From ToledoBlade.com, Claudia Boyd-Barrett, Blade Staff Writer, 8 Sept 2011.
Epifania Cruz still remembers the joy she felt when her son Santiago Rafael Cruz returned to his native Mexico after years away in Toledo.
It was 2007, and the 29-year-old Mr. Cruz, who had worked as a union organizer for the Farm Labor Organizing Committee in northwest Ohio, scored a position at the organization’s Monterrey office in northern Mexico.
His job was to organize and educate migrant farm workers heading to the United States, and the new location meant he could more frequently see his mother at her home in the country’s rural southwest.
“He was very happy. He said: ‘Now I’m close. If you’re sick or if something happens, now I can get in touch with you more easily and I can come visit you more easily,’ ” Ms. Cruz recalled. “He was very happy to be back in his country. What he wanted was to be close to me and I was happy.”
But that happiness was short-lived.
Less than two months after returning to Mexico, Mr. Cruz was found dead at FLOC’s Monterrey office, the victim of a gruesome murder. His hands and feet had been were bound and he had been beaten to death, leaving blood spattered across the walls and floor.
For union officials, the motive was obvious: Mr. Cruz and FLOC had been successfully working to protect Mexican migrant laborers from extortion by corrupt recruiters south of the border, and in doing so had stepped on the wrong toes. Mr. Cruz’s murder was meant to intimidate organizers into stopping their work, union officials maintain.
Now, more than four years after Mr. Cruz’s death, his mother and FLOC members are still waiting for justice. Mexican authorities in the state of Nuevo Leon, of which Monterrey is the capital, have jailed one man in relation to the incident. But Baldemar Velasquez, FLOC’s president, said three other suspects are still at large.
Frustrated by the lack of progress, Mr. Velasquez, FLOC’S attorney, Leonel Rivero Rodriguez, and Ms. Cruz plan to deliver a letter Thursday to the official residence of Mexican president Felipe Calderon in Mexico City, urging the federal government to step in and fully investigate the crime. The appeal is signed by the leaders of 71 unions from 18 countries.
“The investigation’s been led for over three years now by the state government of Nuevo Leon. I can’t describe it as more than foot dragging,” Mr. Velasquez said shortly after arriving in Mexico City from Toledo Wednesday.
“We feel a circle of people are involved in this and it really merits the federal government taking it over, and that’s what we’re asking President Calderon to do.”
Attempts to reach a Mexican government spokesman Wednesday were unsuccessful.
Police in Monterrey initially said Mr. Cruz was killed in a dispute over a woman and later that his death was the result of a “drunken fight,” Mr. Rodriguez said.
Most recently, the authorities have said Mr. Cruz was involved in human trafficking. But Mr. Rodriguez, a renowned Mexican human rights lawyer, dismissed those claims, arguing that the murder was well planned and preceded by numerous threats against FLOC organizers. He said he conducted his own investigation, supplying addresses and photos of the alleged killers to Mexican authorities, but they deliberately ignored the information. The one man in jail, Jaime Martinez Amador, identified three other suspects in the death, Mr. Rodriguez said, but the state has done nothing to apprehend them. One of those suspects was detained by the U.S. border patrol and handed over to Mexican police, but they released him before he could be prosecuted, the attorney indicated.
“I think if the investigation deepened they were evidently going to touch sensitive issues within the government,” Mr. Rodriguez speculated. “They were more interested in just capturing one suspect and stopping the investigation there because it was convenient to them.”
Nik Steinberg, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, said it’s not unusual for killings and other crimes to go unpunished in Mexico, particularly in the state of Nuevo Leon which has been wracked by drug-related violence in recent years. Activists such as Mr. Cruz are particularly at risk in this kind of environment, he said.
“In Nuevo Leon, as in Mexico on the whole, levels of impunity for crimes are at historic levels. It’s very rare that state or federal prosecutors adequately carry out the most basic investigative steps to get to the bottom of killings and other crimes,” Mr. Steinberg said. “Despite increasing threats and attacks against human rights defenders, labor activists, and other civil society leaders, the government has done little to protect them, or to adequately investigate the crimes committed against them.”
But Mr. Velasquez said FLOC is not going to give up until all those who participated in Mr. Cruz’ killing are brought to justice. Mr. Rodriguez said he also plans to sue the Mexican government before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights if no action is taken soon.
Meanwhile, Mr. Cruz’s mother struggles daily to come to terms with what happened to her youngest child. Ms. Cruz, 67, said her son was a happy, lovable man who believed passionately in his work defending Mexico’s impoverished migrant farmworkers.
“This has hurt me so much, because he was young and had his whole life ahead of him,” Ms. Cruz said tearfully in an interview from Mexico City. “It’s been four years and nothing. It’s as though he were just a small animal that died. Our authorities don’t care about us if we’re humble and from a poor family. What I want is justice.”
Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6272.