Photo from the archive. Migrants wait outside a bus station. By: Santiago Navarro F
Shelters and civil society organizations that serve and accompany migrants in need of international protectiondenounced the current humanitarian crisis in Mexico City as “a consequence of restrictive and unsustainableimmigration policies.”
For the past two years, organizations and shelters have been raising the alarm about the potential consequences of changes to United States immigration policies in collaboration with the Mexican government. They argue that “Mexico has consolidated itself as the external border of the United States, signing agreements behind closed doors which have had serious effects on the human rights of migrants in Mexican territory. As a result of these agreements, thousands of people have been trapped immobilized with irregular immigration status in a growing number of cities across the country.”
Mexico City has become a strategic transit point and a destination for thousands of migrants. This has resulted in the overcrowding of civil society shelters and spaces, which for the past year have been serving up to 900% of their capacity. “We insist, the current humanitarian crisis in Mexico City is the responsibility of the authorities, and not of the migrants and those seeking protection.”
The organizations point out that more and more migrants are arriving to Mexico City, and they are staying for longer periods of time, or even indefinitely. This has transformed the capital city into a destination and “it merits comprehensive public policies of attention and integration.”
The organizations denounce that policies of restrictive contention have focused on persecution and detention of migrants, and in hindering the regularization of their migratory status. These policies generate conditions of greater risk and vulnerability for migrants, like what has happened in the last few years with multiple highway accidents involving migrants.
These policies have even included illegal actions like preventing, via private transport companies, certain people without documents from buying a plane or bus ticket within national territory.
These policies have forced people to seek out alternative means of travel including by train or by semitruck, which are controlled by organized crime networks “that operate with the consent and even participation of the authorities.”
The organizations point out that “there has been a willingness to dialogue with the authorities of Mexico City.” However, they consider that “the meetings are only a simulation, where minimal support is given, continuing to leave civil society with the responsibility.”
Furthermore, the different organizations have recorded situations of maltreatment and abuse, such as illegal fees being applied in spaces provided by authorities. “All this has resulted in people being forced to live in the streets in front of shelters, government institutions, churches, hospitals, and bus terminals. This situation puts migrants at greater risk, as families with children and adolescents are exposed to dangers like child tracking,” they say.
This situation “causes tension with local communities and leads to discrimination and xenophobia toward migrants.”
The organizations are demanding transparency and accountability related to agreements reached between Mexico and the United States. Furthermore, they are demanding adequate and integral programs to regularize the immigration status of migrants, along with attention to specific needs like pathways for migrants to access permanent residency.
The organizations and shelters that signed the communique are: Casa de Acogida, Formación y Empoderamiento para Mujeres y sus Familias Migrantes (Cafemin), Casa Tochan, Casa Peñas, Albergue Constitución, Asociación de Nicaragüenses en México, Apoyo a Migrantes Venezolanos, A.C., Colectivo Ustedes Somos Nosotros, Fundación Humano y Libre, Plataforma Todos Somos Venezuela, Programa Casa Refugiados, Programa de Asuntos Migratorios de la Universidad Iberoamericana Ciudad de México.
Relatives of the disappeared have been searching throughout the country, without government help, since the increase in violence during Calderón’s six-year term in office. Photo: Santiago Navarro F.
Two years ago, violence, disappearances, displacements and recruitment of people due to the territorial dispute between two Mexican cartels completely disrupted the lives of different communities in Chiapas.
One of the groups identified as the Sinaloa Cartel has had a presence in this entity since the late 1980s, as Joaquín Guzmán Loera, alias “El Chapo,” had a lot of influence, as well as possession of properties.
“Local organized crime groups were linked to this larger group, we must remember that they are networks and function as cells that reproduce themselves,” explains for Avispa Mídia, Carla Zamora Lomelí, researcher of the Socio-environmental Studies and Territorial Management group at El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (Ecosur).
In 2018, in elections for president, governor and mayors, criminal violence worsened in southern Mexico. “It may seem coincidental, but it is not so much,” says the researcher, as the arrival of Morena coincided with the incursion of the Jalisco Cartel – New Generation (CJNG).
The cartels began to contest the municipalities and the violence was replicated in June 2021 in the elections of 118 mayors and local legislators. In municipalities such as Pantelhó and Frontera Comalapa there were no security guarantees even for the workers of the electoral bodies, a municipal council was appointed and the violence started to become more visible.
Members of Las Abejas de Acteal demand justice for the murder of Simón Pedro.
On July 5 of the same election year, Simón Pedro Pérez López, human rights defender and member of Las Abejas de Acteal was murdered in front of his son and father in the public market of Simojovel.
