Oaxaca: women march as prisoner release begins

From El Universal, Dec. 18:

Over 2,000 women marched through Oaxaca City on Sunday calling for Gov. Ulises Ruiz’s ouster and the immediate release of the more than 200 members of the Oaxaca People’s Assembly (APPO) detained since the street battles on Nov. 25.

The march skirted the police-occupied Zocalo, arriving at Madero Park on the edge of town around noon without any incidents of violence.

“With our marches we are showing the government that we are ready to struggle with all we’ve got,” said Patricia, one of the organizers of the march and a founding member of the August First Oaxaca Women’s Organization, a group that sprung up within the APPO after the first women’s march on August 1 that led to the seizure of the state television station, Channel 9.

“We all felt afraid for a while there, but we are going to keep on struggling until the last prisoner is freed,” she said.

During the past week, Oaxaca’s streets have remained calm, and tourists have slowly begun to return to the city. Protests have been limited to weekend marches, and after federal police raided the state ministerial police headquarters to confiscate over 340 guns on Dec. 7, the recent wave of arbitrary street detentions stopped.

On Saturday, the Federal Preventive Police (PFP) who occupied the Zocalo on Oct. 29 lifted their camps and moved out of the historic center, turning control over to the state police.

Also on Saturday, 43 prisoners detained following a clash between police and protesters on Nov. 25 and later sent to a medium security federal prison in Tepic, Nayarit were unexpectedly released on bail, with the state government footing the bill.

Officials at the state attorney general’s office did not answer their phones on Sunday.

Isaac Torres Carmona, a human rights lawyer with the Mexican Association of Human Rights Advisors (AMADH) said that the prisoner’s sudden release, like their arrest, was highly irregular, and most likely illegal.

“The government used sophistry to get them out of jail,” Carmona said, referring to the state government’s request for and posting of the prisoners’ bail while continuing to accuse them of serious crimes. Carmona also said that the charges against the prisoners – arson, sedition, and resisting arrest – were applied to the entire group of detainees without any specific reference to the time or location of the crimes with which they are charged.

Most of the buildings burned during the confrontation were set on fire after the PFP made most of its detentions, and several blocks away from where the arrests were made.

Carmona said the prisoners have “a precarious freedom,” and with charges still pending, they could be arrested again at any time.

The released prisoners arrived in Oaxaca at 3 PM after a 24-hour bus ride from Tepic. They arrived to an emotive reception. Most of the women who marched in the morning, along with hundreds of other APPO supporters and family members, gathered at Madero Park with flowers and a local brass band to greet the released prisoners.

Men and women with their hair cropped short and bloodstains on their shirts and pants got off the buses to eagerly awaiting family members and a crowd of some two thousand people.

One university student who declined to give his name held flowers next to a stain of dried blood on his t-shirt. “They beat us and took our belongings – cell phones, wallets, backpacks – we were beaten and then tortured psychologically,” he said.

One young woman held her mother’s face in her hands and said, “don’t cry, no tears mom, I am okay.”

Most declined to discuss their detentions, saying that they had agreed to withhold testimonies until all of the other prisoners had been freed.

The APPO is planning another march on Dec. 22, but spokespeople said protests would be suspended during Christmas and New Year’s Day, to give people time to rest and be with their families. Demonstrations would resume in January.

See our last posts on Mexico and the struggle in Oaxaca.