Sunday, March 11, 2007

Oaxaca Journalist explains protest movement

The following was received March 11, 2007. It is an English translation of an interview I (Bob Press) recorded along with other members of our human rights delegation to Oaxaca in December 2006. It explains the mounting repression and reasons for resistance from indigenous groups there during 2006. Bob Press (

OAXACA - ANALYSIS INTERVIEW WITH JOURNALIST / EYE-WITNESS TO REPRESSIONWe reproduce here a very informative and moving interview with Pedro Matias,a lead journalist in Oaxaca. We interviewed Matias during our firstemergency HR delegation.[Also - at, you can download and watch a25-minute interview (Spanish, with English sub-titles) with PorfirioDomínguez Muñozcano, a Oaxacan arquitect almost beaten to death by Mexican'security' forces].Please re-distribute and re-publish this interview, far 'n' wide. If youwant on-off this elist: WHAT TO DO: See below.===INTERVIEW WITH PEDRO MATIASOaxaca, Oax. December 2006.I wish to thank you for taking an interest in my well-being and in what ishappening in my country. I am not at all happy with what is going on hereand I am ashamed that in this day and age we are still living in primitivepolitical times.For the last 20 years I have worked as a reporter here in Oaxaca. I haveworked in different areas and am familiar with the situation in Oaxaca.Here, people live in extreme poverty. Past and present governments haveparaded social policies that are of no benefit to the people. Over theyears, I have seen how organizations, political parties and governments makeempty talk about poverty without ever really trying to eradicate it. Infact, I think they maintain poverty as a way of holding their position andtheir economic superiority.Clearly, if there were real social policies to help the poor, we would haveseen some progress by now - but absolutely no progress has been made. On thecontrary, the victimization of the poor has only gotten worse - there ismore violence and repression than ever and those who protest have beenattacked.YOUR STATUS AS A CITIZEN ONLY LASTS FOR A DAYI am truly disappointed in the electoral system we have in Oaxaca and in thecountry. I have come to realize that for Mexicans, especially Oaxacans,their status as a citizen only lasts for one day - they day they go out tovote, they are citizens. The next day, if they protest, if they try toexpress what it is they object to in the system, they are accused of beingrebels, insurgents, guerrillas or criminals. It is very painful for me tosee that our institutions are only there to serve an elite political class,a class that always protects its own members and has no concern for thepeople. They are elected by the people, but they only represent one sectorand they abandon the community.I find it surprising that they expect us to respect the Constitution of ourcountry, its institutions, the results of the elections and the politicalclass, but we can't question anything without being accused of being a rebelagainst the government. The result of this is that people feel they have noprotection.What I saw in this major popular uprising in Oaxaca is that people went outinto the streets to protest. June 14th was the day they locked out theteachers; it was the day the pressure cooker started to explode and a massprotest rose up against a lot of injustices - bitter grievances stemmingfrom the many unjust acts of past and present governments that have arrestedand repressed the people.JUNE 14TH WAS A WATERSHED IN OUR HISTORY: THE DIVIDING POINT BETWEEN THE OLDOAXACA AND THE NEW OAXACA June 14th was the day it all exploded and the people demanded to berespected. And all they got was repression, imprisonment, disappearings,murder, demonstrations and political propaganda against certain sectors fordaring to question the oligarchy, a government that is supposed torepresent the people but that no one can question; a government that is inits own bubble, a government that subjugates the people and does not allowthem speak up.June 14th was a watershed in the history of Oaxaca - a dividing line betweenthe old and the new Oaxaca. Oaxaca is not the same, it will never be, andshould never be, the same Oaxaca. It is up to the federal authorities tofind a peaceful solution to the situation. If they don't, we will findourselves in a revolt, a civil war in which each and every one of us willhave to defend our territory, our space and our personal selves.I don't want to be a prophet of doom, but I think that now is the time forPresident Felipe Calderon to stop being held hostage by the politicalparties. These parties are trying at all costs to maintain those in power inthe state of Oaxaca, despite the fact that our elected politicians arecorrupt murderers and criminals. President Calderon lost the election inOaxaca, but he could gain the support of Oaxacans. He has a chance to gainthe support of the people if he could only take hold of the reins of thecountry and respond to the demands of those who have been badly treated. Heshould get rid of this Governor who has committed grave offenses against thepeople and behaved indescribably, making the whole state turn against him.Members of the state government close to Ulises Ruiz have told us that 9000of the 12000 communities in the state of Oaxaca do not support Ruiz. Thesecommunities have signed community protests to insist that Ruiz be removedfrom office. The protest says that the Governor has not represented theircommunity, has stepped on their rights and that a whole sector of thepopulation is joining together to demand that he be removed.THREE IMPORTANT ASPECTS OF THIS MOVEMENTI would like provide more information about the uprising, because manypeople, even Mexicans, do not understand what is happening in Oaxaca. Andsince you people are concerned about Oaxaca, I want you to have a goodunderstanding of the situation here.It has been said that the popular movement is financed by political parties,particularly the PRD. It has also been said that the movement is not reallya popular movement, that it is driven by political ambition and otherinterests that have nothing to do with the people. But I want to tell youthat there are three very positive basic elements driving this movement:FIRST, IT IS AN INDIGENOUS MOVEMENTWith the creation of the People's Popular Assembly, we are returning to ournative Oaxacan culture. There are popular assemblies in the 418municipalities of Oaxaca, all of which incorporate a system of Oaxacanindigenous habits and customs.Every Sunday, these indigenous communities hold popular assemblies to decidewho will be the altar boy, the police agent or the municipal president(mayor), who is going to pay for the village fiesta and who is going to setit up. Everything is decided in these assemblies. So the first basic,positive element of the Oaxaca uprising is that the indigenous tradition isbeing put into practice - the popular assembly is made up of all theindigenous assemblies of Oaxaca.THE SECOND IS "GUELAGUETZA"Guelaguetza means "gift of giving". Most Oaxacan people are used to giving.For example, when there is a death in the community, people support thegrieving family and bring them corn, sugar, coffee and chocolate.THE THIRD IS "TEQUIO"When someone needs help, members of the community provide mutual support inthe form of cooperative team work (tequio). For example, if someone is goingto build a new room (bedroom kitchen etc.) in their home, everybody helpswith the construction. No one gets paid for doing the work but everybodyhelps out and contributes physical labour for free.The movement is based on these three basic important elements. The assemblydoes not have a leader who says: 'I