The Cerro Hueco Penitentiary, Tuxtla
Mexican Political Prisoners
Framed on Drug Charges Might Get Left Behind as State Governors
in Chiapas and Oaxaca Proceed with Amnesty Plans
drug crimes are federal charges
President Vicente Fox
holds their freedom in his hands
A Holiday Season Report
The Narco News Bulletin
Name of Our Country is América"
Mexico's "Amnesty" Won't
Free Those Condemned on Federal Crimes
Special to The Narco News Bulletin
by Al Giordano
December 18, 2000
the coming weeks, the new governor
of Chiapas, Pablo Salazar, says he will order the release of
indigenous political prisoners at the Cerro Hueco Penitentiary
and other prisons as part of the peace process. In the coming
days, as many as 20 of those prisoners could return to their
towns, most of them in autonomous municipalities that are Zapatista
bases of support.
But there are 103 known Zapatista political
prisoners, including some on federal charges who will require
federal action to attain their liberty.
Next-door, in the state of Oaxaca, Governor
José Murat has moved quickly to free political prisoners
accused of connections with the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR,
in its Spanish initials). He convened the state legislature early
this month and steered through an amnesty law. On Christmas day,
61 imprisoned indigenous members of the Zapoteco ethnic group
will rejoin their families in the Sierra of southern Oaxaca.
Another 250 who have been chased on arrest warrants for years
will also be included in the Amnesty.
The welcome acts from these two state
governors, so necessary for peace and justice, however, place
a grave responsibility in the hands of Mexico's new President
As The Narco News Bulletin documented
in our nine part series on Chiapas, there
are political prisoners in Chiapas who were framed on drug charges.
They were arrested and tortured because they were suspected of
sympathizing with the Zapatista rebel movement, or just for being
indigenous. And there is nothing that the state governor can
do to release them or fellow prisoners on other federal charges,
such as possession of arms, for which some were also framed.
Only an order from Fox can free them.
And Israel Ochoa Lara, defense attorney
for Zapoteco Indians in the Loxicha region of Oaxaca who are
political prisoners, told La Jornada on December 8th that
the amnesty underway in that state leaves 26 indigenous prisoners
behind. They, including the former mayor of San Augustín
Loxicha, will be left behind bars because they were incarcerated
on federal charges.
In the third state where indigenous and
social activists have been most brutally persecuted, Guerrero,
the governor has spoken positively of an amnesty. Governor René
Juárez Cisneros, however, has not acted quickly on an
administrative level. So far he has offered only words, not deeds.
Two of Mexico's most known political prisoners,
the environmental activists Rudolfo
Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera García, are still in prison
in Guerrero. The Goldman Foundation focused attention on
their plight last Spring, and recently 160 international human
rights organizations called upon Fox to free them. They, too,
were framed on drug charges and then brutally tortured into signing
The Oaxaca 26
La Jornada story of December 9, 2000, by Víctor Ruiz Arrazola,
tells the story.
Here some key translated excerpts:
The State House of Representatives
unanimously approved an amnesty law for the state that principally
benefits 61 indigenous Zapoteco prisoners and another 250 who
have outstanding arrest warrants against them for presumed connections
with the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR).
Israel Ochoa Lara, defense
attorney for the Zapotecos of the Loxicha region accused of belonging
to the EPR, said that this law is on the state level and so it
will not help the 26 indigenous defendants accused of belonging
to the EPR and those who have been charged with federal crimes.
Among them, nine are incarcerated in the maximum security prison
of La Palma in the State of Mexico. "Their cases will continue
under normal judicial process and in their case we hope for an
amnesty from the federal government."
The amnesty law
recognizes that beyond the EPR "similar armed groups appeared,
calling for a rebellion, that according to their own words, were
motivated by the same causes of social vindication, such as the
self-named Popular Revolutionary Indigenous Army (ERPI) and the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of the People (FARP)."
The legislation sustained
that in the face of such circumstances of violence, "and
as a response to the recurring demand of the people of Oaxaca
to construct the peace, it is necessary to institute the legal
means to declare an amnesty that will aid the return of harmony
between the Oaxacan people
It establishes that the
state government "will implement support programs such as
viable development projects and technical assistance for those
who are governed by this law, and for the victims of the crimes
that are the subject of this amnesty, giving them farm tools,
seeds, machines and equipment with the goal of promoting economic
and social development."
The defense lawyer of
the Loxicha Indians, Ochoa Lara, said that those prisoners who
will benefit from this law "could be freed on Christmas
He clarified that "the
other 26 prisoners have federal charges against them, some have
two or three charges, like the former mayor of San Agustín
Loxicha, Augstín Luna Valencia."
