Struggle for Release of Indigenous Political Prisoners Patishtan and Santiz Lopez Continues in Mexico

Following the very successful first “week of worldwide struggle for the freedom of the political prisoners Alberto Patishtán Gomez and Francisco Sántiz López” which took place from the May 15-22, 2012, a second week is now being organised from June 8-15. Although there can be no doubt about the innocence of the two indigenous prisoners, they have not yet been released, and concerns for their physical and mental health are growing.

“The true word and knowledge are essential to the struggle for justice, democracy, and dignity”.

Following the very successful first “week of worldwide struggle for the freedom of the political prisoners Alberto Patishtán Gomez and Francisco Sántiz López” which took place from the 15th to the 22nd May, a second week is now being organised from the 8th to the 15th of June 2012. There are several reasons for continuing to build on the momentum of the mobilisations and actions of support which spread throughout the first week. First and foremost, although there can be no doubt about the innocence of the two indigenous prisoners, they have not yet been released, and concerns for their physical and mental health are growing. Furthermore, it is clear that the campaign has had an impact, that the Chiapas government has been forced to listen, and that they do not like what they are hearing. New actions are therefore planned, in order to build on this momentum before Mexico is engulfed by the forthcoming elections.

The weeks of action have been called by the Movement for Justice in el Barrio, from the Other Campaign in New York, a Mexican immigrant organisation struggling for dignity and against displacement in East Harlem. Following the example of the Zapatistas, the MJB seek to build solidarity, link struggles and transcend borders. The Movement has a proven track record of campaigning for the release of political prisoners from San Sebastián Bachajón and San Salvador Atenco, and has developed an inspirational way of international organising, involving building strong links and the creative use of multimedia, especially videos featuring the prisoners themselves and their communities, and incorporating messages from groups in struggle throughout the world. This method has been powerfully adopted in their latest campaign.

The first week

Support was mobilised during the first week in Chiapas and many other parts of Mexico, as well as in Germany, South Africa, Argentina, England, Scotland, Canada, Holland, Switzerland, Brazil, New Zealand, Austria, France, Spain and the US. Very importantly, the campaign achieved the support of the Zapatistas themselves; Francisco Sántiz López is a support base of the EZLN, and the Junta de Buen Gobierno (Good Government Council) of Oventic, together with the prisoner’s family, gave their word in the week’s first video .

The second video consisted of a message from the Shack Dwellers Movement (Abahlali baseMjondolo) from South Africa, , adding their voice to the demands for freedom for the prisoners. “Our hearts and souls are with you. We feel the same way. Your struggle has been repressed by the oppressors of the freedom of the people. We must make justice. We will struggle to get them out of prison, they are there for telling the truth and struggling with the poor”.

The end of the week brought the release of the third video, a message of support from Brazil’s highly respected Movimiento de Trabajadores Sin Tierra (MST), the Landless Workers Movement, . In this video the MST representative declares “if the Mexican government does not want to be judged in international courts for crimes against the population and the popular movements, it must free Professor Alberto Patishtán Gómez and the Zapatista Francisco Santiz López immediately”.

In Mexico, organisations declaring their support for the “Week of Worldwide Struggle” campaign included Las Abejas of Acteal and the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity(MPJD). Elsewhere, the Mexican consulate in New York was stormed by members of Movement for Justice in el Barrio, and actions were held in Madrid, Manchester, Paris and Barcelona. The UK Zapatista Solidarity Network organised a letter-writing campaign, which was taken up with letters being delivered to the Mexican Embassies in London, New Zealand, Canada and Spain.

In addition to the numerous actions that occurred as part of the “Week of Worldwide Struggle,” separate activities in solidarity with Patishtán and Sántiz López took place. In Mexico, for instance, there was a forum in San Cristóbal and a meeting on the esplanade of the Palace of Fine Arts (Bellas Artes) marking the release of a music collection. The Spanish General Confederation of Labour (CGT) organised a petition in support of Sántiz López and against repression against the Zapatista communities. The prominent Chiapas-based Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas Human Rights Centre (Frayba) and Espoir Chiapas are promoting a campaign for people to be photographed in prominent places with their faces hidden by placards calling for freedom for the prisoners. They are requesting that all photos be sent in by June 5.

In more and more towns and cities actions and events were, and continue to be, organised.

The prisoners: Alberto

One of the many results of the publicity gained was that a much clearer picture has emerged of the two prisoners. A huge mobilisation took place in Alberto Patishtán’s home, the indigenous Tzotzil municipality of El Bosque. “The people of El Bosque shout, demand, are full of courage and rage because an innocent man suffers and those who are corrupt, the real criminals, are free”. Over 1,000 indigenous people took part in this event “demanding immediate freedom for their compañero, brother, cousin, teacher, neighbour, imprisoned 12 years ago for a crime that everyone knows he did not commit”, reported Mexican daily newspaper La Jornada, “and chanting ‘Alberto, brother, the people shake your hand, Alberto, friend, the people are with you’”.

Alberto, it seems, as well as a teacher was a well-loved and respected member of his community, whose members have been demonstrating in his favour ever since his first arrest in July 2000. The then Governor of Chiapas, Roberto Albores Guillén, promised to free him after the people had taken over the municipal palace, but instead, in 2002, Patishtán was sentenced to sixty years in prison.

The campaign made very clear that in the case of Alberto, the freedom of an innocent man is in the hands of the President of the Republic of Mexico, Felipe Calderon: “When are you going to listen?” cried the people of el Bosque, “don’t you realize that the protest is now on a worldwide level?”

