National and International Clergy Assail the Arrest of Father Martin Octavio García Ortiz in Oaxaca

Once again the PRI pulls dirty tricks prior to the July 4 election

Catholic national and international communities express their outrage as once again the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in Oaxaca has called attention to its disregard for human rights and due process of law, by beating and imprisoning Father Martín Octavio García Ortiz, pastor for St. Peter the Apostle Parish in the region of the municipality of Ocotlán, Oaxaca.

The attorney general of Oaxaca charged Father Martin, an anti-mining and environmentalist voice, as responsible for the June 19 deaths of two Ocotlán officials, the mayor of San José del Progreso and the Health registrar. Twenty miles south of Oaxaca City, mine opponents returning from a political rally that night were confronted in the village of El Cuajilote by a pro-mining group and other PRI members. The two PRI officials were shot dead during the confrontation. The nine anti-mining men, now imprisoned, claim that they were accosted and detained by the PRI group.

The charges against Father Martin are clearly absurd in the face of prior news reports (see Upside Down World). In an interview given to Catholic News Service, Father Martin stated that his accusers abducted him, held him in a private home for six hours and beat him until state police rescued him. Father Martin, suffering from head and body wounds also described as “torture”, was subsequently ordered held by the attorney general for 30 days while judicial officials review his case.

“I’m a government hostage,” Father Martín said from his hospital bed in Oaxaca City, as six state police officers guarded his room. Father Martín was returning from celebrating Mass in a nearby community, and arrived after the confrontation began. He was subsequently abducted by the pro-mining group. He was taken to the home of a leader identified as Servando Arango and “beaten with sticks and stones” and whipped with a pistol. State police arrived six hours later, after being lobbied by Archbishop José Luis Chávez Botello of Antequera-Oaxaca.

In a June 24 statement, Archbishop Chávez said Father Martín was threatened with death and being burned alive, and was rescued on condition that he be detained. “(We) are working through all possible means to clarify Father Martin’s legal status and demonstrate his innocence,” the archbishop said.

“The state government has been in favor of this (mining) project,” Father Martin said. “If I’m out of the way, they can work freely.” He connects the upcoming election with anti-mining activity by describing the accusations as politically motivated revenge in the run-up to voting on July 4 which will try to unseat the incumbent PRI party after 80 years of uninterrupted rule. PRI party propaganda lines up anti-mining environmentalists; the APPO (Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca); their spokesperson Flavio Sosa; the teachers of Section 22 of the National Union of Education Workers, and the opposition candidate Gabino Cué of the Coalition United for Peace and Progress (CUPP), as allies criminally responsible for the desperate conditions in Oaxaca.

At another union assembly on June 26, Section 22 teachers declared their massive strike will continue and that teachers will provide observers for the polls on July 4 in an attempt to contain fraud.

The conflict in which Father Martin became another victim reflects Latin American rejection of neoliberal mining projects, in which Canada is the major owner; ongoing tension between local priests committed to their largely poor parishioners and the governing PRI in Oaxaca; and the social uprising against Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz which visibly lingers, with Section 22 standing as the moral conscience and voice of the people who supported the teachers and manned barricades for five months in 2006. Oaxaca communities have disputed several neoliberal projects, including wind generators, dams and highways, often with Section 22 support.

“At the core of this (Ocotlán incident) … we’re seeing the (opposition parties) gaining force so they (the PRI) are trying to stop it,” Father Martín said. CUPP, a coalition of four political parties running against the PRI in Oaxaca, has now allied itself with the environmentalists.

During a news conference, Arango denied hitting Father Martín and accused him of “sowing discord in the community.” Arango called photos of Father Martín’s injuries “vile lies,” and declared with no proof that the priest belongs to the rebel group known as the EPR (People’s Revolutionary Army), which in 2007 bombed Pemex pipelines. The priest’s defenders blasted the accusations of involvement in the rebel group — first floated by state prosecutors in 2009 — and said the 30-day detention was just the latest act in a campaign of hostilities against him. Along these lines, he was also accused of organizing guerrillas in Ocotlán.

The arraignment carried out by the State Attorney General for Justice lacks any foundation in fact, stated the coordinator for the Central region for Human Rights “Bartolomé Carrasco Briseño”, Minerva Nora Martínez Lázaro. “He’s a person that has never been silent in the face of injustice,” she averred.

Oaxaca is well-known for legal impunity for crimes committed by the government and its officials. One hundred priests of the Archdiocese of Oaxaca, México and Puebla and of the dioceses of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Tapachula, Tehuantepec, Tehuacán, Puerto Escondido, Cuernavaca, Coatzacoalcos, Huejutla, Ciudad Guzmán, Ciudad Juárez and Acapulco, as well as the Prelate of Huautla, condemned Father Martin’s illegal retention and torture.

“The rapidity with which they took nine persons prisoners, … at the confrontation in El Cuajilote between opposition and supporters of the mine of San José, and left at liberty seven of the mine opposition… contrasts with the case of San Juan Copala where up until now there is not even one person detained as responsible for the assassinations that happened there,” their statement added. It “represents a shame for Oaxaca before the nation and the world, since it shows the authorities of the State openly violating human rights and the application of justice.”

The PRI has made itself known world-wide as a champion of the Big Lie and Dirty Tricks, but that’s hardly news in Oaxaca. Ten days ahead of the election, dirty tricks rage unabated.