In Mexico, journalist Lydia Cacho persisted, and yesterday she won

Lydia Cacho

Yesterday, January 10, 2019, the Mexican government formally and publicly apologized to Lydia Cacho for having kidnapped, imprisoned and tortured her seventeen years ago. For far more than seventeen years, Lydia Cacho has insisted on uncovering and reporting the truth concerning violence against women and children. She persisted. This week, in response to the apology, Lydia Cacho said, “If women such as myself have struggled for human rights to the point of risking our lives, the least the government can do is to protect its journalists … They told us that journalism was men’s work and that human rights are mere sentimentality. I have already forgiven my torturers because I never allowed them to colonize either my body or my soul.” She persisted.

In 2003, Lydia Cacho started writing a series on a pedophilia sex ring in Cancun. The police did nothing in response, and so in 2004, Lydia Cacho wrote Los demonios del Edén (The Demons of Eden: The Power That Protects Child Pornography), which detailed the conditions and horrors of the ring. In December 2005, police officers from Puebla kidnapped Lydia Cacho, drove her almost a thousand miles to Puebla, where she was held and subjected to death threats, rape threats and other forms of psychological terror. After a half day in jail, she was released, but the threats continued. Tape recordings revealed a plot to kidnap, rape and murder her. Lydia Cacho sued the governor of Puebla for having violated her human and civil rights, as a woman and as a journalist. In 2007, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled against Lydia Cacho. She persisted.

For the next twelve years, Lydia Cacho continued to research and write exposes of violence against women and children in Mexico and beyond. She continued to press for the dignity of journalists as well as women and children. She continued to press for the dignity of Mexico as well. Last year, Last August the United Nations Commission on Human Rights declared that Lydia Cacho’s rights had been violated. Yesterday, finally, the government of Mexico agreed. The Assistant Secretary for Human Rights Alejandro Encinas declared: “On behalf of the Mexican State, I offer you a public apology for the violation of your human rights in the exercise of your right to freedom of expression.” He then enumerated the five categories of rights violations for which he, and Mexico, were atoning: violation of the right to freedom of expression; arbitrary detention; torture as an instrument of investigation; violence and discrimination based on gender; impunity and corruption encouraged by institutions. Olga Sánchez, the Head of the Ministry of the Interior, added: “We are here today to offer apologies on behalf of the Mexican government to Lydia Cacho and to confirm that the government of the Republic of Andrés Manuel López Obrador will not be subservient to private interests”. 

Lydia Cacho persisted. Thanks to Lydia Cacho,impunity no longer holds carte blanche in Mexico. Journalism matters. Women matter. Elections matter. The truth matters. In this period of menace, of expanding assassination and torture of human rights and women’s rights defenders and of journalists, exposing the demons of Eden matters. Today’s good, if fragile, news: Lydia Cacho persisted, and yesterday, we all won.

(Photo Credit: Animal Politico)

Between Amal Fathy and Dafne McPherson Veloz, we see our terrestrial globe multiplied endlessly

Dafne McPherson Veloz

“I saw in a closet in Alkmaar a terrestrial globe between two mirrors that multiplied it endlessly.” (Jorge Luis Borges, “The Aleph”)

This year, the Mediterranean, the graveyard of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, the graveyard built by so-called democratic nation-States, spread across the entire globe, from the borderlands of the United States to the killing fields of the Occupied Palestinian Territories to the factories of India to the primary schools of South Africa to the garbage dumps of Mozambique to the houses where domestic workers live and work, in Saudi ArabiaMalaysia and beyond. It’s not only that the world proliferated in toxic and lethal sites for more and more women, children, and men, but also that the capacity for concern and active caring declined. States of abandonment yearn to produce a globe of abandonment. The glue that holds that dreamt globe together is confinement: prisons, jails, immigrant detention centers, juvenile detention centers, accompanied by an increased use and greater proliferation of solitary confinement. Additionally, there are seclusion rooms, in schools and hospitals. This is our terrestrial globe, and, at the end of this year, it spins between two mirrors: Amal Fathy, in Egypt, and Dafne McPherson Veloz, in Mexico.

