Here’s a piece I co-wrote this summer with my dear friend and super talented researcher and journalist Sandra Cuffe. It is in the November/December issue of Canadian Dimension magazine. Image by James Rodríguez.
People began lining up even before the sun rose over the mountain ridge, quietly waiting their turn at a makeshift desk outside a home of wood and earth. One by one, relatives of the dead come forward.
Brother. Uncle. Father. Nephew. Grandfather. Cousin. Son. Do you know where their bodies are? Estrella Polar. North Star. All the men were rounded up in the church, executed, and dumped in a mass grave in the plantation.
Ten years ago, representatives from the National Coordination of Widows of Guatemala (CONAVIGUA) visited the Communities of Population in Resistance (CPR) of the Sierra, gathering information from family members of Indigenous civilians killed by military and paramilitary forces in the 1980s. It’s seven hours of bus and pick-up rides from Guatemala City to the end of the road in the municipality of San Gaspar Chajul, department of El Quiché, and an even longer hike to CPR communities further up into the Cuchumatanes, leaving the shrill hum of insects behind.
Three years after CONAVIGUA collected testimonies in the community, the remains of 86 people were exhumed from a mass grave in the Estrella Polar plantation. The massacre took place on March 24, 1982, one day after the coup d’état that began Efraín Ríos Montt’s brutal regime in Guatemala.
Two hundred thousand people were murdered in Guatemala during a 36-year war that ended in 1996. For the first time in the Americas, this spring the domestic court system and national legislation were used to try former state officials for war crimes. But Guatemala is far from the only place in the Americas where Indigenous people have endured and survived genocide. In Canada, too, Indigenous people continue to battle state policies which strip them of their land, decimate their traditional leadership and attempt to destroy their languages and identities. This article offers a preliminary look at a question the Canadian media has carefully ignored: could Guatemala’s trial open new possibilities for Indigenous peoples to seek justice in Canada? (more…)
Here’s a piece I just did on Palestine solidarity activism in Mexico, published by the wonderful folks at Upside Down World.
Mexicans Against Zionism
December 4, 2013
The Guadalajara International Book Fair (FIL), which according to organizers is the largest Spanish language literary event in the world, opened amid controversy this year. It isn’t books that are the source of the conflict, but rather who the organizers chose as the country of honor: Israel.
The decision to invite Israel as the guest of honor was immediately contested among students and activists in Mexico. Following the announcement, twenty writers, filmmakers and artists of Mexican and Jewish origin signed a letter indicating their wish to “highlight the necessity to keep the history of the state of Israel present, and the fact that its creation provoked a tragedy: the tragedy of the Palestinian people, condemned to exile.”
As the book fair kicked off, Mexico’s guest of honor was the target of global protests against a proposed law called the Prawer Plan. If it becomes law, the Prawer Plan would result in the demolition of 35 Bedouin Arab villages and the forced displacement of as many as 70,000 people into state planned settlements.
Israel’s participation in the Guadalajara book fair stems from a country to country agreement with Mexico. Activists say the decision to invite Israel was an effort by the fair’s administrator, as well as Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, to cozy up with the Zionist movement and Israeli President Shimon Peres, who visited Mexico last week and inaugurated the Israeli pavilion at the book fair. (more…)
Are green groups ready for tarsands deal?
by Dawn Paley on Nov 20, 2013
Gone are the days when the tarsands were an obscure experiment in making oil from tar. Today, the bitumen deposits in central and northern Alberta have become a political hot potato, an issue forced onto the world stage by coordinated protests and direct actions.
But a look at the history of the environmental groups that have signed on to the tarsands protests raises the question of whether or not an agreement between green groups and tarsands operators is on the horizon.
In Canada, Native-led opposition to the Enbridge pipeline through central B.C. has become one of the most visible faces of anti-oil protests. An ongoing 14-month blockade near Smithers, B.C., stands in the way of proposed gas and tarsands pipelines. Campaigns to stop oil tankers from travelling the B.C. coast have raised the spectre of an oil spill in the province’s coastal waters. Protests in Ontario have picked up against the Enbridge-proposed reversal of the 38-year-old Line 9 pipeline, which would pump tarsands crude to the East Coast.
