Okupa Cuba Casa Refugio: The Shaheen Bagh of Mexico

Pranav Jeevan P

pranav This article is about an occupation protest that happened in Mexico last year which didn’t get the attention it deserves in media. 2020 witnessed a lot of occupation protests from Shaheen Bagh to Farmers occupation of Delhi borders. Just like those in Shaheen Bagh, this occupation protest in Mexico was by led by women. It started with the spontaneous takeover of the Office of Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) in response to rising femicides in Mexico.

11 women are killed in the Mexico every day. Femicide rates have increased in Mexico each year for over a decade, their characteristics consistent and gruesome with many cases where perpetrators have mutilated and abused their victims’ bodies, then disposed of them on roadsides or in fields. Over 66 percent of Mexican women report having experienced some type of sexual violence. Victims find themselves caught in endless bureaucracy where they are denied justice for years and 98% of all reported crimes go unresolved.

The COVID-19 pandemic saw a 71% increase in reports of domestic violence and has created further difficulties for women seeking justice through the legal system. The Human Rights Commission was supposedly there to protect women, but their frustration over its failed justice system resulted in the women realizing that the government isn’t going to help them and they decided to take matters in their own hands which led to the unprecedented event in world history where women occupied a government building1.

On 2nd September, 2020 two women refused to leave the office building in protest over the lack of progress in their respective cases, a murder and sexual assault. They requested local activists for support which was responded with dozens of feminist collectives arriving outside the building led by an anarcho-feminists wearing black balaclavas who call themselves Bloque Negro (Black Block). They occupied the pavement outside the building, wrote up a list of demands and with support from the feminist organization Ni Una Menos (Not One Less) they took over the building on September 4th. They forced into building and asked the remaining workers and guards to leave1.

More and more women across various collectives joined putting their bodies in line with the women inside. As the word spread, supporters began bringing bags of donated clothes, food, diapers and toiletries, which the women passed out to local families in need. They painted a mural that declared: “Ni perdonamos, ni olvidamos (we neither forgive nor forget).” Bright murals covered the walls, offices became bedrooms and the staff kitchen became communal cafeteria. Women from all over Mexico City showed up to read poetry, perform music and write the names of their abusers on the walls. They renamed the building as Okupa Cuba Casa Refugio (Cuba Occupation-Shelter House) – or  Okupa for short1.

They have demanded that these women not to be prosecuted for the protest; for police officers to receive gender sensitivity training; for the president to present a report on actions to decrease gender-based violence; and for the state to guarantee a quick resolution of femicide and disappearance cases1.

The occupation was the culmination of year long mobilizations against gender violence in Mexico City. The young women of the Bloque Negro joined the movement from personal experience of violence. Others were radicalized by the police violence they experienced during protests. Every day, they wake up to alerts in news and social media about disappearances, rape, abuse and murder. Black Block protestors protesting through direct-action techniques have long been a ubiquitous presence at political demonstrations in Mexico City. Their appearance was inspired by Zapatistas, anarchists who wore black balaclavas to declare a war on the Mexican state in 1994 and take over not a building but a territory. Now, large groups of women started adopting these strategies. After police officers sexually assaulted a young woman, activists took to the street, broke bus station windows, set a police station on fire, and graffitied feminist slogans on the iconic Angel of Independence monument. They expected police retaliation and arrests, which led them to coin the phrase fuimos todas (it was all of us)”, “The window we broke, the fire, wasn’t done by one person” so that police can’t target them individually1.

The women had declared the Okupa a shelter for survivors of gender-based violence. The building became a safe haven for many, including relatives of victims of forced disappearance, Indigenous women forcibly displaced from their homes by organized crime and survivors of domestic violence. Hundreds of victims have come to seek lodging and legal counsel. They gather to hear testimonies of fellow mothers of victims of femicide, rape and enforced disappearance. They have turned the building into a community. A committee was constituted for cooking each meal and everyone is responsible for washing their own dishes. The women take turns keeping guard at the doors, where they have arranged a line of Molotov cocktails for emergency use since the blocks around the Okupa have constant police presence. The occupiers have planned security protocols in case police attempt to violently evict them from the space1. The organizing amoung so many women is done through dialogues and discussions, thinking about each other and their actions and consequences. They are determined and not ready to accept anything less than justice. They are struggling, resisting and persisting to stay alive because, in Mexico staying alive is a challenge.

“Insist, Persist, Resist and Never give up”

They painted “We do not forgive or forget”, “Justice” and “duuuude, not the wall!!” — a reference to public outrage over a graffiti left in the wake of past feminist protests, an outrage much louder than that over violence against women. They painted over portraits of all-male historical figures which adorned with lipstick, eyeshadow, purple curls, “ACAB,” anarchist symbols, and flowers. They brought these paintings outside and displayed them whose images have gone viral. The groups are auctioning off the paintings to fund their shelter2.