Amal Fathy is a widely known women’s rights defender in Egypt. On May 9, Amal Fathy posted a video on Facebook in which she described an incident of sexual harassment and criticized the government for refusing to address sexual harassment of women. Amal Fathy, her husband and their three-year-old child were taken into police custody. Her husband and child were released. Amal Fathy was held. The next day she was transferred to Qanater Women’s Prison. Since then Amal Fathy has been in so-called preventive detention. Her health has deteriorated. Four months after her initial arrest, Amal Fathy was convicted of “spreading fake news that harms national security.” She was also charged with membership in a terrorist organization. Fathy appealed the decision, was told that if she posted bail she could leave prison, posted bail, and then was told she could not leave prison because she was being charged as well as a terrorist. Amal Fathy was sentenced to two years in prison. Last Thursday, Amal Fathy was released on probation. Yesterday, Sunday, the appeals court approved the two-year prison sentence, and so Amal Fathy faces returning to prison.

Dafne McPherson Veloz was not a well-known person. In 2015, she worked in department store. She was the mother of a three-year-old child. One day, Dafne McPherson Veloz felt abdominal pains. They grew severe. She went to the restroom. The pains persisted. Finally, to her great surprise, Dafne McPherson Veloz gave birth to a child, who subsequently died of asphyxiation. Dafne McPherson Veloz went into shock and fainted in the bathroom. Immediately afterwards, she was charged with homicide. Dafne McPherson Veloz was convicted of that crime and sentenced to 16 years in prison. Dafne McPherson Veloz has spent three years behind bars. From the outset, she maintained her innocence. Doctors say she suffered from hypothyroidism, the symptoms of which masked the pregnancy. Although Dafne McPherson Veloz went to the doctors, none mentioned that she was or might be pregnant. Dafne McPherson Veloz and her attorneys have argued consistently that her trial was improper, both because of inadequate evidence and because the judge relied on “stereotypes” of how a woman, a “good mother”, should live. In other words, Dafne McPherson Veloz “should have known” she was pregnant and so she is guilty of murder. After three years, Dafne McPherson Veloz’s request for an appeal has been heard; her case will be heard January 21, 2019.

Two young women, Dafne McPherson Veloz and Amal Fathy, stare at each other and see themselves, multiplied endlessly.  They see women refusing to accept the globe of abandonment as inevitable. Patriarchy, and prisons, will attempt to expand, but women are resisting, in small and enormous ways. Tomorrow starts a new year of struggle and hope, however difficult, abounding. One must imagine Dafne McPherson Veloz and Amal Fathy happy.

Amal Fathy

(Photo Credit 1: El Sol de San Juan / Miriam Martinez) (Photo Credit 2: Amnesty)

Around the world, domestic workers demand decent, living wage and work conditions NOW!

Across the globe, domestic workers are struggling and organizing for decent work conditions, a living wage, respect and dignity. In 2011, the International Labour Organization passed C189, Convention concerning decent work for domestic workers. In 2013, the Convention went into effect. As of now, 24 countries have ratified the Convention. And yet … Yesterday, domestic workers in Tamil Nadu, in India, gathered to demand a living wage and legally enforced protections. Yesterday, in Mexico, the ILO reported that 1% of domestic workers in Mexico have any kind of social security. Yesterday, a report from England argued that the way to end exploitation of migrant workers, and in particular domestic workers, is a fair and living wage. Today, an article in South Africa argued that Black women domestic workers bear the brunt of “persistent inequality”. Today, an article in France argued that economic indicators systematically exclude “domestic labor” and so exclude women. What’s going here? In a word, inequality. Women bear the brunt of urban, national, regional and global inequality, and domestic workers sit in the dead center of the maelstrom.

Today, the inaugural World Inequality Report was issued. Since 1980, income inequality has increased almost everywhere, but the United States has led the way to astronomic, and catastrophic, income inequality. In the 1980s, inequality in western Europe and the United States was more or less the same. At that time, the top 1% of adults earned about 10% of national income in both western Europe and the United States. Today in western Europe, the top 1% of adults earns 12% of the national income. In the United States, the top 1% earns 20% of the national income. It gets worse. In Europe, economic growth has been generally the same at all levels. In the United States, the top half has been growing, while the bottom half, 117 million adults, has seen no income growth.

