Friday, March 25, 2011

Revolutionary Pedagogy in Action: Mexico's Rural Teaching Schools. East Coast Mini-Tour, April 1-11, 2011

I'm excited to announce my upcoming mini-tour.  From April 1-11, I'll be speaking in Sarasota, Baltimore, and Philadelphia about Mexico's rural teacher training schools (escuelas normales rurales in Spanish).  Mexican teachers' public enemy number one, Elba Ester Gordillo, refers to the schools as "guerrilla breeding grounds."  She's wrong, but she and the rest of Mexico's power elite are afraid of the schools because they train teachers to be community organizers, to help rural towns demand their rights and combat poverty.

Event Dates:

Saturday, April 2, 2:30pm: I'll be speaking on the rural teacher training schools at the All Power to the Imagination! Conference at the New College in Sarasota, FL.  I'm speaking as part of the Institute for Anarchist Studies' Anarchist Theory Track.
RSVP for the conference on Facebook, and share it with your friends!

Thursday, April 7, 7pm at Red Emma's Bookstore Coffeehouse in Baltimore, MD.
Red Emma's is located at 800 St. Paul Street.
RSVP for the talk on Facebook, and share it with your friends!

Monday, April 11, 7pm at Wooden Shoe Books and Records in Philadelphia, PA. 
The Wooden Shoe is located at 704 South Street.
RSVP for the talk on Facebook, and share it with your friends!

Revolutionary Pedagogy in Action: Mexico's Rural Teaching Schools

In the 1920s, Mexico’s revolutionary government created normales rurales (rural teaching schools) to train teachers to “bring education to the most marginalized and distant places in every state in the country and to offer a dignified form of life to peasants.” Rather than simply teaching students reading, writing, and math, rural teachers must also “assist in the organization of the populace to improve its quality of life and work on projects for social development” as well as “contribute to the struggle against imperialism and the nation’s bourgeoisie.”

The Mexican Federation of Socialist Peasant Students, the semiclandestine organization that coordinates the nation’s network of seventeen normales rurales, believes that providing carefully screened applicants with explicitly socialist, anti-imperialist, and antiracist education is what has maintained the normales rurales’ revolutionary project, and has protected it from the infiltration and co-optation that has derailed all other government-funded revolutionary education projects in Mexico. This presentation will cover the history and philosophy of the normales rurales as well as some of their most infamous graduates. It will also provide illustrative details about particular normales rurales’ struggles along with tactics to defend themselves against the neoliberal government that threatens to destroy them.

Kristin is a freelance journalist covering militarization, social movements, human rights, and the drug war in Latin America. She is the Security Sector Reform Resource Centre’s Latin America blogger, a regular contributor to Upside Down World, and a former NACLA research associate. Her articles have appeared in the Huffington Post, IPS, Counterpunch, Telesur, Upside Down World, Rebelión, Left Turn, the Indypendent, Por Esto!, and the News (Mexico). She has appeared on Al-Jazeera, Democracy Now!, Radio Mundo (Venezuela), Morning Report (New Zealand), and various Pacifica radio programs.

"As long as poverty exists, the rural teaching schools will have a reason to exist." 

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Reyes Salazar Family and the Hidden Toll Behind Mexico's Execution-meter

by Kristin Bricker, Upside Down World

Sara Salazar buries two more children, Magdalena and
Elias.  Photo: Agencia Reforma.
In the prologue to his new anthology, Pais de Muertos(Country of the Dead), renowned journalist and Monterrey native Diego Enrique Osorno writes, "It's not the same to count the dead as it is to recount our dead's stories." Osorno has joined the growing number of Mexican journalists who criticize the ejecutometroor “execution-meter,” which refers to the running tallies of drug war dead kept by the government and newspapers. Thanks to the public's obsession with the execution-meter, Mexico's murdered citizens are metaphorically heaped together into the drug war's mass grave. With an average of one person killed every hour in the drug war (and eight per day in Ciudad Juarez alone), newspapers don't even bother to report the dead's names, let alone the circumstances of their lives and deaths. They simply report the gruesome manner in which the bodies were found: if the body was found whole or in pieces, clothed or naked, which body parts were missing, how they were tortured before they were killed, which of all of the injuries was the fatal blow…