The occupiers include old women, kids and pregnant women. Many are university students, who in between activities turn to online classes. Many were arrested in the frequent clashes with the police who used tear gas, and violence on these protestors. But, the women plan to keep occupation of the building even if the state agrees to their demands. Okupa has inspired similar protests across the country. When feminists took over the Human Rights Commission in a neighboring State, police violently evict them. The next day, the Bloque Negro returned shouting “If it’s not ours, it’s no one’s”. They broke the locks, smashed the windows and set fire to the building before marching away2.

Even though there are fundamental differences between the Shaheen Bagh and Okupa protests, both were led by women who were frustrated with their government. They wanted to send a message that they can take matters in their own hands and raise their issues themselves and are completely capable of self-organization through mutual aid and democratic decision making. Shaheen Bagh protest saw women come in large numbers to occupy protest site demanding the repeal of the discriminatory CAA, NRC and NPR. Both these protests saw the participation of women in a radical and unprecedented scale never witnessed around the world. These protests where women are reclaiming their rights and occupying public spaces simultaneously at two farthest points in the globe, gives us hope that a new dawn is approaching, where equality will not just be a privilege for the few, but the norm.



[1] M. Wattenbarger, "Inside Mexico’s feminist occupation," Aljazeera, 29 October 2020.

[2] Z. Mendelson, "Feminists Take Over Federal Building in Mexico City and Use Painting as a Weapon," Hyperallergic, 10 September 2020.


Pranav Jeevan P is currently a PhD candidate in Artificial Intelligence at IIT Bombay. He has earlier studied quantum computing in IIT Madras and Robotics at IIT Kanpur.


Other Related Articles

Menstrual Hygiene Management in Sarawasti, An Aspirational District of Uttar Pradesh
Saturday, 04 December 2021
   Shubhangi Rawat  Abstract Menstruation, a normal biological process in the female body, is often viewed as dirty and disgusting. Because of the negative perceptions and... Read More...
Two talented youngsters and their life of songs
Friday, 03 December 2021
  C K Premkumar [P S Banerjee and Mathayi Sunil bagged the Kerala government’s folklore awards this year. They are being introduced to the readers by their friend, through this article.] It... Read More...
Jayanti: The Roaring Story of Oppressed Unity and Transformation
Tuesday, 30 November 2021
   Vicky Nandgaye, Manoj Meshram Prelude: Central Theme and Cast of the Movie Recently a Marathi movie 'Jayanti' was released on the big screen in Maharashtra. Jayanti is a Marathi word... Read More...
Narratives of Dalit Cultural Politics in Telangana
Tuesday, 16 November 2021
   Bhangya Bhukya Vemula Yellaiah's Kakka which was published in Telugu, twenty years ago and now translated in English is a powerful narrative of dalit assertion in Telangana. It is the... Read More...
The myth of 'Departmental Politics'
Saturday, 13 November 2021
   Deepali Salve Ever since I got into university for higher education, one word that I have constantly heard is "politics". As I did not face casteism/exploitation till my graduation, I... Read More...

Recent Popular Articles

Govt. of India should send One Lakh SC ST youths abroad for Higher Education
Monday, 21 June 2021
  Anshul Kumar Men sitting on the pinnacle of the palace "So, I went one day to Linlithgow and said, concerning the expense of education, "If you will not get angry, I want to ask a question. I... Read More...
Rainbow casteism and racism in the queer community is alienating us
Monday, 28 June 2021
  Sophia I entered the Delhi queer movement in my early 20s, as a complete outsider in terms of language, origin, race, class, and caste identity. I wanted to bring change to the status quo and... Read More...
Are IITs safe for Dalit Students?
Tuesday, 15 June 2021
The Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle (APPSC), IIT Bombay Aniket Ambhore, a student of electrical engineering, had fallen to his death from the sixth floor of hostel 13 on September 4, 2014. An SC... Read More...
Rant against the ranters (aka Why I no longer talk to 'upper castes' about caste?)
Tuesday, 06 July 2021
Vivek Singh It boils my blood when you sneerMake faces and whisper 'reservation'. What exactly is your frustration, your critique, what is the devastationThat it brings in your life that you hate it... Read More...
Caste, and the failure of Indian Legal System
Thursday, 01 July 2021
Rachna Gautam In every civilized society, there is an indispensable need for law for the proper governance of society. People by virtue of being human are rational and move ahead in the direction... Read More...