order you to do this" or "I am going todo that". Everyone can speak up and have an opinion, agree or disagree. Themost important thing is that decisions are made communally. It is also important to point out that the movement has not been maintainedthrough support from other organizations, or from the PRD. In fact, supportis provided through religious communities belonging to the church in Oaxaca.When there is a problem, these communities are informed and they providewhat is needed - a kilo of rice or beans, sugar etc. That is why there is noshortage of supplies for those participating in the movement; over the lastsix months they have been provided with everything they need. And where does the tequio come from? Women come to help out, cook, preparerice, beans or soup, to support those who are struggling to build somethingnew. They are the soul of the movement.People outside the movement don't like to see things this way. They see themovement as a threat to those who do not participate in it because theythink "those rebels are going to start taking over here and then elsewheretoo". But there will not be a movement like this in any other state in thecountry, because other states don't have the same conditions, they don'thave the same culture or the same roots, and also because here, we arestruggling against the Priista dictatorship, and it continues to hold power.THE CONSTITUTION IS ONLY FOR THE LIBRARIESAnother thing I want to point out is that the government has tried tominimize the problem. When it had the solution in its hands it didn't takeadvantage of it. Why? Because all the political class wants to do is protectitself. That's the impression I have, that the political class wants toprotect itself, and the politicians will not pay attention to the people, nomatter how much they protest and demand justice.It is very upsetting for me to think that the Constitution is only for thelibraries or for the use of the political class when they want to apply it,but it simply doesn't exist for the people. It says in the Constitution thatpeople have the right to express themselves, but in reality, if they dospeak up, they are accused of being rebels or insurgents. Why does thegovernment talk about constitutional rights and then just go ahead represspeople, punish them, imprison them and disappear them? Another thing is that Mexico, which presently presides on the United NationsCommission on Human Rights, does not comply with international human rightstreaties. Why did Mexico go ahead and sign all these treaties? It's onething to sign a treaty but another to comply with the stipulations.In the case of Oaxaca, there is clear evidence of human rights abuse -people have been humiliated, beaten and imprisoned; their lives will neverbe the same again because of the actions of the federal and state police.And what is the federal government doing? It is supporting a state governorwho has committed grave offenses against his own people. Yet he says heshould be kept in power because he was elected by the people.And I would say to say to the Governor:" What about the people who want tohave you removed?" Where are they? Ruiz has been accused of rigging theelections to become Governor. And now, instead of trying to gain thepeople's support, he has begun to repress and punish those who did not votefor him. And this has only generated more anger, more violence, moreoutrage.As I see it, he is taking revenge on the people who didn't vote for him,that is, the urban population, the people with a little more education. Hehas decided to release his fury on them. And the rural indigenous people,who supposedly voted for him, are simply forgotten. So here in Oaxaca City,to take revenge on the urban population, he has begun to damage and alterthe symbols of Oaxacan culture.We Oaxacans are very rooted in our land and very proud of our culture. Welike to receive visitors. We like people and are friendly to them. But welike to maintain our dignity and we refuse to be victimized in this way.But the Governor has gravely offended us. He came here and attacked andattacked our cultural symbols (using gestures with his hands). Why? Hechanged the zólcolo in Oaxaca. He removed the old historical stones and putin new paving stones; he converted the Governor's Palace into a museum; theChamber of Deputies has been converted into a theatre, the Judiciary Officeis to be moved to another location, the Plaza de la Danza is being replacedby concrete slabs. The Llano Park is also being changed. They are puttingcement and bricks and concrete slabs around the trees and this will makethem dry up. They also altered the fountain (Fuente de las Siete Regiones).And they saythey changed the images of the woman that represent the different regions ofthe state. People feel that this is an insult to them and to their culturalsymbols, which represent who they are. So the people are saying they willnot tolerate any more of this treatment.THE PEOPLE'S POPULAR ASSEMBLY OF OAXACASo it was an accumulation of things that led to this situation, of thecreation of the APPO (People's Popular Assembly of Oaxaca). As I see it, theAPPO is made up of four different sectors:There are some radical people in the APPO - they want to do things likebring the government down and put in a people's government.There are also more moderate people, from the church. I have a documentsigned by at least 42 priests from the Archdiocese of Oaxaca, the Diocesesof Tehunatepec and Puerto Escondido, the Prelate's office of Huautla deJiménez, the Dioceses of Tuxtepec and Huajuapan and the Prelate's office ofLos Mixes. There are priests involved in the movement and so are thereligious communities.And then there are the NGO's that deal with human rights, equal rights,women's rights, rights for the indigenous, children's rights and familyrights. There are a large number of groups in this sector.In addition, there are a number of organizations that are financed by thestate, i.e. organizations created by people who managed to get funding fromthe government. Here in Oaxaca, if you don't apply pressure, the governmentdoes nothing for you.So, if organizations want to be heard, they have to stage demonstrations,sit-ins, meetings, hunger strikes and all those kinds of things. Then theauthorities say "Ok, we heard you, we will give you this, we will give youthis much" and then they just disappear.THE PEOPLE ARE WAKING UPFor the last six months, I have been involved in putting out information asit becomes available and I have witnessed what has been happening in themovement. I saw the attack on the teachers on June 14th and the violence ofthe state police. And then I saw how the police backed off, because theynever thought that the people and the teachers would react the way they did.When the people saw what was happening, they began to join in solidaritywith the teachers. It was amazing to see how older women and men came withpots of rice and beans to feed people and how people came out into thestreet and gave out bags of water to people saying "Here, protect yourselfwith this."There was a strong response from the people, as can be seen in the marchesthat took place later. The first, the second, the third and then the fourth,that was the biggest march ever held in the history of the state of Oaxaca.Some say that a million people marched, others say 800 000. But 800 000people in the capital, Oaxaca, marching to remove one person from power isevidence that the political system is coming apart at the seams. This was amajor rejection of a leader, the like of which has not been seen in thecountry, not even the protest against the government of Puebla (that hadbeen linked to attacks on freedom of expression and