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(en) Declaration from Chiapas Deportees April 11/12

From A-Infos Canada <ainfos@tao.ca>
Date Fri, 24 Apr 1998 22:45:24 -0400 (EDT)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

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The following document is the declaration made by the three north americans who were deported from
Chiapas on April 12th for their alleged participation in the Autonomous Municipality of Ricardo Flores
Magon in Taniperla, Chiapas.


Attn.: Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Center for Human Rights
Re:	The events of the days April 11 and 12, 1998, in the community of
	Taniperla and our detention and deportation

(Document translated from the original in Spanish, which we wrote to be presented to Mexican
authorities, legal counsel, and press)
We three United States citizens (Michael Sabato, Travis Loller and Jeff Conant) arrived in the
community of Taniperla around 5:00 p.m.  on Friday, April 10. We arrived at this hour to wait for a
truck (public transportation) to Ocosingo, to continue on towards San Cristóbal de Las Casas, where we
had been staying. We were told that a truck would pass at 1:00 a.m. and we sat waiting for it.
Around 10:00 p.m. we began to see groups of people running down the road to leave the community.  We
were told that at least 30 Federal army vehicles accompanied by uncounted police vehicles had arrived
at the military base in Monte Libano (located down the road from Taniperla). The truck we were waiting
didn't pass at 1:00 am, nor at 3:00 (as we'd been told to expect), but we saw many trucks completely
full leaving the community, none of which allowed us to go with them.
At 5:30 a.m. people were running through the community yelling "The soldiers are coming!" In the dark
and confusion we were separated and went running in different directions, Travis along the main road
and Michael and Jeff down an adjoining road heading south.
We saw the arrival of many men armed with M-16's and other high-caliber weapons along the main road,
followed by a very large caravan of military vehicles. Jeff and Michael continued running and we ran
into a group of commandos (we heard them called commandos by the Judicial Police) dressed in camouflage
with their faces painted and bandannas covering their faces from the nose down. They carried machetes
and M-16's (some with grenade launchers) with which they hit and pushed us repeatedly saying "You're 
not from here!" They pushed us with excessive force towards the main road and handed us over to police
presumably with the PGR, who also pushed and hit us with their weapons. We passed in the road many
police with helmets, riot shields and batons forming a line along the street. We suppose that they were
the "unarmed" police cited by the governor as entering the community first, but we came upon them
considerably later than the heavily armed soldiers and police units.
When we arrived, forcibly, at the main road (Jeff and Michael) we saw that the military caravan was
still passing, after quite some time. We could see neither the head nor the tail of the caravan, and we
estimate that there were at least 100 vehicles. The caravan was made up of troop transports full of
heavily armed federal soldiers, Humvees, and various other vehicles, including pickup trucks without
license plates or identification of any kind. They continued arriving for some time , and it seemed to
us that we had seen at least 1000 heavily armed troops with our own eyes, and considerably more must
have passed when we were off the main road.  It is also worth mentioning that the special force which
detained us (the "commandos") continued up the hill towards unknown destinations after handing us over
to the PGR.
Arriving in front of the Civil Encampment for Peace we were surrounded by Judicial Police and other
officials without identification who filmed us and took dozens of photos. They put us against the wall
and the Judicial police searched our bodies and all of our belongings, including reading our notebooks
looking for who-knows-what.  They found nothing (we had nothing illegal on our persons), and passed us
on to Immigration Agents. This was at about 7:00 a.m., after the sun had come up.
The migration officials had arrived together with the police.  They took our tourist visas (all of
which were in order, as were all of our papers), they interrogated us, and they made us sign papers
declaring the facts of our detention and gave us an obligatory citation to appear at the INM office in
San Cristobal within 48 hours. They said afterwards that we were "free to go" and we could go "without
any problem", but they refused to allow us to go although we asked permission to leave many. There we 
stayed under armed guard for several hours.
Meanwhile, Travis had gone down the main road. She thought that the caravan was headed towards the
military encampment just below Taniperla.  Nevertheless, she stopped in front of the municipal building
of the new Autonomous Municipality where hundreds of heavily armed men began to get down from trucks.
Marta Sanchez began to take photos of them, for which she was grabbed and her camera was taken from
Travis stayed to the side while other national and international observers began to arrive.  They were
detained and Travis left along a side street looking for Michael and Jeff.  She ran into two heavily
armed federal agents.  One grabbed her and began to frisk her entire body claiming that he was looking
for weapons. Then he aggressively suggested that if she would have sex with him he would let her go.
She was turned over to immigration agents. She handed over her papers-all in order-but they refused to
let her go. She, together with several other foreigners were moved to a place where they couldn't see
what was happening thereabouts.
While we waited, many un-uniformed men passed (the majority were indigenous but some appeared to be
soldiers in disguise), many with sledgehammers and axes in hand.  They were allowed to pass without
question, though it was obvious that they were entering the center of the autonomous municipality and
destroying everything there. We heard the noise of destruction and we saw smoke rising from the site in
the plain view of ourselves and the police agents present there.  We also saw these un-uniformed people 
entering houses with the police, presumably looking for people from the community. The community was
being completely sacked with the explicit help of the police. Many of the police wore trophies-red
bandannas tied around their necks or hanging out of their pockets.
A vehicle with a loudspeaker attached began to circle the community announcing (in Spanish and Tzeltal)
that the community should desist in its illegal attitude and those who refused to conform would be
subject to the entire weight of constitutional law.
After calling over the radio to who-knows-where the immigration agents suddenly took our papers again,
telling us we were to be moved to the INM offices in San Cristobal immediately to make declarations.
Around 10:00 we were forcibly loaded onto trucks and taken to the office of the INM in San Cristobal de
Las Casas.  The military operation was still underway at this time.
We arrived there around 3:00 in the afternoon.  They still hadn't said what we were charged with and
they continuously told us that we were neither arrested nor detained. Nevertheless, they refused to let
us leave the building.  We were locked in, and not allowed to speak to anybody. We were kept
essentially incommunicado.
Around 5:00 in the afternoon they brought us some pizzas and soft drinks and began taking photos of
photos, presumably to prove that we weren't being mistreated.
We had short conversations with our consular officers, but they couldn't tell us anything because they
had no idea why we were being detained or what the charges were.
>From the beginning we demanded the presence of a lawyer as a witness of confidence in order to give our
testimony. Finally, at 9:00 p.m., they allowed Pablo Romo and Miguel Angel de Los Santos to enter. The
two were present for the declaration of Ana Lopez Castillejas.
After a few hours the two witnesses came out saying that the process was a farce and they couldn't
participate further because they didn't want to be complicit while our rights weren't being respected.
The officials did not allow the two to speak with us more, and they were removed from the building.
Around 1:00 in the morning, they brought all of us "no-arrestees" into a meeting with regional
representatives of the INM.  They told us that we should cooperate with them to speed up the process
and be able to leave sooner.  We explained again that we were ready to make declarations with either a