According to the report, the United States “experiment” has led the a global economic, and state, capture: “The global top 1% earners has captured twice as much of that growth as the 50% poorest individuals …. The top 1% richest individuals in the world captured twice as much growth as the bottom 50% individuals since 1980.” The authors note, “The global middle class (which contains all of the poorest 90% income groups in the EU and the United States) has been squeezed.”

Call it global wealth – state capture relies on expanding “opportunities” for the global poor – particularly in countries like China, India, and Brazil – while squeezing the global middle class, and that’s where domestic workers come in. Paid domestic labor has been one of the fastest growing global labor sectors for the past four decades. Women have entered the paid labor force thanks to other women who have tended to the household work. After its preamble, the ILO C189 opens, “Recognizing the significant contribution of domestic workers to the global economy, which includes increasing paid job opportunities for women and men workers with family responsibilities, greater scope for caring for ageing populations, children and persons with a disability, and substantial income transfers within and between countries …”

That language was formally accepted in 2011. Six years later, domestic workers are still waiting, and struggling, for that recognition. In Mexico, groups are organizing to include domestic workers into Social Security programs as well as to ensure that employers pay the end of year bonus that all decent, and not so decent, employers in Mexico pay. In India, domestic workers are marching and demanding protections as well as a living wage. Domestic workers are women workers are workers, period. Today’s Inequality Report reminds us that the extraordinary wealth of those at the very top has been ripped from the collective labor and individual bodies of domestic workers. Structured, programmatic ever widening inequality, at the national and global level, begins and ends with the hyper-exploitation of domestic workers, through employers’ actions and State inaction. Who built today’s version of the seven gates of Thebes? Domestic workers. It’s past time to pay the piper. NOW is the time!

(Photo Credit: El Sie7e de Chiapas)

Every day in Latin America, 12 women are killed. Seven of them are killed in Mexico.

In 1993, a group of women shocked Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, with the news that dozens of girls and women had been murdered and dumped, like garbage, around the city during the year. As the numbers of murders grew over the years, and as the police forces proved unable and unwilling to find the perpetrators, the protestors became activists. They called the violence and consequent impunity for the crimes `femicide,’ and they demanded that the Mexican government, at the local, state, and federal levels, stop the violence and prosecute the murderers.”

In 1993, the murder of women, and the refusal of the State, in this instance the Mexican state, to do anything, was shocking. In an interview today, Luis Raúl González Pérez, President of Mexico’s National Commission for Human Rights, said that, across Latin America, 12 women are murdered every day. Seven women are killed every day in Mexico. In Mexico, this is called feminicidio. In English, it’s both femicide and feminicide. Whatever it’s called, it’s an atrocity, one that’s been created by successive Mexican governments, governments north and south, east and west of Mexico, multinational corporations, and more. Mexican femicide is the nation’s, and the world’s, cost of doing business. That’s why the hotspots of femicide in Mexico have moved from the southern border to the northern. Ever increasing mounds of women’s cadavers is not even collateral damage in the national, regional and global development scheme, and those mounds are piling up at an ever-increasing rate.

A recent report on household relations, from the National Institute for Statistics and Geography, suggests that in Mexico 7 out of every 10 women has experienced violence, most of which is sexual and emotional. Ten areas exceed the national average. In Mexico City, for example, eight of ten women have suffered violence.

Right now, 12 areas in Mexico have been issued a “femicide alert” by the Commission. Another five been under the alert for almost six months. When these alerts are issued, the locale often sees it as a hassle and an embarrassment. As González Pérez explained, “Local governments must see that this alert is a tool that does not seek to harm, but to contribute to the solution of the problem. [Some consider it a political coup] because it is misunderstood. It feels like it’s  reproaching them for the past, but it’s actually a proposal to move towards the future.” In what world do governments see femicide as a misplaced garbage dump, as bad for business, and nothing more? In our world.

