Our Witness for Peace delegation, Resisting Economic and State Repression, was in Mexico from April 3 to 13, 2018. We were a small but mighty delegation, from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Oregon, and we spent four days each in Oaxaca and Mexico City. We invite you to join our delegation through our stories, poems and photos.
Most of us had visited Mexico over the years as tourists and also sometimes as justice activists, but for all of us this was our first WfP delegation to Mexico. Lately we have seen many articles and news reports about migrants crossing the U.S.- Mexican border. We wanted to dig into the root causes and the realities of migration. For us, Mexico has become so much more than a tourist destination; we learned how U.S. policies and corporate practices are embedded into the root causes of migration.
This delegation lifted the veil of superficial news: we met with community organizers, human rights activists and policy experts. We gained a deeper understanding of NAFTA, the War on Drugs in Latin America and the U.S, and the militarization that comes with that “war.” We learned how there is a cyclical intersection between those three forces that is closely tied to the stream of migrants who are fleeing from poverty, violence, and repression.
While in the city of Oaxaca we visited COMI, one of the 50 migrant shelters in Mexico, supported by the Catholic church and local volunteers. The volunteer staff organized a very powerful meeting that left us deeply moved and in awe of the migrants’ integrity and courage. They told us that their primary reasons for migrating were to find work that would support their families, to reunite with family in the U.S., and to escape physical, economic and political violence in their home countries. It was clear that they were grieving to leave behind their small children and their homes. They were unsure if and how they would get across the US border, and yet they were on their way, on foot, heading northward.
The U.S. has spent millions of U.S. tax dollars to close the Mexico southern border and to militarize the Mexican police who apprehend and detain the migrants as they pass through Mexico. Their journey north is mostly on foot, arduous, and constantly threatened with gang and police violence.
My Name is Ismael
My name is Ismael, but I’m called a migrant
because I have left my home in Honduras,
and I’m heading for the US border.
Desperation and hope are driving me forward.
My journey actually began 12 years ago
when my country, along with five other nations
were pressured by the U.S. government
to sign the Free Trade Agreement called CAFTA.
That’s when our coffee bushes and livestock
could no longer provide for our three-generation family.
We couldn’t compete with the industrialized plantations,
and that’s when I lost my self-respect and autonomy.
Then came the GMO seeds, the dams,
the mines, and the mega- projects.
The free flow of goods and capital became
more important than the dignity of honest work.
My family’s efforts weren’t enough to stop
the unrelenting profit–over-people capitalistic machine.
And we live in fear of the military, protectors of the corporations.
The patriarchal principles of violence and power
are driven by insatiable greed, backed by repression
and are destroying our people, culture and biodiversity.
My only choice is to leave my beloved family,
my two little daughters, our ancestral home and land.
I must find a way to support my family from afar.
I’m heading north with sadness, grief, faith in God,
and a tenuous hope for the survival of my family.
by Lyn Clarke Pegg
We met with several groups and individual academics who told us about the serious problems caused by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) signed by Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. in 1994. In order for the U.S. to agree to the terms of NAFTA, Mexico was pressured to change its laws that previously protected land owned communally by rural and indigenous groups, so that Mexican citizens could sell their land individually. This led to the loss of much land to multinationals, big agriculture (Mexican and U.S.), and (primarily Canadian) mining companies.
Over three million campesinos and indigenous people have become landless and displaced, and many joined the migrant stream to the U.S.
The Mexican government, military, and police have often entered these conflicts on the side of the corporations and frequently have been involved in violence and murders, forced disappearances, and human rights abuses against those who resist. Mexico has been rapidly militarized since NAFTA was signed in 1994 and since the U.S passed the Merida Initiative in 2007, which has appropriated 2.5 billion dollars in military aid, arms, and training for the Mexican military and police. Also, since it is difficult to buy a gun legally in Mexico, there is an enormous trade of guns, bought at gun shows in the U.S., then crossing the border hidden in tractor trailers, and sold illegally in Mexico.
Francisco Cerezo said, “Capitalism generates the violation of human rights.” He referenced the Merida Initiative ( military aid to fund its misguided drug war), mining concessions that displace campesinos, and militarism that protects corporations and not people.
With support provided by NAFTA, the Mexican government has given concessions on 25% of its national land to U.S. and Canadian companies, seeking to profit from mining, hydroelectric projects, wind farms, and tourist megaprojects. This has led to conflicts over land with small communities who have fought back against land, water and air pollution, loss of water resources, and displacement from ancestral lands.
“We are the Cruz family in defense of Mother Earth and territory”
Román and Yasmín Cruz, a family initiative created to disseminate information not shared in corporate media.
The War on Drugs
These problems are significantly compounded by the War on Drugs that has been pushed by the U.S. government in an ostensible effort to stop the flow of drugs from Latin American to the United States. We met with academics, human rights groups, a youth group, and land defenders, who all agreed that the drug war has been a complete failure: it has not stopped illegal drug trade. Instead the drug war fragmented 7-9 cartels into scores of smaller groups that fight over drug turf; thus their illegal activities have expanded to include human trafficking, control of the movement of migrants across the border, and extortion of the local population. Many governmental officials, military, and police are involved with the cartels, and ex-soldiers are sometime involved in paramilitary groups that do the dirty work of the cartels and some multinational corporations.
Laura Carlsen, a transnational academic and activist who has lived in Mexico City for many years, told us that the drug war is responsible for 160,000 homicides, 30,000 forced disappearances, and 250,000 displaced people. Contrary to the claims of the Mexican government, the vast majority of these victims are not tied to the cartels but rather are the poor, youth,women, human rights and land defenders, migrants, and journalists. Laura said there is evidence that the government or military are implicated in at least 50% of violence against journalists. There is also evidence of involvement of the government and the Mexican military in other cases of civilian murders and disappearances. Laura also told us that the impunity rate of homicides is 97% with most of the crimes not even being investigated.
We learned that NAFTA did not save U.S. jobs and it did not build prosperity for most Mexicans. . It privatized their land and broke up their communities in order to further Canadian and U.S. mining and megaprojects. It decimated small farmers and continues to drive migration.
U.S. policies in Latin America since the early 1900s have helped to create the conditions that the people of Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala are fleeing. The people of these countries do not want to leave their families or land, but it is what they are driven to do to survive and help support their families.
Migration and immigration are in the news and migrants are being purposefully dehumanized. Please remember they are human beings. They are our brothers and sisters.
On the final day of our delegation we focused on our eight days of meetings with our partners, who gave us new perspectives and learnings about the intersectionality of free trade, drug wars, militarization and migration. Then we discussed and made plans on how we can activate our partners’ requests for social, economic and political intervention.
Our goals include informing our Witness for Peace community and the U.S. public about the U.S. and corporate policies and practices that are affecting the lives of people living south of the U.S. border. We have returned to our families and communities in MN, WI, MI and OR and our work begins!
Contributors to this article are Ken Crouse, Kenneth Gilchrist, Jennifer Jones and Lyn Clark Pegg, members of the Witness for Peace delegation to Mexico.