Occupy “Murder City”
Here’s a piece I did recently for the wonderful Upside Down World. I changed the title here. I’m reading Bowden right now, what can I say.
Mexico: Police Beatings, Jail Time and Threats Won’t Deter Indignadxs de Juarez Activists
Published Friday, 18 November 2011
CIUDAD JUAREZ – On October 15th, people all over the world responded to a call from Occupy Wall Street to join and become part of the movement. Folks from all walks of life who identify as part of the now famous 99 per cent responded to the call, setting up tent villages and holding actions in public (and private) spaces around the globe.
In Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, a group of activists from various organizations, collectives and political persuasions got together and decided that they too would organize in response to the call, under the name Indignadxs de Juarez. They held two events to coincide with the call on October 15th, but were unable to set up a permanent, occupy-style camp.
“Here in Juarez, demonstrating is dangerous, the conditions don’t exist [to occupy],” said Gero Fong, a local activist and Indignado. “One of our intentions was to set up a permanent camp, but given our numbers it wasn’t possible.”
Instead of camping out, Juarez’s Indignadxs called for a series of actions. On November 1st, they gathered again for a demonstration that was to include street theater and the symbolic wheat pasting of 9,000 paper crosses around the city, in memory of the over 9,000 people murdered here since 2008.
The police response to the November 1st demonstration quickly transformed into a national scandal. Police beat and arrested 29 people, among them activists, their supporters, and journalists.
“They threw me on the ground and between 10 and 15 officers started to beat me,” said Gerardo Solís, a secondary school teacher who was arrested in front of the police station while demanding the names of the detained. He was jailed overnight with the others. “They jailed me with the rest of the compañeros, and inside [the police] told me they were going to disappear me, that they have assassins working for them, that they’re going to disappear me, that they already knew that I’m a teacher and where I work, and that they would go after me,” he said.The next evening, arrestees were released on bail amounting to approximately US$40. In the days following, there was increasing clarity on why the police repressed demonstrators so intensely.
“The population here feels helpless, and I think [the police] are exercising preventative repression,” said Fong. The collective, public attack on protestors must be understood in the context of the militarization of Juarez since early 2008, when 7,500 troops were deployed to the city, followed by thousands of federal police.
“I believe that Ciudad Juarez is being taken as an experimental city, this is the first place [in Mexico] that was militarized, this is where the assassinations began, where a series of bi-national policies have been experimented with, and now what they’re trying to do is apply repressive policies with the clear objective of introducing fear among those who protest and set the example that here there will be no protests,” said Fong, still sporting a black eye from the beating he received from police.
Long time Juarez activists say it is the first time in almost 20 years that so many comrades were beaten and jailed at once in a clear act of political policing.
“[The police] showed its force against people it shouldn’t have, against us, the people who want this city to be in peace,” said Elizabeth Flores, who has been active in movements in Juarez since the early 1990s. “They don’t do this against delinquents, against those who are committing crimes in these moments.” Flores pointed to the economic system, unemployment, militarization and impunity as the root causes of the violence that the Indignadxs de Juarez are standing against.
When asked why the Indignadxs de Juarez are in the streets, Doctor Arturo Vasquez Peralta responded without hesitation, his words sharp and his face tight. “Nine thousand dead in Ciudad Juarez. Lack of investigation of those 9,000 dead. Lack of will to clarify those 9,000 deaths,” he said. For Peralta, the repression of the November 1st action is the sum of policies that have been used in Juarez for years, designed to send a message that protests will not proceed, under the threat of violence.
Regardless, in their first meeting after they were released from prison, the Indignadxs de Juarez decided that they will demonstrate again on November 26th, crosses and wheat paste in hand. I asked Julian Contreras, a community activist, what it is like to organize in this kind of atmosphere.
“According to their logic, given the scale of the repression happening in this city, we should already be hiding under our beds trembling with fear, but that’s not what happens,” said Contreras.
“We’ve arrived to such a high level of violence, where people are cut into pieces and their bodies spread around the city, and we know that this is a state strategy: they can kill your family, your siblings, your in-laws, your friends, they can disappear you,” he said. “And you still go into the streets because you know there is no other option, because what is under threat isn’t you but the entire community.”
The fact that conditions are so difficult in Juarez has led to more unity among groups and movements, says Contreras, who points out that Zapatistas, anarchists, socialists, Stalinists, Trots, social democrats, NGOs, Human Rights organizations, and Christians have come together to protest. “That, on a national level, is inconceivable,” he said.
Regardless of this unity, Fong classifies the movement in Juarez as one of qualitative force rather than quantative force. “Numbers-wise, in our strongest moment we were 3,000 when we did a march because of a shooting of a student during a march for peace,” said Fong. “Our movement has since oscillated between 10 and 100 people, rising and falling, rising and falling.”
For Fong, Contreras, Flores, and others, there is no doubt that regardless of the fact that speaking out can be deadly, they will continue to stand up and resist militarization and the dominant economic paradigm.
“We haven’t managed to create a mass movement, but yes an important movement that denounces things that many people here are not ready to denounce because of fear,” said Fong.
*Indignadxs is a non-gendered way of referring to those participating in these movements. It was widely used to refer to those who participated in the protest encampments in Spain that preceded Occupy Wall Street.