|Written by Jessica Davies|
|Tuesday, 14 September 2010 15:13|
| Members of the Mexican political parties PRI, PRD and PVEM (the green party) attacked 170 Zapatista supporters and expelled them from their homes in the Tzeltal community of San Marcos Avilés, in the municipality of Chilón, Chiapas, in retaliation for the construction of an autonomous school in the early morning hours of Sept. 9.|
The Zapatista Good Government Junta (JBG) based in Oventik, denounced the attack, which was led by Lorenzo Ruiz Gómez and Vicente Ruiz López, and said the attackers were armed with guns, machetes and sticks, and broke into two houses where they tried to sexually assault two women. So as not to respond with violence to these acts of severe provocation, the Zapatista men, women, children and old people left their homes and belongings and fled to the mountain "where they suffer hunger, cold, sleeplessness and fear."
Zapatistas from Pamalá, in the municipality of Sitalá, had previously informed the JBG that, at the end of August, a compa from their community, Manuel Vázquez, had been forcibly ordered by the authorities and leaders of the political parties in San Marcos and Pamalá to dismantle the autonomous school. The authorities told him that they were then going to attack other communities which had autonomous schools. The JBG stated that "the purpose of these attacks is to prevent the education of our children and to stop the progress of construction of our autonomy."
Manuel Vázquez was thrown into prison on the 21st August, where he was threatened, harassed and intimidated in an attempt to force him to abandon the project of autonomous education. When Pedro Cruz Gómez came from another nearby community to try to help Manuel Vázquez, he was also imprisoned. A knife was planted in his trousers in an attempt to accuse him of intention to murder. When the prisoners were freed, they were told to abandon the Zapatista organisation and to leave the lands they had bought ten years ago. Threats were made to cancel the land rights of fifteen families.
On the August 24 and 25 the aggressors seized 29 hectares of land with 5,850 coffee trees, 10 hectares of maize, along with beans, cattle, horses and three houses, and destroyed a banana plantation. On the 8th September, they took cattle, pulled down fences and fired shots into the air. They threatened to "take the land next, and to evict the men, kidnap the women and children, and burn the houses".
"The three levels of the bad government don't know how to stop the Zapatista struggle for national liberation, so they are trying to stop our autonomous education," stated the JBG. "However, we are going to continue with autonomous education throughout Zapatista territory; our sons and daughters will no longer attend the official schools where they will never be taught the truth about how we live as indigenous people, and how all the poor of Mexico live. We demand that our evicted companer@s be allowed to return home and be treated with respect."
The Network for Solidarity and Against Repression immediately issued a statement "This act of barbarity, designed to destroy the autonomous school, has led to the displacement of 170 people from the lands they have worked for ten years....If it were not for our Zapatista compas, there would be no schools in these indigenous communities.....Lies, deceit and repression are the way the state government constantly behaves....Zapatista education in the autonomous communities is an example of how another Mexico is possible, where with honest hard work a level of community development can be achieved which those from above neither understand nor accept. To fight power and its money with learning and knowledge is the best way to build the foundations of a new Mexico."
On Monday 13th September, Other Campaign adherents set up roadblocks in Chiapas as a protest against "the threats, robberies, evictions and attacks being made against Zapatista communities by the government, ..... paramilitaries, political parties, local leaders and businessmen."
A march took place in Tonalá, in the coastal zone, to demand that the Zapatista supporters from San Marcos Avilés be allowed to return to their lands, and to insist that "their way of life and process of autonomy, with their schools and clinics, must be respected." They also demanded "the expulsion of paramilitary groups from Chiapas and the punishment of the material and intellectual authors of the attacks on the communities."
Another roadblock was set up near Mitziton, where, along with the departure of the paramilitaries, the participants also called for "the cancellation of all the projects, such as the highway from San Cristóbal to Palenque, and the ecotourism park in Bachajón, which cause conflict in the indigenous communities, and threaten the environment and the traditional ways of living of the communities."
