The Chihuahua state government is pursuing legal charges against leading opposition political figures and social movement activists in connection with the June 22 disturbance at state government offices in Chihuahua City.
Humberto Gonzalez Aguirre, state legal representative, filed criminal charges June 25 against National Action Party (PAN) state lawmakers Rogelio Loya Luna and Ana Lilia Gomez Licon; Jaime Garcia Chavez, co-founder of the grassroots Citizen Union; Victor Quintana, former legislator and longtime adviser to small farmer organizations; Oscar Castrejon, a local leader of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s Morena party; and Benjamin Noguiera Garcia.
In comments to El Diario newspaper, Quintana said the accusations were patently false.
“(State authorities) are fabricating crimes like sedition when the evidence shows that at the time of the events we were making a call for peace, asking that no damages be done to the building and no aggressions take place against members of the press,” Quintana was quoted.
Violence broke out at a demonstration against outgoing Governor Cesar Duarte’s administration in front of the state government offices in downtown Chihuahua City last week as a shadowy group of individuals attempted to storm the building, broke windows and damaged other property, and trashed police cars. Although Quintana said he had still not received formal notice of the criminal charges against him, the former congressman added that he, Jaime Garcia, Castrejon and another prominent rural activist leader, Gabino Gomez, had taken preemptive legal action in anticipation of state criminal charges. Quintana said soon-to-be revealed evidence will show the involvement of a group of infiltrators transported from Ciudad Juarez and connected to Antorcha Campesina, an organization affiliated with Duarte’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) which has been linked to violent incidents across Mexico going back decades.
The former congressman contended that statements from government quarters soon after the June 22 incident tying the violence to people from the southern state of Oaxaca was meant to feed “a certain racism in Chihuahua.” Many of Oaxaca’s residents are of Indigenous or Afro-Mestizo origin. Quintana and some of the other individuals facing prosecution for June 22 are active supporters of Governor-elect Javier Corral, a longtime PAN politician who has pledged to hold Duarte accountable for alleged corruption and embezzlement and is engaged in a thorny transition with the outgoing administration.
In 2014 Jaime Chavez and the Citizen Union filed a criminal complaint with the Office of the Federal Attorney General against Duarte and other senior members of his administration for allegedly spending public money to acquire Progreso Bank, a charge Duarte has repeatedly denied. In addition to outrage over the PRI’s legal challenge to the June 5 election results which saw the party take a whacking in the governor’s and other statewide races, Duarte’s critics are incensed at efforts by the state government and outgoing legislature to kick the can of a big state debt into the next administration’s lap, thus tying the hands of an incoming Governor Corral and new legislature. Duarte’s opponents suspect documents are being destroyed by state officials in order to erase a paper trail leading to corruption.
State Legislator Ana Lillia Gomez responded to the legal charges filed against her by the state prosecutor’s office. “All of this is a smokescreen, but nobody is fooling the citizens,” the PAN state lawmaker said. “The government seeks to divert attention and wash its hands.” While Corral was not present at the June 22 demonstration and posted a statement on Facebook distancing himself from the event, he backed up Quintana’s contentions that provocateurs infiltrated by Duarte were likely behind the Chihuaha City mayhem.
Guillermo Dowell Delgado, Chihuahua state PRI leader, denied that his party was responsible for stirring up the violence, maintaining that “not a single PRI member appears in any video” of the event. Dowell laid the blame squarely at the feet of Loya, Gomez and Jaime Garcia, calling on the the trio to accept responsibility, offer a public apology and pay for damages. In the case of Loya and Gomez, he urged the lawmakers to shed their constitutional protection so they could face the legal music.
The PRI’s stance got the backing of the Ciudad Juarez daily Norte. In a June 26 column, Norte lashed out against the leaders of the June 22 protest. “They lit the match and literally disappeared,” the newspaper asserted. Press accounts of last week’s violence reported that about 100 people were initially detained. More than 20 were later legally accused of rioting, sedition, damages and robbery. By June 27, state judges had released 19 detainees on bail and dropped charges for lack of evidence on five others, including Marcelino Gomez, a Chihuahua Morena activist who was detained by police while transmitting live images of the demonstration via his cell phone.
Of the three individuals reportedly still jailed, one man has not been released because he is homeless and does not have a home address where authorities can later locate him. Reports circulated of some of the detainees suffering police torture, and the president of the Chihuahua State Human Rights Commission said the official agency had received four complaints of illegal detention related to the June 22 incident.
On June 24, dozens of Chihuahua and Mexican human rights, environmental and social organizations issued a statement charging that after violent provocateurs disrupted the citizens’ demonstration legal charges were conjured up against activists. According to the groups, police forces allowed the provocateurs to act with impunity, later turning their wrath indiscriminately against others, “above all young people” who were beaten, arrested and even held incommunicado.
The statement demanded an end to repression; upholding the rule of law; a halt to the criminalization of human rights defenders; a “professional and impartial investigation of the events;” respect for the rights of detainees; and legal action against “the infiltrators and provocateurs who perpetuated the violence and destroyed public patrimony..”
The declaration was signed by the Sierra Madre Alliance, Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center (Mexico City), Paso del Norte Human Rights Center, Womens Roundtable of Ciudad Juarez, El Barzon Chihuahua, Justice for Our Daughters, and the Pasta de Conchos Families Organization (Coahuila), among many others.
The June 22 demonstration in the Chihuahua state capital was called amid rising discontent and protest across Chihuahua and Mexico, for a host of reasons, and only days after Mexican federal and state police opened fire on protesting teachers and townspeople in Nochixtlan, Oaxaca. The deadly June 19 confrontation left at least nine people dead and many others injured.
In the days since Nochixtlan, tens of thousands of teachers, health care professionals and many others have taken to the streets protesting repression and government policies. On Saturday, June 25, Ciudad Juarez factory workers from Johnson Controls and other maquiladora plants joined the growing popular movement in a demonstration at city hall.
Additional sources: Nortedigital.mx, June 26, 2016. La Jornada,June 26, 2016. Article by Miroslava Breach. Elpuntero,com.mx, June 25 and 26, 2016. Articles by Francisco Milla and Joel Rodriguez. Lapolaka, June 25, 2016. Arrobajuarez.com, June 25, 2016. El Diario de Chihuahua and Juarez, June 25, 26 and 27, 2016. Articles by Heriberto Barrientos, Jaime Armendariz, Gabriela Minjares, Patricia Mayorga, O. Chavez, and editorial staff.
Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico