Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Rural Student Protesters Under Siege in Guerrero, Two Killed by Police

by Kristin Bricker

Plainclothes police opened fire on unarmed students.
Photo: El Universal
Mexico's normales rurales, or rural teaching schools, are publicly funded socialist schools that train poor peasants to be rural teachers.  In a country where many rural students don't have the opportunity to study because there are no schools in their area, or the schools don't have teachers, the rural teaching schools are crucial to rural development. 

The rural teaching schools believe that a populace must be educated in order to demand that their rights be respected and to organize to raise their standard of living.  For this reason, the Mexican government is attempting to shut down all of the normales rurales by slashing their budgets, doing away with the boarding schools (making it nearly impossible for the schools to teach their desired student base, which is rural, marginalized, isolated, poor students), slashing the incoming class sizes, reducing the number of teaching positions guaranteed to graduates, and eventually shutting down the schools entirely. 

The government's position has forced the normalistas to defend their schools.  The student union frequently negotiates contracts with government officials, and like any union, they use protest to strengthen their hand during these negotiations.  They frequently use highway blockades to force a meeting, as was the case in Guerrero yesterday. 

Photo: EFE
The students were unarmed; the police immediately responded to the protest with high-powered assault rifles.

What follows are translated clips from media reports about the confrontation.  The first two articles are regarding the confrontation itself; the third article provides more background on the situation at the Ayotzinapa Rural Teaching School and what led up to the protest; and the fourth is an update on the wounded, detained, and disappeared, as well as continuing police and military operations against the students.

Police Kill Two Students While Clearing a Highway Blockade

*They were students at the Ayotzinapa Rural Teaching School
*The protesters demand a meeting with Gov. Angel Aguirre
*The students report wounded and disappeared persons

by Sergio Ocampo Arista, La Jornada
translated by Kristin Bricker

Chilpancingo, Gro., December 12. Jorge Alexis Herrera Pino and Gabriel Echeverría de Jesús, students at the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teaching School in Ayotzinapa, died after they were hit by shots fired by federal and state police, as well as agents from the state attorney general's office, during a violent [police operation to] clear a group of students from that school who were blocking the Mexico-Acapulco Sun Freeway and a federal highway near the city of Chilpancingo.

At about 11:45am on Monday, about 500 formalists arrived in buses, supported by 26 indigenous people from the Peasant Organization of the Tecoanapa Municipality, and another 20 from the organization Xanii Tsavvi ("Mixtec Dream"), and closed the lanes of the aforementioned highways.

Their main demand is a meeting with Governor Angel Aguirre Rivero, whom they accuse of standing them up four times.  They also ask that classes be reinitiated in the school.  They have been suspended since November 2 because the teachers "are trying to impose" Eugenio Hernández García as school director.  The students say he is a repressor. 

Other demands are an increase in the class size from 140 to 170 students for the 2011-2012 freshman class and that the potential students who have a average of 7 points [on a scale of 1-10] be permitted to take the admission exam.

The blockade had barely begun when at least 300 officers with the federal and state police, with the latter led by Guerrero's undersecretary of Security, General Ramón Arreola Ibarría.  Later, agents from the attorney general's office arrived.

Workers from the Servicio Centro Comercial gas station recounted that just minutes after noon, the federal agents attempted to clear the formalists, who repelled the police by throwing stones, bottle rockets, and molotov cocktails.

At that point, in the gas station, some of the students from Ayotzinapa set fire to a gas pump, and that was when the federal agents shot into the air. [Translator's note: the students deny that they set fire to the gas station, see below.]

Dozens of state police, led by Gen. Arreola, were positioned about 50 meters away, on the bridge over Huacapa River near the Liverpool department store.

Several of the police were dressed in plainclothes.  "Let's go, cabrones!" yelled the undersecretary of Security to incite his officers to confront the formalists.  Several agents fired their guns.


The students were attacked on two flanks, from the north and the south, from both sides of the Sun Freeway, and from the Huacapa River bridge.

One group of students attempted to take cover in one of the busses, and another attempted to repel the police with bottle rockets and stones, but they didn't succeed.

On the contrary, the gunfire intensified.  The bus windows were shattered and the side panels were pocked with bullet holes.

Astonished and nervous, drivers of cars, busses, and trucks who witnessed the indecent from both lanes, fled to protect themselves from the gunfire.

The driver of a truck with license plate number 249-DC-5 was grazed in the face by a bullet, and an elderly man who took refuge in the truck was detained by police.  His whereabouts remain unknown.

Police also detained Eric Escobar, a reporter with the Chilpancingo weekly Trinchera, whom they beat in the face and body and then later released.

At 12:10pm the gunfire intensified, and that is when student Gabriel Echeverría de Jesús was killed.

Jorge Alexis Herrera was shot down at about the same time.  Their classmates, thinking that they were only injured, tried to get them onto a bus to protect them, but when they realized that they were dead they decided to leave them on the ground.

The gunfire continued for about 20 minutes from both lanes.  The police, guns in hand, chased the students, who threw stones at the agents.

Several students took refuse in the hills located on both sides of the highway and from there they moved to their school.  Others headed towards the town of Petaquillas, located about five kilometers from the highway blockade.

Some fled towards the municipality of Tierra Colorada, located about 45 kilometers away.  According to the students, two of their classmates were injured.

On the ground there remained stones, pipes, molotov cocktails, and dozens of bullet shells from weapons of the calibers that police use.

The shooting ended at about 12:35pm.  Minutes later, three military vehicles arrived.  They stayed for about a half an hour and then headed for the town of Petaquillas.


At 2:35pm the highway was reopened in both directions.  The persecution of the students didn't cease.  The police searched the hills for formalists until after 4pm.

Herrera Pino was from Atoyac de Alvarez, Guerrero, and Echeverría de Jesús was from Tixtla, Guerrero.  Near their bodies were 7.62 caliber shells for a G-3 rifle.


We Were Completely Unarmed, Say the Normalistas
El Universal
translated by Kristin Bricker

El Universal's images from the confrontation: http://www.eluniversaltv.com.mx/detalle.php?d=27281

Rural teaching students who participated in the confrontation yesterday with police in Chilpancingo, Guerrero, say that they were unarmed and that they didn't even have bottle rockets.  They blame the state agents for having initiated the aggression with gunfire, which led to the dead of two students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teaching School in Ayotzinapa.

