I had the chance to participate in an Observation Mission looking at the situation for Central American migrants traveling through southeast Mexico during the last week in May. I’ve written two pieces from the trip, the first, titled “Mexico: Risking Everything to Migrate North” is a look at an attack on migrants that took place in Veracruz on May 1st of this year. The second is below. More soon…
Report Dubs Mexico “A Graveyard for Migrants”
CIP Americas Program, May 4, 2013
One of the women lay face up, her torso cutting a diagonal line across the railway track. The other lay face down, her right leg splayed over the same track at the thigh. Both wore reddish tank tops and pants that went down just below the knee. A police officer with an automatic weapon watched over the bodies.
It was far too late to do anything to help. Little yellow numbers, from one to six, were placed on each piece of ballistic evidence, grim reminders of how Mexico is refashioning its police after the US model.
According to local media, the women were murdered by stab and bullet wounds in the late afternoon on May 30. A preliminary report suggests they refused to pay the quota charged by a criminal group after climbing up on the train. Their bodies were found later that same day just north of the Mexican tourist town of Palenque, in Chiapas.
Both women were from Honduras–Mexicans don’t risk traveling on cargo trains when they migrate through their country toward the United States. Most Central Americans traveling through Mexico do so as undocumented migrants. This means they are not afforded the right to free movement.
If they board a bus, undocumented migrants in Mexico can be pulled off and deported by soldiers at numerous checkpoints dotting northern-bound highways. Without paperwork, they can’t make it past the airport service counter. Thus, the train remains the most accessible means of transport for Hondurans, Guatemalans, Salvadorans, Nicaraguans, and others who hope against hope they’ll make to the US and find employment.
The double murder on the train tracks in Chiapas took place on the heels of an Observation Mission into the conditions of migrants in southern Mexico, coordinated by the Mesoamerican Migration Movement. The Mission, led by activists and members of the Catholic Church as well as journalists based in Veracruz and Mexico, made its way from Orizaba, in Veracruz state, to Tenosique, a municipality in Tabasco state, which borders Guatemala. (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 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…)
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…)
Here’s a piece I prepared for Toward Freedom recently. The Spanish version is forthcoming.
GUATEMALA CITY—The news broke in the United States during the lazy summer days of late August: 200 US Marines were stationed in Guatemala as part of the war on drugs. The deployment of US combat troops to Guatemala was part of Operation Martillo, a military plan meant to disrupt cocaine trafficking routes that pass through Central America on their way from Colombia to the United States.
Fighting organized crime and drug trafficking is the most recent justification for US incursions in Guatemala, also
serving to justify the increased activity of Guatemalan military around the country. This militarization is taking place in areas where there are fierce social and land conflicts related to the imposition of mega-resource extraction projects, such as in mining and oil industries. In addition, communities that resist displacement and the extractive industries have been tarred with accusations that they are involved in the organized crime; in some cases entire peasant villages have even been labeled “narco-communities.”
“We have the sense that [fighting narcotrafficking] is a pretext to return to the level of military deployment that was maintained during the height of the armed conflict, which resulted in acts of genocide,” said Iduvina Hernandez Batres, of the Guatemala City-based NGO Security and Democracy (Sedem). The Guatemalan Army, which is still formally ineligible for receiving US military assistance, was responsible for the vast majority of the 200,000 killed and the 50,000 disappeared during the internal armed conflict, which officially ended in 1996.
The Guatemalan army was called upon “to put an end to the external threats and contribute to neutralizing illegal armed groups by means of military power,” by Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina the day after his inauguration in January 2012. Pérez Molina, a former General and head of army intelligence, also promised to increase military spending. So far, he has kept his promise. According to Plaza Publica, a Guatemalan investigative journalism outlet, projected spending on military and security equipment in 2013 alone will surpass all such spending between 2004 and 2012.
The arrival of US Marines in Guatemala represents more than a military maneuver to disrupt drug trafficking. It demonstrates that in allied countries like Guatemala, the US can champion a military invasion under the discourse of the war on drugs with little fanfare or criticism. The deployment of US troops to Guatemala is arguably the most blatant example of an evolving strategy that the US military establishment is betting on in order to expand and exercise control in the hemisphere, all within an international framework of formal democracy and law and order. (more…)
En un sombrero lleno de tierra a punto de convertirse en barro, Rosli Oded y su marido, Aroldo Morales López, mecen a su hijo en la hamaca. La lluvia que resonaba sobre los tejados de chapa y los toldos durante la noche ha amainado finalmente, dando paso a una mañana fría y gris. La nueva familia nos ofrece café caliente y dulce, cocinado sobre una pequeña hoguera en un rincón de la chabola en la que llevan viviendo desde septiembre, cuando policías y soldados les obligaron a abandonar sus hogares.
Oded y Morales vuelven a ser campesinos sin tierras, como ya lo fueron cuando emigraron por primera vez a este lugar remoto de Guatemala para colaborar en la fundación de la comunidad de Nueva Esperanza, hace doce años. “Nos dijeron que había tierras, así que vinimos aquí”, afirma la madre de Oded, que vive en otra chabola al lado de su hija.
La comunidad original de Nueva Esperanza se estableció en el Parque Nacional Sierra del Lacandón, en el departamento de Petén, al norte de Guatemala, cerca de la frontera con México. El parque se creó en 1990, cuando la guerra civil todavía azotaba al país. Lo dirigen conjuntamente la organización no gubernamental privada Defensores de la Naturaleza y el Consejo Nacional de Áreas Protegidas (CONAP). Pero en lugar de ofrecer asistencia a una comunidad cuya huella ecológica es diminuta, (viven sin coches, agua corriente ni electricidad), el gobierno de Guatemala los echó. (more…)