Resolution Pending in Case of Miguel Peralta Betanzos

Cover photo: Family members of Miguel Peralta demand an end to the political persecution against him, and freedom for the political prisoners of Eloxochitlán de Flores Magón.

Miguel Peralta’s freedom hangs in the balance. Indigenous Mazatec, community organizer, anarchist, Peralta is one of thirty-five members of the community assembly of Eloxochitlán de Flores Magón who have faced political persecution and/or imprisonment following violence in the Indigenous Mazatec municipality in 2014.

On December 14 of that year, a campaign of cacique repression and terror came to a head when the community assembly was attacked by an armed group as they gathered to elect a municipal authority in the town center. The ensuing violence left various people injured, and shortly thereafter, one person was pronounced dead in uncertain circumstances.

The repression immediately followed. Thirty-five members of the community assembly were charged with different crimes related to that day’s events. The charges don’t correspond to those responsible for the violence, but rather signal out those who have actively participated in the community assembly, resisting cacique and political party influence, and fighting for autonomy and collective decision-making.

Currently, eight members of the community assembly remain imprisoned in different prisons in the state of Oaxaca: Herminio Monfil, Jaime Betanzos, Fernando Gavito, Alfredo Bolaños, Omar Morales, Francisco Durán, Marcelino Miramón, and Paul Reyes, the majority of whom have been held for years without a sentence. In addition, thirteen active arrest warrants against members of the community assembly remain, including one against Miguel Peralta, who has already received a condemnatory sentence of fifty years in prison.   

Imprisonment and Persecution of Miguel Peralta:

As an active member of the community assembly, and a vocal opponent of the cacique-political party influence in Eloxochitlán, Miguel Peralta was swept up in the wave of repression following the events on December 14. Peralta was detained on April 30, 2015 in Mexico City, nearly five months after the attack in December of 2014. He was held incommunicado for nearly 20 hours before eventually being booked in Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca on charges of homicide and attempted homicide. From Tlaxiaco he was transferred to the prison in Cuicatlán, Oaxaca.

On October 26, 2018, after over three years in prison awaiting a verdict, Miguel Peralta was sentenced to fifty years, thirty for homicide and twenty for attempted homicide. The sentence was handed down by Judge Juan Leon Montiel of the Mixed District Court of Huautla de Jiménez, Oaxaca, in what Miguel Peralta’s support group has argued to be a clear case of judicial corruption. He was the first of the thirty-five charged from Eloxochitlán to actually receive a condemnatory sentence.

Following an appeal from his legal team, that fifty-year sentence was thrown out as Peralta was not afforded his right to be present at his final hearing. Miguel’s second final hearing was held on September 19, 2019. That day he released a statement launching a hunger strike demanding his freedom:

“Once again I use my body as a weapon of struggle against injustice. Starting today…I will stop consuming food. Hunger strike menu: My breakfast, a snack of patience. My lunch, a buffet of resistance. My main course, solidarity. My dessert, freedom.”

Protest in front of the courthouse in Huautla de Jimenez, Oaxaca, during the final hearing of Miguel Peralta, September 19, 2019.

On October 14, 2019, after growing calls from the streets for his release, and almost a month without eating food, Miguel was absolved of both charges and released from prison in Cuicatlán. He had spent just over four years and four months in prison.  

Over two years later, following an appeal from the accusing party, Peralta’s freedom was again revoked on March 4, 2022, and an arrest warrant issued for that same fifty-year sentence. His freedom was overturned in the Third Criminal Court, by the Magistrates Humberto Nicolás Vázquez, Sonia Luz Ireta Jiménez and Sofia Altamirano Rueda.

On August 25, 2022, his legal team filed an appeal to this latest resolution. Initially, on March 1, 2023, the appeal was assigned to Judge Elizabeth Franco Cervantes in the First Collegiate Court of the State of Oaxaca. On May 26, 2023, a new judge was appointed to the case, C. Victor Hugo Cortes Sibaja. According to the law, the judge has 90 business days to rule on the case, which puts the legal time frame to rule on the appeal sometime in the coming months.  

Cacique-Political Party-State Power

The case of Eloxochitlán and Miguel Peralta exemplifies the unmistakable links between local caciques, political parties, and state power. The Zepeda family, including Manuel Zepeda Cortés and his daughter Elisa Zepeda Lagunas, have been the backbone of this force.

