Global campaign calls for release of Mayan woman detained for 7 years without trial
An international campaign has launched this week demanding the release of Juana Alonzo Santizo, a Maya-Chuj migrant from Guatemala who has been detained in Mexico since 2014 while attempting to reach the US. After being imprisoned for seven years without trial, Santizo finally has her hearing this week.
The International Mayan League, an organisation led by Mayan women based in Washington DC, and the Promotores de la Liberación Migrante (Promoters for the Liberation of the Migrant, also known as PLM ) have joined forces for a week of global action demanding freedom for Juana.
“Juanita’s case is emblematic in that it clearly demonstrates Indigenous language exclusion, erasure of Indigenity, and racism as directly tied to her arbitrary detention,” the Mayan League said in a statement. “We again urge governments, civil society organisations and others supporting Indigenous peoples in migration to recognise the importance of respecting our language rights.”
Santizo was arrested in 2014 in Reynosa, a Mexican city on the border with Texas, during a raid on a safe house – a location used by criminals to hide stolen goods or kidnapped people – by Mexican security forces. She was found along with two other migrant women, all of whom had been subjected to forced labour, she told the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2018.
At the time of her arrest, Juana could only speak Chuj, her maternal language. She was interrogated without legal representation or an interpreter to help her understand the proceedings in Spanish, and said she couldn’t understand the charges against her. Accused of human trafficking, she felt pressured to sign a self-incriminatory statement.
The UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the Human Rights Commission looked into her case in September last year, and recognised that “the detention of Juana Alonzo Santizo is arbitrary.” They asked the Mexican government to “immediately release Ms. Alonzo Santizo and grant her the effective right to obtain compensation and other types of reparations.”
The PLM, an organisation offering support and free interpretation services to Mayan migrants in detention centres in the US, wrote an open letter in January demanding Juana’s release, that was signed by more than 5,000 people and dozens of international organisations. The letter was delivered to Mexican embassies in Guatemala City, Washington DC, Los Angeles and to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs in Mexico City.
While they are waiting for a response, the PML and the Mayan League are calling for allies to publish a photo or video on social media during Santizo’s hearings this week, with a sign that says #LibertadParaJuanita, or #FreedomForJuana. Meanwhile Juana’s friends and family have stated that if she is not released they will march on March 8 to demand justice.