“In Mexico, to defend human rights is to risk your life.” Digna Ochoa
This is not a pretty book nor is it a quick read. It is a detailed account of the life and commitment of a young Mexican human rights lawyer who was murdered in her office in Mexico City in 2001 and of the ensuing investigation and cover up of her assassination. She defended human rights knowing the risk, she was kidnapped, beaten and raped, and finally at the age of 36, she died for her beliefs and her work.
Ochoa was internationally known for her courage and dedication to the poorest and most oppressed people of her native country. She helped gain recognition and justice for the Guerrero villagers who were being beaten and killed by death squads and military groups. She worked for justice for victims of murder and torture in Chiapas and Vera Cruz. She understood the need for international publicity to focus on Mexican human rights violations because the Mexican government wants the image of a country where free trade and tourism are wonderful to go out to the world. Her success in publicizing these injustices was her death sentence.
The author, a Toronto journalist, provides a valuable context for this lawyer’s fate. From the massacres during the Olympics in 1968 to the many murders and crimes of the military and government–backed paramilitary squads in Chiapas, the Mexican government has been ruthless in its own crimes and complicit in many others whenever the struggle for justice has become open and successful. Recent events in Oaxaca and the continuing fight for rights by the poor all over Mexico are part of this struggle.
Diebel provides meticulous and careful research into Ochoa’s murder; the evidence of political assassination is clear, but in 2003 her death was classified as suicide and the case was officially closed. I hope that this book will be translated into Spanish and distributed widely in Mexico – in which case, Diebel better stay away. She has made an important contribution to the public record in Mexico, a story of corruption, cruelty, dishonesty and impunity which is as evil as any story from anywhere in this terrible world. A story that the Mexican government would prefer not be known internationally. Other North Americans who think Mexico is all about sun, fun, sand and mariachi bands should read this report about their partner in NAFTA.
The details of the investigation are woven together with the story of a lively and bright woman who loved life, her parents, her family, her lover and her friends. Ochoa was warm and outgoing; she enjoyed social gatherings and parties. She was loved by all those who knew her and worked with her; their memories of her courage, wisdom and kindness deserve to be honoured with justice and truth being upheld; Ochoa’s murderers must be identified as an important step in changing Mexico today. Her ultimate sacrifice will only be justified if justice is done and seen to be done and a new generation of activists are motivated and inspired by Ochoa’s example.
Diebel concludes with the warning that the situation in Mexico is “getting worse and the proud, brave people of Mexico deserve better.”