Three days ago, four masked men kidnapped human rights defender José Enrique Morales Montaño, of the Center of Support for Workers (CAT) in Puebla, Mexico. For 16 hours, his captors physically tortured Morales, kept a gun pressed to his head for extended periods, and threatened to kill him and the other CAT members. Then they took his cell phone and backpack and left him on an abandoned highway to make his way home.
At the moment of his kidnapping, Morales was headed to the local labor board in the city of Puebla to accompany a group of textile workers who were fighting a case against a factory in the region. CAT, a longtime Solidarity Center partner, has led multiple successful worker organizing drives at auto parts, maquila, and textile factories in Mexico. Formed in 2001, CAT has worked closely with the United Steelworkers and Los Mineros, the mine workers union of Mexico. Many of CAT’s organizing initiatives have sought to oust protection unions and replace them with democratic, independent organizations. CAT’s founder and current director, Blanca Velázquez Díaz, is a former Solidarity Center local program consultant in Mexico. Two hours after Morales was left by the roadside, she received a text from his cell phone. “You will die, bitch,” it said.
As a non-governmental organization whose mission is to promote the exercise and defense of worker rights, CAT has raised awareness of the precarious conditions that workers in Puebla face every day, but it has also drawn the ire of multinational companies. Morales’s kidnapping is only the latest in a series of systematic attacks. In 2010, CAT’s offices were burglarized and staff was threatened via email and threats painted on the office walls. After intense advocacy efforts, CAT staff received protection from the state of Puebla, but a year later it was removed without explanation or investigation into the threats. Last year, the president of the National Chamber of Industry of the Transformation (Canacintra) publicly called CAT “a threat to Puebla.” In April 2012, the head of the Congressional Labor Committee of Mexico’s House of Deputies pledged to “defend businesses where we have collective bargaining agreements no matter what the cost, even if there is violence.”