Autonomous Education in the Zapatista Communities: Schools to Cure Ignorance
“Antonio dreams that the land he works belongs to him. He dreams that his sweat earns him justice and truth; he dreams of schools to cure ignorance and medicines to frighten death. He dreams that his house has light and that his table is full; he dreams that the land is free and that his people reasonably govern themselves. He dreams that he is at peace with himself and with the world. He dreams that he has to struggle to have this dream...” – from ‘Chiapas: The Southeast in Two Winds - A Storm and a Prophecy’
In July 2010, a European Solidarity Brigade visited the Zapatista communities and Caracoles of Chiapas and reported on the current situation there.2 One aspect of their reports was autonomous education, which for the Zapatistas is an important part of their “construction of autonomy and resistance to capitalism.” The school is only a part of the education process, along with “sharing and working in the community throughout life.” It is based on “the ancient and fundamental principle of caring for the earth and its natural resources. Food sovereignty depends on the principles of agro-ecology, the rejection of chemicals and the conservation of native seeds. Everything we take from the earth, we must return”.3
A letter written by the Zapatistas in 1994 to some schoolchildren in Guadalajara describes the life of an indigenous child in Chiapas: “For our children there are no schools or medicines, no clothes or food, not even a dignified roof under which we can store our poverty ... For our boys and girls there is only work, ignorance and death ... Our children have to begin work at a very young age ... our children’s toys are the hoe, the machete, and the axe; when they are barely able to walk, playing and suffering, they go out looking for firewood, clearing brush and planting ...They cannot go to school to learn Spanish because work kills the days and sickness kills the nights. This is how our children have lived and died for 501 years.”
Indigenous peoples suffer from a lack of proper education, in particular education based on their own languages, traditions, customs, history and beliefs. “In the bad government schools they do not teach the language and culture of the peoples. The bad government sends teachers to government schools for two or three days and then the teachers leave without worrying about the children left without classes. They also make them wear uniforms.”
“The bad government didn’t give us our schools, we built them ourselves.”
So the autonomous communities set up their own schools, where “children learn their own language and become aware of their own culture.” They can wear traditional dress. They are taught in their own language and learn their own history, rather than the version of their conquerors. They learn “not to pollute the environment and to care for the forests, because without that there is no life. The stories of the older people play a vital role in education.” People can go to school at any age, and children from non-Zapatista communities can also attend.
Teachers are known as "education promoters" because all work together and teach each other, based on the belief that everyone has something to contribute to the understanding and teaching of every subject -- so the promoters are learning alongside the students. Promoters receive no salary. They are chosen, housed and fed by the community, and the position is an honour. It is seen as a "cargo", based on the ancient Mayan idea whereby individuals are chosen to provide unpaid service for the good of the community. The cargo of ‘promoter’ is especially demanding; the communities are very poor, and the work to raise consciousness in the communities is very hard. Experienced promoters go on to teach new promoters and so the system grows. "Being in resistance we have severe shortages of school supplies, but that does not prevent us from organizing our educational system."
The Brigade visited all five regional areas, or Caracoles, and found each area had its regional differences, while being based on the same principles.
Caracol I, La Realidad
The promoters explained to the Brigade that here they have four levels of education, each level lasting as long as the individual needs. The pre-school level is called ‘Wake up’, and starts at the age of 4-5, with songs, games and group activities. The second level is called ‘New Dawn’, the third ‘New Creation’, and the fourth ‘Path towards the Future.’
From the second level, students learn reading, writing, maths, life and environment, languages and history. Classes are held three days a week from 7am until 1 pm, with a break for breakfast. Classes are organised according to people’s needs, so sometimes there is a holiday during the coffee harvest. All classes are open to children from non-Zapatista families.
Education promoters receive two levels of training over six years, in the fifth year they learn how to teach reading and writing to adults. “The promoters do not work for money, but through their sense of esponsibility.”
“We have spent a long time discussing and analysing the subject of education. Education is essential for the construction of autonomy, to prepare for the struggle. “It is easy to deceive someone who cannot read,” so classes are compulsory for children and adults, all learning together.
Caracol II, Oventik
Oventik has two levels of education: primary, lasting around six years, and secondary, which takes another three. The secondary school opened in 2000. After completing secondary school, a student is ready to take on the role of promoter, and this is why since 2003 they have had a primary school in every municipality.
The promoters emphasised to their visitors the need to provide a model of education which will meet the needs of the people in the communities. The government schools force children to speak Spanish even though they have no knowledge of the language. The result is a failure of education in indigenous communities and impoverishment of the native languages.
In the autonomous schools, the children speak their mother tongue (mainly Tzotzil in this area), but the students also learn Spanish in order to speak with people from other communities who speak other languages. They believe that the autonomous schools must take on the role of preserving the indigenous languages in their spoken and written forms.
