In February, members of the cabinet of President Felipe Calderón warned of serious problems in the war on organized crime, which has been a foremost priority of Calderón’s administration since the beginning of his term in 2006. On 9 February, Guillermo Galván Galván, head of the Secretary for National Defense, affirmed publicly that in “some regions of the country organized crime has appropriated the institutions of the State,” thus seriously threatening Mexico’s internal security. Thereafter, Alejandro Poiré, Secretary of Governance, had to recognize in the inauguration of the International Forum “Drugs: An Assessment a Century after their Prohibition” that organized crime has succeeded in infiltrating the three levels of government. Although it is unlikely that the federal government will change its strategy soon, this change in political discourse could prepare the way for a change in strategy, as regards both society and the public forces militarized within it – a means that a large segment of Mexican society has been calling into question for many years now.
Little time is left for the present administration to initiate possible changes. Next 1 July, presidential elections will be held. On 4 and 5 February, in the internal elections of the party in power (National Action Party, PAN) chose Josefina Vázquez Mota as candidate. She was presented as a promise of change without disruption. She will confront Enrique Peña Nieto, who has been chosen as candidate for the coalition between the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the Green-Ecological Party of Mexico (PVEM). For the moment it is Peña Nieto who leads in polls, although the drawn out public exposition has resulted in generating a phenomenon of voter-exhaustion and a percentage decline in the possible voters in his favor. The third candidate is Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), candidate of the coalition Progressive Movement, which draws together members of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), Labor (PT), and the Citizens Movement (MC). AMLO lost the 2006 presidential elections by 1 percentage point following elections he claimed to have been fraudulent.
On 7 February, Alejandro Poiré, Secretary of Governance, affirmed that human rights “are the top priority of this government.” In response, more than 80 civil organizations refuted this claim in a joint communiqué entitled “Human rights are NOT an existing reality in this country,” leaving clear that, while the Mexican government presents an official discourse of respect for human rights, reality demonstrates that human-rights defenders in this country are at risk. As examples they mentioned “the existing gap between the discourse of the Secretary of Governance (SEGOB) and the prevailing reality, the flouting of sentences handed down by the Inter-.American Court on Human Rights (IACHR), the defense of military tribunals, as well as the absence of a protection-mechanism for defenders. Members of social movements are also at risk: to date there have been observed three murders of persons associated with the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity (MPJD), a movement founded by Javier Sicilia in April 2011.
On the other hand, it is clear that there is little margin for denunciation if we examine the reaction of President Felipe Calderón to the demands of the 23,000 citizens who on 25 November called for the intervention of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in Mexico. Those who support the petition to the ICC hold that Calderón and his cabinet are complicit, by action or omission, with the human rights violations committed in the mark of strategy against organized crime. Calderón announced that “legal proceedings” against him would “terribly affect Mexico’s good name.” The strategy against drug-trafficking has now taken the lives of more than 50,000 as well as caused tens of thousands of children to become orphans, in addition to the thousands of disappeared and the tens of thousands who have been displaced. Calderón has continued speaking of “collateral damage” and of the “song of human rights,” claiming that 90% of the dead are drug-traffickers.
This adverse context notwithstanding, civil society continues to search out responses to the crisis: from 30 December 2011 to 2 January 2012, the Second International Seminar for Reflection and Analysis was held on “Planet Earth: anti-systemic movement” in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas. Intellectuals and activists from Mexico and other parts of the world shared their reflections and experiences regarding different social struggles. On 13 and 14 January also the first Meeting of National Members of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, in Mexico City took place. They clarified that “we do not aspire to political power, nor do we promote anyone’s political career.” They called on the citizenry to participate in different initiatives for 2012, including the campaign “Put on the Other’s Shoes,” to call on candidates to the presidency of the Republic and all other offices to dialogue directly with the country regarding the peace strategy, as well as a caravan to the United States and a National Meeting for Peace and Justice on 21 and 22 April in Cuernavaca, Morelos.
A factor that often makes the socio-political environment of the state strange is the electoral one. This is a situation that could worsen this year, given that for the first time local and federal elections (40 deputies and mayorships) will be concurrent, on 1 July. Shortly thereafter, on 19 August, elections to choose the next governor of the state will be held. Although the electoral campaigns have not yet officially begun, several potential candidates have taken advantage of their positions as mayors or legislators to promote themselves. While actors who are directly linked to political parties are unclear of who it is that will be chosen as candidates for the charges under question several social actors continue denouncing impunity or strategies for the control of people and territory – this amidst a struggle for power between the local and federal sections of the parties.
