Rape accusation riles Mexican Indian-ruled town

By MARK STEVENSON, The Associated Press
6:48 p.m. April 22, 2009

MEXICO CITY — An accusation that a woman was gang-raped by traditional authorities has rattled a Mexican town still ruled by ancient Indian customs.

The dispute involves volunteer community police known as "rondas" in the town of Ocotepec. The victim – whose name has not been released – claimed she was raped by the men at the community's unofficial jail on April 10.

Ocotepec is a centuries-old Nahuatl Indian village that has been incorporated into the resort city of Cuernavaca, just south of Mexico City.
Its traditional authorities are allowed to act on some matters, but have no legal status.

Defending Indian customs – including consensus decision making and community work details – has been an important struggle for the town. Residents say they won't defend any rapists in their midst, but hope the case won't be used to crush their traditional system.

But Carlos Felix Gaxiola, a spokesman for the state Attorney General's Office, said the case highlights the need to regulate the "usage and customs" system of traditionally elected, volunteer authorities.
Such authorities have legal recognition in other parts of the country.

Medical examinations showed the victim, about 20, had been raped and investigators are trying to determine how many men were involved, Felix Gaxiola said Wednesday.

"They do community protection work, but they are not police, they are not trained or certified. ... They operate outside of the regulatory framework," said Felix Gaxiola.

The traditional cops say they picked the woman up off the streets, unconscious and apparently drunk, after a resident reported her presence and said she appeared to have been sexually assaulted. Those cops have not been named or arrested.

But the woman denied that she had been sexually assaulted before the traditional authorities picked her up. She told investigators she was conscious and that the police took her to the informal jail for no reason.
She said she was raped at the jail and hospitalized for three days because of the injuries she sustained.

Marcial Belmonte, a former town leader, said he supports the investigation into the case, but worries it might be used to try to eliminate the traditional system.

"We won't cover up for anybody. The whole town is demanding an investigation," Belmonte said. "This has no place in the customs and usage system ... because respect for women is a central point."
The government of the state of Morelos, where Cuernavaca is located, has offered to train the traditional police.

Usage-and-customs systems have been criticized on human rights grounds before. In 2007, a female candidate for a local government post in Oaxaca filed a complaint after traditional authorities told her she couldn't run because she is a woman

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