The high security prisons of Mexico are now home to those who demand justice, defend their territory against large neoliberal business projects, and organise their own security in the face of violent organised crime. In Nayarit, for example, Comandanta Nestora Salgado of the Community Police Force of Olinalá, Guerrero, is being held, along with recently imprisoned social activist Marco Antonio Suástegui Muñoz.
Suástegui is the spokesman and historical leader of the CECOP (Council of Ejidos and ‘Comuneros’ Opposed to the Parota Dam), and was imprisoned on July 3rd. This detention occurred just after the CECOP announced it would form its own Community Police Force in order to protect 47 communities in the region from government attempts to push forward with a hydroelectric project which will threaten the safety and livelihoods of citizens in the area.
The recent detention of Autodefensa leader José Mireles, meanwhile, has drawn support from throughout Mexico – including the Nahua town of Santa María Ostula, where the Community Police Force rejects government claims that organised crime in Michoacán is under control. They insist that criminal infrastructure (including the main leaders and economic activities of criminal groups) is still intact, and that the politicians who collude with organised criminals still enjoy complete freedom within each level of the government. While social activists are being increasingly criminalised, they say, no one has been imprisoned for the murders or disappearances of Ejido members (or comuneros) in Ostula or in other communities in Michoacán’s Costa Sierra.
Ostula’s support for Mireles is related to the fact that an assembly of over two thousand comuneros there forged an alliance with Mireles’s Autodefensa group. The town was also home to the first manifestation of indigenous organisation which aimed to exercise the right to self-defence. From the Pacific Coast of Michoacán, they insist that the disarming of their town and other communities in the Costa Sierra would result in their violent murder at the hands of organised criminals and that, for precisely this reason, they continue to defend their right – and the right of other communities – to defend themselves against transgressors.
In summary, the increased criminalisation of social activism and organisation is a shameful tactic employed by a government intent on defending the interests of criminals. The violence and intimidation of these criminal groups lead to displacement of communities, which in turn benefits corporations that are intimately linked to the government and drive its political projects. The imprisonment of those intent on defending their communities is simply an attack on the citizens that the government is supposed to serve. Conscious of its role in ‘controlling society’ for the benefit of corporate interests, the government justifies the detention of social activists with false evidence, and uses treachery, illegality, and human rights abuses to ensure that citizens remain passive and submissive. With increasing consciousness of government attacks on brave, noble citizens, however, the Mexican people are becoming more and more aware of the fact that their political system needs to change.
Translated and adapted from an article by Gloria Muñoz Ramírez, which originally appeared in “Los de abajo” (firstname.lastname@example.org) in La Jornada on July 5th, 2014, and also appeared at www.desinformemonos.org