Paved with Good Intentions:
Canada’s development NGOs from idealism to imperialism
By Nikolas Barry-Shaw and Dru Oja Jay
Fernwood Publishing, Black Point, NS, 2012
302 pages, $24.95 (Canadian) paperback.
IN ONE SENSE, I came of age with regard to the problems with Canadian Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) around the same time that Nikolas Barry-Shaw and Dru Oja Jay’s new book Paved with Good Intentions was conceived. In late 2003 I had stayed for four months in Johannesburg, South Africa on a journalism internship where I hung around with dedicated grassroots activists who, after years of struggle against apartheid, were organizing against the policies of the African National Congress.
Their struggles were against privatization and displacement, and in favor of economic justice. Every meeting, demonstration, dinner and march meant an inspiring mix of old school trade unionists and commies, militant women, and younger anti-capitalist and anti-colonial fighters. I began to learn what popular resistance against the state and capitalist democracy looks like.
The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) would not have approved, but it funded the trip and a monthly stipend, organized through the Montreal-based NGO Alternatives. Yet not long after I returned from South Africa, I learned that the same person responsible for setting interns up with the comrades and fighters in Africa was also promoting groups in Haiti hostile to the leftwing Lavalas movement, publishing an article reprinted in a major Montreal newspaper criminalizing the resistance movements and those close to ousted president Jean Bertrand Aristide.
Upon learning about this seeming contradiction, I joined other former Alternatives interns in signing off on a letter expressing my discontent with the organization’s role in Haiti. It seemed to me at the time that the people and organizations of Haiti were being sacrificed by Alternatives staff in order to secure money that would allow them to do the projects they really cared about, in South Africa or elsewhere.
My experience with Alternatives taught me that very few things with regards to Non-Governmental Organizations are clear cut or straightforward. Barry-Shaw and Jay’s new book is a useful starting place from which activists can broaden our understanding around one segment of what INCITE Women of Color Against Violence dubbed “the non-profit industrial complex.” (more…)
For six years, Juan Carlos Trujillo Herrera worked alongside his three brothers as an undocumented migrant in the United States. When he was deported back to Mexico in 2001, Trujillo Herrera went to work in his home state of Michoacán, with the dream of building a small business where his brothers could eventually return home and join him.
Over time, he managed to get a business started buying and selling gold and precious metals and convinced his youngest brother, Raúl, to return to Mexico. Less than four months after his return, Raúl was kidnapped, together with another brother, Salvador, and five others from their work crew while driving through Guerrero state, never to be seen or heard from again. In September of 2010, two more of Trujillo Herrera’s brothers were kidnapped while on their way to work in Veracruz, along with two others.
“All that’s come to us by moving back to Mexico is to lose our family,” said Trujillo Herrera. For the Trujillo Herrera family, the desire to be reunified and together in their home country resulted in the tragic disappearances of four brothers.
According to Marco Antonio Castillo, who works with the Popular Association of Migrant Families in Mexico City, the spike in murders and disappearances that accompanied the United States-backed war on drugs has had a devastating impact on migrants and their families. “It’s very ironic that Mexican and US governments speak about a war on drugs when the numbers and the consequences of it have shown that this war is against people and migrants,” Castillo told Truthout during an interview in Mexico City.
Castillo and others who support the rights of migrants and their families in Mexico, organized events and a protest timed with Barack Obama’s arrival last weekend in the country. (more…)
This short analysis piece for CIP Americas Program explores some of the issues on the table during Obama’s Mexico visit. Gracias a Clayton Conn y desInformémonos por publicar una versión en español, titulado “Una guía rápida para entender la visita de Obama a México.”
May 2, 2013
Obama last visited Mexico during the G-20 summit in Los Cabos last June. He and his entourage will touch down again today for talks with Mexico’s new president, Enrique Peña Nieto. Since his election,Peña Nieto’s team has worked to shift media focus away from violence related to the drug war and towards the economy, something that will likely be reinforcedduring this visit.
According to the New York Times, “In Mexico, Mr. Obama plans to meet with President Enrique Peña Nieto for talks that the Mexican foreign ministry said earlier ‘will cover competiveness [sic], education and innovation, along with border infrastructure, commerce, migration and citizen security among other subjects of shared interest.’”
Competitiveness is a preferred term that governments use today to talk about privatization and regulatory reforms designed to benefit the corporate sector. Previously, competitiveness was known as austerity, structural adjustment,or privatization, terms that have fallen out of favor due to the harsh consequences of these programs on the population at large.