The promoters emphasised to the Brigade the prime importance of developing political, economic and cultural awareness through the development of analytical, critical and creative skills. Studying their own history is extremely important: knowledge of their origins, their traditional culture, ways of living and beliefs, and the history of colonisation and resistance, the history that is hidden in the official schools. The autonomous schools also teach social and natural sciences, rooted in the reality of the community, learning to work the land, and to cook the food they have grown.
In Oventik, schools are open five days a week. Breaks in the school year are known as ‘change of activities’, when the children are needed to help with work at home or in the community. Primary education is compulsory for young children and adolescents, but at present secondary education exists only within the Caracol itself. Each secondary student goes home every fifteen days and brings back enough food to cover the following two weeks. Classes last from 8am to 3pm, and in the evening students do sports, art and craft activities or read. In the future, the compas hope to extend secondary education to all, and to develop a third level of learning. They would also like to offer adult literacy classes to everyone.
Caracol III, La Garrucha
The members of the Education Commission from La Garrucha explained to the Brigade members that their education arose from the needs and demands of the rebel communities, providing an alternative model of education in resistance. This means that education, as part of daily life in the communities, is anchored in the daily struggle. Within all the four municipalities, the main aim is one of sharing, of learning together, of learning from everyone.
Education in this zone has since 2008 been called ‘Little Seeds of the Sun’, and is being organised on three levels, although only two are functioning in all the schools in the communities. At the first level, children learn to read, write and draw. The second level covers the Zapatista demands, and in the third level texts, reports, communiqués, denuncias, government strategies, ‘why we fight’, and the construction of autonomy are all studied.
All levels cover four main areas: history, languages, life and environment, and mathematics. History shows how the ancestors cared for the earth and the natural world, and how this tradition must be continued, preserving indigenous culture. They study past and current history, different ways of working, how to save native seeds, and the need to work together to build and strengthen the community and the resistance. Life and environment covers the care and conservation of the land and nature, natural resources, pollution, and sustainable land management. In mathematics the children learn from attacks and exploitation of indigenous peoples.
The study of languages starts with the mother tongue; in this zone four indigenous languages are spoken – tzeltal (the most numerous), tzotzil, chol and tojolabal. Texts are studied in all these languages as well as in Spanish; studies include law, autonomy, defence of natural resources, writing reports and translations.
Schools are open Monday to Thursday from 8.30 am to 2pm, with a break from 11 until 12. There are no exams or grades, and children or adults can join at any age. It is forbidden to hit, punish, or disrespect the children. “Education is a right and a duty”. If parents fail to send their children to school they must explain why to the authorities. “Children go to school in order to serve the community, not to go away and work for the capitalists”. They hope to implement the third level (secondary) education throughout the zone as soon as possible, at the request of the communities.
There are two levels of training for promoters and two training centres – one in the Caracol of La Garrucha, and the other ‘Companero Manuel’ Centre in La Culebra, autonomous municipality Ricardo Flores Magon. After completing the two levels, promoters can train new promoters. Four one-month periods of training are run each year at each centre, and promoters need to study for two years. They work together collectively, sharing their knowledge ready to take it to the community. All are equal, and all learn the same things. “We believe that we do everything for everyone. We have to do it together.”
Caracol IV Morelia
“Education,” the promoters told the Brigade, “is compulsory until old age,” as it is essential for the construction of autonomy. Education begins at the age of three or four and is also available to adults. There are three compulsory levels of primary education, and three more of secondary. Each level takes as long as the student needs. Each child must complete at least two levels of primary education. After completing secondary school, students can become education promoters.
The schools operate through the community assembly, which is where the people choose their own education promoters who receive special training workshops. The community works together to provide for the needs of their promoters, such as beans and maize. Some communities also work the fields of the promoter.
Classes are held from Monday to Thursday. Each region has its own secondary school, with dormitories for the students who often have to travel a long distance to the schools. Every two weeks, the students return to their communities for a two-week period. Classes are in the student’s own language, but at a later level they can also study Spanish. The areas covered are reading and writing, maths, natural history, geography, political studies, traditional history and culture, art and music. In the secondary schools there are gardens for growing vegetables and plants. This system of education began in 1999.