Since that day in 1993, women have been protesting, organizing, militating against femicide. Mexican women have reached across borders and across oceans for support and for models of anti-femicide activism and policy. Since January 2016, Maria Salguero, a geophysical engineer, has designed and maintained an interactive femicide map. Guadalupe García Álvarez, a member of the Mazahua indigenous nation, suffered violence at home and then, at the age of 13, was sent to Mexico City to work as a maid. She decided enough was enough, and left. She went to university, completed her studies, and then returned home, where she founded, MULYD, Mujeres Lucha y Derechos Para Todas. Women’s Struggle and Rights for All (Women and Girls). Poets, such as Mijail Lamas, have invented new kinds of poetry, documentary poetry, to do more than “draw attention” to femicide and to violence against women. Lamas, and other poets, are insisting that the assault on women is an assault on language, on communication, on the soul and spirit of each and every human being, and not only in Mexico.

Every day, seven women in Mexico are murdered. That arithmetic is described as a crisis. It is. The crisis is violence, the violence committed by men in relationships, by men in corporations and investment agencies and banks, and by men in charge of governments, and not only the government of Mexico. Where is the global outrage at a contemporary witch hunt that threatens, as they always have, every woman?

 

(Photo credit: SDP Noticias / Claroscuro)

Mexico City: The femicide of earthquake and the feminism of recovery

On September 19, 2017, Mexico City was upturned by a powerful earthquake. Reports suggest that the quake killed 330 people nationwide. In Mexico City, 198 people lost their lives. Of the 198, 127 were women, 71 were men. This is the altogether predictable and planned mathematics of earthquakes, and of “natural disasters”. As with human stampedes, earthquakes have a morbid gender ratio, during the event and after.

Who are the women who died? The earthquake struck at 1:14 in the afternoon. Thirty-four buildings collapsed. Many of them were apartment buildings. According to Mexican sociologist Patricio Solis, the reason for the preponderance of women among the dead is straightforward: “the segregation of women and of gender roles.” First, many apartments were destroyed, and in the early afternoon, the residents were housewives and domestic workers. Second, a major garment sweatshop building collapsed, and its workers were almost all women. Third, a school collapsed, and its workers were predominantly women.

None of this is new. In the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, textile “factories” collapsed, and women workers perished. The factory building that collapsed this time had survived the 1985 earthquake. It was one of the few. It was well known to the authorities. It was well known that hundreds of women, many of them undocumented, worked for criminally low wages there. It was well known that the passageways and stairs were too narrow to accommodate everyone, should the need arise. One newspaper called the collapse and deaths “industrial homicide” and “state crime”. They should have included “industrial femicide” among the charges. Thus far, the government has remained silent.

None of this is new. A study published in 2007 considered “natural disasters” in 141 countries from 1981 to 2002: “We find, first, that natural disasters lower the life expectancy of women more than that of men. In other words, natural disasters (and their subsequent impact) on average kill more women than men or kill women at an earlier age than men … Second, the stronger the disaster (as approximated by the number of people killed relative to population size), the stronger this effect on the gender gap in life expectancy. That is, major calamities lead to more severe impacts on female life expectancy (relative to that of males) than do smaller disasters. Third, the higher women’s socioeconomic status, the weaker is this effect on the gender gap in life expectancy. Taken together our results show that it is the socially constructed gender-specific vulnerability of females built into everyday socioeconomic patterns that lead to the relatively higher female disaster mortality rates compared to men.”

In 2000, the Pan American Health Organization studied the increased and mass produced vulnerability of women and its toll in natural disasters and disaster relief. In 2002, the World Health Organization did as well. In 2005, Oxfam reported on the tsunami’s impact on women. And the list goes on. There is no surprise in the gender of earthquake mortality rates. We were told for over a decade, and we did nothing. We did less than nothing. We built more unsafe workspaces, and we segregated the working day ever more fiercely. We wear the dead in the filaments of our clothing.

After the buildings collapsed, women from across Mexico rushed to the streets of Mexico City and, in many parts, led the rescue efforts, searching for loved ones and strangers in the rubble. Self-described feminist brigades rushed to the factory in the Colonia Obrera. As Mar Cruz explained, “The people in this factory are women, and they are immigrant women in a country where they are very much discriminated against, in a country that doesn’t care much about them. Knowing the treatment that they face in the factories, it was up to us as feminists. We are women defending women. We have demanded our right to defend our female comrades and their human rights.” Dominique Draco added, “We are here as feminists because we are fed up with being murdered. Femicide is one way of killing us, but this is also a way of killing us: in a collapsed building that doesn’t have proper working conditions.”