Mexico's skyrocketing homicide rate means that the bodies are dumped in the metaphorical mass grave with increasing frequency. Journalists find it more and more difficult to keep up with the death toll, let alone carry out a serious investigation into individual murders. Moreover, argues Proceso reporter Marcela Turati in her new book Fuego Cruzado ("Crossfire"), "When violence competes with itself and habitually breaks its own record, it stops being news."

The growing heap of bodies also means that the government, notorious for its dismal conviction rate, feels even less pressure to investigate individual murders. Instead, it issues press releases and statements arguing that the dead were members of organized crime, as if that meant that their murders were justified and don't merit an investigation. "If the dead was a young man, surely he was a gang member; if it was a cop or a soldier, surely he was an infiltrator; if it was a citizen on the street, what was she or he doing walking at the scene of the crime?" explains Roberto Zamarripa, a journalist for the national daily Reforma. "Model students displayed as hit men; tortilla vendors turned into shooters; construction workers treated like dangerous crooks."

The government's lack of investigation into the cases, combined with proven cases where the government
deliberately painted innocent civilian victims as drug traffickers, leads journalists like Turati to question the President's unsubstantiated statistic that 90% of all drug war dead were drug traffickersand cartel accomplices who deserved to die. Casting further doubt on the government's claim is the fact that in 2010, the government only opened investigations in 5% of the country's murders. The other 95% were never investigated at all.

The Reyes Salazar Family Tragedy

The execution-meter currently stands at over 35,000 drug war deaths since President Felipe Calderón took office just over four years ago. That statistic’s failure to accurately portray the real-life consequences of the drug war for Mexico's citizens was highlighted the same weekend Turati and Osorno launched their books. On Friday, February 25, the bodies of Magdalena Reyes Salazar, her brother Elias Reyes Salazar, and his wife Luisa Ornelas Soto were found dumped along the side of a road in Guadalupe, Chihuahua, just outside of Ciudad Juarez. Authorities say that "narco-messages" were attached to the bodies that said that the three were killed for their involvement in organized crime.

The three dumped bodies would have ticked Mexico's execution-meter up three more notches without any fanfare (and certainly without any investigation) were it not for the work Magdalena and Elias' sister Josefina started three years ago, when she began campaigning against the militarization of Ciudad Juarez. The triple murder wouldn't have made it onto the execution-meter at all if Josefina's sisters Marisela and Claudia hadn't continued Josefina's fight for justice after Josefina herself was murdered in January 2010. The three cadavers were found covered with dirt and lime, leading authorities to believe that they were buried before they were dumped alongside the road. It is believed that the murderers dug up and dumped the bodies because of the pressure created by Marisela and Claudia's protests. Had the murderers not done this, Magdalena, Elias, and Luisa would have been considered “disappeared,” not murdered, and disappeared persons aren’t counted on the execution-meter. Unlike murders, the government doesn’t even attempt to keep track of drug war disappearances. Bodies that are dissolved in acid, dumped into the sea, buried in cement, or dumped in clandestine mass graves disappear without even registering on the execution-meter, let alone in the press or the attorney general’s office.

In total, the Reyes Salazar family matriarch, Sara, has lost six family members to the execution-meter: four children, one grandson, and a daughter-in-law.