corruption in thejustice system) led to anything of the magnitude of the march in Oaxaca.800 000 people marched in a peaceful demonstration, in the rain, because itwas raining that day. They tried to mobilize at 4pm, then at 5pm. Then therain stopped but there were large puddles of water and people put on theirrain coats, took their umbrellas and went out into the street. And thepeople applauded them from rooftop terraces, balconies, schools and alongthe roads.As a Oaxacan, I felt like crying, shouting, laughing. I said to myself: "Mypeople are waking up. They are speaking out, they want justice." (He pausesa little, cries silently).What happened? After people had asked for things to be done in a peacefulway and after they had sent documents containing evidence that would forcethe Governor to step down, and after they tried every legal way to make thegovernment listen to the people who had been victimized, all that happenedwas that they had the doors slammed in their face and the government turnedagainst them.Why? Why did the political parties who represent themselves and not thepeople, why did they slap the people of Oaxaca in the face, rejecting theonly remaining peaceful solution? You can now see the consequences of thatrejection.Were there some radicals in the movement? Yes, there were some people whochallenged the Federal Preventative Police (PFP). When the PFP arrived . itwas . (He breaks down crying) . people were holding up religious imagesbegging "please don't come here, we don't want any violence." They threwthemselves onto the street so that the tanks could not move in. Others werebleeding, they called out: "Do you want blood? Here is my blood." (Longpause, he can't keep talking because he is crying).AND THEN THE FIESTA CAME TO AN ENDOn that day, October 29TH, I thought that people would be terrified, afraidof the presence of the PFP. But I was really surprised to see that peopleflooded out into the streets and shouted at the police that it was a goodthing they had come to remove the Governor.It was like a fiesta, but it suddenly came to an end when they realized thatthe PFP had come to provide support for the Governor and put down the peoplewho had dared to protest. Unfortunately, since then, the government hasnever tried to understand our movement. The people were saying: "Here weare, listen to us, can't you see? We are telling you that something bad ishappening in Oaxaca, do something about it." But the government did hear us,or see us - they just sent in the police.Since then, people have felt abandoned. Then, there was November 2nd, whichis another day I will never forget, because the people confronted the policethat day. At a certain point, they wanted to remove five men from thebarricade because they were being obstructive and acting out. The policecame to take them away. All five of them are what we call humble people,people who have no way of earning a living, people who have always beenexcluded and humiliated. These people were on the barricades because theyhave nothing to lose. And that is the case for most people in Oaxaca. 75% ofour population in Oaxaca is indigenous, or have some indigenous background,and these people are being excluded.Then, they tried to defend the area, because this was where RadioUniversidad was located and they didn't want it to be shut down (it was theonly communications media that was defending the movement) - and theymanaged to get the police to move back.So this time, the people came out on top. But it didn't make any differenceto the government because they still kept that corrupt tyrant in power andhe still has control of all three levels of power in the state.NOVEMBER 25th WAS TO BE A PAINFUL DAY FOR THE PEOPLESo there was no other alternative left for the people - there was nothingleft but repression, uprisings, imprisonments - and then there was November25th which was a tragic day for the people.There were people infiltrating the movement. The government had figured itall out. They came up with the idea that it would be useful if somebuildings set on fire and if there were confrontations with the PFP. Thiswould give them an excuse to further repress the people. No one is stupidenough to believe that a Molotov cocktail can burn down a building the sizeof the Supreme Court, a building, as it happens, that contains documents thegovernment would have liked to see disappear. who could believe that! Well,who did this then? It had to be government infiltrators. Is there any proof?Of course, there is no proof. They are not going to turn themselves in. Butit was useful for the government, because it allowed the PFP and the statepolice to have more clashes with the community.THEN THERE WERE TANKS AND THEN BULLETSWe were there the whole day on November 25th. The police attacked andattacked, and pushed us back to the Centro Pastoral, and then there weretanks and then they started shooting. And we had to run, you couldn't juststay there and say: "I'm with the press", because they were arrestingeverybody. They beat up a colleague from El Financiero and he had to betreated with 10 stitches. And then you said to yourself: "I had better move back." And we were on thisside of the Centro Pastoral and they said to us: "The federal courthouse ison fire." So we went to Llano Park and saw that, in fact, one of the roomsin the courthouse was on fire, as well as some cars in the parking lot. Itwas around 8.30 at night, and the state police came to the park and then weran away and then the federal police turned up so we ran off to theInstituto Mexicano del Seguro Social and took refuge in Niños Heroes Avenue.That was a very important day in my life as a journalist and a reporter. Isaw a lot of things that day. I wanted to be part of the people and stand upwith them so I could observe everything that was happening . it was such anexperience, it is very difficult to explain what it was like. In my 20 yearsof being a reporter, I have never seen anything like it. The people went outinto the streets, demonstrated and protested. There was no officialorganization, they just organized themselves. It was really amazing. At fivein the afternoon, a group of teenagers started looking for trouble. Theywanted to confront the PFP and then it all exploded, because people on therooftop terraces were throwing marbles at the demonstrators.So there was a big confrontation, a big clash, with tear gas, shooting - ohyes! there was shooting - and after that there were fires. Between 5pm and11pm, Oaxaca went up in flames. The cloud of gas became of cloud of blacksmoke - we are still waiting for the plume of white smoke but I don't thinkthat's going to happen. (smiles)Then they made us move back, the 15, 16, 17, year old boys with theirmake-shift shields were in the front line, confronting the police. Thenthere was a second line of protestors who were firing bazookas, and behindthem were the women, who were throwing stones. they had taken hundreds ofbricks from a construction site and broken them into pieces, they had alsotaken up paving stones from the road and were throwing them on the ground tobreak them into pieces.THEY BEAT ME MERCILESSLYThe crowd of men and women was shouting and moving forward forcefully. Andbehind, were the older people who were carrying water. (He pauses, his voicebreaks again, trying to stop the tears), they also had towels for people tocover their mouths, and vinegar, and behind them were medical students fromthe university, who were looking after people who had been exposed to thetear-gas or had wounds on their head. They gave us soft drinks and vinegarand offered help if we were hurt. Then the police came and we had toretreat. They burned the APPO encampment in