By Chris Treter
After a year of incarceration, David Venegas has been released from the Santa Maria Ixcotel Penitentiary. On March 5th, within a coffee beans’ throw from the prison he was just released from he stated amongst a throng of human rights activists, friends and family that he “is ready to continue struggling for a Oaxaca full of liberty and justice.” While leading a fair trade tour across Mexico last year I had the honor of getting to know APPO and the family and friends of David. Below is an old blog entry I’ve dug up about the situation. Look it over and plug in por favor.
Oaxaca City has had a rough year. It all began in May of 2006 when thousands of teachers staged an annual sit – in on the city’s center to protest low wages and inadequate conditions in the schools of the state. The demands were not unfounded. According to Oaxaca based EDUCA, Oaxaca is the 2nd poorest state in Mexico (after Chiapas) with 76% of the population living in extreme poverty and only 2.9% of the state’s annual budget going to social programs in the country side.
After police violently attacked teachers on the 14th of June the townspeople, coffee farmers, activists, and campesinos came out in throngs to support the teachers from Section 22 of the CNTE teacher’s union. Barricades were set up to protect the teachers, roaming para- military police assassinated many and brutally attacked the struggling community as the democratic movement which became know as APPO – (Popular Assembly of the People’s of Oaxaca) – resisted and demanded the resignation of the state’s mayor Ulises Ruiz. Death threats, drive – by shootings, the continued closure of 14,000 schools and popular resistance became an everday reality as 50 blocks of downtown came screaching to an ungovernable standstill.
Months after the brutal police repression that left 23 dead, a slow creeping presence of undercover police vigilance and harassment remains in Oaxaca City. Most recently, April 14th saw 24 year old student activist David Venegas detained and beaten as police drove him for hours through the streets of this tourist city. Though he was snatched off the streets in midday while meeting with a school colleague, his family did not know he was “officially” in police custody until nearly 10 pm the same night. Eventhough family and friends pleaded for information of his detainment throughout the day. This week saw us meeting with the family and friends of David to learn about his incarceration. Police sure took notice!
As his family and friends (names withheld for security) told the story, undercover police peered in to the small cafe in downtown Oaxaca City where we had taken refuge. We were not surprised by the vigilance of the police as many in the city were afraid to meet with us fearing arrest or disappearance. Earlier in the day undercover police, with radio in hand, took pictures of our group as we waited outside to meet a friend. We had done nothing but simply listen to the testimony of his family and friends.
Family and friends painted a picture of David as a former student turned activist, working with the disenfranchised youth of the city while advocating justice for the crimes committed against members of APPO by police and paramilitary. They stated that his charges are ludicrous and unfounded. David was “officially” charged with possession of cocaine, although his friends told us he did not use drugs, deal drugs, or have any drugs found in his system. They state that the official photo released to newspapers show a beaten David with a large bag of cocaine held by someone behind him as he refused to touch the bag. In fact, they insisted, the first bag of cocaine they put in front of him was too big to even fit in the backpack he was carrying! Later, after the attempt by police to paint him as a street kid on drugs failed, they charged him with burning down a building that he was no where near and as such were no witnesses to place him within miles of the location.
There are still many wrongfully imprisoned in Oaxaca. The killers of American journalist Brad Wills have still not been brought to justice. The demands of APPO have not been met. Visit http://oaxacalibre.org/