Mexican Military Raids Social Organization’s OfficeUpside Down World]
Written by Kristin Bricker
On Tuesday, January 11, at about 6:45 pm, the Mexican Army raided the Oaxaca City office of the Committee for the Defense of the People’s Rights (CODEP) and the Committee for the Defense of Women’s Rights (CODEM). According to CODEP members who were present during the raid, approximately 20 uniformed soldiers in an official vehicle pulled up in front of the organizations’ building, broke down a makeshift sheet metal door, and searched their offices. After the soldiers broke down the door, they held CODEP member Patrocino Martinez at gunpoint. Martinez says that he demanded a search warrant, but that the soldiers pushed him and rushed up the stairs of the building, which is currently under construction.
Other members of the organization managed to lock the doors of the offices that contained their computers, copiers, and files, so the soldiers were unable to search those offices. However, the soldiers entered other unlocked offices, which included a dormitory and a screen-printing workshop. According to Martinez, the soldiers took photos of those offices. However, the soldiers did not remove any items from the building, nor did they make any arrests.
CODEP members who were present during the raid say that the soldiers questioned them at gunpoint about the organization’s work and organized crime. Ernesto Lopez says that the soldiers’ commander, who identified himself only as “Carlos,” told him that they received an “anonymous tip” that “organized crime held meetings” in the building. Meanwhile, other soldiers questioned neighbors about possible criminal or drug trafficking activity in or near the building.
During the raid, the soldiers never showed a search warrant, and they refused to identify themselves. However, one CODEP member did manage to get the vehicle number off of the large military convoy-style truck that the soldiers used in the raid.
In the days following the raid, CODEP and CODEM called a member of Congress who contacted the military about the raid. The legislator told them that the military would only say that it had “detected something” in the neighborhood, triggering the raid.
CODEP and CODEM have filed formal complaints with the state and national human rights commissions and the Mexican Congress’ human rights commission, requesting that those three entities investigate the raid and provide CODEP with information as to why it occurred.
History of Repression
In an interview with Upside Down World, CODEP and CODEM members appeared unfazed by the recent nighttime raid on their offices by soldiers armed with high-powered assault rifles. This is because this wasn’t the first time they’ve had run-ins with government forces, nor is it the worst attack they’ve suffered. In this latest raid, “they controlled themselves,” says CODEM leader Claudia Tapia. “They used to unleash unimaginable violence upon us.”
In their eighteen years of organizing women, peasants, taxi drivers, and indigenous peoples, CODEP and member organizations like CODEM have faced stiff opposition from the state government—and former governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz in particular. “From his days as a Senator, we knew what sort of person [Ruiz] was,” says Tapia. “So we opposed him from the beginning of his [gubernatorial] campaign.”
In February 2005, during the lead-up to the 2006 popular uprising that nearly toppled Ruiz, Mexico’s national human rights ombudsman at the time, José Luiz Soberanes, organized negotiations between the Oaxacan state government and CODEP. CODEP wished to negotiate the release of a political prisoner who had been arrested immediately after Ruiz took office. “However,” recounts Tapia, “instead of Ulises Ruiz arriving [at the negotiations] as he had agreed to do, he sent the police, and they detained our compañeros.” The police raided the hotel where the negotiations were to be held, as well as a CODEP office, arresting a total of seven CODEP members, some of whom spent months in prison.
CODEP, incensed, continued to organize against the Ruiz administration. In May 2006, when Oaxaca’s teachers union decided to strike for better conditions in their schools, CODEP joined their protest encampment in Oaxaca City’s main square. CODEP members and their children where in the protest encampment on June 14, the infamous day that Ruiz sent state police to violently break up the teachers’ protest encampment without warning.
CODEP is a founding member of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO), the conglomeration of organizations, communities, and individuals that arose from the June 14 repression to oust Gov. Ruiz. When then-president Vicente Fox sent federal police to violently break the APPO’s hold on Oaxaca City on November 25, 2006, CODEP member Marcos Garcia traveled to sympathetic Oaxacan communities to rally them to defend the capital. On November 27, as he was traveling to a community, Garcia came under fire by a group CODEP identifies as a paramilitary death squad, one of the many that operated in the state at that time. They attacked Garcia with high-powered assault rifles, riddling his vehicle with 177 bullets, eight of which struck him. Miraculously, he survived the attack.
State repression against CODEP has continued since the 2006 uprising. On October 25, 2008, around twenty federal police raided a house in Oaxaca City where CODEP members worked and lived. The raid, according to the police, was an anti-organized crime operation. The police tortured CODEP member Luis Ramón González López for an hour. They beat him, put a plastic bag over his head, and applied the infamous tehuacanazo, a torture tactic that is popular amongst Mexican police. The tehuacanazo involves squirting mineral water (sometimes mixed with chile peppers) up the victim’s nose, which creates a drowning feeling and an intense burning sensation, sometimes causing the victim to lose consciousness. The torture session left González López with a broken rib and a punctured lung. During the interrogation, the police demanded that González López tell them the location of a “suitcase full of money,” a request that puzzles CODEP to this day. “That house is so humble that the question doesn’t even make sense,” argues Tapia. “They just want to terrorize us.” At the end of the torture session, the police confiscated a laptop, two cell phones, and documents and newspaper clippings about the 2006 uprising.
The Drug War is the New Cold War
CODEP knows that it’s no coincidence that this is the second drug war raid they’ve suffered since President Felipe Calderón deployed the military to battle drug cartels in late 2006. In a press release about the raid, CODEP argued: “There is no doubt that this strategy of state terrorism that is being advanced in our country is part of the Merida Initiative [a drug war aid package] and the Mesoamerica Project [formerly known as Plan Puebla-Panama, a neoliberal “development” project] that the [Mexican] government signed with the United States… with the goal of destroying human rights and social organizations who oppose the continuation of the destruction of our nation and the violation of our national sovereignty by foreign interests.”
“This isn’t new,” Lopez argues. “We saw this already with the Cold War and other wars. Now the United States doesn’t have a pretext or a fictitious enemy like it had in the 1970s, where the enemy was communism. When the Soviet Block fell, there was no longer an enemy to use to invent a war. So now the enemy that they created is drug trafficking and organized crime. Now, those who fight to demand their rights from the government, they are organized crime too. In Mexico, with the Merida Initiative, the US wants to have military control over the territory…and it won’t permit a social movement like that which occurred in Oaxaca in 2006 or in Chiapas [with the Zapatistas] in the 1990s. The US wants to control our government and control our country so that it can appropriate Mexico’s natural resources.”
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Photo by Santiago Navarro – CODEP members stand in front of the door that the military broke down in a warrantless raid.