In the report “Blessed are those who work for justice…”, the Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas Human Rights Center (Frayba) reports that before the crime, Simón Pedro denounced to the the Secretary of Government the situation of violence in Pantelhó, Simojovel and Chenalhó due to the siege by armed groups linked to organized crime.
Three days later, on July 8 (2021) in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Gilberto Rivera Maravilla, alias “El Junior” or “Jr.,” son of Gilberto Rivera Amarillas, “El Tío Gil,” operator of the Sinaloa Cartel in Chiapas, was murdered.
Since then, the struggle of criminal groups has expanded into other territories. From the southern border it extended to the Sierra; then to the central, northern and highlands of Chiapas, although linked to local criminal groups, such as Los Herrera in Pantelho or “El Caracol” in Chamula, in the highlands, which are linked to or have alliances with groups of greater reach.
Los Herrera are linked to the Sinaloa Cartel, but after the murder of Jr. they were stripped of control of Pantelhó by an armed group calling itself “El Machete,” which presented itself in the media as self-defense, posing with high-powered weapons.
Members of the criminal group “Los Ciriles” captured in a video posted on social networks. July 7, Pantelhó, Chiapas.
A month later, in August 2021, the Chiapas Indigenous Justice Prosecutor, Gregorio Pérez Gómez, who was investigating violence between Los Herrera and El Machete, was assassinated in San Cristóbal de Las Casas.
Fleeing between bullets
Although violence is widespread, the dispute between the Sinaloa and Jalisco Nueva Generación cartels has particularly changed the daily life of towns in the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, bordering Guatemala, such as Frontera Comalapa, Chicomuselo, Motozintla, Siltepec, Amatenango de la Frontera, Mazapa de Madero, La Grandeza and El Porvenir.
The presence of cartels in these municipalities is related to the flow of migrating people. For years, this population fallen victim to various crimes ranging from sexual violence, robberies, kidnappings, human trafficking and disappearances.
Between 2018 and 2023, the State Attorney General’s Office registered 201 investigative files for disappearance of people by individuals, of which 165 are in process, 22 without criminal action, 11 without prosecution and accumulated three more.
On the other hand, the National Registry of Disappeared and Missing Persons in the same period reports 810 cases in five municipalities: 144 in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, 41 in San Cristóbal de las Casas, 108 in Tapachula, 104 in Comitán and 55 in Frontera Comalapa.
In 2021, thousands of people in the Highlands region of Chiapas were forcibly displaced from their communities due to violence by armed civilian groups. Photo: Frayba
However, according to the Mothers in Resistance Collective, Melel Xojobal, Mesoamerican Voices and Frayba, there are no real official figures on disappearances, both of people in transit and of residents.
Disappearances began to be reported more strongly after the confrontations in May 2023, when thousands of people fled Frontera Comalapa and Chicomuselo in fear of being recruited, disappeared or killed.
In a complex task, Frayba was able to count the displacement of 2,000 people from Frontera Comalapa from 2021 to 2022, a figure that increased this year when another 3,500 inhabitants also fled.
“The Council (State Council for Integral Attention to Internal Displacement of the State of Chiapas), which legally must attend to this situation of displacement, does not do much more than bring food boxes, but in recent months it has not been seen that they have been acting in response to this situation. People go by their own means to look for their family networks, because there is no state action,” explains Lomelí.
Entrapment and recruitment
In the localities where criminals converge, there is also an increase in crimes such as extortion and extortion charges, which are not yet seen in other areas of the state, and which involve young people in their networks.
In the recent report “Childhood in the face of criminal violence” the civil association Melel Xojobal emphasizes the recruitment of adolescents between 12 and 14 years of age who live in the areas where the cartels operate.
These groups assign the adolescents tasks such as running errands, selling and transporting drugs, recruiting other young people, surveillance, coyotaje, confrontations with rivals, gangs or contract killings.
In the case of women, they work as cleaners, waitresses in bars or canteens, or are victims of sexual exploitation. “It is common for children and adolescents who are part of these groups to be used for high-risk activities that endanger their lives and integrity or that could lead to their arrest,” says Jennifer Haza, director of the organization Melel Xojobal.
He explains that the current phenomenon is reminiscent of the age-old process of enganche, in which farmers deceived workers by generating debts in order to force them to work in exploitative conditions.
In 2021, the Network for the Rights of Children (Redim) estimated that in San Cristóbal de las Casas alone 2,507 children and adolescents are at risk of falling into the hands of delinquents, while nationally the figure is 64,473.
Protest in Nueva Palestina due to organized crime violence and failure of authorities to act. 2023.
The disputed territories are mainly part of at least three corridors created for the trafficking of people, drugs and arms, says researcher Lomelí. The best known is the Pacific corridor, along the coast and the main route for migrants.
The second corridor covers the highlands and highlands, and the third is in the northern zone and connects with the jungle. All three intersect in the Metropolitan or Central zone of the state.
