Government Transferred “Don Chema” to a Federal Maximum-Security Prison
reprinted from Narco News
The way the government is treating Jose Manuel Hernandez Martinez, also known as “Don Chema,” one would think he’s the head of a drug cartel.
According to witnesses, on September 30, at least eighteen police officers—many disguised as electrical workers—kidnapped Don Chema from his home in the 28 de Junio community in Chiapas. The operation included state and federal police officers working together in a “joint” or “mixed” operation—the sort of operation that characterizes the war on drugs.
Because the agents reportedly did not identify themselves as police during the arrest, fellow members of Don Chema’s organization, the Emiliano Zapata Peasant Organization (OCEZ), followed the police’s pick-up truck in an attempt to free Don Chema.
According to witness accounts, another vehicle intercepted the truck carrying the OCEZ members. Even though the civilians were unarmed, the vehicle reportedly opened fire on the OCEZ truck, causing it to crash and allowing Don Chema’s kidnappers to get away. One of the truck’s occupants, Jordán López Aguilar, died instantly in the crash. A second man, Bayardo Hernández de la Cruz, died from his injuries on October 17. Two other men remain hospitalized.
Don Chema appeared the following day in a government press release. As it does with nearly all members of organized crime, the government included Don Chema’s mug shot (complete with two police posing next to him) in the press release. The press published Don Chema’s mugshot, as it does when the government arrests organized crime’s “Most Wanted” members.
After spending sixteen days in Chiapas’ infamous El Amate prison, Federal Police suddenly transferred Don Chema to a federal maximum-security prison in the state of Nayarit. The government did not notify Don Chema’s family nor his lawyer before transferring him.
In Nayarit, Don Chema’s fellow prisoners include the likes of Loz Zetas members (former elite Mexican soldiers and currently the Gulf cartel’s private army), members of the Beltran Leyva brothers’ drug trafficking organization, members of the La Familia criminal organization, and the 51 prison guards and officials who helped 53 Zetas escape from a Zacatecas prison, amongst other heavy-hitters in the organized crime world.
All in all, it would seem as though Don Chema is receiving typical treatment for a high-ranking member of organized crime.
But Don Chema isn’t a drug kingpin; he’s a peasant leader. His organization, the OCEZ, occupies land in order to legalize it (that is, obtain land titles) and re-distribute it amongst Chiapan peasants. While most drug kingpins live in luxurious mansions in Mexico’s most expensive neighborhoods or in beautiful, isolated mountainside ranches, Don Chema lives in small two-bedroom wood-and-asbestos house (public housing, actually) off a dirt road in the small Chiapan peasant community of 28 de Junio.
Now that Don Chema is in federal maximum-security prison, he may wish he were a drug kingpin. According to the Fray Bartolome de las Casas Human Rights Center (Frayba), “federal maximum-security prisons are notorious for their punishment methods.” Maximum-security prisoners are kept in a near-constant state of incommunication. New arrivals such as Don Chema are often held incommunicado for 15-40 days. Prisoners may only receive visitors every eight days, and 10-minute phone calls every ten days. Depriving prisoners of their rights to phone calls and visits is a commonly used punishment.
In Nayarit, Don Chema is a 26-hour, MX$1,400 (USD$111) bus trip away from his family and the OCEZ, which has mounted a political campaign to free him. And that time and money doesn’t include the return trip. The government has offered to pay the family’s plane tickets to visit Don Chema (then again, it offered to pay the injured men’s hospital bills and never did), but it hasn’t offered to pay his lawyer’s plane tickets.
The recently released Cerezo brothers spent time in nearly every Mexican federal maximum-security prison while they were political prisoners. Hector Cerezo reports that prison guards beat new arrivals in order to “show them who’s boss.”
Hector Cerezo also reports that federal maximum-security prisons have “no school, no work, no painting, no music, no theater. The only thing they let me have was a book chosen off of a list of prison-owned books.”
In contrast, Sinaloa drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman had a decidedly different experience during his stay in a federal maximum-security prison. Mexican journalist Ricardo Ravelo writes in his book “Los Capos” that El Chapo and his closest associates enjoyed many perks. He reports that prostitutes visited the men regularly; steaks and other favorite dishes were brought in from the outside; and prison guards allowed El Chapo to string a sheet across the bars of his prison cell to give him privacy. Ravelo reports rumors that El Chapo even left the prison from time to time in order to eat out. El Chapo enjoyed so many perks inside the prison that in early 2001 he escaped without a single bullet being fired.
The way the government is treating Don Chema, it’s easy to forget that he’s not a drug kingpin, or even a lieutenant, or even a lowly corner dealer for that matter. Don Chema isn’t even charged with federal crimes; his charges are all at the state level. So why is Don Chema in a federal maximum-security prison?