The United Steelworkers has condemned the Jan. 24 arrest of Manny Armenta, one of its international representatives, by customs officials in the northern Mexican state of Sonora.
Armenta, a USW sub-district director in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was arrested while on his way to meet with attorneys for Los Mineros, the Mexican Mineworkers Union.
USW International Affairs Director, Ben Davis, told the Peoples World, Jan. 27, that the union has been supporting the Mexican mineworkers who have conducted a four-year strike against Grupo Mexico, owner of a copper mine at Cananea, Sonora.
The nightmare began for Artmenta at about 2 p.m. (MST) when a customs officer, accused him of driving a stolen car. Armenta, according to Davis, showed the officer documentation proving that his vehicle was legally leased by the union.
The officers ignored the documentation and proceeded to use dogs to search the vehicle.
When the search turned up nothing they demanded Armenta pay a fine of $15,000 on the spot. When he refused to pay the "fine" he was arrested and jailed overnight and released Jan. 25 only after posting a bond of $7,750.
Davis also said the police impounded the car and are still holding it. They returned Armenta's wallet minus the $700 in cash he was carrying.
Davis said it was clear the authorities are looking for ways to harass the union for the fund raising and political backing it gives to the Mexican miners.
He explained that Armenta's entire trip was well within the sections of Sonora that are regularly traveled by many Americans and clearly marked off on maps that indicate where drivers are exempt from regulations that require special registrations when they go further than 20 miles into Mexico.
He said that leaders of the Mexican mining industry are not happy about the solidarity and cooperation that has developed between miners there and their U.S. counterparts.
Earlier this month, on Jan. 17, Mexican mineworker leaders joined USW copper miners who work for Asarco, a copper producer near Tucson, Arizona, that is also owned by Grupo Mexico, the Mexican company.
The U.S. workers were holding a "sound-off" to which they had invited their Mexican counterparts. The contract with Asarco in Arizona expires in June.
"By arresting Manny, the Mexican government is trying to intimidate the USW copper miners from exercising our right to collective bargaining here at home and showing solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Mexico," said Leo Gerard. President of the USW.
"This outrageous treatment by Mexican federal authorities shows the extent of the government's corruption," Gerard said, adding, "We demand that these bogus charges be dropped with the immediate return of the union property along with what belongs to Manny."
Gerard said the speed with which Mexican officials arrested and jailed the U.S. labor leader was "ironic."
"The Mexican courts have issued 20 warrants for German Larrea, the owner of Grupo Mexico but the government has never been able to arrest him. Yet they can arrest Manny because he is in Mexico helping the mineworkers defend their rights."
The USW says it will file a formal complaint with the U.S. State Department.
On the day of Armenta's arrest U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Mexico in support of that country's law enforcement actions on illegal drug activity.
"I hope the U.S. State Department will put as much energy into seeking justice for Manny and for the rights of workers at Cananea as they have in praising the Mexican government," Gerard said.
Photo: Cell phone photo of Armenta in Sonora jail, taken by a union lawyer. www.usw.org