People Respond with Solidarity to Violence in Atenco
A Day of Protests and Roadblocks In and Around Mexico City as Townspeople Flee Police
By Amber Howard
The Other Journalism with the Other Campaign in Mexico City
May 5, 2006
Students, labor organizations, unions and civilians all convened on the Mexico-Texcoco highway at 8:00 Thursday morning near metro station Santa Marta in protest with the actions happening in San Salvador Atenco, where the previous morning hundreds of police violently removed a group of flower growers from their usual selling posts. Upon the farmers’ resistance, the area erupted in confrontation. In solidarity with people from San Salvador Atenco these groups closed the highway to any passing traffic. Simultaneously, students from UNAM worked together to close Insurgentes Avenue, one of the main streets in Mexico City, the students from the Vallejo neighborhood stopped traffic on Vallejo Avenue, other students groups carried out similar actions. The highways connecting Mexico City to the cities of Puebla, Toluca and Cuernavaca were also put to a standstill for several hours to denounce the violent action happening in Atenco.
At 4:00 am, while the people of Atenco still maintained control over the area, 20 buses of police arrived filled with 1,500 police officers. Later in the morning 800 more Federal Police arrived. Their first action was to break the blockade of the Texcoco-Lecheria highway at approximately 7:00 am. The huge number of police was still being pushed back by some 60 citizens.
By 11 am news arrived that police had taken over the main plaza in Atenco, where inside the town auditorium citizens were holding police hostage. Police streamed from house to house banging on doors, taking people into custody and those whose doors did not open, they broke down doors and smashed windows. With some 200 people in custody and police still on the rampage, Narco News’ Other Journalism team decided that we needed to be there to report the injustice. People in contact with those in Atenco claimed people were in hiding in different houses trying to stay out hands of the police.
At 2:00 in the afternoon word came that the scene had calmed down significantly, that the open conflict in the street had subsided, and that the citizens were forced to retreat into their homes. Upon arriving at Atenco at approximately 2:30 in the afternoon, the only thing visible in the streets was police. Literally they swarmed like bees, taking over the plaza and filling every street with their cars and buses, Even before arriving in Atenco, along the highway there were multitudes of open air buses overflowing with Federal, State, and Municipal Police. Why such a dramatic force of police is needed for the small town of Atenco puts into question the real motive behind the action of the previous days, how much of it was pre-meditated and provoked. About 5 different police groups were present, some hosting riot gear, others in khaki with bullet proof vests, some with camouflage, hosting weapons of batons all at this point, lounging around in the shade. Amazing how just a few hours ago this was a war zone, as the police were now all but sleeping, sprawled out in the grass. The streets played tribute the damage and hostility of the days before, littered with broken glass, a mix of Molotov cocktails and people´s windows. Cars with all of the glass smashed out, black burned scars on the asphalt, no people to be seen, shops closed up and only police everywhere with every turn of the head. Walking through the streets, the remnants of pepper spray and tear gas still could be felt, burning the nose and choking the throat.
The people of Atenco were traumatized, very few walked through the streets, and those who did were to scared to talk about the actions of the previous days for fear of repercussion from the police forces still present. At one house in Atenco a group of 23 people hid in fear from the police in two rooms. Upon seeing so much violence and people fleeing with nowhere to go (many people had arrived the previous evening and were there acting in solidarity with Atenco), the couple that owned the house opened their doors at 6:30 that morning to those in need. These included 20-year-old Alexis Benhumea, badly injured from a gas canister shot by the police that hit him on the left side of the head.
Benhumea, an economics student at UNAM, came to support the people of Atenco with his father, Angel Benhumea, a professor at the same university. Even though he was brutally injured at 6:30 in the morning, those in hiding feared leaving the home to go to the hospital because of the threat of more police hostility and violence. They thought if they were to leave, instead of helping them, the police would hit or even kill the wounded young man. Without knowing what was happening outside, these 25 people sat confined in the two rooms, frightened, with Alexis bleeding profusely from the head. An attempt to call an ambulance was in vain; at 5:00 the Red Cross for the state of Mexico said its people couldn’t come for unknown reasons, and those in hiding, without any other recourse, were told to call 060 (like the U.S. “911”) or the police for help. Finally, at approximately 5:30 that evening Benhumea was taken to the hospital in an unmarked local transportation van with his father and has been there being treated for a head fracture ever since.
A meeting was called at 6:00 p.m. in downtown Mexico City to unite different groups, including many students, interested in solidarity with the people of Atenco and to create plan of action. The auditorium, Unios, was overflowing with people, all the chairs taken, with people standing in the entrance, hallways and against the walls. The general sentiment of the meeting was the need to go to Atenco to support the citizens there and denounce the police violence. It was decided to meet today, May 5, 2006 at the University of Chapingo and march together to Atenco. Anyone who is able is encouraged to come, to bring signs and banners and loud voices. Another proposition made at the meeting was to have a National Assembly in Atenco this coming Sunday May 6, 2006. One thing remains clear: the people of Atenco are not alone.
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