Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Walking the Talk – Reflections from my trip to Mexico with Witness for Peace

by Ivory Taylor
          San Juan Chilateca, Oaxaca, Mexico – Our Witness for Peace Midwest delegation arrived in the small town of San Juan Chilateca on a warm day in mid-January. We were met by Román, a community member who, along with his family, runs a small farm and home using eco-friendly and traditional methods of cultivation and building. We walked from the bus up a small road where murals decorated the walls of buildings and a cone-shaped granary showed evidence of former rural development efforts. As the road changed from pavement to dirt, we came upon Espacio Cruz, the family farmstead set against a stunning backdrop of mountains and blue skies. 
photo by Ivory Taylor
   Upon arrival at the farm, we sat down to learn about the history of the place we were in. Román explained the construction of the farm, and the reason why he and his family created a space which honors the cultural history of San Juan Chilateca and embraces traditional ways of rural living. Until approximately three decades ago, adobe builds were a traditional construction method used by a wide variety of families in Oaxaca. The benefits of adobe builds are numerous. A main advantage, as Román explained, is there is no specialized knowledge necessary to build with this material, unlike other methods such as cement and timber building.  Additionally, this type of build is low-cost. The adobe clay mixture comes from the Earth, and the roof, walls, windows, and fences can all be constructed using sugar cane reeds found in local streams. Materials from daily living are recycled into building components as well, such as soda bottles used for constructing walls and the aluminum lining in milk or juice cartons acting as insulators from heat and cold between the ceiling and the one store bought material, corrugated metal roofing. A composting toilet provides fertilizer for fruit trees and flowers, and an ecological stove (brasero) uses dry wood from fields, acting as a low-impact alternative to electric and gas ranges.     

photo by Ivory Taylor
   Learning about Espacio Cruz from this perspective was very interesting, especially as our global society searches for ways to lessen our impact on the planet as we try to backtrack from decades of environmental and economical degradation. However, it was our lesson on traditional ways of living as a form of resistance that particularly made me sit up and take notice. Román explained that his family had decided to create Espacio Cruz, not just for practical reasons, but for political ones. To further explain, Oaxaca has been the site of indigenous resistance to land-theft, megaprojects, government repression, and rural development efforts for years, so there is a long history of struggle and social activism in the state. 

On the subject of this, in 2000, Román married Yasmín, and together they began organizing in their community around issues of corruption and misuse of community funds by the local government, inspired by the Zapatista resistance movements in Chiapas in the 1990’s. During this time, their efforts were supported by the PRD (Partido de la Revolución Democrática). From 2004-2006, they separated from the PRD due to corruption, fragmentation, and disloyalty. It was also during this time that the teacher’s movement was started in Oaxaca. Román, a teacher for five years, would work in Seccion 22, a dissident teachers unions, from 2009-2013. On the topic of what subjects he taught, Román expressed that he wanted to be an English teacher, but decided against it when he realized that English was the language of the colonizers, and to teach the language would be to endorse their beliefs and actions. This was a powerful statement which brought to the forefront the importance of language preservation and cultural survival. 

photo by Ivory Taylor
From 2007-2009, the family participated in a community radio program in a neighboring town. Román was in charge of the news program, while Yasmín created a children’s program with their daughter Quetzali. Using this platform, the family spoke out against government corruption and brought international news to the community, such as the case of three Mexican students who were killed by the Colombian government in Ecuador. Unfortunately, as a result of these acts of resistance, the family began to be threatened and followed and, after consulting with someone from Comité Cerezo México, an organization in Mexico City which works to protect the rights of human rights defenders, they decided to leave the radio station. 

Since 2014, Espacio Cruz has worked on creating a process of autonomy, of constructing a space that is free from government relationships. “To build something by ourselves, organize by ourselves – this is the way to live,” says Román. The family works to continue their mission of informing communities and strengthening networks in order for people to protect themselves.  They travel to Oaxaca City every two days to collect international newspapers and publish the news on the internet with information about the goings-on of the valley region. They also print a magazine with verse, art, culture, history, news, and information about megaprojects, GMO crops, and the social and ecological repercussions  of capitalist interference (such as poverty, higher temperatures, loss of natural water filtration, and animal death). Quetzali contributes to these magazines using her great eye for graphic design and storytelling through imagery. 

