Sunday, November 29, 2009

Government Negotiations with OCEZ Cast Further Doubt on Rumored Narco Connection

Chiapas Government Commits Over a Million Pesos, Land to OCEZ Despite Claims that the Peasant Organization is a Drug Trafficking Front Group

On September 30, the Chiapas state government kidnapped peasant leader José Manuel "Don Chema" Hernández Martínez from his community, 28 de junio, which is located in Carranza county, Chiapas. Even though the government was acting on arrest warrants that date back as far as 1999, police disguised themselves as government electricians and threw Don Chema into a truck without showing the warrants. The incident lead to the death of two members of Don Chema's organization, the Emiliano Zapata Peasant Organization - Carranza Region (OCEZ).

The Chiapas state government has officially charged Don Chema with crimes related to a 2003 land occupation. The OCEZ peacefully occupies Chiapas estates that legally belong to massive local landowners and pressures the government to deed the land to its peasant members. The government has charged Don Chema with: criminal association, aggravated plundering, and damages. They are all state-level crimes. Two other OCEZ leaders have also been arrested. Their lawyer says that in addition to the three detainees, there are still eleven outstanding warrants for other OCEZ members, all related to the same case.

Despite the official record on the three men's arrests (that is, that all charges against them relate to land occupations), rumors have circulated in the media that the OCEZ is a front group for cartels who traffic migrants, guns, and drugs through Chiapas. The media reports accuse the detainees of being members of or collaborating with the armed wings of two different transnational drug trafficking organizations.

Narco News called the news reports into question, noting that they were based on documents that were leaked to the media, rather than being published by official government sources. Later, La Jornada's Hermann Bellinghausen obtained a copy of a intelligence report prepared by the Chiapas state attorney general's office entitled "The Current Situation in Venustiano Carranza." Bellinghausen writes, "The lengthy document, dated July 27, 2009... is the source of the numerous 'versions' and 'leaks' [that have appeared in] local and national media outlets."

New Contradictions Arise

When the government first arrested Don Chema (that is, before the drug trafficking rumors surfaced in the media), the National Front for Socialist Liberation (FNLS) immediately decried the hypocrisy that prevailed in the case. Proceso, quoting an FNLS press release, wrote:

"How is it possible that if 'Don Chema' has arrest warrants and criminal investigations from 1999 to 2005, the authorities had not acted against him when he was within their reach, in public view, and the government was still signing agreements with him?" [Narco News note: since 1999, the Chiapas government has signed numerous agreements with the OCEZ, namely deeding land to the organization and its members as a result of political pressure. These are the agreements to which the FNLS refers.] ... According to the FNLS, the "absolutely illegal and deceptive manner in which [Hernández Martínez] was detained/kidnapped is yet another example of the arbitrary nature in which [President] Felipe Calderon's fascist government is repressing social organizations, whom it criminalizes and accuses of fabricated crimes in order to incarcerate them."

The FNLS has a point. The government has signed multiple agreements with the OCEZ since 1999. In an agreement signed in July 2009, for example, the government promised to purchase 215 hectares of land from two Carranza county brothers and turn it over to the OCEZ. On August 31--just one month before Don Chema was arrested--the government reaffirmed its commitment to hand the land over to the OCEZ during a public ceremony in which both state officials and Don Chema participated.

The most recent agreement the Chiapas government signed with the OCEZ is dated November 14, 2009--five days after the state government leaked the "Current Situation in Venustiano Carranza" report to the press, which accused the OCEZ of being a front group for violent drug trafficking organizations. Narco News obtained a copy of the November 14 agreement (PDF file). In the agreement, the government agrees to pay MX$5,000 or USD$381.88 (seemingly per month, although the document is not clear on that point) indexed yearly for inflation to the families of the two OCEZ members who died during Don Chema's arrest. The government will pay this quantity until the youngest children in the family are adults. In addition to this money, the government also agrees to arrange scholarships for the children. The Chiapas government also promises to pay an unspecified amount of money to the families of the three detained OCEZ leaders every month for the duration of their incarceration. The agreement also states that the government will pay the medical bills for Jose Santos, who was seriously injured during Don Chema's arrest and remains hospitalized. It will also pay either a monthly sum to his wife or will help her and the family start a business because Santos' injuries have left him disabled. The government says that it will begin to hand over the previously mentioned 215 hectares to OCEZ members as soon as the OCEZ provides the state government with a list of names to put on the deeds. The agreement also states that it will provide economic development financing to OCEZ communities: MX$1,650,000 (USD$126,018.75) and two tractors.

Even more interesting than the impressive sum of money is the person designated in the agreement as the OCEZ member the government will contact regarding the distribution of resources: none other than Fernando Hernandez Martinez, a civil engineer and Don Chema's brother.

The official agreement does not necessarily mean that the government will honor its commitments. However, the November 14 agreement begs the question: if the OCEZ is a front organization for drug trafficking organizations to move contraband through Chiapas as the state government intelligence report claims, and if Don Chema is the leader of the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR, an armed peasant organization) in Chiapas as the government has informally claimed over the years, then why would the state government sign this agreement with the OCEZ? The agreement promises well over a million pesos in money and resources to the OCEZ, and it names Don Chema's brother as the contact for distributing the resources--not the sort of agreement the government typically makes with alleged drug trafficking organizations and brothers of rebel leaders.

International Support Grows

Meanwhile, the demand to free the OCEZ political prisoners is growing increasingly louder. During the Second Encounter for the Self-Development of Indigenous Peoples and the Effective Enforcement of Their Rights held in Guatemala at the end of October, indigenous representatives from Basque Country, Mexico, Paraguay, Colombia, Bolivia, Guatemala, and Peru signed a resolution (PDF file) condemning governments' actions "to criminalize, defame, persecute, incarcerate, and assassinate leaders of indigenous organizations." They cited the example of the OCEZ:

In Mexico, ever since the signing of the free trade agreement fifteen years ago with the United States and Canada, the people have experienced the impoverishment of over 50 million people, immigration, and repression against social movements. A concrete case is the illegal detention on September 30, 2009, of the leader of the Emiliano Zapata Peasant Organization - Carranza Region (OCEZ-RVC) and defender of indigenous rights, Jose Manuel Hernandez Martinez, as well as other detentions and legal persecution due to the tireless struggle in defense of peoples' rights.

November 29 Update: Sources close to the OCEZ clarify that the government co-opted Don Chema's brother, Fernando Hernandez Martinez, and that these negotiations, carried out in the name of the OCEZ, did not actually include current OCEZ members and do not represent the OCEZ's demands. The criticism that the government would not negotiate (or in this case, pretend to negotiate) with suspected narcos remains valid.

However, El Universal reports that now that Don Chema and the other two detained OCEZ leaders are out of jail, the real OCEZ-RC has sat down with Chiapas human rights organizations and the state government to negotiate dropping the rest of the charges against OCEZ members and the demilitarization of their communities.


Originally published in Narco News

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