He said that since September
of 1996, when the detentions of Zapoteco Indians in the Southern
Sierra of Oaxaca, 141 persons have been arrested for connections
with the armed group. As of today, 54 have been liberated by
federal judges due to lack of evidence against them.
It is not known how many of the 26 remaining
political prisoners from Oaxaca on federal charges were charged
with drug crimes. And, indeed, part of the state amnesty law
calls for shielding their names and erasing their criminal records
in cases where there had been no previous convictions. But that
the Mexican military and police agencies have used drug laws
as a pretext to harass indigenous communities and individuals
in Oaxaca is an accepted fact of recent years in that state,
the only state where, with 55 percent of its population, a majority
of its citizens are indigenous.
Again, only Vicente Fox, perhaps with
some good advice from his top national security advisor Adolfo
Aguilar Zinser (if international organizations are looking for
someone to contact), can restore justice to the these men, their
families and communities, by ordering a federal amnesty.
The Chiapas Six
the Chiapas conflict has received more
international and national attention than the dirty war that
has been waged for years in Oaxaca, the fact that some of the
political prisoners there were framed on drug charges has not
been covered by any commercial news agency.
I interviewed these men in 1998 at the
Cerro Hueco Penitentiary, all members of The Voice of Cerro Hueco,
the organization of 103 Zapatista political prisoners. Shortly
thereafter I sought publication for their stories in some of
the major national magazines out of New York. "Chiapas is
old news," said one editor, declining to publish it.
Indeed, these six men, none of whom are
guilty of the crimes for which they were imprisoned, were a large
part of the motivation to begin publishing Narco News on the
internet: to get their story out there to the world.
These are summaries of each of their stories, published in longer
form on these pages last summer. These good men, awaiting justice,
Rafael López Santíz
A 43-year-old Tojolabal Indian, schoolteacher,
and father, was a prominent activist in the region near Las Margaritas,
Chiapas. On June 30, 1995, after participating in a teachers
rally on that city's central plaza, police arrived and arrested
him, claiming that they had found opium in his house. Rafael,
who as a member of a Zapatista base community does not drink,
do drugs or traffic in them, has always emphatically denied the
charges. His statement to the court reveals the common techniques
that were used against him and others, the use of drug laws and
torture to frame innocent men:
"They began to torture
and burn me all over my body with electric shocks. They put Tehuacan
(carbonated mineral water) up my nose. They put polyethelene
in my eyes. They made me so I couldn't breathe. They put me in
a tub with ice water. I vomited blood. Then came four Judicial
Police. They brought me to a place far away, where there are
no people, a hidden place, where they said... 'Now you are going
to sign the document against another person.' But we said we
are not going to sign the document. They went on giving us more
beatings, where they broke two ribs and already I vomited blood:
'Good, good, children of the fuckers, sign the document because
we are going to continue beating you. If you don't follow your
tortures we are going to take out your tongue. And your two ears
we will have in our hands with a knife... Sign it, cocksuckers,
yes! or we'll keep beating your ribs and... we'll shoot you if
you don't sign this document."
Rafael, despite the tortures, did not
sign the document. For this he went to Cerro Hueco. And no state
level amnesty can free him.
Norberto López Rincón
Norberto, 64, had seven children, at least
35 grandchildren and five great grandchildren, as of this interview
almost three years ago. He was a known supporter of the PRD party
in his community. On August 26, 1995, he was travelling by bus
"The police boarded
the bus; the Federal Highway Police, the State Police and the
Federal Judicial Police, looking at the bags overhead. They pulled
out a backpack and found 900 grams, almost a kilo, of marijuana.
There was another passenger from my community on the bus -- a
PRI member -- who started shouting that the bag belonged to me.
They dragged me off the bus and began to torture me with Tehuacan.
But I didn't sign the confession. They gave me ten years before
I'm eligible for parole."
David Hernández Hernández
David, a 26-year-old Tzotzil Indian, was
arrested on January 23, 1996, on marijuana trafficking charges,
in a case of intentional "mistaken identity."
"I went into the
street one morning to buy bread. I went to the store of a man
named Mario Brindis, the owner. The store was closed. I rang
the bell, asked two times for the owner. There were people there
but they didn't open the door. Suddenly, the municipal president
showed up -- I know him, he's with the PRI, and he knows me --
he brought the police and said I was David Hernández Sanchez,
a man they had been seeking. But my name is David Hernández
Hernández. I'm not the same man. But the municipal president
insisted I was this man. I said to him, 'Why are you doing this?
I have a good reputation. A narco-trafficker? I don't like drugs.
I don't even like cigarettes."