At the end of our discussion, we were invited to stay for a meal of chicken mole verde, farmer’s cheese, tortillas, and horchata. The freshness of the food and the richness of its flavor was a testament to the love and hard work that the family puts into Espacio Cruz everyday. We were also able to view and purchase beautiful works of embroidery, which the family creates together as a hobby. 

           It was such an incredibly humbling experience to be invited to learn from a family who lives their values so thoroughly. The visit to the farm was, for me, one of the most meaningful experiences I had during our delegation. As I continue to engage in activism in my own way, and learn from the ways in which others participate in changing their communities, I will look back often on my trip to Espacio Cruz and hope to continue learning from Román, Yasmín, and Quetzali’s lessons in the future. 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Bringing the Land and People Together in Mexico

by Mickey Foley (originally published on April 18, 2016 on the Land Stewardship Project website)
On day two of our trip, we visited EDUCA (which stands for the Spanish equivalent of "Services for an Alternative Education"), an NGO located in Oaxaca City. It was housed in a two-story building, with a wall out front and a formidable door.
EDUCA was formed in 1994 to promote civil participation, indigenous rights and indigenous leadership. That year was a turning point in the history of Mexico. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took effect and, in response, the Zapatista uprising began and Mexican civil society emerged. EDUCA was inspired by the Zapatistas to organize indigenous communities on the local level. There are 10,000 such localities in Oaxaca.
The speaker, Miguel Angel Vásquez de la Rosa, outlined 6 Pillars of Indigenous Resistance: language (the indigenous mother tongue), territory (80 percent of Oaxacan land is communally owned), the community assembly, community work (tequio, which is unpaid), volunteer positions (cargos) and celebration (Fiesta!).
The word "democracy" has been so thoroughly discredited by its association with the Mexican (and U.S.) establishment that they've come up with a new word to describe the form of government they want to create: "communalocracy"—rule by the community. They want to replace the nexus of corporate and government power that has impoverished Oaxaca, especially its indigenous inhabitants.
The Mexican government has been supporting energy and mining mega-projects in Oaxaca, ostensibly to relieve poverty. But these projects— even the wind farms and hydroelectric dams—have ruinous environmental and economic consequences for the locals. The primary effect (and, likely, the purpose) of these projects is to dispossess indigenous people.
This has led to emigration from Oaxaca to northern Mexico and the U.S., which has caused disintegration of the social fabric, as well as poverty and violence. Even many of the Tachuatl, or "Snake People," the traditional guardians of the land, have been forced to leave. EDUCA believes these issues can best be remedied on the local level.
Thence, we took a fleet of taxis to the Pochote organic market. In my taxi, we spoke with the cabbie, whose English was decidedly better than our Spanish. He'd lived in Mexico City until the age of 4 when his dad split and his mom returned home to Oaxaca. My fellow delegate Sue said, "Qué lástima" ("How sad"). As we paid him 50 pesos and bid him adieu, I wondered if we could've done more to help him.
People in need pass through our lives all the time, and we rarely take the time to make even a token effort. The needy in Mexico were more obvious and numerous than those back home, but poverty in the Twin Cities has become more visible in the past few years. There are so many poor and so few rich wherever you go. I think spare change can help, but big change, like repealing NAFTA, is what's really needed.
The Pochote market was in a picturesque old square with a church. After picking up lunch from the stands there, we listened to two speakers. The first was a woman who wrote a book on nutritional sovereignty in 2000, featuring recipes from the Mixe region. Her mantra was: “Food is life. Food is knowledge.” They don't waste food. Even if a kernel of corn falls, they pick it up and use it. Before producing the food, and throughout the process, they ask permission from the Earth. They give thanks when they eat and when they harvest.
The Pochote organic market provides a place for campesinos
and local producers to sell their goods. 
(photo: Eric Nelson)

