“THEY PUNISHED US TO PUNISH ZAPATISMO”
By: Angeles Mariscal
The soldiers recognized them, when on June 4, 1994, Ana, Beatriz and Cecilia González Pérez and their mother Delia Pérez attempted to cross the checkpoint that the Mexican Army put up in the ejido Jalisco, municipality of Altamirano. They even called one of them with the nickname by which she was known in her community. To the Secretary of National Defense (SEDENA, the Spanish acronym) they were members of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, EZLN) and punished them for that by raping them.
They detained them and for two hours, by means of sexual torture, attempted to force them to say they were members of the armed group, and to inform on other individuals. Those were months in which the Mexican Army was occupying indigenous areas of Chiapas to disarticulate the insurgent movement.
They resisted, and upon being released, criminally denounced the acts, submitted to examinations that showed the tumultuous rape, but the case was assumed by Military Justice, and was closed denying justice. They then appealed to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), a body that in 2001, after analyzing the case, presented an in-depth report, declaring the international responsibility of the Mexican State, demanding that it punish those responsible, and that it repair the damage to the aggrieved.
The IACHR concluded that rape of the González Pérez sisters, “was committed for the purpose of intimidating the three women because of their alleged links to the EZLN.” However, the Mexican State evaded its responsibility for 25 years, until this October 18, when it initiated the justice process.
In the public square of the city of Ocosingo, in the voice of Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero, the Mexican government apologized to the Gonzalez Pérez sisters, before 500 people, among them public officials and residents of the region.
“Today, in the name of the Mexican State, I apologize for the lack of investigation and search for justice (…) it’s essential to recognize the impact of war on the bodies of women, direct offenses that cross through a triple structural violence in this case: for being women, for being indigenous and for being poor,” Sánchez Cordero said.
The Under Secretary of Human Rights, Alejandro Encinas, was also at the public apology event. He maintained: “you cannot ignore the context in which the terrible offenses of this case occur. They start with the 1994 armed conflict against the indigenous communities and peoples, who were demanding the recognition of the most basic rights: work, land, shelter, food, health care, education, independence, freedom, democracy, justice and peace. The 500 years of exploitation and marginalization were not enough: the voice of the peoples was silenced with blows (…) the sexual torture committed on the part of the State against the González sisters, had the objective of repressing, intimidating and humiliating,” he recognized.
Mexican Army, the big absence
The public apology had a big absent, representatives from the SEDENA, the institution that the sisters locate as their torturers. Ana, Beatriz, Celia and their mother Delia, demanded for all these years that military leaders were the ones who should acknowledge the acts, the ones who should apologize and be brought to justice.
“Those who in reality committed the harm didn’t come. What we want is a real justice. I want to demand justice, so that the soldiers ask us for public forgiveness. When Zapatismo happened in 1994, they punished us in order to punish Zapatismo,” Celia, who was only 16 years old when the acts occurred, pointed out.
Her sister Ana added: “this act of public in reality is not an act of public apology because we said clearly that we wanted representatives of the SEDENA to be present so that they could ask us for public forgiveness, because they were the ones who committed the offenses. This public forgiveness is not complete.”
In indigenous culture it is the one responsible for the offense who must ask for forgiveness, because it is the identification of this before the community.
Ana insisted that they reject the presence of soldiers in indigenous zones. “We don’t want the soldiers in our towns, because the government says that they are the ones who protect us, but it is the opposite; they are the ones who do us harm.”
“What happened to us, the rapes, happens in many parts of Ocosingo and Altamirano (indigenous regions of Chiapas where the EZLN has a presence), and no one ever makes it known,” Celia emphasized.
“This is happening today, it’s as if a garbage truck came, and it came to collect all the garbage. I say to you that when the government does an abuse or a rape, speak up and don’t keep quiet.”
The González Pérez sisters also spoke the name of those who died in 1994, at the hands of the Mexican Army. “The reason and the cause for which the Zapatistas died were because there is a lot of poverty, a lot of oblivion towards the indigenous peoples, and they were fighting against this.”
Among the agreements that Olga Sánchez Cordero, Alejandro Encinas and the sisters and their mother signed today, is to continue the investigation for bringing the implicated soldiers to [legal] process.
However, they insisted that this process not be individualized, and it is assumed that the rape was not an independent or autonomous act that the soldiers committed, bur rather an institutional action that obeyed a strategy of war against the EZLN.
The apology, a vindication of their dignity
For the González Pérez sisters and their mother, the act of forgiveness had a meaning beyond their person; it was the vindication of their dignity in front of their community. Therefore, they asked that this event be carried out in the municipality of Ocosingo, the most important city in the Tzeltal indigenous to which they belong.
After the rape, when the family and the community to which they belonged learned about it, they were rejected, and were forced to leave the place. “It was on the one hand because of the community’s fear of the repression on the part of the military that was occupying them, but also because of the way in which women are configured in indigenous communities, and the value they place on virginity. By losing it in the rape, they were seen as ´the soldiers’ women´ or prostitutes,” explained Gloria Flores Ruiz, the lawyer for the indigenous women.
Nevertheless, the three sisters and their mother understood that members of the EZLN and indigenous communities as a whole were also aggrieved in the rape. “Forgiveness is experienced not only towards their person, but also as a forgiveness that the aggrieved women deserve, but also the Zapatista women. Forgiveness is experienced in a feeling, individual, communitarian, political,” she explained.
Therefore, in the agreement with the Mexican government, the aggrieved also asked the Mexican government for a public apology in favor of the community as a whole, and in favor of the Zapatista population.
Originally Published in Spanish by Chiapas Paralelo
Friday, October 18, 2019
Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee