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The Last Door: Political Prisoners and the Use of Torture in Mexico's Dirty War

  • Gladys McCormick (a1)
Abstract

In December 1969, former President Lázaro Cárdenas sent a letter to political prisoners in the Lecumberri federal penitentiary in Mexico City, assuring them that he would continue to lobby for their release. In October 1973, Michoacán university students marching in front of the state government building in Morelia held up placards demanding the release of political prisoners. On June 29, 1974, Lucio Cabañas, guerrilla leader of the Partido de los Pobres (Party of the Poor) in the mountains of Guerrero, released a communiqué in which the group's first demand was the release of political prisoners. In its founding document from March 1973, the Liga Comunista 23 de Septiembre (LC-23S), an urban-based guerrilla group responsible for more than 60 direct-action operations, made it clear that political prisoners were one of the costs of carrying out a revolution and, as such, would not distract from its broader mission. These are just some of the references to the imprisonment of activists during the height of what is considered Mexico's dirty war. Taken together, the many references to political prisoners suggest that being held captive by the state was a common threat and, in some cases, a reality in the lives of those challenging the authoritarian government in the 1960s and 1970s.

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References
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1. Archivo General de la Nación [hereafter AGN], Dirección Federal de Seguridad [hereafter DFS], exp. 100-14-1-69, leg. 18, p. 276 (December 19, 1969).

2. AGN DFS, exp. 100-14-1, leg. 24, p. 19 (October 3, 1973).

5. FEMOSPP, chapt. 6. Others have begun the task of documenting the scale of the dirty war in Guerrero. See Aviña Alexander, Specters of Revolution: Peasant Guerrillas in the Cold War Mexican Countryside (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014); and the Guerrero Truth Commission (Comisión de la Verdad, Guerrero), Informe Final de la Comisión de la Verdad del estado de Guerrero (Final Report from the State of Guerrero's Truth Commission), 2014, http://www.almomento.mx/images/InformeFinalCOMVERDAD.pdf, accessed November 7, 2016.

6. Pansters Wil G., “Zones of State-Making: Violence, Coercion, and Hegemony in Twentieth-Century Mexico,” in Pansters , ed., Violence, Coercion, and State-Making in Twentieth-Century Mexico: The Other Half of the Centaur (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012), 8 (Panster's italics).

7. For an earlier history of this looseness surrounding prison life, see Piccato Pablo, City of Suspects: Crime in Mexico City, 1900–1931 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001); and Aguirre Carlos, The Criminals of Lima and Their Worlds: The Prison Experience, 1850–1935 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005).

8. Américo Meléndez Reyna, quoted in Alfonso García Morales, María de los Ángeles Magdaleno Cárdenas, Salas Mario Ramírez, and Reyna Américo Meléndez, “México: La Fiscalía Especial para los Movimientos Sociales y Políticos del Pasado,” Entre la memoría y la justicia: experiencias latinoamericanas sobre guerra sucia y defensa de derechos humanos, Guerra Rubén Ruiz, ed., (Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2005), 235 .

9. Newcomer Daniel, Reconciling Modernity: Urban State Formation in 1940s León, Mexico (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press 2004), 143176 .

10. I develop the arguments for this first stage in McCormick Gladys, The Logic of Compromise in Mexico: How the Countryside was Key to the Emergence of Authoritarianism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016).

11. See for example Bellingeri Marco, Del agrarismo armado a la guerra de los pobres, 1940–1974 (Mexico City: Ediciones Casa Juan Pablos; Secretaría de Cultura de la Ciudad de México, 2003); Calderón Fernando Herrera and Cedillo Adela, Challenging Authoritarianism in Mexico: Revolutionary Struggles and the Dirty War, 1964–1982 (New York: Taylor and Francis Group, 2012); Carr Barry, Marxism and Communism in Twentieth-Century Mexico (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992); Castellanos Laura, México armado, 1943–1981 (Mexico City: Ediciones Era, 2007); Comisión Nacional para los Derechos Humanos–Mexico (CNDH), Informe especial sobre las quejas en materia de desapariciones forzadas ocurridas en la década de los 70 y principios de los 80 (2001), www.cndh.org.mx/sites/all/doc/Informes/Especiales/2001_Desapariciones70y80.pdf; Fiscalía Especial para Movimientos Sociales y Políticos del Pasado, “Borrador del Informe de la Guerra Sucia” (2006) [Because the final report was heavily redacted, researchers rely on the draft report as the more reliable of the two versions.], http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB180/index2.htm; Corte Fritz Glockner, Memoria roja: historia de la guerrilla en México (1962–1968) (Mexico City: Ediciones B, 2007); López Jaime, Diez años de guerrillas en México (Mexico City: Editorial Posada, 1974); Montemayor Carlos, La guerrilla recurrente (Mexico City: Editorial Debate, 2007); and Solano Verónica Oikión and Ugarte Marta Eugenia García, eds. Movimientos armados en México, siglo xx, 13 vols. (Zamora, Michoacán: Colegio de Michoacán, CIESAS, 2006).

