|English | Español||February 23, 2018 | Issue #41|
Atenco: After the Lies Come the Facts
The People Tell the Story the Mass Media Tried to Hide
By Bertha Rodríguez Santos
Photos: D.R. 2006 Amber Howard
San Salvador Atenco is a town in pain; many of the inhabitants still feel much rage because of the cruelty and impunity with which the police entered their homes to destroy anything in their path.
In spite of this, the victims overcame their stupor and began to organize so as not to allow a second attack. Early Saturday, May 6th, community leaders held a meeting with neighbors in the Peoples’ Front in Defense of the Land (FPDT in its Spanish initials) building. They decided to form groups that would prohibit police vehicles from entering, as the previous night, armed agents intimidatingly roamed the streets.
Next door, outside the Emiliano Zapata auditorium, hundreds of people, many members of social organizations, began the Popular National Assembly, held to develop a plan of action at the national level and to resolve the immediate problem: the liberation of those being detained, the safe return of those disappeared, and punishment to the intellectual and material authors of the police attack.
Early, May 6th, friends and families anxiously searched the lists of detained and disappeared that someone posted on the local storefronts. A couple traveled from Mexico City in search of their friends Jorge Flores, Rosa Rosas de Flores and their children Emperatriz and Jordan. Jordan is on the list of those disappeared, while Jorge was last seen going to work and is now unaccounted for.
At the time of this article’s publication, there was not a set number of detainees. Some reports say 250; there is talk of five rapes, 18 disappearances, one dead child and dozens injured. One of the injured, Alexis Benhumea was “hurt by a rocket striking his head” and is hospitalized in critical condition. The number of those injured and detained and the material damage done as consequence of the confrontation is one of the questions that must be resolved soon.
According to the testimony of several neighbors, on May 3rd, just after 7:00 in the morning, a confrontation ensued between flower vendors of Texcoco and the municipal police who tried to evict them from the outskirts of the Belisario Dominguez marketplace, in spite of the agreement with the PRD municipal mayor, Nazario Gutierrez Martinez, that allowed them to sell on that day on which the construction workers celebrated the Holy Cross.
“The police began to kick their flowers and throw their things,” and that infuriated the vendors who defended themselves the best they could.
Around 8:30 in the morning, 600 members of the state police arrived and commenced hostilities against the demonstrators who, using rocks, sticks and machetes, kept the cops at a distance.
At that time, in a show of solidarity, some students marched to the highway overpass, others to the town hall (next to the Emiliano Zapata and the FPDT building).
Later, around 11:00, policemen were taken hostage, but then released as a gesture of political good will on the part of the inhabitants of Atenco in order to diffuse the situation. At that time, the number of injured on both sides counted in the hundreds.
At nightfall, exhausted by the scuffle, most of the people from Atenco returned home to rest.
The following day, May 4th, around 3:30 in the early morning, the town bells began to clang, causing some people, like Ana Maria and her kids, to go to the town center to find out what was going on.
Word had spread that the police were about to enter Atenco, but police intervention would not come until later. Due to the false alarm, many returned home.
It was not until 6:00 in the morning, when it was still “a bit dark,” that the bells rang again. Fireworks were also set off. This was to alert that the riot squad was already at the highway entrance.
Later, some 3,000 state and federal police agents surrounded the town. They entered through four main access roads. Some groups marched toward the center where there was a concentration of neighbors and students, throwing tear gas and shooting bullets. The inhabitants responded be throwing back the tear gas as well as rocks, sticks and fireworks.
According to a neighbor who was present, three helicopters — two from the state police and one from the Federal Preventive Police — hovered over the town.
The information that the police were ransacking the homes exploded like gunpowder throughout the town. Some bystanders decided to leave the area; other students sought refuge in houses. But the police, guided by two men from the community identified as Teodoro Martinez and Alejandro Santiago, entered the inhabited homes for them.
The background of these two men explains their action. Teodoro Martinez is a well-known PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) militant, resentful of having lost the municipal elections and a personal friend of the PRI state governor, Enrique Pena Nieto. Alejandro Santiago, the father of Javier Cortes Santiago (the boy slain in the initial confrontation), was commissioner of the town’s communal lands during the fight against the airport and is accused by his opponents of supposedly selling his consent in order to proceed with the project.
From the helicopters, witnesses claim, these men (one of them wearing a black ski mask) signaled which houses should be searched.
Some 20 students, men and women that tried to hide in one of the in the center of town, north of the town hall, were brutally beaten by the police. Many of them, some unconscious, were thrown into a police van to be taken to jail.
