After 417 days of wrongful imprisonment, the Zapatista is freed.
Thanks to all the people and organizations throughout the world who campaigned for his liberation.
Joyful celebrations have taken place all over the world as supporters and Zapatistas rejoiced in Francisco Sántiz López’s liberation after 417 days of unjust imprisonment for crimes he never committed. The order for his release states that the evidence of his innocence was not taken into account, confirming that, as the Oventic Good Government Junta has repeatedly made clear, “his only crime was that of being a Zapatista.” Upon his release on January 25, 2013, the Tzeltal, Francisco, stated: “We are going to continue in the struggle of the EZLN, to follow the path, and we are going to win.”
In the eleventh of Subcomandante Marcos’s recent communiqués, released on January 24, he listed the names of several persecuted individuals. One of these was “Francisco Sántiz López, indigenous Zapatista, unjustly imprisoned by ‘law enforcement’” On January 23, in La Jornada, Hermann Bellinghausen wrote of Francisco, “he remains in prison for no reason, his case frozen, more like a political hostage than a prisoner.”
Francisco is from the community of Banavil, Tenejapa, in the highland region in the north of Chiapas. He is a campesino who also runs a stall in the local market and is married with eight children and 12 grandchildren. He has been part of a committed support base of the Zapatistas for over twenty years, even before the uprising of January 1 1994, and is described by the Oventic Junta as “an honest person who fulfills his community and organizational responsibilities.”
On December 4, 2011, local police arrested and charged Francisco Sántiz López with “leading” a violent confrontation that had taken place that day in Banavil that resulted in two deaths. Although many witnesses were able to testify that he was not present in Banavil when the attack took place—but instead miles away running his fruit and vegetable stall in the municipal headquarters of Tenejapa, where he was arrested—Francisco was imprisoned in CERSS No. 5 in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, where he was confined for 417 days in total.
The incident in question involved an armed attack by a group of PRI supporters against four Tzeltal families, who were not Zapatistas, although they were described as sympathetic to the organization. During the violence, one of the attackers was killed, and one of the victims, Alonso Lόpez Luna, was disappeared; only his arm has ever been found, and his case has never been investigated. The four indigenous families were displaced and remain in inadequate living conditions, far from their rural home on the outskirts of the city of San Cristóbal, while their attackers occupy their lands.
On March 22, 2012, a judge exonerated Francisco of the unproven charges of murder and aggravated assault, and he was released. However, just as he was leaving the prison he was rearrested, this time on a federal charge, for the crime of “being in possession of a Firearm for the Exclusive Use of the Army, Navy and Air Force.” Despite the fact that there is no evidence that Francisco was in possession of a firearm at any time, he was returned to the prison.
The Campaign for Francisco’s Release
Locally, nationally, and internationally, Francisco Sántiz López’s supporters have disseminated information, written letters, circulated petitions, produced videos, and participated in actions, rallies, forums, gatherings, and artistic displays to work for his liberation.
Many of the actions in support of Francisco also focused on another famous iconic and innocent prisoner, the Tzotzil “Professor” Alberto Patishtán Gómez, who has been imprisoned unjustly since July 2000, and who, in 2002, was sentenced to 60 years of incarceration. He has since become well-known and highly respected for his human rights work on behalf of his fellow prisoners—setting up prisoner organizations, such as the Voice of El Amate, within the prisons and for leading the prisoners on hunger strikes to demand their rights and freedoms.
“Breaking Down the Prison Walls”
Movimiento por Justicia del Barrio initiated this global solidarity campaign to bring down the prison walls and liberate these two prisoners. The campaign had four phases: the First and Second Weeks of Global Struggle, in April and June 2012; the “Public Letter Demanding the Immediate Liberation of Francisco Sántiz López and Alberto Patishtán Gómez,” in June; and finally, “for Nine Months: Nine Days of Global Action to Bring Down the Prison Walls” in August and September 2012. With great energy, momentum continued to build throughout the campaign as they organized more and more actions and events. Videos released included messages from the Landless Peoples Movement (MST) from Brazil and the Shack Dwellers Movement from South Africa (Abahlali baseMjondolo).
Movimiento launched the campaign with these words: “We have witnessed with much pain all the attempts to dehumanize Alberto Patishtán Gómez and Francisco Sántiz López, from the false accusations to the legal inconsistencies of the bad government via its three levels and its rulers from every post. They seek to erase the faces of our compañeros to make them invisible. They seek to erase the words of our compañeros to silence them. They seek to eliminate their physical freedom so that they cannot fight any more. Because it is easier to bury beneath prison walls a human body that lacks a face, makes no sound, has no life.