On 22 December, 14 years after the Acteal massacre in which 45 indigenous persons died, the Las Abejas Civil Society organized a series of activities in which it continued denouncing not only impunity in their own case but also the situation of violence that exists in Chiapas and throughout the country. In this sense, Raúl Vera López, former auxiliary bishop of Chiapas and present bishop of Saltillo, Coahuila, asserted that “today as yesterday the police are accomplices of those who commit robbery, murder, kidnapping, and forced disappearances.” And today as before, “the criminals also have allies within the three levels of government. If it were otherwise, they would not have the protection that maintains 98% of their crimes in impunity.”
In an act that could represent an example of this very trend, it has been revealed that the Mexican government in November 2011 sent a diplomatic note to the U.S. State Department, requesting the recognition of political immunity for ex-president Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000). Since September 2011, Zedillo has been confronted with a legal case against him for the Acteal massacre that has been presented in Connecticut. In January, Zedillo himself also presented a petition in this sense and denied bearing responsibility for the acts. Civil-society organizations and legislators have challenged both actions, asserting that immunity cannot be confused with impunity. Las Abejas have not promoted this process but instead express that “We are not against the idea that Zedillo be judged; on the contrary […]. But we are against confusion and manipulation. For example, we do not want it to be forgotten within this accusation against one sole person that the crime was one of the state, following a politics of counter-insurgency that has not ended.” Some time later, on 1 February, seven indigenous persons sentenced for having participated in the Acteal massacre were released from prison. To date, 52 of the 79 incarcerated for the acts have regained their liberty.
In other news, the topic of natural resources, land, and territory continues to be the principal basis for conflict. In December, the final declaration of the Regional Forum for the Defense of Human Rights held in San Cristóbal de Las Casas emphasized the vulnerability of indigenous and campesino communities in light of various threats such as the deterioration and looting of their territories and natural resources, generating increased poverty rates and disrupting the social fabric which then results in greater migration and conflictivity. On 25 November, approximately 8,000 Catholics from the 54 parishes of the San Cristóbal diocese carried out a pilgrimage during which different other situations were denounced having to do with these same threats and conflicts. On 20 January, adherents to the Other Campaign in Chiapas denounced the governmental strategies that “promote a war of looting that generates environmental degradation, the privatization of natural resources, super-exploitation of work, looting of land and extermination of indigenous peoples, repression, persecution, incarceration, and murder so as to contain the social struggles of resistance to their policies.” They noted that these strategies are demonstrated throughout the state, particularly in Zapatista territory. The most recent example is the Banavil ejido, Tenejapa municipality, where in December a group of about 50 members of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) used firearms to attack four families that sympathize with the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). The aggression left one dead, another disappeared, several injured, four Tseltal families displaced, and an indigenous Zapatista support-base incarcerated.
The issue of prisoners and prison conditions continues to be a motor for mobilizations both inside and outside prisons. Between mid-December and early January, members of the Front of Ejidos in Resistance in Cintalapa and Busiljá, Ocosingo, who are adherents to the Other Campaign, carried out a sit-in in San Cristóbal, to demand among other things the release of two prisoners being held in Playas de Catazajá. In January, the release of David Potenciano Torres was publicly announced, following his incarceration for 7 months, accused of homicide. His family made reference to the polemical action of the state government in the case: “the release of our David was carried out by the state-government amidst a political and media show, which attempted to make invisible and to bury the injustice, torture, abuse of power, harassment, and all damages committed against our family.” On 8 January in the San Cristóbal de Las Casas prison the sixth anniversary of the “Voz del Amate”was celebrated (an organization founded by prisoners who are adherents to the Other Campaign) with the participation of national and international individuals and organizations.
If there was experienced a formal advance in January, when the State Congress of Oaxaca approved the Law for the Defense of the Human Rights of the People of Oaxaca, society’s demands for justice in different terms continue. On 25 November, in commemoration of the fifth anniversary of the repression against the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO), a march was carried out in Oaxaca City to demand justice and punishment of those responsible for the repression. In accordance with a communiqué from the Teachers Union, “the present state government has not observed the justice that the people of Oaxaca demand, and that all those who suffered repression on the orders of Ulises Ruiz in 2006 demand.”
