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2006-05-11

Crackdown in Mexico: 200 Jailed, Women Claim Sexual Abuse by Police

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Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission has launched an investigation into last week’s police crackdown in the town of San Salvador Atenco outside of Mexico City. Over 200 people have been arrested and over 20 women have said they were raped or sexually abused by police inside jail. [includes rush transcript]

Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission has launched an investigation into last week’s police crackdown in the town of San Salvador Atenco outside of Mexico City.

A week ago Wednesday, over 1,000 police officers raided the town and conducted house-to-house searches arresting over 200 people. Images of police officers beating residents were broadcast on national TV in Mexico.

As of last night almost all of the 200 people arrested remained in jail. The police have also been accused of brutality inside the jail.

At least seven women have said they were raped while another 16 said they were sexually abused.

The police action came a day after a peasant uprising in Atenco that began after police forced a group of peasants to stop flowers in a nearby town.

Police said the crackdown was justified because residents of Atenco had taken a group of police officers hostage.

On Friday, the Zapatista leader Marcos led thousands on a march to protest the police response. He announced that he was suspending his nationwide tour, called the Other Campaign, until the dispute in Atenco is settled.

  • Marcos, Zapatista leader.

On Wednesday Democracy Now reached a Chilean woman named Valentina Palma. She was arrested last week during the raid in Atenco. Because she was a foreigner, Valentina was one of the first detainees released. She said the police sexually harassed her and raped at least two women.

  • Valentina Palma, arrested during Atenco raid. She was deported back to Chile after she was released from jail.

For more on the latest we go to Mexico:

  • John Gibler, human rights fellow at Global Exchange. He has been closely monitoring the events in Atenco.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: On Friday, the Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos led thousands on a march to protest the police response. He announced that he was suspending his nationwide tour, called "The Other Campaign," until the dispute in Atenco is settled.

SUBCOMANDANTE MARCOS: [Translated] Rifle cartridges. They just handed us five of these cartridges. Here’s the proof that those people, the police, didn’t come unarmed. Here’s the proof of who killed that young comrade. Here’s the proof that it wasn’t about imposing order, but imposing destruction and death.

AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, Democracy Now! reached a Chilean woman named Valentina Palma. She was arrested last week during the raid in Atenco. Because she was a foreigner, Valentina was one of the first detainees released. She said the police sexually harassed her and raped at least two women.

VALENTINA PALMA: [Translated] The conditions of my arrest were extremely violent from the start. I was seeking shelter from the police violence that was about to be unleashed. From the moment they found me, the police came in, verbally insulting me. Then, two policemen, who were in charge of immobilizing me, grabbed me and restrained me by the arms, and two others were in charge of beating me. It was violent at all times, and at no time were we told why we were being arrested. On top of being beaten on my breasts, for example, they also beat me on my back, on my legs and on my stomach. And I was sexually harassed by the police. I don’t know exactly how many women were raped, but once inside the jail there were between 20 or 30 women detained, and I heard clearly that at least two were raped. I suppose that more were raped, because of the state of shock some of the women were in, and I saw two women with their underwear ripped and torn.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Valentina Palma. She was deported back to Chile after she was released from jail. We go now to Mexico, where we’re joined by John Gibler, human rights fellow at Global Exchange, closely monitoring the events in Atenco. Can you tell us the latest, John?

JOHN GIBLER: Good morning. Yes, last night around 2:00 in the morning, 17 people were released from prison, the first people to be released since the raid on Atenco on Thursday, May 4. These were people who, after being severely beaten and taken to jail, no charges were brought against them. There are another 107 or so who have minor charges of blocking traffic and another 30 or so who are being charged with kidnapping and organized crime.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to John Gibler. He is speaking to us from Mexico City. Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: John, there have also been reports of many journalists who were also beaten during that raid, but that hasn’t gotten much attention. Could you talk to us a little bit about that?

JOHN GIBLER: It’s gotten little to no attention. The very first night, on Wednesday, there was a television camera person from the national station Televisa who tried to film the police raid on the house where the leader of the Atenco group, the Popular Front in the Defense of Land, had taken refuge. Several police approached the camera, filming live, and without even so much as ordering him away began to beat him with clubs. That was passed on national television. Also, reports and photographs taken of several reporters from A.P., Reuters, and national newspapers such as La Jornada and Millennio, who had photographers who were beaten with clubs on the morning of the fourth in Atenco.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the main reasons for the protests?

JOHN GIBLER: The main reason — it started Wednesday morning when several flower vendors in a local market of the neighboring community of Texcoco were forcibly removed from the local market where they sell. And keep in mind, that this is the — you know, leading up to Mother’s Day, the largest — one of the kind of busiest times of the year for them. And several of the flower vendors refused to be removed and at that point in time called the neighboring community of Atenco, which the Popular Front in the Defense of Land there has been very famous across Mexico since 2002, when they successfully defeated an attempt by the federal government to build a new Mexico City airport in their community, which would have expropriated their land. And it ignited when the police, responding with unusual force, you know, riot police — both federal and state riot police — to move these flower vendors. And then when the Atenco group attempted to shut off the highway in a show of solidarity with the flower vendors, over 500 federal riot police immediately stormed the area and tried to break — violently break the highway blockade.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, also on Tuesday, Mexico’s Human Rights Commission actually formally complained to the government about — and demanded a criminal investigation. Could you talk about that? What’s been the government’s response?

JOHN GIBLER: The government’s response has been — well, first of all, the government — the very first day there was already live footage and several, you know, photographs published online and in major papers that showed just an outrageous level of violence brought indiscriminately against the community of Atenco. And within the first two days, the government just ignored and denied, and the security chief in the state of Mexico, where Atenco is and the events took place, said, quote: "It was a clean operation," and they were very, you know, pleased and happy, and he had even given a press conference in Atenco, while only a kilometer away police were systematically going house to house still removing people and beating them. Slowly, as the images in the Mexican national press, both television and newspaper, you know, brought a national scandal falling down on the government, they started to say, 'Well, maybe there was some abuse. Maybe a few elements of the police force went overboard,' you know, trying to displace the responsibility onto a few individuals. But, of course, it was impossible even to maintain that level of the response to dissipate the energy, because of the television and newspaper images that showed the overwhelming and indiscriminate use of violence.

AMY GOODMAN: John Gibler, I want to thank you for being with us from Mexico City. We will certainly continue to follow this story, and folks can go to our website at democracynow.org to see the photographs and the video images of the police crackdown on the protest.

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