Alberto Patishtán: A Message From the State

By Luis Hernández Navarro
La Jornada
September 13, 2013
Translated by Scott Campbell

Alberto Patishtán is not a French kidnapper like Florence Cassez, nor a narcotrafficker like Rafael Caro Quintero, nor one of the killers from the massacre in Acteal. He is a Tzotzil schoolteacher, a member of the Other Campaign, unjustly imprisoned for 13 years. She, they and he are not the same. For Cassez, Caro Quintero and the paramilitaries from Chenalhó, despite their guilt, justice let them go. For teacher Patishtán, the justice system has him in jail, despite being innocent.

The judiciary recently had the possibility to rectify the damage done to the indigenous Tzotzil man from El Bosque. But this Thursday, the 20th Circuit First Appellate Court in Chiapas declared baseless the evidence with which his attorneys sought to obtain his release.

Disgrace on top of shame, the National Supreme Court of Justice decided to be complicit in the injustice and washed its hands of it. Just this past March, its First Courtroom ruled, by three votes to two, not to retain jurisdiction of the motion to recognize the teacher’s innocence. The case was returned to the court which declared as baseless the evidence in Patishtán’s favor. In a country where enforcement of the law has a strong political bias behind it, and where judges are rarely independent from the Executive, the ruling by the judges of the 20th Circuit First Appellate Court, Freddy Gabriel Félix Fuentes, Manuel de Jesús González Suárez and Arturo Eduardo Centeno Garduño, can only be interpreted as a message from the State. A message sent both to the prisoner and to those who see him as a symbol of the struggle against injustice. The teacher is a hostage of power.

Alberto Patishtán is not just any detainee: he is the most high-profile political prisoner in the country. He is an emblematic figure of the indigenous movement, whose case ties together racial discrimination, the filthiness of the courts, and the partisan use of justice to deprive indigenous people. A symbol of dignity in the face of the abuse of power.

Literally thousands of voices in and outside of Mexico have demanded his immediate release. People of faith, the EZLN, the indigenous movement, the National Coordinating Committee of Education Workers (CNTE), Amnesty International and hundreds of human rights groups and public intellectuals are convinced of his innocence and demand his freedom. It is to them that State addressed its final word: I don’t care about your reasons; I’ll listen but I won’t pay them any mind.

The story is known. On July 12, 2000, in Las Lagunas de Las Limas, Simojovel, seven police were ambushed. That day and at that time, Patishtán was many kilometers from there. It didn’t matter. They held him responsible for the murders just the same. He was sentenced for organized crime, homicide, possession of weapons for the exclusive use of the armed forces and bodily harm. At his hearing there were no translators. The witnesses lied and solid evidence of his guilt was not presented. The judges didn’t care. He went to jail.

All over the country, indigenous peoples resist environmental destruction and the dispossession of their lands, territory, water and seeds. To address public insecurity and defend themselves, they have formed community police. Keeping Patishtán in prison is a warning from the Mexico from above of what can happen if they obstinately continue what they are doing in defense of their natural resources and in their ways of exercising justice.

Hundreds of thousands of teachers are demanding the repeal of labor reforms disguised as educational reforms recently passed by Congress. In their mobilizations and their list of demands they call for the detained teacher, one of theirs, to be released. Refusing to let him out of jail is a warning of what awaits them if they don’t suspend their acts of disobedience.

The Zapatistas remain determined to self-govern and keep their weapons, outside of government institutions. They continue to be a source of inspiration and an example for many indigenous communities in the country. To have a member of the Other Campaign behind bars is a warning that the war against the rebels in southeastern Mexico is not over.

In a country in which the law is regularly applied against justice, the Mexican State does not care that Alberto Patishtán is innocent and that his trial was full of irregularities. It isn’t bothered that his imprisonment is an international scandal. It wants, purely and simply, to send a message so that those who sympathize with the teacher and his cause learn their lesson. It will not succeed. Just like Patishtán, those who are in solidarity with him resist and will keep resisting.