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January 2002 issue of
World Press Review
(VOL. 49, No. 1)
Defender of the Poor
for improvement in their countrys human-rights record
after Vincente Foxs election, may have cheered too soon.
On Oct. 19, the countrys most prominent human-rights lawyer,
38-year-old Digna Ochoa, was shot and killed. Ochoa, a former
Roman Catholic nun, was famous for taking on high-profile cases,
like the defense in May 1999 of Rodolfo Montiel Flores [see
People, WPR, August 2000] and Teodoro Cabreraarrested
on gun and drug chargeswho lead a peasant group opposed
to wildcat logging by local political bosses. Ochoa was repeatedly
threatened, twice kidnapped, tortured, and nearly killed. Her
assassination has raised suspicions of military involvement,
and Ochoas cold-blooded killing was deemed the first political
crime committed during the Fox administration.
Indeed, Mexico may be slipping back into old patterns of impunity:
In selecting as his attorney general Rafael Macedo de la Concha,
the top military prosecutor under former President Ernesto Zedillo,
Fox had ignored pleas from rights activists to establish a clear
division between military and civilian law enforcement. Now,
de la Concha may be implicated in Ochoas assassination.
[He] stands out as the main suspect in the crime,
Brig. Gen. José Francisco Gallardo Rodríguez was
quoted in Mexico Citys Proceso. (Gallardo was imprisoned
in 1993 in reprisal for his writings on military human-rights
Ochoa believed that Foxs election did not herald real
change in Mexico: She was still threatened, watched, and made
to feel vulnerable, for many of the cases defended by her were
linked to Mexicos army. And it was de la Concha who requested
in May 2001 that protection orders issued for Ochoa be withdrawn,
arguing that those measures were no longer warranted. Still,
Ochoa believed in what she did and downplayed the risk,
writes Pablo Romo in Mexico Citys La Jornada. And
Gilberto López y Rivas adds in the same paper (Oct. 26):
She was willing to take all the risks of the profession
that was her only weapon: the law.