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(en) Mexico, Atenco, It is no more the flower vendors and it was not so even at the beginning

Date Wed, 10 May 2006 09:01:45 +0300


San Salvador Atenco, Mexico—At 7 AM this past Wednesday, May 3rd, state police
blocked 60 flower vendors from setting up their stands at the Texcoco local
market in the State of Mexico, about 20 miles east of Mexico City. The police
beat and arrested those who resisted. The flower vendors called to the
residents of neighboring San Salvador Atenco for help and the Atenco residents
blocked the highway that borders their town and leads to Texcoco.
The police response was overwhelming: hundreds of state and federal police, most
clad in riot gear, arrived to lift the blockade. Atenco resisted, with machetes,
clubs, Molotov cocktails and bottle rockets. The police tried to lift the
blockade five times throughout the day, and five times they were repelled.

The violence was extreme. Photographs published in local papers show
Atenco protestors beating a fallen policemen, police beating tens of fallen
protestors. Severe beatings. Protesters kicking one fallen police officer in
the face, groups of police pulverizing tens of protestors with rocks and
batons.

Police also attacked photographers from both the national and the
international press. Photographers and television cameramen from
Associated Press, Reuters, Milenio, Jornada and Televisa all reported
beatings and attempts to confiscate cameras. Photographs and film
coverage of the beatings were published on the internet and shown on
national television. Local and international news articles however, have not
mentioned the systematic police violence against reporters.

All told on Wednesday, over 50 people were injured and 100 detained by
the police. Protestors took 11 police hostage, but released them to the Red
Cross later in the evening. A fourteen year-old boy was shot in the chest
and killed in the afternoon. Local media reported that the boy was killed by
projectiles from the protestors, but the death certificate said otherwise:
bullet wound to the chest.

Atenco is famous across Mexico for having resisted in 2002 the forced
displacement from their community to make way for a new Mexico City
Airport. Villagers, mostly small farmers, formed the People's Front in
Defense of Land (Frente del Pueblo en Defensa de La Tierra) and, wielding
their machetes, became a symbol of popular protest in Mexico.

Organizers from the People's Front have attended several meetings of the
Zapatista's Other Campaign, and hosted subcomandante Marcos' arrival in
Atenco. During his visit, Marcos promised to align the Zapatista Army of
National Liberation with Atenco's struggle. The Atenco Front, with
machetes in hand, was in charge of providing security for Marcos during
the May first Labor Day march to Mexico City's main plaza where the
Front's leader, Ignacio Del Valle, spoke before tens of thousands
gathered in the plaza.

Two days later riot police stormed the house where he had been hiding
since the attack in Texcoco. At that moment the Televisa cameraman was
outside the house filming the police operation when some five police
officers approached and repeatedly beat him with clubs. As a result there is
no film coverage of the police raid.

Several newspaper photographers, however, photographed Del Valle's
arrival to prison several hours later that night. He was carried in a headlock
by a masked police officer, who, in the photographs, is pointing for the
photographers to leave the area. Another masked officer walked slightly
behind, grabbing Del Valle's back. The two masked officers walk Del Valle
through a gauntlet of a hundred riot police with helmets and shields. Del
Valle's head is covered with a towel in the pictures, but his face, swollen
and bloody is partially visible. Also visible is a blood stain the size of a fist
on the groin of his jeans, evidence of repeated strikes to his testicles.

Police Siege Town, Take over 200 prisoners

The following day, Thursday May 4th, Mexico woke to the bloody images
of violence from the day before. Atenco woke to a police siege that led to
hundreds more wounded and detained.

Around 6:30 AM, over three thousand police surrounded Atenco and
invaded, filling the streets, cutting down everyone in their way with clubs
and firing tear gas, both to disorient, and to kill. Several protestors were
shot in the head at close range with metal gas pellets three inches long and
an inch in diameter.

Within two hours the police had occupied Atenco.

Then the terror began. The police went house to house, breaking windows
and doors, pulling people into the street, beating them and then piling
them in police vans and trucks. The police had a masked individual in
civilian clothes who pointed out which houses to raid. Several people who
had participated as speakers in high-profile Other Campaign events in
Mexico City were singled out and beaten. One woman who spoke in the
Zocalo in Mexico City on May first was pulled into the street and kicked
repeatedly in the groin.

The police violence on Thursday was indiscriminate. Both mainstream and
alternative press reporters were attacked. Several members of the caravan
that accompanies the Other Campaign across the country were beaten and
arrested.

Samantha Dietmar, a young German photographer who has been covering
the Other Campaign since January was grabbed in the doorway of her
hotel, beaten in the face and thrown into a truck. A neighbor who
witnessed the attack said that she asked why the police were taking her:
“What did she do?” The police officer responded, the woman said:
“She did whatever I say she did.”

Dietmar was taken to a women's prison on the outskirts of Mexico City. A
human rights lawyer who was able to interview her said that she had
serious pain in her eyes from the tear gas, and that she had been beaten in
the face and body. Dietmar will most likely be deported.