The students, represented by student Jersey Peñaloza, said that they were never at the level of the police because of the weapons the police carried.  They said their intention was only to protest and to demand a meeting with Gov. Angel Aguirre Rivero.

He added that according to a preliminary list from the State Attorney General's Office, nine people were detained following the confrontation, although Peñaloza says that at least another 15 students are disappeared, and it is not known if they were detained.

"We demand that this crime that has been committed against our classmates does not remain in impunity, and that those responsible be punished.  They know who acted, there are videos that show that it was them (the police) who initiated the aggression, the unarmed students sought refuge," he pointed out.

Peñaloza stated that the agents kept shooting at them, and that the students only defended themselves with sticks and stones.

Regarding the fire in the gas station, the students said that it was the police who retreated to the gas station and set it on fire, and then later blamed the students.


"We Now Have the Green Light," Said Police Before Shooting
by Rogelio Velázquez, Contralinea
translated by Kristin Bricker

December 13, 2011

Students from the rural teaching school in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, demanded negotiations with the governor and recognition of their demands.  The blocked the Sun Freeway as a form of pressure.  The police operation's toll: two students murdered, at least five injured with gunshots, and 18 detained. "It was the Federal Police who shot at us; many of us fled for the hills and even there they pursued us with helicopters," they said in an interview.

This past December 12 at about 11am, students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teaching School in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, began to block traffic on the Sun Freeway, which connects Mexico City to Acapulco.  Their demands were clear: a meeting with the state government and compliance with a verbal agreement made my Governor Angel Heladio Aguirre Rivero to increase the incoming class size from 140 to 170 students and to grant 30 teaching positions to the school's graduates.

The operation was led by Federal Police, who were accompanied by Ministerial Police [from the Attorney General's office], and state police.

"There were about 400 of us--students and people from social organizations.  We blocked the freeway because the governor only says 'yes,' but he won't sign our demands.  It has to be signed before the year ends," one of the students who participated in the protest told Contralinea.  He is in hiding in Chilpancingo.

"Special Forces from the Federal Police arrived to clear our blockade.  We were dialoguing with them.  Then one of the police made a phone call--we don't know to whom--and when he hung up, they said that they had the green light to do whatever they wanted."

"That was when the Federal Police began to shoot tear gas at us.  Some of us ran.  Immediately afterwards they began to shoot us point-blank.  They didn't care that there were children and women with us.  The shooting continued, and all of us ran in different directions."

The bodies of two students, Jorge Alexis Herrera Pino, 22, and Gabriel Echeverría de Jesús, 21, were hit by bullets and fell to the highway.  The young men were students at the rural teaching school.

"Afterwards, they chased is in vehicles and on foot while they shot at us.  Some of us who hid in the hills were chased by helicopters.  We can't communicate with our classmates because the cell phones aren't working," he commented, alleging that the lines were cut.  "They're still looking for us."

Bertoldo Martínez, president of the Coalition of Democratic Organizations of the State of Guerrero explains that the protest also included the demand that missing environmentalists Eva Alarcón and Marcial Bautista, both disappeared since December 6 as they were headed from Chilpancingo to Mexico City, be presented alive. [Translator's note: Alarcón and Bautista were members of poet Javier Sicilia's anti-drug war Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity (MPJD), and were kidnapped on their way to MPJD meetings.]

The human rights defender says that the Guerrero government is responsible for what is happening: "What is happening in the state is grave and shameful.  These sorts of situations don't get solved.  For example, the supposed suicide of Joel Santana Villa was a murder perpetrated by the State," he commented, referring to the death of an environmentalist who was imprisoned in the Iguala prison since last June.  His death occurred this past December 2 inside the prison.

Students from the Federation of Peasant Socialist Students of Mexico (FECSM) commented in a press conference--which took place in the offices of Local 9 of the National Coordination of Education Workers (CNTE)--that they still don't know the whereabouts of the detained (about 24) and they blame Gov. Angel Aguirre, Federal Police, State Police, and the Mexican military for the murder of the formalists.

"The attack occurred during a state of calm.  This was a normal protest, just like the ones we always do.  Now, after this, there's going to be movement," which means that they will take more forceful actions and that there will be more mobilizations.  "A few months ago the governor came to the school to talk with us, but he didn't want to sign anything.  His predecessor, ex-governor Zeferino Torreblanca, starved us, and this governor kills us."

Moreover, they stated that the rural teaching school is besieged by the Mexican military: approximately 14 military vehicles surround the school.  About twenty of their classmates are inside.  They fear that the school will be taking over by the armed forces in the next few hours.

They also note that the Secretary of Education in Guerrero has not responded to their demands.  They directly blame [President] Felipe Calderón for the strategy of war that is being carried out and for neoliberal policies that have deteriorated education in the country.

In a communiqué, the Interior Ministry said that it is working in coordination with Guerrero authorities to investigate the incident and to hold responsible those who were responsible for the homicides.  Meanwhile, the Federal Attorney General's Office opened criminal investigation PGR/GRO/CHI/CASO/387/2011 for any federal crimes that resulted from the incident.

José Ramón Salinas, spokesman for the Federal Police, stated that the Federal Police had not participated in the operation; however, Ramón Arreola Ibarra, undersecretary of Police Control for the state of Guerrero, contradicted him and commented that the Federal Police broke up the protest.

The government of Guerrero made a statement on its web site.  It explained that the governor had met with the students on various occasions and that the majority of their demands had been resolved.  Those that had not been resolved, "is because [the government] didn't have the ability to resolve them immediately."  Likewise, the statement reiterated the government's willingness to resolve the problems and demands from diverse sectors of society, respecting free expression of ideas and protest.

In response, the students stated: "We don't believe them.  How is it possible that they want a dialogue while they are preparing to close down the school by force? They want to close it because inside we practice self-government."

The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), initiated a formal complaint with case number CGCP/309/11 regarding the aggression against the students.  In a communiqué it mentioned that it would provide accompaniment, legal support, psychological support, and medical attention if it is required to the victims' families.  Moreover, it declared the incident to be "lamentable and deplorable, and it should not, under any circumstance, remain in impunity."

