They have “crucified” themselves, engaged in a hunger strike and sewn their lips shut, but yesterday the protest was taken to a new level when a young man was doused in gasoline and set on fire.
Today, Agustín Gómez Pérez, 21, is fighting for his life in a Tuxtla Gutiérrez hospital with second-degree burns to 50% of his body, but he achieved his objective: the state government released the man for whom the protests had been in aid.
Florentino Gómez Girón, community activist and leader of the Ricardo Flores Magón Popular Front, was jailed in May on charges of cattle rustling, but the Chiapas state government said yesterday he was also being investigated for criminal links, kidnapping and other crimes.
Gómez’ arrest sparked a protest movement in which some 20 members of the front, residents of the indigenous community Chigtón, set up camp nearly a month ago in the main square of Tuxtla Gutiérrez and began a series of protests.
Several staged a hunger strike three weeks ago while six sewed their lips shut. On Tuesday, two protesters were bound with rope to the entrance of the state Congress in a symbolic crucifixion.
Then yesterday afternoon, Gómez Pérez, a nephew of the jailed activist, lay down on the street in front of the Congress building where other protesters poured on the gasoline.
A government official appeared and pleaded that they not set the young man on fire, promising to review the situation. But it wasn’t enough.
“There is no democracy here!” shouted one, “there is no justice! Freedom for political prisoners!” and gave the order to light the fire. The young man, whose upper body was quickly engulfed in flames, got to his feet and ran for several meters, before falling to the ground, writhing in pain.
Onlookers doused the flames with water and paramedics covered Gómez Pérez with wet towels before taking him to the regional hospital. This morning he was hovering between life and death, said a nurse.
At 5:00 this morning the state released Gómez Girón and later signed an accord with his supporters that stipulates they quit their encampment in the town square.
The history of the conflict between the Flores Magón Front and the government goes back at least three years, according to an extensive report released yesterday by the state under-secretary of human rights.
The group is accused of expelling from the community some 39 families who say they have lived since as refugees in a neighboring municipality. Those who have attempted to return to Chigtón say they have been met with death threats.
When authorities attempted to return the families to their homes, the under-secretary said, Gómez Girón and his group set up camp outside the municipal offices in Ixtapa and held the workers hostage for 25 days.
They are also accused of detaining authorities with the Attorney General’s office for a period of 10 hours, releasing them after a ransom of 300,000 pesos was paid.
In December last year, the National Human Rights Commission recommended that the state implement measures to address the safety and protection of the displaced families so they could be returned to their homes. The families say the state has done nothing in response.
Finally, in May a judge issued a warrant for Gómez Girón’s arrest for cattle rustling. Among the accusations leveled at him by the displaced families of Chigtón is the theft of their livestock.
The front that Gómez Girón leads is named after Ricardo Flores Magón, an anarchist and social reform activist who is described as one of the major thinkers of the Mexican revolution.
In Chiapas today they could use more than one major thinker to resolve the conflict in Chigtón.