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News From Americas Watch - page 3 - October, 1993, Vol. V, No. 10 As the attached Americas Watch briefing paper on the Intimidation of Activists in Mexico shows, interference with core political ...



Washington October 26 1993
President Bill Clinton
The White House
Washington DC
Dear President Clinton
In a matter of weeks the U S Congress will vote on the North American Free Trade
Agreement NAFTA One question many members of Congress are asking is
whether the agreement will promote fundamental human rights and respect for the
rule of law in Mexico NAFTA and the supplemental agreements do not address
these issues
As a non partisan non governmental organization dedicated to the promotion and
defense of human rights throughout the world we are dismayed that your
administration and the Bush Administration have failed to take full advantage of the
opportunity posed by the NAFTA negotiations to help Mexico s people achieve
badly needed human rights reforms It is not too late We urge you to call
immediately for a meeting of the heads of government of Canada Mexico and the
United States to discuss human rights throughout the region and to take concrete
steps to advance their protection
Your administration has championed NAFTA as crucial to achieving enhanced
economic prosperity and cooperation throughout the region While we take no
position for or against NAFTA s approval we strongly believe that sustainable
development can only be built on a foundation of respect for human rights and the
principles of democracy and the rule of law If Mexico is going to reap the full
benefits of free trade it must have a vibrant unfettered civil society able to
participate freely and effectively in the nations s political life monitor and criticize
government actions without fear of intimidation or reprisal and hold its public
officials accountable
Unfortunately Mexicans still endure serious human rights violations Over the past
four years Human Rights Watch Americas Watch and other human rights
organizations have documented a consistent pattern of torture and due process
abuses in a criminal justice system laced with corruption electoral fraud
and election related violence harassment intimidation and even violence against
independent journalists human rights monitors environmentalists workers
peasants and indigenous peoples when they seek to exercise their rights to freedom
of expression and assembly and impunity for those who violate fundamental rights
While the Salinas Administration has taken steps to reduce
human rights violations the fundamental pattern of abusive authoritarian conduct
and impunity remain
As the attached Americas Watch briefing paper on the Intimidation of Activists in Mexico shows
interference with core political rights freedom of expression association assembly and the right to vote
remains endemic Moreover little has been done to facilitate Mexico s long awaited and much hoped for
transition to democracy The Mexican government remains intolerant of public criticism and determined to
suppress through devious or overtly brutal means challenges to its policies
Most importantly the Mexican government under President Salinas as under his predecessors refuses to
permit real threats to the domination of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional PRI which since 1929
has maintained a stranglehold on the nation s political life In response to mounting domestic pressure and
international publicity about election manipulation and fraud President Salinas secured changes to election
procedures But these were carefully designed to leave intact the PRI s entrenched monopoly on political
power and its role as the government s alter ego Public officials in Mexico are still invulnerable to the will
of the electorate
As the European Community realized when it began the process of relaxing trade barriers and building a
regional economy the successful integration of their national economies required a shared commitment to
democratic practices and respect for fundamental rights Similarly respect for democracy and human
rights must be the foundation on which integrated North American development is built If NAFTA
becomes the model for expanding free trade with other nations in the hemisphere it is all the more
important that the United States affirm the centrality of human rights and democratic governance to closer
economic relations
A meeting of the heads of government of Mexico Canada and the United States to address human rights
would be an important step toward affirming shared values of respect for human dignity and fundamental
rights The United States should insist that Mexico undertake the reforms needed to ensure human rights
protections and political accountability We believe Mexico must
commit to investigate fully prosecute and punish anyone who engages in or is responsible for human
rights abuses even if doing so exposes corruption or other misconduct at the highest levels of
government
provide absolute guarantees for the protection of political rights for all governmental critics and
make it legally possible for aggrieved individuals to apply meaningfully to independent and impartial
courts for redress when their political rights including their rights to participate in elections are
ensure free and fair elections in 1994 and all future elections by granting all political parties equal access
to campaign financing the media and the use of the national colors permitting professional
independent and impartial election observers to monitor elections and have full access to all election
machinery including computers barring the military from putting on displays of force on election day
that deter voters from going to the polls and establishing an independent impartial electoral
commission in which no political party or alliance of parties dominates and the Minister of Government
plays no role
The three countries also should discuss U S violations of basic rights within its borders particularly abuses
against persons suspected of illegal immigration across the Southwest border In the past 18 months
