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…)
Gracias a los editores y voluntarios asociados al proyecto Upside Down World, mi articulo “Drug War Capitalism” ya esta disponible en castellano. Aquí esta la version publicada en Upside Down World en Español, aquí la version publicada por Agencia SubVersiones en México DF, y aquí la version publicada por ALAI desde Quito, Ecuador.
El Capitalismo Narco
Dawn Paley sondea por debajo de la superficie de la guerra contra las drogas en Colombia y México. Explora los mecanismos empleados, cuantifica la devastación humana y económica, analiza las posibles razones por las que la guerra continúa además de sugerir otras áreas de investigación.
Tanto en los Estados Unidos como en Canadá ha habido esfuerzos sostenidos de grupos de base para destacar las injustas encarcelaciones en masa y la criminalización de la gente pobre, sobretodo la gente pobre de color, en cuanto a detenciones relacionadas con drogas. Pero se ha encontrado muy poco análisis sobre las razones detrás de los mecanismos de esta guerra y el impacto económico que tiene sobre México y más allá.
Incluso antes de que la retirada de Irak o Afganistán se hubiera alcanzado, los Estados Unidos ya estaban involucrados en una serie de conflictos desde la frontera norte de México hasta Perú. Tanto los gobiernos como los medios de comunicación la han catalogada como la “Guerra contra las drogas.” Es importante examinar como la creciente “Guerra contra las drogas” se conecta con la expansión de empresas transnacionales que toman control de mercados, obreros y recursos naturales.
En Honduras cuatro indígenas fueron asesinados a balazos en mayo, cuando la policía hondureña abrió fuego desde un helicóptero del Departamento de Estado estadounidense, todo bajo la supervisión de agentes uniformados de Estados Unidos. En México con la orientación de Estados Unidos, Canadá, Israel y Colombia, la policía y el ejército han sido transformados.
En Colombia la guerra ha durado ya cuatro décadas y se han gastado billones de dólares estadounidenses, pero ahora se está calificando como lucha contra el crimen. Durante la década de los 1980s el Estado colombiano se convirtió en un estado paramilitarizado, en un proceso que según el historiador German Alfonso Palacio Castañeda”se manifiesta con amenazas, atentados y asesinatos selectivos y masacres colectivas de funcionarios gubernamentales (principalmente pero no exclusivamente de la izquierda), y de líderes políticos populares, obreros, campesinos, profesores, activistas de derechos humanos y miembros de organizaciones no gubernamentales.”
En la forma de financiación para programas antinarcóticos, la asistencia de EE.UU. en Colombia resultó en el fortalecimiento de grupos paramilitares y de policías no oficiales, los cuales según informes patrullaban junto al ejército de Colombia y se vieron involucrados en la gran mayoría de masacres y desplazamientos forzados en el país.
“Decir que la guerra contra las drogas ha fracasado es no entender algo,” comentó Noam Chomsky, en un discurso en el mes de mayo. “Uno tiene que preguntarse qué está en la mente de los planeadores ante tanta evidencia de que no funciona lo que dicen que están intentando lograr. ¿Cuáles son las intenciones probables?”(1)
Los comentarios de Chomsky apuntan hacia un área urgente de investigación para los y las activistas y periodistas que desean entender las guerras actuales contra las drogas. Cada vez es más claro que hay mucho trabajo por hacer para reconstruir juntos los motivos de la militarización liderada por Estados Unidos en las Américas.
Una reconsideración de la llamada guerra contra las drogas requiere entre otras cosas una evaluación de la forma en que ha favorecido la expansión de la inversión extranjera directa y de las industrias extractivas en Colombia, México y Centroamérica.
La guerra, cuando los golpes no bastan
“Así es como se sentía el inicio del neoliberalismo,” dijo Raquel Gutiérrez, reflexionando sobre lo que es tratar de entender la guerra en curso en México. Ahora catedrática de la Universidad Autónoma de Puebla, Raquel era militante clandestina en Bolivia a mediados los años 80, cuando las primeras políticas neoliberales tuvieron efecto en aquel país, creando una pauperización de la clase obrera. Han pasado 10 años desde que regresó a México.
Raquel se detiene y da una pitada a su cigarrillo, como si tratara de recordar un idioma que ha olvidado. No viene. Luego me pregunta si he leído el libro de Naomi Klein La doctrina del shock. Asiento con la cabeza. Silencio. “La cosa es que en México, los choques no funcionaron,” dice ella. (more…)
Below, find the Spanish translation of this month’s cover story in The Dominion, published by SubVersiones out of Mexico City.
El papel de Ottawa en la guerra permanente contra el pueblo de México
Ciudad Juárez, México. La música es fuerte y el bar está bien abastecido. Me siento tímidamente con una lata de cerveza, mis ojos en la entrada. Esta solía ser una concurrida discoteca antes de que Juárez se transformara en una zona de guerra. Mi compañero, Julián Cardona, quien solía tomar fotografías para las páginas sociales de un periódico local, describe cómo solía ser aquí: Hummers estacionados en triple-línea en la acera, propinas de cien dólares, tejanos bien vestidos esperando detrás de cuerdas de terciopelo para entrar. Ya no es así. La noche que visité el lugar estaba casi vacío, meseras ocupadas con sus iPhones, un vendedor ambulante de cigarrillos gritando para vender.
