Monday, May 5, 2008

Two Years On, Atenco Still Hurts

Two years ago, on May 3-4, 2006, federal, state, and municipal police violently invaded San Salvador Atenco, leaving two people dead and 218 people imprisoned. To date, only a handful of police have been prosecuted for very minor crimes, and many of those convicted have since been exonerated. However, sixteen activists remain imprisoned, some with life sentences.

The invasion incurred because a handful of Atenco residents attempted their yearly ritual of selling flowers in a local market before Mother's Day despite plans to build a Wal-Mart on that site. Police told them to leave the area despite a previous agreement with local authorities that they could sell flowers there, but only for the holiday. The Popular Front in Defense of the Land (FPDT), adherents to the Zapatistas' Other Campaign, arrived to support the flower vendors in resistance. The police attacked, and more adherents to the Zapatistas' Other Campaign arrived in Atenco shortly thereafter from surrounding states to support the FPDT, because an injury to one adherent to the Other Campaign is an injury to the entire Other Campaign.

Of the 47 women arrested during the police riot in Atenco, twenty-six report being mentally, physically, or sexually tortured during their detention. To date, no police officer has been convicted of torture or sexual abuse.

One woman, María Paticia Romero Hernádez, remains imprisoned for her participation in Atenco. She reports being threatened by prison officials. Prison officials recently moved a prisoner who's been harassing her into her cell. The deputy director of the prison also recently accused her of leading a prisoners' movement against prison authorities. For this reason he says he is going to plant evidence on her "to aggravate her legal situation."

This past week activists mobilized in Mexico City to commemorate and protest two years of impunity, repression, and unjust imprisonment.

On April 29, female ex-prisoners of Atenco protested outside the Special Prosecutor's Office for Crimes Related to Violence Against Women to announce their petition before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR)regarding the sexual torture they suffered while detained. The IACHR is considered an option of last resort, when citizens are unable to obtain justice through their own countries' legal systems.

The women and their supporters protested outside the Special Prosecutor's Office for Crimes Related to Violence Against Women to make clear that they were forced to seek justice in an international body because of the Special Prosecutor's failure to act on their cases. Sufficient evidence exists to indict the police who tortured them, but the state has failed to do so.

The women report having tried "many, many times" to schedule a meeting with the Special Prosecutor. Mariana de las Selvas has been out of prison for three months. In that time, she's tried on three separate occasions to meet with the Special Prosecutor, but the office always ignored her requests. It wasn't until the women filed their petition with the IACHR and held a protest and press conference outside the Special Prosecutor's office to denounce its inaction did the Special Prosecutor insist on meeting with the ex-prisoners.

The women agreed to the meeting, and entered with a single question for the Special Prosecutor: What has the Special Prosecutor's Office for Crimes Related to Violence Against Women done in the past two years to punish the police responsible for torture in Atenco? Representatives from the Special Prosecutor's office spoke for thirty minutes in response to the question, effectively saying that they had done nothing. Selvas reports that they gave "every excuse under the sun" for why they hadn't met with the ex-prisoners or prosecuted the police for torture, sexual abuse, and rape.

Over the weekend of May 3-4, Atenco residents and supporters held a march and protest in Atenco to protest abuse, repression, impunity, and to demand the release of the remaining political prisoners. Thousands marched in Mexico City on March 4 with the same demands.

After the Mexico City march hip-hoperos held a hip hop festival with rappers, dance hall singers, and b-boys, all demanding justice for Atenco and the immediate and unconditional release of the country's political prisoners. Performers included New Yorker BocaFloja (originally from Mexico City) and national sensation Magisterio. Female artists were well-represented at the event.
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