Student activists are targeted on Mexico's notoriously independent and active public university campuses following a string of bomb attacks in the vein of Animal Liberation Front (ALF) tactics.
Throughout the month of September, over ten bombs were placed in banks, a car dealership, a luxury clothing store, a small police station, and an animal testing laboratory in Mexico City and the states of Guanajuato, Nayarit, and Jalisco. Most exploded; no injuries were reported.
Self-proclaimed anarchists and animal liberationists claimed responsibility for the bombings via postings on the Internet. The organizations that supposedly carried out the bombings were unknown prior to the bombings, with one exception: the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). The ALF is comprised of individuals or cells who do not know each other, but who use the same name and share the same goal: animal liberation through direct action. Due to its lack of a formal structure, any person (or government agent) can commit property destruction in the name of the ALF.
The timing of the bombings is significant for several reasons. First, Mexico celebrated 199 years of independence from Spain on September 15. On that same date, they also commemorated the one-year anniversary of the Independence Day grenade attacks in Morelia that killed eight people and left over 100 injured.
The bombings also occurred on the eve of two important dates: October 2 and the year 2010. Every October 2, students and young people march in cities all over the country to commemorate the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre in which the Mexican military shot and bayonetted hundreds or thousands of student protesters to death in Mexico City.
2010, on the other hand, is widely predicted to be a volatile year in Mexico. It will mark 200 years since Mexican independence and 100 years since the Mexican revolution. Assuming that since thus far monumental uprisings have occurred every 100 years since the founding of the country, Mexico's activists sport t-shirts and paint graffiti that says, "See you in 2010." Predictably, 2010’s potential volatility has the government on high alert. Due to the timing of the "anarcho-bombings" and these dates' importance to both Mexicans and the government, the bombings have only served to further increase tension in the lead-up to 2010.
If these bombings were indeed carried out by anti-capitalist activists as the Internet communiqués claim, they have failed to achieve their stated goal of inflicting monetary damage against capitalism. The targets were almost certainly insured, nullifying the tens of thousands of pesos in monetary damage the communiqués claim was inflicted against "capital."
The negative consequences of the bombings, however, are becoming painfully apparent. The federal government has seized upon the opportunity to further infringe on the sacred autonomy of Mexico's universities.
Since the founding of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City in 1910, students and the government have engaged in an ongoing battle for students' and university workers' right to run their university as they see fit--without government imposition, infringement, and most importantly, repression. Autonomous universities have the right to manage their own budgets and appoint their own rectors and regents. It is also expressly prohibited that police or the military enter university campuses for any reason without the rector's permission. Likewise, the police and intelligence agencies do not have access to students' academic records or biographical information.
University autonomy has afforded students and the university community a greater degree of freedom to form political organizations on campus than they would normally have off-campus. For example, pirate radio stations operate on autonomous university campuses across the country. From these campus stations, students and non-students alike broadcast music, political opinion, and other free speech without fear that federal agents will raid their booth and seize their equipment. Likewise, students hold on-campus fundraisers for political organizations that they couldn't as easily hold off-campus.
Expanded political freedoms on autonomous campuses has allowed the university community to organize at a level that is more difficult elsewhere. For this reason, students often play important roles social struggles, even armed ones. Many members of the National Liberation Forces (FLN), which later merged with southern indigenous organizations to become the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), were students in autonomous universities. The man the Mexican government accuses of being the Zapatistas' Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, Rafael Sebastián Guillén Vicente, was a UNAM student and university professor at the Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAM).
Even today, students at autonomous universities continue to provide support to insurgent organizations. Many of the collectives that worked together to organize the Zapatistas' latest gathering, the Festival of Dignified Rage, are based on autonomous campuses. When Subcomandante Marcos traveled the country in 2006 to meet with Mexican social organizations, many meetings occurred in autonomous universities, both because of the support the Zapatistas enjoy there, and also because the universities' autonomy provided the insurgent leader with a relative degree of protection. The UNAM is also home to several organizations that organize events in support of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
None of this information about students' involvement in social struggles is secret. The government is aware of students' central role in Mexico's rich social movements, and has been trying to counter students' power and organization for decades. However, one of the principal barriers between student organizers and the government has been the protection provided by their universities' autonomy.
