The Narco-State of Chiapas Part IX in a series

The Narco News Bulletin

The Voices of Cerro Hueco

Part IX

click to read Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII


Rafael 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 López Santíz Conseta

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 to appeal."

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 López Rincón

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 Hernández Hernández

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 Hernández Dias

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 in jail."

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 world.

Any proceeds from sale of these interviews will be donated to The Voice of Cerro Hueco prisoners group