Among the most recent complaints is that of community members of the Nueva Palestina community, located in the Selva zone, who have been affected by the blockades and surveillance carried out by the cartels at crossroads and highways.
One month after the violence that provoked displacements and disappearances in Frontera Comalapa and Chicomuselo, on June 22, 2023, the singer Nayeli Cyrene Cinco Martínez was kidnapped by an armed group that entered her home in Tuxtla Gutiérrez.
Five days later, hooded people with long guns blocked the Ocozocoautla-Tuxtla Gutiérrez highway to intercept the bus where 33 workers from the Secretariat of Security and Citizen Protection were traveling.
Only the 16 men on board were kidnapped as a bargaining chip to obtain the release of Nayeli Cinco. In videos disseminated on social networks, hooded men also called for the termination of three public officials of the same department.
The 16 officials and the woman, who was close to a CJNG leader, were released. “It is a sign that there is what in political science is called a gray zone: a non-public area where negotiations take place,” explained Lomelí.
In this case, the government demonstrated that it had strategies to deal with the problem. However, “curiously,” when violent events occur, the security forces are often not present in the areas, as was the case a few days ago when the Sinaloa Cartel paraded and was received by the inhabitants of Chamic, Frontera Comalapa.
When questioned about the context of the Sierra zone of Chiapas, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador minimized the problem with the argument that it is not a widespread situation, but insisted on reinforcing security with a greater presence of military personnel from the National Guard.
“But it seems like they are warned, it’s like a political game,” emphasizes the researcher, since militarization has become media containment. Meanwhile, governments continue to bet on the lack of collective memory.
Faces This is the first of a series of five texts that Avispa Mídia will publish under the title Chiapas: Disappearing on Mexico’s Southern Border. The following publications will tell the story of people who have disappeared in recent years in Chiapas in the context of the dispute for territory between cartels, and the struggle of their families to know the truth.
Cover image: Migrant families in front of the bus station in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas
Twelve migrants were killed last week in different tragic events, but these events did not take place by chance. According to human rights defenders, the situation has been triggered by the violent and inhumane immigration policies being implemented by the Mexican state.
On Thursday, September 28, a truck overturned at kilometer 125 on the Malpaso-La Herradura highway in Chiapas. Crowded in the vehicle were 52 migrants, 2 of whom died, and 27 others injured. The injured were sent for medical attention in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, 6 of them were minors.
Twenty-four of the 27 injured were from Guatemala, one from Ecuador, one from Venezuela, and another of unknown nationality.
During the early morning hours of October 1, a cargo vehicle carrying 27 Cuban migrants was involved in a crash killing 10 women. The accident occurred at kilometer 134 of the Pijijiapan-Tonalá highway in Chiapas, where events like this have become recurrent.
The remaining 17 people were severely injured: 16 of them taken to a hospital in Pijijiapan, and the other to a hospital in Huixtla. However, the different institutions refused to provide information regarding the condition of the hospitalized.
“The state must carry out prompt, exhaustive, and impartial investigations of those responsible for, and the causes of, this accident. It must provide attention to the victims and their family members,” announced the Colectivo de Monitoreo Frontera Sur.
Made up of different organizations with a presence in Chiapas, the collective reiterates that these events are not isolated, but are the direct consequence of policies that restrict, contain, and detain migratory flows.
“It is worrying how these policies generate a context of violence, precarity, and risk for thousands of people who for different reasons have had to leave their countries,” signaled the collective. They are forced to resort to unsafe and clandestine routes, exposing themselves to abuse, extorsion, and death.
The collective asked for the identification and delivery of the bodies to their families, as well as payment for their transfer and burial, “so that the families are fully compensated for the damage done.”
The human rights defenders pertaining to the collective demand justice. They recalled another accident 2 years ago on the Corzo-Tuxtla highway, where 55 people died and 114 were injured. The families never received reparations for the damage.
Containment Expands in Chiapas
On September 26, the National Institute of Migration (INM) announced that their commissioner, Francisco Garduño Yáñez, “depressurized” Tapachula, Chiapas, by removing 8,152 people who were waiting for their turn at the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (COMAR).
The migrants were transferred in 189 buses and 73 vans to Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Huixtla, San Cristóbal, and Palenque, Chiapas; along with Villa Hermosa, Tabasco, and Acayucan, Veracruz.
These transfers are not something new, they began just after the fire at the migrant processing station of the National Institute of Migration in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua. “The transfers are made from the entry bridge in Suchiate to Tuxtla and recently to other states of the republic,” explains Karen Martínez of Jesuit Refugee Services.
