May 17, 2012
The Worker Support Centre (Centro de Apoyo al Trabajador, CAT), a Mexican NGO that defends the rights of workers in the state of Puebla, has been subjected to harassment, assaults and death threats since 2008. MSN has worked closely with the CAT for a number of years on cases in which workers have been denied their legal right to organize democratic unions and bargain collectively with their employers.
In 2010, unknown persons robbed the CAT's office in Puebla, leaving threats written prominently on the walls of the office and stealing their computers. Since then, CAT members have been physically assaulted and have received death threats by e-mail.
In response to these threats, MSN and other international and Mexican labour and human rights groups requested that the National Commission of Human Rights and the Puebla State Commission of Human Rights grant precautionary measures immediately to protect the CAT members in their work. Both Commissions granted these measures and the State Commission implemented them. However, after only 12 months, and without any advance in the investigations of these threats, the Puebla State Commission suspended the measures unilaterally and without making the required risk analysis that justified the decision. Furthermore, on March 21, 2012, the Puebla State Commission of Human Rights roundly denied a request to reveal its risk analysis. By doing so, the Puebla State Commission left the human rights defenders of the CAT in a vulnerable situation.
The CAT has also been the subject of a smear campaign by governmental and business spokespeople. On July 27, 2011, the president of the National Manufacturers' Association (Canacintra), Luis Espinosa Rueda, publicly labeled the CAT and its leader, Blanca Velázquez, as a "threat to Puebla." He stated, "This group only seeks to de-stabilize businesses, particularly those with headquarters in the United States."
On April 12, 2012, the Puebla state leader of Mexico's largest "official" union, the Mexican Confederation of Workers (CTM), and President of the Labour and Social Welfare Committee of the Mexican House of Deputies, Dip. Leobardo Soto Martínez, publicly stated that, "we will not allow [the CAT] to meddle in the union and business life of the state with the consequences that it causes." Soto Martínez went on to threaten to "defend businesses where we have collective bargaining agreements no matter what the cost, even if there is violence. We will not lose contracts with businesses in Puebla nor in other parts of the country." In other words, a federal elected official in charge of the Congressional Labour Committee publicly condoned violence against the CAT only one month before the recent attacks.
This public threat against the CAT comes after US auto parts manufacturer Johnson Controls closed a factory in Puebla to rid itself of an independent union that had been democratically chosen by the workers. The CAT had been providing advice and support to those workers.