lawyer or a "witness of our confidence" present but that we had not been allowed to contact anyone in
order to do so.
One of the women had a pamphlet from the National Human Rights Commission explaining the rights of
people placed under arrest in Mexico.  She read these to the immigration lawyer (who had never
explained to us our rights nor the immigration laws pertinent to our case) explaining that several of
these rights had been violated in our case.  The immigration lawyer present explained to us that these
rights only pertained to people who had been placed under arrest.  We were not under arrest (despite
the fact of being held in a locked building and denied communication with the outside world).  We were
not being accused of any crime.  They were simply trying to straighten out an administrative matter.
He suggested to us that he would call a person from the Nation Human Rights Commission to be present at
our declarations.  Some of us expressed concerns that this would not be a witness of our confidence.
Then we were told that we would all be allowed to call our consulates "immediately" to arrange for
witness to come and be present at our declarations which could take place the following day.
We also asked again to be informed of the charges or accusations against us.  We were told that they
would consult with Mexico City and get back with us shortly.  This never happened.
Michael began the process of making a declaration and was told that he would have the opportunity to
call a person he knew in San Cristobal  to act as his witness.  He waited all night for the opportunity
to use the telephone but was always told that the line was busy.
During the night, everyone was obliged to see a doctor who would examine our physical condition.  Some
people had complained of being sick or beaten up and looked forward to the opportunity for medical
care, but it turned out the doctor was only interested in knowing if we had been injured during our
detention and all she did was to note down our injuries.  No one received any medical treatment.
Everyone went to sleep on desks or on the concrete floor.  We were awoken by the police, demanding that
we get on board a bus.  Michael attempted to explain to them that we were waiting to use the telephone
and declare, but the person in charge instructed him, "Don't ask them anything; just take them away."
They grabbed us one by one and forced us on to the bus.
Two police agents armed with batons got on the bus with us as well as three immigration agents and we
were accompanied by a pick-up truck and troop carrier filled with Public Security agents.  About
fifteen minutes outside of San Cristobal (and away from all journalists) the bus stopped and the two
police agents on our bus got off to replaced by two new agents, this time armed with AK-47's.
We demanded to know where we were being taken from the immigration agents.  They said that we were
going to Tuxtla (the state capitol) where we would have an opportunity to meet with our consular
representatives.  Michael asked specifically if the U.S. consul would be waiting for us in Tuxtla and
was told that yes, he was.  We were also told this by the immigration lawyer before we left the office
in San Cristobal.  This was untrue.
Upon arrival in Tuxtla, we were carried directly to the airport.
We were driven through a gate where two small airplanes were awaiting us as well as a special police
corps, also armed with automatic weapons.
Two photographers Pascual Gorriz and Oriana Elicabe followed us on to the tarmac, running along side of
the bus and snapping photos of us.  Despite the fact that they clearly identified themselves as
journalists and were only doing their job peacefully and inoffensively, they were brutally assaulted
without order or explanation.  Members of the police tried to take away their cameras and one of the
immigration officers tried to snatch away Pascual Gorriz's press credentials.  The police were
extremely aggressive, grabbing Pascual by the hair and throwing him up against the side of the bus as
well as hitting him with the butts of their rifles, all of which we saw quite clearly.
Once they had dragged the two photographers away another policeman armed with a tear gas launcher
boarded the bus.  He shouted several times that if we didn't behave he was going to shoot us.  He also
threatened to set off the tear gas inside the bus and close the doors.
We were forcibly dragged onto the planes one by one, injuring some people, although no one was
physically confronting them.  Jeff was grabbed by his neck and had his arm twisted behind his back
while he was being thrown on to the plane.  Michael was hit in the back and shoulders without having
given any cause to be treated with such violence.  Travis was also forced on to the plane.
The three of us and a Spanish woman boarded one of the airplanes (it was black with XC-FRB painted on
the tail).  The pilot and the navigator tried to talk to us and began asking us what we were doing in
Chiapas among other things.  We asked where we were going  and they told us that they didn't know.  It
seemed strange to us that the navigator didn't know where we were headed and so we asked what agency
they worked for.  He said that it was a private agency.  We asked what private agency and he said that
 it was a secret private agency.  We later heard on the radio that we were flown by the Direccion de
Investigaciones Nacionales, the Mexican equivalent of the FBI.
We arrived at the airport in Mexico City and were taken directly to the PGR (Attorney General) hangar
where the plane was surrounded by armed men.  A body of immigration agents was waiting for us and we
were put aboard a bus which carried us to the immigration offices of the international airport.  They
hurried us into a closed room without windows where we remained for several hours.
Finally we were allowed to speak with representatives from our embassy for fifteen minutes.  They told
us that we were going to be deported and gave us the time and destination of our flight, but they still
were unable to inform us why were being detained or what we were being accused of.
At around 5:00 PM we were taken one by one to make our declarations.  They carried us to a room where
various high officials were waiting for us including the Interior Sub secretary of Government Sergio
Orozco Aceves, Judicial Affairs Director Miguel Covian, and Nation Immigration Institute Director
General Alejandro Carillo Castro and we were made to sit at a large table with a tape recorder in the
middle.  We were not given the opportunity to have a "witness of our confidence" present nor were we
advised of our rights.
Mr. Covian read the accusations against us which were absurd and a complete fabrication.  We were
accused of having organized an autonomous municipality and having incited the indigenous people to
resist the legitimate authority of the state and holding up posters saying things like "Death to the
Evil Government" during a demonstration in Taniperla the morning of the invasion.  This demonstration
could not possibly have taken place due to the incredibly strong and aggressive presence of the
military and the immediate detentions of all of us as soon as these forces entered the community.
The letter was written by the state attorney general of Chiapas and dated the 11th of April.  Travis
questioned why no one had been informed of the accusations (including our consulates) if they had had
this letter since the day before.  She was told that her complaint would be noted.
All of us said that the letter was absurd and a complete fabrication.  The three of us Americans, for
example, had been in the community of Taniperla for less than twelve hours, and the inauguration of the
new municipality had been taking place since the day before we arrived.
Our testimonies were recorded.  Travis asked what the proceedings against us were going to be, because
she already knew that we were going to be deported and to her knowledge once someone has been deported
they have no recourse to Mexican law, in other words no chance for appeal.  They told her that they
were going to listen to everyone's testimony and then inform us of their decision.  This took place
less than two hours before our flight was due to leave for the U.S.
About an hour later, someone arrived in our room with the government's so-called "resolution" about
what they were going to do with us.  The document explained to us that for the reasons previously
stated they had decided to invoke Article 33 of the Constitution to deport us immediately.  They
presented the document to us as if it were the result of the testimonies that we had give, but Travis
had seen them photocopying it several hours before while she was waiting to speak to her consular

