In May 2006, Mexican police responded with violence to protests in the town of San Salvador Atenco, killing two people, injuring many more, and indiscriminately detaining town residents, as well as other bystanders not involved in the confrontation. Of the hundreds detained, at least 45 were women, many of whom were beaten, raped, and otherwise assaulted by police while in state custody.
Official complaints filed by the women who suffered abuses were ignored; in fact, many were charged with crimes such as “blocking public roads”, convicted, and served prison time. Today, twelve people charged with more serious crimes remain in jail as political prisoners; they are victims in a long-running battle between monied interests and poor, indigenous people in Atenco who are fighting to defend their property rights and for the right to self-determination. Furthermore, despite several investigations, women who were assaulted by members of state security forces have yet to see their abusers brought to justice.
For over two years, JASS, in partnership with the Mexican organizations Consorcio para el Diálogo Parlamentario y la Equidad, the Frente de Pueblos en Defensa de la Tierra, and Comunicación e Información de la Mujer, as well as Las Petateras and the Nobel Women’s Initiative, have taken action in solidarity with the people of Atenco.
In September 2009, JASS, the Nobel Women’s Initiative, and allied Mexican organizations brought Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams to San Salvador Atenco, where she expressed support for the people of Atenco and called on the Mexican government to halt the repression.
Williams was joined by indigenous women fighting state repression in other parts of Mexico, including Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Chiapas. Martha Sanchez from the Guerrero Indigenous Women’s Coordinating Committee and the Indigenous Women’s Alliance for Mexico and Central America reminded the audience of the long history of “indigenous peoples and organizations fighting against caciques, militarization, and to end to policies that focus on integration, assimilation and the imposition of a single culture.”
In February 2010 Williams again traveled to Mexico to speak out on behalf of the people of Atenco.Williams advocated justice for the Women of Atenco and for the release of all who remain imprisoned as a result of the violent repression in 2006. In meetings with members of Mexico’s Supreme Court and with representatives of Mexico’s foreign ministry and the ministry of governance, and with members of congress, Williams presented each with a letter signed by 11 Nobel Laureates demanding justice for the people of Atenco. At a press conference on February 24, three members of Mexico’s Congress joined Williams and the other 10 laureates in their demand.