“Oaxaca is another state that has been overwhelmed because the buses are also taking migrants there. However, the National Institute of Migration does not provide clear information, nor do they indicate the total number of people who have been transferred. There is no control over the process,” said Martínez.
Organizations pertaining to the Colectivo de Monitoreo Frontera Sur have documented the exit of at least 10 buses daily from Suchiate and Tapachula traveling each with around 40 migrants on board.
In testimonies of migrants and asylum seekers who have arrived to Tuxtla Gutiérrez in this manner, they explain that the transfer is provided in exchange for signing documents in which the migrants lose their rights to legalize their migration status or access to international protections.
If people try to travel directly from Tuxtla Gutiérrez to Mexico City, they are intercepted in one of the five checkpoints between Chiapas and Veracruz where even the Attorney General’s Office is involved. These migrants are returned to the capital of Chiapas.
Yannet Gil Ardon, founder of the shelter “Una ayuda para ti mujer migrante” explained that the people in transit who are detained in northern Mexico are also being transferred to Tuxtla Gutiérrez in Chiapas: “The INM practically throws them at the bus terminals, taking away or destroying their official documents.”
“The most prevalent nationality amongst the migrants is Venezuelan, and regularly they are entire families,” explained the human rights defender to Avispa Midia. Furthermore, she mentioned that the cases of missing persons have increased, “certain people arrive at the bus terminals to offer help to migrants, then they take them away and nothing else is ever known of them.”
Following the fire at the migrant station in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, in which 40 people were killed, the National Institute of Migration’s dynamic has changed, but only in a superficial way. They announced the closure of more than 30 provisional migrant stations due to a review from the National Commission of Human Rights (CNDH) related to the conditions of the facilities.
The study was carried out without considering the principle victims of the human rights violations in those spaces, which for years have been documented by journalists and human rights defenders.
Since July, the statistics provided by the Unit for Migration Policy, Registry, and Identity of Persons (UPMRIP), linked to the Secretariat of the Interior (SEGOB), have not been updated. But as of the month of July, they reported the “illegal entry” of 317,334 people: 93,732 women and 223,602 men.
A total of 140,671 of the migrants are from South America, far exceeding Central America with 102,106 entries. With 87,063 entries, Venezuela is the nationality with more reported “illegal” migration, followed by Honduras with 50,655, Guatemala with 35,426, and Ecuador with 30,252.
The report also mentions that 117,076 people were detained in Chiapas during the first half of the year, with the highest number detained in Tapachula (58,447), Suchiate (11,541), Huixtla (11,223), Arriaga (8,859), Huehuetán (7,151), and Palenque (4,718).
Meanwhile, the Mexican Commission of Help to Refugees published numbers up until August, where they registered 99,881 applicants, 33,127 more than during the same time period in 2022. Currently, Haiti, Honduras, Cuba, El Salvador, Venezuela, Guatemala, Brazil, and Chile top the list.
Regardless, the numbers do not show the reality of how many migrants are waiting to be attended to in the different municipalities of Chiapas. Some testimonies explain how they can’t even make an appointment with the digital platform, since the geolocation asks them to be in the north of the country, where, no matter how many attempts they make, they cannot reach.
Cover photo: More than 70% of the killings of land and environmental defenders in 2022 occurred in only three countries: Colombia, Brazil, and Mexico. Felipe Luna/Global Witness
Latin America continues being the most lethal region for land and environmental defenders, alerts the human rights organization, Global Witness. According to research carried out by the organization in 18 countries in different parts of the world, at least 177 defenders have lost their lives in 2022, 88% of the assassinations occurring in Latin America.
More than a third, 36%, of the assassinated defenders were Indigenous, and 7% Afro-descendants. More than a fifth, 22%, were small scale farmers. All of them depended on their lands and natural resources to live.
Global Witness has documented the violence and assassinations against land defenders since 2012. “The world has radically changed since we began this work in 2012. What remains immutable is the persistence of the assassinations,” explains the organization in the report.
Since 2012, Global Witness took note of 1,910 assassinations, with 70%, or 1,335 assassinations occurring in Latin America. Furthermore, the organization registered that, of the 1,910 assassinations, 1,390 took place between the approval of the Paris Climate Accords, on December 12, 2015, and December 31, 2022.
The 2022 figures are slightly lower compared to 2021, when 200 people were assassinated. However, the situation has not improved substantially, alerts the organization. “The worsening of the climate crisis and growing demand for agricultural products, fuels, and minerals, will only intensify the pressure exercised upon the environment, and on those who risk their lives to defend it. In addition, non-lethal strategies are increasingly being used to silence defenders, such as criminalization, digital harassment and attacks.”
Year after year, the majority of assassinations are concentrated in the same countries. More than 70% of the cases—125 assassinations of the total 177—occurred in three countries: Colombia, Brazil, and Mexico.