 

 

(Photo Credit: Animal Politico/Manu Ureste)

In elections from the State of Mexico to the councils of Cambodia, women are on the move

Delfina Gómez Álvarez

This weekend saw three major elections. In Lesotho, people went to the polls to elect a Prime Minister … for the third time in three years. Despite a heavy presence of military at the polls, generally reports are that everything was orderly and reasonably fair and free. The other two elections, for the Governor of the State of Mexico and for council and commune seats in Cambodia, the electoral story is all about women: Delfina Gómez Álvarez in Mexico, and in Cambodia, Mu Sochua, Tep Vanny, Preah Vihear, Jen Juri, Kem Tola, Sok Da, Khum Rany, Nget Chan Dara and countless others. While the particularities from Mexico to Cambodia my change, the story of the insurgent ascendancy of women in response to neoliberal models of so-called development that tally women as so many disposable bodies is the same. From Mexico to Cambodia, women are saying NO!

In the State of Mexico, known as Edomex, Delfina Gómez Álvarez, of the relatively new leftist Morena party, has been running a fierce campaign against a candidate who is president Enrique Peña Nieto’s cousin and whose party has ruled Edomex for 90 years. Additionally, his father and grandfather were governors of Edomex. So, it was a done deal, right? Wrong. Delfina Gómez covered the state, from one end to the other and all points in between, and the State of Mexico is Mexico’s most populous and most densely populated state. Not a member of an illustrious family, Delfina Gómez had spent most of her adult life as a teacher. When she entered politics, in 2012, she ran for Municipal President of Texcoco, and won. Delfina Gómez Álvarez was the first woman to win a municipal election in Texcoco. Now she’s taking that to the State level. It’s unclear, as of now, who won the election. Both sides are claiming victory, and the margins are narrow. What is clear is Delfina Gómez Álvarez, standing loud and proud, and urging the people onward.

In Cambodia, women –  like Yorm Bopha, Tep Vanny, Phan Chhunreth, Song Srey Leap, and Bo Chhorvy and thousands of others – have led the campaigns against land grabs, mass evictions, and other forms of `urban development.’ With the elections coming up, many activists – such as Jen Juri, Kem Tola, Sok Da, Khum Rany, Nget Chan Dara – decided to join Mu Sochua and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party. Woman after woman told a version of the same story. They had had enough of both the patriarchal national form of so-called development AND the patriarchal forms of opposition. Despite the difficulties of moving up in any Cambodia party bureaucracy, they decided the time is now. They had pushed for so long, and still the bulldozers came, whole communities were removed, and if there was any public outcry, it was short lived and then forgotten.

As in Edomex, the results of the elections are not altogether clear. The national ruling party seems to have won at the national level, but in many regions, the CNRP did well, and women candidates did well.

Winning an election is important, terrifically and often terribly important, but so is entering the race, and in Mexico and Cambodia this weekend, that’s what women did. Where are the women? They’re in the garment factories and, like activist Tep Vanny, in the prisons, and they’re in the polling booths, on the election posters, on the platform and dais, in the meetings, and soon, very soon, they will be in the governor’s estate, in the council and commune bodies, and beyond. Soon, very soon, and not just in Cambodia and Mexico.

