Monday, 12 September 2011

Why is Mexico persecuting gay lawyer Jaime López Vela?

Jaime López Vela
By Paul Canning

A Mexican lawyer and gay activist is facing 14 months in prison for defending a victim of homophobia. In 2009 Jaime López Vela was physically assaulted and then arrested and charged with "insult to police and obstruction on the road" by police in the State of Mexico (in South-Central Mexico) on the orders of State authorities.

Jaime López Vela was the first to be married in Mexico City (by its Mayor) after the city approved same-sex marriage in 2010 and is planning to run to be a Member of Parliament on the list of the PRD.

A human rights lawyer, he is the director of the LGBT rights group Agenda LGBT.

On 7 May 2009, López Vela and Agustín Estrada Negrete went to the offices of the Government of the State of Mexico in Toluca for a scheduled meeting with the Deputy Secretary General of State, Luis Felipe Puente. Negrete was forced to step down from the position as director and founder of a local school, Centro de Atención Múltiple (CAM), for disabled children in 2007 due to false allegations by fellow staff against him that he had gone to the school dressed as a woman. He had in fact been pictured in newspapers at a LGBT rights march in the nearby city of Ecatepec de Morelos dressed as 'Alban' in La Cage Aux Folles.

"I offered to defend him because he was asked" to give up his sexual orientation "to be reinstated," said López Vela.

Several parents of children who attended the school accompanied them to support the call for Negrete’s reinstatement but they were not allowed to participate in the meeting. Parents and students had organised 17 rallies asking the authorities to reinstate Negrete as director of the CAM.

The parents group was preparing to stage a protest in front of the building when a civil servant, Humberto Rodríguez Suárez, ordered police on patrol outside the buildings to arrest López Vela. He was forced into a police van where he was beaten. The police officers told him that “el Gobernador Peña Nieto no quiere maricones en el Estado de México” (State Governor Peña Nieto doesn’t want faggots in the state of Mexico).

Peña Nieto, is the current favorite for the 2012 presidential election in Mexico.

López Vela was taken to a police station, put back in the police van and finally brought to the office of the Ministry of Justice, where he was informed that he was under arrest for the obstruction of traffic. Negrete was also arrested and driven to the Ministry of Justice in an ambulance. He was physically assaulted throughout the journey.

Other protesters – among them, mothers and children - had been beaten as they tried to prevent the arrests. (In July 2009, State authorities sought arrest warrants for Negrete, his sister, three teachers from his school and 13 mothers of his former pupils on charges of the illegal occupation of property based upon the protest that they had staged against Negrete's dismissal.)

Agustín Estrada Negrete, moments before being arrested by police in 2009
Negrete and López Vela were taken to the basement of the Ministry of Justice where they were both verbally and physically assaulted again. They were repeatedly told that “Nuestro Gobernador Peña Nieto no quiere maricones, tratados de putitos y jotos” (our Governor Peña Nieto doesn’t like gays and faggots).

López Vela was released on bail the following day. He was told that Negrete would be brought to a court in relation to other legal matters connected to the case for his reinstatement that were still pending, and that he would be then released on bail. But instead Negrete was beaten again and then taken to nearby Almoloya de Juárez, a maximum security prison where drug cartel leaders, kidnappers, and murderers share space.

Negrete was told that “El Gobernador del Estado México no te quiere por maricon, te vamos a desaparecer” (the Governor of the State of Mexico doesn’t like faggots, we’re going to make you disappear”). At the jail he was verbally and physically assaulted again and then sexually assaulted by men who covered their faces so as not to be identified.

Two days later Negrete was released. He continued to receive death threats and four months later men broke into a house he was in hiding in and he was raped with a metal tube and left for dead, a plastic bag over his head. The next week he was stabbed by men wearing State police uniforms. The following day he reported the incident to the authorities, who closed the door when they saw him arriving. On 22 November 2009 unknown individuals spray-painted the wall beside his sister's home with messages saying “Agustín vete, vas a morir putato” (Agustín leave, you are going to die whore).

He subsequently fled to the United States and claimed asylum. US asylum is reportedly becoming harder for LGBT Mexicans because of a perception amongst US authorities that legal progress, such as gay marriage in Mexico City, means that the country is safe for LGBT. It is unclear whether Negrete has faced problems with his asylum case because of this changed attitude.

Negrete in an interview with French gay magazine Tetu claimed that his former lover was the State of Mexico politician and candidate of the right-wing PRI for State Governor Eruviel Ávila Villegas. "They did everything to silence me because it is important that Eruviel Ávila is not out of the closet," he said. He said that he was approached to negotiate his silence, "but after the rape I suffered, I do not want to negotiate."

Both men reported the assaults and called on the National Commission for Human Rights, Consejo Para Prevenir la Discriminación- CONAPRED (the Council for the Prevention of Discrimination), the Minister for Education and the Minister for Health, among others, to take action. But the complaint wasn't accepted - Negrete was told “we are not allowed to take any declaration from you” - and they were warned not to continue with the particular complaint if they wanted to remain alive.

López Vela, although winning on his final appeal against the charge of 'insult to police', now faces a 14 month sentence for 'traffic obstruction' and said in a press statement last week:
"I am very upset because I am very afraid that this sentence is confirmed, even though I immediately appealed."
He has called for protests from human rights NGOs, including Amnesty International.

Referring to his plans to stand as a candidate for Parliament, he said "If the sentence is confirmed, I can not of course introduce myself."


This video tells the story of Jaime López Vela and Agustín Estrada Negrete. 

HT: Tetu

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