Santo Domingo Plaza and made usmove on to the Seguro Social building.At the Seguro Social, two groups of police came towards us - one from theLlano Park and the other from Santo Domingo Plaza. So about 100 men, womenand elderly people had to flee down the road to el Fortin. We got to elFortin about 9.30. Then we thought that we had better leave. I was alone soI joined a group of independent journalists from France, New York and Spain.There were eight or nine of us. I decided I would stay with them forprotection, since I figured they wouldn't attack foreigners or do them anyharm. But I knew they could detain me and even disappear me.We were at the Hotel del Fortin intersection. About ten or twelve people gotinto a red van and headed for Colonia Estrella but we were stopped, so wegot out and walked about ten metres to look for a taxi. Then, PFP and statepolice vans came from either Crespo or Tinoco Palacios Street (I'm notsure). And they surrounded us. (He pauses again, his voice breaks, and hecries.) They beat me mercilessly. We didn't know what to do. We ran to(Fortin) Hill. (He continues crying, he can barely speak) and people keepshouting. (He cries while Anna proceeds with the translation).Sorry, but sometimes you just get overwhelmed. The truth is, I have never inmy life had an experience like that day. I witnessed the EPR attacks herein Oaxaca - several people were killed at that time, and I've also witnessedfarmers' protests. I've seen clashes and confrontations in my time, but thatday, November 25th made me feel powerless, afraid. You really don't knowwhat to do in a situation like that.The international journalists were terrified by what they saw. And so was I.A van pulled up and some people were knocked down onto the street. I don'tknow if the police knocked them down. Women were calling out in desperation.We couldn't take any photos. Even the photographers who were there wereafraid to take photos in case they were caught. We didn't want the policecoming after us for that.I didn't know what to do. We were powerless, we couldn't really help out ordo anything. Then, to avoid being hit or being killed, we had hide out onFortin Hill, like criminals, so they would not find us. In the distance,about as far as from here to the Centro Pastoral, you could hear peoplecrying out . it was terrible. (His voice breaks again.)People were coming out of their houses and saying: "The police are here, goover that way." So we spent a half an hour trying to hide from the police. Ithink the international reporters had never seen anything like this in theirlives. I was concerned about them because I did not see them the next day. Ithink they left on the first flight out of Oaxaca. After that, I got phonecalls from friends at Radio Red in Mexico City: "Pedro, how are things goingthere, are you alright?" "Yes, I'm Ok but I can't talk."I spoke to the newspaper Noticias and told my boss that I couldn't go out,that I was trapped, that the police were detaining everybody and beatingthem. Then they sent a motorcycle for me around 10 or 10.30 and I managed toget to the centre to the newspaper office, but there had been fires allaround there.When we had been on the hill, we had seen a lot of smoke in the air. Itlooked like the whole state was on fire, really, that's what it looked liketo me. But the hardest thing for me was that they were accusing innocentpeople (amongst them an elderly lady) of starting the fires. No, no, theyreally went too far this time, this is really unjust. (His voice breaksagain.)I don't understand this government. They were given every change to resolvethe situation and they end up imprisoning people who were only asking forjustice. And meanwhile, Vicente Fox allows the drug traffickers to go free.His anti-drug campaign never worked; they have never come down hard on drugtraffickers here. For this government, it's the people who are asking forchange that constitute the real threat.WHERE IS DEMOCRACY IN MEXICO?About a year ago, I had the opportunity to go on a trip to the UnitedStates. And people there said to me: "Oh! Mexico is a democratic country."But where is the democracy in Mexico? If Mexico City stands for democracy,then we've had it. Because there is no democracy in Oaxaca. For years, thePRI has been in power. Our government leaders have been nothing but tyrants.They have exploited, robbed and arranged rigged assassinations and they havegotten away with it. They have been allowed to go free, even rewarded, andthey get to sit in the Chamber of Deputies. They are the ones who legislateon behalf of the people. But they are the criminals and people who protestagainst them are in jail. For the last 20 years, I have been working in Oaxaca for the magazine,Proceso. I have seen three governments and not one of them has allowedcriticism. I have been threatened and intimidated by all three of them. I amlucky because the media protects me and backs me up. But what can the peopledo? They have no one to stand up for them.YOU ARE THE ONLY DEFENSE THEY HAVEThis is why I agreed to do this interview because you are the only defensethese people have. There are organizations here in Oaxaca and in the countrythat try to defend them, but they are not Mexican. Mexicans in Mexico haveno way to defend themselves. Unless there is pressure from outside thecountry, nothing happens.Take for example, the fatal shooting of Brad Will. If he had not beenkilled, they would not have sent in the PFP. They would have just kept onkilling more and more of our people and nothing would have been said aboutit. Twelve dead Oaxacans is not news. But it was another matter when theykilled Brad Will. The state prosecutor changed the whole story of whathappened and rigged the medical report. This is the height of injustice andcynicism. It is complete abuse of power. Authorities in Oaxaca are now goingto put out the story that Brad Will killed himself.And that is how things are in Oaxaca. They are going to say that those whowere imprisoned were asking for it because they rebelled against thegovernment and that there was no other way to deal with them. Anything canhappen here. Justice exists on paper but it is a different thing when itcomes to applying it.The media's part in all of this has been a disgrace, with the exception ofthe newspaper Noticias, which, because of the problems I experienced, becamean important communication media for the movement. And of course RadioUniversidad also helped the movement. But no other media helped out. Peoplehad to find alternative ways to get information. The experience of thismovement taught us a lot. The media represents the business world and itsinterests. This is understandable. The media is a business. Nonetheless,they should give a voice to those who have no voice. But the voiceless weresilenced and had to make themselves heard by using force.And what happened? Now there are orders to detain human rights leaders whodidn't even participate in the barricades. All they did was make inquiriesto ensure that workers were not hurt. But this is a crime in Oaxaca, it is acrime to protest, a crime to think.*******JOIN AN EDUCATIONAL DELEGATION TO OAXACA, contact Oaxaca Solidarity, www.oaxacasolidarity.orgOAXACA EMERGENCY RELIEF FUND: Rights Action is raising funds to support thehumanitarian relief needs of victims of torture and family members ofvictims of repression. Make tax-deductible check payable to "Rights Action"and mail to: UNITED STATES: Box 50887, Washington DC, 20091-0887; CANADA:509 St. Clair Ave W, box73527, Toronto ON, M6C-1C0. CREDIT-CARD No virus found in this outgoing message.Checked by AVG Free Edition.Version: 7.5.446 / Virus Database: 268.18.8/716 - Release Date: 3/9/20076:53 PM

