Since the early 1900s, U.S. policies have helped to create the conditions that the people of Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua are fleeing.
A Witness for Peace delegation, Resisting Economic and State Repression, took place in Oaxaca and Mexico City, Mexico, April 3-13, 2018. The seven of us wanted to understand the effect of U.S. policies on the people of Mexico, so we met with community organizers, human rights activists and policy experts to gain a deeper understanding of NAFTA, the War on Drugs and its accompanying militarization. The people we met with illustrated well the cyclical intersection between those three forces that is closely tied to the stream of migrants who are fleeing from poverty, violence, and repression.
My name is Jennifer and I chose to be a member of this delegation because I have always been drawn to stand in solidarity with fellow workers and fight the injustices of capitalism and the lust for militarism. The Iran-Contra affair led me to investigate the actions of the U.S. in the Americas. I was inspired by the resistance movements and worker solidarity of Central and South America. More recently, I became intrigued by the resistance and autonomy movements of indigenous communities in Mexico. Our comrades south of the border have been front line victims and combatants against capitalism and militarism for many decades. We must learn the history and lessons from our comrades and educate others to foster more solidarity and combat the lies that serve the capitalists so well.
While in the city of Oaxaca we visited the Migrant Orientation Center of Oaxaca (COMI), one of the 50 migrant shelters in Mexico supported by the Catholic church and local volunteers. The COMI volunteers organized a very powerful meeting that left us deeply moved and in awe of the migrants’ integrity and courage. They told us that their primary reasons for migrating were to find work that would support their families, to reunite with family in the U.S. and to escape physical, economic and political violence in their home countries. It was clear that they were grieving to leave behind their small children and their homes. They were unsure if and how they would get across the U.S. border, and yet they were on their way, on foot, heading northward. One man said that his only assurance was his faith that God would be with him.
The U.S. has spent millions to close its southern border with Mexico and to militarize the Mexican police who apprehend and detain the migrants as they pass through Mexico. Their journey north is mostly on foot, and constantly threatened with gang and police violence.
We met with several groups and individual academics who told us about the serious problems caused by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) signed by Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. in 1994. In order for the U.S. to agree to the terms of NAFTA, Mexico was pressured to change its laws that previously protected land owned communally by rural and indigenous groups so that Mexican citizens could sell their land individually. This led to the loss of much land to multinationals, big agriculture (Mexican and American), and (primarily Canadian) mining companies. Over three million campesinos (farmers/rural people) and indigenous people have become landless and displaced, and many joined the migrant stream to the U.S.
The Mexican government, military, and police have often entered these conflicts on the side of the corporations and frequently murder and disappear those who resist. Mexico has been rapidly militarized since NAFTA was signed in 1994 and since the U.S. passed the Merida Initiative in 2006-2007, which appropriated 2.5 billion dollars in military aid, arms, and training for the Mexican military and police. Also, since it is difficult to buy a gun legally in Mexico, there are an enormous amount of guns, bought at stores and gun shows in the U.S., that are smuggled into Mexico and sold illegally.
Human rights defender Francisco Cerezo, of Comité Cerezo México, said, “capitalism generates all the violations of human rights.” He referenced the Merida Initiative, mining concessions that displace campesinos, and militarism that protects corporations and not people.
With support provided by NAFTA the Mexican government has given concessions on 25% of its national land to U.S. and Canadian companies, seeking to realize profits from mining, hydroelectric projects, wind farms and tourist megaprojects. This has led to conflicts over land with small communities who have fought back against severe pollution, loss of water resources, and displacement from ancestral lands.
We learned that NAFTA did not save U.S. jobs and it did not build prosperity for the people of Mexico. It privatized their land and broke up their communities in order to further Canadian and U.S. mining and megaprojects. It decimated small farmers and continues to drive migration. Our brothers and sisters do not want to leave their families or land, but it is what they are driven to do to survive and help support their families. Migration and immigration are in the news and migrants are being purposefully dehumanized. Please remember they are human beings.
The War on Drugs
These problems are significantly compounded by the War on Drugs that has been pushed by the U.S. government in an effort to stop the flow of drugs from Latin American to the U.S. We met with academics, human rights groups, a youth group, and land defenders, who all agreed that the drug war has been a complete failure: it has not stopped illegal drug trade. Instead the drug war fragmented 7-9 cartels into scores of smaller organizations that fight over drug turf; so their illegal activities have expanded to include human trafficking, control of the movement of migrants across the border, and extortion of the local population. Many governmental officials, military, and police are involved with the cartels, and ex-soldiers are sometime involved in paramilitary groups that do the dirty work of the cartels and some multinational corporations.
Laura Carlson, a U.S. author and longtime resident of Mexico City, told us that the drug war is responsible for 160,000 homicides, 30,000 forced disappearances and 250,000 displaced people. Contrary to the claims of the Mexican government, the vast majority of these victims are not tied to the cartels but rather are the poor, youth, women, human rights and land defenders, migrants, and journalists. Carlson said there is evidence that the government or military are implicated in at least 50% of violence against journalists. There is also evidence of involvement of the government and the Mexican military in other cases of civilian murders and disappearances. Carlson also told us that the impunity rate of homicides is 97 percent, and the authorities don’t bother to investigate most crimes. The more common result of reporting a crime is to have you and your family threatened or worse.
On the final day of our delegation we focused on our eight days of meetings with our partners, who gave us new perspectives about the intersectionality of free trade, drug wars, militarization and migration. Then we discussed and made plans on how we can activate our partners’ requests for social, economic and political intervention. Our goals include informing our Witness for Peace community and the U.S. public about the U.S. and corporate policies and practices that affect the lives of people living south of the U.S. border. We have returned to our families and communities in MN, WI, MI and OR, and our work begins!
Contributors to this article are Ken Crouse, Kenneth Gilchrist, Jennifer Jones and Lyn Clark Pegg, members of the Witness for Peace delegation to Mexico. Please see http://witnessforpeace.org/ for locations of other delegation opportunities