connection with this conflict, to ensure an immediate end to all physical and psychological violence and intimidation against both the population and defenders of human rights by all police as well as by those persons without uniform who have been engaging in serious violations of human rights, and a thorough, impartial and rapid investigation of allegations of violations of civil and human rights, in order to identify those responsible and ensure that justice is served.
We appreciate your careful attention to these serious issues and look forward to your response.
National President, National Lawyers Guild
cc: Licenciado Francisco Javier Ramírez Acuna, Minister of the Interior
Dr. José Luis Soberanes Fernández, Presidente de la CNDH
Lic. Genaro Garcia Luna, Minister of Public Security
Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, Governor of Oaxaca
Dr. Jaime Perez Jimenez, President of the Oaxaca State Human Rights Commission
Carlos de Icaza, Ambassador of Mexico in the U.S.
Lic. Jorge Franco Vargas, Secretaria General de Gobierno
Lic. Rosa Lizbeth Cana Cadeza, Procuraduria General de Justicia
Tnte. Jose Manuel Veras Salinas, Director de Seguridad P Blica
Lic. Jorge Franco Vargas, Secretario General de Gobierno
Lic, Bulmaro Rito Salinas, Presidente de La Gran Comision de la Camara de Diputados
Ambassador Antonio O. Garza, Jr.
TO MAKE TAX DEDUCTIBLE CONTRIBUTIONS: Rights Action provides funds to victim-support organizations and individual victims, for the following needs:
– survival needs of families whose money-earners have been killed, illegally jailed and/ or incapacitated by torture;
– travel, communication and food costs incurred by family members and friends of the disappeared and illegally detained who are frantically and bravely looking for their loved ones in hospitals, morgues and jails, and then working hard to ensure that they are no longer tortured and that they are released from their arbitrary detentions;
– investigation and reporting, and transportation and communication costs of family-support, religious and human rights organizations that are at the forefront of denouncing and trying to put a stop to the State repression.
HOW TO MAKE TAX-CHARITABLE DONATIONS:
To make TAX DEDUCTIBLE DONATIONS to the “Oaxaca Emergency fund” in the USA and Canada, make checks payable to “Rights Action” and mail to their US or Canadian office:
CANADA: Rights Action, Box 73527, 509 St. Clair Ave W., Toronto ON, M6C-1C0;
UNITED STATES: Rights Action, Box 50887, Washington, DC 20091-0887.
*** Be sure to write “Oaxaca Emergency Fund” on the check memo line and, preferably, in a cover letter.
CREDIT CARD DONATIONS: Donations can be made by credit card – go to www.rightsaction.org
*** Be sure to write “Oaxaca Emergency Fund” in the “on behalf of” box.
FOR TAX-DEDUCTIBLE DONATIONS OF STOCK, contact: Grahame Russell, 860-352-2152, info [at] rightsaction.org.