David Werner

In our last newsletter, we described how a number of men and boys from the small village of Lodasál, located near Ajoya in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, were dragged out of their beds in the middle of the night by a group of soldiers from San Ignacio who accused them of growing drugs. Some of them were severely beaten and tortured, while others were thrown in jail on trumped-up drug charges.

Since Newsletter #20 came out, the soldiers in the area have become even more brutal in their detention and roughing up of innocent people. In January they stopped a young man walking on a footpath outside the community of San Ignacio and, in the process of trying to force him to confess to growing drugs, beat him so badly that his intestine was rupture. The soldiers left the man unconscious beside a river, where he was found by some villagers. They transported him to the hospital in Mazatlán, where he underwent surgery.

The young man’s family lodged a complaint with the new municipal president, who brought the matter to the attention of the general in charge of the army detachment based in Culiacán, the capital of Sinaloa. The local newspapers also reported on this latest human rights violation. A newsaper called Debate published a particularly scathing response, accusing the soldiers of San Ignacio, commanded by a Lieutenant Victor Hugo, of using the “war on drugs” as a cover for terrorizing, torturing, falsely accusing, and extorting money from innocent citizens.

These protests came on the heels of the ones we had made after the raid on Lodasál. We had approached the same general, who had disclaimed all responsibility for that incident and refused to take any action. However, we had also taken our case to the newspapers in the area, which had run articles on the story, and to a human rights organization based at the Culiacán university, which had proceeded to contact the general in its own right.

Apparently the mounting pressures coming from all directions finally led the general to go to San Ignacio and conduct an investigation. As a result, Lieutenant Hugo is now in jail, and has been ordered to pay the three million peso ($1,000) hospital bill for the man who was beaten and left for dead. A few days later Liberato Ribota Melero, the one resident of Lodasál remaining behind bars, was summoned over the loudspeaker in the huge federal penitentiary outside Mazatlán. After five months in jail, he was summarily told that he could leave. This was followed shortly by the release of a health worker and his son from a nearby village who, together with some other men, had been arrested by soldiers six years ago on false drug charges while playing volleyball on a Sunday afternoon.

So the whole Ribota family is finally free (one of Liberato’s sons had also been imprisoned for a time, and another had been severely beaten by the soldiers). However, the economic setback caused by the arrests, jailings, lawyers' fees, and trips to Mazatlán. and the state capital has stripped it of all the limited resources and savings it had gradually accumulated since it moved to Lodasál a year and a half ago. Still, the members of the family are happy that they are all together again and—at least for the moment—free to proceed with their lives.

We celebrate the release of these campesinos and health workers who are our colleagues and friends, and would like to thank all the journalists, human rights activists, and concerned persons who rallied to help get Liberato out of jail.

Unfortunately, however, others will continue to be victimized as long as the Bush Administration persists in imposing its punitive, militarized approach to the drug problem. Last year US drug czar William Bennett openly said that “A massive wave of arrests is a top priority for the war on drugs.” Since he made that statement, arrests have escalated, not only in the US, but in Mexico and many other Latin American countries as well. Latin American governments know that the continued flow of critically needed foreign aid from the US and debt bailout funds from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank is contingent on their compliance with Washington’s mandate that they fight the war on drugs on its terms. Many if not most of the people arrested in this sham crackdown are innocent victims who, like Liberato, just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

These abuses of human rights —in Mexico, other countries of Latin America, and here in the US as well—won’t end until the US public joins with people throughout the Americas to “just say `no” to a hypocritical, ineffective war on drugs which ignores the real causes of the drug problem while providing a handy pretext for strengthening the forces of repression both abroad and at home.