Oaxaca protest leader arrested in Mexico City

From Copley News Service via the San Diego Union-Tribune, Dec. 6:

MEXICO CITY – The leader of the six-month protest in Oaxaca state was arrested late Monday in Mexico City, just hours before he planned to meet with top officials in President Felipe Calderón’s government in hopes of negotiating a peaceful solution.

Flavio Sosa, a bearded, heavyset, 42-year-old native of Oaxaca known as the voice of the conflict, was arrested by federal police at 10:30 p.m. Monday as he rode in a taxi along one of Mexico City’s main thoroughfares.

Sosa was booked on charges of kidnapping, robbery and damaging property. He was driven in a heavily guarded convoy to a penitentiary outside Mexico City that houses some of country’s most dangerous prisoners, including drug cartel leaders Osiel Cárdenas and Benjamín Arellano Félix.

The arrest, which came just three days after Calderón took office, is the first indication that Calderón plans to make good on his promise to use a “firm hand” with lawbreakers.

[…]

“It seems like a trap,” said political analyst José Antonio Crespo. “If any of the other social groups or any group that can be accused of sedition are invited to negotiate with the Interior Ministry, they are going to say, ‘No way.’

[…]

Protest leaders called for a “mega-march” in Oaxaca on Sunday to demand Sosa’s release. They also vowed to continue pressuring federal officials to force the resignation of Oaxaca Gov. Ulises Ruíz, whose attack on striking teachers in June sparked the conflict.

The leftist Democratic Revolution Party said yesterday that it will be responsible for Sosa’s legal defense, calling his arrest an “act of repression.”

Hours before Sosa’s arrest, he appeared relaxed at a news conference at the offices of a human rights group in Mexico City.

“We’re hoping to restart negotiations with the government and find a peaceful solution to this crisis,” he told reporters.

With more than 4,000 federal police occupying downtown Oaxaca and conducting armed patrols in nearby communities, protest leaders said their supporters now face repression in Oaxaca.

At least 220 protesters have been arrested and sent to a federal prison hundreds of miles away in Nayarit state, and an estimated 60 supporters are missing, leaders said.

“There are arbitrary jailings and the government is allowing clandestine detention centers – where detainees are tortured – to thrive,” said APPO activist María del Carmen López. She said the government’s actions are unjustified because the protest is a “peaceful and legal movement and not linked to any guerrilla group.”

[…]

Sosa acknowledged last month that he was one of the protest’s leaders but said he was not the “main leader” as police suggested. While Sosa was a member of a larger leadership council, “he was the face and the voice of the movement,” said political analyst Federico Estevez.

From AP via the Houston Chronicle, Dec. 5:

MEXICO CITY — Leftist protesters from the southern city of Oaxaca demanded Tuesday that the government release a jailed leader of the movement and threatened to return to the streets if he is not freed.

Flavio Sosa was arrested late Monday and charged with kidnapping, robbery, and causing damages and injuries related to the protesters’ five-month takeover of downtown Oaxaca. He was detained in Mexico City along with his brother and two other men, hours after he gave a news conference saying he had come to the capital to reopen talks with the government.

Leaders of the leftist People’s Assembly of Oaxaca, or APPO, have called for a weekend march to demand the release of Sosa and other protesters even as life in the city visibly returns to normal after burned-out vehicles and barricades were removed from the streets. Some residents warn simmering discontent about poverty, injustice and oppression could erupt into violence again at any time.

“Flavio Sosa and the three other people detained for crimes will face an impartial legal process, in which they will have access to legal assistance if they request it,” the Interior Department said Tuesday after a closed-door meeting in Mexico City with members of the People’s Assembly of Oaxaca.

[…]

Another protest leader, Zenen Bravo, described Tuesday’s talks as an important start, but said the movement would continue to demand the resignation of Ruiz.

“They (government officials) expressed their willingness to continue the dialogue in the same terms as the previous administration,” Bravo told reporters. “These talks will have to take up both the latest situation in Oaxaca, concerning repression by federal police, but will also have to address the underlying problems, which involves the departure of Ulises Ruiz.”

New President Felipe Calderon took office on Friday.

Tomas Basaldu, Oaxacan state leader of Mexico’s leftist Democratic Revolution Party, said he was meeting with the protesters.

“We will take action in the next few days,” he said. “We won’t lower our guard in backing the protesters.”

[…]

Protest leaders have said 220 protesters have been detained during the conflict but police say the figure is 170. Protesters also claimed some detainees had been beaten, and that another 70 supporters of the movement are missing. Most were arrested on charges related to starting fires, erecting barricades, blockading streets or attacking police.