So with respect to competitiveness, what might Obama and Peña Nieto discuss? Well, for one, Mexico recently changed their labor laws in order to “increase competitiveness,” pushing down minimum wage to about 60¢ an hourand making it more difficult for workers to receive social security and regular workweeks.
Pemex, Mexico’s state-owned oil firm, will definitely be a topic of conversation. According to the Financial Times, “an opening of Mexico’s highly protected oil sector, which is dominated by state behemoth Pemex, could provide untold opportunities for US oil companies as well as the sort of technology-transfer Mexico desperately needs.” (more…)
Here’s a recent story I did based on interviews in Chihuahua State, in northern Mexico. Published by The Dominion with support from their investigative journalism fund.
BENITO JUÁREZ, MEXICO—It was a day he’ll never forget, but it began like any other for Erick Solorio Solís, an engineering senior at the Autonomous University of Chihuahua (UACh) in Chihuahua, Mexico. He rolled out of bed on Monday, October 22, 2012, and stepped into the warm morning air that graces Chihuahua City through the fall. He had a bite to eat, and took a quick call from his parents, who were heading to the city to visit him and his brothers later that day. Solorio, a tall young man with inquisitive eyebrows and a trace of a beard, went to school and sat through three hours of classes. He recalls that he left campus around noon. With his two brothers, then-21-year-old Solorio spent the next couple of hours at home, waiting for his parents to arrive.
After the morning phone call with their son, Solorio’s parents hopped in their pickup truck and pulled out of Benito Juárez, a rural town a couple hours south of the US border, where the Solorio family has farmed for three generations. Solorio’s mother was due for a check-up in Chihuahua, and his father planned to take advantage of the outing to run a few errands.
Around 2:00 pm, Solorio’s elder brother got a phone call from a local police official. The man said their parents had been involved in an accident. Erick called his uncle, who said his parents had been caught in the middle of a firefight. The brothers went to the offices of El Barzón, a farmers’ rights group their father was involved in, to see what was happening. It was then they found out that their parents had been murdered.
“The first thing we thought was that it was people from our town, the people from the mine,” said Solorio in an interview with The Dominion in Chihuahua City. “The jealousy was too much, the hatred they had towards [my father] because he demonstrated, using facts, that the mine [would be] bad.” (more…)
Here’s a piece I did for CIP-Americas Program in Mexico City on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Quieter is better. That seems to be the motto driving the negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The trade deal was initially called the P2, and it was a two-way affair between New Zealand and Singapore. Chile and Brunei joined the negotiations, which were renamed the P4. Then the US joined, and the deal was re-branded as the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPP). Today, negotiating countries are splayed across the globe like a constellation only a highly trained astronomer could recognize. In addition to the first five, the TPP now includes Australia, Malaysia, Peru, and Vietnam. Canada and Mexico recently joined the talks and Japan is vying to participate in the negotiations
The next round of negotiations will take place in Lima, Peru, and proponents are pushing for a final agreement by fall.
But the language of TPP promoters rings hollow for those who have tracked the progress of other trade agreements, like NAFTA. “They’re saying that it’s going to open up opportunities for exporting more Mexican goods to other countries, like to Asia… That Mexico will become more competitive in other markets,” said Manuel Pérez-Rocha, associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, and member of the Mexican Action Network on Free Trade (RMALC). Pérez-Rocha pointed out there’s little concrete evidence that Mexican exports to Asia will increase as an outcome of the agreement. “Mexico has actually signed many Free Trade Agreements with other countries, and its dependency to the US market hasn’t changed a bit,” he told the Americas Program. (more…)
Here’s a piece from my trip to Juárez and El Paso in March, published by Toward Freedom.
April 18, 2013
Saul Reyes Salazar is a man who understands loss.
In January 2010, his sister Josefina was shot in the head, following a botched kidnapping in their hometown of Guadalupe los Bravos, across the border bridge from Tornillo, Texas. She was, at the time, one of the best-known activists in the Juarez Valley, the agricultural region that follows the Rio Grande river east of Ciudad Juarez.
In the years before her death, Josefina became one of the strongest critics of the Mexican army’s role in policing the drug war. Five thousand soldiers entered Juarez and the Valley in May of 2008, bringing along with them a wave of murders and kidnappings. Miguel Ángel Reyes Salazar, Josefina’s son, was kidnapped by soldiers in August 2008, and released a month later. Following his kidnapping, Josefina didn’t back down. Not until she was killed, that is.
The Reyes Salazar family came together and declared that Josefina’s killing was not a coincidence. She was killed, they said, because of her political activities. Eyewitness testimony fed the family’s suspicion. Before he pulled the trigger, one of Josefina’s assassins said, “You think you are tough because you are with the organizations,” according to someone who saw the killing.
