The criminalization of protest — Radicals and unionists persecuted in Mexico and Costa Rica

Share with your friends

Este artículo en español

President Peña Nieto of Mexico brags about his neoliberal policies to privatize public resources, cut social services, and force anti-union education “reforms.” His government has also been exposed for its ties to drug cartels and the killing and jailing of political activists. There’s a connection. Increasingly, Peña Nieto’s economic plans hinge on crushing all opposition — by effectively making protest illegal.

To the south, Costa Rica does the same. Both countries are part of an international campaign to repress dissidents. They are backed by the USA, which launches offensives to hound its own movement leaders.

Among the most militant opponents of this strategy is Heriberto Magariño Lopez, a leader of the teachers union in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. He is also a national leader of the Partido Obrero Socialista (POS), which has been active in defending and uniting all those fighting the regime’s attacks.

Educator Heriberto Magariño. Magariño was jailed on trumped-up charges along with six other teacher activists on June 7, 2015, Mexico’s national election day. There were arrests in other parts of Oaxaca, in Guerrero and other states. Fellow educator and POS member, César de la Cruz, was arrested on related charges.

Insurgent teachers have been fighting education restructuring for years. They mobilized against the June election, along with activists demanding the truth about the government’s “disappearing” of 43 teachers college students in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, in 2014, and with community self-defense forces in several Mexican states.

They were protesting the rule of the three corrupt parties who share power — the PRI, PRD and PAN.

Magariño is an elected official who represents over 13,000 teachers of Section 22 of the National Education Workers Union (SNTE) in Oaxaca. On the national level, the SNTE, like most Mexican unions, is controlled by a bureaucracy wedded to the government. But there are many militant teachers and a large opposition caucus in the union, the National Coordinator of Educational Workers (CNTE).

Magariño was freed the day after his arrest due to intense grass-roots protests. But, there are four warrants out for his arrest. He is in hiding, but remains defiant.

He issued a rousing statement. “The government will not intimidate us … so-called fugitives from ‘justice.’ We are political activists and union leaders. … Our ‘crime’ is defending the interests of teachers and the people.

“What is at stake is whether the government can impose a bogus educational reform plan. In reality, the goal is to fire tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of teachers with a ‘testing’ system that does not measure teachers’ real abilities. … I call on all teachers to show our capacity to resist.”

Heriberto Magariño is being targeted as a radical leader of a crucial movement.

(Se puede leer la declaraçion completa de Heriberto Magariño en

Journalist Patricia Barba Ávila. Barba is a Mexican journalist who has been physically threatened because of her exposés of the murky dealings of right-winger Isabel Miranda de Wallace. Wallace is affiliated with the PAN, the most conservative of the ruling parties.

Barba founded the internet-based Independent Alternative Media Outlet (FEMCAI) along with other Latin American journalists in July 2015. She defended six political prisoners who were tortured and forced to confess to a supposed kidnapping and murder of Wallace’s son. She revealed evidence of double-identities and duplicate birth certificates that indicate that the son was neither kidnapped nor murdered.

Wallace is a main antagonist of embattled indigenous defense force leader Nestora Salgado. Barba has supported Salgado, alongside her defense committees that are active in several cities in Mexico and the U.S.

In September 2015, Barba was accosted outside her Tijuana home and told to stop exposing Isabel Wallace or she would “join her friends” (in death or jail). She left Tijuana and is seeking political asylum outside the country.

Repression in Costa Rica. Austerity measures have mushroomed in the years of free trade, ever since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect for Mexico and the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) for Costa Rica. The governments’ prosecutions of protest movement leaders have escalated dramatically.

Adrián Jaén España, a professor at the University of Costa Rica and a leader of the Partido Revolucionario de las y los Trabadores (PRT) of Costa Rica, was arrested in November 2012, along with Luis Alberto Salas Sarkis, former Secretary General of the Union of Workers at the National Social Security Institute and member of the Partido Vanguardia Popular, and four others.

The charges they still face stem from a peaceful demonstration (against proposed budget cuts in the Public Health Service and Social Security funds) which was attacked by police. Jaén España could get up to six years in prison.

The persecution of Orlando Barrantes, former general secretary of the National Council of Banana Workers (CONATRAB) was highlighted in the December-January issue of the Freedom Socialist.

Barrantes and co-defendant, Iván Ángulo, were convicted in September 2015 on bogus kidnapping charges from a peaceful demonstration of banana workers in December 2000. Riot police attacked and some officers were briefly detained, although neither defendant participated in this. They won two acquittals; they were retried half a dozen times and finally sentenced to 12 years in prison to begin in March 2016.

Solidarity critical. Mexico’s POS, the PRT of Costa Rica, the Núcleo por un Partido Revolucionario Internacionalista of the Dominican Republic, and the Freedom Socialist Party of the U.S. have formed the Committee for a Revolutionary International Regroupment and work together to defend those under attack.

With increasing inequality and government brutality, protest is growing, especially in Mexico. It exploded last year around both the Ayotzinapa student disappearance and the fight to free Nestora Salgado and other community police and self-defense forces. Teachers battling mightily against the education reform threaten the government’s stance.

The criminalization of protest is an attempt to smash this resistance by blunt force. It is ultimately bound to fail, especially as working class solidarity continues to be forged across borders.

Send feedback to

To listen to this and other articles from this issue, click here.

Share with your friends