Mexico: remaining Dec. 1 detainees freed

On the evening of Dec. 27, authorities in Mexico’s Federal District (DF, Mexico City) released 13 men and one woman who had been in detention since Dec. 1 on charges of “attacks on the public peace” during protests that day against the inauguration of President Enrique Peña Nieto. A total of 106 were arrested during the demonstrations, in which masked youths caused considerable property damage; 92 of the detainees were released within eight days, after human rights organizations and the DF’s own Human Rights Commission (CDHDF) presented evidence that many were clearly not involved in the destruction.

The continuing detention of the remaining 14 arrestees sparked protests and the creation of a defense committee, the Dec. 1 Coordinating Committee. On Dec. 24 five of the 13 male detainees started a hunger strike, saying they would go without food until they were released. The other eight men held a 72-hour fast, as did a number of relatives and supporters, who were camped outside the DF government’s main building in central Mexico City and outside the Reclusorio Norte prison, where the men were being held, in the north of the city. The only woman among the detainees, nursing student Rita Neri Moctezuma, decided not to join the strike, since she was the only one of the detainees in the Santa Martha Acatitla women’s prison. Moctezuma is reportedly the great niece of the famous leftist schoolteacher and labor leader Othón Salazar Ramírez.

In addition to criticizing the arrests, the CDHDF recommended that the DF Legislative Assembly (ALDF) repeal the DF criminal code’s article 362, which provided a broad definition of “attacks on the public peace” and mandated a five to 30 year prison sentence for the offense. The legislators compromised on Dec. 26 by passing an amendment lowering the sentence to two to seven years and restricting the definition of the crime. With the gravity of the crime reduced, the courts were able to free the detainees on bail. The total bail and other compensation the courts set for the 14 detainees came to 141,000 pesos (US$10,820); the money was put up by two legislators from the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), José Luis Muñoz Soria and Roberto López Suárez.

After their release, the detainees held a press conference to say they intended to continue the struggle for their ideals, which they still considered correct. (La Jornada, Mexico, Dec. 26, Dec. 27, Dec. 28; Univision, Dec. 28; Milenio, Dec. 28)

The handling of the Dec. 1 protests has been an embarrassment for the PRD, which has governed the DF since 1997. The demonstrations took place during the transition between the administrations of former DF head of government Marcelo Ebrard Casaubón (2006-2012) and Miguel Angel Mancera Espinosa, who took office on Dec. 5. An unnamed DF police captain told the left-leaning daily La Jornada that there was a “command vacuum” on Dec. 1, although he accused Ebrard of ordering the police to start arresting protesters.

The captain appeared to back up reports that agents provocateurs were involved in the damage to property. Some of the alleged anarchist vandals wore a black glove with the fingers cut off, he said, and several didn’t even know how to paint the anarchist symbol. The police captain said he considered it inexplicable that videos made by the police Command and Control Center hadn’t been used to determine what happened during the protests. (LJ, Dec. 10) (A number of plainclothes agents reportedly wore white gloves during the October 1968 massacre of students and their supporters at the Tlatelolco housing project so that uniformed soldiers and police would know they were agents.)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 30.