Molotov Cocktails

Posted on September 25, 2015


First published in Connotation Press, September 2015

“As far as the state is concerned I was there throwing Molotov cocktails and burning buildings,” Yésica Sánchez described her involvement as a human rights attorney in Oaxaca, Mexico during the violent repression of protests in 2006-2007 that culminated in the incarceration of over 300 persons accused of crimes they hadn’t committed.

State authorities had filed orders for her apprehension. Five members of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca who were confined in the prison in Miahuatlán signed documents that accused Sánchez of instigating them to burn buildings and to riot. All five recanted when they were released from police custody. One of the five reportedly informed members of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca, “They beat me. Said they’d rape my wife. I didn’t know what to do. The paper I signed was blank!”

Throughout 2006 and 2007 over 300 Oaxacans faced imminent apprehension for charges that included sedition, interrupting public communication facilities and damage to government property. A highschool teacher involved in the protests told me, “The arrest orders were a sword of Damocles the state held over our heads.”

Nevertheless, the arrests and the orders of apprehension served a tactical purpose. “All the better than those arrested were innocent,” a lawyer affiliated with Oaxaca governor Ulisés Ruiz’s political party, the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party for its initials in Spanish) insisted when I questioned him about the incarcerations. “It makes the rest of the people more afraid.”

Maintaining that fear assures governments that otherwise lack credibility that they can continue to operate without citizen interference. Mexico’s current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, and his predecessor, Felipe Calderón, assumed power after elections tainted by vote buying, computer manipulations and destroyed ballots. Both fortified fragile popular acceptance by appointing confederates to administrative key posts without regard to their experience or capabilities. Ironically, the drug exporting corporations and their expanded criminal hierarchies abetted the two presidents’ pyramidal control by terrorized huge segments of the population.

Not only did residents of the northern states, particularly Tamaulipas, and the central states of Michoacán, Guerrero and Veracruz have to contend with robberies, assaults and coerced protection payments but with arbitrary arrests, assassinations of journalists and human rights workers and an inoperative judicial system. The military, according to Baja California telecommunications engineer Jorge Alvarez, “has become another criminal band, killing, stealing, kidnapping whoever they want.” Although newly passed legislation dictates that military offenses against civilians be tried in civil courts few prosecutors bring charges against military personnel even in cases involving murder, sequestering and torture.

By contrast, when communal groups in the severely afflicted states of Guerrero and Michoacán formed anti-drug organization police forces to combat the takeover of their lands, businesses and women, Peña Nieto’s federal government arrested communal leaders and their adherents. Unlike the immunity granted the military during the investigations of the assassinations of forty-three normal school students in Guerrero federal officials dispatched the community police leaders to maximum security prisons in a matter of hours without allowing them to have legal representation

The government accused one of those community leaders, Nestora Salgado, of kidnapping. In her status as an authorized communal police commander she’d locked an accused criminal—one who had connections to Peña Nieto’s PRI—in the local jail. Theoretically the federal government recognizes the legality of communal police but in Salgado’s case it refused to do so and she has spent two years in maximum security prisons even though the supposed victim failed to respond to court citations to confirm the allegations against her.

In like fashion the federal government accused 141 of the arrested Oaxaca protesters with sedition and attacking federal government buildings, the main building in question being the federal tax office which was set ablaze during November 25 confrontations. Coincidentally the week before the fires state officials moved all but a section of documents to another site. The documents that remained—and were destroyed—pertained to questionable state transactions initiated by Oaxaca Governor Ulisés Ruiz.

Government officials insisted that the flames were caused by protesters hurling Molotov cocktails. I personally examined the building a few days after the alleged attack: Not by the wildest stretches of imagination could coke bottles filled with gasoline hurled from a distance that would challenge Peyton Manning’s throwing arm have caused the damage that I inspected. In was an inside job, a tactic that the federal government/PRI uses extensively. Commit an alleged crime—one that obscures governmental ineptitude or corruption—and pin it on innocent victims. The wildest stretches of the imagination are commonplace governmental thinking.

Seldom is there a protest demonstration in which government operatives aren’t involved. (A former federal government auditor, who declined to let me publish his name, told me “seldom is there a government event in which operatives from the various criminal organizations aren’t involved.”) Infiltrators spur activists to violence—or simply initiate violent acts themselves. Usually these operatives wear distinctive clothing—black sweatshirts or John Deere caps or yellow bandannas—to prevent being clubbed and arrested by police programmed to retaliate against demonstrators. Should an infiltrator be apprehended the prosecuting attorney releases him for lack of evidence. A one-time porro (gang member) told me “you get paid extra for” (being arrested and held overnight).

Federal and state operatives, like those from the criminal cartels, are webbed into every activity: political meetings, social gatherings, fiestas, entrepreneurial board meetings, parades, sports events. “Only two places that I know of that are safe from their intrusions,” a Oaxaca dance instructor scoffed, “poetry readings and clean-up crews.”

It’s Big Brother, but Big Brother with a television face. Not everybody is out there throwing Molotov cocktails. The vast majority of Mexico’s population, struggling to exist just above or just before the poverty line, work ten to twelve hours a day, go to church and family or neighborhood gatherings on Sundays, choose between refilling a garafón of water or half a tank of butane because their finances are limited, argue vehemently about athlete’s performances or actress’s clothes and face tomorrows of doing laundry, elbowing one another in standing-room-only buses, eating cheap tortas, repairing carburetors and umbrellas, band-aiding children’s bruises and wondering if there is a God and if so if She or He cares.

Posted in: Life in Mexico