Floridian expelled from Mexico asks for support
Joe Courter
March 1999

The Gainesville Committee for Democracy in Mexico held the "Southeast Regional Conference on Mexico, Democracy, and Neoliberalism" on Saturday, February 20. Over 80 people attended the one-day conference held in Weil Hall on the University of Florida campus, co-sponsored by the UF Hispanic Student Association. People from Atlanta, Tallahassee, Jacksonville and throughout central Florida joined Gainesville area people to hear guest speakers Mercedes Oscuna from Chiapas, Mexico, and Tom Hanson, of the Mexico Solidarity Network and the Chiapas Video Project.

Hanson is one of 350 internationals who have been deported and banned from the country of Mexico for their human rights advocacy work on behalf of the indigenous people of Mexico. At the conference, he stated: "For those of you who don't know, I was expelled from Mexico. Two days ago was the one year anniversary date (February 18, 1998). I was expelled, basically kidnapped off the street, by four heavily-armed people--government officials of some sort, without uniforms. When I asked them to identify themselves, they told me if I didn't shut up they'd transport me in the trunk of their car. That began a 24-hour odyssey where I was held incommunicado, with no access to a telephone or an attorney, or U.S. Embassy personnel. I spent the night in a feces-covered prison cell. I was never told why I was being held, and the next morning I was expelled from the country.

"I'm glad you're all sitting down, because this is--uh--I'm really a pretty serious criminal. What I did was, 2 1/2 years beforehand, I'd been an observer, an official observer in peace talks between the Zapatista and the Mexican government. And as an observer I was accredited by a government agency. And 2 1/2 years later, some 13 trips to Chiapas later, the Mexican government decided my activities had been inconsistent with my tourist visa.

"So for that grievous offense, I was kidnapped off the street and held incommunicado and kicked out of the country. I challenged the case in the Mexican court system and won the first decision, at what's more or less equivalent to our District level. The judge issued a 19-page discussion which said basically there'd been no arrest warrant issued in my case so everything was illegal, that I was charged with the serious crime of "observation", and they couldn't find anywhere in Mexican law where it is illegal to observe something. This really quite courageous judge was almost immediately transferred to Durango, which is kind of like being sent from New York City to South Dakota...the Mexican government immediately appealed the decision and it's now before a 3-judge panel."

Hanson went on to say how one of the three judges openly said in court that she was opposed to the prior ruling, and that she was under a lot of pressure to rule against Hanson from immigration authorities. This was used in an appeal to the Supreme Court to have this judge removed, but they refused, so the case is in the hands of this panel, in the very politicized Mexican legal system. Hanson told the conference that, though he's one of 350 people expelled, his is the first case to rise this high in the courts, and that the Mexican government needs to know that people are watching this case.

"If I could ask you all to do a favor, [as soon as you can] please call the Mexican Consulate in Orlando (or wherever you live) and tell them you are watching the case of Tom Hanson, and you hope justice will be done, and that he'll be allowed to return to Mexico. I'd very much appreciate if you could do that; it's being done all over the country. Ask for the Counselor General."

If you would like to register your concern, call 407-894-0514.

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