Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Frontera NorteSur: Love, Struggle and Memory in Ciudad Juarez

June 14, 2011
Editor’s Note: This is the first of two articles on Mexico’s Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity that was in Ciudad Juarez and El Paso from June 9-11.

Caravan for Peace supports Indigenous rights and Zapatistas
"The caravan participants demanded that Mexico live up to its national and international obligations to indigenous people under the International Labor Organization, the United Nations Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous People and the 1995 San Andres Accords between the Mexican government and Zapatista National Liberation Army. The Ciudad Juarez meeting protested the criminal burnings of seven indigenous communities in Durango and Chihuahua; backed the struggle of the Purepecha community of Cheran, Michoacan, against illegal logging; supported the right of autonomy for the Nahuatl community of Santa Maria Ostula, Michoacan; and endorsed the opposition of indigenous communities in San Luis Potosi and Guerrero to new mining concessions." --Frontera NorteSur
Ciudad Juarez NewsLove, Struggle and Memory in Ciudad Juarez
By Frontera NorteSur

Completing an epic journey across Mexico, the Caravan for Peace with
Justice and Dignity arrived late last week to a tumultuous welcome in
Ciudad Juarez, the beleaguered border city poet and caravan organizer
Javier Sicilia calls Mexico’s “epicenter of pain.”

Over the course of two hectic and memorable days, perhaps thousands of
Juarenses turned out to different events to remember the dead of the
so-called narco-war and other forms of violence, to demand justice for
victims and, in a sweeping response to social, economic and political
decay, to begin drafting the blueprint of a new nation.

Leobardo Alvarado, organizer for the Juarez Assembly for Peace with
Justice and Dignity, told Frontera NorteSur that more than 100 local
groups coalesced to support the caravan and its message. “I think the most
important thing is that we are together,” Alvarado said. “We have never
seen this before.”

The caravan rolled into Ciudad Juarez at a time when not only violence
continued unabated, but when the earth itself was seemingly withering in
anguish. As a blistering heat pounded the city, dust rose from a land
sucked dry by months of unrelenting drought.

Instead of life-giving water, clumps of trash littered the bed of the Rio
Grande; to the northwest a mammoth wildfire drove thousands of people from
their homes in Arizona and sent dense smoke over New Mexico, coloring the
normally blue skies more like the dull gray of the worst years of smoggy
Los Angeles or Mexico City.

On Friday, June 10, hundreds of people from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico and the
US gathered at the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez (UACJ) to hack
out a national citizens’ pact for peace, justice and social reform. Going
into the meeting, six points- guided by a commitment to peace and
non-violence- provided the framework for a more detailed national pact
among civil society organizations.

Activists with Chihuahua City’s new Citizen Movement for Peace and
Dignified Life, sisters Alejandra and Ari Rico participated in the
meeting.

A day earlier, on Thursday, June 9, thousands of people staged a march in
the Chihuahua state capital in support of the caravan. According to
Alejandra, the march and rally in front of state government offices was a
“marvelous event” that signaled the stirring of grassroots response to
years of spiraling violence.

In 2009 and 2010, the Rico sisters returned to their hometown after years
away in the US and other parts of Mexico. Alejandra worked as an educator
in the Other Mexico, living in the “New Chihuahua” of the Colorado
mountains where Mexican immigrants toiled away in affluent tourist
communities enjoying a then-thriving leisure economy

But the city the Rico sisters came back to was a far different one they
left a decade before. Soon the returning siblings heard first-hand
accounts of shoot-outs, robberies, auto thefts and kidnappings. A cousin
was injured by shattered glass from a stray bullet fired during a
shoot-out he had nothing to do with. Alejandra’s parents warned her
against walking at night.

“This did not go on at all in my Chihuahua of my childhood, of my
adolescence, of my youth,” Alejandra reflected.

Conversely, last week’s pro-caravan mobilization indicated that the public
is wearying of the violence and demanding genuine solutions, added Ari.
“It is the hour that Mexico unites,” she said. “It’s time that we leave
behind the north, the south and the center. We are one country.”

Meeting in nine thematically-assigned workshops, different groups at the
UACJ discussed tactics and strategies of the six-point citizen pact.
Reconvened for a popular assembly, they reviewed the proposals for later
possible incorporation into the pact and agreed to them by consensus.