12. For more on the imprisonment of Siqueiros, Vallejo, and others in the earlier part of the 1960s, see Lara Enrique Condés, Represión y rebelión (1959–1985), and La guerra fría en México: el discurso de la repression (Puebla: Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla, 2007), vol. 1, 125190 .

13. La Jornada, March 27, 2007.

14. These figures can be found in Calderón and Cedillo, Challenging Authoritarianism, 8. They relied on the CNDH report (which lists 532 cases of verified disappearances, but left the remaining standing for additional research), as well as the reports of other human rights groups, including the Asociación de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos y Víctimas de Violaciones a los Derechos Humanos en México.

15. Aguayo Sergio, La charola: una historia de los servicios de inteligencia en México (Mexico City: Editorial Grijalbo, 2001), 185 ; AGN DFS, 100-12, leg. 2, pp. 74, 134–141 (October 12, 1977); exp. 11-235, leg. 36, p. 76 (March 15, 1976); exp. 11-235, leg. 43, p. 160 (April 17, 1977); exp. 11-235, leg. 46, p. 1 (July 9, 1977).

16. María de los Ángeles Magdaleno Cárdenas quoted in Ruiz Guerra, Entre la memoría y la justicia, 233. This reliance on euphemisms was by no means unique to Mexico. See for example Feitlowitz Marguerite, A Lexicon of Terror: Argentina and the Legacies of Torture, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012); and Maran Rita, Torture: The Role of Ideology in the French-Algerian War (New York: Praeger, 1989).

17. CNDH, Informe especial.

18. The interviews with Saúl and Bernardo were carried out over several days in May 2014 at their homes in Mexico City. The two men each spent more ten years in prison, beginning in the early to mid 1970s, and belonged to two different guerrilla organizations. Despite the fact that both are in the official record with their guerrilla activities, I chose to conceal their identities because of the sensitivity of the information pertaining to their time as political prisoners. Rather than footnote every instance, I draw from their interviews together, and signal in the text which interviewee is the source of a given piece of information. Unless specified otherwise, all translations are my own.

19. Halbert Jones, “Social Dissolution: Article 145 of the Mexican Federal Penal Code in International Context, 1941–1970,” paper presented at the Boston Area Latin American History Workshop, Cambridge, MA, April 2009.

20. Letter to the Mexican Congress from the wives and mothers of 80 political prisoners (November 22, 1962), Centro de Estudios del Movimiento Obreros y Socialista, box 1475-A, exp. 17 F 11

21. Código Penal Federal 2013, p. 32. The use of false evidence was a longstanding practice. For instance, see Los procesos de México 68: la criminalización de las víctimas (Mexico City: Comité 68 por Libertades Democráticas, 2008).

22. AGN DFS, exp. 100-17, leg. 28, p. 228 (April 8, 1972).

23. AGN DFS, exp. 11-122, leg. 14, p. 49 (May 12, 1978).

24. For example, AGN DFS, exp. 11-4-69, leg. 98, pp. 79–84 (October 23, 1969), lists 200 political prisoners housed in Lecumberri.

25. AGN DFS, exp. 11-235, leg. 23, p. 211 (January 12, 1974); exp. 100-5, leg. 32, p. 344 (December 20, 1971).

26. AGN DFS, exp. 100-24, leg. 24306 (August 25, 1975); exp. 100-17, leg. 28, p. 228 (April 8, 1972); exp. 11-235, leg. 30, p. 15 (June 10, 1975).

27. AGN DFS, exp. 11-235, leg. 26, p. 81 (April 18, 1975).

28. AGN DFS, exp. 53-2, leg. 1, pp. 65–71 (September 30, 1969).

29. Gilly Adolfo, La revolución interrumpida, 2nd ed. (Mexico City: Ediciones Era, 20015).

30. AGN DFS, exp. 100-10-16, leg. 11, p. 236 (September 3, 1975). The “Klause” referred to is Karl von Clausewitz, a Prussian officer in the wars against Napoleon.