At the beginning of 2010, with the backing of the political party Convergence, Manuel Zepeda Cortés launched a campaign for municipal president, handing out political gifts, buying votes, and making political alliances in order to capture power. In the elections of November of that year, Zepeda won the municipal presidency with a third of the votes. Contrary to custom in the community, Zepeda refused the integration of the municipal government with the second and third place candidates, seeking supreme power in the community.

Over the course of his three-year term, Manuel Zepeda carried out a campaign of repression against members of the community assembly, seeking to disarticulate the community organization which threatened his hold on power. Zepeda was also involved in the extraction of sand, gravel, and rocks from the local river to benefit his companies, along with those of his allies. Furthermore, he left an account of more than 20 million pesos missing from municipal coffers.

On November 24, 2014, Manuel Zepeda and his group occupied the municipal palace, running out the newly elected municipal president and establishing themselves in power in the community. Their principle intention was to avoid being held accountable for the disappearance of municipal funds. The occupation of the municipal palace led directly to the attack on December 14, 2014.

Taking advantage of the political persecution against members of the community assembly, along with the disarticulation of the community fabric as a result of the repression, Elisa Zepeda Lagunas, the daughter of Manuel Zepeda Cortés, made her way into power. In a community election completely foreign to the traditional decision-making forms in the community, Zepeda was elected municipal president of Eloxochitlán in April of 2016, taking power in 2017.

However, in a clear sign that her intention wasn’t to serve the community of Eloxochitlán, but to use the public position as a political trampoline, Zepeda postulated for state congress as local representative for the political party MORENA, winning the election in July of 2018, and taking power in November of that year.

During her three years in office, Zepeda also served as President of the Permanent Commission of Justice of the State of Oaxaca. As Miguel’s lawyer suggests, “In that position, Elisa had relations with the District Attorney, with the Public Prosecutors’ Offices, with judges and magistrates of the State Judicial Power.” She was rubbing shoulders with the very same people who would overturn Miguel’s freedom not long afterwards.

Graffiti in the streets of Oaxaca City. Courtesy of Noticias de Abajo ML

Following a loss in her reelection bid in June 2021, Zepeda had already established her position in the MORENA political party apparatus. She was appointed the Secretary of Women of the Salomón Jara government which took power in Oaxaca on December 1, 2022. From these various public positions, Elisa Zepeda has flexed her political power and judicial connections to maintain the repression and persecution against members of the community assembly.

The ongoing repression and persecution of members of the community assembly of Eloxochitlán de Flores Magón exemplifies not only the corruption of certain public officials, but a more general hostility of the Mexican nation-state towards Indigenous communities. Through local caciques, State power is able to disarticulate community organization, struggles for self-determination and territorial defense. And through State power, caciques acquire the economic and political resources to dominate their communities and scale the structure of state power. In this case, all these forces intersect in the figure of Elisa Zepeda, and the political party MORENA.

Neither Condemned nor Persecuted: Actions for Freedom

In April of 2023, the Support Group for the Freedom of Miguel Peralta launched a solidarity campaign, “Neither Condemned nor Persecuted: Actions for Freedom,” demanding the revocation of the fifty-year sentence against Miguel Peralta and a sentence of complete freedom. The campaign also seeks to draw attention and support to the eight remaining political prisoners of Eloxochitlán de Flores Magón, along with other struggles against prisons and state repression both nationally and across the globe.  

Heeding the call for solidarity, Indigenous Yaqui political prisoner Fidencio Aldama released an audio statement from prison in Ciudad Obregón, Sonora expressing his solidarity with Miguel Peralta. In the statement, Aldama, who is spending fourteen years in prison for resisting the construction of a natural gas pipeline in Yaqui territory, makes the connection between his case and that of Miguel Peralta’s: 

“In the face of this sentence and political persecution, I want to express my solidarity with my compañero Miguel Peralta, calling on everyone to resist this case of injustice. His case is similar to mine. For the defense of our territories and self-determination, our customs and traditions, they unjustly imprison us. They do so to intimidate us. Through the intervention of those in power, and the corruption linked to them, those allied with money can carry out their objectives.”

Political prisoner support groups and independent media projects are organizing a collective radio transmission on June 3, 2023, with the intention of shining light on Miguel’s case, and articulating different cases of political repression and persecution. That same day, Miguel Peralta’s support group is calling for solidarity actions. Their message is clear: Revocation of the fifty-year sentence! Absolute freedom for Miguel Peralta!

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