Document Arguing Narco-Peasant Link Reportedly Leads to Arrests, House Searches, Spying, Harassment, and Military Occupation
On November 10, Reforma's Martin Morita published an article claiming that a leaked government report linked the Chiapas-based Emiliano Zapata Peasant Organization - Carranza Region (OCEZ) to criminal organizations that move drugs, weapons, and migrants through the state. His article claims that the intelligence report establishes a "relationship" between Los Zetas (the Gulf cartel's armed wing) and the OCEZ. Likewise, Morita writes that the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR), the People's Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARP), and the Insurgent People's Revolutionary Army (ERPI) are "connected" to "subversive armed cells" in Chiapas that are "receiving support from organized crime groups such as Los Zetas, the Gulf cartel's armed wing, and the Sinaloa Cartel, headed by Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, in order to obtain firearms."
Similar news articles based on leaked information that supposedly came from the Chiapas state government claim that two OCEZ leaders are members of Los Pelones, which is a gang that reportedly works for the Sinaloa cartel in Chiapas. These same reports claim that the government accuses OCEZ leader Jose Manuel "Don Chema" Hernandez Martinez of being the EPR's leader in Chiapas.
The leaked report also accuses the National Front for Socialist Struggle (FNLS), the Chiapas-based Fray Bartolome de las Casas Human Rights Center, and Chiapan clergy of using human rights and civil disobedience campaigns to cover up and protect the OCEZ's alleged criminal and/or subversive activity. Similar news articles accuse the OCEZ of using international human rights observers to keep police and soldiers out of OCEZ communities so that weapons and drugs can be safely stored there. Interestingly, state police went door-to-door in those very communities looking for drugs, weapons, and migrants. They searched homes, interrogated and threatened women and children, beat residents, and scanned their properties with ion scanners... and they found absolutely nothing.
La Jornada reporter Hermann Bellinghausen obtained a copy of the intelligence report he says is the source of all of these seemingly unfounded claims in the media. He says that the Chiapas State Attorney General's Office (PGJE) issued the report, which is dated July 27, 2009. According to Bellinghausen, the intelligence report and news articles "have justified recent police and military actions, arrests, house searches, and checkpoints in communities in Carranza county and nearby counties (Comitan, Nicolas Ruiz, [and] San Cristobal de las Casas)... On the basis of the document's 'proof,' Hernandez Martinez and other OCEZ-Carranza leaders were later imprisoned."
Bellinghausen is completely unconvinced by the "proof" contained in the document: "The document mentions the OCEZ's agrarian actions, above all the occupation of estates owned by the area's powerful political bosses, such as the Orantes family, and mixes it with the capture of Los Pelones, without proving the link between them and the OCEZ. It slips in references to 'the trafficking of drugs and undocumented [migrants],' because Chiapas' central zone, says the PGJE, 'is perceived to be a region where favorable conditions for illicit trafficking of all types of merchandise exist.'"
Interestingly, no government official wants to be linked to the report in the media. The only reporter who managed to get a state official to comment on the report was--not surprisingly--Morita. Even then, the official spoke on condition of anonymity and did not identify the agency in which he or she works.
In fact, the only government official to officially comment on the wild claims circulating in the media--but not on the report itself--said that there was no evidence to back them up. Articles based on the intelligence report and other "leaked" information claim that OCEZ leaders are both EPR leaders and Los Pelones members, and that they maintain working relationships with Los Zetas. However, Chiapas' Attorney General Raciel Lopez Salazar claims that there aren't any armed groups in Chiapas, be they narcos or subversives. In fact, an unsigned Reforma article reports that Attorney General Lopez Salazar specifically ruled out EPR (as well as ERPI) presence in Chiapas. This is a puzzling contradiction considering that Lopez Salazar's office allegedly issued the intelligence report that claims exactly the opposite.
However, Chiapas and federal security forces apparently haven't received the Attorney General's "clarification" regarding the existence of armed groups in Chiapas. As Bellinghausen notes, the report seems to have been the basis for the severe and nearly constant repression the OCEZ has suffered. Moreover, the following recent incidents appear to be linked to the report:
- FNLS member Luis Abarca says that on November 13, his roommate overheard two or three men outside their home. According to an FNLS communique, the men "were talking in loud voices that they had monitored the times our compañero Luis Abarca entered and left the house. Even more alarmingly, [the roommate] overheard that they were waiting for him that night 'so that we can kick the shit out of him.'"
- On November 18, police reportedly arrived at the workplace of FNLS member Yolanda Castro Apreza. They "insistently" asked her co-workers where she was and took pictures of the office despite repeated requests that they stop.
- The Miguel Augustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center (Centro Prodh) reports "persistent" house searches and military incursions in the following Chiapan communities and counties: Las Margaritas, Comitán, Socoltenango, Venustiano Carranza, Frontera Comalapa, La Trinitaria, Amatenango del Valle, and Nicolás Ruiz. Some of these communities are living under permanent military occupation, according to Centro Prodh.
- According to Reforma's Morita, "Over two thousand armed soldiers and police guard the region [near Mexico's southern border in Chiapas] as part of a plan to beef up security because it is alleged that a powerful cell of Los Zetas, the Gulf cartel's armed wing, as well as guerrilla groups operate in that zone." The soldiers and police reportedly began the operation in early November as a result of the intelligence report and the resulting arrests. The militarized zone, which reportedly stretches from Comitan to Motozintla, includes La Trinitaria county. La Trinitaria county is where Chiapas state police massacred six indigenous peasants and left 17 wounded just over a year ago in order to suppress a peaceful protest. It is also home to Zapatista supporters who recently received orders from the State Attorney General's Office to leave the area.
- The community of Cruzton, located in Carranza county, has voiced concern that increased militarization in the area may be used to evict them from their land (which is exactly what 500 police tried to do in April 2008) or re-occupy their community. Cruzton residents are also Zapatista supporters.
Originally published in Narco News