Human Rights Watch has focused particular attention on human rights violations by the U S Border Patrol
News From Americas Watch page 3 October 1993 Vol V No 10
See Americas Watch Brutality Unchecked Human Rights Abuses Along the U S Border with Mexico
May 1992 and Frontier Injustice Human Rights Abuses Along the U S Border with Mexico Persist
Amid Climate of Impunity May 13 1993 Our reports include extensive and detailed recommendations
on steps the United States must take to improve human rights conditions along the border which should be
discussed at the summit
Finally we urge the United States along with Mexico and Canada to commit itself at this meeting to full
acceptance of international machinery capable of ensuring that victims of rights abuses have an impartial
forum for seeking redress All three governments should ratify the American Convention on Human
Rights and should agree to be bound by decisions of the Inter American Court of Human Rights the
judicial body of the Organization of American States Accepting the Inter American Court s jurisdiction
would provide victims of rights abuses in all three countries with impartial independent legal machinery to
which they could apply when domestic remedies to correct human rights abuses are lacking
Human Rights Watch urges your administration not to squander the opportunity provided by the profound
restructuring of economic relations between the countries of North America to promote human rights
reforms and democracy The United States needs to demonstrate unequivocally its recognition that
increased trade and investment between nations must go hand in hand with increased commitments to
human rights and democracy A tri national meeting will support the quest of peoples throughout the
hemisphere for sustainable development built on the principles of human dignity freedom and fundamental
Sincerely yours
Juan E M ndez
Executive Director
News From Americas Watch page 4 October 1993 Vol V No 10
BRIEFING PAPER ON THE INTIMIDATION OF
ACTIVISTS IN MEXICO
Introduction
Violations of core political rights C freedom of expression freedom of association freedom of
assembly and the right to vote C are a pervasive problem in Mexico One of the principal manifestations of
this lack of political rights in Mexico is the government s intolerance of public criticism of its policies and
practices This unwillingness to accept opposing views is directly related to the determination of the
Institutional Revolutionary Party PRI which since 1929 has been the controlling political party in Mexico
and functions as the government s alter ego to maintain its stranglehold on power While the PRI represents
individuals of widely diverging views loyalty is rewarded and dissent is tolerated only to the extent that it
occurs away from the public eye Individuals who publicly challenge the government or the PRI face an
array of tactics designed to bring them into line or immobilize them
Typically the government tries to woo independent activists with incentives including government
jobs lucrative consulting opportunities or promises of government action in one area in exchange for
silence about another Those who refuse to conform or be silent may be subjected to threats and other
forms of harassment A wide repertoire of instruments of intimidation are used including wiretaps having
activists or their advisors followed friendly warnings from government officials and anonymous death
threats Stubborn activists may be jailed often on dubious charges or in extreme cases subjected to
physical violence or killed
Since the inauguration of President Salinas civil society in Mexico has burgeoned encouraged by
Cuauht moc C rdenas near success amid widespread allegations of fraud in challenging the previously
indomitable PRI in the 1988 presidential elections The political awakening quickly moved beyond federal
electoral politics The Revolutionary Democratic Party PRD the political party formed by C rdenas
supporters and the National Action Party PAN Mexico s oldest major opposition party seriously began to
challenge PRI candidates in state and local elections Both parties outspokenly condemned electoral fraud
election related violence and associated human rights abuses Many human rights labor peasant
environmental and other social groups were formed or took advantage of the opening wedged by the
political parties to expand their operations
Although the climate for nongovernmental organizations has improved since President Salinas
inauguration and Mexicans have had more opportunities to participate independently in public affairs that
expanded activism has been heavily taxed Activists report a wide range of incidents of cloaked
repression of the types described above
In this briefing we examine the ways that the Mexican government and the PRI have guarded their lock
on power through interference with core political rights We take as examples six categories of critics or
opponents of Mexican government policies that are especially vulnerable to government pressure tactics
human rights monitors labor organizers campesino peasant and indigenous rights activists
environmentalists journalists and election observers Such intimidation is unacceptable under all
circumstances and antithetical to fundamental notions of democracy and respect for human rights If
Mexico hopes to be regarded as a human rights respecting nation it must halt intimidation of governmental
opponents and guarantee permanent respect for political rights including freedom of expression
News From Americas Watch page 5 October 1993 Vol V No 10
association assembly and the right to participate in free and fair elections The recognition of Mexico as a
democracy whose government is fully accountable to its electorate requires nothing less
Intimidation of Human Rights Monitors
When President Salinas took office in December 1988 human rights concerns were not in the limelight
as they are today At that time there were only a handful of independent nongovernmental human rights
organizations in Mexico today there are scores of such groups This expanded independent human rights