Actions against the tarsands, though, are not limited to Canada.
Since 2011, thousands of people in the U.S. have been arrested protesting tarsands infrastructure, like the Keystone XL pipeline proposed to carry tarsands crude from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. In June, protesters dogged Prime Minister Stephen Harper during his visit to London, England, where, among other actions, they interrupted his speech to Parliament.
The stakes couldn’t be higher, according to Edward R. Royce, the chairman of the U.S. Committee on Foreign Affairs. “Canada is the single largest foreign supplier of petroleum and natural gas to the United States. After Saudi Arabia and Mexico, it is the United States’ third-largest supplier of petroleum,” Royce told the committee last March 14. Today in the U.S., securing access to oil is synonymous with national security.
Tarsands, shale gas, and related infrastructure are increasingly important environmental themes in B.C. But there’s a deal-making trend among some of the key players on the West Coast enviro scene that some consider greenwashing and others portray as pragmatism. As resistance to the tarsands mounts, will a conciliatory brand of anti-tarsands activism also take root? (more…)
Here’s a piece I did for Watershed Sentinel that provides an overview of Canadian mining in Mexico and how Toronto and Vancouver mining companies (among others) come into conflict with communal landholders.
Exploitative Mining in Mexico
In rural towns throughout Mexico, life carries on as it has for generations. Sons help their fathers haul wood, women tend to the fire and select seeds, and whole families take part in sowing, caring for and harvesting crops.
Farming is often primary activity for those who live in rural communities. Families grow corn, beans, and other vegetables for personal consumption and sometimes for sale. Eighty per cent of Mexico’s small farmers own land communally. These landholder groups are officially called comunidades indigenas (Indigenous communities) or ejidos, of which there are over 27,000 throughout the country. Some ejidos are in Indigenous communities, while others are in mixed (mestizo) areas.
Decisions about how to use ejido and other forms of communally-held land are made collectively, and adopted via general assembly.
Law of the Land
This is where things get messy. Not because communally-held land is failing the men and women that work it, but because of what’s underneath their feet. Beneath the ground, owned by the people who it sustains, are metals that are in great demand, primarily gold, silver, and copper. A convergence of rising metal prices, favourable government policy, and technology has contributed to the rapid expansion of the mining sector in Mexico over the past decades.
From Chiapas to Chihuahua, farmers in nearly every state in the union have experienced conflict linked to Canadian mining companies. Part of the confusion is made in Mexico: constitutional changes adopted before the North America Free Trade Agreement was passed opened up the possibility for ejido and Indigenous lands to be privately owned, and thus sold. But not all ejidos have gone that route.
Transparent, open negotiation with communal landholders, and accepting communities’ legal right to decide what happens in their lands, would stave off much of the conflict. Unfortunately, it seems, that rarely happens. (more…)
Here’s a short essay I wrote for Occupied London’s fifth issue…
Published October 24, 2013
In 2010 and 2011, grenades exploded at city hall buildings in Reynosa, Matamoros, Nuevo Laredo and Ciudad Victoria, four cities in the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas.
Organized crime was blamed for the explosions, particularly members of the Zetas or of the Gulf Cartel. I visited the region in early 2011, at a loss for what could be driving criminal groups to fight against local governments that are, for all intents and purposes, under their control.
It wasn’t until I met Francisco Chavira Martínez in early 2011 that things began to become clear. The first time we met, he suggested we eat together at the back of a Reynosa restaurant that caters to well-heeled locals. Waiters dressed like penguins bowed in and out, while other tables were occupied mostly by older men. Chavira spoke loudly, unafraid. He was the only person out of over a dozen I interviewed in the city who agreed to let me use his real name.