La idea de ir a la discoteca fue de Cardona, él dijo que me ayudaría a entender mejor la ciudad. Su carrera ha tomado un giro inesperado debido a la violencia: actualmente, en lugar de tomar fotografías para las páginas sociales, toma escenas del crimen en una de las ciudades más violentas del mundo. Ciudad Juárez, una ciudad que floreció con la introducción de las maquiladoras, ha sido durante mucho tiempo una ciudad con altos niveles de violencia. Los asesinatos de mujeres a través de la década de 1990 captó la atención internacional. Por cada mujer muerta, había nueve hombres asesinados.
Pero cuando Juárez se transformó en el punto focal de la guerra de México contra los narcotraficantes, las cosas en la ciudad comenzaron a cambiar más allá del reconocimiento. El presidente Felipe Calderón lanzó una guerra militarizada contra los narcotraficantes al inicio de su mandato en diciembre de 2006. A finales de marzo de 2008, miles de soldados y policías federales llegaron a Ciudad Juárez como parte de una oleada contra los narcotraficantes. Después de que los policías y soldados llegaron, la tasa de homicidios se disparó, incrementó de la violencia, y aumentaron los secuestros. Ciudad Juárez se convirtió en sinónimo de todo lo que está mal en México. (more…)
Have a read of this month’s cover story in The Dominion, which looks at Canada’s role in training police in Mexico. I wrote it with help from The Dominion’s fund for investigative journalism.
Canada Boosts Police Power in Mexico
CIUDAD JUAREZ, MEXICO—The music is loud and the bar is well stocked. I sit timidly with a can of beer, eyes on the entrance. This was a happening nightclub before Juarez was transformed into a war zone. My companion, Julian Cardona, who used to shoot photos for the society pages of a local newspaper, describes what it used to be like here: Hummers triple-parked on the sidewalk, hundred-dollar tips, well-dressed Texans waiting behind velvet ropes to get in. Not anymore. The night I visited, the place was near empty, waitresses busy with their iPhones, a wandering cigarette vendor calling out to make a sale.
It was Cardona’s idea to go to the nightclub; he said it would help me understand the city better. His career has taken an unexpected turn because of the violence: these days, instead of shooting for the society pages, he shoots crime scenes in one of the world’s most violent cities.
Ciudad Juarez, a city that boomed with the introduction ofmaquiladoras, has long been a city with high levels of violence. The murders of women through the 1990s gained international attention. For each dead woman, there were nine murdered men.
But when Juarez transformed into the focal point of Mexico’s war against drug traffickers, things in the city began to change beyond recognition. President Felipe Calderon launched a militarized war on drug traffickers at the beginning of his term in December 2006. At the end of March 2008, thousands of soldiers and federal police officers arrived in Ciudad Juarez as part of a surge against drug traffickers. After the police and troops arrived, the murder rate skyrocketed, violence increased, and kidnappings spiked. Ciudad Juarez became synonymous with everything that is wrong in Mexico. (more…)
Dawn Paley probes beneath the surface of the drug war in Colombia and Mexico. She explores the mechanisms employed, reports on the economic and human devastation, analyzes the possible reasons for continuing the war and suggests further areas of inquiry. PDF of an extended edition for the web.
In both the United States and Canada there have been sustained grassroots efforts to spotlight the unjust mass incarceration and criminalization of poor people, and especially poor people of color, for drug-related arrests. But there has been too little analysis about the reasons behind and mechanisms of this war, and its economic impact on Mexico and beyond.
Even before a withdrawal from Iraq or Afghanistan has been achieved, the United States has become involved in a series of intensifying conflicts taking place from Mexico’s north border through Peru. Governments and mainstream media label it a “war on drugs.” It is important to examine how the expanding “war on drugs” connects to the expansion of transnational corporate control over markets, labor and natural resources.
In Honduras, four Indigenous people were shot and killed in May, when Honduran forces opened fire from a U.S. State Department helicopter, all under the supervision of uniformed U.S. agents. In Mexico — under the guidance of the United States, Canada, Israel and Colombia — the police and army are being transformed.
In Colombia, the war has gone on for decades and involved billions of U.S. dollars, but is being rebranded as a fight against crime. Through the 1980s, the Colombian state became increasingly paramilitarized, a process which “manifested itself as threats, bombings, and selective assassinations or collective massacres of government officials (principally but not exclusively from the left), and of popular political leaders, workers, peasants, professors, human rights activists, and members of nongovernmental organziations.”
U.S. assistance to Colombia in the form of anti-narcotics program funding resulted in the strengthening of paramilitary and unofficial police groups, reported to have patrolled alongside the Colombian Army and involved in the vast majority of massacres and forced displacements in the country.
“Saying that the drug war has failed is to not understand something,” remarked Noam Chomsky in a speech this May. “One must ask oneself what is it that the planners have in mind given the amount of evidence that what they are trying to achieve doesn’t work. What are the probable intentions?”(1)
Chomsky’s comments point to an urgent area of research for activists and journalists wishing to understand today’s drug wars. It is increasingly clear that there is more work to be done in order to properly piece together the reasons for U.S.-led militarization in the Americas. (more…)