Students: Public Enemy #1
Even before the government had identified suspects in the anarcho-bombings, it knew that it wanted students to take the blame. On September 10--after only two of ten bombings had occurred--Mexico City's Attorney General told La Jornada, "The information we have is that these groups--be they real groups or just people trying to intimidate--are comprised of very young people." The Attorney General's lack of concrete information about the groups that planted the bombs and his simultaneous assertion that whoever they are, they must be young, is suspicious. He also told La Jornada that police were "very much on alert for another possible event." Seven other bomb-related "events" occurred after his statement.
On September 30, the police arrested a young man it claims perpetrated six of the bombings that occurred in Mexico City. Federal agents snatched Ramses Villareal Gomez, a 27-year-old Mexico City university student, and put a bag over his head before they took him to the Federal Attorney General's Office. Police searched his mother's house, reportedly stealing cash and two computers. Villareal Gomez reports that during the interrogation following his arrest, police demanded that he tell them who threw the bombs or they would rape his wife when they searched her home.
Police immediately attempted to paint Villareal as a student-terrorist. They claimed that when they searched his home following his arrest, they found a 22 caliber rifle, a pistol, explosives, and documentation linking him to a "subversive" movement.
The government propaganda machine sprung into action, linking Villareal Gomez's alleged "terrorist activities" with his active role in student organizations. Following Villareal Gomez's arrest for the bombings, the press screamed that Villareal Gomez had a "record": federal police arrested him and 250 other striking students in 2000 when they attempted to take over a high school as part of the historic UNAM strike. Villareal Gomez participated in the 1999-2000 student strike as part of the UNAM's General Strike Council, which coordinated strike activities. At that time, UNAM and high school students around the country struck against the International Monetary Fund's imposition of tuition in the UNAM as part of Mexico's structural adjustment. The strike successfully blocked the tuition increase, and today tuition at the UNAM costs 25 centavos (about 2 US cents) per semester and is voluntary.
The UNAM expelled Gomez Villareal in 2004 for "breaking university rules" when he participated in the takeover of a public high school with dozens of other students.
The government has also publicly accused Villareal of supporting the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). It claims he was the link between pro-FARC organizations in his former alma mater, the UNAM, and his current alma mater, the Autonomous Metropolitan University, also located in Mexico City. Villareal Gomez's lawyer does not deny that Villareal Gomez particpated in FARC solidarity as a student. "It's not a crime," the lawyer says.
On October 2, a judge ordered that the government release Vilareal Gomez. The judge ruled that the arrest of Villareal Gomez was illegal due to lack of sufficient evidence against him. Following his release, the Federal Police had to admit that they were "mistaken" in claiming that they had found weapons, explosives, and incriminating documents in Villareal Gomez's house. Villareal Gomez's lawyer is now preparing to file charges against the interrogators for psychological torture.
Despite the fact that Villareal Gomez's legal problems are temporarily behind him, the government has used his short detention to begin a witch-hunt against students and the organizations they support.
If the government had been able to convict Villareal Gomez for the bombings, it would have been a devastating blow to student organizations, because a conviction would have facilitated further legal harassment of student organizers and the non-student organizations they support.
Nonetheless, the investigation into the bombing remains open, and the government has made it clear that it plans to take advantage of the bombing investigation in order to spy on and hunt down student and social organizations. The government's false claims that Villareal Gomez was in possession of firearms and explosives, combined with his real and alleged links to student organizations, have justified legal harassment of and spying on student organizations and social movements. After all, the government argues, they are allegedly linked to terrorists.
The government may have never wanted a conviction in the Villareal Gomez case. It had very little evidence against him, and the evidence it did have against him--firearms and explosives in his home--was invented by the Federal Police in order to justify his detention for 3 days. But the government wanted to use Villareal Gomez to attack the student organizations he participated in, so it arrested him. Assistant Attorney General for International Affairs, Juan Miguel Alcantara Soria, told La Cronica de Hoy, "We've been investigating this young man for a long time. We have information about his links to certain groups."
The Colombia Connection
There is speculation that police arrested Villareal Gomez in order to incriminate a more important target: Lucia Morett, the young UNAM student who survived Colombia's bombing of FARC targets in Ecuador. Four other Mexican students lost their lives in the bombing, along with 25 other people, including important FARC targets. Due to the bombing, Morett is now the center of an international controversy that has turned into a witch-hunt against leftist academics.
Following the Ecuador bombing, Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe stepped up bilateral cooperation on combating drug trafficking and terrorism. They reinvigorated the High-Level Group for Security and Justice Mexico-Colombia, created under the Fox administration, and added terrorism to its agenda. The High-Level Group for Security and Justice Mexico-Colombia facilitates bilateral cooperation on terrorism and drug trafficking, including intelligence-sharing. Following the latest High-Level Group meeting, Uribe told press, "Both countries are developing an intense cooperation in security matter, which includes exchanging information and police training."