Local governments “use car thieves to steal the cars of anyone who opposes them; house thieves who will rob your house to frighten you; narcotraffickers, who they use as a way to create fear in the people, so that you don’t participate, so that you don’t raise your voice or go against the government; they even send their own to throw grenades at city halls,” Chavira explained.1
Maybe he noticed the quizzical look on my face. I didn’t yet grasp how terror works, and the purposes it serves. “Why?” he asked himself, pausing for a moment. “So that the people are scared and don’t go to City Hall to make demands; they won’t go and demand that public accounts be transparent, or [ask] what the money is being spent on.” Months after our interview, Chavira, a candidate for the left-leaning Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), was arrested on trumped up charges and held in jail until after the elections, in what he referred to as a “legalised kidnapping” by the state.
The second time I met with Chavira was two years later, in early 2013. We ran into each other in front of the US embassy in Mexico City at a demonstration organized by families and friends of people who are working without papers in the US. I took him to a nearby café where we did a short interview. While we walked he marveled at how wonderful it felt to be able to walk down the street without fear, something no longer possible in his hometown.
Chavira’s comments to me that afternoon need some introduction. (more…)
I figured a short update was in order… It has been a while since I updated here. Over the summer, I wrote two longer pieces and co-wrote a third on Mexico and Guatemala, none of which have come out yet. I’ll post those when they’re published.
When I finished my Masters in Journalism in late 2010, I decided to write a book. I pretty much knew what it would be about: the “drug war” in Mexico and how it is linked to what took place in Colombia through the 2000s in particular.
Since then, I’ve travelled throughout Mexico and Guatemala gathering info for the book, which has as a tentative title Drug War Capitalism. I now 160 pages in, and am hoping to get 75 per cent of the manuscript completed by November 1, 2013. I’m a couple weeks and a lot of words short of the deadline. Hence all the silence around these parts.
The book is a much expanded version of an essay I published in 2012 by the same title. Links to the essay are below.
Click here to read Drug War Capitalism in English.
Haz click aquí para leer El Capitalismo Narco en castellano.
Cliquez içi pour lire La « Guerre contre la drogue », alibi néolibéral en Colombie et au Mexique en français.
I recently had the good fortune to contribute a short essay to Stay Solid! A Radical Handbook for Youth, edited by Matt Hern and the Purple Thistle Collective and published by AK Press. My piece is really short and regular readers of my work will be familiar with the thrust of it. Stay Solid is a big book with nice large print, filled with insightful essays, images, letters, and short pieces like mine, which I’m reposting below. Highly recommended if you’re out looking for a little something for a teenager or young adult in your life.
Maybe you’ve heard of something called the war on drugs. Maybe not. Either way, here’s a sketch: words “war on drugs” were first uttered disgraced U.S. President Richard Nixon in 1969. The logic of the war on drugs is based around the idea of prohibition, or that making certain narcotics illegal protects the population.
Prohibition is based on moral and social panics, and not based on science or medical research, which has generally pointed to the fact that drug addiction is a medical issue and not a criminal issue.
Last week’s capture of Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales made news all over the world, and was celebrated in the mainstream press as a blow against Los Zetas and a decimation of their leadership. The New York Times went so far as to claim his capture could represent a “crossroads” in the four-decade war on drugs.
These media reports are mainly based on anonymous official sources and analysts who spend too much time on YouTube. Thankfully, there are still some people out there whose bullshit detectors work. These are the folks who can help us get beyond the official line and understand the on-the-ground impact of apprehending a guy nicknamed Z-40 and putting him in jail.
First, it’s important to have a sense of Treviño’s true role in the organization, a nuance that seems to escape even the most hardened stay-at-home keyboard warrior analysts. I asked Guadalupe Correa Cabrera, who teaches in the governance department at the University of Texas in Brownsville, across the river from Matamoros, Tamaulipas, if the mainstream media has oversold the importance of men like Treviño Morales and the role of hired killers within Los Zetas.
