“We are governed by injustice”: Alberto Patishtán Gomez,
Prison No. 5 San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas
Now that hope of a just intervention by the Mexican courts has disappeared, due to the refusal of the Supreme Court to take Patishtán’s case, national and international solidarity remains as an alternative.
On March 6th, the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN) decided not to resume [its jurisdiction] in the case of Alberto Patishtán Gomez – by three votes against, from the Ministers José Ramón Cossío, Jorge Pardo and Alfredo Gutiérrez Ortiz Mena, and two in favour, from Olga Sanchez Cordero and Arturo Zaldivar -. They refused to hear the case which was raised with them by Strategic Defence of Human Rights team, which consists of Leonel Rivero and Sandino Rivero. The SCJN has delegated the case to the Tribunal Court in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas, which has already ruled against the release of the political prisoner previously.
Leonel Rivero states that he is dismayed because it is a setback in terms of the fundamental rights of people. The lawyer claims that if the Court had decided in favour of the thesis of jurisprudence which now reinterprets the evidence (matters which a few years ago were regarded as legitimate and are now considered illegal), it would have opened up the possibility for thousands of people like Alberto – who were judged inconsistently and never had their fundamental rights and rights to due process respected – to have qualified for that precedent.
Alberto Patishtán, meanwhile, commented, “it was a chance to see justice done in Mexico, the prisoners are going to continue the struggle”. The members of the Voice of el Amate and Solidarity with the Voice of el Amate (la Voz del Amate and Solidarios de la Voz del Amate) noted that “we are outraged because the judges had it in their hands to give freedom in an act of justice. We are very determined to fight with everything needed. We will not surrender or be discouraged. “
Historical background to the Voice of el Amate
“One of the messages we want to get across is that all you are going to see around us, you don’t have to just watch, we should not only look at any prison we go to, there is always a reason to fight for the truth”
This group of indigenous political prisoners was formed in 2005 from a story interwoven years ago and with its background in groups like the ‘Voice of the Plains’, the ‘Voice of Cerro Hueco’ and now the ‘Voice of el Amate’. They are the voices of a collective, like their history itself.
In Chiapas and Mexico, the jails are full of poor indigenous prisoners, who have been excluded and have no access to legal support, and no one respects their basic rights. But there have been times when these prisons were full of leaders, teachers and farmers, who encouraged collectives and initiatives inside the prisons.
“The most dangerous people were taken to Cerro Hueco, which was the largest prison in Chiapas. In 1998, with the dismantling of the autonomous municipalities, the jails started filling with more than a hundred people under allegations of ‘usurpation of power’; this was when The Voice of Cerro Hueco was set up, a group of prisoners who made denuncias and undertook several initiatives”, says Cecilia Santiago, of the Ik Collective.
Before that, the activist explained, there was a very large group of Zapatista prisoners who were freed in exchange for the former General Absalon Castellanos. “The Voice of Cerro Hueco were not the first Zapatista prisoners, but they identified themselves by this name”, says Cecilia, “and later in the same prison a new group emerged called ‘The voice of Rebel Dignity’ with community leaders and teachers who were organized towards the year 2000”. The last prisoners from the autonomous municipalities left prison in 1999. A group called ‘The voice of dignity’ remained inside; among them was the Tzotzil Professor Alberto Patishtán.
On July 1, 2004, this group were taken on lorries, handcuffed and huddled like cattle, to the Social Rehabilitation Centre (Cereso) 14, known as El Amate . This is where the group began to be known, to understand their basic rights and to organize. Inside, they went several days without food and in poor conditions. The authorities wanted to send them to the federal Centres (CEFERESOS), but the people would not allow it; between 2004 and 2005 they rebelled, mutinied, threw out cameras, doors and locks, and achieved a less rigid system.
In 2005, Alberto comments, in church and performing the devotions of the Catholic Church, they met and became more aware. They decided to form another organization and the Voice of dignity became the Voice of El Amate.
The Voice of el Amate and Those in Solidarity (Los Solidarios)
The Voice of el Amate was founded in 2005 by Alberto Patishtán and Antonio Diaz, along with 12 other prisoners. That same year they declared themselves to be adherents to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, even though they made themselves publicly known as the Voice of el Amate in January 2006 and a series of protests began.
