Legitimized Repression

Italia Méndez, Campaign Against Political Repression and Sexual Torture

Italia Méndez is a member of the Campaign Against Political Repression and Sexual Torture. On May 3rd, 2006, Méndez was subjected to systematic sexual torture at the hands of local, state, and federal police after a peaceful protest in Atenco, Mexico. She currently works with the Other Campaign to share her story, as told here by Amnesty International, with audiences across Mexico and the United States.

What lessons do you hope to impart to your audience when you tell your story?

The first thing I want to do is inform people about the goals of political repression and the use of sexual torture as a mechanism of social control. In our work, we are trying to generate reflection so people question the mechanisms the state uses and how this affects all of society, not just as individuals, but collectively.

In understanding the atrocity of May 3rd, 2006, I realized that sexual violence has five goals. First, it strives to break the social fabric, severing the ties and communications that people have with each other.

The second goal is control of the internal enemy. This is a military term but it also refers to how the state labels people who are social activists. The state is saying that members of the political opposition are enemies of the people, enemies of the homeland. It promotes this message in the media. When flower sellers in San Salvador Atenco were engaged in peaceful demonstration about the right to sell in the marketplace, the media portrayed them as troublemakers. In forming this public opinion, the state legitimized their repression.

Thirdly, political repression intimidates the population. Even though it is directed at protesters, it is intended as a message to society as a whole. The events and police brutality of May 3, 2006 were broadcast on television. It portrayed the protesters as troublemakers and sent the message that this is what happens if you organize for your rights.

The fourth goal is to perpetuate impunity. No one has been held responsible for the brutality in Atenco; they want us to move on and accept what happened.

The fifth, and ultimate, goal is to transform society into collaborators of the state. Society has adopted the state’s view that protesters are troublemakers. Now we don’t need a police force because anybody who goes outside of societal parameters will be called out by his neighbor. This is the worst thing that could happen to us as a society.

You’ve described a culture of impunity within the military and police. How can that culture be altered?

Fighting impunity doesn’t just mean that we have to punish the perpetrators legally. There has to be a general calling out of perpetrators in society. How could the events in Atenco occur without society saying something about it? I do not believe that society legitimizes these horrendous acts – people must not know what is happening.

We also understand that the state is trying to break down our reference our examples of successful popular movements. In 2011, the People’s Front in Defense of Land, formed by peasants to protect 5,000 hectares of land, fought and won an 11-month battle to win control of their land. Politicians wanted to bury the memory of the People’s Front because activist organizations viewed it as an example of popular resistance and triumph.

The Other Campaign is trying to bring justice for the 206 protesters who were arrested on May 3 – the 26 women that were sexually tortured and the 14-year-old boy murdered at the hands of police officers. We can’t leave it in the hands of the perpetrators to ensure justice for us. We continue believing very firmly that Mexico can change. But we must repair what the Mexican state broke. We must encourage the people to organize.

Mexico is in the process of approving constitutional reforms to the criminal justice system. With a conviction rate of two percent, will civilian courts be prepared to try human rights violations?

The judicial system in Mexico is rotten. Just like the political system in the US, it is used as a tool of oppression by the powerful and wealthy politicians. So on one hand there is profound impunity regarding crimes committed by people with power, and on the other hand we have thousands of prisons in Mexico that are full of the nation’s poor. So when you ask about human rights violations, you’re asking if the Mexican judicial system will punish those who perpetrate violence: the powerful and wealthy politicians.

After we were tortured, the judicial system was used against us. I was arrested along with 206 other people who were charged with attacking the transportation system, with kidnapping, and with organized delinquency. People feel oppressed; the system is always against them. At the end of the day, rights are violated systematically while the perpetrators act with impunity.

What additional changes to Mexican law must occur to prevent repressive tactics, like sexual violence?

The state will continue to use this repression because it is the only way they can continue governing. It’s a profoundly grave problem that can’t be resolved through reforms. The state itself promotes these practices and carries them out; the state isn’t going to punish itself. We believe that it is important to make changes in Mexico so that these things don’t continue happening. I repeat that the system is sustained through repression and they are going to continue using it. The people must continue organizing themselves to oppose the practice of the state. We want society to be informed about these acts carried out by the state so that society is able to repudiate them.

Feature Photo: cc/Dave Hoefler

Quanic Fullard
Quanic Fullard is a staff writer for The Review and is an MPP student at the Harris School of Public Policy. She is interested in international policy.

One Response to “Legitimized Repression

  • ssibley@uchicago.edu'
    Sarah S
    ago5 years

    Wow, what a powerful interview. I have not seen an interview that laid out so clearly the distinct ways in which sexual violence, especially state-condoned violence, erodes the social fabric and the legitimacy of the law. I wonder if the the May 3 event was ever noticed or shamed by the local media-