scrutiny is not attributable to a sudden or dramatic worsening of Mexico s human rights record Rather it
resulted from a convergence of three forces the post 1988 political opening carved by the opposition
political parties the new found interest of international nongovernmental human rights organizations that
had not previously focused attention on Mexico because other countries in the Americas placed greater
demands on their resources and the Mexican government s determination in entering into free trade
negotiations with the United States and Canada to ward off potential criticism of its human rights record
by those looking for reasons to oppose the trade pact
To demonstrate that his administration had Mexico s human rights problems in hand President Salinas
created in 1990 the National Human Rights Commission CNDH In just three years the CNDH expanded to
become an enormous constitutionally mandated government bureaucracy with more than 600 staff
members and its own building Moreover since changes to the Constitution went into effect in January
1992 every state has had to establish its own human rights commission The CNDH is precluded from
examining violations of political and labor rights and is unable to enforce its recommendations C which all
too often are ignored by responsible government agencies Nonetheless its hundreds of reports and
recommendations about murder torture arbitrary detention mistreatment of prisoners and due process
violations are more than ample proof that Mexico s human rights problems warrant serious attention
Mexican nongovernmental human rights organizations provide an important check on the CNDH and the
state commissions and fill in the gaps in their mandates These groups clearly are a source of irritation to
the government but while engaged in free trade negotiations it has avoided appearing heavy handed in
dealing with them The most prominent and internationally connected nongovernmental human rights
groups thus have been able to operate with little open interference though their impact is sometimes
undermined because the government controls major segments of the news media
But more subtle intimidation tactics are prevalent Most human rights activists are uncomfortable
discussing delicate information over the telephone because they assume their phones are tapped Many
have experienced cuts in telephone service when they were in the middle of particularly sensitive calls or
projects Whether bugging in fact occurs the government s failure to dispel this concern leads to significant
self censorship Moreover in April 1991 the CNDH discovered that its own offices were bugged which
fueled the suspicions of nongovernmental human rights groups The fact that the government has never
identified or sanctioned the person or agency responsible for planting the bugs has sent a message to
activists that the government considers clandestine information gathering about human rights groups to be
its prerogative
Many prominent human rights activists admit that they have received friendly warnings from
acquaintances within the government to back off certain subjects or cases Others have received peculiar
messages on their telephone answering machines that could be interpreted as threats Some have had their
offices homes or cars broken into and while nothing of monetary value was stolen files were taken or
other warning signs were left behind Usually these experiences go unreported because they cannot be
proven to be threats and because the government s response when they are reported if any is to offer police
News From Americas Watch page 6 October 1993 Vol V No 10
protection which exposes the activist to even closer government scrutiny
Instead human rights activists who receive subtle pressure tend to adopt a skittish life style in which
they constantly alter their routes to and from work censor what they say over the phone or to persons they
do not know well and do a lot of worrying Many have developed a sixth sense about just how much
dissent the government will tolerate and for their own security confine their public statements and
activities to within acceptable parameters
Occasionally prominent human rights activists face more serious forms of intimidation which serve as
a frightening reminder to human rights monitors throughout the country of the dangers that accompany
their work In October 1992 Mar a Teresa Jard Alonso a lawyer and one of Mexico s best known human
rights activists received three anonymous written death threats Jard was responsible for exposing human
rights abuses as part of the investigation in to the July 1991 murder of Dr V ctor Manuel Oropeza in
Ciudad Ju rez Chihuahua At the time she was Attorney General Morales Lechuga s human rights staff
officer but quit after it became clear that the government had fabricated evidence against two persons
charged with the crime After receiving the threats Jard accepted police protection and the use of an
armored car President Salinas met with her to express his concern and the government launched an
investigation though the responsible party was never identified Jard now heads the Chihuahua office of
the Federal Attorney General s office
Less well connected activists are more vulnerable to intimidation tactics Independent human rights
activist V ctor Clark Alfaro Director of the Binational Center for Human Rights CBDH in Tijuana has
been subjected to efforts to silence him for several years In 1990 the CBDH issued a report documenting
torture and mistreatment of 75 juveniles detained in Tijuana s juvenile detention facilities Shortly
afterwards two of the psychologists at the juvenile facility were fired for not informing the facility s
director of Clark s true motives for interviewing the children Clark received several death threats on his
telephone answering machine and veiled warnings from Mexican government officials that the CBDH
would be closed
The following year the National Human Rights Commission publicly denounced Clark for not
providing it with sources about juveniles who had been tortured While Clark denied the accuracy of the
CNDH s accusations the CNDH s action was read as a warning by the nongovernmental human rights
community if the sources of sensitive but damning information could not be publicly identified then
publishing the information was taboo
Clark failed to heed the warning In April 1993 the CBDH published a report on torture and2 corruption
in the Baja California state judicial police that included cases of 84 persons subjected to torture The report
also alleged that drug traffickers were buying police credentials from corrupt officials Many of the report s
allegations were supported by the findings of the state s own Human Rights Commission Nonetheless
Sergio Sandoval the chief of security for the State Attorney General alleged that Clark had defamed and
slandered him and the public prosecutor filed criminal charges against Clark For months Clark faced five
criminal counts for each of which he could have been sentenced if convicted to two years in prison or a
fine the equivalent of several hundred dollars Fortunately on September 23 1993 an appellate judge
Centro Binacional de Derechos Humanos A C Secundo Informe Sobre Derechos Del Menor Torturado El
Caso de Tijuana B C Mexico 1990
Centro Binacional de Derechos Humanos A C Tortura y Corrupci n Un Mal End mico Tijuana Baja
California Mexico 1993
News From Americas Watch page 7 October 1993 Vol V No 10
dismissed the first of the criminal indictments on grounds of insufficient evidence thereby making it
unlikely the other charges will be pressed
Americas Watch is not in a position to verify the accuracy of the April 1993 report published by the
CBDH but we can attest to the fact that the organization is careful and conscientious in gathering testimony
Accusations of slander like those leveled against Clark especially when pressed by a powerful public
official have a chilling effect on the exercise of freedom of expression and are incompatible with the
notion of an open society But the criminal charges were not Clark s greatest worry In recent months his
offices have been broken into staff members have received telephone death threats and madrinas free
lance police agents have maintained a watch on his office activities While he is continuing his work
Clark is constantly preoccupied with the security of those on the CBDH staff and with those state police
informants who provided him with the information necessary for compiling his report
Arturo Sol s G mez President of the Centro de Estudios Fronterizos y Promoci n de los Derechos
Humanos A C CEFPRODHAC in Tamaulipas has been the focus of a similar intimidation campaign waged
by state authorities Human rights abuses in Tamaulipas which borders southern Texas have long been of
serious concern Many of those abuses are linked to drug trafficking and associated corruption by police
and prison guards It was in the state penitentiary in Matamoros that armed inmates led by cocaine
trafficker Oliverio Ch vez Araujo murdered eighteen inmates loyal to a rival drug trafficker and then held
control of the prison for thirteen days Chavez used his drug money to buy privileges from prison officials
he lived in a carpeted cell block meant to house fifty inmates and conducted his illegal
activities with the
assistance of a cellular phone a fax machine and a secretary who came in every day
While in the past many of the cases documented by CEFPRODHAC involved federal judicial police in
1993 the dominant pattern changed and most of the most serious cases of torture and abuse reported to
CEFPRODHAC involved preventive police in the border cities of Matamoros and Reynosa and judicial police
in the border town of R o Bravo At the same time reported cases of abuse in the state prison persisted at
previous levels
According to a CEFPRODHAC bulletin this increase in state cases coincided with the inauguration of
governor Manuel Cavazos Lerma in February 1993 Instead of receiving the cooperation of the new state
leadership in combatting these abuses CEFPRODHAC has found itself at the center of a public campaign to
discredit it CEFPRODHAC reports that it has been accused by State Attorney General Ra l Morales Cadena
and State Director of Prisons Francisco Castellanos de la Garza of protecting criminals It further claims
that it has been accused by the PRI and two smaller political parties the Mexican Authentic Revolutionary
Party PARM and the Cardenist Front of National Reconstruction Party PFCRN in Matamoros of being
spies for foreign interests because it receives funding from the Ford Foundation and other U S based non
governmental philanthropic institutions Finally the CEFPRODHAC charges that the Director of Prisons
asked several journalists whose salaries are paid by the state government to accuse the CEFPRODHAC of
being financed by drug traffickers and to state4 that the group charges money to detainees who have brought
legal action to win their release from prison
Human rights groups in other parts of the country have been subjected to other forms of harassment In
October 1992 soldiers searching for the alleged killer of a fellow army officer in Baborigame Chihuahua
Mark A Uhlig Standoff New York Times Magazine October 6 1991 pp 40 44
Estudios Fronterizos y de Promoci n de los Derechos Humanos A C A Todos Los Que Luchan Por Los
Derechos Humanos Documento CR 322 93 August 30 1993
News From Americas Watch page 8 October 1993 Vol V No 10
went on a rampage during which they tortured and abused villagers and destroyed their homes and
possessions During the initial investigation military authorities reportedly used strong arm tactics to
pressure local residents to sign affidavits that no abuses had occurred When the Chihuahua based
nongovernmental human rights group COSYDDHAC responded by assembling local residents willing to
denounce the soldiers actions the 5military responded with threatening statements that members of the
group were aiding drug traffickers
In Chiapas senior military officials have accused the Catholic church affiliated and highly respected
Fray Bartolom de las Casas Human Rights Center of spreading odious lies about the military
defending criminals and obstructing justice The charges stem from the Center s efforts to document
