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The Crimes Of Texcoco & Atenco Remain Unanswered

Human Rights Commission Report on Texcoco/San Salvador Atenco Atrocities:
A glimmer of truth from the masthead, but no justice on the horizon.

By Julie Webb-Pullman in Mexico

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Jos Luis Soberanes Fernandez Delivers his Recommendations

At 11am Monday morning, the National Ombudsman of Mexico, José Luis Soberanes Fernández, held a press conference to deliver the recommendations contained in his report into “The facts that occurred in the municipalities of Texcoco and San Salvador Atenco on 3 and 4 May 2006,” when two young men were killed, and 207 people brutally detained by municipal, state and federal security forces.

There were more family members and supporters than press present to hear the outcome of this tardily-initiated investigation into the violent repression of these two communities, and no small measure of relief that it was not merely the cover-up many dreaded.


Dr Soberanes confirmed many of the victims’ allegations, saying “Torture, violation of sexual liberty – the sexual abuse and rape of 26 women – are attacks on the right to life, they violate the right to physical integrity and security, liberty, and legality,” and stressed that if some authorities nevertheless “elect to sustain the lie and protect those responsible, society will suffer a double insult.”


His findings included:

  • Federal, State and Municipal police and military caused 207 people to suffer cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,

  • that without any legal justification, these agents were authorised to beat those they captured,

  • 145 persons were arbitrarily arrested within their own homes,

  • some people who had not participated in the confrontation with police on 3 May were arrested without any grounds other than they happened to be there at the time,

  • five foreigners were violently detained who had not participated in the acts of which they were accused, and were deported in an irregular manner,

  • the detained were held incommunicado, and tortured during their transfer to Santiaguito prison, receiving beatings, death threats, and being thrown to the floor of vehicles. Many were sexually assaulted and raped by state agents.


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Mexican Human Rights Commssion Atenco Press Conference

His recommendations, which completely failed to satisfy the victims and families, included:

  • the complaints of the 26 women sexually assaulted and raped should be investigated by the Public Ministry,

  • the Preventive Federal Police (PFP) should initiate an inquiry into those involved, and submit all responsible personnel, both PFP and those commissioned from other sections such as the military police, to the law and due process,

  • that the Commissioner of the National Institute of Migration investigate the irregularities in relation to the deportation of the five foreigners, and that the prohibition on their return should be lifted, and

  • the Director of Santiaguito prison should investigate the torture of detainees and the sexual violation of the women.

Although there was widespread appreciation that the Findings vindicated their complaints, the Recommendations were roundly criticised by victims, families, and supporters alike for merely returning the investigation back to those who committed the crimes.

No Enforcement Mechanism

Although finding that the authorities committed arbitrary detentions, illegal arrests, humiliation, sexual violations, beatings, and death threats, Soberanes implicitly acknowledged his lack of any real powers, expressing only the hope that if the authorities accept their responsibility and all the consequences that flow from them, Mexican society would be invigorated and democracy strengthened.

Defence lawyer Juan de Dios Hernández graphically illustrated the absurdity of this situation, citing the example of Arnulfo Pacheco Cervantes, a man with paraplegia who was dragged from his bed where he had been confined for five years, yet charged with blocking a public road. (Despite his wife’s pleas about his medical condition (for her trouble she, too, was detained) and that he couldn’t possibly have done anything, this man was beaten, and although sustaining five broken ribs, traumatic wounds to his head, pharynx and pelvis, being unable to speak, and having large sores all over his body, medical attention other than paracetamol was with-held throughout his imprisonment.)

As Hernández pointed out, despite the litany of clear-cut abuses and violations, there is no obligation on Mexican authorities to act on the Ombudsman’s recommendations, and no mechanism to enforce them. He said that in spite of torture being a criminal offence in Mexico since 2003, there has never been even one conviction, because the perpetrators are the same people investigating it – the State authorities.

An Atenco resident said that even now, there continues to be a heavy police presence, with police patrols that constitute continued psychological torture of their community.

Unsurprisingly, there was no satisfactory response to Hernández question as to when Soberanes proposed to break the cycle of impunity that currently exists, underlining the defence lawyer’s contention that the case is evidence of the grave institutional and political crisis facing the country.

