Mexico has witnessed a recent spike in attacks targeting known human rights activists, many of them associated with the anti drug war movement.
This most recent spate of violence targeting activists started on November 28th when Nepomuceno Moreno was gunned down in his truck at an intersection in Hermosillo, not far from the state government palace. Moreno had spent more than a year searching for a son who was kidnapped – allegedly by state police.
The spokesperson for the Sonora state attorney general’s office suggested the murder may have been linked more to organized than to Moreno’s activism.
Then, on November 30th, Norma Andrade, the co-founder of a recognized anti-femicide organization in Ciudad Juarez was shot five times as she left her home. Investigators described the crime as a car-jacking gone wrong. Andrade, who narrowly survived the attack, said it was attempted murder – noting that her vehicle is 20 years old and that the gunman made no demands before discharging his weapon.
On December 6th, a dozen members of the Movement for Peace and Justice with Dignity traveled to the Ostula, Michoacan in western Mexico to observe a community consultation to petition the government for security forces. The delegation was traveling with Trinidad de la Cruz Crisóstomo; a community elder. “Don Trino” as he was known, was the town’s representative in talks with the government.
(Hernandez speaks, reporter interprets)
Citlali Hernandez, who participated in the observation trip, says once within the territory of Ostula, four armed men in ski masks blocked road. They boarded the delegation’s bus and took it to a foot path. She says Don Trino was identified and everyone was forced off the bus and told to lie face down on the ground.
HERNANDEZ (voiceover): “They took away our cell phones. They spoke repeatedly of massacring all of us. During this, they were beating Don Trino. We could hear his cries. From what we could hear, it sounded like they were stabbing him because of his screams and what they were saying.”
Hernandez says the armed men ordered the group to get back on the bus and go directly to the city of Lazaro Cardenas. Don Trino remained in the custody of the attackers.
The next day, the 73 year-old community leader was found dead – his body bearing signs of torture. Don Trino became the 28th community member killed since indigenous residents of Ostula took several hundred acres of farmland back from powerful local landbosses in mid-2009. Pedro Leyva, also a community leader from Ostula and a member of the Movement for Peace and Justice with Dignity was killed in October.
Attorney David Peña, who acts as legal counsel for the community, says the government is at least partially responsible for the crime for allowing armed groups to operate in the area unchecked, despite local requests for security patrols – specifically from a nearby Marine base.
PEÑA (voiceover): “This serious occurence cannot be viewed as an isolated incident committed by organized criminals operating in the area. It’s not an isolated incident and the state shares responsibility because it knows that these groups are operating and how they’re operating. We’ve told them about it as well as what specific measures to take and they’ve done nothing.”
About 5000 people live in the community of Ostula, WHICH is made up of small enclaves and a core population center. It lies along a highway near the port city of Lazaro Cardenas.
(Judisman speaks, reporter interprets)
Clara Judisman of the Movement for Peace and Justice with Dignity says the area around Lazaro Cardenas is a key route for the drug trade. It’s home to one of Latin America’s major sea ports and control of territory in and around the port is fundamental to organized crime operations.
Judisman says indigenous groups who are defending their territories and rights are being attacked and divided as criminals co-opt some residents to create internal strife. She says the case of Ostula demonstrates the concrete local effects of the global drug market on a community which wants to control its traditional territory.
Hours after Don Trino’s kidnapping, two other members of the Movement for Peace and Justice with Dignity were taken off of a bus in the neighboring state of Guerrero. Marcial Bautista are Eva Alarcón are long time leaders of an environmental movement of small farmers in the state. They were on their way to a meeting in Mexico City when the passenger bus in which they were traveling was boarded by armed men who witnesses say asked for the activists by name.
At the time of this report, their whereabouts remains unknown.
At a press conference held in aftermath of the attack in Ostula and the abductions in Guerrero – and with last week’s murder of Nepomuceno Moreno and the shooting of Norma Andrade still fresh in the collective memory, Araceli Rodiriguez – mother of a kidnapped federal policeman – voice a question that seems to be on the minds of many…
(Rodriguez speaks, reporter interprets)
Who’s next? – she asked. Who of those who have come forward to tell the stories of and experiences of Mexico’s drug war victims will be murdered before the eyes of an authority which – she says – has ignored petitions for protection.
Rodriguez confessed that she is scared and plans to examine security measures, but she does not plan to allow the environment of fear and intimidation silence the movement’s demands for justice.
(Originally aired December 9, 2011 on FSRN )