Colombia leads the world ranking with 60 assassinations. This number is almost double the killings that took place in 2021, when 33 defenders were killed. Indigenous peoples and Afro-descendent communities, who usually engage in small scale farming and defense of the environment, “have been hit hard.”
In Brazil, 34 defenders have lost their lives, compared to 26 in 2021. “The Brazilian defenders had to face unrelenting hostility from the government of the then president, Jair Bolsonaro, whose politics exposed the Amazon to exploitation and destruction, weakening environmental institutions, and inciting illegal invasions of Indigenous lands,” says the document.
Mexico, the country with the most assassinations in 2021, registered a drop, from 54 homicides in 2021 to 31 in 2022. At least 16 of the people assassinated were Indigenous, while four of them were lawyers. “Nevertheless, the general situation in Mexico remained alarming for land and environmental defenders, and non-lethal aggressions (among them intimidation, threats, forced displacement, and criminalization) continued to greatly hinder their work,” the organization notes.
In Honduras, 14 assassinations were registered in 2022, the highest number defenders assassinated per capita in the world. “Xiomara Castro, the first female president of Honduras, has pledged to protect defenders. However, early trends in 2023 point to the persistence of generalized violence, as killings and non-fatal assaults have been reported throughout the country,” the organization explains.
The organization highlights that the numbers only count known killings, given that underreporting is a generalized problem. “Unfortunately, many more lives have been lost that are not included in our data.”
Cover photo: Members of the Assembly for Water and Life protest in front of CONAGUA in Mexico City.
The Assembly for Water and Life blamed the National Water Commission (CONAGUA)—a government institution in charge of implementing the National Water Law—for omission and complicity in the plunder of water which has caused a water crisis in Mexico that is now considered irreversible.
Members of the assembly gathered in front of the offices of CONAGUA in Mexico City, painting protest slogans on the building, and covering the railings with signs and banners. During the protest, members of the assembly blocked traffic at Avenue Insurgentes Sur and Avenue Universidad.
The phrase “Water belongs to the people” was written in large letters at the entrance of the building, where a press conference was also held. There, the assembly launched the “National Campaign Against War and for Life.”
In a communique, the assembly pointed out that in the 34 years of CONAGUA’s existence, they have allowed 115 of 653 aquifers to be overexploited. At 99 of those aquifers, an individual, company, or association is monopolizing the water.
The assembly also denounced the international water market opened up by the National Water Commission. For example, they have authorized concessions to banks such as BBVA who control 1.6 hectometers per year of water in the overexploited aquifer Atemajac. near Guadalajara, Jalisco. There is also the case of Banca Azteca, who holds a concession in the overexploited aquifer of the metropolitan area of Mexico City, controlling 2.2 hectometers per year of water.
The assembly emphasized that since the creation of CONAGUA on January 16, 1989, “A minimum portion of the population—equivalent to 1.1% of all water users—exploits more than a fifth of all national water.”
One fifth of the water in the country is being monopolized by a group of 966 companies from industries such as electricity, brewing, steel, agrobusiness, mining, paper, automotive, bottling, among others. Between them, they exploit 5,805 hectometers per year of water. A single cubic hectometer is equivalent to one million cubic meters.
There are also 1,537 individuals who own concessions for 2,547 hectometers per year of water and 801 civil associations that have concessions for 4,856 hectometers. “The worst thing is that without regulation or control, and enjoying government impunity, once they use the water it is returned contaminated to the oceans, rivers, towns, and communities.”
Adding to the problem is exactly that, the contamination of water throughout the country. This too seems to have become a business for CONAGUA who with the slogan, “He who contaminates pays,” promotes the discharge of toxic waste into rivers, lakes, and open land areas.
“It is fertile territory for corruption, like paying off officials who do superficial inspections, or ignoring the issues as long as they receive their respective under the table payments. Likewise, with the National Water Law, businesses can avoid a large percentage of the payments they generate for polluting, registering their concessions under different uses, which exempts them from paying the industrial use fee,” signals the communique.
The communities and organizations recalled that in 2010, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a historic resolution recognizing “the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.”
War in Defense of Water
In the voice of the Indigenous Otomíes, the assembly mentioned the Peñasquito mine, where the Canadian company Goldcorp exploits 50 hectometers per year of water. There, the company is also accused of contaminating the water of the communities in the municipality of Mazapil, Zacatecas.
The assembly explained that the water there is also being exploited by the FEMSA group, by Bebidas Mundiales and Bepensa, together exploiting 21.9 hectometers of water per year to produce sodas like Coca-Cola.
The total volume of water under concession is 39.4 hectometers per year when you add other users who are part of the Coca-Cola group, such as Nayar, Servicios Refresqueros del Golfo y Bajío, Bebidas Refrescantes de Nogales, Propimex and Inmuebles del Golfo.
