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Political prisoners in Mexico

Centre for Latin America Solidarity & Studies

Sábado 7 de febrero de 2009, por Comité Cerezo México

The numbers of political prisoners just add to the number of disappearances, assassinations, persecutions, uncountable harassments, beatings, and so on, that appear when a group of people speak out, protest, organise to improve their living conditions, to protect their environment against big corporations, or refuse to accept injustice as a natural condition of the under developed world.

The case of the Cerezo brothers

In just a few days the brothers Héctor and Antonio Cerezo will be free from the unjust imprisonment they have been subjected to for the last seven and a half years; charged with “organised crime”, and “possession of weapons, ammunition and explosives”. That was the final resolution of the judges after an unfair trial with no opportunity given to plead innocence. In Mexico, you are guilty until you prove otherwise; however, in this case, the Cerezo brothers were not given the opportunity to prove their innocence.

Héctor and Antonio, together with their younger brother Alejandro Cerezo (19 years old when detained, released in 2005) and two other men, Pablo Alvarado (freed in 2006) and Sergio Galicia (who was release almost immediately), where detained in August 2001, under the false accusations of being responsible for placing explosive artefacts (none of them bombs or grenades) in three branches of the bank Banamex (owned since that same year by the US financial conglomerate Citigroup), and of being members of the People´s Revolutionary Armed Forces (FRAP, Fuerzas Revolucionarias Armadas del Pueblo), which claimed responsibility for the explosions.

The detainees denied their participation in the actions, and being members of the rebel group. The guerrilla organisation –a split of the Party of the Poor, PROCUP, and the Peoples Revolutionary Army, EPR– also came out to state they were not combatants.
As it was found later, those accusations were a façade to the real reason that put them behind the bars: according to military intelligence sources, Francisco Cerezo Quiroz and Emilia Contreras, also called Tiburcio Cruz and Elodia Canseco, parents of the Cerezo Contreras siblings, are allegedly the heads of the marxist Peoples Revolutionary Army, EPR, and live underground since at least 1991. The brothers were also a perfect scapegoat to justify the inefficiency of the police and the military in their crusade against crime.

The brothers and Pablo Alvarado were exonerated of their original charges. The charge of terrorism had to be dropped, as it was impossible to use the “evidence” to justify it; instead, the judge just said that the brothers were not really organised for terrorist acts, but “their ideological coincidences” with guerrilla groups meant that they were “capable of committing such crimes”. From the beginning, the trial of the Cerezo was carried out by a kangaroo court, and the process from the beginning was irregular.

A big operative of the army and different police forces, including unidentified officers entered the house of the Cerezo brothers with no search or arrest warrant, and the only witnesses to the alleged crime could not identify the accused. During the detention they were tortured for 12 hours. For over a year, they were held in high security prisons without being charged; one of their lawyers, the human rights activist Digna Ochoa, was assassinated while representing them; the detainees have suffered continuous harassment during their time in prison, constant psychological torture, and long time of isolation; in addition, Emiliana and Francisco (sister and brother who were not imprisoned) and members of the human rights organization Comité Cerezo have been constantly harassed and persecuted, and under illegal surveillance.

A new Dirty War

The case of the Cerezo brothers is not an isolated case of unjust imprisonment for political reasons. There are over 500 cases of political prisoners in Mexico, the highest record since the “Dirty war” or “Low intensity war” of the sixties and seventies. Since the year 2000 (when the conservative National Action Party took office), there are over 900 people who had been detained or persecuted for political reasons. The situation of illegal detentions and unjust imprisonment is particularly common in Oaxaca, Guerrero, State of Mexico, Veracruz and Chiapas, but not exclusive; the list could continue to cover nearly all the country.

As during the seventies, the police and military have taken measures to stop and dissolve any political opposition. The Dirty war of the 60s and 70s left us the inheritance of over 500 disappeared, and several accounts of assassinations, torture and imprisonment. The objective was to destroy the voices demanding change. Today, over thirty years later, those voices have not yet been silenced despite the killings and jailings, and these voices will not be silenced while the situation of inequality, poverty, exploitation and lack of self determination still persist.

Many of the prisoners in Mexico are indigenous people who were not even given an interpreter for their defence; many of them environmental activist who oppose transnational corporations stealing the natural wealth, or for defending forests from being destroyed (like the tarahumara indigenous leaders, detained in 2003); many of them had been captured in the frame of the massive police operatives to stop social mobilisations, as was the case during the 2006 upraising by the APPO in Oaxaca.

In the Mexican jails there are several Zapatista supporters, students, and people defending their right to the land (wasn´t the Mexican revolution fought for that reason?), human rights activists, and sacked workers demanding the right to work…

Some famous cases include the Atenco leaders of the People´s Front in Defence of the Land, FPDT (Frente de Pueblos en Defensa de la Tierra), Ignacio del Valle and others, condemned to over 67 years in prison; once again, this after an unfair trial that led to an over exaggerated sentence that not even the most infamous professional and cruel kidnappers would face. These activists are in jail for the temporary detention of some government officials, while the police officers who participated in that operative, rapping women, torturing, beating and abussing people, were just told of for “administrative faults”.

In 1999, Gloria Arenas and Jacobo Silva, members of the Insurgent People´s Revolutionary Army, ERPI (Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo Insurgente, a split of the previously mentioned EPR) were detained with no warrant, tortured with all sorts of methods in front of their family, and then sentenced in a “secret judgment”. With their lawyers not knowing about the evidence and not being informed of the procedures.

Since 1996, Sergio Bautista Martínez and José Luis López, members of the EPR, remain in a maximum security prison (called exterminating prison); they were detained while distributing propaganda and charged with attempting homicide, illegal carrying or weapons and finally sentenced to 25 and 26 years in jail.

These examples are evidence that there are in fact political prisoners in Mexico, a situation that the federal government has repeatedly denied accusing them of being “common criminals”; it highlights that there is a prosecution against activist, human rights advocates, not to mention against revolutionaries. It also confirms the unequal way justice is applied: real criminals walk free on the streets or can be released by paying fines, while activists are treated as terrorist and charged with the maximum penalties. Those who advocate for justice, equality, the right to have food, land or education, have to face the “weight of the law”, while those who torture them get promoted. Protest is a right, not a crime; repression is.

(With information from different articles by Blanche Petrich in La Jornada, and the Comité Cerezo website)


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