Caracol V, Roberto Barrios
“The teaching is not good in the bad government schools, and some areas don’t have schools at all. This is why, in 1999, each community chose its own education promoters... The promoter comes from the community, and it is the people of the community who decide what is taught.” Now every community has promoters to co-ordinate the work, and every six months they all meet together to share ideas and discuss how things are going.
There are two levels of education. The first is called ‘Little Seeds of the Sun’, and the second is CCETAZ (the Zapatista Cultural Centre for Autonomous Education and Technology). School starts at the age of four or five, with pupils studying three levels. After six years of primary education they can progress, if they wish, to the second level. There are no comparisons, no tests, no final scores and no failures. Education is open to all.
The CCETAZ has only been open for a year, so the levels have not been defined yet, but there are to be six terms, of which so far only two have been completed. The college is for young people up to the age of fourteen.
Teaching is in Tzeltal, Chol and Zoque, “if we lose our language, we will lose our culture, beliefs and customs. Craftspeople are being trained as their grandparents were.” Young people learn to be critical of the way of life that is being imposed on them, and of the problems of the communities. They are taught maths and history, but also how to work the land, how to improve the harvest. The schools have a small field where they grow corn and beans to eat. They do not use chemicals or genetically modified crops, “because these are the tools of a system which threatens the campesino.” They value working in the field so as to have good food to eat.4
Education Open to All, With No Failures: “We learn as we walk, side by side with our education.”
The Brigade’s reports reveal an astonishing achievement. All this from a people living in dire poverty, many of them under constant attack and harassment, never knowing when their crops and houses will be burned, and many of them unable to read or write or to speak Spanish when the rebellion erupted in 1994. They know they still have a long way to go; they would like to extend secondary education throughout, to have more materials, supplies and equipment. In many communities, there is only one promoter, so the older children teach the younger ones. There are no resources to build new schools, but one day, they dream there will be a Zapatista university.
Throughout the process of building schools the communities have been supported by national and international civil society. Groups from many countries including Spain, Italy, Japan and the USA have been involved.
The strength of the system is in the community, the collective way of living and working. Children go to school carrying maize, beans and firewood. They know that if they go to the government schools they will lose their identity, their culture, language and tradition. In the government schools they are taught as individuals, in order to lose their sense of community as the basis of life. “The government teachers don’t teach what our children want to learn.” “We want our children to learn about freedom, dignity, and to value all human beings, both men and women.”5 This is truly education from below.
An Education for the World
The Zapatista Rebel Autonomous Secondary School (ESRAZ), at Oventik, also operates the Zapatista Rebel Autonomous Spanish and Maya Languages Centre (CELMRAZ) where students come from throughout the world to study Spanish and Tzotzil in “the context of the reality of the indigenous people in resistance.” All the fees paid go towards supporting the secondary school.
In presenting the project, the statement reads: “To educate is to learn, which is to say, ‘to educate by learning.’ We can educate students –who educate us- so that those of us who are in favour of life can educate each other mutually and so construct those many worlds of which we all dream. We can say that we know how to educate those who educate us, that is why our school is for the entire world and is why we say ‘for everyone everything, nothing for us.’
“This is the form of the autonomy of our people, of our culture, and in this way we can recreate the different languages that have never existed for those who dominate, while our faces have been denied for being the color of earth.”6
 http://www.schoolsforchiapas.org/ Early Zapatista school in Oventik, with roof markings to avoid attacks from the air.
 http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2010/07/17/index.php?section=politica&article=017n1pol Resistencia al capitalismo, escuela para la libertad zapatista: brigada europea.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
|Mapuche protests are often met with a violent police response |
© Flickr user antitezo, Creative Commons license
Thirty-four Mapuche prisoners in Chile today entered the sixty-fifth day of a hunger strike. The protest began to highlight the use by the Chilean government of anti-terror legislation to criminalise attempts by the Mapuche to recover their ancestral land.
Although the Mapuche were only conquered in the 19th century after many years of resistance, most of their lands have since been confiscated by logging companies and wealthy farmers.
Several days ago four Chilean MPs who were visiting the strikers in jail announced that they were themselves joining the hunger strike.
The decision to prosecute the Mapuche under Chile’s strict anti-terror laws means that they can be detained indefinitely; tried in military courts; and receive far harsher sentences than would be the case in a civilian court.
