Americas Program Report
Monica Wooters | November 17, 2009
Americas Program, Center for International Policy (CIP)
After two days of deliberations, on Oct. 14 the Mexican Supreme Court made public its decision that Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (governor of the state of Oaxaca) is culpable for the human rights violations that occurred in Oaxaca as a result of teacher protests and political and social unrest in May 2006-January 2007 and July of 2008.
The decision came after a year and a half investigation into the events—ordered by the lower house of the Mexican Congress in 2006—resulting in a vote of six to four. Among the violations cited by the court were the lack of access to justice, violations of personal integrity, the right to life and liberties such as the right to transportation and work, in addition to violations of the freedoms of expression, education, property, and peace, as well as access to information. Minister Juan N. Silva Meza of the Supreme Court stated during the vote that the events of Oaxaca "will become one of the black pages in the book of our country's history."
The decision cites Ruiz as responsible for serious violations of individual guarantees and for not complying with his duty to maintain order during the period of unrest spanning from 2006-2008. The decision names several other individuals as responsible for "generalized disorder" and human rights violations: state police officials; the director of Public Security, José Manuel Vera Salinas; the director of the Ministerial Police, José Moreno Rivas; and the director of the Auxiliary Police, Joaquín Darío Berges. Some local and federal police were also cited as responsible for use of excessive force.
The decision cites state-level officials and deliberations led to a debate among the judges as to whether or not federal officials should be blamed as well. A proposal brought before the court by Ministers Silva Meza, José de Jesús Gudiño Pelayo, and José Ramón Cossío to name former President Vicente Fox and the ex-Secretary of Public Security Eduardo Medina Mora, among others, as responsible for the lack of governability in Oaxaca resulting in human rights violations, was voted down eight to three. Silva Meza's proposal for naming current President Felipe Calderon found no support from his fellow ministers.
The Supreme Court decision is simply a resolution and does not include any prosecution or sentencing measures. It is now up to the president, the Congress, the federal attorney general, the Oaxacan Congress and other authorities to move forward on the resolution. Oaxacan opposition leaders from the APPO (Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca) and Section 22 of the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE, by its Spanish initials) have called on Governor Ulises Ruiz to take responsibility for the deaths of 28 individuals and the detention of 250 political prisoners that resulted from the events in Oaxaca. During a meeting with the APPO and Section 22, congressmen from the PRD (Democratic Revolution Party) declared that they would push for political prosecution of Ruiz. "We are going for the political prosecution and fall of Ulises Ruiz," stated Leticia Quesada of the PRD.
Meanwhile, Ruiz has denounced the court decision, stating that it is a political game being played by the opposition. He declared that he will not resign, despite calls for his resignation by members of several political parties in Oaxaca and at the federal level.
Despite Ruiz's dismissal of the decision as a political maneuver, several grassroots organizations at both the state and federal level have stated that they will continue to fight for justice. Alba Cruz of Section 22 stated that her organization will insist that Ruiz be prosecuted. Cruz pointed out that in 2007 a petition was filed before Congress to strip Ruiz of his political immunity, however it was denied by then-president of the congressional Government Commission, Diódoro Carrasco of the PAN (National Action Party).
Gabriel López Chiña, also of Section 22, affirmed that there will be massive civil society mobilizations in favor of the APPO to "apply the necessary pressure" to bring Ruiz to trial for political crimes. He stated, "There are 72,000 education workers who have not forgotten the offense, the damage done, by Ulises Ruiz Ortiz against the people of Oaxaca. The political cost was 28 deaths that as of yet have not been vindicated by the imprisonment of those responsible."
The APPO mobilization is already in the works. On Oct. 29 hundreds of teachers from Section 22 and followers of the APPO marched to mark the three-year anniversary of the government crackdown on social protest in the city of Oaxaca. They marched from the western edge of the city to its heart at the tree-shaded zocalo. As they traversed the city streets, cries of "Jail Ulises Ruiz!" could be heard echoing through the colonial corridors.
The secretary general of Section 22, Azael Santiago Chepi, told the crowds that the Oaxacan people will always remember the repression that took place there in 2006 and added, "… we have not lost sight of the bloodshed by our heroic people in defense of their dreams for liberty, justice, and democracy."
The current situation in Oaxaca has not significantly improved since 2007. The state government again resorted to violent repression against social movements during the traditional festival of the Guelaguetza in July of 2008. Local and national human rights organizations recently revealed that the state government had threatened human rights defenders.
The same day that the Supreme Court decision was made public, several organizations, including Peace Watch Switzerland, Limeddh (Mexican League for the Defense of Human Rights), and Centro Prodh, among others, held a press conference in which they made public a report on the latest threats. Among the complaints were intimidation, persecution, physical aggression, and the defamation of organizations and their work. The organizations highlighted the increased criminalization of social protest as a result of the social movement of 2006.
Though the Supreme Court decision does not mention the death of U.S. independent journalist Brad Will, the case surrounding his murder that occurred during the unrest of 2006 had been a point of contention for the U.S. government. Several of the appropriations bills to fund Felipe Calderon's drug war through the Merida Initiative mention the need for progress on finding and prosecuting Will's murderers, although they fall short of making this a condition for full funding.
It is important to note that Will was not the only person murdered on that fateful day of Oct. 27, 2006. Three Oaxacans were also killed in the battle for the city, Emilio Alonso Fabián, Esteban Ruiz, and Eudocia Olivera Díaz, as well as 23 others who were wounded. These individuals were never given the national and international attention that Will's death was afforded.
This past summer, the U.S. State Department ignored ample evidence provided by Mexican and U.S. human rights organizations that the Mexican government has committed numerous human rights violations in Oaxaca and in the drug war, and authorized the release of remaining funds to the same security forces accused of perpetrating the violations. In addition, the impact that the drug war is having on social movements has also been largely ignored as more and more members of social movements are targeted with false claims of organized criminal activity that has the insidious result of criminalizing social protest throughout Mexico. The decision of the Mexican Supreme Court is yet another confirmation of the U.S. government's deliberate refusal to recognize the reality of the human rights situation in Mexico.
Monica Wooters (monica(a)ciponline.org) is program associate at the Americas Program (www.americaspolicy.org) in Mexico City.
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