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An Open Letter to American Citizens on Behalf of Mexican Political Prisoners

To Whom It May Concern:

The undersigned US citizens, all recent visitors to Mexico, protest the continued unconstitutional imprisonment and inhumane treatment of more than one hundred political prisoners in Mexico City’s Lecumberri federal prison.

Most of these prisoners are Mexican students, still held without trial, public hearing, or even formal charges for over a year and a half, in violation of Mexican law. Most of them were arrested during student strikes and protests during 1968, climaxed by the massacre of hundreds of students by military and police forces at a rally in Mexico City’s Tlatelolco Plaza on October 2 of that year.

The Mexican government vigorously denies retention of any “political prisoners.” Recent visitors from abroad have been deported simply for stating intentions to visit them. The prisoners are charged with constitutional violations, not with political dissent. Nonetheless, they are segregated in dormitories M, N, O, and C of the Lecumberri prison, as some of us can testify from prison visits and from conferences with defense attorneys. When two US clergymen visited students in the penitentiary on March 28, the guard was instructed, “Search them carefully! They are visiting presos politicos.” We have established beyond reasonable doubt that the student prisoners have been cruelly harassed, given extended solitary confinement, beaten, tortured, and robbed by other prisoners with encouragement by prison officials. Powerless, their only recourse has been a forty-day hunger strike (reported in The New York Times on January 19).

One of the youth still incarcerated is a young American Marine deserter from the war in Vietnam, Bernard Phillip Ames, from Vernon, New York. Some of us have visited and befriended Ames in prison. We encourage similar attentions to him from sympathetic Americans (registered mail only). Yet Ames can expect no special treatment, little help from the US Embassy, and a legal fate not unlike that of his Mexican student colleagues.

Defense attorneys for the prisoners are preparing a petition for amnesty from Mexico’s new president after forthcoming elections in July and inauguration in December, in accordance with provisions of the Mexican constitution. They hope for at least a million signatures from Mexicans, plus prestigious signatories from other nations. They suggest letters, telegrams, and petitions to the P.R.I. candidate and inevitable next president, Luis Echiverria. However, they strongly advise against more dramatic actions now, either in Mexico or abroad (a summer student/tourist boycott of Mexico had been suggested), until inauguration of the next president. They believe that such further actions would be counter-productive in Mexico’s political situation and might even lead to a hastening of sentences by the courts. Their best hope, they say, is to stall such sentencing until the new administration takes over.

As foreign visitors to Mexico, we were prevented by Mexican law from any political activity on behalf of the imprisoned students. Yet our common conscience compels us to make this appeal to citizens of our own country for continued concern and appropriate action of their own.

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