A few of the proposals included holding an international conference
against money laundering and arms trafficking; symbolic occupations of
banks; expropriating illicitly-obtained businesses for the social good;
naming a white-collar prosecutor; establishing a youth television network;
and ensuring that the minimum wage, ground up by inflation, be sufficient
to cover basic expenses as guaranteed by the Mexican constitution.

Going beyond violence and justice issues per se, activists voiced strong
support for labor and indigenous rights. The caravan participants demanded
that Mexico live up to its national and international obligations to
indigenous people under the International Labor Organization, the United
Nations Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous People and the 1995 San
Andres Accords between the Mexican government and Zapatista National
Liberation Army.

The Ciudad Juarez meeting protested the criminal burnings of seven
indigenous communities in Durango and Chihuahua; backed the struggle of
the Purepecha community of Cheran, Michoacan, against illegal logging;
supported the right of autonomy for the Nahuatl community of Santa Maria
Ostula, Michoacan; and endorsed the opposition of indigenous communities
in San Luis Potosi and Guerrero to new mining concessions.

After the university assembly, the caravan rambled over to the Benito
Juarez Monument in the city’s downtown for a mass rally and pact signing.
Erected in honor of one of Mexico’s most revered historic leaders, the
monument was decked out with pictures of the murdered and disappeared,
poems, messages and slogans.

A remarkable cross section of Mexican society filed into the monument
grounds-former braceros, small farmers, workers, professionals, students
and housewives. A contingent from Justice without Borders marched across
one of the international bridges from neighboring El Paso and into the
unfolding demonstration.

Holding banners and chanting “Miss Ana, Miss Ana,” one vocal and
well-organized group called for the freedom of respected El Paso
elementary school teacher Ana Isela Martinez, who was jailed May 27 in
Ciudad Juarez for allegedly possessing marijuana. Supporters contend she
was set-up to transport a load of dope across the border without her
knowledge.

“We are going to continue with the public pressure, because any resident
of Ciudad Juarez can be Miss Ana,” said Carlos Barragan, Martinez’s
nephew.

Standing out in their pink t-shirts, members of Mothers in Search of
Justice milled around the quilt they are patching together that shows the
pictures of murdered loved ones and features written remembrances. They
call it the Blanket of Love.

Vicky Caraveo, group coordinator, said the quilt is a work-in-progress
that will be taken around the community so people can add photos and
stories to the blanket.

“We can display what is happening, but with love and respect,” Caraveo
said. “So the world can understand that our kids are not a number.”
According to the long-time women’s activist, who along with the late
Esther Chavez Cano began protesting gender violence nearly two decades
ago, the quilt will even be available for exhibition in the US.

Guadalupe Ivonne Estrada is one of the people on the Blanket of Love.
Found murdered in Chamizal Park in 1993, the 16-year-old was one of the
first publicized victims of the Ciudad Juarez femicides. Estrada left
behind an infant daughter who is now turning 19. The young woman stood at
the edge of the quilt but declined to talk about a mother she never really
knew.

“All this is very difficult for her,” said Victoria Salas, the grandmother
of the young woman and Estrada’s mother. According to the Ciudad Juarez
resident, her teenage daughter disappeared from the Phillips plant where
she worked. A company professional was implicated in the slaying but
managed to wiggle his way out of punishment, Salas said.

“We don’t have justice in Ciudad Juarez. There is none, and no explanation
why (Guadalupe) disappeared,” Salas said. “We are in a lawless land.” In
2011 young girls keep disappearing, including three from her own
neighborhood, she added.

As the event kicked into high gear, spokespeople for the movement gathered
on the stage-Javier Sicilia; Olga Reyes, member of the exiled Juarez
Valley family devastated by homicides and violence; Julian Lebaron,
brother of slain anti-kidnapping activist and Chihuahua Mormon community
leader Benjamin Lebaron; and Luz Maria Davila, mother of two young men
shot down in the infamous Villas de Salvarcar house party massacre last
year.

They were joined by other victims’ relatives from across Mexico. A speaker
reminded the crowd that this day, June 10, was chosen for the signing of
the citizen pact to honor the students who were massacred by government
paramilitary squads on the same date in Mexico City in 1971.

