Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Francisco Cerezo Reflects on his Speaker's Tour of the Upper Midwest

This October, Witness for Peace Upper Midwest hosted Mexican human rights defender Francisco Cerezo of Comité Cerezo México for a Speaker’s Tour throughout the region. In numerous universities, churches, and community groups throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri, Francisco spoke to over 2,500 people about the effects of U.S. Policy in Mexico.

Francisco presenting to "Advocates for Human Rights" in Minneapolis, Minnesota

He helped the U.S. public understand the difference between the rhetoric around the “Drug War” and the reality of the “Drug War,” focusing special attention on the Mérida Initiative. This 1.6 billion dollar package, the great majority of which comes in the form of military equipment, arms, and training, has had devastating effects on the Mexican people. Besides a major increase in human rights violations by the Army, Federal Police and Navy, it’s resulted in more than 60,000 dead (most of whom had nothing to do with drugs or drug trafficking), 25,000 disappeared, and 150,000 displaced. As Mr. Cerezo pointed out, these are official figures from the Mexican government, and many human rights organizations put the numbers much higher. Below are Francisco’s reflections after his tireless and fruitful tour.

“A work tour of  the Upper Midwest, USA”

The first thing that surprised me in the United States was the influence of the Spanish language in all areas of U.S. life, including the bottle of hot sauce next to the mustard and ketchup in fast food restaurants and diners. This is a significant sign of a Latin American - particularly Mexican - influence. The last time I was in the states was 15 years ago, when things were different and Spanish was restricted to Mexican and Latino immigrant circles.
In terms of the work, I could relate to the Witness for Peace Upper Midwest coordinator, because her work is very similar to ours. She too counts on volunteers who supplement the work and logistical needs of the organization, and maintains and cultivates new contacts with many people who are sensitive to social problems, in this case, in Mexico.
It didn’t surprise me to see that the mass media in the U.S. doesn’t effectively report on the problems of other countries, and even social problems within the U.S. It’s not that this media phenomenon doesn’t exist in Mexico, but it’s not quite as severe, and there are more critical alternatives to mass media that provide a more balanced assessment of what’s happening in Mexico.

One of the several community radio stations (alternatives to the "mass media") Francisco spoke on. This one, WORT, is located in Madison, Wisconsin.
In most of the places where we spoke about the Merida Initiative and its impact on Mexico, nobody knew anything about this military aid program to the Mexican government. In the same way, the discussion of corruption as one of Mexico’s fundamental problems is very prevalent, to the point where it seems that if you’re not American, you’re automatically part of this phenomenon.

If nothing else, our presentation made people ask themselves why their taxpayer money is used to generate so much violence in Mexico, when it’s supposed to do the opposite. We believe that this is a fundamental question that makes many people reflect and brings people closer to Witness for Peace Upper Midwest’s work.  
Francisco Cerezo and Witness for Peace Upper Midwest Regional
Organizer Elise Roberts with Congressman Keith Ellison, after a meeting with him.
Although covering more than 3,000 kilometers (1900 miles) and five states was quite tiring, it was also enriching to talk with so many people interested in the subject. It would have been impossible for Comite Cerezo Mexico to get its message out were it not for the solidarity and fraternal support of so many people, and of Witness for Peace.

Francisco presents to yet another group of university students and staff.
We thank all those who lent us their helping hands, andthose who shared their tables and homes so that we could restore our energy and continue our tour throughout the beautiful Upper Midwest region. There were unforgettable people, from Duluth to Minneapolis, from Milwaukee to Iowa, and many other cities and communities all the way to Kansas City. It was a tour in which we learned a lot about solidarity in this region of the U.S.
Duluth, Minnesota - located on Lake Superior -
one of the many cities that welcomed is with open arms.
To reiterate something that I stated when we were leaving Mexico for the tour, solidarity is a fundamental principle that breaks through all barriers and beliefs, and that goes beyond language and cultural idiosyncrasies and unites us in our dream of a peaceful, just and dignified world.
Warmly and thankfully,
Francisco Cerezo
Coordinator, Comite Cerezo Mexico

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