In a belated response to the hunger strike, Chile’s President Piñera has proposed some modifications to the anti-terror legislation. The Mapuche, however, charge that these changes were planned anyway, and there is widespread suspicion that the government’s real motivation is to concede just enough to end the protest before Chile celebrates its Bicentennial on September 18th.
Chile ratified the key law on indigenous peoples, ILO Convention 169, two years ago, but has made little progress in implementing its provisions.
Monday, September 06, 2010
The video is about a West African Refugee, Bamkale Konateh who became blind in the Gerstungen Refugee Isolation camp in Thueringen, he lost his right eye in 2004 in the hands of brutal police control in the city of Düsseldorf. He became completely blind in 2009 when he was serving 10 months imprisonment, since then he has been left alone in the isolated refugee camp without any rehabilitation. The attempt to deport him was rejected by the Doctor, because of medical reasons at that time.
Reports on Gerstungen Refugee Isolation Camp:
English, Deutsch and Türkce: Karawane Delegation visit of the isolation Lagers in Gerstungen and Gangloffsömmern
Fotos on Facebook: Gerstungen isolation camp in Thueringen (June 2009/10)
More Fotos and Video on Facebook: Refugee Netwook in Isolation Homes, Camps and Ghettos in Thueringen and Karawane Festival
Contact in Jena - Thueringen:
The VOICE Refugee Forum Jena
Adresse: Schillergässchen 5, 07745 Jena,
Tel. Handy 0049(0) 17624568988,
Saturday, September 04, 2010
(IPS) - Hilaria Supa has broken down many barriers in her life. Now she has overcome another one, in an unprecedented achievement: this Quechua indigenous woman who never went to school is today chair of the congressional education committee in Peru.
And she is clear on what she plans to do in the committee: work to democratise the country's educational system, which, she says, discriminates against and excludes native people -- something she has experienced firsthand.
In her colourful traditional dress, Supa moves comfortably around the legislative palace in the historical centre of Lima, where just a few years ago the security guards would probably have barred her from entering the building, but now she has been unanimously voted to preside over the educational committee by its members.
However, Supa, who belongs to the Peruvian Nationalist Party (PNP), has faced criticism from legislators of the governing APRA party and the Alliance for the Future, made up of supporters of former president Alberto Fujmori (1990-2000), who is serving lengthy sentences on multiple charges of corruption and human rights abuses.
Her detractors argue that because of her lack of formal education, she is not qualified to head a committee that plays a key role in determining the direction of educational policy.
"Who criticises me? The 'doctores' (roughly, 'the PhDs') who have already presided over the committee and did not do a thing for the people I represent, who have historically been marginalised," she told IPS in an interview in the chamber where the committee meets.
"I am a social activist who fights for the rights of poor campesinos, and you don't get that degree at a university," she said.
The lawmaker was born 52 years ago in the rural community of Huallococha in the province of Anta, four hours northwest of the highlands city of Cuzco in southeastern Peru.
From a young age she suffered humiliation and abuse at the hands of the powerful elites. Her family worked for a local landowner whose mistreatment of local peasants included rapes of women.
"I didn't become a rebel in a political party," she said. "I have experienced marginalisation in the flesh, for the simple fact that I am a poor, Quechua-speaking campesina woman.
"For people like me, education is prohibited. I have made it to Congress because of the votes of my (indigenous) brothers and sisters, and it is them I represent," Supa said.
In this South American country with an overall literacy rate of 96 percent among men and 89 percent among women, 31 percent of Quechua-speaking rural women are illiterate, 38 percent have some years of primary schooling, 23 percent have made it to secondary school, and just under three percent have gone on to the university.
Pro-Fujimori legislator Martha Hildebrandt, who is a linguist by training and a former chair of the education committee, disparaged Supa's election to preside over the committee as "inappropriate," while Mauricio Mulder of the ruling party said "If there's one thing she doesn't know about, it's education."
"I am self-educated, and I say that with pride," Supa responded.
APRA legislator Wilmer Calderón, who has a doctorate in education, commented to IPS that Supa's election as chair of the committee was an "act of demagoguery" that gave a glimpse of what a possible PNP government would look like, "giving important positions to people without the necessary qualifications.
"I am also a Quechua-speaker, and I was born in the (central) sierra of Ancash," he said. "But that doesn't give me the qualifications I need; a rigorous education is also necessary.
