THE FRAYBA IS ONE MORE ACTOR INSIDE A LIBERATING PROCESS: VICTOR HUGO LÓPEZ
** The NGO’s director recognizes the role of Bishop Samuel Ruiz, the center’s founder
** The largest number of denunciations it receives now are from women “hooked” by usurers
By: Hermann Bellinghausen, Envoy
San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, March 28, 2014
“The Frayba is one more actor inside a liberating process,” points out Víctor Hugo López, director of the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center. He makes it clear that the defense of guarantees is an action of commitment, and as much their violation as the denunciation and action in search of justice is essentially political. After a quarter of a century in non-stop activity at the state level, the Frayba’s influence and range has a national and international reach.
Bishop Samuel Ruiz García, the founder in 1989 and the center’s first president, “favored its independence from the Church hierarchy in 1996,” López recognizes. But the constructive role of the historic bishop of the indigenous diocese of Chiapas gave the Frayba a participative and educational character in the same communities. “Don Samuel formed many of the current human rights promoters, and they constitute invisible network of observation and denunciation that documents, telephones, comes to our door and guides us in the communities; people committed to their own liberation.”
He admits: “Today we have all fronts open, defense of territory, militarization and paramilitarization, justice,” and what he calls “structural violence” derived from inequality and poverty. He offers an unexpected example. Currently, the largest number of denunciations that the Frayba receives are from women “hooked” with loans from stores like Elektra or from illegal “loan sharks” that, protected in government offices, frequently public servants, grant loans and charge stratospheric interest. “Let’s say, they give 20,000 pesos to the women, and they have to repay 100,000.” The number of reports of sexual assaults, intra-family and gender violence also increases. “That is the case with teachers that abuse or violate minors, but the authorities hide them, and if they feel pressure they make an arrangement with the teacher and change his place.”
Does that mean that “political” issues are no longer the center’s principal work? he is asked. “Everything is political,” he answers. Poverty, structural violence and bureaucratic corruption seem as political to him as counterinsurgency, induced division, electoral manipulation, judicial persecution of innocents, the executions of representatives, or the evictions.
Upon evaluating the current state of the armed conflict, which has largely determined Frayba’s work since 1994, he exposes: “Here we think that the State has not forgiven the Zapatista National Liberation Army for the declaration of war. In Chiapas, all of the constitutional reforms, social policies and programs, including the (Nacional) Crusade Against Hunger, have a counterinsurgency function. Maybe in other places they function as a palliative, but here they always operate to stir up the conflict. The crusade against hunger has, just in Ocosingo, some 1,000 committees,” he illustrates. Those committees, coordinated by Martín Longoria, ex PRD member with a counterinsurgency trajectory in the region, “stipulate that their members are not in resistance, have their papers in order and do not maintain any autonomy; thus, they are added to those that are in officialist (pro-government) ranks, or those coopted with public resources at whatever price.” The backers “oblige them to fight their brothers that are in any form of resistance: recuperation of land, not paying for electricity, opposition to highways or tourist centers.”
He recognizes that the panorama in the communities has had “a complex evolution.” The situation “is not black and white, there is a strong social antagonism directly promoted by the State.” And cites two current events: “The attack on 10 de Abril, a community of the Caracol of Morelia, on January 30, by members of the CIOAC-democratic, could have been avoided. Prior to the acts, a group from the Frayba interviewed with officials in the government palace, and warned them that the Zapatistas were not going to permit people that suddenly have official roles to take their land away; that the agrarian authority was giving the green light to a provocation. They told us that there was a commitment not to attack or invade. They broke it within a few days.”
He remembers the role played by former Secretary of Government, Noé Castañón León, linked directly to the conflicts in some Zapatista communities; in others he even “recommended” expelling those that were in resistance (San Sebastián Bachajón, Venustiano Carranza). “Today, the state government attempts to present the community conflicts as between private parties and minimizes them in the voice of the new secretary, Eduardo Ramírez Aguilar.”
The Frayba today
López delineates the Frayba’s functioning, which has varied in the course of years. Today, as strange as it may seem, its basic function is not defense, but rather the strengthening of the organizational processes and the work of orientation with affected individuals, involving victims in their own defense. “We did not take the lead in the Alberto Patishtán case, he made his own strategies. But we helped to make his struggle visible, we were a platform for his defenders.” He adds an astounding reality: “There are some 11,000 cases in the country of indigenous prisoners that could be similar. They have to learn to get organized and defend themselves.” He also clarifies that the Frayba “maintains the litigation of unresolved “historic cases:” the massacres of Acteal, the Northern Zone and Viejo Velasco Suárez.
“To work within the context of Chiapas it is necessary to know the actors.” He mentions the number of times that in recent years alleged “comandantes” or “junta members” have presented themselves in Frayba’s offices with writings directed to the governor demanding something. “At times with seals of some good government junta, or signatures of ‘the commanders.’ Although the seals could be identical to those of a caracol, the falsification was recognizable. And the authentic Zapatistas don’t act like that.” It’s appropriate to wonder how many of these fakers arrive before governors or federal commissioners and make them believe that they were Zapatistas.
The Frayba, which maintains contact with the five rebel caracoles, only divulges denunciations and statements authenticated by the Juntas. López emphasizes that they (the Juntas) have very efficient documentation teams, “they support the denuncias with convincing evidence,” but they always try to avoid the public denunciation; “they prefer to conciliate with the other parties.”
Co-optation is a tradition in Chiapas. The government has pressured, besieged, threatened, courted, spied on, infiltrated and attacked the Frayba throughout the years. “To the current Secretary of Government, who different from his predecessors shows disdain, we would be organized only to ‘boycott’ the state government.” That’s how much the official mentality has advanced in the comprehension and respect of human rights. But the Frayba does not stop evolving and it deepens its prints on the communities.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Saturday, March 29, 2014
Translation: Chiapas Support Committee