May 8, 2009

Impunity in San Salvador Atenco

Monica Wooters

The intense heat of San Salvador Atenco did not stop a large crowd from gathering in the main plaza to show their solidarity with the Peoples Front in Defense of the Land (FPDT, Frente de Pueblos en Defensa de la Tierra). The event commemorated the third anniversary of the brutal repression of the movement by state and federal police that left two dead and scores of numerous human right violations

The events of May 2006 came after the FPDT—founded in 2001—placed itself on a collision course with the system after opposing a federal project to construct an international airport on community lands. The organization succeeded and the federal government was forced to suspend the project in 2002.

However, four years later, on May 3 2006, officials attempted to evict local roadside flower vendors on the authority of the municipal government, backed by the Mexico state government. The FPDT supported the flower vendors in their attempt to resist the eviction, resulting in a violent confrontation between the security forces and the social movement.

The confrontation lasted two days and resulted in many major human right violations including the death of two young people, Javier Cortés Santiago and Alexis Benhumea, sexual abuse, unwarranted raids on homes, assaults, violations of due process rights and the illegal expulsion of foreigners. Dozens of people were injured and some 211 individuals were arrested by the end of the two-day standoff. Many of those detained reported having been physically mistreated in custody, including sexual aggression and in five cases, rape.

As of the third anniversary twelve members of the movement and supporters remain in prison; three are serving sentences in the maximum security facility “Altiplano,” located in Almoloya de Juárez, State of Mexico, while the remaining nine are serving in the Molino de las Flores prison in Texcoco, State of Mexico. The National and International Campaign: Liberty and Justice for Atenco has highlighted the three former cases due to their severity. Hector Galindo, former legal advisor to the FPDT and Felipe Alvarez, member of the FPDT, have each been sentenced to 67 years, while Ignacio Del Valle, president of the FPDT has been sentenced to a total of 112 years. In contrast, of the 21 police agents detained, only six were processed and none of them are currently serving sentences.

After three years, the Mexican and international courts have made little to no progress on the cases against the police for assault and abuse. The Mexican Supreme Court issued a resolution on Dec. 12, 2008 recognizing the existence of major human rights abuses but failing to implicate state or federal officials that have been publicly identified as responsible by many individuals close to the case. The two main officials accused of political responsibility for the violence perpetrated by security forces are the State of Mexico’s governor, Enrique Peña Nieto and the Federal Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora.

Peña Nieto, a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the party in power in Mexico for some 70 years prior to 2000) has been regularly mentioned as the leading candidate for the Mexican presidency in the 2012 elections, implying the return of the PRI to national power. The court ruled that investigation into Peña Nieto’s role in the repression was unnecessary and limited the scope of the investigation. It has yet to produce its final resolution on the Atenco case.

In July 2008, Cristina Valls, a Catalan woman who was the victim of abuse and rape by security officials, submitted her case to the Audiencia Nacional of Spain. Her petition calls for the invocation of the Convention Against Torture of 1987, signed by both Spain and Mexico as well as the “application of decision 237/2005 of the Spanish Constitutional Tribunal, which establishes that the only requisite to begin proceedings and investigate a serious crime is that the accused has not been acquitted, pardoned or sentenced in another jurisdiction for the same facts and with regards to the same persons,” as argued by her legal defense spearheaded by Women’s Link.

Although Valls claim that she and others were raped and beaten in police custody has been corroborated by a report from the Psychosocial Health Section of Doctors Without Borders in Spain, the case was dismissed twice by judge Fernando Grande-Marlaska. The judge stated that Valls’ case was already being investigated by Mexican authorities. Valls and Women’s Link have appealed the decision twice and it remains unresolved. Valls also linked the lack of interest on the part of the Spanish court to the political climate between Mexico and the European Union. “There are trade agreements between Europe and Mexico with democratic clauses that would be invoked if human rights violations are recognized.”

Eleven women who were also victims of abuse in the Atenco case have petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR)to make a declaration stating that the Mexican government has violated their human rights. They are still in the beginning stages of the process after presenting the petition in April of 2008 along with the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center (Centro Prodh) and the Center for International Justice and Law (CEJIL).

While the national and international legal systems act slowly if at all, the people of Atenco remain strong in their commitment to keep up the fight until justice is done. At the third anniversary, Mexican academics, actors, human rights activists and others spoke out against the injustice and pledged their solidarity with the FPDT. The organization also has garnered international solidarity through Zapatista networks and among human rights organizations.

As the guests prepared to speak to the crowd, it was the grassroots members of the FPDT frying up the sopes, setting up the stage and tying up banners that read “Tierra, Justicia y Libertad” (Land, Justice and Liberty) who made the event radiate with hope. The event ended when the whole crowd cried out together: HASTA LA VICTORIA, VENCEREMOS!

For More Information:

Libertad y Justicia para Atenco: Campaña Nacional e Internacional

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