The Narco-State of Chiapas Part IX in a series
The Narco News Bulletin
The Voices of Cerro
2000 DRUG WAR HEROES OF THE MONTH:
López Santíz Conseta
Norberto López Rincón
David Hernández Hernández
Gustavo Estrada Gómez
Mario Diaz Gómez José Hernández Dias
TUXTLA GUTIÉRREZ, CHIAPAS
STATE CAPITOL, CERRO HUECO PENITENTIARY: "Cerro
Hueco" means Hollow Hill. The prison, however, is full.
Some of these interviews were conducted
inside one cell where 38 men slept on the floor, on makeshift
mattresses of cardboard, in a space measuring about 20-by-30-feet.
There are more than 100 political prisoners
in Cerro Hueco, all of them sympathizers of the Zapatista indigenous
movement or accused of supporting it. They are members of the
prisoners organization "The Voice of Cerro Hueco,"
many of whose members are recognized by Amnesty International
and other human rights groups as political prisoners.
The following interviews were conducted
on April 26, 1998, inside the Cerro Hueco penitentiary. Each
of these men was charged with violating the drug laws. These
are their stories, in their own words.
Rafael, 43, is a Tojolabal Indian with
seven children. He lived in the town of Las Margaritas, in the
colony called "Rafael Ramírez," before he was
taken to prison.
"All drugs and alcohol are strictly
prohibited in my community, a base of support for the Zapatistas,"
Rafael begins, speaking through the bars of the section of Cerro
Hueco for sentenced prisoners. "I'm a school teacher at
the High School in Comitán. I've always participated in
organizations: the Union of Ejidos (communally-farmed lands)
and the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD)."
"On June 30, 1995, I attended a public
meeting of teachers. None of us had been paid in two weeks, and
we were demanding our money. As the meeting ended, some of us
remained there in the Central Park of Las Margaritas. Two unknown
persons came up to us and asked for my name. I answered with
my full name: Rafael López Santíz Conseta. The
men revealed themselves to be police."
"They said they had found drugs in
my house. They said I had 1.5 kilos. Of what? I don't know the
word. No, it wasn't marijuana. Poppy? Amapola? Yes, that's what
they called it. It's totally false. We don't use drugs or alcohol.
We don't want it in our town. This whole dispute is over my father's
land. He wouldn't surrender it, so they came for him and they
came for me. For two years, in this prison, I've had a sinus
infection. See? My face is all puffed up from the inside. It
hurts. But I have an eleven-year sentence with no more ability
Rafael presented the reporter with a copy
of his written statement to the court. As a teacher, he can read
and write quite well. His letter is articulate in how it describes
the tortures and other human rights violations that are very
common in the drug war in Chiapas and elsewhere (see
the story of Rudolfo Montiel, in Guerrero, who has recently
drawn international attention after receiving the Goldman environmental
prize this Spring.)
Rafael wrote to the judge:
"In 1992 my father
was arrested for belonging to an organization that was accused
of looting by members of the PRI party. The majority of people
are obligated to join the PRI.... They weren't happy with us
because we belong to the organization of ejidos Tierra y Libertad
(Land and Liberty), and what they wanted was for us to quit the
organization and join the PRI."
"We always say not
to be afraid, that we are going to continue forward because we
are coming from behind. We don't commit crimes and we don't have
arms to defend ourselves.... I have seven children and they are
not receiving an education right now because I don't have the
money to pay for their school supplies."
"I didn't know I
was involved in this 'crime against the health'.... In June 1995
we were waiting along with other compañeros -- teachers
hoping that they would pay us for the two weeks they owed us.
I didn't know there was an order to capture me. We had a meeting
in Las Margaritas that ended at about 3 p.m. I was sitting in
the park with my friends and three unknown people came and asked
me for my name. I gave them my complete name. They identified
themselves with credentials in their hands as from the Attorney
General's office and said they would accompany me to clear this
up.... I protested saying, 'What crime? Tell me. I'm not killing
anybody?' They arrested me, unjustly, and put me in the cabin
of a little truck."
"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."
The then 41-year-old indigenous activist,
who never signed the confession his torturers demanded of him,
added: "I have been permitted to know first-hand the injustices
and poverty that the indigenous communities live in. It is for
this, together with my passion for my labor, that I have not
discontinued my conscientious political participation, to seek
to resolve the problems of my indigenous brothers."
Norberto, 64, has seven children, at least
35 grandchildren and five great grandchildren, as of this interview
two years ago. He worked in the cornfields of Villa Curso, growing
corn and beans, in the colony of La Revolución, about
two hours from the state capital of Tuxtla Gutiérrez.
A Chol Indian, 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 is a 26-year-old Tzotzil Indian
from the colony of Ignacio Zaragoza, municipality of Ixhuataa,
near Simojovel. He learned to speak Spanish in prison. During
his trial process, he could not understand the questions or the
charges and was not provided an interpreter, nor a lawyer. He
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, is from Libera Tuñajen,
a Zapatista base of support in the municipality of Copainala,
near Tuxtla Gutiérrez. He 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
of the Transporte Figueroa lines, from Cintalapa to Tuztla. 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 is 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 was born in 1963 in the town
of Ocozocoautla, the colony called Luis Echeverria Alvarez.
In May of 1994 he traveled five hours
way to Chancala, nearer to 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 inpected
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. 'I'm not Tabasqueño,' I said. 'I'm
from Luis Echeverria Alvarez.' They sentenced me to 11 years
These six cases each demonstrate the Mexican's
use of drug laws against indigenous peasants who don't use or
touch drugs in any way. Some of the cases show clear political
motive for framing the prisoner. Others, the usual racist application
of the drug war: in the US, it's against Mexicans and blacks.
In Mexico, it's against Indians. It's against everyone and everything
except for drug trafficking and abuse.
As the interviewer, I am frustrated with
myself for not gaining publication for these interviews sooner.
Some of the best magazines in New York rejected this story: "Nobody's
interested. Chiapas is old news. It's too gruesome. It won't
sell magazines." This has bothered me for two years. The
stories of these men also compelled the foundation of The
Narco News Bulletin, so that there would be a forum for them
to speak in their own words.
In recent weeks, after the similar story
of Rudolfo Montiel in Guerrero was made internationally famous
by the granting of the Goldman environmental prize, his story
was finally told on a large scale. Hillary Clinton received his
wife at the White House. But still, Rudolfo is not free. Let's
hope that the international press and human rights organizations
do not wait for these six great men, who have suffered more in
five years than most people suffer in a lifetime, to win some
international prize. The prize they seek is liberty.
As I left the Cerro Hueco penitentiary
and walked down the Hollow Hill, I was shaken, but also inspired.
I had been, for my own political activities, in more than a dozen
jails and prisons in the United States during the anti-nuclear
movement of the '70s and '80s. North of the border, most prisoners
just talk about ourselves, our own cases. These men spoke of
each other, of the greater injustices done to all. People like
them do not belong in prison. The people who put them there,
those who make the policies that so obviously lead to injustice,
and those who deny them voice, are the real delinquents in this
Any proceeds from
sale of these interviews will be donated to The Voice of Cerro
Hueco prisoners group