Mexico: government to free indigenous prisoners

In another sign that the administration of Mexican President Vicente Fox is seeking to capitalize on the Zapatista rebels’ new political direction to finally resolve the ongoing Chiapas headache, his government announced yesterday that it will release some 800 indigenous prisoners, finding that they were either innocent or had been manipulated into committing a federal crime, the daily El Universal reports July 7.

“We have found about 800 prisoners who are eligible” to be released, said the head of the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples, Xochitl Galvez, at a press conference. She said her office would sign an agreement with the federal Public Security secretary next week to “clean out the jails and achieve the goal that not a single innocent prisoner remains.”

Most of the Indians are incarcerated for drug trafficking or illegal weapons possession. But many of them were tricked into transporting the drugs, including 60 elderly indigenous people who are imprisoned in Oaxaca.

“There are environmentalist prisoners from Guerrero, fishermen from Michoacan, two Tarahumara boys on whom a local political boss planted drugs and weapons and a boy who had a carbine in Yucatan and just for carrying it was given 10 years in prison,” Galvez said.

The cases of non-federal crimes are being handled in coordination with the state governments. Galvez said an agreement has already been signed with the government of Oaxaca, one of the states with the largest indigenous population.

Mexico, with a total of 105 million people, is said to have about 10 million indigenous inhabitants.

(Online at the Chiapas95 archive)

This is a good move (if a very late one), but it does not address the central dilemma: the government’s ongoing failure to ratify the San Andres Accords, the package of constitutional amendments on indigneous territorial autonomy negotiated with the Zapatistas several years ago, which is their minimum demand for laying down arms.

See our last post on Chiapas and other political struggles in southern Mexico.

  1. Hunger strike in Acapulco prison
    This clip from the June 5 Weekly News Update on the Americas provides some context for the government’s move on indigenous prisoners.


    Five prisoners at the Las Cruces penitentiary in Acapulco, in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero, went on hunger strike on June 5. The prisoners, who say they are being held because of their political activities, met with state government general secretary Armando Chavarria Barrera on June 9 to demand that all prisoners in Mexico be allowed to serve out their sentences in prisons near their homes; they also asked for punishment for the people responsible for two of Guerrero’s most notorious massacres: in Aguas Blancas, Coyuca de Benitez municipality, in 1995, and in El Charco, Ayutla municipality, in 1998. One of the prisoners, Joviel Rafael Ventura, is a survivor of the Aguas Blancas massacre.

    A coalition of 12 organizations started an open-ended sit-in in front of the US consulate in Acapulco on June 14 to support the prisoners. On June 16 three participants used their own blood to make a sign reading: “Freedom for political prisoners.” Also on June 16, Aguas Blancas survivors and relatives of the victims began a sit-in in front of the state government building in Chilpancingo, the state capital, to demand a meeting with Gov. Zeferino Torreblanca Galindo to discuss reparations for the massacre, which was carried out by state troopers. Some of the protesters had begun a hunger strike the week before. Guerrero activists say they expect action from Torreblanca, who was elected on Feb. 6 as the candidate of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), ending decades of repressive rule by the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). [Comite Cerezo 6/13/05; La Jornada 6/10/05, 6/16/05]

    The Canadian-based Group of Relatives and Friends of Political Prisoners in Mexico (GFAPPM) reports that Jacobo Silva Nogales, who has been imprisoned since 1999 and is serving a 51-year sentence, has started suffering from dizziness and severe headaches. All the prisoners in the country’s “La Palma” maximum security prison, in Almoloya de Juarez, Mexico state, have been in lockdown ever since the military took over the facility in January. Silva Nogales, reputed to be “Commander Antonio” of the Revolutionary Army of the Insurgent People (ERPI), has filed repeated complaints about the conditions of confinement–including the seizure of his art materials–which he says violate United Nations conventions on the treatment of prisoners.

    The GFAPPM is asking for letters to Mexican president Vicente Fox
    Fax: +55 52772376


    copies to:

    Demand immediate medical attention for Silva Nogales and full respect for Mexican and international law in the treatment of prisoners. [GFAPPM urgent action 5/24/05]

    See also WW4 REPORT #95

  2. Aguas Blancas massacre recalled
    From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 3:


    On June 28 a number of Mexican groups marked the 10th anniversary of the massacre of 17 campesinos by police in the southern state of Guerrero. The Southern Sierra Campesino Organization (OCSS)– to which the victims had belonged–scheduled a march and a press conference calling for a full investigation of the case and an end to impunity for the responsible parties. The Democratic Revolutionary Tendency (TDR), an alliance of several rebel groups based mostly in Guerrero, sharply criticized the new state government headed by Zeferino Torreblanca of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) for failing to reopen the investigation. But the communique called for a “Broad Front of Popular Unity” and even raised the possibility of supporting some candidates from political parties. [Southern Sierra Campesino Organization (OCSS) press release 6/26/05; TDR communique 6/28/05]

    Also on June 28, three police agents were injured when a grenade was thrown into a police station in the Guerrero resort town of Zihuatanejo. One agent reportedly lost his arm in the attack. Someone claiming to be a member of the rebel Revolutionary Popular Army (EPR) is said to have telephoned a warning prior to the incident. In an apparently unrelated incident the same day, a police agent was shot to death by unidentified assailants at a police station in Acapulco, Guerrero’s main resort city. [AP 6/29/05]

    See also Este Sur, June 28