Mexican activist shares stories of torture

He was choked and jumped. He was shocked with electricity. Rodolfo Montiel endured horrific torture and 30 months of imprisonment, all for crimes he did not commit.

The Goldman Environmental Prize winner spoke about his experiences as an environmentalist and the struggles he has faced along the way Monday night in the Marshall Center.

Montiel’s environmental activism garnered international attention in 1997, when he and other local community leaders from his hometown of Guerero, Mexico, formed an organization to protest local clear-cut logging by the Idaho-based Boise Cascade Corporation. His protests threatened the interests of the logging mill company and other landowners and made him a target for arrest. In 1998, however, the company left Guerero due to pressures from locals such as Montiel.

Nearly a year later, on May 2, 1999, Montiel was arrested by the Mexican army for crimes he did not commit. He and his friend Teodoro Cabrera were forced to sign confessions to three charges. Along with signed confessions, the men were also forced to pose for a photo while holding illegal military rifles, he said.

Montiel and Cabrera were charged with drug trafficking, possession of a prohibited weapon and possessing weapons for the exclusive use of the military. Montiel said he and Cabrera were tortured in many ways, including having soda injected in their nostrils.

After the initial torture, which lasted four days, they were taken to a jailhouse, where more torture continued. There were also constant threats of being dumped into a public grave. It was not until day 15 that they were able to communicate with their families and let them know they were alive and had been taken into custody.

Facing pressure from human rights groups around the globe, Mexican President Vicente Fox released Montiel and Cabrera from prison in November 2001. Though Fox did grant the men release, he did not acknowledge their innocence or the torture they faced while in prison.

Montiel’s first two convictions have been dismissed by a Mexican appeals court, but the possession of a military weapon, which carries the most severe sentence, has not been dismissed. That makes Montiel a convicted felon and disables him to safely return to his home in Guerero.

“We want to be declared innocent and repair be done to our reputations and investigations be done about the military tortures,” Montiel said.

Even more horrific was the murder of his lawyer, Digna Ochoa. She was found dead prior to their release from prison and, according to Montiel, her murder is yet to be investigated by Mexican courts.

“We want to have a more honest government that discontinues the ways of the past,” said Montiel.

Montiel is on a seven-city tour, and his visit to Tampa was sponsored by Amnesty International and the Alliance of Concerned Students At USF.

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