31. Ibid.

32. This type of bribery was common in prisons throughout Mexico. See for example AGN DFS, exp. 100-12, leg. 54, p. 67 (May 15, 1977).

33. AGN DFS, exp. 100-5, leg. 71, p. 261 (January 6, 1979). For a similar investigation of the Reclusorio Oriente, see exp. 53-2, leg. 8, p. 216 (February 28, 1979).

34. Alberto Ulloa Bornemann describes a similar bribery process in Ulloa Bornemann, Surviving Mexico's Dirty War: A Political Prisoner's Memoir, Arthur Schmidt and Aurora Camacho de Schmidt, trans. and ed. (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2007), 138–140.

35. AGN DFS, exp. 11-233, leg. 4, p. 45 (June 23, 1977).

36. AGN DFS, exp. 53-2, leg. 2, p. 89 (March 9, 1970).

37. Ulloa Bornemann, Surviving Mexico's Dirty War, 12, 170–172.

38. AGN DFS, exp. 53-2, leg. 1, pp. 199–207 (January 3, 1970); exp. 100-10-28, leg. 1, p. 25 (February 12, 1974); exp. 100-15, leg. 42, p. 33 (March 21, 1977).

39. AGN DFS, exp. 100-12-28 L2, pp. 71–79 (November 10, 1977). This riot came on the heels of an earlier riot in April 1977 that also included political prisoners. See exp. 100-12, leg. 53, p. 133 (April 27, 1977).

40. Ibid., pp. 77–78; AGN DFS, 100-12, leg. 2, pp. 74, 134–141 (October 12, 1977).

41. AGN DFS, exp. 100-12-28, leg. 2, p. 71 (October 19, 1977).

42. AGN DFS, exp. 30-72, leg. 2, p. 236 (November 16, 1960).

43. AGN DFS, exp. 100-5-1 exp. 28, p. 28 (December 12, 1969), p. 95 (December 13, 1969); exp. 11-4, leg. 100-, p. 86 (December 2, 1969).

44. See for example AGN DFS, exp. 100-6-1, leg. 16, p. 80 (December 18, 1969, Coahuila); exp. 100-5-1, leg. 28, p. 76 (December 12, 1969, Chihuahua); exp. 100-14-1, leg. 18, p. 272 (December 19, 1969, Michoacán); and exp. 100-25-1, leg. 6, p. 350 (January 16, 1969, Tabasco).

45. AGN DFS, exp. 100-26-1, leg. 16, p. 238 (January 19, 1970).

46. AGN DFS, exp. 100-10, leg. 41, p. 303 (January 23, 1973); ibid., leg. 43, pp. 178–182 (July 26-27, 1973).

47. For example, AGN DFS, exp. 100-15, pp. 42, 51 (March 22, 1977).

48. AGN DFS, exp. 11-12-28, leg. 1, p. 222 (June 18, 1976), describes a failed escape attempt of political prisoners at Oblatos.

49. AGN DFS, exp. 11-235, leg. 24, p. 280 (January 26, 1975).

50. Ibid., leg. 36, pp. 2–22 (February 14-25, 1976).

51. AGN DFS, exp. 100-10-1, leg. 76, pp. 60–63 (August 25, 1978).

52. AGN DFS, exp. 100-235, leg. 35, p. 203 (January 22, 1976); exp. 11-235, leg. 36, p. 76 (March 15, 1976).

53. AGN DFS, exp. 53-2, leg. 1, p. 257 (January 5, 1970).

54. AGN DFS, exp. 100-12-1, leg. 42, p. 87 (February 7, 1976); exp. 100-12-28, leg. 2, p. 19 (June 26, 1977); leg. 2, p. 26 (September 2, 1977).

55. AGN DFS, exp. 100-12, leg. 59, p. 101 (October 23, 1977).

56. AGN DFS, exp. 100-12-1, leg. 42, p. 88 (February 7, 1976).

57. AGN DFS, exp. 100-12, leg. 55, p. 272 (June 29, 1977).

58. AGN DFS, exp. 53-2, leg. 2, leg. 135 (March 25, 1970).

59. Villareal Roberto González, Historia de la desaparición: nacimiento de una tecnología represiva (Mexico City: Editorial Terracota, 2012), p. 105 .

