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Atenco Prisoners Launch Hunger Strike

by jen lawhorne centro de medios libres Sunday, May. 07, 2006 at 7:09 AM

217 prisoners began a hunger strike in central Mexico Friday protesting the conditions of their arrests and their treatment at the hands of local police. Reports have been filtering out from jail of rape, physical and mental abuse experienced by people who were arrested for their involvement in the defenses of Texcoco and Atenco. Meanwhile, five foreigners are facing deportation, about sixty people are missing, independent media makers have been targeted for arrest and one 14 year-old boy is dead.

As the situation in Mexico reaches a boiling point, the Zapatista Other Campaign faces its most critical moment. Goverment officials and its mainstream media mouthpieces are justifying police brutality and delegitimizing the peoples’ right to defend their land in Mexico, a central theme of the Zapatista struggle. The Other Campaign arrived in Atenco Friday afternoon with a 6,000 person march headed by Subcommandante Marcos while protests exploded throughout the country and the world in solidarity with the embattled people of Atenco and Texcoco.

People from these two pueblos in Mexico state have reaffirmed their right to protect their land and livelihoods. The minimum conditions the the People’s Front in Defense of the Land (FDPT) have demanded involve immediate release of all people detained and absolute police retreat from their towns. The FDPT’s leadership has been jailed along with hundreds of others as a result of two pitched battles with local and state police.

Early Wednesday morning, 40 flower vendors and a handful of supporters in Texcoco attempted to reclaim their space in a local market. Once they were attacked by police, the flower venders and their supporters, people from the FDPT in nearby Atenco, barricaded themselves in a house. Ringing church bells in Atenco announced what was occuring in Texcoco. In turn, townspeople in Atenco blockaded a state highway, halting traffic for several hours.

Hundreds of riot police arrived; a battle ensued. The 14-year old boy was killed and many were gravely injured. Police were hurt too and a cop car was set aflame. As news of spilled out across mainstream and alternative media channels, the Other Campaign took up the cause of Atenco and Texcoco, issuing a red alert and suspending activities.

A couple hundred people arrived in caravan in Atenco Wednesday night offering backup. Phalanxes of hundres of police invaded the town’s center in the predawn hours of Thursday, launching tear gas, beating and arresting any people found in the street. Police then conducted house to house searches looking for people involved in the uprising.

The 217 arrested individuals resulted from the these two days and are being held at Almoloyita jail in Mexico state. A few independent journalists from community radio projects are in jail. Of the five foreigners facing deportation, two from Chile, two from Spain and one German, three are independent journalists.

Testimonies of rape and abuse experienced by the prisoners highlight the mounting danger of the situation. Another life has been lost to the long-going struggle of original people’s displacement from land.

The official government spin has been to justify police actions to quell a bunch of troublemakers. The government mounted a media offensive lumping together the peaceful initiative of the Other Campaign with the response of the people of Atenco as violent reactions by unruly people. While been spinning the story of police being held captive by townspeople to the mainstream media, the state government of Mexico has announced a public forum to decide the fate of Atenco, with distorted mainstream media information as the main source of information.

During the peaceful march on Friday, Marcos announced that he would stay in Mexico City until the situation in Atenco is resolved to the people’s demands. Protests tangled up traffic in Mexico City Thursday afternoon, people blocked the main highway from Tuxtla to San Cristobal in Chiapas state. Protests are planned in other major Mexican cities like Guadalajara and San Luis Potosi. Five cities in the U.S. hosted demonstrations, including New York, Houston and Boston. Across the sea in Italy, Spain and Israel, people are mobilizing in solidarity.

The confluence of this week’s events concludes with a National Indigenous Congress taking place in Mexico state this weekend where 800 delegates representing distinct peoples have arrived. Another town assembly is planned for Saturday afternoon.

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