Inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement, a protest in Tijuana is shaping up to be a test between the right of citizens to assemble peacefully and the desire of authorities to maintain public order.
In the wee hours of the morning of Tuesday, October 18, dozens of state, municipal and possibly federal police officers raided Occupy Tijuana’s encampment in the border city’s Plaza Rio zone and arrested 27 people, mostly young professionals and students, for violating city ordinances like urinating in public and allegedly possessing drugs. Some of the detained individuals were then paraded in front of a judge and either slapped with fines amounting to be about $80.00 each or ordered to perform community service.
Tijuana Mayor Carlos Bustamante Anchondo later defended the police action, arguing that if protesters wanted to demonstrate they should have picked a safe place and not be in a position to physically expose themselves in public. Bustamante contended that the site of the protest encampment, a median across from Plaza Rio, was a congested, public thoroughfare. “The criticism is that (protesters) could cause an accident or worse,” Bustamante said.
The Tijuana mayor rejected contentions that excessive force was used in removing the demonstrators, adding that some of the young people camped out were consuming alcohol. However, Bustamante confirmed that he was not present at the scene of the eviction.
“We are students, lawyers, anthropologists, sociologists, artists, workers; we are the
99 percent,” the protesters said shortly after last week’s break-up of their encampment.
“We are not paid killers, delinquents, bums or ninis (Mexican slang for young people who do not work or study).”
Stories and video clips covering the eviction and the Occupy Tijuana movement have been posted on You Tube.
In a press statement, the non-governmental Northwest Citizen Human Rights Commission protested that Occupy Tijuana’s rights to peaceful assembly, redress of grievances and due process of law were violated by the police raid. While carrying out the eviction, some officers were hooded and did not display official identification, the Mexican human rights advocates charged. In addition to trampling on constitutional guarantees, the October 18 police raid violated international treaties, the statement asserted.
“It’s worrisome that the civil authority reacts in this way to citizen protests, inflicting an injury that is added to the climate of violence and insecurity which the country is going through,” the citizen commission said. “We don’t know the motive which prompted the authorities to repress the rights of assembly and association, but it is noteworthy that there was a convergence of the three levels of government to carry out the eviction of the demonstrators.”
The Northwest Citizen Human Rights Commission demanded a legal investigation of eviction, and called on the official human rights commissions of Mexico and Baja California to likewise probe the matter. The group also urged Baja California Governor Jose Guadalupe Osuna Millan to uphold the constitutional rights of the citizenry and punish those responsible for human rights violations. Copies of the press statement were addressed to other state and local officials, as well as to Javier Hernandez Valencia, Mexico representative for the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights.
Heriberto Garcia, Baja California human rights ombudsman, has initiated an investigation of the October 18 incident.
Occupy Tijuana was expected to resume its protest against global economic policies and war on the weekend of October 22.
Additional sources: El Sol de Tijuana, October 22, 2011. Frontera.info, October 21, 2011. La Jornada, October 19, 2011. Article by Antonio Heras. Signonsandiego.com, October 18, 2011. Article by Sandra Dibble.