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Examples of state torture and terror in Oaxaca, Mexico 2006

From Bob Press: One of the members of our emergency international human rights delegation, Grahame Russell, has distributed the following summary of interviews we conducted there during our visit in December 2006. He includes some news items. He heads a non-profit organization called Rights Action and can be reached via email at His organization is providing some funds to families of vicitims of state repression.
Here, unchanged, is his latest report:

From Grahame Russell:
TORTURE & TOURISM IN OAXACAby Grahame Russell,, January 2007***THE STUDENT OF TORTURE GETS TORTURED (Testimony, Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca, December 19, 2006).

In the city of Tlaxiaco, one victim of illegal detention and torture after another speaks to our emergency human rights delegation. Some stop in the middle of the hard parts to cry; some listening cry. Hard stories.Cuitlahuac Santiago Mariscal, a teacher with the SNTE (Sindicato Nacional deTrabajadores Educativos), stands before us. 'I am doing my thesis at the UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico) on the systemic use oftorture by Mexican 'security' forces. Often, I have sat where you are [pointing at our delegation] listening to stories of abuse, now I stand before you, a victim, to give my testimony.'

His story is similar to that of 8 other men illegally pulled off a bus oneday in November by Mexican armed forces, while on their way to a legal protest. On the side of highway, they were herded at gun-point into cornfields and were beaten over their bodies and heads, with fists, feet and weapons. Forced to kneel, pistols were placed at their temples and they were told to say their last goodbyes, alone, in the corn field. The good news: no one in their group was killed that day.

***'DESDE ABAJO'Emiliano Zapata must be rolling angry in his grave, knowing that the Mexican Revolution, of the 1910 era, is long dead, constant rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding. After the recent - and on-going - wave of brutal repression in the southernstate of Oaxaca, Zapata would know that profound political and economic change is still needed throughout Mexico; Oaxaca is as urgent a starting point as anywhere. Another global struggle 'desde abajo' (from below) is pushing its way into the consciousness of North and South America - this time in a place calledOaxaca.

With a population of 3.5 million people (a majority beingIndigenous and Indigenous-descendant), Oaxaca's story of racism, ofinequality and greed, of protest, rebellion and State repression is alsoMexico's story and of the unjust global order. Though the short-term focus of the protests is the ouster of the undemocratic and repressive Governor Ulises Ruiz, the movement 'desde abajo'that has come together under the umbrella of APPO (Asamblea Popular de losPueblos de Oaxaca) is broad-based. They are working to change the historicand endemic conditions of a majority of Oaxacans: inequality and racism; an unjust, exploitative and environmentally destructive economic-developmentmodel; repression by the State and wealthy elites; and, impunity and a lackof justice and democracy.

***"It is democracy for one day, every four years. If you vote, they call youa citizen. If you exercise your human rights and protest and demand change,they call you 'guerilla' fighters and delinquents." (Pedro Matias testimony,Oaxaca, December 20)

***Why the Oaxacan rebellion has risen this year, as opposed to next or last,is due to factors particular to Oaxaca and Mexico. Some recommended articles are: "Indigenous Rights Groups Meet the 'Law of the Club':Barbarous Oaxaca" (by Mitchell Verter, May 14, 2005); "From Teachers' StrikeTowards Dual Power: The Revolutionary Surge in Oaxaca" (by George Salzman,August 30, 2006); "Calderon Installed by Media and Military: Repression on the Menu in Mexico" (by John Ross, December 2006).

Whatever the reasons for the timing of the APPO led movement, the Oaxacan struggle needs to be known about and supported, from the most local to global levels.

TORTURE & TOURISM>From December 16-22, I joined an emergency human rights delegation to Oaxaca organized by the Oaxaca Solidarity Network and sponsored by Rights Action. On short notice, 20 North Americans came to Oaxaca, firstly, to be an international presence and listen to testimonies of people tortured and of family members of victims of repression; and, secondly, to return home andwork to bring more international attention to the brutal campaign of State terrorism and repression that is strongly backed by the incoming Federal government of President Felipe Calderon.

