Sunday, June 12, 2011

Federal Police Detain Juarez Journalist at Checkpoint

by Kristin Bricker

At approximately 1am local time on Sunday, June 12, Federal Police detained journalist Antonio Flores from the Juarez newspaper El Norte Digital.  Police in patrol car number 10889 detained Flores at the Gomez Morin checkpoint near his office.  They released him after about thirty minutes.  However, they confiscated his press credentials and noted his address.  Flores says he fears for his own safety and the safety of his family because now the Federal Police know where he lives.

As a result of the detention, Flores will have to flee his home temporarily because there are police trucks outside of his house.

At the time of his detention, Flores was returning home after covering the Caravan for Peace led by poet Javier Sicilia. Flores followed the Caravan from Cuernavaca to Ciudad Juarez.  The article he filed for his newspaper just before he was detained is an exclusive interview with Javier Sicilia.  Since he was returning to his home after traveling with the Caravan for Peace, the police found his Caravan press credentials when they searched his vehicle.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Peace Caravan Encounters Massacres, Military Abuses and Disappearances in Torreón

by Kristin Bricker, Americas Program

Gunmen armed with AR-15 and AK-47 assault rifles massacred thirteen people in a Torreón drug rehabilitation center on Wednesday. The massacre occurred less than twenty-four hours before poet Javier Sicilia and his Citizens Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity were scheduled to arrive in Torreón for a rally against the drug war. The rehabilitation center is located just three blocks from the rally site.
Despite suspicions amongst some caravan participants that the massacre was an attempt to scare them away from Torreón, Sicilia refused to cancel the event in that city. “The march absolutely will not be postponed,” Sicilia told a press conference in Monterrey just before the caravan left for Torreón.
When the caravan arrived in Torreón, puddles of dried blood still filled the bullet-ridden rehabilitation center and ran out the door onto the sidewalk.
Sicilia had no choice but to hold the event as planned in Torreón. In a city ravaged by massacres, military abuses, journalist assassinations, and disappearances, residents risked their lives by simply organizing the anti-war rally.
According to participants, the massacre did have an impact on turnout though. “We live in constant fear,” said one protester. “There were people who wanted to be here today, but yesterday’s attack made them want to stay shut inside their homes.”
Olga Reyes Salazar, who has suffered the murder of six family members over the past two-and-a-half years in Ciudad Juarez, told Torreón residents that they can’t let fear overcome them. “We’re all afraid,” she told the crowd. “But if they keep intimidating us, we’re all just going to lock ourselves in our homes, and they’ll go there to kill us. So let’s leave our homes now and raise our voices against this government that is cruelly killing us.”
The Disappeared, Presente
One of the main organizers of the event was the United Effort for Our Disappeared in Coahuila (FUUNDEC), an organization of disappeared persons’ families that is based out of the Juan Gerardi Human Rights Center located in that state. In a scene reminiscent of Mexico’s Dirty War, mothers of the disappeared carried banners with their children’s photographs.
But the forced disappearance of their loved ones took place far more recently.
Of the more than 180 disappearances that FUUNDEC has documented in Coahuila, all but a handful occurred after President Felipe Calderón deployed the military to combat organized crime in December 2006.
The most terrifying aspect of the disappearances is that no one knows why they are occurring. Some of FUUNDEC’s cases are disappearances committed by the military or the police, but many persons have disappeared without a trace or were abducted by unidentified gunmen.
Some FUUNDEC families received phone calls demanding ransom after they went public about their relatives’ disappearance, but they don’t know if the call came from the real kidnappers or someone looking to profit from the families’ hardship. “We reported the extortion to the authorities, but they didn’t do anything,” complaints Ramona Ortiz Reyes, whose son and grandson disappeared in Torreón on May 12, 2008. “We gave them their names. These were the people who said they had them, and the authorities did nothing.”
Concepción Hernández says that when her son disappeared two years ago, the State Attorney General’s Office said that they would investigate the disappearance, but only if Hernández was willing to finance the investigation with her own money.
According to the Fray Juan de Larios Human Rights Center, which collaborates with FUUNDEC, Coahuila’s disappeared fit the profile of Mexico’s typical drug war victim: the majority are males between the ages of 17 and 40 years old. Nonetheless, the disappearances FUUNDEC has documented do not match the drug war victim stereotype that the government promotes. Whereas the Calderón administration has argued that most drug war victims were in some way associated with organized crime, the Fray Juan de Larios Human Rights Center notes, “The common profile that characterizes all of the disappeared persons is that they are everyday citizens and workers. There is no data that identifies them has having an activity or interest in common, and there is certainly no data that indicates that they were involved in illegal activities.”
