By Peter Gellert
MEXICO CITY - While the government attempts to obtain funding in North America and Europe for AIDS education and prevention campaigns, activist organisations here have denounced the government for using repression against them.
The latest incident occurred on April 3, when six volunteers from the gay liberation group Voz Humana (which belongs to the Mexicans Against AIDS Confederation, a coordinating body for non-governmental organisations) were apprehended by police linked to the dreaded Ministry of the Interior.
The six were distributing leaflets with condoms attached. The police were not in uniform and refused to identify themselves - a common practice which prevents victims from identifying or bringing charges against police officers.
The six activists were first accused of "promoting prostitution and homosexuality" for the mere act of distributing condoms. Additional charges, added later, included "creating a public scandal and obstructing sidewalk movement", "sale of condoms" and "adopting attitudes contrary to accepted customs".
Voz Humana argued that the six were trained anti-AIDS activists arrested while carrying out anti-AIDS tasks, and that the charges had nothing to do with what had actually taken place.
The response of the authorities was that a sentence had already been pronounced, although the activists were denied the right to present a defence or even to make any statements on their own behalf. To avoid a 36-hour jail sentence, Voz Humana decided to pay the 120,000 peso fine (more than a week's wages).
Voz Humana spokesperson Marco Antonio Osornio told Green Left, "Unfortunately, this is not the first time that the police have thwarted our activities.
"When we go to gay bars and discotheques to distribute condoms and pamphlets concerning AIDS prevention, the owners refuse to let us in, since they say the police inspectors use the presence of condoms to extort bribes from the owners, threatening to close the businesses for being 'centres of prostitution'."
According to Osornio, the problem has become generalised. "Despite the government's hypocritical posture abroad, it is increasingly common that, for the sole reason that someone has a condom in their pocket, the police accuse them of being homosexuals or prostitutes and demand bribes."
Other Voz Humana activists who spoke to Green Left indicated that the result of this police behaviour is that many people refuse to accept condoms or even literature for fear of being blackmailed by police. The risk of AIDS infection is thus increased.
While the inefficiency and corruption of the Mexican judicial effective as a means of curbing police abuse, Voz Humana and Mexicans Against AIDS are documenting government and police repression.
Despite the fact that AIDS and homosexuality are still considered taboo subjects by much of the press, many newspapers in the capital reported sympathetically on the April 3 incident.