The family’s plight began in 2008, when the military arrived to occupy their state as part of “
Operation Chihuahua.” Josefina, a well-known activist who protested against femicides and the Sierra Blanca radioactive waste site, opposed the militarization of her region. When the military arrested thirteen of her neighbors in mid-2008 and placed them under Mexico’s internationally criticized pre-charge detention(“arraigo”), Josefina joined a commission that met with human-rights-activist-turned-senator Rosario Ibarra to plead for their release. On August 14, 2008, Josefina spoke at a conference entitled “Forum Against Militarization and Repression.” She participated as “a political activist under attack by the military,” and during the forum she led a march against the soldiers’ presence. Just days later, on August 21, the military disappeared her son Miguel Angel.

Josefina declared a hunger strike to demand that her son be charged or released. The government released Miguel Angel shortly after Josefina began her protest.

Josefina’s victory was short-lived. In November, just three months after Miguel Angel’s ordeal, Josefina’s other son, Julio Cesar, was murdered at a wedding. Adrián Fuentes Luján, spokesperson for the Reyes Salazar family, told Upside Down World that a paramilitary squad entered the wedding, ordered everyone to lay down on the ground, and searched the crowd. “One of the men kicked Julio so he could see his face. He asked another man if he was the one they were looking for and he answered yes. Then he pointed his gun directly to the heart and fired a single shot,” says Luján. “The family believes that Julio Cesar's death was in retaliation for Josefina's and his own activism against the abuses of the militarization in the Valle de Juarez area.”

On September 4, 2009, the army 
arrested Miguel Angel once again. Two months after his arrest, the Federal Attorney General’s Office issued an arrest warrant, accusing Miguel Angel of working for the Juarez cartel. The arrest warrant “regularized” Miguel Angel’s arrest and allowed the government to imprison him until his trial. A year and a half later, Miguel Angel is still in prison, awaiting trial.

Throughout her struggle against the military—which was becoming more and more personal with each subsequent attack on her family—Josefina received death threats. In 2009, she was 
arrested for leading protests against the military. That year, she left her hometown of Guadalupe for a short period because she feared for her safety. However, she returned to run her business, a barbeque stand.

It was in front of that barbeque stand that unknown assailants executed her on January 3, 2010. Witnesses 
report that as she struggled with her murderers, one of them told her, “You think you’re so f--king cool because you’re with the organizations?” referring to her work with human rights organizations. Josefina’s family says that the people who murdered Josefina were “paramilitary commandos.”

The brutal attacks against the Reyes Salazar family didn’t end with the execution of its most vocal member. On August 18, 2010, unknown assailants 
executed Josefina’s brother Ruben Salazar Reyes as he headed to the store to buy milk for workers in his family’s bakery. In addition to being a prominent member of the opposition Party of the Democratic Revolution, Ruben had taken up Josefina’s cause, demanding justice for the murders of his sister and his nephew. His execution followed months of death threats.

Even after losing three family members to hitmen and a fourth to indefinite imprisonment, the Reyes Salazars refused to be silent. Two days after Ruben’s murder, his mother Sara and his sister Marisela led a 
Walk Against Militarization to demand justice for Ruben and three other Juarez activists who were murdered the day before Ruben was.

Sara and her remaining children refused to give up the struggle that Josefina started and Ruben continued. Their struggle was met with death threats from their enemies and deafening silence from the press, which was too busy covering headless cadavers hanging from bridges and abandoned mines stuffed with bodies—stories that attracted more readers than a humble family’s fight against militarization, impunity, and annihilation.

The Reyes Salazars’ plight made news once again on February 7, 2011, when gunmen kidnapped Magdalena and Elias Reyes Salazar and Luisa Ornelas Soto. Sara, 76, who witnessed the kidnapping along with her 12-year-old granddaughter, set up a protest encampment outside of a branch of the State Attorney General’s Office in Ciudad Juarez. Sara and her daughters Marisela and Claudia hoped that a hunger strike would pressure the government to either present the three disappeared persons or investigate the kidnapping.

