|English | Español||April 23, 2018 | Issue #41|
The Man Who Lost His Garments
A Reflection on the Police Riot in Atenco: “A government that doesn’t know el pueblo cannot possibly understand what feeds its revolutionary spirit”
By Miles Train
Photos: D.R. 2006 Ratón Maicero
Governments lie to protect their interests; and it can be posited with relative assurance that the death of Javier Cortés Santiago, 14, was not in the government’s interest. The official line thrown around in the mainstream media on the 3rd, 4th and early 5th of May (but immediately rejected by the alternative media cats on the ground in Atenco) was that Javier was killed by an exploding firecracker. The general push, or the subconscious hint (if you will), was that young Javier was killed by the reckless residents of Atenco.
However after the results of the autopsy were submitted, the Attorney General of the State of Mexico, Abel Villicaña, and the governor, Enrique Peña Nieto, publicly acknowledged that the death of the youngster was caused by a fatal 38 caliber bullet wound. Despite the fact that a 38 caliber is the precise weapon used by State Police forces that participated in the operative, Wilfrido Robledo Madrid, Commissioner of the State Security Forces, rejected the notion that his boys had killed Javier, saying “none of the elements that participated in the operative were armed.”
The testimony explains: “Whenever we partake in an operation, there’s never enough time to disarm. They only tell us, hurry up, and so we go to the operation, always armed. We hide the weapons in our pants and shirts so that the people don’t realize that we’re armed. We carry R-15s, 38 caliber shotguns — the 38 is the weapon that the chiefs have — but there’s also 9 millimeters. On this occasion, there were people armed.”
Later on in the testimony, the Human Rights Center asks: “And the kid that died?”
The state police agent responds: “It was due to the impact of a special 38.”
Human Rights Center: “And who uses that weapon?”
State Police Agent: “We, the state police, and it was a colleague who fired it.”
Human Rights Center: “Did he shoot the child in the heat of events, or was it in a direct manner?”
State Police Agent: “It was in a direct manner. It was because the kid discovered that the agent was hiding; he said that there was a state police agent, and then the agent pulled out his weapon, and fired it at him.”
The sheer scale of the police operation — the scanning helicopters, civilian-clothed informants, commanders and brigades from far-sprung regions of the State of Mexico like Tlalnepantla, Ecatepec, Nezahualcóyotl, Chalco, Amecameca, and the various police corps involved, like el FAR, Saetas, Caninos, and Ases, as well as the Federal Preventive Police — unleashed against the machete wielding farmers of Atenco, as well as against resident bystanders, leaves no room for doubt: the orders came from above. Responsibility is a bitch too.
Just as George W. Bush was (and continues to be) materially implicated in, let’s say, the Abu Gharaib scandal, Vicente Fox is materially implicated in all of the expected, and unexpected, consequences of the Atenco op. The notion must have him and his cronies squirming.
On the morning of May 4th, the federal and state coordinated police operative descended upon Atenco with bludgeoning force. As John Gibler, a fellow for Global Exchange, reported, “Around 6:30 AM, over three thousand police surrounded Atenco and invaded, filling the streets, cutting down everyone in their way with clubs and firing tear gas, both to disorient, and to kill. Several protestors were shot in the head at close range with metal gas pellets three inches long and an inch in diameter.”
Chaos reigned in the streets. The residents of Atenco resisted the onslaught, using anything in their means; they burned trailer tires, chucked Molotov cocktails, and wielded fists and machetes. Within hours of the police bombardment, however, the resistance was squashed, and San Salvador Atenco succumbed. It was soon an occupied city.
Men, women and children huddled quietly in their homes, hiding, and waiting for the violence to pass. The police however had received specific orders.
According to testimony by the state agents gathered by the Center: “Then came the order, it came from the government, by way of the commanders, to enter into homes and disperse the people.”
The Human Rights Center asked: “Was the instruction to detain only the people who had participated with the leaders?”
State Agents: “No, everything that moved. Because people were detained that had nothing to do with the events. Some were going to work, others were just riding on their bicycles, just watching; they also got taken away. Everyone that was found in the streets and everyone that was taken from their homes.”
Young teenagers, women, machete-wielding campesinos, innocent bystanders, Mexican journalists, foreign activists and photo-journalists were apprehended indiscriminately, bloodied-up, roughly thrown like animals into police vans, and taken for an unusually long ride to Santiaguito prison.
There are various, horrifying testimonies given by women of Atenco, as well as foreign activists and journalists (from Chile, Catalunya, Germany), about what occurred in the sweaty, dark lawlessness of the police vans, en route to Santiaguito jail. Filthy hands groped between the womens’ legs, hard fists came down on their breasts, sacks were placed over their heads; there was penetration in some cases. They were called “putas” and beaten for moving. They were touched, roughed up; their faces pressed in puddles of blood; their clothes were left in tatters. Some were raped, others were groped. All of them were violated. After almost three hours, the vans arrived at Santiaguito jail. The foreigners were deported; the locals were left, trembling and unattended to, in the cells of Santiaguito.
