[Ppnews] Oaxacan Political Prisoners Find New Hope in Zapatistas' Other Campaign

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Jun 15 13:12:38 EDT 2009

Oaxacan Political Prisoners Find New Hope in Zapatistas' Other Campaign

Posted by 
Bricker - June 14, 2009 at 5:16 pm

Subcomandante Marcos' 2006 Visit to Imprisoned 
Loxichas Inspired a New Movement; One Prisoner is Already Free

On February 9, 2006, 
Insurgente Marcos entered Oaxaca's Santa María 
Ixcotel jail to visit indigenous political 
prisoners from the state's Loxicha region.  When 
he left the prison, he called upon Other Campaign 
adherents in Oaxaca to launch a national campaign 
to demand freedom for the political prisoners.

That national campaign never happened.

However, a Oaxacan group called the Zapatista 
Collective stepped up.  As adherents to the Other 
Campaign, they took Marcos' words to heart and 
made political prisoner accompaniment a central 
focus of their organization's work.  Soon after 
Marcos' prison visit, the collective approached 
one of the Loxicha political prisoners, a woman 
named Isabel Almaraz, and asked her how they 
could help her fight for her freedom.  They 
worked with her for over two years, with her 
fighting from within the prison walls and the 
Zapatista Collective fighting from outside.  On 
July 17, 2008, Almaraz won her freedom.

Throughout Almaraz's fight for her freedom, other 
Loxicha political prisoners and their families 
watched with interest.  They'd had more than 
enough experience with outsiders wishing to 
"help."  Outsiders tended to begin campaigns 
without properly consulting with the 
prisoners.  Even worse, they would use the 
prisoners for their own political gains, such as 
securing a letter from the infamous Loxicha 
political prisoners to be read aloud at a conference or event.

But the Zapatista Collective was 
different.  Their political prisoner work is 
guided by the principle of, "Don't struggle for 
[political prisoners]; struggle with them."  The 
collective accompanied Almaraz in her fight for 
freedom rather than launching a campaign on her behalf--and it worked.

When Almaraz was released, other Loxicha 
political prisoners invited the Zapatista 
Collective to collaborate with them on their 
fight for freedom.  After years of initial 
struggle following their arrests in 1996, the 
movement had grown quiet.  The Loxichas were 
ready to fight again, but this time it would be 
them leading the struggle for their freedom.

The Loxichas have begun this new phase of 
struggle with a protest caravan from the Loxicha 
region to Mexico City.  Along the way, they march 
though towns in Oaxaca and Puebla.  The caravan, 
comprised of approximately 70 Loxichas, made a 
stop in Ocotlan, Oaxaca, the site of 
ongoing battle between Canadian mining company 
Fortuna Silver Mines and the autonomous town of 
San Jose del Progreso in the Ocotlan 
municipality. The Loxicha caravan arrives in 
Mexico City for a protest in front of the Ministry of the Interior on June 15.

Struggle and Repression

The Loxicha struggle, like most indigenous 
struggles, has been a long and constant one.  Up 
until 1984, the Loxicha region was dominated by 
caciques--outsider mestizo political bosses who 
ruled the majority indigenous region through 
repression and corruption.  The region was (and 
still is) horribly underdeveloped.  The twelve 
Loxicha political prisoners told supporters in an 
open letter written for the caravan, "The Loxicha 
region is one of the poorest regions in the state 
of Oaxaca.  It is in a state of complete 
marginalization and extreme poverty, and [the 
people] have been totally 
abandoned.  Malnutrition and hunger are 
widespread.  Adults and children die of curable 
diseases because of a lack of economic 
resources... This situation forced us as 
residents to organize ourselves in a peaceful and civil manner."

To improve their standard of living, the Loxichas 
ousted the undemocratic and unresponsive 
political bosses.  In 1984, for the first time in 
recent history, the president of the San Augustin 
Loxicha municipality, Alberto Antonio Antonio, 
was a Loxicha, not a cacique.  Residents elected 
him through traditional governance mechanisms 
called usos y costumbres ("uses and customs"), 
not the corrupt government electoral process that 
had been used to impose caciques upon them for 
decades.  For ten years, Loxichas controlled 
their own destiny through usos y costumbres, 
electing authorities who responded to their needs.

Then the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) made 
its first public appearance.  On June 28, 1996, 
during the commemoration of the first anniversary 
of a massacre in Aguas Blancas, Guerrero, where 
the Mexican military murdered 17 peasants, armed 
members of the EPR arrived unexpectedly and 
presented the group's first declaration.  They 
told those gathered at the ceremony, "We have 
sprung forth from the sorrow of orphans and 
widows, from the absence of loved ones 
disappeared, from the pain of the tortured, from 
the anger of those unjustly incarcerated, from 
those who suffer from political and social 
persecution, from the situation which daily kills 
with repression, misery, hunger and disease, such 
as the abandoned children on the streets."

A month later, the EPR carried out its first 
armed attack in the neighboring state of 
Oaxaca.  On August 29, the EPR took over the town 
of La Crucecita and engaged in a battle with the 
military and federal and local police.  Eleven 
government agents died, as well as one or two 
members of the EPR.  The government claims that 
one of the EPR casualties was Loxicha.  "And that 
was the pretext for all of the repression that 
followed," Erika Sebastian Luis, the daughter of 
Loxicha political prisoner Alvaro Sebastian Ramirez, told Narco News.

