Attack and Burn

Posted on March 27, 2014


Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2007: Seven years later not a single one of the assassins, torturers or politicians who organized and paid them have been investigated, arrested or brought to trial.    

“They grabbed me, they hit me, they yanked me by the hair and threw me in the back of a pickup. They sprayed me with tear gas and held a knife to my back. They said they were going to rape me and throw me in the ocean. They said other police were raping my novia right then.”
Mexican photojournalist José de Jesús Villaseca had had driven with two companions to cover a demonstration outside the Miahuatlán state prison ninety kilomters south of the city of Oaxaca when state police, reinforced by ununiformed paramilitaries, brutally attacked the relatives and friends of political prisoners being held inside the institution. They yanked Villaseca out of the car in which he was riding and despite the fact that he displayed a press pass from a Mexico City news service they arrested him and held him in the prison until a Oaxaca non-governmental organization paid his bail.
One-hundred and forty-one other Oaxacans arbitrarily were arrested on November 25, 2006 during a sweep by over 4,000 militarized police through the city of Oaxaca’s centrally located historical district after a protest march. Like Villaseca all 141 were beaten, robbed and humiliated and all 141 were flown to federal prisons outside of Oaxaca without first being charged and tried.
During the previous year, state and Mexican federal police jailed over 400 citizens, many on charges that the justice committee of the state legislature has confirmed were fallacious. Death squadrons assassinated at least 20 and an estimated 100 other Oaxacans  disappeared. The state filed orders of apprehension for hundreds more, including human rights activists whom they have accused of inciting persons belonging to the People’s Popular Assembly of Oaxaca (APPO) to commit violent anti-government acts.
Political supporters of Oaxaca governor Ulisés Ruiz beat a retired professor to death when he participated in an attempt to block a roadway near Huautla to prevent Ruiz from making a campaign appearance in 2004. Authorities then jailed the retired professor’s closest friend on murder charges despite videos that identified the killers. When Oaxacan teachers declared a strike for higher wages and better school conditions and set up an encampment in the center of the city of Oaxaca two years later, Ruiz dispatched state police to break up the protest. The teachers fought back and forced the police to retreat. Various non-aligned NGOs and indigena groups backed the teachers and formed APPO.
Ruiz’ government responded by subsidizing death squads that included former and current municipal and state police to attack and intimidate APPO members and human rights workers. To counter these nightly depredations APPO supporters barricaded streets throughout the city, making transit virtually impossible after dark. Nevertheless, snipers hiding in the Hospital Santa María shot and killed José Jiménez during an APPO-sponsored march in August, 2006. The husband of an activist teacher, Jiménez had taken part in a number of anti-Ruiz protests. Despite the fact that hundreds saw Jiménez fall, and despite the fact that autopsies showed that he’d been hit by bullets of two different calibers fired from two different directions, Oaxaca’s attorney general announced that he’d died during a drunken fight which he’d instigated.
Two months later armed off-duty municipal police attacked an APPO barricade in Santa Lucía del Camino, a city of Oaxaca suburb, and shot and killed American photographer Brad Will. Journalists photographed Will’s attackers and published them in both local and national newspapers but Oaxacan authorities released the assassins and announced that they were going to file murder charges against one of Will’s companions at the barricade.
That revelation so infuriated Oaxaca journalist Pedro Matias that he told a Rights Action emergency human rights delegation, “The department of justice changed the settings, changed the legal opinions, changed the investigations and after all that what’s going to happen here in Oaxaca is that it’s going to turn out that Brad Will killed himself. That’s the kind of justice we have here.”

That kind of justice hasn’t changed.

First published in New Politics, Vol XI, ·4, 2008

Posted in: Life in Mexico