by Carlin Christy, WfP Mexico
Repeated attacks including kidnapping and death threats have forced the members of The Center of Support for Workers (CAT) to close their office after twelve years of labor rights defense work in the state of Puebla.
In a statement shared at a press conference on May 31 in Mexico City, The Center of Support for Workers (el Centro de Apoyo al Trabajador-CAT) stated:
“The lack of investigation into the violence and harrassment against the members of CAT since 2010 constitutes a pattern of impunity that perpetuates the situation of insecurity and the lack of guarantees that the Mexican state has the obligation to ensure for labor (and) human rights defenders in the state of Puebla and in the country. For this reason, today, CAT is forced to close its offices in the state of Puebla since both the state, as well as the federal governments, have failed to provide adequate conditions of protection for (CAT) to continue carrying out their work as human rights defenders.”
For safety concerns, members of CAT were not in attendance at the press conference, however their statement was read by an allied organization, the Project on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights in Mexico (Prodesc).
Members of CAT have been the targets of a systematic pattern of death threats and harassment for their work promoting labor rights and organizing independent labor unions in the state of Puebla since 2008. Their efforts have raised awareness of the precarious working conditions in the state’s manufacturing sector. In particular, CAT has focused on improving conditions and organizing workers at various U.S.-owned plants, including those owned and operated by the Wisconsin-based company Johnson Controls.
In the most recent acts of aggression, CAT member José Enrique Morales Montaño, was kidnapped and kept incomunicado for approximately 17 hours on May 15th.
At the time of the kidnapping, Enrique was going to the Local Labor Board in Puebla to provide support for the case of local workers who are fighting against a factory in the region.
Once kidnapped, Enrique was physically and psychologically tortured when his attackers held a gun to his head on several occasions. He eventually was dropped off on an abandoned highway with severe injuries. The following day, Blanca Velazquez, director of CAT, received death threats from Enrique’s stolen cell phone.
Blanca Velazquez is a close partner of Witness for Peace and has traveled on Witness for Peace sponsored speakers tours in the fall of 2002 and spring of 2004. The attacks and threats against Mr.Morales Montaño and Ms.Velazquez illustrate the risks that all human and labor rights defenders face in Mexico in the current context of the U.S.-backed drug war.
The atmosphere of impunity in Mexico only serves to heighten the attacks carried out against human rights defenders in the country. Previously in 2010, the offices of CAT were robbed and a threatening message was written on the wall. In 2011, Blanca Velazquez and other CAT members continued to receive death threats. Investigations into these crimes have gone nowhere. While members of CAT were granted precautionary measures by the National and Puebla State Human Rights Commissions, these measures were suspended one month prior to the May attack.
With the official closure of CAT, hundreds of workers are left without legal support in the face of workplace violations and exploitation by foreign corporations. Other civil society organizations in Puebla are also concerned with conditions of increased vulnerability, given the lack of state protection in guaranteeing the safety of human and labor rights defenders.
Witness for Peace laments the closure of CAT after twelve years of labor rights defense work in Puebla. We thank them for their many years of collaboration with our program in Mexico and for their help in educating U.S. audiences about the negative impacts of U.S. policy in Mexico. We ask our members to continue to stand in solidarity with the labor, human rights defenders, and other social movement leaders of Mexico who are facing ongoing threats, harassment, and attacks.