Normalista Injured in Yesterday's Police Operation is in Grave Condition; 24 Detainees Are Freed
by Sergio Ocampo and Hértor Briseño, La Jornada
translated by Kristin Bricker

Several of the detainees say they were tortured in police custody

Chilpancingo, Gro. The Student Society of the Ayotzinapa Rural Teaching School stated that student José David Espíritu, who was injured yesterday as police cleared a highway blockade in the capital city carried out by students, has been operated on and his condition is listed as grave.

Iván Alberto Alvarez Adame and Rubén Eduviges Cuautololo were also injured during the operation.  Today the State Attorney General's Office released 24 students who had been detained.

Of those, 11 are from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teaching School, five are from the Autonomous University of Guerrero's Economics Department, four are from Chilpancingo Tech, and four are peasants from the Coyuca de Benítez municipality in the Costa Grande region of Guerrero.

Manuel Olivares of the Guerrero Human Rights Network, denounced that student Gerardo Torres Pérez, whom the state attorney general's office is accusing of having shot an AK-47, told non-governmental organizations that visited him that he was brutally tortured into stating that he fired a weapon.

The normalista said that the police took him to an area near the municipality of Zumpango de Neri, located about 10 kilometers from the capital, where they took him out of the vehicle in a parcel of land and made him fire the weapon four times.

Olivares also said that the whereabouts of 13 people who came to support the students are unknown.  The missing are from the municipalities of Ayutla de los Libres and Tecoanapa.

At 1pm there will be a protest march in the capital.  The central demand is the ouster of the Chilpancingo government and the removal of governor Angel Aguirre's cabinet.

People Are Still Being Detained

Jersey Peñaloza, representing the normalistas, that hours after "the massacre" teachers and people uninvolved with the protest were still being detained.  Some escaped and have taken cover in the hills.


Another student said that some of the detained have said that they were tortured.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Mexican Civil Society Wants President and Drug Traffickers To Face War Crimes Charges In The International Criminal Court

by Kristin Bricker, SSR Centre

The accused (from left): Public Security Secretary
Genaro García Luna, Defense Secretary Guillermo 
Galván Galván, President Felipe Calderón, and Navy 
Secretary Mariano Francisco Saynez Mendoza. 
A coalition of lawyers, academics, activists, and journalists has announced that it will seek the prosecution of President Felipe Calderón in the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes and crimes against humanity stemming from his deployment of the military to battle drug trafficking organizations.  “Our petition is supported by over 20,000 signatures, both handwritten and electronic,” they said in a written statement, “making it the largest citizens’ complaint that the ICC has ever received.”

Netzai Sandoval, the lawyer who is preparing the complaint, argues that the ICC has jurisdiction in this case because Mexico is a signatory to the Rome Statute, and because the country’s drug war constitutes an “armed conflict not of an international nature.” The Rome Statute, which created the court in 2002, defines an “armed conflict not of an international nature” as “armed conflicts that take place in the territory of a State when there is protracted armed conflict between governmental authorities and organized armed groups or between such groups.”

Details of the Complaint

In addition to President Calderón, Sandoval has requested that the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor investigate Public Security Secretary Genaro García Luna, Defense Secretary Guillermo Galván Galván, Navy Secretary Francisco Saynez Mendoza, drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, and “other authorities, military officials, and drug traffickers who are responsible for war crimes in Mexico.”

The Office of the Prosecutor is responsible for determining admissibility, defendants, and charges.  However, Sandoval has requested that the Prosecutor investigate both government officials and drug trafficking organizations for war crimes and crimes against humanity.  He argues that both sides of the conflict have committed murders, rape and sexual slavery, forced disappearances, physical mutilations, inhuman treatment and torture, extensive destruction of property, and attacks against the civilian population, all of which are classified as war crimes or crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute.

Sandoval notes that the Army has murdered and tortured innocent civilians at military checkpoints and during military operations.  “It has attempted to cover up these incidents in order to guarantee impunity,” argues Sandoval.  In 2010, for example, the military killed two students at the elite private university Tec de Monterrey. Soldiers planted weapons on the students’ corpses and removed their backpacks and student IDs to make them appear to be cartel gunmen.

The complaint that Sandoval will present to the ICC also details war crimes committed by criminal organizations.  It specifically mentions the massacres perpetuated by unidentified gunmen at drug rehabilitation clinics that are occurring with alarming frequency in various northern states.  Moreover, he accuses drug trafficking organizations of forcibly recruiting children under fifteen years of age, which has been demonstrated by arrests of children such as 13-year-old Edgar Jiménez Lugo, a cartel hitman who says that a drug trafficking organization kidnapped him when he was eleven and ordered him to kill or be killed.

Sandoval argues that both the government and drug trafficking organizations have committed physical mutilations.  Early in the war, drug trafficking organizations began to terrorize the civilian population by dumping tortured and mutilated bodies in public places such as in dance clubs, alongside highways, hanging from overpasses, or in front of government buildings or schools. In late 2009, the government responded in kind: the Marines killed drug kingpin Arturo Beltran Leyva in his home, and then employees from the medical examiner’s office stripped him down to his underwear and covered his bullet-ridden corpse with bloody peso notes and U.S. dollar bills.  They took pictures of his semi-nude body and leaked the pictures to the press, presumably to intimidate Beltran Leyva’s criminal organization.

The complaint also accuses officials from the Mexican government’s National Immigration Institute (INM) of collaborating with drug trafficking organizations to kidnap and traffic Central American migrants who pass through Mexico on their way to the United States.  The government has admitted widespread corruption in the INM, where alarming numbers of immigration agents detain migrants and then hand them over to cartels in exchange for a fee.  The cartels themselves frequently kidnap dozens of migrants in a single raid.  The criminals detain the migrants in “safe houses” while theydemand ransoms from the migrants’ families in the United States, or they enslave the kidnapped migrants to work in fields or—in the case of women—the sex industry as prostitutes or in pornographic movies.