From 2006 to 2008 they remained on a protest for two years inside the prison, and held a hunger strike. As a result, a reconciliation panel was set up in 2008, with the purpose of enabling the prisoners to present their cases for review. Due to the panel, the hunger strike, and to mediation from the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Centre (Frayba), all the prisoners of the Voice of el Amate, except Alberto Patishtán, were released in the course of 2008.
Inside prison and on the recommendation of the Pueblo Creyente (Believing People), Patishtán met Rosario Díaz Méndez, already a supporter of the Voice of el Amate, so that the Voice brought the two members together. In April 2009, it was decided to transfer him to the CERESO number five in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas. Alberto brought together another group, who would not be members of the Voice of el Amate but supporters or those in solidarity, because the Voice defines who is a political prisoner. Those in solidarity were prisoners who were unjustly incarcerated, but were not defined as political prisoners because although they were fighting inside the prison to defend their rights, the reasons for their imprisonment were not political ones.
Currently, the group consists of eight people. Francisco Sántiz López, support base of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, was welcomed by this group, which gave him a bed and food at the time. Although during his year and nearly two months in jail he did not belong to the group, their relationship was one of unity and solidarity.
Political Activities and denuncias (complaints)
Cecilia Santiago notes that Los Solidarios “defined itself as a leftist movement, made itself visible within the prison and declared itself in total rebellion against the authorities”. She adds that it earned the respect of the authorities and inmates, and “suffered countless hardships and disasters through being outdoors.” Conducting a sit-in in prison, says Cecilia, requires a high level of organization and cohesion.
Los Solidarios, which became a moral benchmark for conflict resolution, was sought out to resolve issues that the prison itself could not resolve. Another of its characteristic modes of operation – in which it often combines politics and religion – is to send out public letters, through which it has become known outside, but it does not rely on a representative or spokesperson; its level of politicization and organization can be seen through these letters. The members themselves appear as actors, who do not delegate their representation.
The hunger strikes have been another means of making the group heard, even though they sometimes go unnoticed by the public. In 2008, Zacario, a catechist from the Pueblo Creyente, held a hunger strike which Los Solidarios joined days later.
The group are mainly Catholics, from the mystic religious tradition of the Tzotzil Maya of Chiapas. They have held fasts and prayers at various times to demand their freedom, better treatment or to improve conditions inside.
Cecilia Santiago claims the group has changed the prisons; it has celebrated its anniversary “rallies in places where speeches are given, the Zapatista hymn is sung and political statements are made, over a hundred people came to their seventh anniversary. For the rest of the inmates, added Cecilia, it is also an event and a lesson in how the isolation they are in can be broken if “as a society if we mobilize and participate,” Santiago said.
Supports and national and international solidarity
Alberto has received very many letters at a national and international level in solidarity with his demands for freedom. His social support is found among the Pueblo Creyente, teachers, the Tzotzil people, adherents to the Other Campaign, local, national and international solidarity groups, and the ecumenical world.
Pueblo Creyente, which, from a clear evangelizing position achieves political commitment from believers, has sympathized with the Voice of el Amate since 2008, and they in turn sympathized with Zacario Hernandez, a catechist from Pueblo Creyente arrested for a crime he did not commit, and whose freedom was achieved after a few weeks. Since then, Pueblo Creyente has held days of prayer, pilgrimage and a letter to the ministers of the Supreme Court to seek Alberto’s release.
Recognition Jcanan Lum in prison
Recognition Jcanan Lum was an initiative of several organizations. “Alberto Patishtán, beyond being a Catholic, is an ecumenical within Christianity” says Cecilia. He was appointed Minister of the Eucharist by the Diocese of Tuxtla when he was held in the CERESO 14, and likewise, was invited to lead pastoral retreats by this diocese.
Meanwhile, the Voice of el Amate and Los Solidarios are still fighting for their freedom, despite this unfair system, always supported by the hand of their legal defence, Frayba and the thousands of people in solidarity from various countries. The freedom of Alberto Patishtán and of Solidarios de la Voz del Amate depends on strength, support and solidarity. We, who are outside, continue to demand and spread the word for your freedom.