Food reinforces community organization. Kids participate, older folks measure out ingredients, women cook, men bring chairs and firewood. Different kinds of tamales are used in certain rituals: in the corn ceremony to give thanks for the harvest, at weddings for the parents of the bride, and for the Day of the Dead and wakes.
The second speaker was a local farmer. He told us that the market allows campesinos and local producers to sell their goods. It's difficult to create this kind of space with the transnational corporations dominating the economy. He talked about how organic agriculture tries to transform nature in ways that are benign. These farmers cure their animals homeopathically, use their manure for compost and plant their own saved seeds in double-dug beds. Through this approach, producers are spiritually, economically and socially strengthened.
That night, we wandered the square, which was full of people, mariachi bands and some dancing. A bedraggled group sat on the steps of a seemingly abandoned building with what appeared to be political banners. It looked like they’d been sitting there all day, if not longer. They’d wait until Doomsday, it seemed, until they got the change they wanted.
Land Stewardship Project member and frequent volunteer Mickey Foley was a participant in the LSP-Witness for Peace Mexico delegation. You can read more of Foley's reflections from the trip at his blog.

Friday, March 25, 2016

“El gobierno de Honduras nos quiere incriminar”

La criminalización del COPINH y la distracción caracterizan a la investigación sobre el asesinato de lideresa Lenca

Por: Acción Permanente por la Paz

Manifestantes exigiendo justicia para el asesinato de Berta Cáceres se juntan fuera del Ministerio Pblico la semana pasada. Foto: Acción Permanente por la Paz

Familiares de Berta Cáceres, coordinadora general del Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (COPINH), y el equipo coordinador de la organización, acompañados por defensores nacionales e internacionales de derechos humanos, hicieron una rueda de prensa el miércoles pasado en Tegucigalpa donde expresaron sus inquietudes sobre la investigación del asesinato de la compañera Cáceres, actualmente dirigida por el Estado de Honduras.

Cáceres, dirigente y defensora de derechos humanos reconocida a nivel internacional, fue asesinada el 3 de marzo de 2016 en su hogar en La Esperanza, Intibucá. Desde el jueves pasado, la familia de Cáceres y el COPINH han denunciado la falta de una investigación internacional e independiente acerca de su asesinato. También han denunciado la incoherencia del gobierno de Honduras en aplicar leyes nacionales e internacionales. COPINH ha demandado específicamente que el gobierno firme un acuerdo con la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos.  “El mismo estado que criminalizó a Berta Cáceres, [...] el mismo estado que la persiguió, que la amenazó, y que tiene responsabilidad por su asesinato no puede investigarse a sí mismo,” aseveró la organización.  

“[Las autoridades hondureñas] se están perdiendo horas y días preciosas de esta investigación,” declaró Marcia Aguiluz, representante del Centro de Justicia, refiriéndose a la negligencia del Estado en no buscar las raíces principales del asesinato de Cáceres: primeramente, la criminalización de su trabajo político en defensa de los derechos humanos. La red de abogados de derechos humanos de Honduras, el Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia (MADJ) comparten estas inquietudes graves y han notado que los procedimientos iniciales de la investigación revelan señales notables que el lugar del crimen ha sido modificado y manipulado.

Erika Guevara-Rosas, directora para las Américas de Amnistía Internacional, reiteraba sentimientos semejantes el martes 8 de marzo en Tegucigalpa: “Las autoridades hondureñas dicen una cosa y hacen otra. Nos han dicho que están decididas a encontrar a los responsables de la muerte de Berta Cáceres, pero no han seguido las líneas de investigación más básicas, incluido el hecho de que Berta llevaba mucho tiempo recibiendo graves amenazas de muerte en relación con su labor de defensa de los derechos humanos.”

La criminalización del COPINH

La defensa de recursos naturales liderada por el COPINH es una lucha organizada en contra del despojo, la explotación y la privatización de sus territorios. Desde la fundación del COPINH en 1993, sus líderes y comunidades han estado directamente opuestos a los intereses económicos y políticos del gobierno hondureño y las empresas transnacionales, lo cual ha implicado una increíble represión, especialmente en el contexto de Honduras tras el golpe de estado y durante el gobierno de Juan Orlando Hernández.  

El sub-coordinador del COPINH Tomás Gómez Membreño, declaró que el liderazgo y la membresía de la organización siguen siendo el blanco de persecución, represión y criminalización por dicho gobierno Hondureño, sus autoridades, y las empresas transnacionales. Gómez también ha señalado las constantes e interminables interrogaciones de miembros del COPINH por parte del ministerio público, la fiscalía estatal, y otras autoridades como otra forma de acoso. Gómez anunció que la organización está programando acciones y demandas durante estos días para denunciar los esfuerzos del gobierno Hondureño de culpar a miembros de la organización por el asesinato.