The same lawyer said that five women were raped in the police vans when
taken to jail.

Between two and three hundred people were detained, but only 109 have
been recognized by the police. A list is circulating on the internet, compiled
from witness accounts, of 275 people who have been detained. At least 18
people are missing.

Hundreds of people sought hiding in houses across the town. In one
house, 23 people were packed into a 12-by-12 foot room. Just outside the
hiding room, Alexis Benhumea, a 20-year old economy student in Mexico
City, laid unconscious for 12 hours. Just after 6:30 AM he was shot in the
head, most likely with a gas pellet. The impact broke his skull open in two
places, exposing his brain.

Alexis was carried into a house by his father and two friends for hiding.
One of the protestors hiding out in the house made an impromptu bandage
for the wound to stop the bleeding. The thick bandage was soaked in blood
by the afternoon. Alexis's father and those hiding out in the house so
feared for their lives, and Alexis' life, that they dared not leave their
hiding place. Indeed, just outside the house, state and federal police
blocked both ends of the street and constantly patrolled up and down the
street.

“I was sure that they would kill him and dump him somewhere if I
tried to go out and seek medical help,” said Angel Benhumea,
Alexis' father. “I didn't think he would make it.”

After coordinating by cellular telephones with friends in Mexico City,
correspondents with Indymedia Chiapas were able to rent a taxi van (which
operate in Mexico like public buses rather than individual taxis) and stage
a rescue, taking Alexis and his father to a hospital 40 minutes away, on the
eastern border of Mexico City. Alexis arrived alive and survived four hours
of intensive brain surgery: hemorrhaging had filled 30 percent of his brain.
At the time of writing, Alexis' condition is still critical, and the extent
of brain damage is unknown.

Alexis Benhumea was attacked twice: first with the pellet that broke his
skull, and second with the police siege that made it impossible for his
family to seek medical attention.

By mid-afternoon Atenco was an occupied city. Burn marks and broken
glass, thousands of police standing guard, leaning in doorways, lying in
stairways, sprawled out sleeping in the shade of the central plaza. Yet the
climate was tense. When I took a picture from a car window of a group of
police, one whipped around and loaded a gas pellet in his rifle, but not in
time to fire.

Around 5:30 in the afternoon, the state and federal police lifted their siege,
piling into their trucks and driving off.

Zapatistas March to Atenco

Thursday in the evening the Zapatista Army of National Liberation and
local labor and student organizations convoked a march for Friday at 4PM
from the University of Chapingo to Atenco.

At 4PM Marcos arrived at the university—leaving the house in Mexico
City where he had been surrounded by police and federal intelligence
officers since Wednesday evening. About a thousand people had already
gathered for the march by the time of his arrival.

The march left from Chapingo at around 5PM with some two thousand
people. But the march kept growing. Standing on overpasses, it was
impossible to see the end of the march as it occupied the highway that
leads to Atenco. Estimates among local reporters ranged from 4 to 10
thousand people by the time the march reached Atenco.

As the march crossed through the town of Texcoco, where the violence
began on Wednesday, locals closed the metal doors used to cover their
windows at night, making the fear in Texcoco visible and audible. In the
four months of the Other Campaign, nothing like this has happened
before. Yet the police were not waiting for the marchers. A few motorcycle
state police went ahead of the march, and several trucks with federal police
trailed behind.

The marchers arrived in Atenco without confrontations with the police. In
the central plaza, several local community leaders and parents whose
children had been beaten and detained spoke to the crowd that filled the
town plaza.

“My boy was on his way to work when they grabbed him,” one
woman said, “is that justice?”

Subcomandante Marcos attacked the media manipulation of the violence
in Atenco, accusing the government of directing newspaper, television and
radio directors of holding back images of police brutality while publishing
and passing over and over the same images of protestors beating police.

Marcos held in the air five empty shotgun shells, most likely slug shells,
that locals found on the ground after the siege. “Here is the proof of
who killed the boy,” Marcos said.

He offered to hand one of the shells over to reporters from Televisa and TV
Azteca, the largest media corporations in Mexico, but the reporters refused
to identify themselves. Marcos said he would grant interviews to any
reporter who agrees to publish the interview “without cuts or
edits,” signaling a major shift in the Zapatista's media policy
during the Other Campaign, which had been to refuse all interview
requests.

Marcos reinstated the Zapatista's support for Atenco and its political
prisoners.

“You are not alone,” he said, “We will continue carrying out
mobilizations across the country until all the political prisoners are
freed.”

He also accused the government of plotting the repression: why were the
police ready to attack here if the problem was in Texcoco, he asked.
“Because they want their airport once again, and they are coming for
your land.”

Marcos said that he and participants in the Other Campaign would stay in
Mexico City indefinitely and called for a national public gathering in
Atenco over the next two days.
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