The Mexican Military Uses the Cover of the Drug War to Repress Indigenous Movements in Guerrero
by Gloria Leticia Diaz, Proceso
translated from the original Spanish by Kristin Bricker
Guerrero's recent history is full of violence against its indigenous communities at the hands of the successive local governments and, especially, the military. [Center-left] Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) member Zeferino Torreblanca's rise to power in 2005 didn't stop the attacks; instead, they got worse. Within this context, the murder of social activists Raul Lucas and Manuel Ponce sparked international organizations' demand that the Mexican State end this escalation of repression.
Considered a "State crime against humanity" by Mexican and international civil organizations, the murder of Raul Lucas Lucia and Manuel Ponce Rosas has been added to the list of offenses against social organizers in Guerrero during Zeferino Torreblanca Galindo's administration.
The elimination of the indigenous leaders is part of "a counterinsurgency strategy and low-intensity warfare against all social organizations that resort to protests and public demonstrations," says Abel Barrera Hernandez, director of the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center.
In a resolution unanimously passed on Wednesday, March 11, the [Guerrero] State Congress rejected Gov. Torreblana's February 27 request to create a special prosecutor's office. The resolution would have requested the intervention of the Federal Attorney General's Office (PGR) to investigate the homicides.
Likewise, a group of PRD representatives and another of senators made arguments for why the PGR should take over the case. The victims' families do not trust the local authorities, who refused to intervene when the forced disappearance of Lucas Lucia and Ponce Rosas during a public event was first reported on February 13.
After the bodies of the president and secretary of the Organization for the Future of the Mixtec People (OFPM)--Lucas and Ponce, respectively--were located, the Tlachinollan Center, as the families' legal representative, criticized the the State Attorney General's Office's actions. In response, the state attorney general, Eduardo Murueta Urruitia, declared that the OFPM was mounting a "little campaign" against the Torreblanca Galindo administration and accused the OFPM of blocking the investigations, including the one carried out by the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), which took up the case after the international condemnation, according to the newspaper El Sur in its Thursday, March 5 edition.
"Those declarations leave us in a high state of vulnerability and fit in with the pattern of stigmatization that has been pinned on human rights defenders. We're seen as destabilizing forces whose purpose is to damage the Mexican State's image," says Barrera Hernandez.
He adds that Lucas Lucia and Ponce Rosas stood out for having filed complaints against members of the Mexican military in Ayutla, and that their deaths "are the drop that spilled the cup of impunity, of the series of cases of human rights violations against social organizers that have been documented at the international level."
In October 2006, while Lucas Lucia was already president of the OFPM, he was unjustly detained and interrogated in a military checkpoint. In 2007 he was ambushed at a gate and shot; he almost lost his life. He filed formal complaints about these two incidents in the CNDH and the PGR.
With this record, in Abel Barrera's opinion "there's no doubt that his and Manuel's deaths fit within this strategy of low-intensity warfare against indigenous peoples, whose only crime is to live in ravines, raise their voices, and independently organize themselves."
This past February 13, during the grand opening of a school in Ayutla, the director of municipal Public Security, retired military officer Luis Jose Sanchez, received a call on his cell phone and left the event. Minutes later, three individuals with military-style haircuts entered the place and detained Raul Lucas and Manuel Ponce, whom they violently threw into a white Jeep Liberty and left.
Lucas' wife, PRD regent Guadalupe Castro Morales, immediately went to the District Attorney's office to file a complaint regarding the forced disappearance, but it wasn't accepted; the office only opened the file ALLE /SC /O3 /AM /015 /2009, without the power to begin an investigation.
Guadalupe Castro states that moments after her husband's illegal detention she received a threatening call from Ponce's cell phone telling her to stop filing complaints in the case. On February 18 her sister-in-law, Carmen Lucas Lucia, was similarly threatened and was warned that her daughter would be the next victim.