It is also very clear that ‘the Professor’, an adherent to the Other Campaign, was and is a political scapegoat. He had been one of the signatories to a document demanding the removal of the very unpopular municipal president of el Bosque, Manuel Gómez Ruiz, who had been imposed following the violent dismantling of the Zapatista autonomous municipality of San Juan de Libertad. The only witness who testified to Alberto being the perpetrator of the ambush on the police patrol in which seven policemen were killed, was Rosemberg, the son of the aforementioned Manuel Gómez Ruiz, who inexplicably was the driver for this “routine” police patrol. Later, Rosemberg was to admit while drunk that he had lied on instructions from his father, and that he received a new pickup truck as a reward. This information was never taken into account, nor was the testimony of at least ten people who confirmed the accused was elsewhere at the time of the attack.

La Jornada has characterized Alberto as “the most important prisoner of conscience in Mexico”. His human rights activism in prison led to the founding of two groups representing political prisoners: La Voz del Amate in prison no 14 at Cintalapa and Solidarios con La Voz del Amate in prison no 5 near San Cristobal de las Casas. It was while acting as the spokesperson for these prisoners, when they were on hunger strike and fast in 2011, that Alberto was transferred to the maximum security prison in Guasave, Sinaloa, where he is now kept in virtual permanent isolation, and denied access to medical treatment for his worsening glaucoma. At the end of the week of solidarity he sent two more letters denouncing the attacks to his dignity perpetrated by the denial of his right to practice his own indigenous customs and traditions. Not only is he not allowed to follow his traditional diet, but he is also forced to have his head shaved, even though this is alien to indigenous custom. Alberto describes this as “just one more torment…..contrary to my dignity as a human being”.

Given that his innocence is widely accepted, Alberto’s treatment can only be seen as punishment for his activism on behalf of the indigenous prisoners and his belonging to the Other Campaign. His prolonged and unjust incarceration was described in La Jornada as “political vengeance”.  “The Mexican governments want to silence me”, wrote Alberto, “I want to say that as long as there is injustice, not even death can silence me, for to die is to live through others”.

The prisoners: Francisco

“Compañeros, compañeras, brothers and sisters:

We, as the Junta de Buen Gobierno of this Highlands zone of Chiapas, headquartered at Caracol II, Oventic, salute the Week of Struggle, convoked by Movement for Justice in El Barrio, of The Other Campaign New York.

…We offer these words to state that our compañero Francisco Sántiz López was unjustly detained six months ago and remains at present imprisoned unjustly. We have already denounced this before national and international public opinion and we demand his immediate release.

However, the three levels of the bad government have stubbornly turned a deaf ear, and are demonstrating that they are willing to continue violating human rights.

We ask all of you, as part of the global struggle for justice, to join us and continue demanding that the bad state and federal governments immediately release our compañero Francisco, as he is unjustly imprisoned for being a member of the Zapatista support base. We know that he is an honest person and always fulfils his responsibilities in the community and the organization.

That is our word for the moment. We hope that we can all continue demanding unconditional freedom for our compañero Francisco Sántiz López.”

“Sisters and brothers, we are family members of Francisco Sántiz López. We want to inform you that our compañero, Francisco, who was detained on December 4, 2011, remains imprisoned unjustly for crimes that he did not commit. He has been in the Penitentiary Number 5 of San Cristóbal de Las Casas for six months now.

As relatives, we have already presented witnesses in support of Francisco, but the bad government refuses to free him, because it knows that he is a member of the Zapatista support base. In addition, we as family members know very well that he has not committed any crime.

The problem in the eyes of the government is that he fights and organizes for justice, democracy, and freedom as part of the EZLN. As family members of Francisco, we know that there are many national and international organizations and individuals who are in solidarity and demanding his freedom as well.

….Our compañero Francisco.…was accused of participating in a killing in the community of Banavil, of the Tenejapa municipality. But our compañero Francisco was absolutely not at the location when the incident took place. He is simply being accused of this because he is part of the EZLN. We, as Francisco’s family members, have already been struggling to demand his freedom, alongside the JBG and Human Rights centres, but the bad government does not listen to us—on the contrary, it is fabricating his crime.

For this reason, we ask that you support the efforts being carried out by Movement for Justice in El Barrio, the Other Campaign New York. We, as family members, will not rest until our relative Francisco Sántiz López is set free, because he has not committed any crime and is unjustly imprisoned. This is the word of the relatives of Francisco, our compañero. May all of you who are fighting for our freedom receive our warm greetings. Thank you.”

As with the case of Alberto Patishtan, there can be no doubt that Francisco is innocent. He was running his fruit and vegetable stall in the town market of Tenejapa when the crime took place, as many witnesses can testify. It is also clear that the Chiapas government have been rattled by the campaign. In a statement published in La Jornada on 18th May, they said that they “had made ​​all possible efforts to achieve the release of the indigenous Tzeltal Francisco Sántiz Lopez….however  this is not possible, because in addition to state cases which are now resolved, he is prosecuted for an offence under federal law.” For the MJB, this statement is of the utmost importance, “it is a sign that the bad government feels obligated to speak on the matter, and it is a symptom that the bad government is weakening. Now the whole world is watching”.

The struggle continues

At the end of the week of worldwide actions and protests, the Movement for Justice in El Barrio stated: “there remains a lot of work for us to do, as our two prisoners remain unjustly imprisoned…The pressure and demand for the freedom of Alberto Patishtán and Francisco Sántiz López now has a global reach. Today more than ever we must keep it alive”.

The struggle is not just for the freedom of two men, it is a struggle for liberty, justice and dignity for all prisoners of conscience, a struggle that screams out that men and women must not be persecuted for their political beliefs, that all should be free to walk in dignity towards a better,  more just and peaceful world.

For further information, please see: