Civil Society, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

RIGHTS-MEXICO: Ordeal Ends for Sons of Alleged Guerrillas

Diego Cevallos

MEXICO CITY, Feb 17 2009 (IPS) - Antonio and Héctor Cerezo, whose parents have been accused by the Mexican authorities of founding a guerrilla group, walked free out of prison this week after serving seven-and-a-half year sentences. According to human rights organisations, they were victims of state revenge.

Convicted on charges including “organised crime” and terrorism, the Cerezo brothers’ case illustrates the injustice and abuses committed in this country in the name of “national security,” Adrián Ramírez, head of the Mexican League for the Defence of Human Rights (LIMEDDH), told IPS.

Antonio and Héctor and their brother Alejandro were detained by soldiers in August 2001 in the Mexican capital and accused of being responsible for homemade bombs that exploded at bank branches, shattering a few windows, and of supporting terrorist attacks by the People’s Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARP).

The FARP is a splinter group from the insurgent Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR), neither of which is particularly active.

The three brothers were acquitted of the bombing charges, but were convicted for possession of weapons and explosives and for participating in organised crime. These are grave felonies under Mexican law, so they were held at maximum security prisons for most of their time.

Alejandro Cerezo was freed in 2005 on appeal. The judge quashed his conviction on the grounds of insufficient evidence, but upheld the sentences handed down to Antonio and Héctor.

The evidence against Antonio and Héctor Cerezo came from house searches carried out by the police, who said they found weapons, military uniforms, money, explosives, and revolutionary reading material.

The defendants, their families, and human rights organisations like LIMEDDH have consistently claimed that this evidence was planted, but were not able to prove this in court.

According to Ramírez, who followed the entire case, the Cerezo brothers were “hostages of the state” and their detention was a means of striking fear into the hearts of their parents, the alleged founders of the EPR, who are in hiding.

“I think we could also regard it as a kind of revenge by the state,” said the head of LIMEDDH, an organisation affiliated to the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).

On Monday some 150 people, most of them university students, welcomed the Cerezo brothers outside a medium security prison in the state of Morelos, close to Mexico City. They were transferred here in 2008 after being held in maximum security jails.

From outside the Morelos prison, Francisco, another Cerezo brother, told IPS by telephone that their release, originally scheduled for Feb. 13, took several hours due to red tape, but that they had finally come out and that he and his friends were very happy.

When they were detained in 2001, Antonio Cerezo was 22 years old and Héctor was 26. Both of them were students at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). Now they are 29 and 33, respectively.

The parents of Antonio, Héctor, Alejandro, Francisco and Emiliana are Francisco Cerezo Quiroz, whose real name, according to the authorities, is Tiburcio Cruz, and of Emilia Contreras, said to be really called Florencia Canseco. Their children’s surnames are the supposed pseudonyms, Cerezo Contreras.

Cruz and Canseco, who went into hiding in the early 1990s, are founders and influential leaders of the EPR, according to state intelligence sources.

The Marxist-Leninist group, which launched its public activities in 1996, has a history going back at least four decades and is rooted in impoverished rural areas in the southeast of the country.

In July and September 2007, the EPR carried out bombing attacks on oil and gas pipelines belonging to the state oil company PEMEX, to protest the disappearance of two of their comrades, one of whom, Gabriel Cruz, is the paternal uncle and direct blood relative of the younger Cerezos.

Francisco Cerezo said that “the story is not over” just because his brothers were freed on Monday. “We will seek reparations of some kind, this is not the end of the matter, although I must say that we no longer have the funds to keep going,” he said.

Like his brothers and sister, Francisco does not disown his “presumptive guerrilla” parents, but says he has not had any contact or family relationship with them for many years.

“My brothers are glad to be out, but they will need psychological support. They lost more than seven years of their lives because of revenge action by the state,” said Francisco, a former psychology student, who has directed the UNAM-based Cerezo Committee for the last few years.

The Cerezo Committee was at the centre of several campaigns to free the Cerezo brothers, but also acted on behalf of other people who, according to the group, were victims of state abuse because they were social activists.

In recent years, Francisco and other members of the Cerezo family have received death threats and anonymous warnings. These episodes have been denounced by the human rights watchdog Amnesty International, which called for protection for those affected.

“The threats probably came from state agents or the military; that is how they try to intimidate people,” said Francisco Cerezo.

“I am being followed in different ways, I am aware of that, and I still fear for my safety,” he added.

In 2004, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights asked the Mexican government to provide protection for the Cerezo family. Protection was provided, not by the police but by delegates of Peace Brigades International, a non-governmental European organisation.

The Cerezo brothers deny being guerrillas or participating with their parents in insurgency activities, although they declare that they are leftists.

“I defend human rights, and that means being of the left, what other choice is there?” said Francisco.

In an open letter to his parents dated Feb. 1, Antonio Cerezo said: “we do not deny that we have lived through difficult times in our years in prison; but we refused to let them destroy our capacity to feel happy, to laugh and smile and to dream of building another country, different to this one which is oppressed by the élite in power.”

“I want to tell you that we are aware that they can (by killing us) cancel our privilege of taking part in our people’s struggle to transform the unjust reality of oppression, but we are also aware that even if they do, they cannot stop this struggle,” his letter says.

“We love you very much and you will always be present in our lives. A big hug to you both. Prisoners today, free forever!” the letter concludes.

In another letter Antonio Cerezo sent to a friend in 2005, he wrote: “They are making us pay for being the sons of our parents, for not disowning them and for publicly declaring we are proud of our parents.”

“They are getting back at my parents for all the years they have spent fighting, in their own way, against the state,” he went on.

The head of LIMEDDH said the Cerezo brothers’ case would go down in history “as a clear example of injustice and abuse in the name of state security.”

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