Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Residents of Oaxaca district block roads to demand services

The first I knew of any local action taking place was the sound of traffic on the dirt track near my house which is usually quiet. There was a steady stream of traffic on this track which due to its poor condition isn´t used much by local traffic. Closer inspection revealed that this traffic was using the track as the parallel main road had been blockaded by residents of the district demanding services for the taxes they pay. Their banners demanded drinking water, proper drainage, security, street lighting, rubbish collection and pavements. Like many other local residents I have to dispose of my own rubbish, which I compost and burn unlike many who leave it in fields or on the verges of roads, and lack street lighting in my neighbourhood.
It turned out that local residents had blockaded many of the main roads in the area for a six hour period from 9am-3pm yesterday. There have already been many such actions in the state this week, which sees the governor deliver his third annual progress report. The residents are delivering their own verdict in the form of blockades and marches. In one town in the north of the state, Tuxtepec, the local 'Citizens Defence Committee' occupied the town library and tried to take over the municiple offices before being beaten and arrested by the local cops.
Here is a translation of an article from the local left-leaning paper 'Noticias' which is the most popular local daily. My local paper stand sells around 300 daily compared to 70 of the rival right-wing rag 'El Imparcial'.

November one year on - testimonies of repression, by Victor Raul Martinez Vasquez

The testimonies of the brutality endured by those arrested are heartbreaking and include cases of sexual abuse. Many of those arrested have suffered serious harm, not only physical but also social and psychological.
Eliud Amni Martinez Sanchez, for example, turned up at the prison in Tlacolula with a fractured skull, dislodged eye, fractured nasal passage, dislocated right shoulder, fractured left knee, three broken fingers and multiple injuries to the back and face. Eliud was beaten for 45 minutes, on each question being hit : 'what is your political affiliation?', 'what barricade were you on?', 'who is your boss?'.
The architect Porfirio Dominguez Munozcano was arrested and beaten on 25th November on leaving a stationers near his home in the Old Town. He was imprisoned and almost lost his sight:
'The first blow I received to the head left me unconscious. I woke up 2 hours later with a bandaged head and my face and body soaked in blood with bruises everywhere. I was in the Oaxaca Zocalo with my hands tied along with another 50-60 people. I had somehow been bandaged, all us who had been arrested walked past the soldiers, who beat us with their rifle butts. We were then taken off to an unknown destination and tortured psychologically en route.
They told us they were going to drop us off on the side of the road so that some helicopters would pick us up and throw us into the sea. They kept us in a state of terror and continued hitting us. Fortunately we arrived at the womens´ prison in Tlacolula. It was about 2 or 3 in the morning. There they continued beating and threatening us until dawn. Then they said they were going to put us into the helicopters. You can imagine the terror we felt.'
Finally the architect was sent to hospital in Oaxaca where they had to perform surgery on his face to save his sight. Then he was sent back to Tlacolula prison where he wasn´t released until December 15th ´for lack of evidence´.
Edith Coca Soriano, a 30 year old biologist postgrad student, tells how she was arrested in the ´√Čl Pochote´cinema when police dressed in blue beat her in the head, threw her to the ground and started kicking her. She was dragged to a van with other women who had also been beaten in the head.
'Then they put us into other trucks and took us to an unknown destination, but I was told it was the hangars at the airport, where we were again asked for our name and address. Many insults were hurled at us and we were told we would be raped'. She tells that after spending 48 hours without food and only a bit of water in Miahuatlan prison, on the morning of November 21st the PFP (Federal Police) came for them, put them in a helicopter and tortured them psychologically, telling them they were being taken to Veracruz to be thrown into the sea. On 28th, without explanation, she had all her hair cut off: 'it had taken me 12 years to grow it - it was down to my knees and it was all cut off. On 29th we were taken to court and told that we were being kept in the medium security prison of San Jose del Rincon'.
In subsequent testimonies she said that she hadn´t been allowed to talk to her lawyer despite all the tine that had elapsed and that she wasn´t allowed to change her clothes until December 15th when 43 of those arrested were released.
Mercedes Cumplido Pantoja, a 47 year old farmer, stated : 'I was told I was going to be killed brutally, was beaten and sworn at, told that I was a bitch and an idiot and asked 'who paid you to go?' and 'how many thousands of pesos were you paid?'
Ruth Cabrera Vasquez, a 48 year old trader from Chiapas, tells how she was put in a truck with 11 other women and taken to the Llano park where they were thrown to the ground and had their photos taken while 'they continued to insult and mock us. We were taken to the police HQ in Santa Maria Coyotepec and from there to Cereso de Miahuatlan...we were kept standing in a cubicle for many hours in the cold and were terrified.'
Julio Hernandez, in his column, mentions that previously 'in Tlacolula prison, the police, knowing that the women were already suffering with the pain of the beatings, put sticks between their legs, implying they were going to rape them, even with the oldest'.
In the book 'Voices of Courage in Oaxaca' there are more testimonies by women who were the victims of human rights violations last year. In Nayarit various prisoners cite threats of castration. Relatives of the detained created the Commission of Relatives and Friends of the Disappeared, Detained and Political Prisoners of APPO (COFADAPPO) which set up a camp near the prison in Nayarit. To support them with their legal cases, on the initiative of the painter Francisco Toledo, various lawyers offices formed the 'November 25th Committee'.
According to statements by these professionals there is a 'mountain of judicial inconsistencies right from the moment of the arrests. Many of them have been shown to be passers-by on November 25th. Lawyers weren´t granted access to the files until long after the arrrests. There is proof that the persons concerned are innocent of any crime'.
Even the president of the Nayarit State Human Rights Commission stated that it was 'inconsistent that the judge dealing with the cases was 1200 km away from where the detained were being held and that they must be transferred to Oaxaca so they can be guaranteed a fair trial'. The relatives even turned to the UN offices in Mexico. There they applied to the UN High Commisisoner for Human Rights, Louis Arbour, to send envoys to Oaxaca. They testified that during the conflict between APPO and the governor Ulises Ruiz, '500 people had been imprisoned, of which 200 were still being held under various charges. 122 suffered serious injuries, 64 of them from firearms and 52 required urgent hospitalization. Furthermore 15 were killed and hundreds tortured.'

Note - actually at least 26 were killed and some are still disappeared but their families daren´t speak out for fear of reprisals. There is still a lot of fear in Oaxaca.

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