Khum Rany

 

(Photo Credit 1: Excelsior / Cuartoscuro) (Photo Credit 2: Phnom Penh Post / Pha Lina)

For the women of Atenco, today is one more day of women’s fight for justice and freedom

 


In 2001, Mexico’s federal government joined with the local government of the State of Mexico and “expropriated” the land wherein lay the village of San Salvador Atenco. In order to build a new airport, the State, with little to no consultation, decided to forcibly remove thousands of people, mostly indigenous, from the lands they had inhabited for generations. The people of San Salvador Atenco organized a massive resistance to this plan. In May 2006, the Governor of the State of Mexico Enrique Peña Nieto, sent in the police “to clean up the mess.” Two people were killed and 217 detained, of whom more than 50 women were tortured and sexually violated. Though haunted by the experience, the women refused to become specters. For a decade they have refused every government attempt to silence them, from intimidation to bribes. They have said, every day, we want justice and freedom, and that means we want the truth to be known. This week, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights decided to pursue the case of “Mariana Selvas Gómez y others”. These are the women of Atenco: Mariana Selvas Gómez, Georgina Edith Rosales Gutiérrez, María Patricia Romero Hernández, Norma Aidé Jiménez Osorio, Claudia Hernández Martínez, Bárbara Italia Méndez Moreno, Ana María Velasco Rodríguez, Yolanda Muñoz Diosdada, Cristina Sánchez Hernández, Patricia Torres Linares and Suhelen Gabriela Cuevas Jaramillo.

Working with the Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez, better known as the Centro Prodh, the women fought, day in and day out, for one thing, “a public reckoning of what happened to them and who ordered it.” During the last decade, they say they have met many other Mexican women, and in particular indigenous Mexican women, who have suffered State-administered sexual torture. For that reason, they joined the campaign, “Breaking the silence. All against sexual torture.”

For ten years, the women of Atenco lived with trauma and memory, watching the men who tortured them walk free and empowered, watching the State do worse and less than nothing, and they refused to accept any of that. When the State tried to threaten and intimidate them, they pushed back. When the State offered them free homes and scholarships, they refused. They said, like the land, like the Earth itself, they were not merchandise, and they were not for sale.

In 2011, Martha Pérez Pineda, of the Peoples Front in Defense of the Land, an organization begun in 2002 in San Salvador Atenco, explained, “Today is one more day of women’s fight for justice and freedom … It was the women who led the fight against the government’s imposition of constructing a new airport on our land. It was we, women, who decided that nothing was going to be constructed there. It was us who decided that those lands were going to keep on being farmlands. We stood firm even when the government tried to subjugate us and to break up the social movement, we, the women said you are not going to subjugate us. We are going out to the streets, in spite of the risk to our lives and our integrity, we are not going to be quiet, we are going to keep on demanding freedom and justice … in Atenco we women say no, we will keep on raising our machete, we will keep on raising our bush of maize that symbolizes life. Those symbols give us a lot of strength … Everything comes from the land, she is so generous. When we walked in our territory during these ten years of fight we see how ourselves in our personal territory as women, have also taken a long journey. In Atenco we are no longer the same women who began the fight. This fight has changed our behavior in front of the male comrades, it has transformed our decisions and our life plans. This fight has helped us to understand that we are not the only women who are living or who lived this violence in 2006, even if violence against women continues.”

That was 2011. Five years later, for the women of Atenco and for the women they stand for, the struggle and the transformation continue.

 

(Photo Credit 1: Zapateando) (Photo Credit 2: Proceso / Miguel Dimayuga)

Jacinta Francisco Marcial, Alberta Alcántara Juan, Teresa González Cornelio demand justice!

Jacinta Francisco Marcial

Jacinta Francisco Marcial, Alberta Alcántara Juan, and Teresa González Cornelio are Otomí-speaking ñhäñhú women street vendors who have struggled for the past decade to force the Mexican government to do more than `stop oppressing’ indigenous women. Asserting their dignity as indigenous women, they have demanded justice. This week they may have moved a step closer to that goal.

Jacinta Francisco Marcial, Alberta Alcántara Juan, and Teresa González Cornelio were arrested, charged, tried, convicted, and sentenced to decades in prison for a crime that never occurred. On March 26, 2006, members of the now-defunct Federal Investigation Agency (AFI) of the federal Attorney General’s Office showed up at the town plaza of Santiago Mexquititlán in the state of Querétaro. Never identifying themselves as police, they began to shake down the local street vendors, the vast majority of whom were ñhäñhú women. The women massed around the agents and demanded they stop their extortion. The agents’ superiors arrived and offered to pay for damages, and that should have been that.

