One Third of Indigenous Prisoners in Mexico Imprisoned on Drug Charges 2/16/01

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(by Al Giordano, reprinted from the Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation,

Mexico's National Commission on Human Rights, a quasi-independent governmental agency, shined a spotlight this week on indigenous prisoners and concluded: one third of all indigenous prisoners in the nation are held on drug charges. The finding comes as Mexico's indigenous movement occupies center stage in the nation's press and the Zapatista peace caravan from Chiapas readies to begin its trek to Mexico City on February 24th.

The national daily La Jornada of Mexico City, in a page-one story on February 12th, cited a new report by the human rights agency -- commonly known in Mexico as "the ombudsman" -- that counted 7,809 indigenous prisoners in the country, of which 2,319 (one third) are held on federal drug or arms possession charges. "The majority of these indigenous prisoners are used by organized crime to transport drugs," the report stated. "Suffering from hunger, with poor-quality lands, without resources to plant and forgotten by development, the indigenous either accept or are obligated to transport drugs. They have to survive somehow."

The human rights ombudsman has proposed the release of 1,327 of these indigenous prisoners "because the crimes they are accused of are not serious." Noting the economic pressures to transport drugs, and the fact that authorities regularly arrest indigenous peasants for possession of rifles used to hunt food, the ombudsman office told La Jornada, "We have recommended to the authorities that when these cases come to us, that they review them with caution." The human rights office said it had reached a collaboration agreement with the offices of the attorney general, the public defenders and the National Indigenous Institute to "promote fair treatment of indigenous prisoners."

Noting that Mexico's population of 10 million indigenous people is "very vulnerable" to abuse of its human rights, the commission reported that "they live in isolated places, without communications, where many times they don't know how to speak Spanish and don't have money to come to Mexico City and file a complaint."

The commission added that it would study the problems of "protection of sacred sites" and "the regulation of peyote use in indigenous regions."

The most common complaints by indigenous populations against authorities, reports La Jornada, are against the Armed Forces: "arbitrary detentions, being held incomunicado, and planted evidence."

Meanwhile, last week the most globally-known indigenous political prisoner, peasant farmer and environmental activist Rudolfo Montiel, received a visit from Ethel Kennedy, widow of Robert F. Kennedy, to present him with the Sierra Club's "Chico Mendez Prize" in his prison cell in Iguala, Guerrero.

Montiel, with his imprisoned co-defendant Teodoro Cabrera, had been active against strip logging by Boise Idaho in his region. The two men were detained by the Mexican military, brutally tortured for days, and accused of growing marijuana. Mexican President Vicente Fox recently ordered a review of their cases.

Indigenous rights is the issue that most dominates the front pages in Mexico this winter. Increasingly, the Mexican indigenous question intersects with drug policy and the injustices committed in the name of the drug war.

(Al Giordano also publishes the NarcoNews service, online. NarcoNews has published other coverage of other issues facing Mexico's indigenous. DRCNet is strictly devoted to drug policy reform and doesn't take positions on other issues, but we provide links to them here for readers' information: -- this last one includes some drug policy information.)

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Issue #173, 2/16/01 Incarceration Fever About to Break? Prison Populations Leveling Off in Some Big States | California's "Three Strikes" Law Continues to Snare Mainly Drug and Nonviolent Offenders | John Ashcroft's Drug War | Oklahoma Meth Mess | One Third of Indigenous Prisoners in Mexico Imprisoned on Drug Charges | New Site Uses Traffic Movie to Raise Awareness, Free Daily DVD or Video Give-Away for Participants | Book Review: The Politics of Medical Marijuana | Errata: Ecstasy Conference, Calendar | The Reformer's Calendar | Editorial: A Postcard from Mexico
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