The Gravity Threshold

Due to its limited capacity, the ICC declines to investigate some cases in which it has compelling evidence that war crimes have occurred, but do not reach the ICC’s standard for gravity.  “Even where there is a reasonable basis to believe that a crime has been committed, this is not sufficient for the initiation of an investigation by the International Criminal Court,” wrote ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo when he declined to file charges against coalition forces for war crimes committed in Iraq. “While, in a general sense, any crime within the jurisdiction of the Court is ‘grave,’ the [Rome] Statute requires an additional threshold of gravity even where the subject-matter jurisdiction is satisfied. This assessment is necessary as the Court is faced with multiple situations involving hundreds or thousands of crimes and must select situations” in which the commission of said war crimes are “committed as a part of a plan or policy or as part of a large-scale commission of such crimes.”

Migrants’ plight in Mexico might be one of the complaint’s more compelling aspects for the ICC because the crimes committed against them are so widespread.  Germán Guillermo Ramírez Garduaza, who runs the “Santa Faustina Kowalska” Migrante Shelter in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, estimates that 80% of the Centeral American women who pass through his shelter have been raped during their journey.  “They consider rape to be part of the price they pay to migrate,” explains Fermina Rodriguez of the Fray Matias de Cordova Human Rights Center in Chiapas.

The Mexican government’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) documented 214 cases of mass kidnappings of migrants in 2010 alone, with a total of 11,333 victims.  This number does not include unreported mass kidnappings, nor does it include kidnappings of small numbers of migrants, meaning that the total number of Central American migrants kidnapped in Mexico is likely much higher.

Sandoval hopes that the staggering statistics of over 50,000 deadthousands of forced disappearances, at least 230,000 displaced persons, and the appearance of severely mutilated bodies left on public display in various parts of the country on a daily basis will convince the court that high-ranking government officials and drug trafficking organizations are committing war crimes in Mexico “on a massive scale.”

Goals of an ICC Investigation

Unlike the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), which allows victims to sue State parties over a range of human rights violations, the ICC prosecutes individuals—not States—who are allegedly responsible for a very limited range of war crimes and/or crimes against humanity.  Whereas the IACtHR has the power to order States to reform laws or policies that prevent victims from obtaining justice, the ICC only seeks punitive damages, such as imprisonment or indemnity for victims.

Nonetheless, Sandoval believes that an ICC investigation could have important political implications in Mexico.  He hopes that the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor will be able to obtain confidential information regarding the military’s role in the drug war because the Mexican military has denied many Transparency Act requests on the basis of national security.  “On May 9, 2007, [Calderón] published an executive order to create an elite force called the Cuerpo de Fuerzas de Apoyo Federal [Federal Support Forces],” explained Sandoval.  “This elite unit is directly controlled by Felipe Calderón and was involved in the drug war… There is no General or other official between Calderón and those soldiers.”  Sandoval hopes that the Office of the Prosecutor will investigate the secretive Federal Support Forces for any possible human rights abuses, because domestic attempts to obtain information about their actions have been futile.  If the ICC finds that the elite unit is responsible for human rights abuses, Sandoval argues that it can hold Calderón directly responsible for their actions.

Due to the corruption and complicity with organized crime that prevails in Mexico’s security institutions, many victims never report crimes for fear of retaliation.  Mexico’s Census Bureau (INEGI) reports that in 2010, 24 percent of the Mexican population reported being the victim of a crime.  However, only 12.3 percent of them reported the crimes to the police. Of those crimes that were reported to the police, the police only investigated eight percent.

“Mexico is a country of impunity,” argues John Ackerman, a legal scholar with the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s Legal Investigations Institute.  Ackerman says that bringing a case before the ICC is a way for citizens “to use legal, peaceful means to demand justice and accountability.”

Sandoval hopes that the ICC will open offices in Mexico to carry out a direct and impartial investigation into possible war crimes. “The ICC should open field offices in different parts of the country so that victims can go there and give direct testimony.”

Even though ICC investigations can drag on for years, Sandoval hopes that the complaint will pressure Mexican politicians to reform the country’s security strategy soon.  “The candidates who will compete in the 2012 presidential election should know that if they continue with a militaristic policy that covers up soldiers’ crimes, they will share Calderón’s fate,” said Sandoval.  “One would hope that they would begin to discuss a plan for the military to return to its barracks, and embark on a new strategy for confronting organized crime.”

Kristin Bricker is a Mexico-based freelance journalist who specializes in militarization, human rights, social movements and the drug war in Latin America.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Policing, Indigenous Style: Guerrero's Community Police

Photo courtesy of the Community Police:
by Kristin Bricker, The Indypendent

While the Mexican state of Guerrero is plagued by both drug war violence and police corruption, it is also home to one of the most innovative criminal justice projects in the country: the community police. In 1995, when indigenous residents of Guerrero’s Sierra Costa region could no longer tolerate the general state of lawlessness in their communities, they turned to traditional indigenous policing methods. Seventy-eight towns replaced government police with unpaid, elected community police and prison terms with community service.

While the community police have been unable to keep cartels from trafficking drugs through their territory, they have been able to minimize the violent crime that is often associated with the industry. The community police claim that over the past 16 years they have reduced crime in their region by 98 percent.

“There’s hardly any robbery, rape, or violence. The criminals fled the area, because they know that the community will sentence them to five, seven, eleven years of community service,” explains Emilio, a community police officer. “With the government, if they arrest you, they’ll let you go the next day if you pay them. We don’t accept bribes. Here, you work hard every day, and every night you return to jail. And you always serve out your sentence. You think [criminals] want to wind up like that? No.”

The community police have an immediate response protocol for kidnappings that involves the entire community, not just the police. “One time the narcos kidnapped two community police officers,” recounts Emilio. The community police mobilized the entire town to save the kidnapped officers. “We organized checkpoints on all of the highways out of town, and we patrolled the city. The narcos got nervous, so the next day they freed them.”

The community police sent a commission to Acapulco with a message to the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity: “We hope that our experience … will be part of your struggle. There is no other way to confront violence than with collective organization.”

Monday, October 10, 2011

Inside Mexico’s Peace Movement

by Kristin Bricker, The Indypendent

Photo by Santiago Navarro F.
On Sept. 10, thousands of people marched through the besieged resort town of Acapulco to greet the Caravan for Peace with Dignity and Justice led by Javier Sicilia, a poet who ignited a nationwide movement against drug war violence this spring after his son was murdered.

