Mexico: officer cleared in deadly labor repression

From El Universal, May 4 via the Chiapas95 archive:

A state judge on Wednesday exonerated a Michoacan police officer accused of shooting and killing a striking steel mill worker last month, despite video footage showing the officer firing his rifle toward the workers.

In her ruling, Judge Maria del Consuelo Lopez Ramirez argued there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that agent Gilberto Nezahualcoyotl Gamez Coria killed the worker, Alberto Castillo Rodri’guez, on April 20. At the time, police were trying to dislodge the striking workers from the mill they had seized.

She said it is unclear in the case presented by prosecutors whether Gamez Coria fired to repel an attack by the striking workers or expressly disobeyed commands by superiors only to fire rubber bullets above the workers’ heads.

The video, obtained by EL UNIVERSAL, shows Gamez Coria drawing aim and firing an AR-15 rifle. According to state prosecutors, it is still unclear exactly what caliber weapon was used to kill Castillo Rodriguez. Gamez Coria does not appear to be in immediate danger in the video.

Following the ruling, the state attorney general’s office said it would appeal the case. A state police commander, who resigned after the incident, and another officer also face charges related to the deaths of Castillo Rodriguez and another worker during the raid. Seventy-five were injured.

The workers had seized the mill to protest the ouster of their union leader, Napoleon Gomez Urrutia, by the Labor Secretariat. The violent confrontation has further elevated tensions between the union and the government.

On Monday, thousands of marching miners, backed by other labor organizations, called for the punishment of those responsible for the deaths. They also demanded the return of Gomez Urrutia as head of their union and safer working conditions following a mining accident in Coahuila in February that killed 65 miners.

Federal authorities say Gomez Urrutia has organized the unrest – both in Michoacan and with the union in general – as a distraction while hiding out in Canada to avoid charges against him. He is targeted in federal investigation for allegedly diverting US$55 million from a union trust, although an arrest warrant has yet to be filed.

While the majority of the union supports Gomez Urrutia, a group of dissidents led by Elias Morales – who was named as Gomez Urrutia’s replacement in February – published a newspaper advertisement on Wednesday demanding the former leader return the missing money.

“It’s a lie that Gomez Urrutia is defending union autonomy,” the statement read. “He is trying to save his own neck and avoid arrest, even if it means destabilizing the union, workers’ safety and putting our jobs at risk.”

The unrest has roiled the markets in recent months, although high copper prices have kept profits coming in for some of the nation’s major mining firms.

See our last posts on the escalating crisis in Mexico and the labor unrest.