Mexico News and Analysis: September 21-27, 2009

1. organizations denounce tense situation in Chiapas
2. Special Investigator exonerates federal police in Atenco
3. Chavez confirmed as new Federal Attorney General
4. Violent evictions in Veracruz and Tampico
5. One death each day crossing the border


1. organizations denounce tense situation in Chiapas
Following the paramilitary attack on a human rights lawyer in Jotola last week that left one indigenous youth with a gunshot wound, human rights organizations denounced coordination between Chiapas state authorities, local police and paramilitary groups, particularly OPDDIC, creating an unstable and dangerous situation in many indigenous communities.  The Fray Bartolome Human Rights Center warned of “continuing armed threats by members of OPDDIC against communal landowners and members of the Other Campaign in Jotola under the cover of the State Preventative Police” and “grave risk for the security and physical integrity of local authorities in San Sebastian Bachajon (a community close to Jotola), the result of actions taken by the State and Federal Governments.”

On Friday, a week after the armed paramilitary attack, Governor Juan Sabines finally called for an investigation of the events in Jotola, though inexplicably he named the Special Investigator for Defense of Human Rights Organizations in Chiapas as investigating agency.  It’s unclear how much leeway or political clout the Special Investigator will have in the midst of such a highly charged climate.  Meanwhile, OPDDIC members began publishing a contradictory account of events in Jotola, accusing the Fray Bartolome attorney and unarmed communal landowners of initiating an attack against OPDDIC.  They left unexplained how an unarmed attorney traveling alone could mount an attack on 60 heavily armed members of OPDDIC.  Unless the state ends its close collaboration between police and paramilitaries, the situation in Jotola and neighboring communities threatens to spin out of control.


2. Special Investigator exonerates federal police in Atenco
On Tuesday, the Special Investigator for Violent Crimes against Women found that federal police were not involved in sexual abuse of women arrested on May 3 and 4, 2006, during the San Salvador Atenco police riots.  The case was transferred to the Mexico State Attorney General, a close confidant of Governor Enrique Pena Nieto, for further investigation.  The Special Investigator named 34 state police responsible for gross human rights violations against women, while exonerating all federal police, despite the fact that several victims identified the perpetrators by their federal blue-grey uniforms.  More than 40 women were arrested in 2006 during a police riot in San Salvador Atenco, and at least 30 were victims of sexual abuse while in custody on police buses.  Pena Nieto is a likely presidential candidate in 2012 and his administration is unlikely to carry out a thorough investigation of the incidents, considered among the most egregious human rights violations committed by police in recent years.  To date, no police officer has served time in prison for the mass sexual assaults.


3. Chavez confirmed as new Federal Attorney General
A PRI-PAN alliance in the Senate confirmed Arturo Chavez Chavez as the Calderon administration’s new attorney general (PGR), despite a massive popular outcry.  PRI Senators claimed that Calderon might nominate an even worse candidate and approved Chavez unanimously, despite many concerns about his ability to assume the high visibility federal post.  The PGR is one of the central federal institutions in charge of Calderon’s war on drugs.  The PRI is hoping to regain the presidency in 2012 and may have approved Chavez knowing he would be unfit for the position.  Chavez is infamous for doing virtually nothing to investigate a rash of femicides in Chihuahua while he served as State Attorney General from 1996-1998.  A United Nations official involved in the femicide investigations from 1993 to 2003 noted that “after 2001 we observed a clear improvement in the investigations and the prosecution of these cases.  Before 2001, it was really a disaster.”


4. Violent evictions in Veracruz and Tampico
Two violent land evictions this week by state police in Veracruz and Tampico left more than 1,300 families homeless in the midst of an increasingly dangerous rainy season.  In Veracruz, hundreds of state police removed 1,200 families from 150 acres of previously unused land owned by the State Pension Institute.  The eviction began at 4:45 am on Friday.  At least four evictees, including several women and children, were hospitalized after police beat them with nightsticks.  The families moved their protest to Jalapa, capitol of Veracruz, and blocked a major thoroughfare in the center of the city in front of Governor Fidel Herrera’s office, demanding negotiations with the Governor.

Earlier in the week, state officials in Tampico, a major port on the Gulf of Mexico about 150 miles south of Texas, evicted families from the Mano con Mano settlement.  At least 25 evictees face criminal charges for alleged destruction of property and resisting arrest.  Leaders of the settlers group accused the police of excessive violence during the eviction.  The state plans to construct a recreation center on the evicted lands.

Land evictions are increasingly common throughout Mexico.  There are several “foco rojo” (red alert) areas in Chiapas where local paramilitaries in coordination with state authorities are trying to evict campesinos affiliated with the Zapatista movement or the Other Campaign.  In the context of an increasingly severe economic collapse with little hope of quick recovery, popular organizations are increasingly militant in their defense of liberated lands.  Look for many more confrontations over land throughout the country in the coming year.


5. One death each day crossing the border
At least one Mexican dies every day trying to cross the US-Mexico border, according to a recent study by the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), a government agency.  Since Operation Guardian, initiated by the US Border Patrol in 1994, at least 5,607 Mexicans have died at the border.  The number is almost certainly larger, and does not include Central and South Americans.  The CNDH used figures from the Border Patrol, which reported 390 deaths in 2008, compared to 725 reported by the Foreign Secretary.  Due to increased security measures on the US side, it’s 17 times more dangerous to cross the border today than it was in 1998, according to the report.  The most treacherous regions are Tucson, followed by McAllen, Laredo, San Diego, Del Rio, Centro, El Paso, Yuma and Marfa.