On February 20, two decaying bodies wrapped in plastic bags were found alongside the Ayutla-Tecoanapa highway. The following day they were identified: they were the remains of Raul and Manuel.
According to the forensic report, the leaders were murdered 3-5 days prior. The bodies had signs of torture. Raul died from two gunshots to the head, and Manual was murdered by blows to the head and throat (El Sur, February 23).
The murders shook the town and hundreds of national and international human rights organizations demanded that the Mexican government punish those responsible. One declaration stands out: that of the UN's High Commissioner of Human Rights in Mexico, who visited Ayutla February 18-20 to document the leaders' forced disappearance.
"This office expresses its concern regarding the condition of vulnerability in which human rights defenders carry out their work of promoting and protecting human rights, particularly in the Costa Chica, Costa Grande, and la Montaña regions in Guerrero," stated the United Nations office's communique dated February 24.
The Center for Justice and International Law (Cejil), Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, International Peace Brigades, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), the Latin America Working Group (LAWG), the Due Process Foundation, and Front Line (headquartered in Dublin, Ireland) joined in.
The CNDH didn't react until February 26, and in the communique CGCP/027/09 it announced that it would take up the case and begin an investigation. By then, Raul and Manuel's bodies had already been buried.
Ever since the massacre of 11 Mixtecs in the El Charco community in June 1998 at the hands of members of the Mexican military, the indigenous region of Ayutla has been permanently militarized. The Tlachinollan Human Rights Center says that a counterinsurgency strategy disguised as federal action against drug cultivation is being developed there.
The massacred Mixtecs belonged to the Independent Organization of Mixtec and Tlapaneco Peoples (OIPMT), created in 1994. After the massacre, the Organization of Me'phaa Indigenous Peoples (OPIM) and the Organization for the Future of the Mixtec people (OFPM) arose and took up the defense of indigenous peoples faced with military or governmental aggressions.
Both organizations fight for compensation for at least 30 indigenous Tlapenecos who were tricked into being sterilized in 1998. They also denounce the rape of indigenous women as well as arbitrary detentions and abuses committed by soldiers in that region of Guerrero.
Abel Barrera points out that "raising their voices against injustice is what put them [the indigenous leaders] in the sights of those dark sectors of the State and automatically, without reason, subjected members of those organizations to monitoring, threats, and direct military actions against them."
Amongst the aggressions against members of these organizations, the raping of the Me'phaa indigenous women Valentina Rosendo Cantu and Ines Ortega Fernandez in 2002 stand out. Currently, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is analyzing their cases in order to determine if it will send them to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, considering the Mexican State's serious failures.
Here, these cases were referred to Military Jurisdiction, which is why those responsible for the crimes enjoy impunity. On the other hand, the victims and their legal counsel, including OPIM leader Obtilia Eugenio Manuel, suffer harassment and threats (Proceso 1589 and 1616).
Since at least 2002, international bodies such as the IACHR, the UN's High Commissioner on Human Rights, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch have conveyed to the Mexican State their concern for the serious human rights violations in the state of Guerrero.
Not withstanding, the intimidation has not ceased because indigenous organizations are "independent organizations' weakest link," says Barrera Hernandez.
The Tlachinollan Human Rights Center's 2008 annual report is revealing in this sense: it says that in 2007 only one complaint was filed with the CNDH for military abuses committed in the Ayutla region, but between April and May 2008 there were eight, three of them in communities where OPIM has a presence, and the others where the OFPM operates.
Barrera Hernandez points out that [the OFPM] "has had to bear the stigma of El Charco, and for defending the victims [the government] has tried to link it to guerrillas, and [as for] its leaders Raul and Manuel, it's known that they were on the military's black list."
The 2008 formal complaints are signed by 20 direct victims, as well as inhabitants of the La Fatima, El Camalote, La Cortina, and Barranca de Guadalupe communities. The abuses they suffered are raids on their homes, torture, robbery, threats, detentions in military camps, illegal interrogations, harassment, and intimidation.
