Sunday, May 31, 2009

Indigenous Chiapans Insist They Are in Prison For Belonging to the EZLN

  • When they gave their statements they said they were tortured by plainclothes police
  • They oppose neo-liberal projects that try to turn their lands into a new Cancun

by Hermann Bellinghausen, La Jornada
Translated by Kristin Bricker

El Amate, Chiapas. May 6 - "I have been detained because I belong to the Zapatista Army of National Liberation" (EZLN), Miguel Vazquez Moreno declared today when he gave his testimony in the second criminal court in the State Center for Social Rehabilitation of Convicts (CERSS in its Spanish initials) number 14, El Amate, where none of the officials and employees, of course, are wearing face masks. Nor do they seem aware that there is a national and state health emergency.

In contrast to his first "statement" given under coercion in pre-charge detention, Vazquez Moreno is assisted by an interpreter who speaks his language, or at least a variation of his dialect (the interpreter the authorities have provided is from Cancuc, while the eight detained men from San Sebastian Bachajon speak the tzeltal dialect of Chilon). But, at least they understand each other, and that is enough.

From behind the railing he declares himself innocent of the charges against him, and requests that he be freed for lack of evidence to proceed with a trial. And he introduces himself in this manner: "I am from the ejido San Sebastian Bachajon and I belong to the support bases of the EZLN, an organization that defends its right to exercise autonomy and self-determination as indigenous peoples, its right to territory and natural resources."

The state and federal governments "want to impose neo-liberal economic projects in our autonomous territory; as indigenous people, the land is our life, from her we eat, we work, our children grow up there, and it is something holy. This is why we believe that the land cannot be sold, rather, it is worked and looked after," he adds.

"Our territory is rich in water, animals, natural resources." The state government, led by Gov. Juan Sabines Guerrero, and the federal government led by President Felipe Calderon Hinojosa have publicly said "that they want to make a 'Chiapan Cancun,' but stripping us of our life, which is the land, just so that foreign and national companies can make themselves richer, as well as the government officials who benefit from these projects."

Amongst said economic projects, he says, is the Palenque Integrally Planned Highway (CIPP), "which they want to cross our autonomous territory without respecting our rights; they want to impose these projects on the indigenous peoples without caring about what we have to say about it, and with discrimination they want to take away our lands for tourist purposes and only to benefit the business owners and the state and federal government, pushing us aside because to them we make those eco-tourism centers look bad. We are natives, descendants of the peoples who have lived in these lands since before any 'official government' existed."

He says he was detained this past April 18 in the Agua Azul crossing, together with two other companions, without any justification, by various agents from the State Preventive Police, who later transferred him to Tuxtla Gutierrez, "where a couple of plainclothes police told me that I was a robber and that I had to sign some papers. I didn't know what the papers said."

Said "papers" are a ministerial statement that the Special Prosecutor Against Organized Crime has exhibited as evidence against him before the judge, which is why Vazquez Moreno refuses to ratify any part of the ministerial statement, given that he never had a clear understanding of their contents.

The other six detainees, all adherents to the Zapatistas' Other Campaign, all gave similar statements before the judge. In some cases they were subjected to torture in order to incriminate themselves.

Translator's note: Despite the men's insistence that they did not understand the confessions that they had signed and that some of them had been forced to sign the confessions under torture, the judge charged the men with organized crime and other related charges. Seven of the men are now being held in the infamous El Amate prison awaiting trial. Miguel Vazquez Moreno, the Zapatista, has been released.

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