In recent years, Acapulco has endured a plague of violence — beheadings, massacres of tourists, kidnapping of schoolchildren and demands from criminal gangs that teachers pay 50 percent of their salaries as protection money. In the vast majority of the cases, no one has been charged with these crimes.

Armed with signs and T-shirts that said “No more violence,” “Stop kidnappings and crime,” and “No more militarization, we want education,” locals faced down their fear of being identified by halcones or cartel spies, and marched for peace.
“They asked me if I was afraid to participate,” said Yuridia Betancourt, whose son Christian Obeth was kidnapped on March 19. “I’m panicked. But I’m more afraid to stay at home with my arms crossed.”

However, moments after the peace march swept by Zaragoza Street, several blocks from the central plaza where the marchers rallied, unidentified gunmen shot and killed Antelmo Petatan Vasquez in his taxi in broad daylight, a fate shared by a growing number of cabbies who are often suspected of working as informants for the cartels or are forced to pay them “quotas” in exchange for the right to work. Petatan Vasquez was one of eight people murdered that day in Acapulco; three were killed during the march.

Petatan Vasquez’s killing marked another in the more than 40,000 deaths that have occurred in Mexico since conservative President Felipe Calderón escalated the government’s war on drug cartels in January 2007. It also underscored the challenges faced by Sicilia and the antiwar movement as it ventured into southern Mexico for the first time, hoping to build on earlier momentum.

Breaking the Fear

Rural and mountainous, southern Mexico is more impoverished and has a much greater percentage of indigenous peoples than the northern part of the country. And while southern Mexico generally has less violent crime than northern states, organized crime and government security forces are victimizing certain sectors of the population at alarming rates.
Located several hundred miles southwest of Mexico City, the state of Guerrero bore the brunt of a government counter-insurgency campaign against leftist guerrillas from the 1960s to 1980s. The Guerra Sucia (or, “Dirty War”) carried out by the army and its paramilitary allies officially ended almost three decades ago. Nowadays, Guerrero residents are suffering some of the worst abuses of the drug war, as, the military remained in Guerrero and a climate of government corruption has assured that crimes committed against locals are almost never punished.

“The Dirty War never ended in Guerrero,” argues Rosario Cabañas, the niece of Guerrero school teacher and guerrilla leader Lucio Cabañas who was killed in 1974. “Unfortunately, thanks to [the Dirty War], peace and justice were lost. For 40 years, there has been impunity and injustice.”

Calderón’s militarized response disrupted drug trafficking routes and the cartels began to battle for control of Guerrero, which includes the coastal enclave of Acapulco. Residents found themselves caught in the middle. Unsurprisingly, the conflation of political and criminal violence gave birth in Guerrero to Mexico’s first narco-paramilitary organization, the “Liberator of the People Army” led by local political boss Rogaciano Alba.

Sharing Stories

Composed of 15 buses carrying more than 700 activists, journalists and family members of victims, the caravan rolled through 19 towns and cities in seven states over 10 days in mid-September. At every stop, caravaneros and locals marched for peace. The marches always ended in rallies where drug war victims from the north shared the stage with local victims to tell the world about how they have suffered in the so-called “war on organized crime.” At each stop, Sicilia’s Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity collected complaints about violence and human rights abuses, just as they had done in the north.

Mexico’s drug cartels were significantly strengthened in the early 1990s as junior partners to their counterparts in Colombia who were finding it increasingly difficult to ship cocaine to the United States through the Caribbean. In recent years, thanks in large part to the Colombian cartels’ decreased control over shipping routes, the Mexican cartels have become fully diversified organized crime syndicates and have expanded into new areas such as kidnapping, extortion, prostitution and human trafficking.

Approximately 40 Central American migrants traveled with the Peace Caravan, calling attention to how the cartels frequently prey on immigrants.

Mexico’s harsh U.S.-backed immigration laws force the hundreds of thousands of Central American migrants who enter Mexico each year to travel clandestinely, which puts them at great risk of being kidnapped by organized crime, caravan participants explained. When migrants are detained by authorities, they are sometimes handed over to criminal groups for a bribe.

During the caravan, the Central American migrants described how the gangs take people like themselves to safe houses where they are forced to call their families or friends in the United States and hold the telephone in their hands while the criminals torture them into begging their families for ransom money: “I saw them cut off a 14-year-old boy’s finger while his father was listening on the phone,” said one Salvadoran immigrant who says that he, too, was tortured.

Female immigrants are sometimes forced into prostitution or made to perform in pornographic movies. German Guillermo Ramirez Garduaza of the “Santa Faustina Kowalska” migrant shelter in Veracruz estimates that 80 percent of female Central American migrants are raped in Mexico.

Danira Meléndez, a Honduran migrant, recalled how her coyote (paid guide) demanded that she have sex with him. “He told me, ‘Here, I’m just one man. But I work with the Zetas, and if I turn you over to them, it’ll be 15 or 20 men raping you,’” Meléndez recounted. “We know that female migrants are easy sexual merchandise for organized crime.”

A Militant Tradition

Before the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity emerged, drug war victims were terrified, isolated and silent. On the two caravans, victims learned public speaking skills and how to organize protests and press conferences and hold more effective meetings with public officials. Now that the caravans are over, the victims will return to their communities, most of which now have local antiwar committees. Whereas before drug war victims were shunned, now they are in a position to become community leaders.

Citing lower turnouts at Peace Caravan events in the south, the Mexican media have portrayed the antiwar movement as losing support. However, this does not take into account the fact that the south has experienced less drug war violence than the north and in places that have been hard hit — like Guerrero and Veracruz — thousands of people turned out to protest the war. Moreover, the south has a long tradition of militant grassroots organizing (see sidebar) and resistance to military occupation that most of the north lacks. Whereas most northern drug war victims are just beginning to organize and define their politics, southern drug war victims are joining experienced organizations and hitting the ground running.
If southern organizations continue to collaborate with Sicilia’s national movement, they will likely provide a counterweight to Sicilia’s strong focus on engagement with authorities, which has included meeting with leaders of all three branches of a government that is widely seen as being complicit in the drug trade it claims to be fighting.

“We still don’t understand why they dedicate so much energy and effort to dialogue with a political class that long ago lost all will to govern and is nothing more than a gang of criminals,” the Zapatistas’ Subcomandante Marcos recently wrote, reflecting the sentiment of many groups in the south.

