Guadalupe Garcia refuses to talk about the day 17 armed men in bulletproof vests hauled him away for a two-day interrogation about a new rebel group.
“I can’t,” the Roman Catholic lay minister said as he repaired watches near the town marketplace. “It’s really tough.”
Garcia is among dozens who have been detained because of suspected links to the shadowy Popular Revolutionary Army, or EPR. The detentions have some worried that human rights could be trampled in the hunt for rebels.
EPR members first surfaced June 28 near Coyuca de Benitez, a town in the mountains near the resort of Acapulco. The government effort to find them intensified in August when the rebels shocked officials with a series of attacks in southwestern Mexico that left at least 19 people dead.
Despite government pledges to respect human rights, residents say investigators have been heavy-handed.
Garcia was released Sept. 23 without learning who had detained him. He was never formally charged, and no government agency accepted responsibility for the incident.
Garcia’s family went to state police, and military and judicial officials to investigate the detention. “They all denied any knowledge of his arrest,” said his mother, Maria de la Luz Enriquez, an opposition candidate for local office.
Family members say Garcia remains terrified. When a reporter saw him last week, his neck still bore a mark that looked like a rope burn.
“They beat him up,” said Garcia’s neighbor, Jorge Orlando Romero, a local leader for the opposition Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD. “They even came into my house to search. Everyone was really scared.”
Human rights activists fear the government may resort to secretive tactics such as those used in a rebel crackdown in the 1970s in Guerrero state. Some 500 suspected leftist sympathizers disappeared during those years.
Gustavo Hirales spent seven years in prison for rebel activities in the 1970s. Now he advises the federal government regarding the Zapatista rebel group in Chiapas state.
He said the rights of civilians could be ignored in the government’s quest to stamp out the EPR.
“They are trying to toss out a wide net to see what they come up with,” Hirales said of the investigators. “The problem with that is that they are bound to pick up a lot of people who have nothing to do with the EPR.”
Mexican authorities have detained some 40 suspected EPR members since late June, government spokesman Dionisio Perez Jacome said last week. He said formal charges had been filed against most of those arrested, but he could not provide names or details.
The crackdown has been most intense in Guerrero and neighboring Oaxaca, the two states where the EPR appears most active. Even avowedly non-violent leftist groups have been targeted.
“Everyone is in hiding,” said Javier Mojica, director of the Acapulco-based Center for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights.
Mojica said the military has drawn up lists of residents in some communities to track the activities of adult males.
Peasants say soldiers have examined their their lunches to determine whether they are feeding the rebels.
Government authorities deny irregularities.
Unidentified men kidnapped Rahzy Gonzalez, a journalist for the leftist weekly Contrapunto in Oaxaca, and questioned him for two days about the location of an EPR news conference he attended.