The Chihuahua government, however, greeted their hunger strike with cruel distain. Even after unidentified assailants 
burnt down Sara’s home and the home of fellow anti-femicide activist Malú Garcia as they were on hunger strike outside of his office, Assistant Attorney General Jorge González Nicolás refused to meet with the women. Chihuahua State Human Rights Commission member Gustavo de la Rosa Hickerson hascalled for an investigation into the arsons, because the assailants managed to burn down Sara’s humble cinderblock-and-sheet-metal home only one hundred meters (328 feet) away from the Guadalupe military barracks.

After nearly two weeks of hunger strike in front of González Nicolás’ office, the Assistant Attorney General still refused to meet with the Reyes Salazars, as did Governor Cesar Duarte. Marisela, Claudia, and Sara decided to increase the pressure, so they moved their protest encampment to Mexico City outside the Senate building. Coincidentally, they were camped in front of the Senate when Gov. Duarte arrived to deliver a report to Senators on his successes as governor. He still refused to meet with the Reyes Salazars, until opposition senators “
hunted him down” and forced a meeting, which Duarte limited to ten minutes.

While the Reyes Salazars’ hunger strike failed to bring their loved ones home alive, it did, at the very least, allow them to give Magdalena, Elias, and Luisa a 
decent burial. Magdalena and Elias’ wake was held in the protest encampment in front of the Assistant Attorney General’s Office in Juarez. Magdalena and Elias’ brother Saúl explained that the wake’s location wasn’t so much a form of protest as it was a necessity: “We held their wake in front of the Prosecutor’s office because we don’t even have a house, they were vandalized, and my mom’s home was burnt down.” On February 26, amidst cries of “Long live the Reyes Salazar family! Death to the criminal state!” Chihuahua bid farewell to three more human rights activists, “collateral damage” in Mexico’s war on drugs.

The Reyes Salazar family, “or what’s left of us,” as Saúl said during his siblings’ funeral, are considering offers of asylum from various countries, including Venezuela, Spain, France, Canada, and the United States. Regarding the United States’ offer, 
Marisela says, “I wouldn’t accept the offer to go live there, because the United States plays a big role in everything that is happening to us.” Whether or not the family decides to flee the country, Marisela explains why they won’t cease their fight for justice: “I'm scared for my family, but I'm even more scared of continuing to watch so much blood run in the streets of my city. Because if we don't cry out, they'll still kill us, and if they kill us, let it be for something, so that the world hears what is really happening in Mexico.”

Blaming the Victims

In Juarez, where 
more people died in the drug war in 2010 than did in the war in all of Afghanistan over the same period, the government hasn’t found it very difficult to avoid investigating murders of innocent civilians. Cases in which security forces are clearly to blame, such as the shooting of civilians at military checkpoints, cause national scandals. However, cases where the assailants are not readily identifiable, such as the Reyes Salazar murders, fail to attract media attention because they are automatically written off as cartel-on-cartel violence.

Nonetheless, the Reyes Salazar family refuses to let their dead turn into nameless ticks on the execution-meter. They’ve made it difficult, if not impossible, for the government to avoid carrying out at least a superficial investigation into the murders. So the government is falling back on an old stand-by: blame the victims. To some extent, the strategy worked in Josefina’s murder. Because the government accused (but never convicted) Josefina’s son, Miguel Angel, of having worked for the Juarez cartel, even the Chihuahua Human Rights Commission’s de la Rosa Hickerson believed at one point that the most likely culprit in Josefina’s murder was the Sinaloa cartel.

“Before, they only applied sanctions to those persons who were involved in the drug trafficking business,” he 
explained following Josefina’s murder. “But starting in July [2009] we’ve been warning that they’ve extended their war to the destruction of the families of those who had illicit or licit business with the opposing cartel. In Josefina’s case, a son (Miguel Angel) worked as a mechanic for La Linea [of the Juarez cartel].”