Four months later, Jacinta Francisco Marcial, Alberta Alcántara Juan, and Teresa González Cornelio were arrested and charged with having kidnapped six agents. The evidence was allegedly a newspaper photograph that showed the three women somewhere in the vicinity of the crowd of indigenous women. The trial dragged on for two years. Not a single federal agent ever showed up or gave testimony, and yet all three women were sentenced to 21 years in prison. That’s justice in Querétaro for the crime of being a working poor, indigenous woman.

At the time of her imprisonment, Jacinta Francisco Marcial was 43 years old. She was married and the mother of six children. She sold juices and ice cream in the town square. Jacinta Francisco Marcial was guilty of the crime of survival with a modicum of dignity.

When she was sent to jail, the Centro Prodh took up her case. Soon after, Amnesty began investigating and campaigning as well. In September 2009, Jacinta Francisco Marcial was released from prison. The Attorney General’s Office had dropped the charges, but never declared her innocent. In April 2010, Alberta Alcántara Juan and Teresa González Cornelio were also released. At the time of their release Alberta Alcántara Juan was 31, and Teresa González Cornelio 25 years old. Teresa González Cornelio gave birth to a baby girl while in prison.

The three women had been released, but Jacinta Francisco Marcial had not been exonerated, and so she sued the State for damages and demanded an apology. In May 2014, in a groundbreaking case, Jacinta Francisco Marcial won, the first time a Mexican citizen sued the State for wrongful incarceration and was awarded reparations and a public apology.

The State refused to pay up or apologize. This week, the earlier judgment was confirmed, and there’s no chance for the State to appeal the decision. The State must compensate and formally apologize, and it must do so by September 2016.

Mexico currently holds over 9000 indigenous people in its prisons. The prisons are hellholes generally, and for indigenous people, even more so. There are little to no language services either in the courts or in the prisons, and so many indigenous people are left to fend for themselves, which is to say disappear. As Jacinta Francisco Marcial has explained on more than one occasion, she didn’t know what kidnapping was when she was charged with that crime.

According to the Mexican National Commission on Human Rights, the conditions of women’s prisons are deplorable. Querétaro’s Centro de Reinserción Social Femenil San José El Alto offers threats, humiliation, discrimination; toxic maintenance conditions; unregulated and irregular application of solitary confinement; overcrowding; and more. According to the Commission, Querétaro’s Centro de Reinserción Social Femenil San José El Alto is not one of the worst women’s prisons in Mexico, not by a long shot.

The State tried to crush Jacinta Francisco Marcial, Alberta Alcántara Juan, and Teresa González Cornelio, because it considered three working poor indigenous women as so much dust. From the streets to the courts to the prisons to the highest offices in the land, State agents thought they could abuse such women with impunity. But when they struck Jacinta Francisco Marcial, Alberta Alcántara Juan, and Teresa González Cornelio, they hit and dislodged a boulder that will continue to roll and pound until the State of impunity is crushed. There are many Jacintas in Mexico and beyond.

 

(Photo Credit: Centro Prodh) (Video Credit: Amnesty / YouTube)

The Topo Chico massacre, Mexico’s fire this time

Yet again, women gather outside prison gates to find out if their loved ones are still alive. This time, it’s the Topo Chico prison, in Nuevo León, in northern Mexico.

Yesterday, something happened that left at least 49 prisoners dead and 12 injured. That `something’ has been variously described as a battle, riot, clash, brawl, fight, pitched battle, and gang war. It was all of those, and it was more. It was a predicted event, and to that extent, irrespective of the violent histories of the individual prisoners involved, it was a planned massacre.

