ACT NOW! Mexican Labor Rights Defender Kidnapped, Tortured

On May 15, four masked men kidnapped and tortured labor rights defender José Enrique Morales Montaño, a member of the Workers' Support Centre (Centro de Apoyo al Trabajador, CAT) in Mexico. The kidnapping follows years of systematic harassment and threats levied against the CAT for their work promoting and defending labor rights in Puebla, Mexico.  UPDATE:  On June 1, the CAT announced that it would close its office in Puebla due to the on-going failure of the Mexican government to effectively address over two years of violence and threats against CAT staff.  USLEAP has issued an updated Action Alert reflecting this discouraging, but understandable, development.  This Action remains needed as of June 20, 2012.

Latest Violence:  On May 15, José Enrique Morales Montaño traveled to the local labor board in Puebla, Mexico at 1 p.m. to defend a group of textile industry workers fighting for their rights at a factory in the region. At 5 p.m. he was kidnapped, tortured, and held for 12 hours, during which time his captors kept a gun pressed to his head for extended periods of time and threatened to kill him and other members of the CAT. At approximately 5 a.m. the next morning, Morales was left on the Puebla-Veracruz highway. At 7:30 a.m. the same morning, the director of the CAT, Blanca Velásquez, who has received numerous death threats previously, received two text messages saying that she would be next.

The kidnapping follows years of systematic harassment and violent threats levied against the CAT for its work promoting and defending labor rights. In December 2010, unknown persons robbed the CAT’s offices and left written death threats scrawled on one of the walls. Since then, CAT members have been physically assaulted and have received death threats by email. The harassment is believed to be in response to the CAT’s work defending workers at transnational factories in Puebla, including Johnson Controls, Inc. Other labor and human rights groups in the Puebla region are also under threat.

In response to the violence, the Project of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ProDESC) and the CAT filed four complaints with various Mexican government authorities (PGR, FEADLE, PGJP) but there has been no substantive advance to date.

ProDESC and the CAT, with extensive national and international support, last year requested that the National Commission of Human Rights and the Puebla State Commission of Human Rights grant immediate precautionary measures to protect the CAT members in their work. While these measures were granted and implemented in 2011, the Puebla State Commission suspended the measures in April 2012 without any advance in the investigations of these threats and without conducting a risk analysis that would have justified the decision. The attack on Mr. Morales took place one month later.

ACT NOW!  [Action Alert Updated June 7]  Contact Mexican officials and demand that they guarantee the security of José Enrique Morales Montaño and the other members of the CAT, and that the relevant authorities investigate and sanction those responsible for this attack and the continued threats, as required by the Declaration Regarding Human Rights Defenders.  Note: Your letter will be sent in Spanish; English version is available here.

Johnson Controls Shuts Union Plant

The CAT has been very active in supporting workers at two Johnson Controls plants in the area, where workers and the Mineworkers won an independent union and a collective bargaining agreement in 2011 at the Interiors/Resurrection plant.  In a surprise move, Johnson Controls shut the plant down earlier this year.  The company claims the plant was losing money but worker rights advocates are skeptical about the true motivation given that it is the only one of Johnson Controls many plants in Mexico to be shut down.  The Mineworkers and worker rights supporters have urged Johnson Controls to open its books to support their contention that the plant was losing money.