In Chiapas and Tlaxcala, the same business group has also been denounced for leaving populations without water due to the overexploitation of the aquifers, “CONAGUA allows those monopolizing the water to have various concessions for different types of use, these concessions can be classified differently, and the same user can have multiple concessions via family members or borrowed names, thus avoiding paying fees by pretending to have a different type of concession,” denounced the assembly.
The assembly also spoke of the company Bonafont-Danone in the Cholulteca region, who for more than seven years operated an expired concession. The assembly accused the company of stealing water for 29 years, and of causing an environmental disaster in the form of a sinkhole in Santa Maria Zacatepec on May 29, 2021. This environmental disaster took place with the permissiveness of José Cinto Bernal, the mayor of Juan C. Bonilla, Puebla.
“Those of us who are part of the National Assembly for Water and Life, we maintain that the plunder of water is part of the capitalist war against Indigenous peoples. That is to say, a war against the vital liquid, another head of the capitalist hydra.”
For the assembly, this strategy of war against life is being orchestrated by the government of the so-called fourth transformation, where the Army, National Guard, organized crime, and paramilitary groups, are used to impose megaprojects like the Maya Train, Interoceanic Corridor, and the Integral Morelos Project.
For example, in July of 2022 in San Pedro Tlalcuapan, Tlaxcala, water defenders and community leaders Saúl Rosales Meléndez and Raymundo Cahuantzi Meléndez were arbitrarily detained and accused of a killing.
During the detention, different human rights violations were committed, “and they have been unjustly imprisoned for more than a year.” Diverse collectives condemned these violations carried out by the government of Tlaxcala against the Tlaxcalteca people who struggle to defend their territory, forests, water, and collective rights.
They also spoke out about the area “Malpais,” in Calpulalpan, where the oak forest was destroyed to install a solar farm. Also, of different populations in the municipality of Magdalena Tlaltelulco who have had to face land dispossession, “and even more dangerous, the authoritarian and violent plunder of water wells pertaining to our ejidal community.”
This criminalization of social struggle has also been documented in Puebla. The resistance won the freedom of Miguel López Vega and Alejandro Torres Chocolatl, who since 2019, were persecuted for defending the Metlapanapa River.
In the Choluteca region, the company Bonafont-Danone not only plunders the water, but they also contaminate the water of the five communities of the municipality of Juan C. Bonilla: José Ángeles, Santa María Zacatepec, San Lucas Nextetelco, San Mateo Cuanalá and San Gabriel Ometoxtla.
In mentioning the water defense in Queretaro, the assembly shared how in March of 2021 after documenting the plunder of water and the multiple irregularities incurred by public officials, the State Water Commission favored private companies, in their majority real estate companies, over the rights of the people.
“Thanks to the mobilizations, the legal files were closed that had criminalized the three water defenders after the repression on June 10, 2022, in the context of the protests against water privatization in Querétaro,”
For these reasons, the assembly requested that CONAGUA receive the petitions regarding the case of Santiago Mexquititlan. “We demand that the head of the state of Querétaro revoke the law that authorizes drinking water services to private industry, legitimizing the public force to search homes.”
In Queretaro, the repression has increased with attempts at extrajudicial killing, forced disappearance, arbitrary detention, and sexual, physical, and psychological torture, “with the understanding that the Mexican state seeks to protect national and transnational power at the cost of state violence against Indigenous communities.”
For their part, the Indigenous Otomí community residing in Mexico City, on the eve of their third anniversary of having taken over the National Institute for Indigenous Peoples’ building, now called the House of Indigenous Peoples and Communities “Samir Flores Soberanes,” condemned the police harassment, and the continued incapacity of the authorities to resolve their demands of education, work, healthcare, food, and above all, housing.
With all of this, the Assembly for Water and Life reiterated the call to the peoples, communities, organizations, networks, and collectives, to join the actions of the National Campaign against War and for Life, and to get in contact by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cover photo: Protest demanding freedom for Miguel Peralta. September 2019. Photo: Daliri Oropeza
The ruling on an appeal filed by the legal defense team of the former Mazatec political prisoner, Miguel Peralta, seeking to overturn his conviction, has once again put his freedom at risk. A member of the community assembly of Eloxochitlán de Flores Magón, Oaxaca, Peralta is one of 35 assembly members who have been persecuted, accused of the homicide of Manuel Zepeda Lagunas, and the attempted homicide of his sister, Elisa Zepeda, both members of the same Mazatec community.
The root of what Peralta’s lawyer argues is criminalization, are the violent events which took place in December of 2014, when the community assembly was attacked by an armed group. Community members clarify that the armed group was beneath the command of the Zepeda cacique family.
