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.