It was May 3rd 2006, a group of women walked together within the fresh scent of the flowers they were planning to sell at the Texcoco local market. They must have been relishing the small pieces of triumph and hope within themselves, because today was the day they had been told they could finally sell their flowers again. Thoughts of returning home with happy little extras for their families that night were swiftly extinguished upon their approach. Laying in wait for them was a force of 3,000 Mexican State Police and Military Officers, ordered to tear them apart like rabid dogs on a fresh piece of meat.
Poverty is a debilitating force, and many are grinded into submission by it. Imagining an existence in which a handful of pennies must feed yourself and your children tonight is almost utterly unimaginable to many in the States. In rural Mexico, the campesinos do not mistake the limitations of their world as the limitations of themselves. They reach their hands into the dirt that others confuse as worthless and from it their lives become rich. They raise corn and beans that feed their community and provide some cash for the simple pleasures. They dance, tell stories and women tend to flower gardens of exquisite beauty that they once brought to the Texcoco local market to sell. That was all until the money got involved. Oh money, you dirty, dirty creature. In 2001, the almost century old Benito Juarez International Airport was choking on its own load. Open trade routes were beckoning like Sirens just over the horizon, but the one runway Benito-eyesore just wasn’t going to cut it. There was no way that President Vicente Fox was going to allow his stomach to be too small for his eyes. They needed to expand, and suddenly the dirt hills and rural nothingness surrounding the airport began to glimmer like bits of gold. Politicians balked in shock that their federal expropriation offer of about $2,600 an acre was rejected by the residents of Atenco. They claimed that their land was more precious than any money they could be offered. Inconceivable! The little town of Atenco could do math, and understand lies, and most importantly, found more worth in their honor and happiness than anything else in the world. They rebelled, and won, and that’s when they incurred the wrath of standing in the way of the money train. The late Carlos Montemayor, author of Guerra en el Paraiso (War in Paradise) best sums up the Mexican Government’s tactics in dealing with such resistance. “First an overwhelming force is assembled with the primary mission of totally subjugating a recalcitrant population. Then informers are introduced into the village to identify and eliminate rebel community leaders and those associated with them. If the leaders evade capture, their families are held hostage. Young men are rounded up and selectively tortured to extract information and to turn them into “soplones” (informers.) Meanwhile, shock troops terrorize the civilian population into submission. Indiscriminate beatings, home invasions, the theft of personal items of value, and the systematic destruction of property are encouraged by police commanders. Women are raped and sexually abused to underscore the occupation force’s total domination over the rebellious villagers.”
On May 3rd, 2006, after being denied the ability to sell their flowers at market, the vendors initiated a flash protest. In response, the militant police forces unleashed a firestorm of brutality. Men, women, and children were severely beaten and abused, leaving one 14-year-old boy murdered and another 20-year-old student on the brink of death. Women were arrested and piled on top of one another in transport vehicles and repeatedly beaten and raped by their captors. There is a report of a 53-year-old woman who was in Texcoco to buy a birthday gift for her son where she was forced to perform oral sex on no less than three armed police officers. 207 people fell victim to cruel and vicious treatment, 145 were arrested and carted away to suffer still more degradation and violence. 26 women came forward to file official complaints of sexual assault, which was mostly responded to with only a physical exam, months after their rape occurred. Only 5 victims were hospitalized for their wounds. Those who were jailed remained there for years without proper evidence. And the entire tragedy has been denied and covered up repeatedly by former Attorney-General Eduardo Medina-Mora Icaza, then the Secretary of Public Safety (and therefore also a perpetrator of the crimes).
In all my years of working with Non Profits, I’ve found that Amnesty International is the bloodhound sniffing out atrocities that many charities won’t even chance to touch. They will take the risk to fight for people like you, and me, and today, the women of Atenco. Right now, they are attempting to organize an overwhelmingly massive wave of letters and emails to the Mexican President, US Ambassador to Mexico and the Mexican Governor of State. What’s all the hub-bub? The Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Women and Human Trafficking (FEVIMTRA) identified 34 members of the state security forces as suspects in the 2006 crimes back in February, and admitted that the crimes fell under the jurisdiction of the Mexican State. The state has stalled the prosecution of these suspects for months, and its time for us to put the hustle on ‘em.
There are two great things I have known to happen when women come together with the same mission. The first is that women have an innate ability to believe what happens to one of us, happens to us all. Todos Somos Atenco, ladies, We Are All Atenco. The second is that women realize their power to protect their loved ones and each other, and they get it done. Go here! Write your letter! And stand tall with our sisters in Atenco!
Do your homework on Amnesty International and consider sponsoring the work that they do. The cost of two martini’s a month could help Amnesty plan and execute ways to put pressure on abusive or negligent governments and allow these women’s voices to be heard for years to come!