Members of the community assembly explain that since 2010, when Elisa’s father, Manuel Zepeda Cortés, became municipal president, he began a campaign of repression against the community organization in order to consolidate his power in the Mazatec community.
Roberto López, member of the collective Los Otros Abogadoz, and Peralta’s lawyer, says that while the assembly gathered in the center of town for the election of municipal authorities that winter of 2014, shots were fired at the assembly from the municipal building, where Elisa and Manuel Zepeda had previously installed themselves.
The attack left people with gunshot wounds, provoking the death of Elisa’s brother, Manuel Zepeda Lagunas. Manuel had been detained by inhabitants of Eloxochitlán while wielding a weapon designated exclusively for military use, and was being turned over to the authorities. “Unfortunately for them, he died. In that moment, instead of turning him over to the authorities, these inhabitants of Eloxochitlán were accused of being responsible for the homicide,” says the lawyer.
According to his legal defense, although Peralta was in Mexico City on the day of the events, he was accused of homicide, arbitrarily detained, and transferred to Oaxaca. Peralta was in prison for more than four years until October 2019, when he was freed.
However, his sentence of freedom was overturned in March of 2022. After an appeal filed by the accusing party, a new arrest warrant was issued against him to serve a sentence of fifty years in prison. Against that, Peralta’s legal defense team filed an appeal for due process violations and the fabrication of evidence.
On August 17, a federal collegiate tribunal ruled on the appeal, which Roberto López argues exacerbates the legal situation of the former political prisoner. “They turned us back seven years in time,” explains the lawyer. He specifies that the process was returned to the stage before the sentencing, to the presentation of evidence and cross-examinations.
“They returned the legal process to where the other prisoners currently stand (in reference to the other political prisoners of Eloxochitlán), those who have not received a conviction or a sentence…because the magistrates didn’t seriously study the issue, they only dealt with a superficial issue (redoing the testimonies). While they disguise this as addressing a due process violation, in reality, the intention is to continue giving control of the process to Elisa,” says Peralta’s lawyer.
López asserts that throughout the legal process, Manuel and Elisa Zepeda have used a strategy of delay, managing the conflict and maintaining “hostage” the other prisoners from the events of 2014.
The danger, the lawyer accentuates, is that in order to return to that part of the process, Peralta would have to face detention. “What this means is a setback of at least seven years of my legal process, and the continued insistence on my imprisonment,” claimed the Mazatec through a letter shared last week. For this reason, the legal defense filed another appeal for a review of the most recent resolution, with the intention of having the Supreme Court resolve the appeal, which could happen in the next four to five months.
Below, we share extracts from a conversation we had with Roberto López, who warns that the persecution against Peralta is intensifying.
Avispa Midia (AM): With the recent resolution, which part of the process is being reinstated?
Roberto López (RL): The resolution returned us to the cross-examination stage…a part of the process where they refused to attend. If they do not appear, we will have to wait until they do so, in order for them to give their testimonies and be cross-examined. The conclusions will then be presented, the final hearing will take place, and a new sentence will be issued. I am not exaggerating when I say that this ruling turns us back approximately seven years in time. They continue to control the conflict. With this resolution, the collegiate tribunal gives Elisa the power to continue controlling the process.
The events took place on December 14, 2014. To begin presenting evidence, one of the first hearings didn’t take place until January 30, 2017. Manuel and Vicente Zepeda were present only because they had a hearing as defendants for acts that the community assembly had denounced, injuries and torture, taken up by the public prosecutor’s office.
Elisa was counseled and her lawyers recommended that she not present herself at the court to give her testimony. The court was never willing to fine or arrest her for not appearing. The court never did anything. Finally, on September 30, 2017, her and three other witnesses presented themselves to give their testimonies.
AM: What are the principal contradictions in the testimonies that were not taken up in the most recent resolution?
RL: When we presented the appeal in 2022, we highlighted the testimonies against Miguel, which are an essential part of the process. The testimony of Elisa Zepeda, of her father, and of the seven witnesses who accuse Miguel. That is the fundamental part that must be questioned. In fact, these testimonies were already put in doubt during the process. In emphasizing the contradictions in these testimonies, other codefendants of Miguel have been freed.
We did an analysis of what Elisa Zepeda and the witnesses first said to the public prosecutor, and what they said in the hearings before the court. They were different things, contradictory statements.
There was a witness, Eleazar Hernández Ordaz, an old man, who in the legal file accuses Miguel. His testimony is a carbon copy of the testimony given by Manuel Zepeda, the father of Elisa. In court, when it was his turn to give his testimony, he explained that he never gave the aforementioned testimony. They show him the testimony. “Is this your signature?” “Yes, that is my signature, but I don’t remember.” Fernando Ramírez Carrera, another witness, says that he never gave any testimony. His signature appears, but he says he never gave testimony to the public prosecutor.