Mexico holds presidential and congressional elections next year. It remains to be seen how the budding anti-war movement will affect the electoral process. Ultimately, the country’s future depends on whether Mexico’s civil society can be mobilized to cleanse the state of a culture of corruption and impunity that exists at all levels of government.

Kristin Bricker is a Mexico-based freelance journalist covering militarization, social movements and the drug war in Latin America. She blogs at mywordismyweapon.blogspot.com.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Military Justice and Impunity in Mexico's Drug War

by Kristin Bricker, Security Sector Reform Resource Center
SSR Issue Paper No. 3
Monday, September 26, 2011

During Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s administration, over 5,000 human rights complaints have been filed against the military, but only one soldier has been punished by the military justice system. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) has issued several rulings ordering Mexico to reform military jurisdiction so all crimes against civilians are handled by the civilian court system. Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled on July 12, 2011 that the military should not have jurisdiction over cases of human rights abuse by soldiers. This issue paper argues that the Arce Initiative, put forward by Senator René Arce from Mexico’s opposition party, is the only proposed reform to military jurisdiction that complies with both the IACtHR rulings and international human rights law, unlike the proposal put forth by President Calderón. The paper concludes that the UN and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights should maintain their pressure on the Mexican government to reform the Code of Military Justice to ensure all human rights violations are tried in civilian courts.

Download the full report here (2.4 MB PDF file)

Mexico’s human rights violence on the rise, as neither military nor justice system provide security


WATERLOO, CANADA — September 27 — Foreign governments supporting Mexico’s war on drugs should focus on strengthening civilian rule of law and encourage judicial reform to ensure that military personnel accused of human rights abuse are held accountable, according to a new report from The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI).

Military Justice and Impunity in Mexico’s Drug War, released under CIGI’s Security Sector Reform Issue Papers series, comes at an important time as last week saw the deadliest attacks in Mexico’s drug war when 35 dead bodies were found in Veracruz and earlier this year the Global Commission on Drug Policy published a report stating that the “global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.”

In the report, it is argued that the military, despite the Mexican government’s obligation to reform the country’s judicial system as per recent rulings by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and obligations set out by the American Convention, has been overstepping constitutional duties as per Article 129, and has been acting with relative impunity. “[During] Calderón’s administration, over 47,337 people – the overwhelming majority of them civilians – have been killed in the war on drugs,” says Kristen Bricker, a Mexico-based freelance journalist who authored the report. “The Mexican military’s jurisdiction over crimes committed by soldiers against civilians is completely out of line with international standards.”

While President Felipe Calderón has proposed reforms to the Code of Military Justice, monthly averages of 48,750 soldiers continue to fight the war on drugs with support from the US’s Medina Initiative. Particularly concerning is that Calderón’s proposal, which has since been annulled by a Supreme Court decision, would only prosecute three human rights crimes – torture, forced disappearance and rape committed by soldiers against civilians – in federal court. And as per Article 57.11 of the Code, the military would continue to assume jurisdiction over all other crimes committed by active-duty soldiers. The Arce Initiative, put forward by Senator René Arce from Mexico’s opposition party, is the only proposed reform to military jurisdiction that complies with both the Inter-American Court of Human Rights rulings and international human rights law.

Mexico, finding itself forced to reform an unbalanced judicial system, is in need of civilian rule of law in order to address human rights violations, according to the report. This is a priority that can be promoted by donor governments who are committed to increasing transparency, combating corruption and halting rampant human rights abuses.

For more information on this publication, visit http://www.cigionline.org/publications/2011/9/military-justice-and-impunity-mexicos-drug-war.

Kevin Dias, Communications Specialist, CIGI
Tel: 519.885.2444, ext. 238, Email: kdias@cigionline.org

The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) is an independent, nonpartisan think tank on international governance. Led by experienced practitioners and distinguished academics, CIGI supports research, forms networks, advances policy debate and generates ideas for multilateral governance improvements. Conducting an active agenda of research, events and publications, CIGI’s interdisciplinary work includes collaboration with policy, business and academic communities around the world. CIGI was founded in 2001 by Jim Balsillie, co-CEO of RIM (Research In Motion), and collaborates with and gratefully acknowledges support from a number of strategic partners, in particular the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario. For more information, please visit www.cigionline.org.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Drug War Meets Dirty War In Guerrero

