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The Cerro Hueco Penitentiary, Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas

Mexican Political Prisoners Framed on Drug Charges Might Get Left Behind as State Governors in Chiapas and Oaxaca Proceed with Amnesty Plans

In Mexico, drug crimes are federal charges

President Vicente Fox holds their freedom in his hands

A Holiday Season Report and Editorial

The Narco News Bulletin

"The Name of Our Country is América"

-- Simón Bolívar

Left Behind?

Mexico's "Amnesty" Won't Free Those Condemned on Federal Crimes

Special to The Narco News Bulletin by Al Giordano

December 18, 2000

In 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 Vicente Fox.

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 false confessions.

The Oaxaca 26

The 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 day."

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

Although 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, are:

Rafael López Santíz Conseta:

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 to Tuxtla:

"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 Hernández Dias

José was born in 1963 in the town of Ocozocoautla.

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 year:

"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 in part:

"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 live.

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 and justice,

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 are free.

From somewhere in a country called América,

Al Giordano
The Narco News Bulletin

Amnesty for All