|Written by Peter Watt and Alba Cruz, Upside Down World, 11 November 2010|
|Following the 2006 uprising in the city of Oaxaca in southern Mexico, the official crackdown on dissidents, social movements and human rights defenders reached unprecedented proportions. Human rights organizations note with alarm that the presence of around 50,000 military and police personnel patrolling the streets and controlling much of civilian life – often under the pretext of a war on narcotrafficking – has made Oaxaca and the rest of Mexico increasingly dangerous.
Alba Cruz, a human rights lawyer working with the Comité de Liberación 25 de Noviembre de Oaxaca, has experienced the climate of fear and intimidation first-hand. Since taking on over 100 cases relating to human rights violations in Oaxaca, which include the murder, torture and forced disappearance of activists, continual threats have been made to her personal safety. She represented Juan Manuel Martínez Moreno, the man wrongly convicted (and subsequently released in February 2010) of the murder of US independent journalist and political activist, Brad Will. Eyewitness accounts suggest that Will was shot by police dressed in civilian clothing.
Outside the Middle East, Mexico is now the recipient of the United States’ largest foreign aid program. After numerous declarations from civic and human rights groups that the program – the Mérida Initiative – closely emulates Plan Colombia, an aid program which allowed Colombia to become the most flagrant violator of human rights in the Western Hemisphere, US Congress blocked release of the funds to Mexico unless the administration of Felipe Calderón could prove it was committed to protecting human rights and investigating alleged violations. The prosecution of Martínez, who was released this year after Cruz and the Comité de Liberación 25 de Noviembre de Oaxaca presented evidence which demonstrated that he could not have murdered fellow activist, Brad Will, was a particularly cynical attempt to secure the funds of the Mérida Initiative, while justice for the real killers remains elusive. Continue reading