Magdalena Garcia, widow of architect Ricardo Gatica, told how her husband
disappeared and was then found murdered in 2009. Garcia recounted how she
conducted her own investigation, tracing the car in which Garcia vanished.
Despite informing the authorities of the lead, no justice has been
achieved in the case, she said.

“I want justice!” Garcia shouted. “It’s not fair that they left my
children without their father. I will continue until the end.!”

“You are not alone!” the crowd roared back.

Buckets of tears, pent-up emotions and oodles of anger burst and flowed
from the stage and from the large crowd-almost as a cancerous bubble of
violence, corruption and impunity that had been building up for 20 years
suddenly popped just like Wall Street did in 2008.

“We are fed up!” shouted the crowd. More chants followed: “Up with
Juarez!” “Long Live Mexico!” “Long Live Spain!” “Long Live Egypt!” “The
People United Will Never be Defeated!” Beaming from the stage, the
portraits of Mexican army officer Orlando Munoz Guzman, disappeared in
Ciudad Juarez in 1993, and a more recent group of men from Guerrero
rounded out the scene.

Looking visibly exhausted, Javier Sicilia stood on the stage with a
Mexican flag. The poet, whose trademark floppy hat has some comparing him
to Indiana Jones and who could easily pass for a botanist or a fly
fisherman, is the anti-thesis of the traditional macho leader. Arguably,
however, he is Mexico’s man of the moment.

Sicilia’s uncompromising stance in protesting the murder of his son Juan
Francisco in Morelos state earlier this year, inspired tens of thousands
of Mexicans to join a still young but growing movement against violence
and for deep-seated change.

In a subdued but firm voice, Sicilia said the caravan’s laying of a plaque
in memory of Marisela Escobedo, the Ciudad Juarez activist mother brazenly
murdered in Chihuahua City last December, is an example of how Mexicans
need to recover the memories of violence victims.

“We have to fill the country with the names of the dead, so that the
authorities remember the obligation they have,” Sicilia declared. He then
read Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy’s “Ithaca.”

“In the history of tragedy and pain that this country is going through,
the Mexican government did not count on the strength and the consistency
of a poet,” observed Ciudad Juarez writer and activist Juan Carlos
Martinez.

On one side of the stage, a man with sad, protruding eyes held up a large
poster of a young girl with big and happy eyes. The man was Jose Rayas,
father of Marcela Viviana “Bibis” Rayas, a 16-year-old girl murdered in
Chihuahua City in 2003.

In comments to Frontera Sur, Rayas told how Chihuahua state law
enforcement authorities tried to get him to go along with pushing “an
absurd story” that pinned the murder on two former Chihuahua City
residents, US citizen Cynthia Kiecker and her Mexican husband Ulises
Perzabal.

Tortured into making a false confession, Kiecker and Perzabal were later
acquitted by a judge after an international campaign for their freedom
made the case a diplomatic issue between Mexico and the US in 2004.

More than eight years after his daughter’s slaying, Rayas said there has
been no movement in the halls of justice. Different justice officials
come and go, he said, promising to reopen the murder investigation but
always producing the same null results.

Rayas added that he’s lost faith in the justice system, but found
inspiration with Javier Sicilia’s movement. The caravan, he said, gave
birth to a nationwide “union of victims.”

On his poster, Rayas introduces the public to his slain daughter.
Biographical tid-bits reveal a Chihuahua City teen who liked the color
green and dreamed of becoming a psychologist. A lover of rock and trova
music, she also liked to eat spareribs.

As the caravan wound through Mexico, Rayas said he added a few more words
to the poster of the girl he calls “his little swallow,” the beautiful who
abruptly left the world “without even a kiss”:

Bibis:

Although you are not with us now,
You will always be in our hearts
We miss that look, that smile you gave us
We miss all of you
We miss you a lot
Remember that we love you a lot
Don’t forget it.

In Ciudad Juarez and Mexico, even as violence continues rage away, many
question what impact-if any-the caravan and the citizen pact will have on
the course of history. While future developments are increasingly
difficult to predict in an age of social, environmental and economic
upheaval, it’s probably a safe bet to conclude that Javier Sicilia and the
Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity have added a new, unforeseen
force in the political and social landscape of the country.

“We are going to continue with this,” Jose Rayas vowed. “I think it is
time to stop this violence.”

-Kent Paterson


Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico

For a free electronic subscription email: fnsnews@nmsu.edu

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