torture and abuse by military officials in two rural communities in March 1993 Soldiers searching for two
fellow officers who had vanished while on patrol illegally raided homes confiscated or destroyed property
tortured suspects and arbitrarily arrested at least 17 persons The Center denounced the abuses after7 which
the military responded by charging that the Center had coached witnesses into fabricating testimony
The National Human Rights Commission investigated the incident and in its recommendation backed
the military s assertions that the Center obstructed justice State authorities subsequently impeded the
Center staff from visiting persons detained following the military raids even though Mexican law protects
the right of detainees to receive visitors Independent human rights groups including the Minnesota
Advocates for Human Rights carefully investigated the military s and the CNDH s accusations and found
them to be unfounded In a damning report exposing military and police abuses in the Mexican countryside
the Minnesota Advocates called upon10
the military and the CNDH to provide evidence of their allegations
against the Center or retract them Americas Watch joins the Minnesota Advocates in this appeal
Intimidation of Labor Organizers
On paper Mexico s labor laws appear to be a model of protection of workers interests yet labor rights
are systematically violated and workers often are the victims of violence Genuinely independent unions
with democratically elected leaders are few in number and face daunting obstacles Government agencies
impede the legal registration of would be independent unions and then use their lack of registration as an
excuse for prohibiting or failing to recognize strikes Labor boards with strong loyalties to the President and
Ministry of Labor have sole authority to regulate union elections and handle all phases of labor dispute
resolution They also have unchecked power to declare strikes legally nonexistent which leaves strikers
vulnerable to being fired and to the suppression of their work stoppages by force This entire system
Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights Civilians at Risk Military and Police Abuses in Mexico s
Countryside World Policy Institute A North America Project Special Report July 1993
CNDH Recommendation No 88 93 May 12 1993
Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights Civilians at Risk supra note 8
News From Americas Watch page 9 October 1993 Vol V No 10
perpetuates itself because Mexico s government and the PRI refuse to be subjected to democratic
accountability and because they deem a compliant work force essential to their goals of attracting foreign
investment and implementing free trade
Independent union leaders and their lawyers are particularly vulnerable to tactics aimed at pressuring
them to curtail their activities One of the most common tactics used to impede their efforts involves the
misuse of the criminal justice system Agapito Gonz lez Cavazos head of the Day Laborers and Industrial
Workers Union in Matamoros led the fight to win higher wages for workers than allowed by a
longstanding pact between the government and the official union a move that angered U S maquiladora
owners At a propitious moment in the negotiations the 76 year old Gonz lez was arrested by Federal
Judicial Police on four year old tax evasion charges Although he was released after several months the
settlement reached with the workers while he was in prison was substantially less than he had been seeking
Sometimes independent labor activists are victims of retaliatory violence by government agents On
April 29 1991 Braulio Aguilar Reyes 23 was abducted and beaten in Mexico City by Federal District
Judicial Police presumably as a reprisal for his and his brother s advocacy of labor rights Aguilar Reyes s
brother Gustavo is a leader in the movement of fired workers of Pemex s refinery in Mexico City which
was shut down on March 18 1991 ostensibly to reduce air pollution Hundreds of workers lost their jobs
and demanded severance pay Aguilar Reyes was detained incommunicado for 40 hours during which time
he was physically and11mentally tortured by several police officers and questioned about his and his brother s
labor rights activities
Two Federal District Judicial Police officers identified by Aguilar Reyes H ctor Palestino Romero and
Gregorio P rez Ruiz were detained for their suspected participation in Aguilar Reyes abduction and
beating They have been charged with abuse of authority and causing injury but not with torture
Even PRI supporters can be the subject of labor intimidation A classic example is the saga of Aquiles
Maga a a PRI supporter and leader of the state employees union in Tabasco In May 1989 following two
union elections that were rejected by the majority of union members who alleged fraud when candidates
favored by then governor Salvador Neme Castillo were declared winners an agreement was reached under
which the government assured clean elections and promised
to uphold the results The government kept its
promise and Maga a s slate won against five others
Once Maga a was installed he lobbied state officials for pay increases the government had withheld
The government responded by orchestrating a slander campaign against him On October 30 1989 it
leaked a story to Tabasco Hoy that Maga a had embezzled workers funds to buy land That same day
police began daily surveillance of Maga a s home and broke up a union demonstration by beating workers
with billy clubs and dispersing them with fire hoses Under the pretext of fraud the state government
deposed Maga a and replaced him with a more cooperative leader But union members continued to back
Maga a The government continued to withhold back pay from workers and fired the remaining leaders of
Maga a s slate
On April 20 1990 garbage workers began a work stoppage and marched to the statehouse Police
Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights Urgent Appeal April 30 1991
Judith Calder n G mez Identifica ex oberero de Pemex a judiciales que lo agredieron La Jornada May 6
Comit de Derechos Humanos de Tabasco letter to Dr Jorge Carpizo McGregor July 17 1990
