Human rights violations in Mexico are a cause for worry.

by Robert Joe Stout


“They grabbed me, they hit me, they yanked me by the hair and threw me in the back of a pickup. They sprayed me with tear gas and held a knife to my back. They said they were going to rape me and throw me in the ocean. They said other police were raping my novia right then.”

That young José de Jesús Villaseca had a valid press pass didn’t matter to the Oaxaca state police last January 13. Nor did it matter to the force of more than 100 armed troopers that the only crime committed by Villaseca and dozens of others was to gather outside the state prison in Miahuatlán to urge the release of political prisoners held there. The repressive regime of Oaxaca governor Ulisés Ruiz needs no justifications for brutal raids and indiscriminate arrests. Over 400 citizens have been imprisoned, many on charges that the justice committee of the state legislature since has confirmed were fallacious. Death squadrons have assassinated at least 20 and an estimated 100 other Oaxacans have been “made to disappear.”

 Among those shot and killed was American photographer Brad Will. Political henchmen of Governor Ruiz stormed a citizen barricade blocking a street in a city of Oaxaca suburb last October 27th. Will photographed his assailants a few seconds before shots ripped through his chest but Ruiz’ state prosecutor ordered the shooters released for “lack of evidence.”

For years Oaxaca has been one of Mexico’s most popular tourist destinations. It’s colorful celebrations and colonial architecture drew not only visitors but millions of dollars of visitors’ money. Much of it went into the pockets of governors and their Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) cohorts. PRI governors like Ruiz and his predecessor, José Murat, did as they pleased with state funds and exercised tyrannical control not only of the state police and all state officeholders but of the state’s judges and rubberstamp legislature as well.

Ruiz’ control began to crack in June, 2006. Angered that the state teachers’ union demanded salary increases and more scholarships for junior high and high school students, Ruiz ordered the police to clear the teachers out of a legal sit-in they’d set up in the city of Oaxaca’s historical district. The teachers drove the police back and not only reaffirmed their occupation of the Zocalo but attracted the support of dozens of NGOs, indigena rights organizations, women’s groups and human rights activists.

Police and death squadron attacks increased as Ruiz not only refused to resign but announced, “Only God can replace a governor!” In late October, after Brad Will’s assassination, lame duck President Vicente Fox’s government sent 4,000 heavily armed federal preventive police (PFP) to Oaxaca. They came with tanks and helicopters, water cannons and pepper spray, beat and arrested those who protested and established military camps in the center of the city and in various strategic outlying districts.

President Felipe Calderón has made it clear that he wants no more popular uprisings to mar his plans to push ahead with privatization of social security and government-owned utilities. He and his secretary of the government, Francisco Ramirez, the former governor of Jalisco, are sweeping human rights violations under the carpet. Oaxaca, like the massacre at Atenco, the murders of journalists and civil rights advocates and the rape and murder of a Veracruz woman by soldiers, are “local matters” to be explained away by faked medical reports and phony indictments.

Governor Ruiz insists that “everything is under control” and Oaxaca is a safe place for tourists to visit but the arbitrary arrests, beatings and disappearances continue. Teachers who supported the strike are yanked out of their classrooms, arrest warrants are filed against human rights activists and the squadrons of death roam the streets knowing they can stop, detain, torture and even kill anyone who disagrees with the status quo.

Governments throughout the world should not accept Calderón’s and Ruiz’ falsified explanations for killings, rapes and tortures. They should demand that crimes committed by state police and armed military be brought to justice before any further treaties or accords are signed with Mexico.
Robert Joe Stout has written about Mexico for a variety of publications, including Commonweal, American Educator and Notre Dame Magazine. He was a member of two Rights Action emergency human rights delegations to Oaxaca. His most recent book is The Blood of the Serpent: Mexican Lives.