"They took me and
beat me. I don't know who accused me. My lawyer never came to
see me. I got ten years as a sentence."
Gustavo Estrada Gómez
Gustavo, now 43, received a 10-year sentence
on drug charges.
"On the 27th of June,
1996, I left my house and headed to work on a second-class bus
There was a police operation in Ocozocoautla: the Attorney General's
troops, the State Police, the Federal Highway Police, were all
there, together, inspecting the bus. There were boxes of marijuana
down below. I had brought only a backpack. But they said the
boxes were mine. I was arrested by the public security police.
I denied it repeatedly. They threatened to shoot me with guns
and beat me if I didn't say it was mine. It was fabrications.
And so I came to Cerro Hueco and now I'm fighting. We are going
to obtain liberty."
Mario Diaz Gómez
Mario, 34, has four kids. They lived with
his father in the famous Tzotzil village of San Juan Chamula
a few miles outside of San Cristóbal.
Mario was known in his community -- the
only major Tzotzil-speaking town that was strongly allied to
the ruling PRI -- as a sympathizer of the Zapatistas. On June
5, 1996, he headed for San Cristóbal:
"I was walking in
San Cristóbal, on the road toward the civil registry,
when I encountered a booth of the State Police. I didn't have
any fear of them. They brought me into the booth and put a suitcase
in my hands. 'That's not mine,' I said. 'It's not possible.'
"'No, it's yours,'
they told me, and called the Federal Judicial Police. They wanted
me to confess. They beat my ribs, they were broken for a month.
They tortured me with Tehuacan. The authorities were pure PRI
members of the evil government. I had no money to get out of
there, no help. I got a five-year sentence. They said there were
350 grams of marijuana in the suitcase."
José was born in 1963 in the town
In May of 1994 he traveled five hours
away to Chancala, near Palenque, seeking work. Like many Tzotzil
Indians, José did not speak much Spanish before he went
to prison. He tells of what happened to him on May 27th of that
"A man offered me
work on his ranch. I helped him bring his things, carried his
suitcase. I didn't know what was inside of it. We were walking
down the road and he stopped and said, 'Wait for me by the big
tree down the road.' I followed the road and there was a military
roadblock. I walked confidently. But when the soldiers inspected
the suitcase it had marijuana in it. They say it was 4.5 kilos.
I waited for the man who didn't come. The soldiers gave me to
the police, who took me to the state of Tabasco, to Tenosique,
where I was passed through a public minister's hearing without
a translator. I couldn't understand much of what they were saying
but I understood that, among other things, they accused me of
being from Tabasco. They sentenced me to 11 years in jail."
The national daily El
Universal reported on December 15th that the Voice of
Cerro Hueco, to which these six men belong, "recognizes
the existence of 103 Zapatista political prisoners in Chiapas
and Tabasco jails." According to the new state prosecutor,
"the first 20 of them could achieve their liberty through
a law for suspending their sentences."
That would still leave 83 of these men
in prison, including the six framed drug war prisoners.
On December 10th, the Voice of Cerro Hueco
sent this communiqué to the public, which we translate
"Companions: We send
you a combative salute and thank you that you have never forgotten
about us here were we find ourselves kidnapped. We always had
faith in you and in the struggle: the motor the moves us to fight
for the social rights of our indigenous communities; the motive
of supporting and sympathizing with the struggle is because you
have always said that you were not born to kill, nor to rob,
nor to harass, nor exploit our indigenous towns, but to give
us the natural value that we have for our culture and our customs,
to recuperate our origins and our lands from which we were displaced.
They have denied us the right to education, health and communication
for a long time and through you the dawn for our indigenous peoples
began. We don't want more exploitation. We want to be participants
in the transformation and the personal progress of our peoples.
We don't want their objects of exploitation, like the systems
of governments who wanted to destroy our existence wished. They
were wrong. Here we are to reclaim our land to feed our children
and work it as it is owed. It has always been our fight and yours
founded in real facts in which our indigenous peoples are not
seen as objects or animals. We are human beings and here we are
to struggle, to continue forward until we have a honest way to
Now we are awaiting the
signals of conditions that you put for our liberty, assuring
them value in the fight with our heads high in union with Civil
Society and our communities. You have been our hope and sustenance
of our resistance in the struggle. Here and there we will always
be loyal because we don't know triumph nor victory, the reasons
for which you are fighting for the good of everyone. That is
all. Thank you very much.
For liberty with dignity
The Voice of Cerro Hueco
We, at the Narco News Bulletin, return
that combative salute and pledge to all the political prisoners
on drug charges or other pretexts, we will not rest until you
From somewhere in a country called América,
Amnesty for All