Mexican Leaders Demand Freedom for Students, Self-Defense Commander

Widespread protests are sweeping the southwestern Mexican state of Michoacan and beyond in the wake of the federal government’s imprisonment of 52 rural student teachers.

The students from the Cheran Indigenous Normal School, 32 men and 20 women, were arrested Monday, December 7, following a confrontation with Michoacan state police at the Ziruahen highway toll booth, where the students had seized three buses and the toll booth as a tactic in pressuring the government to grant 1,200 jobs for education graduates.

Michoacan state authorities then turned the detained students over to the Office of the Federal Attorney General (PGR), which slapped serious federal charges against the young prisoners, including the blockading of a federal highway and violations of the country’s firearms and explosives law.

According to the PGR, the students were found in possession of homemade grenades consisting of cans containing match powder and large bottle rocket-style devices. The students were quickly shipped to federal penitentiaries outside Michoacan pending a judge’s ruling on the charges, with the men consigned to a facility in Ocampo, Guanajuato, and the women to a prison in Coatlan del Rio in the state of Morelos near Mexico City.

At a December 9 press conference in the Michoacan state capital of Morelia, parents of the 52 students asserted that the charges against their children were “invented,” claiming that the transfer of the young people to the out-of-state prisons was carried out in secrecy. Consequently, the parents planned to file a formal complaint with the Michoacan State Human Rights Commission.

Reportedly, Michoacan state authorities have issued 90 or more additional arrest warrants in connection with recent student and teacher protests.

In a protest against the jailings, members of the National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE), students and parents temporarily occupied 20 city halls in Michoacan on Wednesday, December 9.

Ranging in groups from 15 to 200 persons, the protesters took over local government headquarters in the municipalities of Lazaro Cardenas, Zitcuaro, Uruapan and San Juan de Nuevo, among other places.
More city hall occupations were reportedly in the works by December 10, International Human Rights Day, as an estimated 700 parents and members of the CNTE set up a protest encampment in the center of Morelia.

In the southern state of Oaxaca, meanwhile, student teachers conducted a solidarity protest December 10 in support of their colleagues from Michoacan.

Michoacan’s new governor, Silvano Aureoles, initially held firm on the arrests. A member of the nominally center-left PRD party, Aureoles said he would not bow to pressure tactics that have become customary, adding that “automatic jobs” no longer exist.

Aureoles’ stance is another illustration of the deepening cleavage between the PRD and popular causes the nearly 27-year-old party purported to represent.

Representing nearly 30 indigenous Purepecha, Nahua and Mazahua communities, Michoacan’s Supreme Indigenous Council weighed in on behalf of the 52 imprisoned students. Unless the students were released, the Council declared it was reserving its “constitutional rights to demonstrate, and to free determination and political action in all areas.”

In a statement, the Council also called for the release of Cemei Verdia Zapata, the self-defense leader of the Michoacan indigenous coastal community of Santa Maria Ostula who was jailed on murder charges last summer. Since 2009, residents of Ostula have been engaged in a bloody conflict with organized crime groups.

Insisting that Verdia was merely “defending his community in conformance with uses and customs,” the Council demanded the withdrawal of “false charges” against the self-defense commander.

The Council appealed on all of Michoacan’s original peoples to join the growing movement for autonomy, self-government and freedom for proclaimed political prisoners.

Sources: Milenio TV, December 10, 2015. La Jornada, December 7, 9 and 10, 2015. Articles by Ernesto Martinez, Gustavo Castillo and Jorge A. Perez. Proceso/El Sur, December 9, 2015. Articles by Francisco Castellanos., December 9, 2015.

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