Seventeen members of the Emiliano Zapata Campesino Organization-Carranza Region (OCEZ-RC) have been occupying the offices of the UN located in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas since Oct. 30. They have refused to leave and are demanding the release of three of the organization’s leaders: José Manuel Hernández Martínez (Chema), José Manuel de la Torre and Roselio de la Cruz González. The three men, residents of the community of 28 de Junio in the municipality of Venustiano Carranza, Chiapas, were detained earlier that month by the Federal Attorney General’s Office.
The OCEZ-RC has a long history of fighting for campesino rights, especially the right to land. Chiapas—one of the poorest states in Mexico—was by all accounts forgotten by the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and the land reform that resulted. Since the beginning of the 1980’s, the OCEZ has been moderately successful in occupying underused lands throughout the state and then gaining legal title for its small farmer members. This long and at times bloody conflict over land rights most recently came to a head last July when the OCEZ-RC occupied some 500 hectares.
Two and a half months later, on Sep. 30, the leader of the organization, José Manuel Hernández Martínez, was arrested and charged with damage to property, robbery and invading territory. In the past, he has also been accused of being a leader of the EPR, a Mexican guerrilla group, which both he and other members of the OCEZ-RC have denied. A month later, on Oct. 24, two more leaders of the OCEZ-RC were arrested and accused of being members of a drug and arms trafficking organization known as Los Pelones.
Several national and international human rights organizations have called for investigations into claims made by the detained OCEZ-RC members of torture and forced confessions. The arrests of the three OCEZ-RC leaders do not represent a new or isolated incident in Chiapas, but is set against the background of an increasingly hostile environment for human rights defenders and social movements. The sit-in at the UN offices in San Cristobal is accompanied by a contingent of approximately 150 members and supporters of the OCEZ-RC that are engaged in a sit-in in the plaza of the San Cristobal cathedral. In addition to demands for the release of the OCEZ leaders, the group has demanded the cancellation of 11 arrest warrants for other members of the organization.
OCEZ-RC Demonstration in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas
On Nov. 9, the OCEZ-RC held a press conference with the National Front of Struggle for Socialism (FNLS) announcing a new “National Campaign to Denounce and Reject the Criminalization of Popular Sturggles”. The campaign will continue until Dec. 15 and calls attention to the nationwide issue of the criminalization of social protest in Mexico.
For More Information (In Spanish):
Urgent Action: The communities of Laguna Verde and 28de Junio, municipality of Venustiano Caranza, harassed and threatened by police. (Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, 25/10/09)