News From Americas Watch page 10 October 1993 Vol V No 10
attacked marchers with billy clubs and tear gas and police chief Humberto Barrera Ponce hit Maga a
twice Maga a was jailed on trumped up charges of stealing water from the public water system State
Attorney General Armando Melo offered to release him if he would resign as union leader but Maga a
refused On April 21 he was sent to the penitentiary without having been arraigned In early June the
Attorney General and the police chief threatened Maga a that he would rot in jail unless he accepted their
offer of 500 million pesos and plane tickets to leave the state Instead Maga a staged a 31 day hunger
strike He was finally released after the Tenth Circuit Tribunal Colegiado found him innocent of stealing
water The CNDH declared itself incompetent to act in Maga a s case because the matter was before a
Labor rights lawyers also risk intimidation physical attacks and detention Julio Macossay a lawyer in
Yucat n was detained for two months and later attacked for assisting workers to organize an independent
union at the Fern ndez poultry farms He was imprisoned from April 2 to May 30 1990 when he was
released together with four independent union activists from Fern ndez farms Their release came four days
after Macossay and two other representatives of the workers along with representatives of the poultry farm
and government officials signed an agreement under which charges against the five were dropped the
independent union was disbanded Macossay ceased to act as legal counsel to the Fern ndez farm workers
and all independent union members were fired
But that was not the end of Macossay s troubles On August 8 1990 Macossay was attacked by two
unknown men one of whom threatened him saying Macossay Macossay leave Yucat n or we are going
to kill you His assailants then beat him with a lead pipe causing Macossay to fall to the ground and nearly
lose consciousness No one has been arrested for this assault
Even international labor delegations are not immune from intimidating conduct by government
officials On September 21 1993 four Canadian trade unionists were detained in a parking lot and harassed
by Mexican immigration authorities for more than three hours when they attempted to visit a maquiladora
plant near Tijuana When questioned the authorities said the unionists were detained because it was illegal
to discuss internal working conditions with Mexican workers When challenged the authorities admitted
that their visit was not actually illegal but was irregular The group was told to confine itself to more
traditional tourist activities or leave the country
Peaceful labor protests are frequently dispersed with excessive use of force In past reports Americas
Watch has documented violence to suppress worker protests and disperse strikers at the Ford Motor
Company in Cuautitl n the Modelo Brewery in Mexico City and the Volkswagen plant in Puebla that led
to serious injuries In the Ford incident one worker Cleto Nigno Urbina died from gunshot wounds after
the plant14was stormed by at least 100 armed men with clubs and firearms and workers inside were
attacked Violent suppression of labor protests is of concern not only because of the abusive tactics used
but because such acts of violence infringe upon freedom of expression and association in the labor
La CNDH se declara incompetente sobre el caso Aquiles Maga a La Jornada Aug 1 1990
On February 19 1992 the CNDH issued a recommendation calling for the immediate execution of an arrest
warrant for H ctor Uriarte the presumed intellectual author of Nigno Urbina s killing No action was taken Labor
advocates of the Centro Mexicano para los Derechos Humanos de los Trabajadores A C presented information
to the CNDH that Uriarte was living and working normally in Hermosillo Sonora and that state judicial police were
aware of his presence there One year later on October 6 1993 Uriarte was seen walking the halls of the
Mexican Labor Confederation headquarters in Mexico City Andrea Becerril Reaparece en la CTM el ex l der del
sindicato de la Ford H ctor Uriarte La Jornada October 7 1993
News From Americas Watch page 11 October 1993 Vol V No 10
Campesino and Indigenous Rights Activists
Rural violence is a chronic problem in Mexico It grows out of longstanding disputes over land and the
frustrations of campesinos and members of indigenous communities over the inadequacies of Mexico s
land reform program Rural violence is a product of the Mexican power structure that has tamed rural areas
and roped in PRI supporters by protecting rural bosses
and large landowners known as caciques who wield
economic and political power at the local level Rural violence occurs most often in Mexico s poorest and
most remote areas where the struggle for land is perceived as a fight for survival In many of these areas
lawlessness prevails caciques acting through their pistoleros or hired guns invade land at will and
violently evict campesinos The pistoleros are often denounced following violent incidents but are rarely
brought to justice because of their links to the rural elite
Indigenous people who are among Mexico s poorest are particularly vulnerable to violence and
caciquismo They tend to live in remote areas characterized
by malnutrition and lack of public services
such as potable water sewers and health clinics Linguistic educational and cultural barriers can make
them poor advocates on their own behalf Indian lands typically held either in the form of ejidos or as
communal property are vulnerable to land grabs by caciques who obtain protection from powerful political
figures or agrarian officials Invasions and other coercive claims on Indian lands are likely to be successful
because Indian land holdings frequently lack adequate documentation owing to delays in issuing
presidential orders ceding land title or improper surveying of the original land concession Land claim
battles can be prolonged by courts and agrarian tribunals for periods of 10 to 20 years giving rise to a
hostile climate and repeated clashes
In Jamiltepec Oaxaca members of an indigenous community 18from the Jos Mar a Morelos ejido