Mexico’s El Porvenir indicates Sosa is being held at Altiplano (formerly Las Palmas) federal prison in Almoloya de Juarez, Mexico state. Diario de Chihuahua quotes Sen. Ricardo Monreal calling Sosa a “political prisoner,” and pledging the support of the PRD to fight for his release. El Siglo de Tucuman reports that from his prison cell, Sosa has declared himself the “first political prisoner” of the Calderon administration.

See our last post on Mexico and the Oaxaca crisis.

  1. More details
    From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 10:

    On the night of Dec. 4 Mexican federal police arrested several leaders of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) as they were riding in a taxi along Insurgentes Avenue in Mexico City, where they had planned to resume negotiations with the federal government the next day. Those arrested were Flavio Sosa Villavicencio, his brother Horacio Sosa Villavicencio, Ignacio Garcia Maldonado and Marcelino Coache Verano.

    Flavio Sosa is one of the best-known leaders of the APPO coalition, which has paralyzed much of Oaxaca city in the
    southern state of Oaxaca for the last six months. He is a former federal legislative deputy for the center-left Party of the Democratic (PRD), and he helped found the state party, but he joined the 2000 presidential campaign of former president Vicente Fox Quesada, of the center-right National Action Party (PAN). After supporting various local parties, Sosa rejoined the PRD in 2005. A convoy of federal police agents escorted Sosa to the Altiplano maximum security federal prison (formerly known as La Palma), west of Mexico City in Almoloya de Juarez, Mexico state. The charges against him include robbery with violence, kidnapping and arson.

    Sosa’s arrest appeared to be the latest move in a major crackdown on protesters that started in late October and intensified with the arrest of 141 Oaxaca activists in the days before Dec. 1, when the PAN’s Felipe Calderon Hinojosa succeeded Fox as president. Calderon’s new governance secretary (interior minister), Francisco Ramirez Acuna, reportedly planned the arrests of Sosa and the others despite his promise to begin new talks with APPO. The arrest also broke an agreement Ramirez’s predecessor, Carlos Abascal Carranza, made in October to annul or at least “review” outstanding warrants against APPO leaders when the Oaxaca teachers agreed to end the five-month strike that triggered the protests in the state. Sosa told his lawyer he was “the first political prisoner of President Felipe Calderon’s regime.” (La Jornada, DEC. 5, 6)

    APPO’s principal demand has been for the removal of Oaxaca governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, of the formerly ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). On Dec. 8 Calderon’s crackdown appeared to extend to Ruiz’s government: Federal Preventive Police (PFP) agents carried out a search in the Oaxaca State Attorney General’s Office, which is headed by Ruiz ally Rosa Lizbeth Cana Cadeza; they detained five state judicial police agents and seized firearms. PFP general staff chief Ardelio Vargas Fosado said the goal was to test the weapons to see if they had been used in “acts of vandalism.” APPO has repeatedly charged that state police in civilian clothes have been involved in the killings of at least 13 protesters. (LJ, DEC. 9)

    On Dec. 9 APPO dismissed the federal operation at the state Attorney General’s Office as a “maneuver” to distract attention. APPO spokesperson Florentino Lopez Martinez said “the weapons used in the killing of our companeros certainly wouldn’t be found in the office: [the state police] aren’t stupid enough to keep them there.” (LJ, Dec. 10) On Dec. 10 APPO held a march in Oaxaca city to demand the removal of Ruiz, the withdrawal of the PFP from the city and the release of the prisoners. As of the afternoon of Dec. 10 no violence had been reported; the march included several PRD officials: federal senator and human rights activist Rosario Ibarra de Piedra, PRD national leader Leonel Cota and general secretary Guadalupe Acosta Naranjo. (LJ online, Dec. 10)

    The body of Raul Marcia Perez, a local director of the Movement of Triqui Unification and Struggle (MULT, sometimes also given as “Unification Movement of Triqui Struggle”) and a columnist in a community newspaper, was found on Dec. 9 on a road in Agua Fria, Juxtlahuaca municipality, Oaxaca. He had been shot dead several hours before. A colleague was injured in the attack. It was not clear if the killing was related to the APPO protests. (World War 4 Report, Dec. 10 from AP, Noticias de Oaxaca; El Diario-La Prensa, Dec. 10 from AP) [A MULT leader was killed in Putla de Guerrero in western Oaxaca in August, 2005; see WW4 REPORT, Aug. 19, 2005.]