On November 25th, after the seventh mega march organized by APPO (Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca) there were over 140 people arrested from throughout Oaxaca. They were first detained in Oaxaca City and then transported to a federal prison thirty hours away by bus in Nayarit.
On December 18th Emily and I read in La Jornada (the leftist newspaper in Mexico) that 43 of the prisoners had been released from a federal prison in Nayarit. One of them is from the community of San Juan Diego in La Mixteca. CACTUS--Center for Communal Support--is coordinating the fight for the release of the remaining 23 prisoners from La Mixteca, and all political prisoners connected to the struggle to oust Governor Ulises Ruiz.
When and if the prisoners are released they will still have to appear in court to determine their innocence. Given the political climate in Mexico and the recent inauguration of President Calderon, our friends here at CACTUS tell us the fight to free the political prisoners will be long and arduos.
Yesterday we went to visit San Juan Diego, a small community outside of Huajuapan de Leon. From this community alone there are still nine people imprisoned in Nayarit.
San Juan Diego is a squatter community founded by FNIC--National Federation of Indigenous Peoples and Campesinos--five years ago. There are no more than 100 families living there. Many of the residents migrated from indigenous communities high in the mountains of the La Mixteca Alta to find work as campesinos or tradesmen closer to the Huajuapan de Leon.
Pablo Ortiz moved his family to San Juan Batista two years ago so his oldest children would have the opportunity to attend high school. He works as a campesino. On the morning of Saturday November 25th he left for work at dawn. When he came back that evening his wife and kids were no where to be found.
Pablo would come to find out that his wife and kids had been detained in Oaxaca after the march. Bernadita, Alejandro, Beatriz Belen and Rosalva were headed towards the bus terminal in Oaxaca City to catch a bus to Huajuapan de Leon when the federal police detained and beat them.
Pablo returned home at 9pm that Saturday, but he couldn't find his wife or kids. He asked his neighbors if they had seen his family. A neighbor told him that they had gone to the march and supposedly they'd been grabbed by the police.
Pablo explained his wife Bernadita and three of his kids decided to attend the mega march in Oaxaca City to speak out against the impoverished conditions they live in, and to support the continuation of APPO.
Almost a week later his two oldest daughters were released and returned home, but Bernadita and the oldest son, Alejandro, were transferred to a federal prison in Nayarit. Pablo hasn't been able to communicate with his wife or son since they were detained. The information he has about what happened to his son and wife is from what two of his daughters, Beatriz Belen and Rosalua, observed before they were separated from their mom. The two girls told CACTUS that while in detention the police removed their shoes and made them stand on a wet floor with live electric cables in order to deliver them electric shocks.
Beatriz Belen was really shy about sharing her experiences with us, but she did explain that the last month with 10 community members in jail has hit their small community hard. Normally on December 9th they celebrate San Juan Diego Day for which their town is named. This year nobody wanted to celebrate.
Pablo hasn't been able to work in weeks because he has to stay home to take care of his eight kids. Despite the fact that he receives some money to buy tortillas from folks involved in APPO, Pablo is struggling to feed his children and find the money to continue to send them to school.
Most of the prisoners are being charged with crimes like property destruction and rioting. It's hard to imagine Pablo's wife Bernadita and his three kids beating up cops or lighting buildings on fire.
Emily and I are doing are best to understand how we can support these communities and their political prisoners. Handing them a check to help them buy food for a week is one option. We know this going to be a long fight and we are investigating where and what kind of pressure needs to be applied to ensure that Bernadita and her comrades are not forever separated from their families for crimes they did not committ.
To read more about the released prisoners check out this article from La Jornada. (It's in Spanish)