Democracy - still a distant dream for Mexicos political prisoners
on the imprisoned Zapotecs of Loxicha
since 150 of their husbands, sons and brothers were rounded up,
tortured and imprisoned, the women of Loxicha, have been campaigning
for their release.
the environmentalists and the General are free, but not our forgotten
husbands argue the wives of the imprisoned Zapotecs of Loxicha
in the southern Mexican State of Oaxaca.
The token releases of some prisoners of conscience made by President
Vincente Fox in his efforts to clean up Mexicos unenviable human
rights record might be one of the reasons fooling outsiders in to believing
that Mexico is, as George Bush recently stated a truly emerging
democracy. But, the people of Loxicha remain adamant that the
releases are nothing more than well timed political maneuvers and that
institutional reform is as distant as ever.
Despite a four year permanent protest in the town square of Oaxaca City,
initiating a hunger strike, organising international support from human
rights groups and walking Zapatista style all the way to
Mexico city to demand freedom under a proposed amnesty law, they have
so far failed to catch the attention of a President who says that he
is busy creating a Mexico that defends and protects human rights
in every place and in every hour. During his Presidential election
campaign Fox promised to assist the Loxichans. But all they have to
show after a year of his rule is a dead mayor, a string of thieving
municipal administrators, an ever present army and 26 husbands still
The army raided the poverty stricken coffee lands of Loxicha, in 1996
on the pretext of chasing a purported cell of the EPR, (Popular Revolutionary
Army) a guerilla group which originated in neighboring Guererro. The
EPR staged a number of hit and run raids in Guerrero and Oaxaca in the
summer of 1996, attacking the popular coastal resort of Huatulco, killing
numerous members of the police and army. They also kidnapped the then
head of Banamex, reputedly earning themselves the highest ransom fee
ever collected in Latin America. After identifying one of the guerrillas
as a former municipal officer of Loxicha the army justified their invasion,
and detention of 150 men, including the municipal administration and
all the school teachers. The prisoners deny involvement with the EPR
and maintain that their confessions were extracted under torture. The
EPR also deny any connection between themselves and the people of Loxicha.
After being beaten and forced to drink barrels of water, before suffering
electric shock treatment the men signed blank pages on which confessions
were later filled in. Some of those tortured reported that white skinned
men in FBI caps assisted. FBI training officers are known to have been
in Oaxaca in 1997 training local security forces.
Although 26 men remain in prison, the others have now been freed under
a state amnesty law. 15 others were murdered and 22 have disappeared.
Those that were released found neither land nor work or the tools that
had been promised. Some received death threats and many have migrated
North or gone to the US in search of work . Four years after the initial
mayhem, Loxicha remains militarized, with three army bases in different
villages, but as one former prisoner notes our relationship with
the army is changing, they are starting to do social service, cut our
hair, paint the schools.
The army are apparently less helpful protecting Loxichans as Jaime Valencia
found out. Valencia won the local elections in 2001 and succeeded in
ousting the corrupt municipal administrator Lucio Vasquez who reportedly
helped the army pick their victims in 1996, pointing them in the direction
of all those that threatened his position. Valencia vowed to investigate
Vasquezs accounting practices. After taking office on the 1st
January of this year Valencia was shot dead by unidentified assailants
as he was leaving his office on January 12th. Vasquez is said to have
ordered the killing from his prison cell, where he is serving time for
various other assassinations. The situation is not getting any better
despite Valencias widows attempts at overthrowing the newly imposed
administrator, Gilberto Romo Jimenez who is robbing the community blind,
with some forty thousand pesos having gone missing already.
by day Loxicha has been converted into a land without law and without
hope. Laments Valencias widow.
On April 10th to commemorate the murder of Emiliano Zapata, Mexicos
revolutionary hero the Loxichan campaigners joined thousands of other
protesters in Mexico city demanding freedom of all political prisoners.
Along with the Mexican Human Rights League and others the Loxichans
have been pressing Fox to act on the stalled federal amnesty law and
release the remaining prisoners.
Until the federal amnesty law is enacted it is easy for Fox to only
use his Presidential power of selective amnesty when the political need
arises. Charged in 1993 for illegal enrichment by a military tribunal
days after he published an article denouncing human rights abuses in
the army, General Gallardo spent nearly nine years in jail protesting
his innocence. Gallardo's release came only weeks after the president
announced his decision to pardon two fishermen in Michoacan State. They
were serving 20 year sentences for allegedly kidnapping fisheries officials.
Their case received considerable attention from rights groups who called
the charges a "sham."
A month earlier, Fox released two peasant environmentalists jailed in
Guerrero State on "humanitarian grounds" owing to the illnesses
that both were suffering from. They had been convicted on weapons charges,
but supporters say they had been framed by the military, who were seeking
to protect local logging interests. Their release coincided neatly with
a speech Fox was to give to the UN on human rights. It was perhaps similarly
unsurprising that their defense attorney was the recently murdered Digna
Ochoa, whose still unsolved death continues to stir outrage amongst
human rights organisations. Fox has to look like hes doing
something, so he freed the environmentalists but he didnt absolve
them of the charges. The cycle of impunity remains. warns a spokesperson
from Amnesty International in Mexico.
Despite the tireless efforts of the protestors, it looks unlikely that
Fox will take any action to free the prisoners of Loxicha until he is
in need of another political pawn.
© Alice Hutchinson 2002
Alice is currently writing for a small English language paper in Mexico
The Oaxaca Times and has had pieces published in Latin
America Press and The News, Mexico.
All political views andf comment expressed are by
the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of
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