On September 25, 1996, then-president Ernesto 
Zedillo sent police and federal soldiers to 
invade San Augustin Loxicha.  They arrested over 
500 residents, including the entire city council, 
without an arrest warrant, claiming that they 
were members of the EPR.  The majority of the 
detainees were released after 72 hours of 
questioning, but 130-155 Loxichas remained 
imprisoned.  Their wives and other family members 
formed a plantón, or protest encampment, outside 
of the governor's office to demand the prisoners' 
release.  After over four years of the women's 
plantón, the government released all but twelve prisoners.

Other Loxicha political prisoners have entered 
and left Oaxacan prisons since the September 25 
repression because the government aggressions 
against San Augustin Loxicha never ended.  1996 
and 1997 were particularly difficult years full 
of human rights abuses, disappearances, and 
politically motivated arrests.  The government 
attacked San Augustin Loxicha with numerous joint 
operations--that is, operations that included the 
military and police from various levels of the 
government, just like today's joint operations in 
the drug war.  Sebastian Luis told Narco News 
that many of these operations were led by members 
of the caciques' private armies, known as "white 
guards."  The white guards told the police and 
soldiers where organizers lived so that they 
could be arrested.  In 1997, Lucio Vasquez, a 
cacique whose family is full of prominent white 
guards, took advantage of the constant government 
raids on San Augustin Loxicha and the detention 
of community leaders and authorities.  He 
declared himself municipal president, and cacique 
rule returned to San Augustin Loxicha.

Stigmatization and Hope

The Loxicha case is filled with irregularities 
and abuses.  Many of the prisoners, including 
Sebastian Luis' father Alvaro, were 
tortured.  Sebastian Luis says the torture 
included the tehuacanazo (squirting mineral water 
mixed with chile up the victim's nose), beatings, 
and sexual abuse.  Through torture, many 
prisoners were forced to sign blank pieces of 
paper (in Sebastian Ramirez's case, over 200 
pages) that were later filled with confessions 
invented by the authorities.  All of the 
remaining twelve Loxicha prisoners are accused of homicide.

Despite the painfully obvious injustices and 
abuses in the Loxicha case, the political 
prisoners have not enjoyed the national or 
international support that other political 
prisoners and indigenous groups do.  The lack of 
solidarity is likely due to the government's 
accusation that the Loxicha prisoners belong to 
the EPR, according to a member of the Zapatista 
Collective.  The EPR has not enjoyed the civil 
society support that the Zapatista Army of 
National Liberation (EZLN) has.  On the contrary, 
it has been thoroughly demonized, thanks in large 
part to former president Zedillo's creation of a 
guerilla, bad guerrilla" paradigm.  Following the 
appearance of the EPR in 1996, Zedillo stated 
that while the EZLN had a social base, did not 
resort to terror, and agreed to dialogue with 
government, the EPR lacked a social base and used 
terrorist means to achieve its goals. Zedillo 
never elaborated on the difference he saw between 
the EZLN's armed uprising, in which it attacked 
military and police targets and threatened to 
overthrow the federal government, and the EPR's 
attacks on military and police targets.  The 
demonization of the EPR has given the government 
a permanent pretext for repression: it can accuse 
any social organization or organizers that oppose 
it of being "EPR terrorists" and unleash unthinkable violence upon them.

Even though the Loxichas deny that they belong to 
the EPR, the damage has been done.  Throughout 
most of their struggle, they've been largely 
abandoned by civil society.  They hope that with 
Subcomandante Marcos' statement that they have a 
place within the Other Campaign, they can 
overcome the stigmatization caused by the 
government's allegations that they belong to the 
EPR.  Marcos has gone so far as to say that when 
Oaxacan organizations do present a proposal for a 
national campaign for the Loxicha prisoners' 
freedom, the Zapatistas will promote the 
campaign.  This is exactly what the Loxichas 
want.  They hope to receive support and 
solidarity at a level that they've never before 
enjoyed, relying upon the international network 
of indigenous rights supporters created by the Other Campaign.

The Loxicha caravan, a first step towards a 
national campaign, comes at a critical time for 
the Loxicha prisoners.  Four of them are 
scheduled to complete their 13-year sentences 
within the coming months.  The other eight have 
been sentenced to 32 years.  Sebastian Luis told 
Narco News that if the four prisoners are left to 
serve their full sentences, it will be much more 
difficult to argue that the other eight shouldn't 
serve their full 32-year sentences.

Despite the odds against them, the Loxichas are 
hopeful.  By choosing to lead the campaign 
themselves rather than allowing non-prisoners to 
direct a campaign on their behalf, the prisoners 
have chosen a tried-and-true political prisoner 
solidarity model.  Over a year ago, the Chiapas 
state government 
over forty political prisoners, including many 
Zapatistas, after the prisoners kicked off a 
campaign for their freedom with an indefinite 
hunger strike.  The Chiapan prisoners led the 
campaign throughout the hunger strike, using 
phone cards to call members of civil society and 
instructing them on how to plan marches and what 
to paint on banners that called for their release.

So far, the Loxicha caravan has been met with 
support from Mexican civil society.  Oaxaca's 
Section 22 teachers union has declared its open 
support for the Loxichas and has joined them in 
the demand for the prisoners' freedom.  Likewise, 
Omar Esparza from the Network of Community and 
Indigenous Radios of the Mexican Southeast 
reports that teachers from Puebla's Section 23 
and Section 51 unions have received the Loxichas 
with open arms in that state.   On June 11--just 
two days before the Loxicha's arrival--Puebla 
governor Mario Marin ordered a brutal police 
operation against Section 23, resulting the 
arrest of 15 teachers and human rights observers.

The Loxichas say that the caravan is only a first 
step in their renewed campaign for freedom for 
their political prisoners.  They are expected to 
announce more actions in the coming days.

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