Mexican students arrested, jailed for planting trees

Jan 9, 2023, 10:30 PM | Updated: Jan 10, 2023, 7:33 pm

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Students and civic groups in Mexico have expressed outrage over the arrest and jailing of three students who tried to plant trees on formerly government-owned land that was sold to a private developer.

The three were jailed this week in the western city of Guadalajara on charges of illegal land seizure and carrying weapons. The weapons charge apparently refers to the picks and shovels they used to dig holes for the trees at the site during a weeks-long protest in 2021.

The students and local residents want a park on the large tract of land, not the high-rise luxury apartment building planned by developers.

Many in Guadalajara were angered by the harshness of the charges against Iván Cisneros, Javier Armenta and José Rojas.

“The excessive abuse of power against three young people who held a peaceful protest … has reached a dangerous level that shows a lack of limits, and principles,” wrote Cesar Barba, the director of higher education at the University of Guadalajara. “Anyone who seeks justice is at risk of being put in jail.”

The topic is touchy because the large plot in question used to be owned by the city and had been earmarked for a public park. But in a murky transaction in 2008, it was ceded to developers in exchange for public works that local media reported were never completed.

Mexico’s cash-strapped municipal governments sometimes sign off on such land-for-building deals, but they are seldom transparent. And real estate developers can wield outsized influence and act unchecked in Mexico.

Calls and messages to the developers’ offices for comment went unanswered.

But the focus quickly shifted to Enrique Alfaro, the governor of Jalisco state, where Guadalajara is located, given the prosecutors’ zeal.

Late Monday, Alfaro posted a statement saying the charges were justified, but that he would try to get the students out on a form of bail pending trial.

“Nobody has been arrested for protesting,” Alfaro said, noting “the land that these young people say is a park, is not a park, it is private property.”

The civic group Hagamos Jalisco said in a statement that the 2021 protest was peaceful.

“The demonstration involved reforesting the area, passing out information to neighbors, and camping out in the area,” the group said. “Later, they were kicked out with excessive force and violence.”

Keeping the students jailed until their court dates later this week “is a disproportionate measure, based on the lie that they had weapons,” the group said.

Late Tuesday, Ricardo Villanueva, the rector of the University, wrote on his social media pages that the three had been released pending trial, apparently on a form of personal recognizance.

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