Atenco: sexual abuse confirmed; airport proposal revived?

Federal legislators from the ruling National Action Party (PAN) say they are determined to revive plans to build a mega-airport for Mexico City in Texcoco, despite the militant opposition of the farmers at the conflicted village of San Salvador Atenco, whose lands would be seized for the project.

Tomás del Toro, a PAN congressman in the lower-house Chamber of Deputies, said his bloc is optimistic an agreement can be reached with the farmers, and that this time they would be offered fair value for their land.

President Vicente Fox and former Mexico State Gov. Arturo Montiel tried to expropriate agricultural lands in the area 2002. But opposition from locals halted the plan, with machete-wielding farmers seizing control of the village, burning cars and taking 15 police officers hostage.

In May of this year, a confrontation again erupted at Atenco when local authorities tried to remove unlicensed flower venders from a nearby market. Three police officers were taken hostage, provoking a standoff. When law enforcement officials moved in to put down the resultant protests, one boy was killed by gunfire. Police were accused of widespread abuses, including rape, beatings and looting.

But Del Toro, who is also a member of the airline workers´ union, said he felt the atmosphere in the town is now more conducive to talks. He added the measure would have the support of President-elect Felipe Calderón.

Calderón, on the campaign trail in March, pledged to build a new airport for Mexico City, while offering no proposal as to the site. “Let the experts, and not the machetes, decide where it should be,” he said. (El Universal, Oct. 9)

Meanwhile, the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) has released official findings that state and federal police forces committed rights violations in the operations at Atenco in early May, including torture, incommunicado detention, and the sexual abuse of at least 26 women. CNDH chief Jose Luis Soberanes, said in his statement that elements of the State Security Agency (ASE), a state police force, were responsible for the deaths of Javier Cortes Santiago, the youth shot in the police assault,and Ollin Alexis Benhumea, who died later as a result of blows received at the hands of police. (El Universal, Oct. 9)

Amnesty International, following a visit to Mexico state in June, has issued similar findings. (APRO, Oct. 7)

See our last posts on Mexico and the struggle at Atenco.