In February and March 2017, a new theater in Tucson, the Digna Theater, produced Digna. The company’s first production, it was directed by Barclay Goldsmith and featured Alba Jaramillo as Digna. Every one of the eight performances was sold out. Learn more about the Digna Theater here, and read an article about the theater here.
The Digna Theater pairs an action with the plays it produces. In the case of Digna, it was a community project decorating and displaying chairs dedicated to missing students of Ayotzinapa, Mexico. For a video of the Empty Chairs Project honoring the forty-three disappeared students of Ayotzinapa, go here.
Digna Ochoa was one of Mexico’s most prominent human rights defenders. Her case, still not satisfactorily resolved, is emblematic. The rallying cry of those demanding justice in the 2014 disappearance of 43 university students–a case that has called the world’s attention to Mexico–is “Fue el Estado”; “It was the government.”
In Digna’s murder, too, the evidence points to the state.
But her murder is emblematic of more than Mexico’s corrupt justice system and brutal security forces. Throughout Latin America and indeed the world, men and women involved in the defense of the environment are increasingly targeted for attack. More than three environmental activists a week are assassinated–twice the number recorded a decade ago. The words of Berta Caceres, an environmental defender recently murdered in Honduras, could have been uttered by Digna herself: “I want to live and enjoy my life but I can’t do it because I feel the responsibility that this is a collective process and collective responsibility. To leave would be totally uprooting myself.”
Senator Patrick Leahy, in 2001, said Digna’s murder focused attention on the “festering problem” of abuses by the army and the police–“secretive, corrupt, and brutal institutions.” Fifteen years and billions of US taxpayer dollars to train and equip the army and police have improved nothing in that respect. In fact, a new report by the Open Society Justice Initiative found that the government’s systematic torture and mass executions amount to crimes against humanity and called for Mexico to accept an international investigative commission to help prosecute crimes against humanity and cases of high-level, entrenched corruption. Mexico declined.
The terror the drug war has unleashed–which includes more than 100,000 dead and more than 26,000 disappeared in the last ten years–benefits certain sectors of US and Mexican society, argues Laura Carlsen, of the Center for International Policy. The security strategy employed in the name of the the drug war, formulated in and backed by the United States, “blocks avenues for development of civil society institutions, criminalizes opposition, justifies repression, and curtails civil liberties.” This repression plays an essential role in maintaining the unjust, exploitative provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). President Obama, in 2008, argued that NAFTA was a mistake because it lacked adequate labor and environmental standards. He pledged to amend it, renegotiate it. He never followed through on that promise. The result: Lands belonging to Mexico’s indigenous have been continually exploited for oil, gold, silver, hydroelectric dams, and other large-scale projects. The multinational corporations extracting the resources profit, giving a good cut to the Mexican government. Indigenous and campesino leaders protest, as the environment and the land they hold sacred is destroyed, and they are systematically silenced, either through false prosecutions that land them in jail; threats; or a well-aimed bullet. In Mexico, nearly four environmental defenders each year are murdered.
Digna defended environmental leaders in the state of Guerrero. Their forest was being trucked away by a company headquartered in Boise. The army, under the guise of fighting narco-traffickers, patrolled the impoverished community and kept tabs on the leaders. Community leaders were falsely accused by the army, arrested, and tortured into signing confessions. Digna accused the army of torture.
In 2001 she was gunned down in her office in broad daylight.
Digna allows her a voice, a stage on which to tell her story. She returns from beyond the grave, compelled by the worsening human rights crisis in Mexico, to speak about life, her choices, and Mexico today.
Digna has been developed with the support of Arena Stage’s Playwrights’ Arena, an initiative of the American Voices New Play Institute.