Deplorablemente, Berta Cáceres es otra víctima de una larga lista de asesinatos orientados a las y los defensores de derechos humanos en Honduras. Durante años recibió amenazas de muerte y acoso de parte del estado y de las fuerzas de seguridad privadas, y también había recibido noticias que tenía prioridad en la lista de asesinatos del ejercito Hondureño, mismo motivo por el cual la Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos autorizó el más alto nivel de medidas cautelares para Cáceres, con el cual el gobierno Hondureño nunca cumplió. Pocas horas después del asesinato, el ministro de Seguridad, Julián Pacheco, culpó públicamente a Cáceres por su propio asesinato, diciendo que ella no había registrado su domicilio y que había rechazado tener policía como escolta. De manera pública, la familia de Berta Cáceres ha refutado firmemente las declaraciones del Ministro.  

Hubo una intensificación de persecución y de amenazas de muerte en contra de Berta Cáceres durante las dos semanas antes de su asesinato. Según una declaración de COPINH y de una comisión de derechos humanos que los acompañaban el día 16 de febrero al salir de la comunidad de Río Blanco, Cáceres y miembros del COPINH fueron perseguidos por hombres armados en una camioneta. Según informes, pocos días después, durante una movilización el día 20 de febrero en contra del proyecto hidroeléctrico Agua Zarca de DESA, el Ingeniero Director de Obra emitió de manera verbal una amenaza de muerte en contra de Cáceres. Después del desalojo forzoso de miembros de la comunidad Lenca en Jarcia, Guise el día 25 de febrero, un funcionario de la Dirección General de Investigación Criminal presuntamente le advirtió a Cáceres que no se harían responsables  si algo le fuese a pasar. El día siguiente, Cáceres recibió una llamada informándole que un carro manejaba alrededor de su casa. Ella informó a la policía, declarando que dos hombres portando armas no registradas le amenazaban de muerte. El día antes de su asesinato, en la mañana, testigos identificaron a sicarios hablando en contra de Cáceres y del COPINH y manejando un Ford 150 que identificaban con DESA, rumbo a La Esperanza.

Además, los familiares de Cáceres, el COPINH, y varios defensores de derechos humanos han expresado su preocupación sobre el tratamiento del único testigo y también víctima, el mexicano Gustavo Castro Soto, un defensor de derechos humanos y periodista de Otros Mundos-Chiapas. Han expresado que “Gustavo no está bien, está cansado. No ha podido dormir o descansar… ya está menos lúcido y sabemos que para poder dar buen testimonio así tiene que estar.” Como respuesta a la decisión ampliamente denunciada del gobierno Hondureño de imponer una orden de retención migratoria de 30 días sobre Castro, “cada hora en que sigue Gustavo aquí provoca más angustia para él y su familia.” También enfatizaron que Castro tiene la voluntad de colaborar en la investigación, y que existen medidas para garantizar su participación desde su casa en México.

Vínculos a los EE.UU y presión sobre el gobierno hondureño

El asesinato de Cáceres ha lastimado el esfuerzo por parte del gobierno hondureño de limpiar su imagen. Hace unas semanas, la administración dio a conocer “2 Años de Logros,” destacando la programación social, operaciones antinarcóticos, y obras de infraestructura durante los primeros dos años del gobierno de Juan Orlando Hernández. El asesinato y la respuesta del Gobierno o la falta de ello ha puesto en duda considerablemente cualquier reclamo presentado sobre “sus logros” así como su compromiso de mantener los derechos humanos y proteger las defensoras y los defensores de derechos humanos.

La embajada estadounidense sigue llamando para una investigación rigurosa y puntual. Si bien el embajador James D. Nealon ha expresado su profunda preocupación sobre el asesinato de Cáceres, la cooperación continua y tácita de la embajada con la investigación dirigida por el Estado de Honduras socava las exigencias unificadas para una que sea realizada por la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH). Miles de activistas han enviado cartas a la embajada estadounidense en Honduras en apoyo de las demandas de la familia y del COPINH, al mismo tiempo instando al Departamento del Estado de los EE.UU a retirar al embajador Nealon para consultas hasta que el Estado Hondureño firme un convenio con la CIDH para que investigue el caso.