The criminalization of the social struggle is a State strategy that not only implies the modification and use of the law to arrest, convict, and impose long sentences on social activists, as in the case of Ignacio del Valle and the comrades sentenced to 67 years in prison; it goes much further than that. And that is what we, in the human rights and social organizations have not yet fully taken into account.
Criminalization involves “fingering” us, pointing us out, putting us on the same level, and converting us into organized crime figures and/or terrorists, which leads a large part of the society to see our work in defense of human rights as a source of social conflict and, further on down the line, allows the State to criminalize us or allows the paramilitary groups in its service to attack us.
This strategy promoted by the media as the voice of the State itself, not merely the “fourth estate,” leads to social immobility when we are arrested, tortured, raped, and sentenced to long years in prison, as in Atenco or Oaxaca.
The experience of Guatemala and Columbia indicates that the first step in this overall State repressive strategy is the invention of a pretext for militarizing civilian life, bringing the army out of the barracks, and applying the “strict rule of law” against social activists and the general population; this pretext is called “the war on drugs.”
Another common pretext is the supposed “weakness of the State,” when in reality what we are seeing is the strengthening of the repressive sphere as a preventive measure against the generalized discontent of a society that is beginning to suffer the effects of the structural reforms that have already been approved: the rise in prices of the most basic products, high unemployment, and low salaries, all of which are the product of the implementation and accelerated development of neoliberalism in our country.
On January 16, 2005, when the Federal Preventive Police (PFP) went into the maximum security prison known as CEFERESO #1, supposedly to restore order due to the uncontrollable power of the drug lords, we called this a “light” coup d’état that involved putting the Public Safety forces in the hands of the military and beginning to construct an alibi, which we now know is called the “war on drugs” to justify attacks on the social movement. We also stated that the PAN would not be able to stay in power, but the ultra-right in the party has yielded to the temptation to do so, utilizing its most powerful force, the military. Obviously, the PAN stayed in power through the pillar of military force, without losing sight of all possible electoral and cybernetic chicanery. Today the Mexican State is ahead of all our analyses. While many were enthralled with the apparent defeat of the PRI power structure and the emergence of the alternation of parties in power, during the last six years the Fox regime prepared the legal, political, and media instruments that Calderón is applying today against human rights defenders and social activists.
Massive arrests, punitive torture whichever way you look, sexual torture against women and men, long prison terms for leaders, and interminable processes for detainees.
As of May, we see a new phenomenon that we urgently need to analyze: in Atenco and Oaxaca the State tested the ability of the organizations and the organized society to respond to repression and has found us weak and fragmented. We believe that it has heightened the level of repression and that it will continue to escalate its “War against inconformity and the defense of human rights.” On May 25, in the current upheaval in the state of Oaxaca, police forces arrested two militants of an insurgent group, Raymundo RIVERA BRAVO, 55 years old, and Edmundo REYES AMAYA, 50 years old. As of now, they have not been presented and are considered arrested/disappeared. As usual, very few organizations of the civil society have responded to this alarming situation due to the heightened risk of exposing ourselves to the State as “fronts for armed groups.” We have already seen this and experienced it first-hand with the arrest of the Cerezo brothers, who in spite of having legally proved their innocence and absence of ties to armed groups, have spent six years in prison. As for the Cerezo Committee, not a year has gone by that they haven’t tried to link us or present us as a front for armed groups, not to mention the constant harassment and death threats against us.
Having simply let this go by, we now find ourselves at the mercy of the State’s repressive strategy, and Veracruz is the most pressing example. In a repressive act of the state police against the recovery of lands by the campesino organization “Dorados de Villa,” adherents to the Other Campaign, our worst fear has come to pass: the re-edition, or maybe we should say, the re-masterization of the dirty war of the 70s. Although we say it never really ended, today we’re seeing a new outburst. The arrest/disappearance of the campesino leader Gabino FLORES CRUZ and the arrest/disappearance of the human rights defender who was present as an observer Javier ISLAS CRUZ, of the Red Unidos por los Derechos Humanos (United Human Rights Network), should put us all on maximum alert. It’s possible that they will appear after several sessions of torture, as has happened before in Mexico, a temporary detention. But I wonder what we’re going to do if they don’t appear. Coordination is indispensable, now more than ever. Even with all the difficulties involved, it may allow us to halt the new repressive push of the new Mexican State, which is now taking on some of the characteristics of a terrorist State.
Let’s end with a loose paraphrase of that well-worn poem:
They arrested and disappeared the EPR militants and we didn’t act because they’re guerrillas and we have nothing to do with them.
They arrested and disappeared a campesino leader and we didn’t act because the problem is far from home.
They arrested and disappeared a human rights defender, but we didn’t act because it may have just been a mistake by the State that won’t be repeated.
They’re going to arrest and disappear you and me, but there won’t be anyone left to defend us.
Francisco Cerezo Contreras