Criminal Association Charges Dropped; Chiapas Government Paid Bail on Remaining Minor Charges
Jose Manuel "Don Chema" Hernandez Martinez, Rocelio de la Cruz Gonzáles, and José Manuel de la Torre Hernández, all leaders of the Emiliano Zapata Peasant Organzation (OCEZ) have been released from prison, according to a source close to the case. The men were reportedly released last night and transported to their community in Venustiano Carranza county, Chiapas.
The men were originally charged with criminal association, damages (similar to destruction of property), and plundering (stripping someone else of their possessions), all related to the 2003 occupation of an estate that belonged to a local political boss. The OCEZ occupied the land in order to distribute it amongst its peasant members.
The Chiapas government spread rumors in the media that the OCEZ was a front group for both drug trafficking organizations and insurgent groups. However, the government never presented any formal accusations in that regard. Nonetheless, the accusations served as a pretext to militarize a large swath of Chiapas. Many communities remain under military and/or police occupation as a result of the unsubstantiated rumors.
The three OCEZ leaders have reportedly been released on bail. According to a source close to the case, the government dropped the criminal association charge against them. This made them eligible for bail, because the other two charges, damages and plundering, are relatively minor charges. According to the source, the state government paid the men's bail.
Even though the OCEZ's legal problems are not over--the men must still defend themselves against the remaining charges, and there are still outstanding arrest warrants against other OCEZ members--the mood seems to be one of happiness, at least for now. The OCEZ's political prisoners are out of jail, even if it is only on bail. This will make communication with their lawyer much easier, allowing for a more coordinated defense. Before his release, the OCEZ's principal leader, Don Chema, was being held in a maximum security prison where prisoners are regularly held incommunicado for weeks at a time.
More information will become available throughout the day, so check back to this post for updates and photos.
Originally published in Narco News on November 24, 2009.