Sunday, May 8, 2011

Live from Oaxaca: Mass Mobilization against the Drug War

By Claudia Ana Rodriguez and Carlin Christy
International Team - Mexico
Witness for Peace

Queremos escuelas, queremos trabajos, queremos hospitales, no queremos militares! (We want schools, we want jobs, we want hospitals, we don’t want military!)

This chant was heard in the Oaxaca City zócalo on Sunday, May 8th. A local march was held in coordination with poet and journalist Javier Sicilia’s national call to action in demand of peace, justice and an end to impunity. The march began at the gates of the city’s military barracks, eventually ending at the zócalo. People from the march, other supporters, and bystanders curious to see what was happening gathered. They listened to members of civil society (including youth, members of the teacher’s union Sección 22, and relatives of a recently disappeared teacher) speak out against militarization in their country. All of them spoke with anger, frustration, and concern, because the U.S.-backed strategy of sending the military to fight the war on drugs absolutely cannot continue.

Alba Cruz, a human rights lawyer who has faced threats for her work to bring justice to victims of state repression and promote human rights in the state of Oaxaca spoke about the U.S.’s role in the drug war. “They should stop the war on drug trafficking. It seems to me that this is not the help that Mexico needs. It’s not arms that Mexico needs. Mexico needs other types of help.”

There is definitely a growing sense of fear and concern among people in Oaxaca. Many participants in the march mentioned the state of insecurity as something that has grown exponentially since Felipe Calderón began the war on drug trafficking over four years ago.

One element of insecurity is the growing incidence of forced disappearances. Carlos René Román Salazar, a well-respected teacher with 30 years of service in Oaxaca’s schools, disappeared on March 14. His wife, Marisol Ricárdez Contreras and sister Yolanda Leticia Ramirez Salazar addressed the crowd in the zócalo, lamenting the lack of progress in the case since the disappearance 55 days ago. They also described the pain of not knowing the whereabouts or state of wellbeing of their husband and brother. Calling upon the state government of Oaxaca, they demanded the return of their loved one, alive.

When asked to share her thoughts on the drug war, Yolanda stated: “All of this has been a farce, because they make it seem like they are combating this, but every day there is more violence, more impunity, more drug trafficking and more violence. I think the federal government is not doing a good job of stabilizing the country.”

Some talked about fear of a totalitarian military government state, especially due to possible reforms to the National Security Law which would allow for the military to repress any social movement that supposedly threatens state security.

Others talked about the criminalization of social protest, remembering what happened in Oaxaca in 2006, when an annual teacher’s strike was met with attacks from police and military, resulting in disappearances, murders, and a host of other human rights violations.

Given the high levels of poverty in the state of Oaxaca, the low levels of education, and continued impunity and state repression, it is easy to see why Oaxacans are “hasta la madre” of a war that has only brought violence and destruction to an already fragile social fabric.

Too many people have died and too many families have been affected from all parts of society – but the poor have been hit the hardest. What makes this movement different than others in Mexico’s past is the wide spectrum of people involved. It is not just one sector of society - teachers, an indigenous group, a workers union, etc. – but all parts of society. It shows how far-reaching the drug war has been, and how many people have truly “had it up to here.” Despite all the anger and frustration, there still is hope that a movement built from the bottom up can make a change. That is why thousands of people around Mexico mobilized these last few days: to put their country on a new path away from the dangerous one President Felipe Calderón has led them down with the support of the U.S. government.

With thousands of Mexicans uniting in a national outcry against this war, those of us in the U.S. must recognize our government’s role in the devastation of these lives, these communities, and this country.

As the violence and instability cuts across Mexico’s various sectors and geographies, it is imperative that U.S. citizens learn about the high costs of the militarized approach to solving the war on drugs.

In the face of this challenge, march participant Elba Vazquez had this message for people in U.S.: "They should really inform themselves of what is happening. That Mexico is seeing too many dead people, too many people whose lives have been transformed by violence. They should think about how the lifestyle that they lead is costing other people. We can't be so indifferent in the face of people's suffering.”

It is not enough for the Mexican people to rise up and demand their government stop the violence against them. As long as the U.S. continues to send military aid to Mexico and refuses to accept our role and responsibility in the drug war, the violence and turmoil will never end. There will continue to be a strong demand and market for drugs, there will still be gun shops selling arms to drug trafficking organizations, and there will still be U.S. financial institutions laundering money and making a profit.

Part of the solution lies in Mexico, but the other part is in our hands – the hands of U.S. citizens. We can no longer stand idly by and allow the U.S. to insist that Mexican communities bear the entirety of the drug war burden.

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