When she explained this to the Immigration authority, describing how the process was a farce, instead
of denying this accusation he told her that it really didn't matter because we had no legal recourse
and we were about to be deported.
When the time for our flight arrived, various agents of the National Immigration Institute escorted us
on board the airplane, and two agents even accompanied us on the plane all the way to Los Angeles.  For
some inexplicable reason, they would not allow us to drink a beer during the flight, and they refused
to return our passports to us even after we'd landed in the United States.  The handed us over to the
INS offices in Los Angeles, where the officer on duty was puzzled to be dealing with United States 
passports, and then finally they left.
All that we have read from official sources about the invasion of Taniperla and our detention,
treatment and supposed crimes, is a huge lie.  The idea that we were responsible for the formation of
the Autonomous Municipality is absurd.  It is part of a racist propaganda campaign by the government
suggesting that the indigenous people are unable to think for themselves or organize their own local
We do not accept our illegal and arbitrary deportation. We are going to struggle in every possible way,
including going through diplomatic and political channels, and we are going to bring a case against the
individuals responsible for these outrages, including specific agents of the INM and PGR. We are going
to register our observations with all interested organizations, including Amnesty International and the
United Nations.
We consider ourselves lucky because, as foreigners we were not subject to worse treatment, and we
remain extremely worried for the Mexican citizens who remain illegally detained, imprisoned or
disappeared under absurd and baseless accusations. Above all, we are extremely concerned for the people
in the indigenous communities in Chiapas and we urge that all Mexicans do everything in their power to
stop this gravely dangerous situation which is continuing in Taniperla.


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