By Kristin Bricker, Americas Program
“The Dirty War never ended in Guerrero,” declares Rosario Cabañas, the niece of guerrilla leader Lucio Cabañas. The Mexican military killed Lucio Cabañas in 1974, carrying out an order toexterminate the guerrilla leader and anyone who collaborated with him.
In July, unknown assassins murdered Rosario’s mother, Reyna Anaya Nava, and the guerrilla leader’s widow, Isabel Anaya Nava, as they left church in Xaltianguis, Guerrero.
As drug war violence spirals out of control in many parts of Mexico, people living in the countryside of the state of Guerrero are threatened not only by the traditional forces of the Dirty War—the military, paramilitary groups, and corrupt political bosses—, but now by narco-paramilitaries and drug trafficking organizations aw well.
Dirty War Crimes
Guerrero’s murder rate has more than tripled since Felipe Calderón ordered drug war operations in that state in January 2007.
To put the drug war violence into context, in a thirteen-year span of the government’s Dirty War against guerrilla forces and political opposition, between 1968 and 1981, 529 people were forcibly disappeared in the state. This was known as the most violent period in Mexico’s history since the revolutionary war. Today, the Committee of Families of the Kidnapped, Disappeared, and Murdered in Guerrero has counted 299 disappearances over the past six years alone, meaning that Guerrero is on track to surpass its Dirty War record.
The increase in violence was no surprise in Guerrero, where the drug war is the latest chapter in a decades-long history of military occupation, paramilitarism, and state violence. The military has occupied large swaths of Guerrero since the 1970s, when President Luis Echeverría sent 24,000 soldiers—one-third of the Mexican military at the time—to the state to suppress guerrilla organizations. The military terrorized civilian peasants. Forced disappearances and summary executions at military checkpoints became common. As a result of the intense militarization, Guerrero suffered more forced disappearances during the Dirty War than any other state—eight times more than second-place Mexico City—and a huge increase in summary executions.
In a chilling foretelling of what was to come in the war on drugs, a suppressed 2006 government report on the Dirty War criticized the military campaign against the guerrillas:
“Even now, when these crimes come to light, there are those who try to justify the State’s actions, arguing the necessity of bringing to justice—by any means—those who participated in illegal acts committed by guerrillas. This justification is so weak and contradictory that it necessarily concludes in the argument that crime is fought with crime, leaving aside the law…”
Most Dirty War crimes remain uninvestigated and unpunished. In 2002, then-President Vicente Fox created the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Past Political and Social Movements (FEMOSSP) to investigate Dirty War crimes. However, the federal government refused to publish the FEMOSSP’s groundbreaking report on Dirty War crimes. Instead, it published a watered-down version and shut down the FEMOSSP. The crimes mentioned in the report, particularly the meticulously documented disappearances carried out by government forces, remain unpunished. And the Dirty War continues in Guerrero.
In the decades since the Dirty War ended in other parts of the country, the military has continued to “fight crime with crime” in Guerrero. It is unknown exactly how many soldiers currently occupy the state, because the Secretary of Defense has denied Freedom of Information requests regarding the number of soldiers deployed by state.
But the effects of the military occupation are painfully obvious. When the peace caravan led by poet and drug war victim Javier Sicilia visited Guerrero on September 9-10, many residents recounted how soldiers murdered their family members. Their stories were similar to those in northern states: loved ones were shot or disappeared at military checkpoints. The only difference is that in the north, military checkpoints and human rights abuses committed by soldiers are a relatively recent phenomenon. In Guerrero, soldiers have terrorized residents for forty years.
Alvaro Ramírez Concepción recounted how the military massacred eleven people on June 7, 1998, as they met in El Charco to discuss community-led economic development. Ramírez Concepción’s Organization for the Future of the Mixteco People has fought to bring those responsible for the massacre to justice. As a result, they have suffered attacks from unknown assailants.
“Five people were injured in my community. I was shot, too,” Ramirez says as he recalls an attack that occurred just a year ago. “I have these wounds because I go out and knock on doors. I’m working against the government.”
Tita Radilla recounted how the military was responsible for the disappearance of her father, Rosendo Radilla Pacheco, at a military checkpoint on August 25, 1974. His crime: he sang folk songs about human rights abuses in Guerrero. Despite winning her case against the Mexican government in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the government still hasn’t told her where her father’s body is, and it has not punished the soldiers responsible for his disappearance and murder.
In many disappearances, however, it is unclear who is responsible. Activists may receive threats for the work they do, but when they disappear, they disappear without a trace. That was the case with Jorge Gabriel Cerón Silva, who disappeared in 2007. Cerón Silva was an organizer with the Community Development Workshop (Tadeco, in its Spanish abbreviation), a Guerrero-based community organization. On March 14, 2007, witnesses saw that as he left his office, a recent-model truck with tinted windows and no license plate pulled up next to him. Men got out of the truck, threw Cerón Silva inside, got back in the truck, and drove off.
“From that moment, he was never heard from or seen again,” says Isabel Rosales of the Committee of Families of the Kidnapped, Disappeared, and Murdered in Guerrero, known simply as the Committee of the Disappeared.
Tadeco helped form the Committee of the Disappeared to search for Cerón Silva. “In the beginning the Committee was just family and friends of Jorge,” explains Rosales. “But when we went public, a lot of other families contacted us because they had the same problem: that someone in their family had been disappeared.”
Drug War Crimes
When Mexican President Felipe Calderón declared “war on organized crime” in late 2006, his decision to deploy the military to regions controlled by drug trafficking organizations set off a wave of human rights abuses, gruesome executions, kidnappings, and other violent crimes around the country. In Guerrero, where state-sponsored violence never ceased following the official end of the Dirty War, drug war violence has compounded residents’ security problems.
Guadalupe Orozco’s son Francis Alejandro Garcia Orozco was kidnapped from work on March1, 2010, along with five other young men. She has a security camera video that shows that soldiers kidnapped her son.

