Most participants in an almost two-month hunger strike at the Baja California state penitentiary in Tijuana have suspended their protest and begun to eat after Mexican authorities vowed to investigate their allegations of torture and other improprieties by Mexican federal police.
The 30 inmates who have agreed to suspend their strike contend that they were wrongly jailed by federal authorities, mostly on drug charges--a common allegation in Mexico. Nationwide, there have been widespread allegations that federal police have resorted to torture, murder and other unlawful means in an effort to make arrests and demonstrate Mexico's commitment to combating narcotics trafficking.
Many of the federal prisoners participating in the strike contend that they were beaten into signing false confessions, purportedly spelling out their involvement in international drug trafficking networks.
A separate group of about 15 Tijuana prisoners seeking early parole after being convicted for a variety of crimes is continuing the hunger strike this week, although prison officials said that some or all are expected to be released within days.
As many as 70 prisoners were participating in the strike at one point, although the total number had declined to 45 last weekend, strikers said. Most have refused food for seven weeks, strikers say, but some joined in later and have participated for shorter durations. There are about 2,500 inmates at the prison, which was built for 600 prisoners.
The strikers, who based their protest in and around a two-story gazebo amid the crowded grounds of the prison complex, say they have only been taking liquids, including honey. A number have been treated at the prison clinic and one ex-striker is in grave condition at a Tijuana hospital, with internal wounds allegedly inflicted in a police beating.
Among those expressing support for the strikers' cause have been several prominent human rights activists and Tijuana Mayor Carlos Montejo Favela, who even staged a symbolic hunger strike aimed at demonstrating his sympathy for the prisoners' complaints.
Mexican officials have denied any abuse by federal police, contending that inmates who say they were wrongly accused have the option of submitting evidence of abuse to judges. The inmates contend that Mexican federal judges are as corrupt as the federal police and are disinclined to listen to tales of official wrongdoing.
The decision to suspend the strike and resume eating was made this past weekend, after a government human rights official vowed that officials would review the 30 disputed cases, said Valentin Tapia Aguilar, the leader of the strikers. The human rights official, who met with the strikers at the penitentiary, is a member of a national commission set up earlier this year by Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, who created the body in response to complaints of abuse by federal police.
The strikers agreed to give government officials until next Tuesday to complete their inquiry.
The strikers also have asked for a broader review of the cases of 763 non-striking inmates, most of whom were charged with drug trafficking, Tapia said. They have expressed the hope that their strike could become a national movement, leading to vast reforms of the Mexican criminal justice system.