Families and Victims Demand the State Be Held Responsible

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Protestors Outside Mexican Commission of Human Rights

A key demand of victims and family members was that not only those individuals who committed the atrocities should be held responsible, but so also should be those who gave the orders. The Ombudsman entirely failed to address this issue. Victims accused president Vicente Fox, Mexico State governor Peña Nieto, and Wilfrido Robledo, chief of the Security Agency of the State of Mexico (ASE), of being the intellectual authors of Operation Atenco, demanding they be punished. “ The government is the main one responsible,” accused Ángel Behumea, father of Alexis, the second young man to die as a result of Operation Atenco. “ The Mexican State is responsible. I accuse governor Peña Nieto and president Fox, their hands are already stained with blood.” The Ombudsman remained notably silent in regard to this.

Immediate Release Demanded

Another issue neglected by the Ombudsman was that of the immediate release of the remaining 27 prisoners, 19 men and seven women, who face several more years in jail awaiting trial. Contrary to the demands of international law to which Mexico is signatory, such as Article 14(2) and (3c) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and despite holding the Presidency of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Mexican justice operates on the presumption of guilt, and accused can be held for several years while evidence is collected. Presiding judge Maldonado, widely perceived to be following the Government line and deliberately prolonging the process indefinitely, is insisting on calling more than 100 police to give evidence, five by five, every few weeks. After more than five months of imprisonment not one of the 27 prisoners yet has a trial date.

Legal Process Itself Constitutes Torture

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Families Protest as Ombudsman Delivers his Recommendations

Every time this or that policeman gives his evidence, the prisoners face being dragged before the judge to face those they accuse – frequently the same person that beat, threatened, sexually assaulted or raped the prisoner. They receive no counselling or psychological support in prison, and one of the young women prisoners who was beaten and sexually assaulted is now being treated for depression. (This young ethnology student had accompanied her father, a doctor, to provide medical assistance to Alexis Benhumea, the young man who subsequently died from his head injury inflicted by security forces. When her father left the house to get an ambulance for Alexis, he was detained and beaten, and like his daughter Mariana, still remains in prison. She was later set upon by 50 police, detained, beaten, and sexually assaulted.)

In addition, there is disagreement about whether the case is even in Judge Maldonado’s jurisdiction, as he insists, with a Federal judge conceding that Maldonado is not competent to hear the matters, and that they are out of his jurisdiction.

Whilst these arguments continue, the prisoners, who have already been found to have been arbitrarily detained, illegally arrested, and to have suffered torture, continue their imprisonment without access to independent medical and psychosocial assistance, to friends, and even to some family members - one woman prisoner, a food-seller caught up in the events on the day, is permitted visits from her husband and youngest child, but not from her other five children, for example.

No Grounds for Custodial Remand

Having established that the Texcoco/Atenco operation was designed to repress and criminalise social/political protest, that the arrests and detentions were arbitrary and illegal, and that the detainees were all subjected to torture, it is incomprehensible that the Ombudsman made no recommendation in regard to the immediate release of the remaining 27 prisoners.

It is even more astounding given the complete absence of risk that they represent to the general public. What threat does Dr Guillermo Selvas pose - that he might heal people? How dangerous! What threat does his daughter Mariana pose – that she might read a book? Write an essay? How perilous! What threat does Magdalena García Duran pose - that she might feed someone? How threatening!

International Human Rights Organisations In On the Act

Several human rights delegations from France, Italy, Canada, and the United States arrived in Mexico this week to investigate this case. Let us hope that like the victims and their families, they also will not be easily fobbed off with the Ombudsman’s Findings alone, and that they, too, will demand real action of a type denied his office in its Recommendations.

There can be little hope of redress from the United Nations system, with Mexico presiding over the current Human Rights Council. How THAT ever came about defies all reason, given their sustained, systematic and serious abuses, with total and ongoing impunity, over several decades.

Clearly, equally sustained, systematic and serious international pressure in every quarter, and from every person with any commitment to human rights, is needed to ensure that these 27 prisoners suffer no longer at the hands of the repressive Mexican authorities – and that unlike the people of Oaxaca, Michoacan and Tabasco, the rest of Mexico may be spared a similar fate.


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