Some days previously, it was reported that Gabino Cué’s government had committed itself to set aside some 11 million pesos in reparations for 64 “survivors and former political prisoners” in light of the “moral damage suffered” during the 2006-2007 conflict. 44 of the 64 victims were recipients. In a subsequent communiqué, the Citizens’ Space for Truth and Justice in Oaxaca signaled for its part the “discretional management of information and a lack of transparency in the process of creating a means that would supposedly attend to the demands of justice of the victims of human-rights violations in 2006. The aforementioned has brought about a series of rumors, disqualifications, and divisions which far from repairing damages contribute to a new re-victimization.”
In another case that still has not seen progress, the Triqui indigenous people displaced from the autonomous municipality of San Juan Copala—displaced 16 months ago by members of the Union for Social Welfare in the Triqui Region (UBISORT)—held a caravan on 26 January to attempt to return to their communities. On 7 February they returned to their sit-in which they had maintained in front of the Palace of Governance in the city of Oaxaca de Juárez, due to their opposition to returning in small groups, as has been suggested to them.
Another situation that also has not improved has to do with the red alerts in communities in which part of the population opposes the implementation of mega projects. On 18 January, at least two residents of San José del Progreso, Ocotlán, who oppose the exploitation of the La Trinidad mine, were injured by gunfire presumably engaged in by members of the municipality and police. The event caused one of the two injured to die the next day. In another example, since the end of January, the “shared land owners” (comuneros) of San Dionisio del Mar, Tehuantepec Isthmus, revoked the contract they had with the Preneal firm. They peacefully occupied the municipal palace to demand that the state government of Oaxaca remove the mayor, given that he had “colluded with the firm in an attempt to impose the wind project in our territory.” (See In-Focus)
On 15 December 2011, Alejandro Poiré, Secretary of Governance, offered a public apology to Valentina Rosendo Cantú, an indigenous woman who was raped by soldiers in 2002 (see also article in present report). The importance of this act notwithstanding, it remains to be seen if those who violated her rights will be punished. This demand is seen as difficult to achieve, given that the federal government has continued to defend the use of military tribunals, despite the numerous challenges raised against it from even the highest levels. In an example of this, the Secretary for National Defense (SEDENA) at the beginning of this year denounced the unprecedented sentence by means of which relatives of Bonfilio Rubio Villegas, murdered in 2009 by soldiers, obtained the support of federal courts in a case that had challenged the extension of military tribunals over the proceedings. The Tlachinollan Mountain Center for Human Rights denounced in this sense that “SEDENA clearly shows that it will not change its defense of the applicability of military courts and […] shows that the Army is not nor will be subjected to civil control if the Code of Military Justice is not controlled..”
The most highlighted case in Guerrero regarding human rights occurred last 12 December: the use of deadly force on the part of law enforcement officers against a student mobilization in the Normal Rural School “Raúl Isidro Burgos” in Ayotzinapa left two students and one gasoline worker dead. The National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH) published a preliminary report on 8 January, in which it demonstrated the failures of the authorities involved in the acts. It indicates that the federal police, the state ministerial investigative police, and the state police were the direct perpetrators of the death of these three persons, in addition to four injured by firearms and fourteen students subjected to cruel treatment. At the root of this, governor Ángel Aguirre Rivero dismissed the Attorney General of the state, the local secretary for public security as well as the sub-secretary for security. The Attorney General’s Office of Guerrero also confirmed the dismissal of seven officials, in a move seemingly related to this case.
Separately, on 7 December, Marcial Bautista Valle, president of the Organizations of Ecologist Campesinos of the Sierra de Petatlán (OESP), and Eva Alarcón Ortiz, assessor for this organization, were kidnapped by a commando-group in the Costa Grande of Guerrero. To date investigations have made no progress. The Observatory for the Protection of Human-Rights Defenders expressed fear that “their disappearance may be clearly linked to their work as human-rights defenders. We fear also that this act has as its end the discouragement of other rights-defenders in the state of Guerrero in their work.”
In another municipality frequently signaled by human-rights organizations, Maximino García Catarino, member of the Organization for the Future of the Mixteco People (OFPM), was detained in January in Ayutla de Los Libres, accused of homicide of a PRI leader in the area. His detention occurred despite his having been awarded precautionary measures by the Inter-American Commission Human Rights (IACHR). Amnesty International (AI) expressed its concern for the detention of the activist, given that it has documented other cases of indigenous activists in Ayutla de los Libres who faced false criminal charges and spent several years in prison because they were denied the right to a fair trial.