Two Years Later in Oaxaca: Part IV and Final
What’s the Difference - Law and Memory as Political Weapons
By Nancy Davies
Commentary from Oaxaca
June 23, 2008
Please read Part I, Part II and Part III of this series.
Law as a Political Weapon
In the state of Oaxaca law and justice serve only as political tools. The near-total impunity that prevails has been accompanied with imprisonments based on false charges; the government often locks up political prisoners for years. A new counter strategy of the social movement lodges criminal complaints against government officials, at both state and federal levels. Those push-back strategies simultaneously serve other political parties to discredit the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and put themselves in stronger positions. Whether or not legal charges will bring justice is hardly the point. The point is to denounce openly and publicly the figures who hide behind the mask of position, and turn the tables on the ruling government.
The Oaxaca social movement which erupted in 2006 took a non-violent stance from day one. There was never any doubt, and with good reason: governments ruthlessly crush opposition movements, leaving the moral high ground the only open road to change. Who has the social movement killed, shot and murdered? I can recall one non-APPO death: a guy was accidentally killed when he ran his motorcycle across the wire protecting a barricade. Human rights organizations – local, national and international – have documented the figures regarding government-sponsored crimes, umpteen times. They are undeniable. The government conducts low-intensity warfare, the movement survives by its wits.
An article written by Pedro Matias appeared in Noticias Voz e Imagen de Oaxaca June 16, 2008, and has been the repeated topic of its columnists’ denunciations since then – Noticias won’t let fade anything detrimental to the governor. The article announced that ex-president Vicente Fox Quesada, Eduardo Medina Mora, commander of the Federal Preventive Police of the Republic (PFP), and governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO) would be charged with “genocide” and “forced disappearance of persons”. The complaint was duly lodged with the office of the Attorney General of the Republic, naming those three, plus Lizbeth Caña, the state attorney general during 2006, Lino Celaya Luri, Manuel Moreno Rivas and Jose Manuel Vera Salinas, each responsible for actions leading to the 26 murders of movement people and the 366 detained who were tortured, plus the more than 200 wounded
The Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) senator Salomón Jara Cruz capitalizes on the legal case, catapulting himself and his absent-when-needed-PRD into the process. He repeated what everyone knows: “until now there have not been investigations, and even worse, no person has been punished for the brutal repression suffered by the people of Oaxaca.” He solicits the Attorney General of the Republic (PGR) to investigate. I’m cynical regarding his motives for late entry into the struggle, but I guess, shrewd commentator that I am, that it must be related to the next elections.
In spite of the national and international documentation by human rights organizations of crimes committed by the Preventive and Ministerial police forces, including unwarranted breaking into private homes, beatings, torture, and attacks on journalists, no charges have been brought. Oaxaca’s reputation for total impunity remains. So the criminal charges will document it all over again. This time, facts in the form of names and numbers on orders issued by the administration will back up the charges. Lizbeth Caña Cadeza, then attorney for justice, and Lino Celaya Luría who functioned as Secretary of Citizen Protection, allegedly ordered the attacks carried out by Manuel Moreno Rivas and José Manuel Vera Salinas. All were under the command of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz. Medina Mora, whose title was Secretary of Federal Public Security, controlled the PFP and collaborated with URO. The charges list the names of the victims and the dates of the attacks against them..
The movement publicizes and demands federal accountability. Along with deaths, disappearances, imprisonment and tortures of 2006-2007, there is also the case of Emeterio Merino Cruz, whose head was smashed in by local police on July 16, 2007, and the pedophile ring allegedly protected by Jorge Franco Vargas and Ulises Ruiz Ortiz
The mother of one of the pedophile victims in a kindergarten located in the suburban town of Villa de Etla, single-handedly waged her fight until it was finally picked up by the media, human rights groups and the federal justice department, and linked to another pedophile ring operating under the protection of the governor of the neighboring state of Puebla. The state administration says it will give attention to the recommendation made by the National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH). We’ll see. It occurs to me that pedophilia raises more ire than does social injustice.
