An Extermination of Social Leaders

Assassin’s bullets have claimed the life of another prominent rural and political leader in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero.

Rocio Mesino Mesino, leader of the Campesino Organization of the Southern Sierra Madres (OCSS),  was fatally shot in the back and head multiple times by an unidentified man on Saturday afternoon,  October 19, in Atoyac de Alvarez, a violence-ridden municipality which is located in the Costa Grande region about an hour’s drive from Acapulco.

Mesino was slain in the presence of family members while she was at the construction site for a temporary bridge being erected to re-connect mountain communities cut off from the outside world because of last month’s Tropical Storm Manuel. The killer, who was believed to have been someone from outside the local area, fled with a companion on a motorcycle that was later found abandoned after construction workers gave chase. The attack recalled the modus operandi of Colombian hit men.

“I wanted to defend her, but (the assassin) cocked his gun at me,” said Norma Mesino, Rocio’s sister.  “It would have been better if he killed me. It is cowardly to shoot someone in the back.”  Her slain sister was “hated by a few but loved by many,” Norma Mesino said. “She always wanted to help the people.”

In Atoyac, hundreds of people paid their respects to Rocio Mesino, whose body was laid at the foot of the statue of  legendary guerrilla leader Lucio Cabanas Barrientos, slain by the Mexican army in 1974.

Rocio Mesino’s assassination had practically been announced. For more than two decades, the 39-year-old activist was the target of threats and legal prosecution.  Mesino was jailed earlier this year by Guerrero state police on a murder charge supporters claimed was trumped up to neutralize her activism.

Freed by a judge just days later due to the lack of evidence,  Mesino was arrested at a time when she was involved in an effort to form a community police force in Atoyac.

In addition to her activities as OCSS leader, Mesino served as a city council representative in Atoyac for the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) from 2009 to 2012. She later resigned from the PRD, contending that the party had abandoned its principles, and embarked on an unsuccessful campaign for the mayoralty of Atoyac on the ticket of the Citizen Movement party.

Mesino’s family and the OCSS have long been targets of repression and violence.  An uncle was among hundreds of people disappeared by Mexican security forces during the  Dirty War of the 1970s,  while a  brother, Miguel Mesino, was  shot to death in Atoyac in 2005.

Founded in 1994 during the tense times following the uprising of the Zapatista National Liberation Army in Chiapas,  the OCSS has lost scores of members and supporters to violence, including the 17 unarmed small farmers who were gunned down by Guerrero state police at Aguas Blancas on June 28, 1995. A year later, the Popular Revolutionary Army publicly surfaced for the first time at a ceremony honoring the massacre victims, leading government authorities to tag the OCSS as a mass front for the new guerrilla group.

Left  activists,  elected officials, union leaders  and human rights defenders immediately denounced Rocio Mesino’s murder as part of an “extermination” campaign  underway against activist leaders in Guerrero.

They cite the forced disappearances of forest activists Eva Alarcon and Marciel Bautista  in late 2011;  the gunning down last year of Juventina Villa  Mojica and her 17-year-old son, Reynaldo Santana,  who were also identified with forest conflicts;  the kidnap murders of Iguala Popular Unity leaders Arturo Hernandez Cardona, Felix Rafael Bandera and Angel Roman Ramirez in June 2013;  the slaying of Raymundo Velazquez Flores, leader of the Emiliano Zapata Revolutionary League of the South, who was killed along with two supporters in August 2013; and the murder of environmentalist Fabiola Osorio Bernaldez of the Guerreros Verdes group also this year.  Osorio had been fighting plans to build a dock in a mangrove estuary.

As is common in Mexico, the Guerrero crimes linger in impunity.  “We know they kill in Guerrero and there is no justice,” declared Bertolo Martinez Cruz, coordinator of the Guerrero State Front of Democratic Organizations.

The murders of Mesino and other rural activists occurred amid mounting disputes between organized crime groups over control of mountainous zones and access corridors where marijuana and opium poppies are cultivated, processed and transported.

In this scenario, the existence of independent organizations not controlled by the state or underworld is inconvenient for the shadowy powers battling over territories.  Intensified conflicts in Guerrero’s Sierra Madres and adjoining areas during the last two years have been characterized by house burnings and the forced depopulation of entire families and villages.

Guerrero State Attorney General Inaki Blanco Cabrera said organized crime was “the most important line of investigation” in the Mesino murder.

But many activists blamed Mesino’s assassination on the government. Minervo Moran Hernandez, leader of the Guerrero State Coordinator of Education Workers (CETEG),  the local teacher organization involved in the national protest against the Pena Nieto administration’s education/labor reform, warned of attacks against social leaders.  Moran vowed the Mesino murder would become a national issue.

“Rocio is a long-time leader,” Moran said. “Her death worries and alarms us in these difficult moments of social crisis and the imposition of education, tax and energy reforms.  In this context, one sees a hardening of repression.”

In the local political realm, the attacks against activists increased after the CETEG, OCSS and other organizations formed the Guerrero Popular Movement (MPG) last spring to oppose the education/labor reform and other government policies.  The MPG then staged massive demonstrations in the state capital that practically ground the state machinery to a halt.

In the short-run, Mesino’s murder adds another incendiary element to an already volatile political landscape complicated by the socio-political effects of Tropical Storm Manuel.

While the Guerrero state prosecutor’s office said it was investigating the killing,  social organizations called on authorities to implement protective measures for witnesses to the crime and other persons who might become targets.  Norma Mesino said her family would take up Rocio’s murder with the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

“Rocio is not dead,” said Mexican Congresswoman Rosario Merlin at the activist’s funeral. “Better said, she lives on in each one of us here. The people of Guerrero want to live in peace, and for the murders to stop.  Let peace and justice return to the peoples.”

Meanwhile, authorities went into emergency mode as Hurricane Raymond threatened Guerrero and other Pacific coastal states the week of October 21.

Additional  Sources:  El Universal, October 21, 2013. Article by Julian Sanchez. El Sur, October 20 and 21, 2013. Articles by Francisco Magana,  Lourdes Chavez and Mariana Labastida.  La Jornada (Guerrero edition), October 20 and 21, 2013. Articles by Roberto Ramirez Bravo, Rodolfo Valadez Luviano, Margena de la O, and editorial staff. La Jornada, October 19, 2013. Articles by Sergio Ocamo Arista and Hector Briseno.

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