We listened to testimonies of torture and other atrocities, even as the government of Ulises Ruiz ordered a massive armed force presence to'protect' the huge tourist industry.

***"Along with selling its natural resources to foreign investors, the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional) cabal that runs the Oaxacan government gets much of its money from its lucrative tourist industry.Ulises has been converting the governmental palace located in the Zocalointo a commercial center, appealing to local businesses and preventing the public from petitioning the government in view of tourists. Ulises 'government severely punishes anything that gets in the way of commerce or detracts from its public image." ("Barbarous Oaxaca" article, by MitchellVerter)

***If tourists continue to flock to Oaxaca, pumping millions of dollars intothe hands of the government and business elites that dominate the economy, then the chances of bringing about real democracy and rule of law in Oaxaca are greatly lessened.

CALCULATED BRUTALITY Since the recent wave of repression began in Oaxaca in June 2006, at least20 people have been killed; 350 have been illegally detained (most having been illegally jailed and tortured); and close to 400 wounded.

A particularly brutal night of repression and terror was November 25th. Federal PFP (Policia Federal Preventativa) and State forces spread throughthe central Zocalo district of Oaxaca attacking anyone they found on thestreets, accusing them of being members of APPO (as if this were illegal). Hundreds were illegally detained; most were physically tortured and psychologically terrorized. During the week of our visit, much of the activism was focused on securingthe release of the illegally detained political prisoners and recording the testimonies of the victims. We did as much as we could.

AN ARQUITECT WHO "ATTACKED THE P.F.P"(Testimony, December 24; LaJornada newspaper)In the safety of a church that is a friend to and an advocate of the poor inOaxaca, Porfirio Dominguez Munozcano (42 years) sat quietly as we set upcamera and microphone. Then he talked for 40 minutes without stop. I thought he would cry; I thought we would, but on he went. Publicly telling the truth and fighting for justice are some of the best ways of healing(partially) from torture.

Because he was in the streets of the city where he lives on November 25th, Porfirio was almost killed. "I left my house to print some documents . whenI saw a bunch of PFP troops running towards me and a group of people I was near. I was left unconscious with the first blow they landed on my head. Two hours later, I came to: my head was wrapped in some sort of cloth and mybody and face covered in blood; I had been beaten all over."

"I was in the central Zocalo, face down on the cement with many others. Soldiers kept coming by and kicking us or striking us with the butts oftheir guns."Some time later the PFP herded everyone into trucks. Porfirio was put inthe back of a pickup truck, face down on the floor; others were piled up ontop of him.

He thinks there were 5 or 6 other detainees in the same truck, but is not sure. They were not told where there were going. "They said they were going to take us in a helicopter and throw us into the ocean. We were frightened to death, even as they continued kicking us and grinding our heads and hands with their boots."

"We arrived at the women's CERESO (Centro de Rehabilitacion) Tlacolula jail. It was 2 or 3 in the morning. There, they continued hitting and threatening us. You have to try and imagine the terror that we were feeling."

A few days later, he learned that he - like most of the illegally detained -was being charged with assaulting police, sedition, destruction of public property, and more.The legal and penal systems are being used in Oaxaca as part of the apparatus of repression. Due to swollen face and severely damaged left eye, Porfirio was finally taken to the Aurelio Valdivieso hospital where he remained for 7 days undersurveillance by armed forces.

After having his eye operated on - his vision is mostly restored, though much of the left side of his face remains paralyzed - , he was charged Pesos 7000 (US$700) and sent back to jail for another week. December 15th, Porfirio was released. No one had been told. He was left at the entrance of the jail, on a highway 30 minutes from Oaxaca, no money and no i.d. papers. Including Pesos 7000 that he had in his pocket, when knocked unconscious, along with i.d. cards, credit cards, a driver's license,etcetera, nothing has as been returned to him. He hitchhiked to the city. A kind person gave him Pesos50 and he got a taxi ride home. He continues to pay for his own medical treatment; he has nightmares; he has lost his work; his story has been published in the media and denounced by human rights groups; no charges have been filed against anyone. Hundreds were illegally detained, jailed, tortured and psychologically tortured in the four weeks following November 25th.

SANTA CLAUS's GIFT LIST(LaJornada, December 23)"Dear Santa: This Christmas, I am not asking you for toys, I am only asking for the immediate liberty of my Papi." Derwin Coache Rivera - 8-year oldson of political prisoner Marcelino Coache Verano (a member of APPO) -participates in all the marches being organized by COFADAPPO (Comite deFamiliares de Presos, Detenidos y Desaparecidos de Oaxaca). Marcelino was illegally detained and jailed on December 4. Derwin wants to get Papi out "from that place where he is living that is so ugly." Derwin visited his Papi in a jail in Cosalapa, Oaxaca, near the border with Veracruz.

"I hugged him and we cried. I said: 'Papi, I love you very much. I don't want to be separated from you'.

"WOMEN WITH "A HIGHLY DANGEROUS PROFILE" (LaJornada, December 21) Mercedes Cumplido Pantoja (47 years) and Ruth Cabrera Vazquez (48) were illegally detained and tortured physically and psychologically by the PFP(Policia Federal Preventiva) on November 25th. Mercedes: "They told me theywere going to kill me. They touched my legs, they hit me, they spoke to mein a most vile way, they said to me 'you are going to die, you are a bitch, an idiot, an asshole. Who paid you to be in the city center? How much did they pay you'?"

Ruth: While PFP agents were hitting her, "they were saying that I was too old to be involved in such bullshit, that we had no ethical values todestroy a beautiful city like Oaxaca." After she was illegally detained bythe PFP on November 25, she was put in the back of a truck with 11 women. "They threw us on the floor and took photos of us while they continued insulting us. They threatened us, not letting us know where they were taking us.

