By Luciano A. Ramirez Guerra
Our delegation arrived in Mexico City and was greeted by a modern metropolitan environment that was a drastic change in scenery to our group from rural Nebraska. The mildly warm weather and overcast skies of the city were a gracious relief from the intense heatwave back home.
After a month of extensive preparation through the reading of academic literature and reflective discussion, our delegation already had a semblance of the state of violence in Mexico. To hear the accounts of numerous, journalists, activists, and writers and their own experiences placed a real and human edge to the conflict that can’t be witnessed through just reading.
On the way to meet one of our speakers at the UNAM we jumped into cramped metro cars, and saw firsthand the busy morning commute around the capital city. Vibrant and colorful murals spanned numerous buildings of the university. The campus was anything but monotone, and the murals, many of which were explicitly political, depicted a culture of deviant student activism. Impressive artworks and mosaics melded together historical iconography and academic symbolism.
Our speaker for that event, Antonio Cerezo, was unjustly imprisoned and tortured alongside his brother by the Mexican government. His organization, the Comité Cerezo, has monitored the widespread human rights violations since former President Calderón’s launching of the Mexican Drug War. Since then, militarization through U.S. policies such as the Mérida Initiative fueled a culture of paranoia. The war against narcotrafficking required vigilance against “the enemy within”- anyone was potentially a drug criminal. This war has ulterior motives. For the past twelve years, the Mexican security apparatus has been transformed into another appendage for the enforcement of U.S. policy goals- the extraction of Mexican mineral resources by North American companies, and the sealing of the southern border to thwart Central American migration. Antonio delivered this information in such a calm, matter-of-fact manner. It was nearly jarring. Many of the others who we’ve met have reached essentially the same conclusions- that the Drug War wasn’t designed to be just a war on drugs and the drug trade.
On a later day, we listened to the presentation of a journalist from the organization Periodistas de a Pie. She depicted the sheer carnage caused by the War on Drugs from the perspective of someone working in the media since the violence started. The journalist had co-workers and associates who were killed by drug criminals and corrupt government officials. While she was holding her infant child, she revealed to us that she too had received death threats over her work. I and the other guests in the room could only imagine how distraught and afraid we would have been if we were in her shoes. But the journalist still does her job despite risks that loom overhead. To this day, Mexico is the second most-dangerous country in the world for journalists.
Everyone in the delegation bonded closely and we continuously went adventuring around the capital. In Mexico City, the faces, sights, smells, and tastes of the colonial streets and modern boulevards left lasting impressions. The outdoor markets, the Baroque edifices and narrow avenues, and the scenic parks were truly marvelous to witness. To be certain, these were great times. Though happy memories of this trip seem incongruous and strange alongside the stories we’ve heard of drug-fueled violence, civilian deaths, state-committed crimes, widespread impunity, and the ballooning number of forced disappearances across the country.
The accounts that we’ve listened to throughout the week displayed a nation that is hurting, but whose populace shows great resilience. In the face of adversity and injustice, new heroes are constantly being made in Mexico. Though each of us on this trip have brought home our own conclusions and our own lessons to abide by, many of us have realized how much of a waste it is of our power and privilege to do nothing about the problems surrounding us. In our own ways, we can harness and utilize our own creative potential to mobilize and empower our communities to push for positive change. All of us are incredibly grateful for such a wonderful journey.
Luciano A. Ramirez Guerra was part of Witness for Peace’s July 2017 delegation in Mexico City: The Drug War and Social Control: Militarization, Migration, and Displacement