placed their demand to recover a 200 hectare plot before the CNDH They alleged that Octavio Barrena
Sorroza a local cacique occupied the El Potrero plot located within the ejido lands and secured rights to
work the plot following maneuvers by agrarian and state government officials to overthrow the ejido
leadership that resisted Barrena s presence These events generated a climate of violence that led to the
killing of nine campesinos only one of which has been solved The CNDH found that Barrena did not
belong to the ejido and that state agrarian authorities had delayed their survey of the plot for ten months
blocking resolution of the conflict
Activists who defend the land claims and human rights of campesinos and indigenous people risk
intimidation or violence from both government officials and caciques In 1990 Chiapas Governor
Patrocinio Gonz lez Garrido who on January 4 1993 was named to the senior federal post of Minister of
Government personally warned Dr Ricardo Paniagua Guzm n the state director of the federal
Pablo Gonz lez Casanova Democracy in Mexico p 32 36
Armando Sep lveda Despojo de Millones de Hect reas a Ind genas Warman Excelsior January 22
1989 Rosa Rojas Precisan los ind genas atenci n prioritaria del Estado Sep lveda La Jornada November
Under Mexico s ejido system which was adapted from the Indian tradition of communal farming the state
grants to peasants usufruct rights to land but retains ownership The system was radically overhauled in
November 1991
CNDH Recommendation 84 91 Gaceta October 1991
News From Americas Watch page 12 October 1993 Vol V No 10
government s National Indigenous Institute INI not to work with indigenous economic organizations At
the time INI personnel were channeling federal economic assistance to indigenous groups and providing
them with technical assistance On August 2 1992 state government officials told Paniagua that the INI
coordinator in the Margaritas region must leave the state or be arrested In December 1991 armed agents
of the Chiapas State Judicial Police arrested Sergio Ramos INI coordinator in the Copainala region along
with three other people On February 29 1992 Paniagua was arrested without a warrant He was held
incommunicado without charges and interrogated for nine hours Six other INI employees in Chiapas were
arrested without warrants that same day They subsequently were charged with fraud relating to a cattle
raising project Eventually they were released though their cases are still pending
Catholic clergymen and bishops who work with indigenous people also come under attack Bishop
Samuel Ruiz of San Crist bal de las Casas who has been an active and often outspoken defender of
indigenous peoples and Guatemalan refugees has 20
often received death threats and has been denounced
publicly by ranchers and landowners in the state
On September 18 1991 Father Joel Padr n Gonz lez parish priest of Simojovel Chiapas was
arrested without a warrant and charged with conspiracy plundering and illegal possession of firearms
Padr n who has worked for years in support of the indigenous people of Chiapas was accused of leading a
group of 40 peasants armed with high caliber rifles and home made bombs in a land invasion These
accusations were made one day after indigenous squatters who for two years had petitioned for land rights
began building an office on the land in question
Padr n was held for 49 days in a maximum security cell in the state prison in Tuxtla Guti rrez During
his detention then governor Gonz lez Garrido offered to negotiate his release in exchange for concessions
from the Catholic Church Padr n says the governor demanded that the Church condemn land occupations
by peasants declare there21 are no violations of human rights in the state of Chiapas and that Padr n leave
the state upon his release Bishop Ruiz demanded the unconditional release of Padr n 22
who ultimately was
freed under an amparo granted because of procedural errors at the time of his arrest
Activists independent of religious groups also are the victims of attack On October 15 1992 Jos Luis
Rodr guez Mor n s body was found on a median strip near his home in Mexico City with stab wounds in
the aorta and stomach Rodr guez Mor n was an advisor to the San Juan Copala Handicrafts Cooperative
which is part of the Triqui Indian group known as MULT MULT members have been attacked repeatedly in
Oaxaca their home state because their cooperative impinges on the economic interests of local caciques
In the six months before his death Rodr guez Mor n had received anonymous telephone calls saying if
you don t pull out it s going to hurt you an apparent reference to his work with MULT Police arrested two
personal acquaintances of the deceased Family members of the victim and the arrested persons were united
in condemning the police investigation and told Americas Watch that they believed the arrests were made
to cover up a political crime
Minnesota Advocates Conquest Continued Disregard for Human and Indigenous Rights in the Mexican
States of Chiapas October 1992 p 17 23
Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Bartolom de Las Casas Horizontes No 7 September 1992 p 10
Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights Conquest Continued Disregard for Human and Indigenous Rights
in the Mexican State of Chiapas October 1992 pp 24 27
News From Americas Watch page 13 October 1993 Vol V No 10
In February 1990 the marketing secretary of the Uni n Nacional de Organizaciones Regionales
Campesinas Aut nomas UNORCA Jos Antonio Sim n Zamora was killed at his home in Patzcuaro
Michoac n Five months later the federal Attorney General s office revealed23 that a former municipal
policeman Faustino Bernal Bello is one of the three men accused of the killing
Lawyers have also been victims Carlos Enrique L pez Barrios a lawyer defending Tzotzil Indians in
Chiapas state was beaten all over his body on April 27 1993 by three unidentified men who seized the
lawyer s appointment book and identification cards The beating occurred while the defense group
Abogados y Asesores Asociados of which L pez Barrios is a member defended Tzotzil Indians from San