In a military action that was coordinated with federal and state police, various members of the OPIM were detained on April 17, 2008: Manuel Cruz Victoriano, Orlando Manzanares Lorenzo, Natalio Ortega Cruz, Raul Hernandez Abundio, and Romualdo Santiago Hernandez. There were accused of murdering Alejandro Feliciano Garcia, an informant for the military, who was killed on January 1, 2008.
The following October 15, four of those five indigenous people obtained a permanent injunction against their imprisonment pending trial, but on October 30, an agent from the federal District Attorney's office challenged the release of the activists, who in November 2008 were declared "prisoners of conscience" by Amnesty International. Finally, this past Thursday, March 19, four were freed, and only Hernandez Abundio remains imprisoned.
In the same case, another 10 arrest warrants were issued against OPIM members, including Cuauhtemoc Ramirez, the husband of Obtilia Eugenio Manuel.
The detentions have repressive undercurrents: Orlando Manzanares and Manuel Cruz were key in the formal complaints regarding 14 forced sterilizations in El Camalodo. Meanwhile, Natalio Ortega and Romualdo Santiago Enedina are nephews of Ines Fernandez Ortega [the woman raped by soldiers who took her case to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights] and Lorenzo Fernandez Orgeta, an OPIM member who was tortured and murdered on February 9, 2008 in Ayutla, a crime that continues unpunished.
In the communique that condemns the murder of Raul Lucas Lucia and Manuel Ponce Rosas, Amnesty International Deputy Director Kerrie Howard considers the Ayutla region to be "a constant danger for those who defend the human rights of the more marginalized indigenous communities." But it isn't an exception in the state of Guerrero.
The Crime of Protesting
During the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights' 133rd session on October 15-31, 2008, Tlachinollan produced a report about the 201 criminal proceedings brought against social leaders during PRD member Zeferino Torreblanca's administration. At the close of 2008 the number had risen to 215, and even more criminal proceedings have been brought in 2009.
The human rights center details how, as a consequence of protests in which the activists took part, they were accused of crimes such as illegal privation of freedom, attacks against means of communication and transportation, rioting, damaging public facilities, sedition, sabotage, and robbery.
Tlachinollan documented that the Regional Council for the Development of the Me'paa-Bathaa Indigenous People has been subject to four criminal proceedings against nine of its leaders, and five of them are imprisoned. The Xochistlahuaca traditional authorities and the community radio station "ñmndaa, The Word of Water" have criminal proceedings against eleven leaders; two of them are already detained. The Regional Coordinating Committee of Community Authorities and Community Police has 16 criminal proceedings against 39 members, and eleven of them are imprisoned.
Likewise, the Organization of Me'phaa Indigenous Peoples has criminal proceedings against 15 of its members, and five of them are imprisoned. The Council of Communities and Ejidos* Against the La Parota Dam has two criminal proceedings against seven members, and three of them are detained. And the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Guerrero has three criminal proceedings against three leaders; one of them is detained.
In terms of people detained during protest gatherings and later charged, Tlachinollan mentions 28 students and graduates of the Ayotzinapa Normal School; 70 members of the Carrizalillo Ejido Assembly; 42 members of the Chilapa Citizen Council; and the director of the Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon Regional Center for the Defense of Human Rights, Manuel Olivares Hernandez.
For demanding respect for their labor rights, four ex-employees of the National Institute for Statistics and Geography (Inegi) were also detained in the state; in this case 25 arrest warrants were issued.
This grave situation, notes Abel Barrera, "makes it so that there is a legitimate concern amongst bodies such as the UN and the Organization of American States (OAS) over what is happening in Guerrero. [It has to do with] a lot of cases that are related to militarization and the counterinsurgency strategy, and with a State's inability to respond to demands for justice."
* Ejido is piece of communally-held land and is incorporated into Mexican law.