“But we continue listening to them from afar, and their dignified cries, their indispensable lives, call us to walk alongside them to obtain their freedom. They call on us to unite our forces in order to knock down the walls that surround them.
“As an organization of predominantly Mexican immigrants, we have experienced first-hand the inhumane reality of the border and social walls imposed upon us by those from above. We have lived and challenged the many injustices that are like bricks in these walls; we have also lived and seen them crumble. Once all of us unite, combine our forces, and organize, we can accomplish this. For this reason, we view international solidarity as deeply important. United and together, we shall win.”
Declarations of Support—“Their Struggle is Our Struggle”
During the second week of global action the renowned thinker, university professor John Holloway, wrote a letter in support of the campaign for the political prisoners: “To Movimiento por Justicia del Barrio, the Other Campaign, New York. How impressive! Wave after wave of protest for the liberation of Alberto Patishtán and Francisco Santiz López, letter after letter arriving from every part of the world.
“A result, of course, of the organization and determination of the organizers of the weeks of struggle for their liberation. But it is something much more than that. We recognize ourselves in Alberto and Francisco, we recognize that they are suffering for us. Their struggle is our struggle. Their struggle is the struggle of all of us who still dream that there can be a future for humanity, a life of dignity. Their imprisonment is simply another manifestation of the fact that capitalism has no room for humanity. The present system is a constant aggression, a machine of destruction that seeks to destroy all that does not bow to the logic of money, all that stands opposed to the logic of profit. But it cannot succeed because there are people like Alberto and Francisco who say No, that they will not accept it and ……millions and millions and millions more who will not accept.”
A letter from Raul Zibechi, the highly respected writer, thinker, and analyst from Uruguay, presented another very powerful statement: “Those from above are criminalizing the place occupied by the people who are the color of the earth. That is the justice of the State and the bad government. A ‘justice’ that imprisons the children of Pachamama and those who defend and care for her, but rewards with freedom those who destroy her in order to turn her into a commodity.
“The international campaign to free Patishtán and Sántiz López is revealing the true reasons behind their imprisonment. When those from below stand up, when the poor of the world speak out and organize, they are systematically labeled “terrorists” and “violent” and are turned into the targets of defamation campaigns, with all the machinery of repression thrown upon them.
“When those from above steal public resources, when bankers appropriate the money and labor of all others, they are rewarded with positions in the bad governments and utilize state money to save their dirty businesses.
“These are not errors or abnormalities, but rather the true notion of justice held by the State: To protect those from above and condemn those from below. In this world two forms of justice exist: One for the governments and one for the people. The former is implemented by rich, white men who are protected by armed guards, and who hide in palaces to make decisions. The latter is community justice that is decided in assemblies of common people–the people who are the color of the earth–whereby everyone can debate because neither lawyers nor experts are required to distinguish between good and bad.
“They are two justices for two opposed worlds. One day our justice shall judge those from above; and on that day, they shall be condemned to live off their work, to care for the common good. They shall be condemned to live as we, the 99% of humanity, do.
“That day, which is not far off, we will remember our brothers, Patishtán and Sántiz López, as two of the many midwives who made the birth of a new world possible.”
The renowned social struggler from Peru, Hugo Blanco, commented: “In Mexico, jail is not meant for narco-traffickers, but rather, for indigenous people, such as Alberto Patishtán Gómez and Francisco Sántiz López, who have done nothing wrong.
“What crime did these two men commit? Thinking that Mexico should be a place for all Mexicans–one in which everyone works and lives peacefully, without exploiting or being exploited, and enjoys the fruits that the land gives us. A country where everyone may be educated, where everyone may attend to their health, where there are no millionaires and no beggars. A country where everyone is concerned about each other, as they are in indigenous communities; a country that is formed by communities of communities, both in the countryside and in the cities; where there is no one who rules and no one who obeys–where all may decide; a country where everyone may be in deep solidarity, where it is not necessary to step on another’s head in order to move up.
“This is what they had in mind, and they understood that they must not resign themselves to only think as such, but that it is necessary to collaborate with other people in order to build this country of solidarity which would exist in a world of solidarity.”
And the much-loved writer and activist from Oaxaca, Gustavo Esteva, wrote: “The prison of these two compañeros must weigh on us as if it were our own prison. As in truth it is. While they remain prisoners, we are all prisoners, imprisoned by this abominable system from whose bars we have failed to free ourselves . . . . We have to break the chains that still bind our hands and our feet and keep us from the conquest of our autonomy in every corner of the world where we live. Only through these autonomies, entrenched in every area and linked in solidarity everywhere, will we be able to leave our prison.”
The Echo Campaign
At the same time as the final phase of “Breaking Down the Prison Walls,” the quite extraordinary Movimiento por Justicia del Barrio also convened the campaign “Worldwide Echo in Support of the Zapatistas,” which ran from July to November 2012. Francisco’s release was one of the two main demands of this campaign, along with an end to attacks on the autonomous Zapatista communities.
Amazingly, groups and individuals from 25 countries participated in the “Prison Walls” campaign and from 29 countries in the “Echo” campaign, with documents being translated into eleven different languages.
The Legal Position
The Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas Human Rights Centre (Frayba) filed an amparo & indirecto—an appeal for legal protection—in the federal court in favor of Francisco on October 25, 2012, on account of “the grave violations of due process” committed against him and requesting his immediate release.
The Human Rights Centre stated clearly, not for the first time, that they were convinced that this case “is an example in which the Mexican State utilizes the justice system for criminalizing Zapatista support bases, as a consequence of their exercise of the right to self-determination and autonomy, based on the San Andrés Accord . . . . Convention 169 of the ILO and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
On December 4, 2012, Francisco completed one year in prison. La Jornada reported that Alberto Patishtán said, “the compañero Francisco Santiz asked me to say: ‘I will not tire of asking for justice.’ He is an important example of the crimes that are ‘imposed’ on the innocent who are in Mexican prisons.”
The requested amparo for the protection of federal justice was granted to Francisco on January 3, 2012. On January 10 Frayba wrote: “This Human Rights Centre believes that the federal government has no good reasons to continue to deprive Francisco Sántiz López, support base of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, of his freedom.”
As a result of the legal protection granted, a judge was ordered to determine Francisco’s legal status. On January 25, 2013, Frayba reported that an order had been issued that the case had to be resolved within 24 hours. That same evening, the political prisoner was released. “They know I am innocent,” he said to the press on his release into the waiting arms of his family “and they invented my crime.” He went straight to Oventic to thank the Junta for all the help and support they had given him.
Francisco’s freedom was made possible by the massive national and international organizing campaigns applying pressure and raising awareness of his plight, as well as the challenge to the legality of his imprisonment—namely the lack of evidence. However, it was a triumph for worldwide solidarity, not for the law.
While his release must give hope to the families, friends, and supporters of Alberto Patishtán Gomez, who hopefully will soon also be freed, and indeed to the other political prisoners in Chiapas and throughout the world, the unjust imprisonment of Francisco Sántiz López and the fabrication of crimes against him have to be seen as another part of the government’s strategy of low-intensity warfare, which, alongside incessant direct aggressions, attempts to destroy the resistance of the Zapatista communities. “His only crime” as the Junta said, “is struggling for his people, telling the truth, struggling for true democracy, liberty, and justice.”
In the words of the Movimiento por Justicia del Barrio’s Echo campaign, “the unjust incarceration of Francisco is not an isolated case but one that forms part of the continuous war by the Mexican State against the Zapatista communities, a war that through harassment, attacks, and arbitrary detentions seeks to undermine and annihilate the resistance and process of autonomy that the Zapatista support bases are bringing to a head in Chiapas.”
His freedom comes at a time of great hope and expectations, following the Zapatista “resurgence” on December 21, 2012, the day of the ending of the cycle of the 13th Baktun of the Maya calendar and the beginning of the “new era” of the 14th cycle. It also comes at a time when the new PRI government of Enrique Peña Nieto is embarking on a whole new strategy of counterinsurgency, based on propaganda, misinformation, and deception. Those who care for democracy, liberty, justice, and that other possible world for which we struggle, must not relax their vigilance.
The final words belong to Movimiento por Justicia del Barrio: “His strength and courage have been an inspiration to us . . . . and a very powerful reason to keep fighting. The walls that enclosed our brother Francisco could not do so against memory. With time, every wall crumbles, but the memory of a people who struggle together for their dignity will never end.
“Today, we, the Mexican migrants of Movimiento por Justicia del Barrio, The Other Campaign New York, are celebrating, knowing that this was not a triumph of the rule of law, which does not exist in Mexico, but a triumph of our Zapatista sisters and brothers and our compañer@s of good heart in different corners of the world. We embrace you all and celebrate with you. In the spirit of ‘Breaking down the prison walls,’ and giving ‘a Worldwide Echo in Support of the Zapatistas,’ we struggled together and achieved the release of our brother Francisco.”
Jessica Davies is a member of the Dorset Chiapas Solidarity Group.
Video message from the Zapatistas about Francisco Sántiz López
Video about the International Campaign: “Breaking down the prison walls”
Video message from the MST (Landless Workers Movement), Brazil
Video messages from the Shack Dwellers Movement, South Africa