Seven months passed, and Saul’s brother Rubén was murdered in Guadalupe. His body was shot through with 19 rounds from an AK-47. According to Saul, Rubén had been the loudest voice calling into question the official story that Josefina’s killing was a random act of violence.
That year, the Reyes Salazar family celebrated Christmas and the New Year as best they could, in a haze of sadness and mourning. Then, in February 2011, tragedy struck again. Saul’s sister, Magdalena, and his brother, Elías, were kidnapped, together with Elías’s wife, Luisa Ornelas. All three were kidnapped from Guadalupe.
The remaining siblings set up a protest camp at the State District Attorney’s office in Juarez, demanding the safe return of their disappeared family members. They stayed for two weeks, during which time the house of their mother, Sara, was set on fire while she was out. Once the family moved their protest to Mexico City, the governor agreed to meet with Sara Reyes Salazar. Shortly thereafter, the bodies of Magdalena, Elías, and Luisa were found in shallow graves. All exhibited signs of torture.
The news devastated the family. Leaving behind their houses, cars, and possessions, Saul and his wife, together with their children, decided to leave Mexico for good.
I met Saul in an El Paso café on a windy weekday morning. We set up the appointment through his attorney’s office – even in the US, the Reyes Salazar family takes great precautions. I was familiar with his family’s story, and knew that around 30 of his relatives had sought amnesty in the US, which Saul, his wife and kids had been granted. (more…)
Hey folks… Back from Chihuahua and madly transcribing and putting together some of the stories from my trip. Meantime, here’s a short update regarding the Rarámuri people and the recent appearance of four of their leaders at the IAHRC in Washington, DC, published by Upside Down World. Also, I did a longer blog post that sheds a little light on post-war mongering in Ciudad Juárez.
Rarámuri delegation from Mexico arrives in Washington, Upside Down World, March 14, 2013
URIQUE, CHIHUAHUA – Cold air cuts through the meeting hall, drafting in through a gap between the corrugated roof and the adobe walls. Women sit on one side of the room in sandals or vintage Nike runners and long skirts, their heads covered by kerchiefs. On the other side sit the men, in slacks and shirts and vests. Children kick around a soccer ball outside, and from the kitchen wafts the smell of chili and beans.
This gathering, held in Bakajípare, deep in the highlands of Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountain range, was a strategy session for an upcoming meeting between members of Rarámuri (Tarahumara) communities and the state government of Chihuahua. The encroachment of tourism projects, the difficulty of accessing health services, problems in schools and with waste management dominated the discussion, which was sometimes in Spanish but mostly in Rarámuri.
Four representatives from Rarámuri communities have made the long trip from their remote communities to Washington, DC, to appear before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, where they will appear today at 5pm. This is the first hearing ever granted to the Rarámuri. It is expected the four representatives, who are backed by 41 Indigenous governors, will testify about logging, tourism, and other issues impacting their communities.
Over the past six years, the Sierra Madre has become one of the most dangerous regions in Mexico.
Vicious acts of violence against civilians erupt with stunning regularity. Thirteen people, including a baby, were massacred in September, 2008 in the nearby tourist town of Creel. Eighteen months later, another massacre – this one caught on video – among whose victims was a 14-year-old girl. Four teachers on their way to a funeral in the mountain town of Guachochi were pulled from their car, tortured and murdered after passing through a checkpoint believed to have been run by a criminal group. Repeated complaints to authorities about the checkpoint were ignored. This year started with a headline in La Jornada that screamed “Attacks and siege of populations leave 14 dead in Chihuahua.” In February, the Bishop of the Sierra Tarahumara said narcotraffickers control the mountain range.
“In 2007, there were probably at least 150,000 people from all over the world coming to this area, plus another maybe 100,000 Mexicans from all over Mexico coming to visit this region, and it was growing,” said Randall Gingrich, the executive director of Tierra Nativa, an organization that provides accompaniment, legal and technical support to highland communities. “By 2009 international tourism had dropped to maybe a couple hundred, and national tourism dropped almost as badly.” (more…)
Hey folks, here’s my latest, for Watershed Sentinel. I’m just back from a trip to Chihuahua City and Ciudad Juárez, and will have some new pieces out soon from there. In addition, a French translation of my article on the drug war in Péten, Guatemala is now up here. I also recently did an hour long interview on Asheville FM, which you can check out here.