They finally took us to the CERESO (Centro de Rehabilitacion) jail in Miahuatlan.""I told them I had nothing to declare because I had done nothing other than help people with coca-cola and vinagre who had been asphyxiated with the tear-gas (shot by the PFP). Is this a crime?"

"My hand was really swollen and painful [from the beatings]. I asked to go to the infirmary. An hour later, they told us that we were going. I was happy, thinking they were going to liberate us, so I was surprised when I learned they were taking us to who knows where, all hand-cuffed, forced tolook at the ground, like some vile and bloody delinquents."

Members of our delegation have hours of filmed and taped testimony, some of which will be reproduced and distributed on Rights Action's list-serv, and elsewhere. Listening to the many testimonies, it is easy to confuse thestories - they are systematically brutal and head-achingly repetitive. Listening, it is sometimes too sad to continue to taking notes ...

"They put blankets against our bodies, before kicking us, so as not to leave marks."

***"Torture is the government's preferred method of collecting information,extracting confessions, and gaining political concessions." (Yessica SanchezMaya, Liga Mexicana de Derechos Humanos)

***WEDDING INTERRUPTED(Testimony, December 21)In front of the women's CERESO Tlacolula jail we spoke with 19-year oldMariela who has been waiting for days to see if her boyfriend would be released. Using the legal and penal systems as part of the apparatus of repression, the authorities don't tell anyone when they are releasing the people that they have illegally detained and most probably tortured physically and psychologically.

In early November, Mariela's boyfriend came from Baja California to ask for her hand in marriage. They had planned to marry in early January; repression got in the way. Illegally detained on November 25, he was disappeared for a week - part of the terrorization tactic. Mariela went from hospital to morgue trying to find her boyfriend. She learned that hundreds of people were detained in jails so she started visiting the jails.

Finally arriving at the women's CERESO Tlacolula jail, that the government had emptied so as to fill with the political prisoners, she met other family members of the detained and disappeared; since that time they have worked together to find their loved ones and to help free all the political prisoners.

They formed COFADAPPO (Comite de Familiares dePresos, Detenidos y Desaparecidos de Oaxaca). She hopes today is the day her boyfriend will be released ... and then he will start to tell his stories.

THE 'MODUS OPERANDI' OF REPRESSION AND TERROR The "errors and mistakes" argument is showing up in the media these days, as testimonies of torture emerge - inside Mexico and internationally.

Yet, the illegal detentions, psychological and physical torture and dozens of killings in Oaxaca, are not "errors and mistakes" committed by "bad apples"in the various security forces."The objective of this counter-insurgency campaign is to totally finish off with social organizations and unions and, in general, with all opposition so as to implement the economic plans of the rich sectors. . These are projects that result in poor communities losing their lands, the forced displacement of 'colonos', misery and hunger." (APPO statement, Noticias, December 20,18A)

STATE OF FEAR & "PROTECTION" OF WHAT? Friday, December 22: Our delegation has ended. A few of us spend the nextdays doing follow-up interviews. At least 1000 heavily armed forces occupy every entrance to the Zocalo center of Oaxaca. All day, thousands ofMexicans and tourists come and go, walking by the rows of armed forces andbarricades blocking every entrance to the Zocalo.

APPO is having yet another march, so government forces prevent them from entering the Zocalo where most tourists go and where the reknown "Noche delos Rabanos" (Night of the Radishes) celebrations take place on December 23. APPO takes its peaceful protest in another direction, and holds a meetingwith thousands - courageously strengthening their movement.

THE RE-DETENTION, RE-BEATING, RE-RELEASE OF PEDRO GARCIA (Testimony,December 18; LaJornada) Midday on December 18, teacher Pedro Garcia gave testimony to our delegation. On October 1st, he had been shot at, pistol-whipped, taken'incomunicado' to the Tlacolula CERESO jail, suffered beatings, forced to sign false declarations denouncing this and that person, and the like; standard operating procedures. He was released due to activism mainly from other members of APPO.

The story of his first detention and torture were hard enough. In the middle of our meetings that same night, we got a text message: Pedro had just been re-detained, along with Florentino Lopez (APPO spokesperson) andOtalo Padilla. Pedro was re-beaten and re-tortured and later re-released.

Florentino: "[the men who detained us] said: 'we are a death squad. You now know us and now you will know what it is like to go to hell.' They kept saying they were going to kill us." Pedro, Florentino and Otalo identified Alejandro Barrita Ortiz, director of the State Policia Auxiliar Bancaria,Industrial y Commercial (PABIC) as being one of the men.

Interviewed at the inauguration of the hastily convened and widely rejected"Reform of the State" process, Governor Ulises Ruiz was asked - referring specifically to these three men - whether it was the right time to initiate this 'Reform the State' process when government forces were arbitrarily detaining and torturing people.Ulises Ruiz: "I understand that there was no detention, there was no legal process, they were not in the procuraderia ." (Noticias, December 20, p13A).The next day, the Noticias newspaper published photos of the three men -clearly beaten in their faces.***

"On the one hand, they call for "reconciliation and dialogue", on the other they continue with arbitrary detentions, assassinations and disappearances."(APPO, Noticias newspaper, December 20)

***After attending the well-attended-by-high-society inauguration of the"Reform of the State" process in the Palacio del Gobierno, governor Ruizwent to the Terranova restaurant in the Zocalo, owned by the family of theSecretary of Tourism, and had coffee with business leaders. They were surrounded by a detail of heavily armed "security" forces.

One of the businessmen who attended governor Ruiz's Reform the State show was Jose Escovar, president of the COPARMEX Oaxaca business coalition. We had formally asked him to meet with our delegation, but were told by his assistant he was away from Oaxaca until early January. (Neither would theState Attorney General's Office meet with us).