In 2014, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Méndez, visited Mexico’s prisons, including Topo Chico: “Overcrowding … is a serious problem … The Government reported a total prison population of 248,487 men and women, distributed among centres with a total capacity of 197,993 persons … Overcrowding is … caused by a failure to use alternatives to prison and by abuse of pretrial detention, especially its mandatory application. Of the total prison population of 248,487 detainees, 104,763 have been charged … In … Topo Chico … inmates have excessive control over services, benefits and the functioning of the prison (inmate “self-rule”), which gives rise to disparities in the exercise of rights, corruption and situations of violence and intimidation among inmates, all of which the State has a responsibility to prevent. The Special Rapporteur accepts that protective measures must sometimes be taken and that it is often inmates who request them, but such measures cannot involve cruel, inhuman or degrading conditions. He draws attention to the conditions observed in the Topo Chico prison “doghouse”, a small enclosure where over 40 detainees allegedly in need of protection are living in unacceptably cramped and insanitary conditions … In …Topo Chico … inmates generally had no water, light or ventilation in their cells. Health conditions were usually grim and many inmates had to sleep on the floor or in shifts … Solitary confinement generally involves critical overcrowding in small cells and appalling conditions, particularly in … Topo Chico.”

In the same year, Mexico’s National Commission of Human Rights assessed all the prisons in Mexico, and rated Topo Chico a 5.72 on a scale of 10. The Commission reported that Topo Chico was designed for a maximum of 3635 prisoners, and held 4585. The Commission found that, in 2013, the male wing of Topo Chico was 55% over its limits, and the women’s section was 56% overpopulated.

None of this is new. Topo Chico was a well known bomb set to go off, and it did. That the pieces of that bomb are gang members or have violent pasts, or not, is a distraction. The real violence is the cramming of more and more bodies into less and less space that is itself less and less livable.

James Baldwin wrote, “There is a limit to the number of people any government can put in prison, and a rigid limit indeed to the practicality of such a course. A bill is coming in that I fear America is not prepared to pay.”

For Mexico, this Topo Chico massacre is the fire this time. The bill came in, and now, as so often, the women stand at the gates calling, weeping, mourning.

 

(Photo Credit: Juan Cedilla / Proceso)

The forgotten grave of Nadia Vera, Yesenia Quiroz, Nicole, Alejandra, Ruben Espinosa

On Friday, July 31, five people, four women and one man, were tortured and murdered, in the Narvarte neighborhood of Mexico City. The women were raped and tortured and then shot. The women are Yesenia Quiroz Alfaro, a student from Michoacan; Nicole, a Colombian activist; Alejandra, a domestic worker; and Nadia Vera, a human rights activist. The man was Ruben Espinosa, a photojournalist for Proceso, a leading news magazine. Both Espinosa and Vera were public in their investigations and critiques of the powerful in Veracruz, which is one reason they had both fled that state for the presumed safety of the Federal District. Because of the sexual violence and torture against the four women, the State may pursue a case of femicide.

Nadia Vera was a leading member of the Xalapa, Veracruz, section of the #YoSoy132 student and youth movement. She was a social anthropologist. A year ago, after having been beaten by the police and after receiving anonymous death threats, Nadia Vera left Veracruz. In Mexico City, she worked as a cultural promoter in a cultural center and was, by many accounts, “happy for the first time in a long time.” At the same time, she continued her social justice work. When Ruben Espinosa fled Xalapa, he went to stay with his friend and comrade, Nadia Vera.

Nadia Vera was happy, but she also knew that the State was responsible for the violence and death in Veracruz and would crush those who called it out. Eight months ago, she gave an interview with Rompeviento Televisión, which concluded with this statement, “I hold Javier Duarte, the governor of the state of Veracruz, and his entire Cabinet responsible for anything that happens to me and my family … I want to be absolutely clear that it is the responsibility of the State, not of the security forces, because it is the State that is directly responsible for sending them to repress us.”

It is the State that raped and butchered four women in Narvarte last Friday, and everyone knows that. As Vera said earlier in the same interview, “How many journalists have been assassinated, and absolutely nothing has been done? How many students? How many activists? How many human rights defenders have been assassinated or disappeared? We have an impressively high level of disappearances.” Nadia Vera went on to explain that in Xalapa, and in Veracruz generally, the State and the narcotraffickers worked hand in glove, and that journalists, students, activists, human rights defenders were trying to survive and thrive somewhere in the spaces between the State hand and the narco glove.

That interview was titled, “Veracruz: la fosa olvidada”. Veracruz: the forgotten grave. Five more people are being laid into that forgotten grave, four women, one man. I want to be absolutely clear that it is the responsibility of the State.

 

(Video Credits: Vimeo / Rompimiento Televisión)