During the police operation, which lasted over 6 hours, the police beat people in the streets, including elderly people and minors, raped women — on May 6th it was also said that men who had been arrested were sexually assaulted — and entered homes by breaking doors and windows. They even destroyed the peoples’ belongings, including furniture and vehicles.
The persecution of the people in the town square took the police into the streets and alleys. In Tejocote Alley youngsters were beaten mercilessly with clubs and kicked. It is feared that it was here that the police sexually assaulted some of the four victims.
Close by, between 27th Street and September 16th Street, in Ignacio del Valle’s house, helicopters landed before dawn, the same ones used earlier to hover over the town hunting men and women that resisted the police intervention, according to the testimony of a bystander.
A young girl mentions that while “it was still a bit dark,” many students that were fleeing jumped the walls of the del Valle family house to escape the repression; they hid in Ulises del Valle’s printing press workshop. Nonetheless, a few minutes later they were dragged out and beaten. Some police wore black uniforms; others wore grey pants with bullet-proof vests.
Two days earlier — after the multitudinous march in support of the people — during a tour organized by members of the Miguel Agustin Center for Human Rights, in which attorney Lilia Moreno was present, neighbors and reporters accompanied others who observed the destruction to the interiors of the raided houses.
The del Valle household, of four rooms, is in complete disorder. In one of the rooms, a mattress is missing; clothes are flung all over the place. All the belongings, including books and dishes, are in disarray. The children’s toys are in pieces all over the floor.
Doña Elvira is another victim of the police raids. Distressed because she does not know when she can return with her five children, she invites the human rights observers to note the ransacking of her home.
Elvira cries while she discusses the moments of terror she experienced when she received word that her house was being searched. Minutes before, she managed to escape with her 5 children, four of which are minors.
The seat cushions are thrown in about, chairs are over turned on the floor and clothes are everywhere.
At the end of Tejocote Alley, there is a mesh of barb wire. The house’s windows and front door are in. From there they took three children; two were dragged away unconscious.
Someone from the house asks in a fury, “Why did they pen us in?” He complains of how unjust the government is. “The call us agitators and macheteros for fighting for our rights but everyone here uses their machetes for work.”
The house is surrounded by other houses owned by the same family. In one of the rooms, atop a table, surrounded by broken glass is a bloody face of Jesus Christ, the mute witness to institutional brutality.
In the backyard are two destroyed vehicles, one a navy blue Dart the other a grey van.
A teacher who is a member of FPDT feels that the government needed a pretext to persecute the inhabitants of Atenco. She said that faced with the presence of policemen armed with high-powered weapons and ready to beat them, the townspeople had no other option but to defend themselves.
The government had the intention to commit “a mass slaughter in the town center. They took sick people, they beat little boys and women,” she affirmed.
She held state governor Enrique Pena Nieto of the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), president Vicente Fox of the PAN (National Action Party) and the mayor of Texcoco, Nazario Gutierrez of the PRD (Democratic Revolutionary Party) responsible for “the massacre.”
After the march from Chapingo to Atenco, Santiago Medina Islas, the Atenco communal lands commissioner, said that the armed aggression made him remember the massacres of 1968. “I thought those bad governments had died,” he said.
“Mr. Nieto and Mr. Fox talk about ‘the state of law.’ Now I understand that State Rights is sending the public force and almost killing towns that defend themselves with rocks and sticks,” he expressed amidst ovations.
The mobilization in defense of the peasant farmers took a few hours to make itself felt beginning with the blockade of the highways in Mexico City and surrounding cities in the State of Mexico. Protests crossed the borders, with people manifesting their discontent with the government repression in front of the consulates in New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco.
The struggle does not stop there. Beginning this May 7th, diverse actions have taken place in search of justice in the case of Atenco. Sit-ins have begun for an indefinite amount of time in front of the Saniaguito and Almoloya jails. Student walk-outs are being planned for the 10th of May and the highways will continue to blocked throughout the country beginning of the 11th. On the 12th of May a great march will take place starting at four in the afternoon from the Mexican Department of the Interior (Secretaria de Gobernación) building to Los Pinos (President Fox’s residence), as part of the National Day of Struggle for the liberation of prisoners and to demand the whereabouts and return of the disappeared.
For the 13th of May, the Second National Assembly Against Repression is being organized, to start at midday in Atenco. Also, demonstrations will be held in front of the national offices of the PRI, PAN, and PRD. On the 15th, a National March is being considered. Thanks to national solidarity, there will be permanent demonstrations in the prisons and the center of Atenco.
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism