On November 17th, I traveled to Oaxaca with an associate of mine (who will now be referred to as W), to catch up with my partner (who will now be referred to as A) who was already in Mexico. We came to establish a similar project to Alive in Baghdad, known as Alive in Mexico.
We are on tourist visas, but according to Mexican law, are allowed to shoot video and work as a documentary crew on this visa, in fact this is apparently the only visa available to documentary crews, the press visa is specifically for working affiliated press.
We had been here meeting with local Mexicans about producing video for Alive in Mexico and working with us, as well as documenting some of the events happening here. We have been present at various marches, including a march for Women’s rights on the 19th, and other marches on the 20th and 25th. We also visited Radio Universidad on multiple occasions and the nearby Cinco Senores barricade. This was all in order to make contacts and better understand the social movement happening in Oaxaca.
After the 25th when most, if not all, of the other independent journalists, documentary filmmakers, etc, from other countries began to leave town, we changed hotels and kept a low profile. On the 3rd of December we were out doing some shopping with W who had a plane back to the US today, on December 4th.
At approximately 2:15-2:30pm probably a half dozen to dozen Municipal Police showed up and detained us. We were given no answers as to why we were being detained, and were only told that we were being taken to the Municipal Station on Morelos Ave in downtown Oaxaca.
When we arrived we were still not informed about why we were detained, and although we repeatedly asked to speak with our Consular, we were denied this repeatedly. After they took down our names and ages repeatedly (I believe 2 or 3 times at this point) we were separated along gender lines. A was placed in another part of the station, and W and myself were taken to a room that had the appearance of being a small gym for the Police Station, but was empty of everything save some trophies on a high shelf and a television.
After some time a man came into question us, we were still not informed of what we had done, and told that we did not have the right to speak to our Consular - technically the law seems to state that the Mexican Police have 72 hours to contact the American Consular.
Previous to the questioning beginning, we were able to make a number of phone calls, to a local friend who found us a lawyer, and to some friends and relatives back in the US. This led to them calling the American Embassy and eventually getting the Consular to arrive at the police station, some 2 or 3 hours after we arrived.
We were asked typical question such as: Why were we in Oaxaca? What type of visa’s do you have? etc. But also strange questions such as: Why were you living at the Radio Universidad? What is your relationship with Doctor Berta? (Doctor Berta is one of the lead activists in the current form of the social movement in Oaxaca and has been a very public critic, primarily via the University Radio station, of the current regime in Oaxaca), and a number of other questions, primarily about our work, and why we were at the University, etc.
Eventually we were brought before a man who was apparently the magistrate for the station, and were told we had been charged with what is essentially the Oaxacan version of “Disturbing the Peace,” I believe it is article 13, 4a, under the Oaxacan municipal laws. This charge was that we had been detained while disturbing the peace, harassing locals, and saying very bad words to them.
This is absurd considering that only one of us is anywhere near fluent in Spanish, and W speaks almost no Spanish. It is also absurd considering that we were sitting in Domino’s Pizza in downtown Oaxaca when we were detained.
We were eventually released on a 300 pesos fine each. Our personal items were returned, except for our cell phones, which had been taken while we were being held and awaiting the magistrate. No explanation has yet been given as to why our phones were taken, or if we were indeed charged only with this disturbing the peace law. We have not yet had our phones returned.
I was released last, because I had not been carrying my passport at the time of detention. I was released at approximately 6:15. At around 7:30 or 8, we received a call from the lobby of our hotel, where we returned after I was released. The attendant at the desk informed us that the police had come to take us back to the station, in order to identify our phones. We told them we were already planning to go to the station in the morning. During this time, there were two unmarked white pickup trucks outside the hotel, which left promptly after we told them we were not coming with them at that time.
A short while after this, we decided to contact our lawyer and go back to the station to investigate the issue of the phones. A and W met our lawyer and went to the station, while I remained at the hotel.
When they arrived they were informed that no one had come to our hotel to the police’s knowledge, and that certainly our phones were not available because, as they told us before we left the first time, they were locked up and could not be accessed until the morning.
Even now we still have no idea who came to our hotel, and were not able to confirm with the attendant on duty if the man or men who came to the lobby were uniformed police, nor what unit they said they represented.
W flew home today on his scheduled flight and A and I have left Oaxaca City, out of fear for our safety. Given the climate currently in Oaxaca City, we deemed it was best to leave for a few days, collect ourselves, and decide how to next proceed.
Still Alive (& Free) in Mexico,