The Mexican government publicly apologized to three indigenous women who were wrongly imprisoned for nearly four years, but the women say it doesn’t remedy the systemic discrimination that perpetuates the marginalization and poverty among Mexico’s indigenous people.
The head of the attorney general’s office, Raul Cervantes, apologized to the women Tuesday at the museum of anthropology in the capital, as part of damages ordered by a tribunal. Reuters noted that it is extremely rare for Mexican authorities to apologize for any wrongdoing, particularly regarding indigenous people.
Alberta Alcantara, Jacinta Francisco and Teresa Gonzalez are from a small community in Queretaro, Central Mexico. The Associated Press reported that the women were arrested in 2006 during an anti-piracy raid at a market staged after six federal investigators said they were held against their will by angry vendors. The three women were initially convicted and sentenced to 21 years for kidnapping.
Francisco was freed in 2009 and Alcantara and Gonzalez were freed in 2010, after Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled there was insufficient evidence in the case. Critics charged that prosecutors fabricated evidence.
“We did not know what was happening,” said Gonzalez at the event, “and this public apology is a great victory, because it closes these 11 years of struggle, but it will never be enough for the years of injustice.”
TeleSUR reported that Francisco’s daughter, Estela Hernandez, delivered a powerful speech criticizing the apology as “forced” and condemning the systematic oppression of Mexico’s Indigenous people.
“Today it is clear that being poor, women and indigenous isn’t cause for shame,” Hernandez said. “Shame today is on those who supposedly should guarantee our rights as ethnicities and indigenous people and as human beings.”
“Currently we know ignorant, corrupt and bought-off authorities. We don’t thank them,” she added. “We demand that if they don’t know how to do their jobs, they resign from their posts.”
Hernandez also rejected economic reparations, and said, “We weren’t born with [money], we won’t die with it. Our wealth is not based in money.” She instead stressed the need for Mexico’s government to guarantee respect for their rights and an end to the persecution of indigenous and social justice activists.
The case has helped shine a light on the widespread marginalization and abuse of the indigenous population in Mexico, which joins Peru as one of the two largest in the Americas. A U.N. Development Program report in 2010 revealed that indigenous Mexicans suffer greater inequalities than any other group, and that access to basic services such as medical care, education and social security remain severely limited.
Indigenous rights advocates say authorities have failed to properly implement any meaningful changes, despite constitutional reforms and other government efforts to address the issue. The government has come under fire in recent months for failing to protect indigenous activists, two were killed in the state of Chihuahua in less than a month earlier this year.