FUUNDEC’s task is daunting. According to Ortiz Reyes, FUUNDEC has yet to find a disappeared person alive. “They’ve found a lot of dead people, but none of ours,” she says. “The problem is that they’re looking for dead people, not live ones.”
FUUNDEC doesn’t just looked for the disappeared; it works to transform the Mexican justice system so that disappearances stop occurring. “We don’t want the authorities to spend their time to looking for clandestine graves instead of looking for our family members,” says FUUNDEC member Rosalina Zapata Contreras. “[The disappearances] are not isolated incidents, so the strategy must be a coordinated response from all levels of government whose only objective must be to find our loved ones alive.”
Military Abuses
As the rally in Torreón began, a group of about twenty people—most of them masked teenagers—arrived at the event. They took their place among the crowd with a banner that listed the names of their friends and neighbors who were killed by soldiers and police. When press photographers and cameramen attempted to film them, they shooed them away because they were afraid of retaliation. They agreed to an interview with the Americas Program on the condition of anonymity, and only then because we assured them that we weren’t from a local media outlet.
The group is from poor neighborhoods located in the outlying areas of Torreón. The military and Federal Police are permanently deployed in the area at the governor’s request. They were supposed to bring security to Torreón, but instead, members of the group say they terrorize the city’s poorest residents.
One woman explained why the teenagers came to the rally despite the fact that they were afraid to show their faces. “There’s a lot of 13- and 14-year-old teens here because they don’t want to live a life full of violence like they are now with the soldiers and the Federal Police.”
“The soldiers steal from houses, they’ve killed people, they beat and abduct taxi drivers,” she explains. “They killed a 14-year-old boy from the southeast side. They grabbed him and they shot him in the right temple.” The military eventually admitted that they killed the boy, she says, “but they say it was because he ran.”
“They run because they’re scared!” interrupts a second woman.
“We see them [the soldiers and police] grab boys and girls, and where are they?” asks the first woman. “We saw them! But then they don’t show up, or they show up in a ditch somewhere, and then they blame other people who didn’t have anything to do with it.”
“They’re the problem there,” she continues. “They entered my brother-in-law’s home. They stole money from him and they made a mess of his home. They saw my niece naked in the bathroom because the soldier opened the door when she was showering. And they put a bag over my brother-in-law’s head. It was the soldiers!”
The second woman, a mother of two, recounts how soldiers raided her home: “They told me they wanted to come inside, and I asked them why. And they said they just wanted to search. And I said, ‘Search for what?’ and they said, ‘We want to check if you have drugs.’ And I said, ‘Why would I have drugs?’ They forced their way in. They stole $1,500 pesos ($125 dollars), a cell phone, a DVD player, and a television, and they broke all of my furniture.”
“And my daughter here, they stopped her on the street and they frisked her. But they didn’t frisk her, they felt her up! They raped a poor girl, too. She doesn’t even live here anymore, she left. But it was the soldiers who did it, because they detained her.”
The second woman calls over a teenage girl. “This is my daughter. She was followed by soldiers. She’s fourteen, and the soldiers tried to put her and my niece in their vehicle. They came home so scared. They also beat my son. He was a student, but now he doesn’t go to school because of the soldiers. He tells me, ‘I’m not going anymore, Mom, the soldiers are out there.’”
“They yell ‘Hey, faggots, what are you doing,’ and then they search you,” says a teenage boy who covered his face with a shirt. “They steal your cell phone, they steal your jewelry, they rip out your earrings, they cut your hair.”
“They even steal their sneakers!” a woman interjects.
“Soldiers beat my cousin, and look at what they did to him,” says another woman, pointing at a fourteen-year-old boy’s colostomy bag. “He was standing on a corner and they picked him up and put him in a truck and they tried to kill him.”
“I was just standing on the corner and they beat me and stabbed me,” explains the young man. “They perforated my large intestine.”
“All of the violence that we’re experiencing, they say it’s ‘insecurity,’” says a thirty-something woman. “But it’s them, the soldiers and the police, that are doing all these things. Instead of coming to help us, they just come to hurt us. Why would we want them here?”
Kristin Bricker is a freelance reporter and a contributor to the CIP Americas Program . F. Santiago Navarro contributed to this report.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

In Bloody Durango, Civilian and Police Families Unite to Protest Drug War

By Kristin Bricker, Americas Program

The world was shocked when Mexican authorities uncovered seven clandestine mass graves containing at least 226 drug war victims in Durango this past April and May. However, the only truly surprising detail about the mass graves was that they weren’t discovered sooner.

The murder rate in Durango skyrocketed after President Felipe Calderón declared war on organized crime in late 2006. The number of executions soared 1,401 percent from 67 in 2005 to 939 in 2010. With 910 murders so far in 2011, Durango is set to surpass 2010′s murders by the end of June.
As the executions continue unabated in Durango, it is obvious that Calderón’s unsubstantiated assertion that 90% of Mexico’s murder victims are members of organized crime is simply untrue. The government couldn’t even identify 54 of the 226 bodies in Durango’s clandestine mass graves—that is, 24% of the victims—so it reburied them in a municipal mass grave.
Even when victims are identified, the government rarely investigates their deaths. In 2010, the government didn’t even bother to open investigations into 95% of the 15,273 murders that occurred in the country that year. When missing miner Fernando Rodriguez Maturina turned up dead and wrapped in a blanket a few months ago in Durango, police told his widow that she shouldn’t push for an investigation. “The police officer who gave me his remains told me that because he was wrapped in a blanket, it was a message that we shouldn’t investigate the death,” María Flores de Santos recalls. “He told me that it was best if I didn’t stir up trouble.”
In Durango, the raging violence doesn’t discriminate between narcos and civilians, or between honest police and corrupt police. Durango is a war zone, and everyone is caught in the crossfire. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the peace movement refuses to discriminate between victims.
When the Citizens Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity arrived in Durango on Monday night to protest the drug war, thousands of locals from across the social spectrum turned out to greet it. The widows of murdered police officers marched in downtown Durango alongside the families of people disappeared by corrupt police. Families of civilians murdered by organized crime marched together with families who openly admitted that their murdered loved ones had gotten “into trouble.” Regardless of which side of the war their loved ones were on before tragedy struck, their grief and outrage brought them together to demand an end to a drug policy that has only brought death and destruction to Durango.
It seems as though everyone has lost at least one family member to drug war violence in this state, and after years of neglect and disdain, they are desperate for anyone to listen to their plight. Even the janitor who works at the school where the Caravan rested on Monday night took advantage of the abundance of sympathetic ears to tearfully announce that they just found her cousin in one of the mass graves. This afternoon her family has to try to claim the 22-year-old’s body. Her neighbors who have already been through the process prepared her for the long, frustrating, and sometimes futile struggle to get an unsolved murder victim released from government custody. It’s almost always a battle for victims’ families, even if the government has no intention of actually investigating the murder.
Many protesters in Durango carried signs that decried corruption in the State Police. Ivana Hernandez says that State Police were responsible for the forced disappearance of her cousin Adán Salazar two months ago during a routine traffic stop. Witnesses saw the police put him in their patrol car, but his detention was never registered. Hernandez’s family filed complaints with the government, but the State Police claim they never had him in custody. The investigation has gone nowhere.
Several march participants—including one woman whose cousin survived a police kidnapping—claim that Durango State Police detain victims and then deliver them to organized crime.
Police Families Join the Peace Movement
Despite the peace movement’s strong criticism of the police’s role in the drug war and the widespread belief that most police officers are corrupt, many police widows feel drawn to the movement for the same reason all other drug war victims are: they are unable to find sympathy and justice anywhere else. “It hurts me so much how they criminalize the victims, thinking that they deserve what happened to them,” says Gloria Aguilar, the wife and mother of three disappeared Monterrey Transit Police officers. “I’ve heard so many times, ‘But they must’ve done something to have been disappeared.”
Widows and mothers of seven murdered Federal Police officers protested the government’s abandonment of their loved ones both in life and death. The seven were kidnapped on their way to Ciudad Hidalgo, where there were supposed to shut down a corrupt municipal police department. “They didn’t even give them a vehicle or a per diem,” recounts officer Pedro Alberto Vázquez Hernández’s sister-in-law. “So they had to pass the hat for gas money, and they convinced a friend to drive them. That friend disappeared with them. They were kidnapped November 12, 2009, from a gas station in Morelia, Michoacan.”
Even though several suspects bragged to Mexican investigators that they participated in the kidnapping and murder of the eight men, the government refuses to declare the police officers dead so that their widows can collect death benefits and remarry. The government also hasn’t recovered the men’s bodies. Every time a new mass grave is discovered, the widows and mothers must travel to that state and review photographs of the cadavers in the local morgue.
Flor Susana Gómez, the widow of a Durango State Police officer, argues that the government’s treatment of police widows is callous and illogical. “We receive a monthly pension of six thousand pesos ($521 dollars) with which we have to feed, dress, house, and educate 3-5 children. Durango state law prohibits us from re-marrying and working,” says Gómez.
“This is yet another tragedy of this absurd war on organized crime, knowing that soldiers and municipal, state, and federal police are nothing more than cannon fodder for politicians.”
Former municipal police officer Oscar Hernandez resigned from his department in Mexico State and joined the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity. “I quit because my son asked me if I was corrupt, and it made me think,” he says.
“My last nine months on the force, they sent me to work in the federal Confidence Control program [the program that screens police departments and purges corrupt cops], and it’s even worse there. The higher up the hierarchy you go, the more corrupt it is!”
Hernandez has a message for police officers: “They’re turning the police into nothing more than killing machines. Quit and join the movement!”
Overcoming Fear
Durango’s residents know that they risk their lives by speaking out against the violence. But so many of them have lost so much already that they don’t see any other option. “If I turn up dead one of these days, thank you,” declared Vivien Echavari, whose three sons were gunned down in Durango. “Because then I will be with my sons.”
Mar Grecia Oliva Guerrero from the University of Durango urged her fellow Duranguenses to overcome their fear and speak out against the war. “How long will it take you to wake up and do something so that this stops? Tomorrow it could be your child or your parent! Will you do something today, while you still have your family, or will you wait until tomorrow, when you’re in a clandestine mass grave?”
Kristin Bricker is freelance reporter and contributor to the CIP Americas Program.  F. Santiago Navarro contributed to this report.
For on-going coverage of the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity, check in frequently here and on our AmericasMexico Blog, and for Spanish-language reports and audios.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Mexican Community Uses Barricades to Drive Out Organized Crime and Political Parties