"Exclusion isn't fought by putting representatives of the marginalised in key positions like the education committee, but rather people who are qualified to tackle the challenges facing Peru's educational system," Calderón said.
In this multiethnic country, Amerindians account for an estimated 45 percent of the population of nearly 30 million. The main indigenous groups are Quechua and Aymara people from the highlands, while a relatively small proportion of native peoples are distributed in several dozen lowland groups. Around 80 percent of native people in Peru are poor.
"Mestizos" or people of mixed European and indigenous descent represent roughly 37 percent of the population; an estimated 15 percent of the population is of European descent; and there are small black and Asian minorities.
Referring to the criticism, Supa said "I detect a certain racism in their words. That's how they always talk to us: 'You people are Indians, you aren't capable of doing anything.' No, 'doctores', now it's our turn. And you will see the results for yourselves."
The oldest of the 14 children of Eufrasio Supa and Elena Huamán, Hilaria was basically raised by her maternal grandparents, to whom she refers as her parents. And no one has to describe to her how the peasants in her highlands region work practically around the clock to eke out a living.
"A campesino's day starts at 4:00 AM and ends at 9:00 PM," she said. "As a girl, I worked in the fields and tended the livestock."
By her teenage years, she was helping organise people in her community to stand up to the mistreatment of the landowners and the local authorities who were accomplices in the abuses, which she herself experienced, including the 1965 murder of her grandfather for defending campesino rights.
She later worked as a domestic in towns in her home province, and in Lima, from which she returned after her husband was killed in an accident. She has two daughters. Her son died young -- a subject she prefers not to dwell on.
On her return from the capital, she began gathering with other local women, to organise protests and set up soup kitchens for children.
In the late 1980s, she headed the Micaela Bastidas Committee of Anta, and in 1991 she became organisational secretary of the Anta Women's Federation (FEMCA).
"When I was a leader of the FEMCA, we organised to teach women and children to read and write in Quechua, offered workshops on dangerous agricultural chemicals, and taught people the benefits of traditional medicine," she said.
With her enthusiasm and energy, Supa soon became well-known as a social activist and leader in the entire department (state) of Cuzco, and was invited to attend the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in 1995 in Beijing.
Fujimori also attended the Conference, "to explain his plan to supposedly pull campesina women out of poverty and ignorance, through family planning. Everyone applauded.
"He didn't mention, however, that the method he would use was forced sterilisation," Supa said.
The roughly 2,000 victims of that programme included one of Supa's daughters. The activist organised the women and launched an all-out offensive against the Fujimori regime and the forced sterilisations.
In 2009, the public prosecutor's office shelved a lawsuit against three former health ministers, who under Fujimori implemented the plan, which coerced and tricked poor indigenous women into being sterilised.
But Supa said she will continue fighting for justice in the case. "The Inter-American Court of Human Rights handed down a ruling calling on the Peruvian state to bring to justice those responsible for the crime that affected my fellow campesinas, and I will carry on with this, to see that justice is done," she said.
In 2006 she was elected to Congress for the PNP, whose leader, Ollanta Humala, won the largest number of votes in the first round of elections that year, but lost in the runoff to current President Alan García.
Last year, pro-Fujimori legislator Alejandro Aguinaga, one of those accused of running the mass sterilisation campaign, was elected vice president of Congress.
"When he walks by he doesn't look at me, he turns his face away, embarrassed," Supa said. "I feel indignant that he forms part of the leadership of Congress. I'll make him pay for his responsibility. He caused harm to thousands of women."
Supa had some good news to share. Her biography, "Hilos de mi vida", which was originally published in Spanish to little fanfare in 2001, in a small print run in Cuzco, will come out again this year in a new Spanish-language international edition, propelled by the success of the German and English ("Threads of My Life: The Testimony of Hilaria Supa Huaman, a Rural Quechua Woman") editions, which were published in 2005 and 2006, respectively.
"I've been told that my book is taught in schools in Germany," she said with evident pride. "How can the 'doctores' say my life experience doesn't count for anything? They're wrong. They have a lot to learn."