The appearance of “narco-messages” on the bodies of Elias, Magdalena, and Luisa has given the Chihuahua state government the opportunity to wipe its hands completely of the investigation into the murders. Assistant Attorney General González Nicolás says that 
his investigation points to the Sinaloa cartel as the most likely culprits of the triple homicide. Therefore, he argues, the case falls into federal jurisdiction, not his state’s. “It’s clear to us that organized crime participated [in the murders],” he argued. “There’s no doubt, because of the data and proof that we have.” In the meantime, he told the press his office is investigating the Reyes Salazar family to see if they have any criminal records.

The Reyes Salazar family scoffed at the suggestion that the three victims worked in organized crime. Elias and Luisa “were handicapped, they needed help walking. How could they possibly believe that [they worked for organized crime], if their whole lives they humbly worked in their bakery?” The family has insinuated that the narco-message, which claimed that Magdalena, Elias, and Luisa were murdered because they collaborated with a drug cartel, was planted after the bodies were dumped. They say that the witnesses who discovered the bodies alongside the road told them that they 
never saw the narco-message. “We will not permit—as often happens—that the name of this family of activists be tarnished by framing this unfortunate event as [the result of] a supposed relation with organized crime,” the family said in a statement.

While it’s still not clear who killed the six Reyes Salazars, the family and international human rights organizations agree that the government is responsible. The Reyes Salazars are 
demanding the resignation of González Nicolás, “who is directly responsible for these crimes against humanity, due to his inability to carry out his responsibilities and for not guaranteeing the life and security of the family and the people of Juarez.”

The government’s obvious indifference to the plight of the Reyes Salazar family was highlighted by the speed in which the government says it solved ICE agent Jaime Zapata’s murder. The government’s priorities weren’t lost on Marisela, 
who said, “In a couple of days they caught Agent Zapata's murderer because he's from the United States. My siblings’ murders need to be solved. Those responsible must be caught and tried.”

Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, 
lashed out at the government for failing to protect Chihuahua human rights defenders. It noted that Sara Salazar and Malú Garcia, whose homes were burnt down while they were on hunger strike, were granted protection measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in 2008. Human Rights Watch argues that federal and state authorities did not comply with their obligations to protect Garcia and Salazar and their families. Had the government complied, perhaps Salazar’s children, grandson, and daughter-in-law—all of whom were murdered while she was under IACHR protective measures—would still be alive.

“Even though it’s not possible to confirm that the authorities are actively complicit with organized crime,”
argued Garcia, “it can be said that they are [complicit] by omission, because they have not advanced in investigations into various attacks against human rights defenders, whom they’ve even blamed for attacks.”

Reyes Salazar family spokesman Adrián Fuentes Luján agrees with Garcia. “The Prosecutor’s Office is limited and incapable of combating the powerful criminal group that harasses the Reyes Salazar family,” he argues. “The State is the only one responsible for the massacre that’s being committed against them.”

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mexico "Unwilling to Comply" With International Court Sentences in Military Rape Cases

Plaintiffs Inés Fernández
Ortega (left) and Valentina
Rosendo Cantú.

Human rights lawyers accuse the Mexican government of noncompliance with recent Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) rulings in the cases of Inés Fernández Ortega and Valentina Rosendo Cantú, indigenous women who were raped by soldiers in separate incidents in Guerrero in 2002.  In a press conference last week, the lawyers who represent the women stated: “The Mexican State has not demonstrated with concrete actions that it plans to fully comply with the sentences.” Mexico is a signatory to the American Convention on Human Rights and has accepted the IACtHR’s optional jurisdiction, meaning that it is legally obligated to comply with the IACtHR’s rulings.

Both cases, the Court determined that soldiers raped the women, constituting an act of torture. Furthermore, the Court ruled that the Mexican government violated the victims’ right to a fair and impartial trial when it investigated and tried the cases in the military justice system instead of the civilian justice system.  The Court argued that the use of the military justice system led to “a state of absolute impunity.”  Furthermore, in both cases the military revictimized the women by forcing them to recount the details of the attacks over and over again as part of its “investigations.”

The IACtHR’s rulings aim to assure the justice is served in the cases, that the victims receive reparations and rehabilitation, and that the government take steps to ensure that similar abuses are not repeated. Therefore, the IACtHR ordered Mexico to:
  • try the women’s cases in civilian courts and punish the perpetrators;
  • levy administrative sanctions against public servants responsible for irregularities in the investigations;
  • modify Article 57 of the Code of Military Justice to exclude human rights violations from military jurisdiction;
  • create a legal mechanism that allows affected persons to challenge the military’s jurisdiction in their cases;
  • admit its responsibility for abuses committed against the two women in a public event in which the President of Mexico offers an apology in the presence of high-ranking local, state, federal officials; that the event be translated into the women’s native language; and that the women and their families play a central role in planning the event;
  • publish specific paragraphs of the IACtHR sentences in Spanish and Me’paa (the victims’ native language) in the government’s Official Diary of the Federation, and in other media outlets if the victim so desires;
  • offer adequate medical and psychological rehabilitation to the victims and their families;
  • implement a human rights course for all military personnel of all ranks that addresses gender, indigenous rights, and limits the military should respect when interacting with civilians;
  • offer educational scholarships to the victims and their children until they earn undergraduate or technical degrees if they so chose;
  • establish a community center that promotes women’s rights in Fernández Ortega’s town;
  • and pay court costs and damages to the victims and their families for lost wages and emotional suffering.
Now, four months after the IACtHR published and officially notified the Mexican government of the rulings, lawyers argue that the government’s noncompliance is obvious.  Santiago Aguirre, a lawyer for the Guerrero-based human rights organization Tlachinollan, one of the groups that argued the cases in the IACtHR, points out that the government has still not moved Fernández Ortega and Rosendo Cantú’s cases into the civilian judicial system.  Furthermore, President Felipe Calderón’s recent legislative proposal to remove cases of rape, torture, and forced disappearances from the military’s jurisdiction was criticized by human rights organizations as a “cosmetic gesture” that would bring Mexico “no closer to complying with… the binding orders of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.”

Tlachinollan’s director, Abel Barrera, reports that just one day before the government was set to inaugurate working groups that would organize Mexico’s compliance with theFernández Ortega and Rosendo Cantú rulings, the Ministry of the Interior unilaterally cancelled and indefinitely postponed the event.  “There we can see the authorities’ distain, neglect, and lack of commitment to compliance,” argues Barrera.

Of all of the actions Mexico must take in order to comply with the rulings, the only one the government has acted upon is financial compensation for the victims, which Congress has included in its 2011 budget.  “While this is included in the sentences,” says Aguirre, “this [money] is really a secondary issue for the victims.”

Mexico has also filed a request for interpretation of the judgments, a legal remedy that exists to clarify any ambiguous portions of IACtHR sentences. According to Aguirre, “There is a very common practice in which states present requests for interpretation, when in reality they are attempts to modify the ruling. They have never worked. The Court’s rulings are definitive and cannot be appealed.”  Aguirre says that Mexico’s request for interpretation questions the Court’s assertion that it was soldiers who raped the two women.  “This is a very clear sign that the state is not willing to comply with the sentence, that the state questions facts that have already been proven during the legal proceedings, and that the state, even though the facts have already been established, continues to question Inés and Valentina’s testimonies.”

Fernández Ortega et al. and Rosendo Cantú et al. v. Mexico are two of four IACtHR rulings against Mexico in just over a year.  In November 2009, the IACtHR ruled that the Mexican military disappeared Rosendo Radilla Pacheco in 1974. In December 2010, the Court ruled that the military arbitrarily detained and tortured two prominent environmental activists in 1999. In all four cases, the IACtHR ordered the Mexican government to reform the Code of Military Justice to assure that all human rights crimes are tried in civilian courts.  The four rulings have led to unprecedented international and domestic pressure on the Mexican government to reform the long-criticized Code of Military Justice and strip the military of the impunity it has enjoyed for over seventy years.