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Democracy - still a distant dream for Mexico’s political prisoners
Alice Hutchinson on the imprisoned Zapotecs of Loxicha

Ever 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 fishermen, 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 Mexico’s 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 in jail.

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 Vasquez’s 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 widow’s 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.
‘Day by day Loxicha has been converted into a land without law and without hope.’ Laments Valencia’s widow.

On April 10th to commemorate the murder of Emiliano Zapata, Mexico’s 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 he’s doing something, so he freed the environmentalists but he didn’t 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 Hackwriters Magazine

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