Photo by Virgilio Grajeda/IPS
A MIGRANT'S PLIGHT: The scale of last week's event was unprecedented, however, its sad and horrific details are not uncommon. Mexico's National Human Rights Commission estimates that about 20,000 migrants are kidnapped each year in Mexico. Other experts believe around 60,000 migrants have disappeared in Mexico on their way to the U.S. over the past five years. Stories abound of migrants being killed by organized crime gangs and "hacked up, dissolved in acid or buried in unmarked paupers graves." The kidnapping and extortion of poor migrants reaps in about $3 million a year for organized crime. Meanwhile, despite a decrease in immigration to the U.S., border deaths on the American side of the border, most of them heat-related, are close to reaching a record-breaking high. For those who actually survive the journey, few arrive unscathed. Migrants are forced to "walk through remote jungles, sleep outside, and ride atop dangerous trains to avoid immigration checkpoints." Along the way, gangs and thugs, in addition to local police, taxi drivers and government officials, demand bribes. Amnesty International reports that as many as six in 10 women end up becoming victims of sexual violence during the trip. The problem of rape is so bad that women are advised to take birth control and some Mexican guides have started handing out condoms to women so they can ask their attackers to use them. Throughout their journey, migrants are treated as exploitable cargo by their smugglers. If and when they make it to the U.S., they are viewed as cheap labor or trespassing "criminals," depending on who you ask. Nonetheless, they continue coming. Leticia Gutierrez, a nun who works with shelters across Mexico explains, "[t]he poverty they are running from is so desperate they are willing to risk everything."
MEXICO'S SHAME: The massacre has unleashed a wave of outrage and criticism towards Mexico. Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom has urged Mexican President Felipe Calderón to undertake greater efforts to protect migrants who pass through Mexico. Honduras, meanwhile, is threatening to sue and hold Mexico responsible for the damages incurred by the victims' families.The Los Angeles Times writes, "the Tamaulipas massacre underscores the failure of the Mexican government to provide vulnerable migrants with the protection and due process required by international law and the Mexican Constitution." In 2008, the Mexican Congresses "acknowledged that the current harsh penalties weakened Mexico's position in arguing for better treatment of its own migrants in the United States" and voted unanimously to decriminalize undocumented immigration to Mexico. However, Mexican immigration reform is a work in progress. Article 67 of Mexico's immigration law still requires law enforcement to demand that foreigners prove their legal presence in the country, and as a result, most migrants don't report abuses out of fear that they will be deported if they complain to Mexican authorities. The Mexican Interior Department has been reportedly working to repeal Article 67 "so that no one can deny or restrict foreigners' access to justice and human rights, whatever their migratory status." However, though Calderón's administration has pledged that the massacre will not go unpunished, few have bothered to make the connection this past week between Article 67 and the horrific crimes that are taking place. Nor has there been any talk of rethinking Calderón's militarized drug war, which even his administration admits has made criminal gangs "desperate and forced them increasingly into other businesses, such as extortion, kidnapping, and human trafficking."
U.S. SHARES THE BLAME: Experts argue that the single-minded focus on border security in the absence of immigration reform has caused the rise in migrant deaths and disappearances. Just as the "insatiable demand" for illicit drugs in the U.S. fuels the bloody drug war in Latin America, heavy demand for and a steady supply of immigrant workers together with an outdated visa system that shuts most migrants out of the U.S. has fueled the profitable and violent human smuggling business. Though increased border security has made it increasingly difficult for migrants to enter the U.S. illegally, it hasn't stopped them from coming. Instead, it has increased the profitability of the human smuggling business and strengthened its ties with organized crime. In 2008, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, "As U.S. border security has tightened, Mexican drug cartels have moved in on coyotes...the traffickers now use their expertise in gathering intelligence on border patrols, logistics and communication devices to get around ever tighter controls." Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez, professor at Arizona State University, explains, "Now, because of the so-called security needs of the border, what's been created is this structure of smuggling in the hands of really nasty people who only treat the migrant as a commodity." Fortunately, for the most part, violence in Mexico has not spilled over, and the U.S. border is reportedly "safer than ever." However, that has not stopped opportunistic lawmakers from exploiting the massacre to argue for more border security at the expense of immigration reform. Replacing old visa quotas with a system that responds to economic supply and demand would devastate the lucrative human smuggling business by allowing more economic migrants to enter the U.S. legally, rather than paying someone to smuggle them through. In the meantime, while lawmakers block practical solutions to score cheap political points, thousands of migrants are dying and disappearing in search of the increasingly elusive American Dream.