Social Memory and the Big Lie
According to the columnist Verónica Villalvazo writing on May 7, 2008, denial prevails on the part of the accused PRI officials. Jorge Franco on April 30, 2008 called the news coming out “sensationalist”, referring to the article published in the national media linking him to the formation of paramilitary groups in Oaxaca and the disappearance of the two members of the Ejército Popular Revolucionario (EPR). No no, he claimed, there’s nothing to it; he’s not responsible for either act. The EPR disappearances became headlines when the federal government began to negotiate with remaining members whose foremost demand is presentation of the disappeared.
On May 5, Lizbeth Caña Cadeza stated that she’s not responsible either, there’s no proof and the charges against her are being spread by irresponsible persons. She accused the federal Secretary of Government Juan Camilo Mouriño of leaking this information to frame her. She sent a message to the daughter of the missing EPR man Edmundo Reyes Amaya denying responsibility for the disappearance of the father, because she left the position of state attorney general on April 4 of 2007 . She told the daughter that the current attorney general is the one to be questioned.
All the other accusations Caña ignored, as if the repression never happened, or if it did happen as we know it did, Villalvazo writes, nobody is responsible for anything, nobody gave the order for death caravans. They are throwing doubt onto the collective memory of those who suffered the events, the grief of the widows, the children left without fathers, or without brothers. They are saying there is nobody really responsible for these events.
But according to official documents, records were kept by the Licencia Oficial Colectiva de armamento (LOC) of the Ministerial Police of the state. Ballistics for weapons were recorded to compare them with all the shell-casings found when a homicide occurs in the state. Then the PGR began an investigation into links between the police and agencies of investigation of the state, to track the violence registered during the movement resistance (and of course into narcotic deals, which very deeply involve police agencies). “And so,” Villalvazo asks, “was nothing found? or is it that in this moment it is not prudent to mention it?”
That memory might be blurred or erased seems to be the greatest offense. It fuels the outrage of people like Villalvazo. As a memory-purchase, the government offered a financial settlement to widows and families of the movement’s assassinated. That has brought its own complaint, as reported on June 21, 2008 in Noticias – apparently a large portion of the funds allotted have been withheld.
The circle of movement widows of the year 2006 rejected the payment in a trust created by the government and accepted by the Broad Negotiation Commission of Section 22 of SNTE because in the first place, there is no justice or punishment for those responsible for the 26 deaths perpetrated during the uprising. In the second place, “the lives of human beings are not for trade, nor their convictions nor their ideas of liberty and justice, ” said Florina Jiménez Lucas, widow of José Jiménez Colmenares, assassinated the 10th of August, 2006 during a march of the APPO.
She further commented that the government itself ordered the murders and has suffered no consequences. The trust set up offered between 200 to 340,000 pesos for each death during the movement, but it allegedly holds five millions unused authorized pesos. The worry of the widows is why the authorizing committee is reserving this quantity of money from the trust, will it be maybe for “murders committed by the state in the future?” they asked.
Among those also eligible to receive compensation is the family of US Indy-media videographer Brad Will. Other families are those of Marco García Tapia, Andrés Santiago Cruz, Pedro Martínez Martínez, Pablo or Octavio Martínez Martínez, Lorenzo San Pablo Cervantes, Alejandro García Hernández, Pánfilo Hernández Vásquez, Emilio Alonso Fabián, Jorge Alberto López Bernal, Fidel Sánchez García, José Manuel Castro Patiño and Fernando González Gijón.
Digging Up the Bodies
I am being not metaphorical, but literal. Nine bodies were buried in a common grave in the city of Oaxaca’s cemetery Panteón Jardín on May 26, 2008. Noticias found out, and in their article cast doubt on whom the corpses might have been – too many persons have disappeared in Oaxaca for the event to pass unnoticed. On June 19 the bodies were exhumed under federal orders, bringing to the surface six of nine (the remaining three being allegedly too rotted for identification).
According to sources in the PGR, they were looking for new leads in the disappearance of the EPR men. But it also turned out that among the dead buried clandestinely, two were previously buried victims of drug violence, one identified because he wore on his big toe a tag used at the morgue. Both bodies had been previously found in a “narco-grave” in the municipality of Zimatlán de Álvarez. A third man died of normal causes in the Public Hospital, and a fourth was apparently a suicide, whose documents were buried with him. A fifth one, found in Zaachila, died with an ice-pick through his eye.