Corn on the Border: NAFTA and Food in Mexico
Watershed Sentinel, March/April 2013
Even in the quiet of late afternoon, the market down the street from my apartment in Mexico City is a hive of activity. Dozens of butchers cut up all kinds of meat and make sausages. Women display whole chickens, and offer to prepare them according to what a passing customer desires. There’s homemade ice cream for sale across from a fish stand, and a tortilla stand that always seems to have a line-up. I buy my vegetables from a man who stands at the top of a pyramid of lettuces, tomatoes, avocados, carrots, potatoes, and whatever happens to be in season. While heweighs and bags the veggies I select, he often talks about how good Mexican food is, but how so many people don’t eat the healthy and tasty things he offers for sale. Before I started working on this story, I assumed he was just talking up his business.
As I began to research for this article, I realized something: he’s right.
People’s diets in Mexico have changed drastically over the past decades, in tandem with the transformation of the country’s agricultural sector spurred by the North America Free Trade Agreement, signed in 1994.
According to Simon Fraser University professor Gerardo Otero, in 1985 Mexicans were consuming more food than Canadians on a per capita basis. From the mid-1980s on, “Canada started to surpass Mexico on a per capita intake of calories, and then the composition completely changed, Mexicans stayed with a very flat consumption of fruits and vegetables, Canadians and Americans started to increase fairly dramatically the intake of fruit and vegetables,” Otero told Watershed Sentinel. “The other interesting trend is that Mexicans started to consume a lot more meat… It’s a type of North American diet that is becoming generalized throughout the world actually, I mean if you look at figures in many, many countries in the world, that kind of diet based on milk and meat is being generalized.” (more…)
Estrategias de una nueva Guerra Fría: Marines de Estados Unidos y la guerra contra las drogas en Guatemala
Gracias a SubVersiones por la traducción de “Strategies of a New Cold War,” publicado originalmente por la pagina Towards Freedom. En este link, encuentras también una version en francés traducido por El Correo de París.
Ciudad de Guatemala— La noticia abrió su paso en Estados Unidos (EEUU) durante los lentos días de verano a finales de agosto: 200 infantes de marina estadounidenses arribaron a Guatemala como parte de la guerra contra las drogas. El despliegue de tropas de combate estadounidenses en Guatemala fue parte de la Operación Martillo; un plan militar destinado a cortar/tajar las rutas de tráfico de cocaína que atraviesan Centroamérica en su camino desde Colombia hacia Estados Unidos.
Luchar contra la delincuencia organizada y el tráfico de drogas es la justificación más reciente de Estados Unidos para incursionar en Guatemala, lo cual justifica, además, el aumento de actividades de las Fuerzas Armadas guatemaltecas en el país. Esta militarización toma lugar en áreas donde existen conflictos sociales y de territorio debido a la imposición de mega proyectos de extracción de recursos, tales como industrias mineras y de petróleo. Además, las comunidades que resisten el desplazamiento y las industrias extractivas, han sido sofocadas con acusaciones de estar involucradas en el crimen organizado; en algunos casos, pueblos enteros de campesinos han sido etiquetados como “narco-comunidades”.
“Sentimos que es un pretexto –la lucha contra el narco- para volver al despliegue militar que se mantuvo durante la etapa más fuerte del conflicto armado y que derivó en actos de genocidio”, dijo Iduvina Hernández Batres, directora de la Asociación para el Estudio y Promoción de la Seguridad en Democracia (Sedem). El ejército guatemalteco, el cual no es elegible formalmente para recibir asistencia militar de Estados Unidos, fue responsable de la gran mayoría de muertos y desaparecidos: 200,000 y 50,000, respectivamente, durante el conflicto armado interno que finalizó oficialmente en 1996.
Las fuerzas armadas guatemaltecas fueron llamadas para “poner fin a las amenazas externas y contribuir a la neutralización de grupos armados ilegales mediante la fuerza militar”, por el presidente guatemalteco Otto Pérez Molina un mes después de su inauguración en enero de 2012. Pérez Molina, ex General y jefe de la inteligencia militar, también prometió aumentar el gasto militar. Hasta ahora, ha mantenido su promesa. De acuerdo con Plaza Pública, una plataforma digital de periodismo a profundidad de Guatemala, el presupuesto para equipo militar y de seguridad, sólo en 2013 sobrepasará todo el gasto entre 2004 y 2012.  (more…)
I recently produced a 29 minute radio documentary titled “Communities in the Crosshairs: The Drug War in Guatemala” for Free Speech Radio News, which will air in the US on December 25, 2012. Click here to listen to the audio version online. Big thanks to Shannon Young and the team at FSRN for their help with editing, production and tech. The music you hear in the documentary is from “Time for Marimba” [Minoru Miki], performed by DHernDniz. I hope to have a Spanish version of the documentary ready in the new year.
A transcript of the documentary is available after the jump, just click the “more” button to the right. (more…)