Elisa’s uncle, Vicente Zepeda, says that throughout that day’s events, he was with Elisa. She gives extensive testimony with many details. Details that Vicente doesn’t give. And when he is questioned in the hearing, seeing that there were many things in her testimony that he had not mentioned, he says, “I saw them when they entered, but they hit me on the head, and I lost consciousness. I fainted and I don’t remember anything else,” so as to not contradict Elisa’s testimony.
Everyone will maintain the same testimonies and we will go to sentencing. This will not change the resolution to come. When Elisa reiterates the accusation, her witnesses will obviously say that they recognize Peralta, that they saw him in the location of the acts, and that will lead to a conviction. That, in turn, will again lead us to an appeal.
AM: What elements do you consider to be decisive in the recent ruling on the appeal?
RL: The events took place in 2014. From there, Elisa began to construct a discourse of victimhood. She approaches some human rights organizations and they support her as a defender of women’s rights. Like that she moves her way up to municipal presidency of Eloxochitlán. She is president for one year, before she renounces her position in order to run for local representative of the 64th legislature of the State Congress. She wins with the political party MORENA. During her three years as local representative, she is named president of the Permanent Commission of Justice of the State of Oaxaca. This means that she is in charge of naming judges, magistrates, local prosecutors. She begins to have relations with people from the state prosecutor’s office, those who prosecute, and people from judicial power, those who sentence. From my perspective she weaves together these networks and alliances.
All this makes possible that in 2022, Miguel’s sentence of freedom is overturned. There have already been many resolutions freeing other prisoners of Eloxochitlán and very few of those resolutions of freedom have been overturned. Miguel’s was overturned. For me, this is a consequence of her position of political power, maintaining alliances with those who hold judicial power.
Then comes Salomón Jara’s campaign for governor. She joins his team and is named Secretary of Women, a secretary in the government of Salomón Jara. From that position, she continues utilizing the resources she has, continues utilizing her political power, to influence the situation.
For us, she influenced the resolution of the collegiate circuit tribunal which ruled on Miguel’s appeal. It was there because the appeal sought his freedom for all the violations, for all the precedent. And no, on the contrary, they turn us back seven years in the process. With that, we know that this is more than legal, it is political. Elisa Zepeda has utilized the death of her brother to maintain power, to climb the political ladder. She doesn’t want her discourse to collapse because if it does, it will show that everything she has constructed, her entire political trajectory, was a lie.
From that position of power, she is confronting the prisoners of Eloxochitlán. Those who are still in prison, and those being persecuted, as is the case of Miguel…she continues with this thirst for revenge against the prisoners, because if they are all released, her discourse collapses.
AM: What is the response to the recent ruling?
RL: We analyzed it and we said no, this is a set-up. They want Miguel to return to prison under the pretext that they are reinstating the process so that he can be cross-examined alongside Elisa. That resolution doesn’t help us. Thus, we have sought that the Supreme Court review the ruling on the appeal. Let the justices determine if that appeal was properly ruled upon, and if the resolution is correct.
We want the Supreme Court to review the resolution to the appeal and rule on the fundamental violations that exist in this process. Among them are false accusations of Elisa and her witnesses, accusations that have already been questioned, and have already been put in doubt. There are resolutions which released other codefendants. There are resolutions, including in the chambers of the Supreme Court of the State of Oaxaca, also of district courts, where they say that the testimonies of Elisa and her witnesses are not credible. There are contradictions, there are inconsistencies, and we want the Supreme Court to not evade their responsibility. The issue of these political prisoners is a significant issue for society. We cannot allow that by means of political power, a person is influencing the legal process, falsely accusing those who oppose the cacique project of her family.
With the contradictions of the witnesses and the delay in the legal process, we have a lot of partisanship to face in the courts. Adding to the contradictions, are the judges, the court clerks, the public prosecutor, who in the nine years of this process, has been the same. Judges have been changed, court clerks have been changed, but the public prosecutor, who began the process, continues there because they are a key figure for Elisa Zepeda, for Manuel Zepeda.
It is very important for society that the Supreme Court review this appeal. If the Supreme Court rejects us, we would be practically proving that access to justice in this country continues to not exist. Because in the end, the pathway to justice would be closed off. They need to take up their responsibility, to demonstrate the independence between judicial and government power. We have faced an unequal process, with many irregularities, partisanship, and many contradictions in the testimonies of the witnesses. More than being legal, this conflict is political, and it is being managed by Elisa Zepeda in the manner that she pleases. Nine years and there is no sentence for anybody. Nearly nine years of this legal process without a sentence. I think that is significant, and whatever honest, impartial judge who observes that would have to order their release.