The police operative launched against Atenco had one single and irreducible, message: dissent will not be tolerated; the “mano dura” (hard hand) of the state will be applied. The idea, at its roots, is Machiavellian. “It is better to be feared than loved,” Machiavelli argued in The Prince, citing the fact that “it is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with.” Later however, Machiavelli writes in Chapter XIX, “that one should avoid being despised and hated.” He continues, “It makes him hated above all things…to be rapacious, and to be a violator of the property and women of his subjects.”
In 2002, the government sought to forcefully displace the inhabitants of San Salvador Atenco, to make way for the expropriation of 11,000 acres of their land, and the subsequent construction of a new Mexico City Airport. The inhabitants were offered, as compensation for the expropriation, the absurd sum of 6 pesos (fifty U.S. cents) a square meter. They resisted; they fought hard and well. Their property, and thus their livelihood, was at stake.
On May 3rd and 4th of 2006, the police operation sought to forcefully displace the local flower vendors from their traditional market in the center of town. Again, it was an attack on their property, and thus their livelihood. The government wanted to, this time, make way for the construction of a Wal-Mart (in this case the three dominant political parties are materially implicated: Texcoco mayor, Nazario Gutiérrez (Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD in its Spanish initials); Mexico state governor, Enrique Peña Nieto (Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI); and Vicente Fox, president of the Republic (National Action Party, PAN).
Violator of Women:
What follows is an extraction of the translated version of a letter written by Valentina Palma Novoa, a Chilean woman who has lived in Mexico for 11 years and is a student at the National School of Anthropology and History:
They pulled me up by my hair and said, “Get in the truck, bitch.” I could barely move but they demanded that we move incredibly quickly. They tossed me on top of other wounded and bleeding bodies and ordered me to lay my head in a pool of blood. I didn’t want to put my head in the blood, but the black boot of a police officer forced me to do it. The truck started and began to move. Along the way, I was groped by the hands many police officers. I just closed my eyes and clenched my teeth, hoping that the worst would not happen.
My pants were down when the truck stopped and I was ordered to get off. I got down awkwardly and a female police officer said, “Leave this bitch to me,” then hit my ears with both of her hands. I fell, and two police officers took me through a line of police who kicked us as we moved towards a bus.
Once on the bus, another female police officer asked me my name, while two male officers grabbed my breasts violently and threw me on top of the body of an old man whose face was nothing more than a crust of blood. The old man cried out in pain when he felt the weight of my body on top of him. I tried to move but a kick to the back stopped me. My own shout made the old man scream out again, asking for God’s mercy.
A woman’s voice ordered me to move to the back stairway of the bus. I did as she said and, from there, I could see the bloodied faces of the rest of the prisoners and the blood spreading across the floor. Although I was not bleeding, my hands and clothes were spattered with the blood of other prisoners.
A government cannot rule a people that it does not know or understand. This was the lesson of the Zapatista uprising of 1994, and again, as the cliché tells us: History repeats itself. The recent events of San Salvador Atenco will be a defining moment (as journalists love to say: a watershed moment) in the popular struggle of contemporary Mexico. For in the end, the Other Campaign, which has been slowly, laboriously gathering momentum throughout the southern and central states of Mexico (despite the systematic lack of mainstream media coverage) is a movement of consciousness. As such, it cannot be measured in polls or statistics; it is a creeper movement that is heaving down below. Whatever occurs in the next months in San Salvador Atenco — whether or not the prisoners are freed, whether or not Marcos remains in Atenco, as he promised, until the last one is released, whether there are impeachments or not, whether the government continues to insist that the EZLN disarm — the presidential elections will go on as scheduled. There will be loud boisterous inaugural ceremonies; international treaties will continue to be signed; thousands of immigrants will continue scurrying over the border; coffee, bean and grain prices will remain low; rural workers will continue to flood to the cities; impunity will reign. But San Salvador Atenco will remain, engrained in the Mexican imagination. It will be lost in the mainstream media, but will continue to feed the revolution of consciousness that is occurring in The Other Campaign. San Salvador Atenco will come to symbolize not only a place of heroic popular protest, but a place where the daily lashes to dignity suffered by el pueblo at the hands of the institutions of state, were given traction and form. In the end, a government that doesn’t know el pueblo cannot possibly understand what feeds its revolutionary spirit.
The Man, one day down the road, will lose his garments. They’ve already begun to unravel. He will be naked for a flash and then no longer… no longer.
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism