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FLOC pressures Mexican president on murder investigation

By Kevin Milliken for La Prensa

Feb. 21, 2012: The Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) is stepping up the political pressure on Mexico’s president to do something about the murder four years ago of a FLOC labor organizer.

FLOC has requested an audience through diplomatic channels with Mexico President C. Felipe Calderón Hinojosa as the fifth anniversary approaches of the murder of Santiago Rafael Cruz was bound with rope and beaten to death in the FLOC offices in Monterrey, Nuevo León, where he worked as an organizer.

One suspect since has been arrested, tried, and convicted in Mexican court. While he is serving a 23-year prison sentence for his role in the Cruz murder, two other suspects remain at-large.  FLOC founder and President Baldemar Velásquez stated his belief the murder was in retaliation for FLOC’s work to keep migrant farm workers from having to pay illegal handlers large sums of money they cannot afford to obtain work visas in the U.S. and transportation across the border to help harvest US-American-grown produce.

FLOC took out a full-page ad last December in two major Mexico City newspapers in collaboration with the International Union Federation, based in Geneva. The ad took the form of a petition signed by some heavy hitters in US-American and international organized labor, including the presidents of the AFL-CIO, United Auto Workers, United Steelworkers of America, the Teamsters, Communication Workers of America, SEIU, United Farm Workers of America, and the International Union of Food, among others.

“There can be no doubt that this assassination was a blatant act of intimidation meant to stop the union from aiding farmlaborers,” the advertisement stated. “As representatives of trade union organizations on six continents, we feel grave concern for the lack of progress in the investigation of this brutal crime.”

FLOC also held a companion press conference in the Zócalo, the main plaza in the heart of the historic center of Mexico City, DF, hosted by that country’s electrical union. The farmworkers’ union released the petition at the event, joined by Santiago Cruz’s mother and his brother.

“We were protesting Calderón’s attacks on unions,” explained Velásquez. “We had tents there, kind of like Occupy Wall Street. We had the entire Zócalo filled with tents and people and rallied against the anti-union policies of Calderón.”

Following the rally, Velásquez and other union leaders loaded into a van and delivered the petition to President Calderón through his aides. The FLOC president brought a stamped copy back to Toledo where it is framed and now hangs in his office.

The newspaper ad also took on political overtones in the larger context of Mexican labor laws.

“We believe that Santiago Cruz’s murder represents the rising tide of violence and persecution of labor leaders in Latin America,” the ad stated. “And in particular, we are deeply concerned that pro-military and anti-worker reforms to Mexico’s national security law and federal labor law—currently under consideration by the Mexican Congress—will only exacerbate the climate of insecurity, violence and impunity in which workers seek to improve their conditions.”

“We keep putting on pressure on Calderón. The petition even calls for the federal government to take over the investigation,” said Velásquez. “Because it’s very apparent to us the state of Nueva León is dragging its feet and they’re not going to seriously go after the other perpetrators of the crime. Our attorney found the names of the other two accomplices and we turned those in to the attorney general’s office with the locations where they lived. They’ve done nothing.”

Velásquez and union leaders have requested an audience with President Calderón through the Mexican Consulate in Detroit. At least two members of Ohio’s Congressional delegation are trying to help through the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, DF.

Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D-9th District, Ohio) continues to assist FLOC’s efforts to reach a resolution in the case. Ms. Kaptur indicated during a lengthy interview with La Prensa last week she has met with the CIA in an effort to pressure Mexican security forces to assist in the investigation. FLOC wants the federal government to take over the murder probe from state police in Nuevo León, whom Velásquez has described as “corrupt.” He even pointed out 70 police officers have been arrested on that force for ties to the Mexican drug cartels.

“Who knows whether they’re protecting people or what,” Velásquez said in frustration. “Our hope is once the federal government takes over the investigation, then maybe get some attention that way.”

The migrant farmworkers’ union hired a well-known human rights attorney Leonel Rivero Rodríguez to conduct a separate, independent investigation in the case. That investigation uncovered additional evidence pointing to the involvement of those two other suspects, who have yet to be detained for questioning in the case. Velásquez wants Mexican authorities to expand their search outside Nuevo León, because he fears the two men are purposely being sheltered elsewhere to avoid prosecution.

“It is essential that the Mexican authorities act decisively to bring the murderers of Santiago, and the masterminds behind it, to justice,” the newspaper ad stated. “Such action would go far in reaffirming Mexico’s commitment to justice in this case, as well as preventing new attacks against people seeking to exercise their internationally recognized right to improve their lives through labor organizing and collective bargaining. Failure to act sends the intolerable message that criminals may carry out unspeakable acts in Mexico with impunity, and invites the condemnation of the world.”

FLOC obtained special protection for other union workers still in Monterrey shortly after the Cruz murder on April 7, 2007. But police there initially said he was killed in a dispute over a woman and later told FLOC’s attorney it was the result of a drunken fight. Authorities in Mexico even went so far as to claim Cruz was involved in human trafficking.

But FLOC’s own investigation showed the murder was premeditated and planned carefully, following several threats of violence against FLOC organizers perceived to be interfering with the lucrative illegal recruitment of migrant workers. Velásquez promised the Cruz family FLOC would never give up the fight for justice and has worked tirelessly toward that cause ever since.

FLOC letter to President Calderon

 

Copyright © 1989 to 2012 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 02/21/12 21:11:02 -0800.

 

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