60. Poniatowska Elena, Fuerte es el silencio, 3rd ed. (Mexico City: Ediciones Era, 1981), 109110 .

61. Aguayo, Charola, 184.

62. Ibid., 184–85.

63. AGN DFS, exp. 11-235, leg. 14, p. 50 (May 8, 1974).

64. AGN DFS, exp. 100-10-28, leg. 1, p. 16 (February 9, 1974).

65. Lazreg Marnia, Torture and the Twilight of Empire: From Algiers to Baghdad (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008), p. 132 .

66. AGN DFS, exp. 53-2, leg. 1, p. 134 (July 21, 1969).

67. González Villareal, Historia de la desaparición, 45–57, tracks the escalation and the geographic distribution of disappearances from 1970 to 1974.

68. Ibid., 59–60.

69. AGN-DGIPS, Dirección General de Investigaciones Políticas y Sociales, Vol. 2860, exp. 10 (September 11, 1961). For CM-1 in its early years, see Condés Lara, Represión y rebellion, vol. 1, 125–190.

70. Ibid.

71. Ulloa Bornemann, Surviving Mexico's Dirty War, 121–122.

72. For an etymology of these terms, see Feitlowitz, Lexicon of Terror, 59–71.

73. Ulloa Bornemann, Surviving Mexico's Dirty War, 31.

74. Ibid., 29.

75. Poniatowska, Fuerte es el silencio, 106.

76. Ibid., 42.

77. Aguayo, Charola, 186.

78. Poniatowska, Fuerte es el silencio, 110.

79. CNDH, Informe especial.

80. AGN DFS, exp. 11-240-78, leg. 11, pp. 168–174 (August 2, 1078).

81. Calderón and Cedillo, Challenging Authoritarianism, 180–181.

82. Rayas, “Subjugating the Nation,” 609–624.

83. CNDH, Informe especial.

84. Lazreg, Torture and the Twilight, 142–144.

85. I am not the first to take note of this pattern. See García Jorge Mendoza, “La tortura en el marco de la guerra sucia en México: un ejercicio de memoria colectiva,” Polis 7:2 (2011): 7 .

86. Rayas, “Subjugating the Nation,” 177.

87. CNDH, Informe especial.

88. Poniatowska, Fuerte es el silencio, 108, 111, 113; Nexos, October 1993.

89. CNDH, Informe especial.

90. Calderón and Cedillo, Challenging Authoritarianism, 180–181.

91. AGN DFS, exp. 11-235, leg. 13, p. 46 (August 29, 1978).

92. Washington Post, January 5, 2005; Proceso, January 16, 2005.

93. Hinds Harold Jr. and Tatum Charles M., Not Just for Children: The Mexican Comic Book in the Late 1960s and 1970s (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1992), 7081 .

94. Lazreg, Torture and the Twilight, 138.

95. Nazar Haro was indicted in 2004 through the FEMOSPP, but his case was dismissed in 2006. ADN Político, January 27, 2012; Proceso, September 9, 2013.

96. For interviews he gave to the press, see La Jornada, February 4, 2009, January 28, 2012, and January 29, 2012; and Proceso, October 29, 2000. For more on such confessions, see Payne Leigh, Unsettling Accounts: Neither Truth nor Reconciliation in Confessions of State Violence (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008), 173195 .

97. Aguayo Charola, 125.

98. Ibid., 182–184.

99. La Jornada, July 7, 2008.

100. Lazreg, Torture and the Twilight, 143.

101. This refers to the Halcones, a paramilitary group that in June 1971 attacked a group of student demonstrators in Mexico City, leaving an unknown number injured or killed.

102. AGN DFS, 100-12, leg. 64, p. 294 (September 1, 1978).

103. Villareal González, Historia de la desaparición, 133–140.

104. My view of dirty war comes from conversations with Steve Stern as well as his book Remembering Pinochet's Chile: On the Eve of London 1998 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004).

105. Grandin Greg, The Last Colonial Massacre: Latin America in the Cold War (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 13 .

The author would like to thank the two anonymous readers, Hugo Velázquez, Steve Stern, Jaymie Heilman, Solsiree Del Moral, Matthew Cleary, Rafael Fernández de Castro, Norman Kutcher, and Frederick Marquardt for their invaluable support and feedback.

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