SHOOT THE MESSENGER After Iraq, Mexico has the highest levels of repression against journalists,according to the Mexican Comision Especial para dar Seguimiento a lasAgresions a Periodistas y medios de Comunicaion. Over the past 6 years inMexico, 30 journalists have been assassinated; 3 remain disappeared.Recently in Oaxaca, killer's bullets have ended the lives of Mexican RaulMarcial Perez and American Brad Will.

December 23, Noche de los Rabanos: Struggling for a decent and just societyis also about singing, dancing and reciting poetry. After hundreds of heavily armed forces closed the Santo Domingo park area, where APPO was going to have its alternative Noche de los Rabanos celebration, the festival was held in a smaller outdoor space - armed forces at either end of thepedestrian-only street.

After 6 months of struggle, after weeks of illegal detentions, physical and psychological torture, a thousand or more came out to celebrate. One of the main singers and speakers was none other than the twice detained andtortured Pedro Garcia.

NO CONCLUSION - SUPPORT & GET INVOLVED The struggle in Oaxaca is happening right now; the reactionary repressionand State terrorism is happening right now; the mainstream media cover-up(not addressing the underlying issues; obfuscating the repression) is happening right now; the wealthy sectors of Oaxaca are maintaining theirlong-term relations with the wealthy and powerful of Mexico, Canada and theUSA right now. Rodrigo, Indigenous campesino from western Oaxaca - also illegally detainedand beaten - told us: "We know that they can kill us at any time but we knowthat our struggle is just."

***"If you have come to help me, please go away. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, let us work together." (Lila Watson, Indigenous activist)"

There are no magic answers, no miraculous methods to overcome the problems we face, just the familiar ones: search for understanding, education,organization, action ... and the kind of commitment that will persist despite the temptations of disillusionment, despite many failures and only limited successes, inspired by the hope of a brighter future." (NoamChomsky)

***FOR MORE INFO: about the on-going situation in Oaxaca and to learn of futuredelegations:

FUNDS NEEDED: Rights Action is raising funds to support the humanitarian relief needs of victims of torture and family members of victims ofrepression. Make tax deductible check payable to "Rights Action" and mailto: UNITED STATES: Box 50887, Washington DC, 20091-0887; CANADA: 509 St.Clair Ave W, box73527, Toronto ON, M6C-1C0. CREDIT-CARD

Please re-distribute this article far 'n' wide. Keeping the spirit in 2007,'la lucha sigue, sigue' (the struggle goes on and on), as the songs and chants go.===

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

military entering oaxaca

video of federal police entering Oaxaca, Mexico to quell protests. October 29, 2006

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

You can find numerous reports on the Oaxaca human rights situation via google by simply entering the phrase Oaxaca human rights. Here are a few useful refrences from that search:

Useful links on Oaxaca human rights abuses (updated Dec. 27, 2006)
Amnesty International report on Oaxaca detentions after Nov. 25 crackdown by federal police.
Amnesty International brief report on Oaxaca
broadcast from Oaxaca regarding recent abuses by police and continuing peaceful protests
United Nations report on abuses in Oaxaca
Look for December 26, 2006 report on Oaxaca and what you can do to help

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

After a rather intense week of human rights investigation in Oaxaca, Mexico, into alleged human rights abuses by state and federal police, I can share the following brief summary of findings which I will detail in later postings.
1. There have been many serious abuses of human rights in the state of Oaxaca at the hands of both federal and state police, mostly in the second half of 2006.
2. These are not simply allegations: as part of a human rights delegation, I saw several individuals who still bore physical marks of beatings, including three leaders of a popular resistance movement who had been detained briefly and beaten by police and who then, courageously, held an outdoor, late evening press conference which I attended.
3. Further, live testimonies by numerous victims of police repression gave accounts whose details can be deemed credible and who have nothing to gain by exaggerating events.
4. From the view of the federal and state government, mass marches, occupations of public spaces, and violence in the form of molotov cocktails, and physical resistance to arrest, are deemed as requiring a strong response. But much of the abuse by police has occurred not in the moment of apprehension but after individuals were apprehended and unable to offer further resistance.
5. Such abuses, according to victims interviewed, include beatings, pulling people by their hair, throwing people into police vehicles and sitting on them, threatening detainees with death or further abuse, and denial of legal representation or respect for habeus corpus.
6. Impunity. Though our delegation did not have access to full government records on what, if any action the government, either federal or state, has taken to punish police who have violated legal rights of citizens, the delegation did meet with the head of an office under the governor of the state of Oaxaca. To date, that office has opened files on two cases but no conclusions have been reached. A state human rights official would acknowledge only that some abuses of human rights have "probably" taken place in recent months. A national human rights commission has of now made no findings but apparently is making some investigations
7. Political context. The Governor is from the PRI party, as was his predecessor. But in recent elections for the federal Congress, PRI lost all but 2 seats contested.
8. A mass march held Dec. 22 ended peacefully in downtown Oaxaca a few blocks from the main plaza which was still blocked to protestors by steel barriers and ranks of riot police.
More details later.
Photos and links to additional, related information will also be posted.
You are invited to share your comments.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Oaxaca, Mexico: human rights issues

As an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Southern Mississippi, I tell my students in American Government 101 that when you are not sure how to respond to apparent abuses of human rights or civil liberties, at least you can go stand by the people who have been abused. With that in mind, my wife, Betty Press, a photographer, and I are heading to Oaxaca, Mexico to join an international human rights delegation that will attempt to learn more about the series of public protests and state responses to them.

News accounts detail months of protests by teachers and others as well as state concern for law and order. Recent accounts of police firing live bullets on protestors, killing a number of protestors plus an American journalist covering the events, plus accounts of mass arrests and jailings and some cases of torture, are enough to make me hope that the presence of this and several other international delegations will somehow have a calming effect, or perhaps a restraining effect, that will lessen violence. That is a hope.

I welcome comments on the events there as well as on the trip and its aim.