“The problem is the media is looking at the lil sicario as if he were the whole organization,” said Cabrera. She’s writing a book titled Zetas Inc., where she compares their structure and operations to that of a corporation. The way she sees it, the assassins who work for the Zetas are basically like a marketing department, and, far from a cartel overseer, Treviño Morales was more like a top salesman. (more…)
My review of Dirty Wars, published by Upside Down World.
Scahill, Jeremy. Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield. Perseus Books, 2013. (Epub edition).
Though Jeremy Scahill’s latest book, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, is firmly rooted in the Arab world, it is a valuable volume for those wishing to better understand how current and past events in Mexico and Central and South America connect to the so-called war on terror.
A must-read for anyone wanting to learn more about the US drone wars and targeted kill programs, Dirty Wars is a bit slow going off the top, but before long, Scahill introduces compelling characters and provides readers with access to entire families who have been adversely impacted by US war policies in Yemen and elsewhere.
Dirty Wars also contains a number of items of specific interest to folks whose interests lie south of the US border.
Using carefully gathered evidence, Dirty Wars makes it clear that American military campaigns do little more than exacerbate existing situations. Sadly, this is as true in the Western hemisphere as it is in the Middle East.
Scahill carefully documents how the militaristic approach taken by the US government towards perceived terror threats in Somalia, Yemen and elsewhere has served to drive up the influence of local armed groups.
“By 2004, the [CIA's] outsourced Somalia campaign was laying the groundwork for a spectacular series of events that would lead to an almost unthinkable rise in the influence of al Qaeda in the Horn of Africa,” writes Scahill. He later describes how Ethiopian and US special forces intensified their attacks on members of Somalia’s Islamic Courts Union, in January 2007. This aggression created a welcoming climate for al Qaeda: “With the Somali ICU leaders on the run, al Qaeda saw Somalia as an ideal front line for jihad and began increasing its support for al Shabab.”
Reading from Mexico, one cannot help but be reminded of how the US campaigns against drug traffickers in one region inevitably result in a strengthening of the same groups in another part of the same region. (more…)
Here’s a piece that goes a little way towards explaining the HUGE financial reform package presented by Mexico’s Finance Ministry in May.
‘Til Debt Do Us Part’– Mexico Financial Reforms Favor Big Banks, Deny Credit to Millions of Farmers
CIP Americas Program, July 10, 2013
A package of financial reforms proposed in Mexico has quietly been presented to congress. Although it hasn’t garnered much attention anywhere but in the business press, the proposal hasn’t escaped the attention of the U.S. financial sector. But critics argue the reforms could increase consumer debt and repossessions in Mexico, and lead to publicly funded bailouts of foreign-owned banks.
On May 8, Mexico’s Finance Ministry (SHCP) presented the financial reform to congress. The reform is 927 pages long, consisting of 13 decrees, which will amend 34 federal laws. The same day as the reform was published, Fitch Ratings raised Mexico’s credit rating to BBB+, citing “greater than anticipated commitment of the new administration and Congress to pass structural reforms.
The financial reform follows controversial labor and education reforms that lowered minimum wage and introduced standardized testing for teachers.
In a speech delivered the day the financial reform was presented, Finance Minister Luis Videgaray explained that the reform aims to increase competition in the banking sector and create incentives for lending. Videgaray twice pointed to Chile, long the Latin American poster child of neoliberalism, as a model for Mexico’s financial system.
“A poor track record of paying back loans, limited consequences for non-payment and a challenging legal environment for collections also dull lending in Mexico,” reads an article in the Wall Street Journal. Among the key objectives of the bill, according to U.S. law firm Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP, is “Improving trial procedures, seeking faster resolution of controversies and granting enhanced rights to lenders through the courts, which are likely to expedite collections.”
The Mexican Banking Association (ABM), which represents the largest banks in the country, immediately expressed its support of the proposal.
But not everyone is convinced that Mexico’s financial reform is everything its boosters pretend. Dr. Luis Ignacio Román, a professor and researcher in the department of economics, administration and finances at the Western Institute of Technology and Higher Education (ITESO) in Guadalajara, Mexico, says it is the big banks that will come out stronger with the reform. (more…)