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Hope and Strength in the Face of Violence, Grief, and Despair

By Claudia Ana Rodriguez, WFP Mexico

This past weekend, my fellow team member Carlin Christy, and I went to Cuernavaca, a small city in the Mexican state of Morelos. Known by many tourists as the place of the eternal spring, it is also the birth place of the Movimiento por la Paz con Justicia y Dignidad (Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity).

Check out a slideshow from Claudia and Carlin’s trip:

Just a little over a year ago, Juan Francisco Sicilia Ortega, son of Javier Sicilia, a well known poet and author in Mexico, was killed by drug traffickers along with six other people, Julio Cesar Romero Jaime, Luis Antonio Romero Jaime, Jaime Gabriel Alejos Cadena, Jesus Chavez Vazquez, Alvaro Jaime Avelar, and Maria del Socorro Estrada Hernandez.

Refusing to let his son turn into another statistic among the over 60,000 deaths in Mexico as a result of the U.S. backed militarized strategy to fight the drug cartels, Javier Sicilia called for a movement to give victims of violence and their families a chance to share their stories, and demand an end to the war on drugs in Mexico.

As covered by the Mexico Team last year, several marches and caravans were led throughout the country, raising awareness in Mexico and abroad about the realities of the consequences of the war against organized crime (see here, here, here and here). Many similar demonstrations happened across the world in solidarity with the marches that occurred last year.

From April 20-22, people who have participated in the movement, including victims, victim’s families, civil society organizations, and international organizations, gathered for a strategizing meeting in Cuernavaca. Nineteen different Mexican states were represented, as well as a handful of U.S. organizations, including Witness for Peace.

The agenda for the weekend gave people a chance to share their stories and talk about the current situation and realities found in different states across the country. During the gathering, the movement’s members discussed and debated the identity, organization, goals and strategy, for the movement, in both the short term and long term.

Below is a brief summary of the testimonies, both written and oral, that were shared at the gathering concerning the current national and local contexts:

Analysis of the Current Situation While every state has their local context and situation, there were similarities between what was happening in the different states and analysis of the larger national context. Some important points to highlight include:

State level Analysis:

  1. Closing of both private and public schools due to insecurity

  2. Femicides, suicides, orphans, and forced displacement

  3. Increasing human rights violations by police forces and/or military

  4. Increased level of homicides related to organized crime (2 murders a day in the state of Morelos; 500 people killed in Nuevo Leon so far this year)

  5. Increased kidnappings and disappearances (2,270 in Jalisco through June of 2011)

  6. Murder and persecutions of activists and journalists

  7. Increased number of visible and invisible victims, due to aforementioned increases in homicides, armed robberies, kidnappings, extortions, displacement

  8. High indexes of impunity (in San Luis Potosi, 93.47% in 2010)

  9. Criminalization and threats against victims of crime and their families

  10. Corruption and criminal control over police forces

  11. Wide spread fear of reporting crime to authorities

  12. Negligence, inefficiency, and disinterest by part of the state attorney generals

  13. High unemployment and insufficient salaries

  14. Rising extortions by cartels on local businesses and street vendors, and many small and medium businesses closing as a result

  15. Territorial disputes

  16. Human rights violations including right to water, education, freedom, food security

  17. Parts of the cities are known as residences of cartels: areas where they launder money, a high concentration of their businesses and properties

  18. Destruction of social fabric

National level Analysis:

  1. Many different wars going on at the same time such as war against hunger and war against unemployment

  2. Majority of the population living in fear and uncertainty

  3. Structural violence of the capitalist system

  4. Kidnappings, forced disappearances, femicides, torture

  5. Violence directed towards vulnerable groups: indigenous women, poor, children

  6. Criminalization of social protest and movements

  7. Lack of strategy and coordination between authorities at the municipal, state, and federal levels

  8. The war as part of an international agreement with the U.S.

Some personal accounts discussed include:

  1. Normalization of violence in Mexico City and an increased presence of polices forces and armed forces in the metro, dressed and armed as if part of the military

  2. Street vendors and business owners extorted at high rates in the State of Mexico

  3. In the State of Mexico, drug use is also widespread among youth, many stores are well known as fronts for the sale and consumption of drugs and police do nothing about it

  4. Increased violence due to turf battles in the state of Durango. Schools will be closed due to rumors, for example, during an intense stage of battle between cartels, it was rumored that one cartel threaten to kill 30 students at every school of if the other cartel refused to secede territory

  5. Also in the state of Durango, many people are forced into joining ranks with cartels because the cartel threatens to kill members of their family if they do not join. People from all levels of society impacted, does not matter socio-economic status or education level

  6. One young man from Acapulco, Guerrero noted the increased military presence and also unemployment in the tourism industry. His own father, who used to work in a hotel, was unemployed. 144 people were killed in Acapulco in March of 2012

  7. One woman from Xalapa, Veracruz, noted the increased military and army on the streets, and shootouts are coming occurrences. Women are being targeted and dying at higher rates; the majority of the homicide victims at the morgue are women

Despite the grief felt by victims who have lost parents, children, friends, the despair of those who are looking for disappeared loved ones, the daily struggles of those displaced by violence, and the anger and fear felt by many others because of the daily realities they live in, there was an incredible feeling of strength and empowerment felt throughout the weekend.

Their voices are being heard. There was also a great sense of hope and the strong conviction that the reality Mexico is living in today is not the only option. And the justice they demand, not that they ask for but they demand, is their right and they refuse to let impunity reign. I felt inspired by the weekend’s events . I am grateful for the stories people shared with me, and recommitted to advocate for change in my own government’s policies helping to fuel the situation in Mexico today.

It is important to remember that the increased insecurity and violence started five years ago, when Mexican President Felipe Calderon began a militarized campaign against drug cartels in his country. Soon after, the United States began sending military aid in the form of equipment and training to support the Mexican government’s militarized strategy, through the Merida Initiative. Over five years later, the situation continues to deteriorate and the impacts are felt all across Mexico by all levels of society. Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to send aid via the Merida Initiative, not make any significant domestic policy changes to curb the demand of drugs or arms trafficking to Mexico from U.S. gun shops.

This fall, the Moviemiento por la Paz con Justicia y Dignidad will make their first international caravan, coming to the United States. As stated in an open letter by Movimiento founder, Javier Sicilia:

This initiative seeks to promote dialogue with American civil society and its government regarding the following themes: the need to stop gun trafficking; the need to debate alternatives to drug prohibition; the need for better tools to combat money laundering; and the need to promote bilateral cooperation in human rights and human security in two priority areas: promotion of civil society and safety, as well as protection and safety for migrants.

This caravan which will begin on August 12 at the Tijuana and San Diego border is also part of a larger initiative of the movement to bring more international awareness to their work, the realities in Mexico, and to build international solidarity.

Keep checking back to the blog to see and hear the interviews we did in Cuernavaca, view more photos, and find out more about the U.S. Caravan to learn how you can stand in solidarity with Mexico.


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