Now the PGR will determine correct procedures, and presumably hold accountable city functionaries responsible for authorizing burial of “unknown” persons wearing toe tags; and the still “unknown”? Still unknown. This gruesome story is important not only because of the level of suspicion on all sides regarding past events, but also, obviously, an official procedure exists to bury inconvenient bodies, and the use of DNA tests, if practiced, is not made public.
The Plight of the Media
The Mexican print media itself simultaneously suffers repression by assassinations, and by self-censorship. Within the state of Oaxaca the press split between the daily newspaper Noticias Voz y Imagen de Oaxaca, plus one or two small papers like El Tiempo; and the remaining larger paper, Imparcial which is pro-URO. In Oaxaca, as in all Mexico, the governments pay for self-congratulatory puff-pieces. In Noticias, however, a page or so further along daily articles condemn URO, variously for neglect, corruption, vanishing funds – you name it. Noticias was radicalized the same way many in Oaxaca were – by being attacked by the PRI governors of Oaxaca, first José Murat and then URO. When Noticias championed the social movement and the Asamblea de los Pueblos de Oaxaca (APPO), circulation increased dramatically. So whether they do so now for revenge or for income or for principles, it comes to the same thing – a print source firmly opposes URO’s government and expresses that by standing on the side of the movement.
According to an Information Bulletin written on June 1, 2008 and published in La Jornada, national figures say forty-six reporters and workers with the press were assassinated and ten disappeared during the six-year presidency of Vicente Fox Quesada. Under Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, in 2007 six reporters and three workers for the press were assassinated. Three forced disappearances occurred. In April two young (twenty-one and twenty-three years old) Oaxaca Triqui women were murdered, bringing the list up to 80 journalists assassinated in the past twenty-five years.
In the past seven years and four months the Latin American Federation of Reporters (FELAP-México), aided by the Federation of Associations of Mexican Journalists (Federación de Asociaciones de Periodistas Mexicanos, Fapermex) and the First Page Club, (Club Primera Plana), produced a list of forty-six assassinated, a rate of more than six per year, and more than one per year disappeared.
The National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH) acknowledges this aggression against the media and furthermore agrees that there’s no will on the part of governing authorities to do anything about it. It opened 84 new complaints cases in 2007, and documented 88 cases, which included violations of fundamental guarantees.
International organizations like Reporters Without Frontiers and The World Association of Community Radios (AMARC, in its Spanish initials) demand investigations and propose protective legislation. Accountability seemingly never comes to pass, but attacks don’t always induce fear and acquiescent silence now. The Oaxaca story is out, internationally. Non-government controlled print coverage includes Noticias, La Jornada, Proceso, and Milenio. Diego Osorno, reporter-author of the book Oaxaca Sitiada, broke the story in Proceso of the accusations made by a protected witness against Oaxaca government officials to the federal government, which led to the first arrests and investigations. The Oaxaca newspaper Noticias played that story for weeks, in an attempt to at least prevent Jorge Franco Vargas (El Chucky) from running for governor of Oaxaca.
Mexicans know about Oaxaca and the other states which suffer repression, and that makes a difference both in solidarity and actions. Government and corporate control over the commercial media remains strong but no longer total (see the popularity of Carmen Aristegui and Lydia Cacho). Video, music, drama, and the ever-present graffiti are omnipresent; tourist-oriented art galleries (two located in the historic center of Oaxaca) exhibit photographs and paintings of the uprising. Art photo galleries display scenes from 2006.
Don’t forgive and don’t forget is stenciled on the walls of Oaxaca. Expose the guilty, recount facts, keep memory alive, go to federal court. Why federal? – because President Felipe Calderon has his ass over a barrel with foreign investors. Good. That’s the best current external aid to the social movement’s strategy. He also is looking ahead to discredit the PRI totally before the next presidential election. That’s business as usual.
Related information: For Narco News – Oaxaca Archives or Order a Copy of Nancy Davies’ The People Decide: Oaxaca’s Popular Assembly
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