Page 24


water heater to take a shower before going to bed when someone grabbed me, put something over my mouth and nose, and then I lost consciousness,” she told me in the most matter-of-fact manner, as she described what had been The most frightening attempt on her life. “When I woke up they were blindfolding me. All I could see were the stocking feet of two persons, one sitting in a chair with a laptop.” They questioned her all night, a total of about nine hours, asking her about her colleagues at the Pro and their families, how the center was organized, and her alleged ties to guerrilla organizations. They swore at her, demanding to know where she had received her “military training,” what kind of arms she used, and the identities of her contacts in the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero. Digna told them that her only weapon was the law; that it was customary for her to go to prisons, courthouses, public ministries looking for disappeared persons whenever she went to Oaxaca or Guerrero. Then they took off her blindfold and shined a light into her eyes forcing her to look downward. They showed her about 100 photographs of campesinos, mostly men with indigenous features, whom Digna didn’t recognize.They gagged her, took her to the bedroom, pushed her on the bed and tied her feet and hands together. Then they turned on a 20-kilo gas canister and left the apartment. Terrified, she began working away at her blindfold. After she finally managed to remove it, she rolled over and reached the gas tank and turned it off. With great difficulty she untied her feet and hands, went to the phone to call for help, but the line had been severed. She discovered her cell phone was still in the other room and was able to call and get assistance. The authorities conducted an investigation, but it went nowhere. They were unable to detect fingerprintsthe assailants wore gloves, which they left behind in water. They had also been careful to remove their shoes before entering the apartment. That same night, someone broke into the Pro office. As had happened before, the closed circuit video had been disconnected and erased. As the threats against Digna began to intensify, the lawyers at the Pro began leafing through their recent cases, trying to piece together what was happening and why. Of the eight cases they determined were most relevant, the army was directly involved in seven. But the army was never called for questioning. \(Nor was that likely to occur. Montiel and Cabrera had been arrested by the army. President Vicente Fox would later choose the top army prosecutor, Rafael Macedo de la Conchaas his Attorney After she was nearly killed, the InterAmerican Court for Human Rights ordered the Mexican government to provide Digna with police protection. But in the waning days of the administration of President Ernesto Zedillo that never occurred. Finally, Digna decided it was time for her to leave. While in Washington, her stature increased, as did that of Montiel and Cabrera. Digna was profiled in a book by Kerry Kennedy Cuomo, Speak Truth to Power: Human Rights Defenders Who are Changing Our World, along with world-rekn.own activists such as Desmond Tutu and Rigoberta Menclua. In March, she returned to Mexico, determined to get back to legal work and get on with life. She had met the man who would be her compaiiero for the rest of her life and seemed to be genuinely happy. Initially she was provided with police protection, but in May the Fox government requested that the Inter-American Court withdraw protection orders, saying they were no longer necessary because there had been no new threatsand the investigations into past threats and attacks had been shelved for lack of information. But there were new threats, Digna just never bothered to make them public, convinced the current administration could do no more for her than the last one. As far as she was concerned, the Mexican government refused to see what was happening to her as a human rights violation, tossing it off as a matter of common crime. Last August she sent an e-mail to one of her sisters, telling her that if anything happened to her, it would be the army that did it, and making arrangements for the distribution of her limited personal effects. On the afternoon of October 19, Digna went to the office of her friend and colleague, Pilar Noriega. Noriega had just been appointed to a position with Mexico City’s Human Rights Commission, and she would be taking over her cases. Among the cases was that of two brothers accused of planting bombs that exploded outside several Mexico City banks last August; their first court appearance was set for the following Monday. But Digna would not be there. While she was working in Pilar’s office, she was shot to death. Her killers left behind a murder weapona rather unusual Czech gun from the ’40s and ’50s, according to press accountsa weapon that would be difficult to obtain. They also left behind a chilling note: “Pro sons of bitches, if you keep it up, the same thing will happen to you.” In the days that followed, I kept thinking of my last conversation with Digna, in that nondescript apartment not far from the office where she was murdered. I can still see her there and still hear her words. When I asked her what motivated her to continue, she replied “Indignation. ” Indignation. She had also told me about a conversation she had had with her mother after the first attempt on her life. After hearing what had happened, her mother paused for a long time before she could say, “This is the price you pay for committing yourself to such a cause.” On October 19, 37-year-old Digna Ochoa paid the ultimate price. Cynthia Hawes has reported on Mexico for nearly 20 years. She lives in Mexico City. 16 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11/9101 ive*Wera,,,vovowyo.