November 29, 2006
Of the 159 Mexican citizens rounded up last weekend in the southern state of Oaxaca, accused of various charges related to anti-government protests, 141 have been moved, by helicopter, a twenty-hour drive from their families and homes, to the penitentiary in San José del Rincón, Nayarit. Although this first wave of detentions was random – anyone unlucky enough to be on public streets and sidewalks where the riot cops stormed – the government classified these prisoners as “dangerous,” justifying their transfer to a prison far away. Not one of those arrested last weekend has seen nor spoken with a lawyer, a human rights worker, a family member or an independent doctor. When, on Monday, reporters and Nayarit state legislators drove toward the prison to investigate, agents of the Federal Preventive Police (PFP, in its Spanish initials) intercepted them, threatened them with arrest, and stole the film from the camera of a photojournalist that had documented their presence.
In Oaxaca, federal police, coordinating their operation with the paramilitary squads and pirate radio station of disgraced governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, continue to conduct house-to-house raids searching for the alleged “leaders” of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO, in its Spanish initials). Attorneys, doctors, clergy, journalists, family and human rights officials have likewise been blocked from speaking with the imprisoned or observing their condition in the wake of what eyewitnesses tell Narco News were the violent beatings police inflicted on many during their arrest.
The events in recent days in Oaxaca mark the largest mass arrest in Mexico since May 3 and 4, when 217 citizens were detained in Atenco and nearby Texcoco, outside of Mexico City. Within days of the Atenco police raid, the first witnesses to the beatings, rapes and tortures of the detained appeared: five foreigners – journalists and human rights observers – that had been swept up by police as they documented the events in Atenco, who were kept incommunicado for various days then deported back to Barcelona, Berlin and Santiago de Chile. From them the world learned of the gang rapes and other savagery inflicted on bound and blindfolded women and men as they were taken to prison. Federal police bosses have openly scoffed at the stern recommendations by the National Human Rights Commission, a government agency, that the police brutality be investigated and punished. In that context, the secretive stance of the State regarding the Oaxaca prisoners is worrisome.
The government of lame duck president Vicente Fox did not learn, from the atrocities of Atenco, to correct its own illegal and authoritarian abuses. It is evident that it considers its only mistakes of last May to have been the failure to hide its own crimes from public view. And so, last Saturday, when it went on the attack in downtown Oaxaca, it was careful to avoid scooping up any of the foreign journalists or human rights observers who might blow the whistle upon their subsequent deportation as witnesses of what occurred to the Mexicans arrested. (International observers, however, would be mistaken to presume that the jackboots won’t be coming for them next; there are already reports in the national media that a separate operation is planned to rid the crime scene of global eyes and ears.) By immediately moving the bulk of the detainees far from Oaxaca or any other media center, the Fox government reveals its intent to hide from public view what it has done to the arrested. The last and final legacy of Vicente Fox, a man who often claimed he had “democratized” Mexico, turns out to be a domestic Guantanamo-on-the-Pacific, where none will be able to hear the cries of the tortured.
It is in this context that the coup d’etat will be completed on Friday, installing Fox’s successor, Felipe Calderón, upon the throne of the Mexican democracy that never was.
Demonstrators and federal police clash in Oaxaca, Mexico November 25, 2006. Protesters shot fireworks at riot police and burned down government buildings in Mexico's colonial city of Oaxaca on Saturday, days before President-elect Felipe Calderon was to take office. REUTERS/Daniel Aguilar (MEXICO)