Isidro el Ocotal community who were accused of the recent killing of two soldiers
Jos Luis Mendoza Rodr guez a lawyer for a human rights center in northern Veracruz had an arrest
warrant issued against him in September 1992 that alleged that he had led a land invasion and committed
fraud In fact the region has a longstanding history of land thefts by local caciques and the center advises
campesino and indigenous groups that are pursuing title to land through legal channels Although Mendoza
obtained a restraining order to avoid detention eight months later the arrest warrant was still extant and
served as a menacing reminder to Mendoza to watch his step
Intimidation of Environmentalists
Independent environmentalists are exposed to the same types of intimidation as other social activists In
1992 Human Rights Watch and the Natural Resources Defense Council jointly published a report that
highlighted some of the ways that the Mexican government attempts to control the environmental debate by
coopting environmental activists who in return for financial remuneration or better press access present
government approved rhetoric at international forums and so called public hearings in Mexico We
further found
Even independent environmental advocates are not immune to pressure from the government Deals are
often cut and silence on one issue is traded for government action on another The telefonazo
literally a blow with a telephone a strategic telephone call from high levels of government often
the President himself is legend in Mexico Reports of press releases withdrawn or changed laudatory
speeches made and complimentary opinion pieces appearing in the press after a telefonazo are
rampant in Mexico City environmental circles The subtle control over environmental debate allows the
government to direct25 public attention to areas where it is prepared to act and prevent discussion of
embarrassing issues
Homero Aridjis an award winning poet and novelist and founder of the Group of 100 one of Mexico s
most powerful environmental groups believes that because of his activism his phone is tapped and he has
been excluded from consideration for government sponsored literary prizes He also reports having
received death threats after he spoke out against the slaughter of dolphins and tropical deforestation
Detenido presunto homicida de Sim n Zamora PGR La Jornada July 2 1990
Elio Henr quez Golpean a uno de los abogados que defiende a ind genas tzotziles La Jornada April 29
Human Rights Watch and Natural Resources Defense Council Defending the Earth Abuses of Human
Rights and the Environment 1992 p 72
News From Americas Watch page 14 October 1993 Vol V No 10
Like critics of other government policies environmentalists who do not yield to subtle pressure often
find themselves at risk for violence While the government is not always directly responsible for these
assaults a chronic problem is the failure of state and federal officials thoroughly to investigate these crimes
and prosecute and punish those responsible This is especially true in cases in which the forces involved in
environmental destruction have close ties to government officials
Fidencio L pez mayor of the small Oaxaca highland town of San Mateo R o Hondo spoke out against
powerful landowners and logging interests that were destroying forests surrounding his village In early
1992 L pez was shot to death and the police inspector that accompanied him was seriously wounded
L pez murder has been linked to powerful logging interests whose illegal operations he exposed The
L pez family reported that federal agents and police have done little to investigate the shooting and led his
widow to believe that she would have to pay for further investigation
In October 1992 a campesino leader and president of the El Tianguis ejido board in Guerrero Juli n
Vergara Nava was shot and killed by an unknown individual Vergara Nava was an environmental activist
who opposed excessive lumbering activities at the nearby Piedra Im n ejido Four days before his death
Vergara had seized four trucks carrying lumber illegally cut at Piedra Im n
Intimidation of Journalists
Throughout the more than six decades of PRI rule successive Mexican administrations have adopted
the attitude that an uninformed or misinformed public was crucial to preserving power The principal
victim of that policy has been the news media Over the years a wide variety of pressure tactics have been
used to ensure that the media reports news in the light most favorable to the government or alternatively
remains silent These tactics range from lucrative incentives to financial cajoling to intimidation death
threats and more serious violence
The most vulnerable to these types of pressure are print reporters who though they reach a small
audience are considered to have a disproportionate influence on public opinion reporters based in the
provinces far from the protective shield provided by contacts with national and foreign reporters and
reporters exposing official corruption C particularly drug trafficking arms trafficking insider information
illegal land purchases business privileges and shady deals of all sorts
One traditional tactic that has been used by the government is to pay off reporters for favorable
coverage The pay off has been an important source of income since reporters salaries were deliberately
kept low by editors who assumed the bribe system would complement their fixed remuneration
Reporters also supplement their pay through commissions they earn soliciting government advertising
Journalists covering lucrative beats such as the oil company or rising politicians may receive other perks
such as new model cars or foreign vacations Others are given government contracts for special writing
projects press officer appointments or journalism cash prizes
Gregory Katz Bitter struggle over forest land tests power of the law in Mexico Dallas Morning News
February 2 1992
Juan Jos Guadarrama Asesinan a dirigente ejidal de Guerrero se opon a a la tala La Jornada October
News From Americas Watch page 15 October 1993 Vol V No 10


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