"Send the Army Back to its Barracks"
“The military refuses to accept this evidence,” she complains. “They say that they don’t know anything, that it wasn’t them.” Her family visited several area military bases, but they all deny having her son. She says neither her son nor his friends were activists, nor were they criminals. Her son and his friends simply disappeared into the back of a military truck and haven’t been seen since. She has no idea what motivated the detention and subsequent disappearance and she can’t get any answers from military authorities or ghe government.
Orozco is one of the many parents who have joined the Committee since the drug war broke out. Unlike the Committee’s founding members, they say no one in their family is a political activist,. They insist they aren’t criminals, and have nothing to do with organized crime. The families of the organization tend to come from very humble backgrounds. Some worked repairing computers; others worked in retail—in other words, not ideal extortion victims. Many families never received ransom demands.
Orozco is one of the lucky ones, because an anonymous tipster sent her the video of her son’s detention, providing evidence that the military was behind the disappearance Most families don’t know if the kidnappers were soldiers, police, organized crime, or petty criminals simply taking advantage of a violent and chaotic situation.
A lot of the Committee’s newest members can’t even begin to guess who could have taken their loved ones, nor do they have any idea as to why they were targeted. The problem is that the impunity and suspension of justice that has plagued Guerrero since the beginning of the Dirty War has allowed government corruption to fester for decades. Now it also provides a cover for violent crimes that are not politically motivated. In short, criminals in Guerrero know that there is almost no chance they will be caught, and if they are caught, there’s even less chance they will be punished.
Government Turns Its Back on the Problem
Even as forced disappearances increase to alarming proportions, the Committee of the Disappeared’s proposals to combat the problem fall on deaf ears. “We’ve proposed that the government of Guerrero implement a search plan, that it form a state-wide tactical group that would search and find them [the disappeared], that it re-open the cases and that it follow the leads that we have provided to learn their whereabouts,” said the Committee in a written statement. “We want to help with the investigations despite the risks entailed, but the government refuses to give in. It insists on keeping us isolated, separated, and to keep ignoring us and shutting us up. As for our proposal that the government create a contingency fund for victims of social violence, we haven’t received any response.”
The government’s refusal to search for the disappeared is due to a lack of will, not resources. Proceso’s Marcela Turati points out that a new system called Plataforma Mexico already has all the equipment necessary to track kidnapping victims and locate mass or clandestine graves. Plataforma Mexico, which receives funding from the United States government through the Merida Initative, is designed to connect federal, state, and local police to a national communications system, a security network and satellite cameras, databases of ballistics information from crimes, police reports, and the biometric data on both criminals and victims. Turati points out that, if used correctly, the government could use satellite photos to detect geographical anomalies that would indicate a recently dug clandestine grave.
Likewise, Plataforma Mexico’s network of government security cameras, highway cameras, and tollbooth cameras could be used to track perpetrators as they flee the scene of a crime, and the nationwide, multi-level communications network should allow police to coordinate actions between jurisdictions. Theoretically, this same system could be used to track kidnappers and their victims. Turati points out that instead of using Plataforma Mexico to combat violent crime and impunity, the government currently only uses the system to track and interdict drug shipments.
In Guerrero, many human rights organizations believe that the government’s refusal to investigate kidnappings and disappearances indicates it may be afraid that thorough investigations would uncover government corruption and complicity with organized crime.
Javier Sicilia, whose son was kidnapped and murdered, argued in Ciudad Hidalgo, Chiapas, that corruption and impunity have “erased the line between the State and crime. It keeps us from seeing where one begins and the other ends.”
When ranchers Rodrigo Camacho Rodríguez, Pedro Salgado Mora, Cuauhtémoc Román Navarro, and Artemio Soroa Brito disappeared in separate incidents in Guerrero, the Committee of the Disappeared took up their cases. The prime suspect was Rogaciano Alba, a corrupt political boss, president of the Guerrero cattle ranchers union, and former mayor of Petatlán, Guerrero.
For years, locals had accused Alba of being in cahoots with the military to repress local peasant communities. Many civilians reported that his henchmen often acted as guides for the military during raids of their communities.
“There were various incursions into communities in the Sierra where residents said they saw that the people leading the incursions were Rogaciano Alba’s people, and that the military was protecting them,” says Rosales. “People also say that when he was being pursued by rivals, he hid out by living in the Petatlán and Altamirano military barracks. People who live near Rogaciano’s ranch say soldiers go up there to feed his animals. This tells us that he still has influence” over the military. This evidence of blatant collaboration between Alba’s gunmen and the military led locals to label his operation a paramilitary organization.
In recent years, however, rumors began to circulate in the Sierra that Alba worked for Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera’s drug trafficking organization. Then in February 2010, the government confirmed locals’ worst fears: it arrested Alba, accusing him of controlling the Costa Grande region of Guerrero for the Sinaloa cartel. Alba is currently in prison awaiting trial on drugs, weapons, and organized crime charges, but according to Rosales, his closest collaborators continue to run his ranching and drug trafficking operations. A clear indication that Alba’s reach extends beyond the jailhouse walls is the recent assassination of Javier Torres, a witness who testified against Alba. Torres accused Alba of ordering the assassination of human rights lawyer Digna Ochoa and the murders of over twenty members of Torres’ family. Torres was assassinated in April; at that point Alba had been in jail for over a year.
The fact that Alba was arrested on organized crime charges, is a political boss and former government official, and has a team of armed men who collaborate with the military against indigenous and peasant communities has led to the conclusion that Alba runs what could be Mexico’s first official narco-paramilitary organization.
When the Committee took up the four cattle ranchers’ case in 2009, it publicly accused Alba’s narco-paramilitary organization of disappearing the men. As a result, the Committee began to receive threats. “They told us to give up the fight,” says Rosales, “because if we didn’t, it would be our names and photos that would show up on the Committee’s list of disappeared persons.”
The government offered no help to the Committee in its search for the cattle ranchers. “They told us that they were disappeared for a reason, that they must have done something, or that they were involved in something that they shouldn’t have been,” says Rosales. “Public officials even told family members, ‘Don’t denounce [the disappearances]. You have other children, you have a family, don’t do anything because they could come for you.’ When they tell you this, it makes you think that the authorities know what happened to your relative.”
Cuaúhtemoc Ramírez of the Guerrero-based Organization of the Me’phaa Indigenous People (OPIM) argues, “The state has been using [narco-paramilitaries] to eliminate any political or social opposition.” He, along with many other Guerrero residents who have encountered narco-paramilitaries, says Rogaciano Alba is behind the narco-paramilitary apparatus in Guerrero.
“Everyone in the small towns knows” who the narcos are, he says. “They are armed and they drive around town in luxury trucks.” Since the narcos don’t attempt to maintain a low profile, Ramírez explains, residents easily identify them when they accompany the military or mingle with government officials. “One time at a town New Years Eve party, everyone saw the local [drug] boss at the party with the interim mayor.”
Ramírez believes that in Ayutla, the military has an agreement with narco-paramilitaries: “they [the military] will let them [the narcos] work, selling narcotics for example, but in exchange the narcos have to eliminate us.”
Testimony from the Insurgent People’s Revolutionary Army (ERPI), a guerrilla organization that appeared in Guerrero in 1998, supports Ramírez’s assertion that the government is using narco-paramilitaries against the political opposition in that state. The ERPI’s leader, Comandante Ramiro, said that when the military detained him in 2001, known drug traffickers participated in his torture sessions inside the prison. Ramiro escaped prison in 2002. The ERPI has publicly stated that drug traffickers are on the organization’s list of enemies. The ERPI says that it has battled drug traffickers and narco-paramilitaries on multiple occasions, and that it seeks to keep them out of the indigenous and peasant communities that make up the guerrilla army’s popular support base.
On November 4, 2009, Comandante Ramiro was shot and killed with an AK-47. The ERPI claims that the government paid one of Rogaciano Alba’s hitmen, Cayetano Alvarado Palacios, to assassinate him.
Whether or not this is true, testimonies from a range of leftist organizations in Guerrero all point to the same conclusion: in Guerrero, the government is using narco-paramilitaries to repress and terrorize popular movements.
The Drug War and the Dirty War have become one.
Kristin Bricker is a reporter in Mexico. She is a contributor to the CIP Americas Program www.cipamericas.org.
Photos by: Santiago Navarro