Wednesday, September 17, 2008

OCEZ-RC Member disappeared in Pujiltic, Chiapas

The attack is the latest in a series of aggressions against OCEZ members in Carranza


The Emiliano Zapata Peasant Organization-Carranza Region (OCEZ-RC) claims that thugs working for a local political boss kidnapped one of its members and threatened to kill him if he did not stop supporting a local single mothers' organization.

Three unidentified men kidnapped Juan Gramajo Lopez, 28, from his home on September 11 at 10am. During the kidnapping the assailants blindfolded Gramajo Lopez, then beat him and fired two shots at his feet which did not strike him. They told him that if he did not stop supporting the August 11 Women's Group, an organization of single mothers, widows, and pensioners' wives, they would kill him. They also informed him that they have his house and his family under surveillance. Gramajo Lopez has one son and he and his wife are expecting another.

Gramajo Lopez' kidnappers released him at approximately 4pm the same day, leaving him blindfolded on the side of a highway hours away from his home. He managed to hitch a ride in public transportation to Ocosingo where he reported the kidnapping to the district attorney. Other OCEZ-RC members picked him up from the district attorney's office at approximately 1am.

Gramajo Lopez and the OCEZ-RC hold the United Cane Workers of Pujiltic (CURP in its Spanish initials) Local 42 and Jesus Orante Ruiz, the local political boss who controls the union, responsible for the kidnapping due to the assailants' statements about the August 11 Women's Group. The women's organization, which is affiliated with the OCEZ-RC, has recently endured threats and violent attacks by union members under orders from union bosses Abel Morales Arguello and Manuel Lievano Arguello.

Thirty-two poor women founded the August 11 Women's Group in July to look for new sources of income. They negotiated an agreement with the ejidal (collective) owners of a patch of land next to a federal highway in Pujiltic. The parcel of land measures 5 meters by 160 meters. It used to be a trash dump and a hangout for drug users. The women asked Gramajo Lopez to help them with their project. Gramajo Lopez says, "As a poor person in the struggle I said yes." Together they cleaned up the area and built stands where the women sold fruit, vegetables, and prepared food.

Even though the Soyatitan ejido authorities hold the title to the land, the United Cane Workers Union of Pujiltic (CURP in its Spanish initials) Local 42 claim it is the owner. The August 11 Women's Group sat down with the union bosses at a government-mediated meeting, during which the women say the union never showed proof of ownership. Despite the union's questionable ownership of the land, the Women's Group signed an agreement with the union bosses in which the union agreed to let the women keep their road-side stands.

However, on August 28, one day after the union and the women signed the agreement under government supervision, 600 union workers along with local government officials and the State Preventive Police (PEP) evicted the Women's Group. The women claim Juan Martinez Gutierrez, a Pujiltic government official, led the attack, which was recorded by a August 11 Women's Group member. Martinez Gutierrez shot tear gas at the women and their children. The women also claim he hit several of the women, picked up a 1-year-old child and threw him, and tried to beat Agustina Vazquez Ramirez in the head with a cement post. Other Women's Group members protected Vazquez Ramirez and she escaped serious injury. After dismantling the women's stands, the mob of workers burned what remained of the structures and the women's possessions. The mob also threw the women's earnings into the flames, burning approximately MX$15,000 (USD$1,388.50) in cash.

During the attack the women and their children gathered in the structure they use for meetings and protected it from the mob as the other stands burned. They remain there around the clock in order to defend against another attack. They also say they'll file a legal complaint against the union.

The union workers were forced to participate in the eviction or face a 40-day suspension without pay. One of the twelve workers who refused to participate and was subsequently suspended is Gramajo Lopez, the kidnapping victim. Gramajo Lopez has worked in the sugar refinery for nine years. His father, Modesto Gramajo Mauricio, who was also suspended without pay, told reporters, "It's not right what they are doing. I wasn't going to attack my wife like the head of the cane workers union wanted me to. It's not right to attack defenseless women." Both men's wives are members of the August 11 Women's Group.

Even though the union said it would come back to destroy any remaining structures, the Women's Group refuses to give up the land. During a August 11 Women's Group meeting after the attack, one woman said, "I was born into struggle and I think that's where I'll die."

The August 28 and September 11 attacks are only the latest in a series of assaults on the OCEZ-RC. The organization has also endured military incursions and disappearances and torture of its members carried out by the Defense Department (SEDENA in its Spanish initials). SEDENA justifies its actions by claiming it is looking for leaders of the People's Revolutionary Army (EPR), which carried out several high-profile bombings of petroleum pipelines to demand the release of its disappeared members and political prisoners. SEDENA claims that OCEZ-RC's leader, Jose Manuel Hernandez Martinez, aka El Chema, is affiliated with the EPR, a claim El Chema denies.

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