By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Jesus Valles’ first mission was in Chihua-hua, where he participated in army anti-drug campaigns and where he first witnessed members of the military torturing local Tarahumara Indians. The use of the military in the drug war, once exclusively a civilian police matter, has been repeatedly question-ed by high-ranking ex-officers such as retired Brigadier General Samuel Lara and retired Brigadier General Luis Garfias, both of whom have deserted the PRI and joined the left-center Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD).
In the past year, the rift within the military has become increasingly visible as dozens of officers defect to the PRD, whose founder, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, is the son of a revolutionary general. The split seems to focus on both the use of the military for personal, political and civilian law-enforcement purposes, and the military’s unquestioned loyalty to a series of Mexican presidents whose neoliberal economic policies and the privatization of once-revolutionary institutions do not seem to be in sync with the principles of Mexico’s nationalist revolution.
Military justice — or injustice — has also become a galvanizing issue. Perhaps the nation’s most celebrated "prisoner of conscience" (so designated by Amnesty International), General Jose Francisco Gallardo has been jailed for years after advocating the creation of a military ombudsman to represent low-ranking troops against officers in military-justice proceedings. Lieutenant Colonel Hildegardo Bacilio Gomez, the leader of the Patriotic Command To Raise the People’s Consciousness, as well as 50 soldiers and officers who staged an unprecedented public march in Mexico City last December to protest inequities in the military-justice system, were imprisoned this winter, many on charges of sedition. At the time of the commandos’ march, Bacilio Gomez voiced objections to the military campaign in Chiapas and expressed admiration for the EZLN’s charismatic spokesperson, Subcomandate Marcos.
Although he is the first to be considered a conscientious objector — a status the Mexican military does not recognize — ex-Captain Valles is not the only member of the army to desert because of the conflict in Chiapas. Indeed, Valles himself testified that about a hundred troops abandoned the military in that state during the first weeks of the war, a claim first made by the EZLN in some of its earliest communiqués. It is not uncommon for reporters in the conflict zone to encounter army personnel beating the bushes for deserters.
Nor is Jesus Valles the first Mexican soldier to receive political asylum in North America. Ten years ago, Zacarias Osorio, the Mexican army’s most notorious deserter, was granted sanctuary in Canada after confessing that, as a paratrooper-fusilier attached to an execution squad based at Military Camp No. 1 on the western edge of Mexico City in the late ’70s and early ’80s, he shot between 60 and 140 political prisoners on orders from his superiors before escaping north. Much as in the Valles matter, Canadian immigration authorities decided that the revelations would place Osorio’s life in danger should he be forced to return to Mexico.
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