This bilateral cooperation is already bearing fruit for the two governments. Colombia has further extended the reach in its campaign against the FARC to the organization's alleged supporters in Mexico. Mexico, on the other hand, has used the pretext of "combating terrorism" to increase spying and legal harassment in its autonomous universities.
This past May the Mexican government sent a chilling message to leftist academics in autonomous universities when it summarily deported Colombian professor Miguel Angel Beltran Villegas. At the time of his deportation, Beltran was carrying out post-doctoral research in the UNAM. Uribe requested that Mexico extradite Beltran to Colombia, accusing him of being a FARC leader. Mexican immigration official, without carrying out the necessary deportation procedures required by Mexican law, detained Beltran without warning, refused to allow his lawyer access to him prior to being deported, covered his head with his own shirt, and put him on a plane to Colombia. Beltran is currently being held in a Colombian prison. The Mexican academic community decried Beltran’s expulsion from the country without the necessary legal procedures.
In requesting Beltran's extradition, the Colombian government claimed that, in addition to being a FARC leader, Beltran taught Morett in the UNAM.
The anarcho-bombings dossier claims that Ramses Villareal Gomez was also in contact with Morett, which his lawyer denies. Nonetheless, Morett's inclusion in the case dossier increases international pressure for her extradition. In September (while the anarcho-bombings were being carried out), Interpol published that Morett is "Wanted" for the crimes of organized crime, transnational crime, and terrorism in Colombia. On October 9, in an interview with the Mexican newspaper Milenio, Ecuador's Attorney General renewed his demand that Mexico extradite Morett. Morett remains in hiding in Mexico.
Investigation Targets: APPO and Atenco
According to the case dossier, the Mexican government has identified fifteen other suspects in the so-called anarcho-bombings. La Jornada reports that all fifteen suspects are student leaders in public universities and high schools such as the UNAM, the UAM, and the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN). In a confidential report prepared for the bombing investigation, Mexico's domestic intelligence agency, the National Security Investigations Center (Cisen) has included information about the suspects that dates back at least four years. None of the suspects are over 26 years old.
Villeareal Gomez says that the police showed him pictures of several of the suspects. According to Villareal Gomez, police offered him "protected witness" status--which would have kept him out of jail--if he testified against the young people in the pictures. If he didn't cooperate, he would face 40 years in jail and they would rape his wife, the police reportedly told him.
La Cronica de Hoy reports that the case dossier links the young suspects with organizations such the People's Front in Defense of the Land (FPDT) in Atenco (referred to in La Cronica as the "machete-wielders from Atenco"), the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO), the UNAM General Strike Council, and "national and international insurgent organizations." According to La Cronica, the suspects tend to participate in "confrontations with police, school building occupations, protests, and highway blockades." They also tend to wave Colombian flags with FARC logos, organize discussions about Marxism, and defend Mexico's national energy industry and free education. The suspects are known for shouting phrases such as "Against Yankee Imperialism," and they tend to like Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, according to the dossier.
None of the newspapers that have obtained copies of the case dossier have reported what concrete evidence (aside from being leftists) the government has against the suspects. La Jornada notes that the police claim an anonymous tip led them to Ramses: they say someone put newspaper clippings about the bombing with the name “Ramses” written on one of them in an anonymous tip deposit box. According to La Jornada, “From that name that was provided anonymously, the investigators in charge of the case used the Internet to search for and find photographs of Villareal Gomez protesting against bullfighting, as well as information about the student’s detention during the last UNAM strike, as well as information about his activism in the General Strike Council and his expulsion from Mexico’s flagship public university.”
A few days later, La Jornada published the revelation that the young man in the bullfighting protest photo was not Villareal Gomez, but rather a different student activist. Villareal Gomez says that during his interrogation, police told him that they knew all along that it was not him in the photo. The police reportedly told him, “We already know that this isn’t you, and that your name isn’t among the list of protesters who were detained in the Plaza de los Toros. The boy in the photo is Victor Cilia. Say that he placed the bombs and nothing will happen to you; you’ll be a protected witness.”
Villareal Gomez may be out of jail, but the case remains open. The dossier is proof that the government plans to use the investigation to go after some of Mexico’s most important social organizations through the student leaders that support them.
[i]Originally submitted by Kristin Bricker to Narco News. Introduction my own.