by Kristin Bricker, Upside Down World

Cherán participates in the Caravan for Peace to Juarez.
Photo: Santiago Navarro GF
Armed with machetes, sticks, and farm tools, residents of Cherán, Michoacan, covered their faces with bandanas and set up barricades around their community on April 15. It is a scene reminiscent of Oaxaca in 2006, except this time, the barricades aren't meant to keep out paramilitary death squads; they keep out organized crime.

The barricades have come at a cost for the town's 12,600 residents. Schools have been shut down since Easter, and the economy has come to a standstill. However, without the barricades, kidnappers and illegal loggers who are in league with organized crime would continue to prey upon the town with complete impunity. For Cherán's residents, unabated impunity is unacceptable, because in addition to the usual laundry list of drug war crimes--murder, kidnapping, extortion, and torture--the illegal loggers, protected by organized crime, have destroyed 
an estimated 80% of Cherán's woodlands.

When the municipal, state, and federal governments refused to protect Cherán from organized crime, the community took matters into its own hands. Now, not only are they driving organized crime out of they're community, they're also kicking out the political parties, whom they blame for allowing insecurity and crime in Cherán to spiral out of control.

Upside Down World spoke with "Emilio" and "Salvador," two Cheran residents who have united with their neighbors to maintain the barricades around the clock for the past month-and-a-half. For fear of reprisal against their families, they requested that their real names not be used in this interview.

Impunity and Insecurity

 Illegal logging began in Cherán about ten years ago due to our own community authorities' irresponsibility and poor organization. That led us to the situation we're in today, and now we're paying a terrible price for their irresponsibility.

In recent years, the crime has only gotten worse in Cherán. Before, the loggers would arrive, they would ask permission to cut down the trees, and if you were protecting a certain area of forest, they would respect that. Now it's not like that. They enter private property without the owners' permission, and if the owners discover them they tie up the owners and beat them. And you see these loggers with their really nice trucks with four or five people in them, and they're armed with big, high-powered guns to threaten and scare the community members. As a result, over the past four years, a significant portion of our forests have been depleted.

Most of us who live in Cherán work in the fields, and we're ranchers. Organized crime has hit us hard there, too. They steal our cattle. A lot of ranchers stopped keeping cattle because of the insecurity.

Everyone in Cherán knows who is committing these crimes. The only ones who don't seem to know are the authorities.

The three levels of government--municipal, state, and federal--have completely ignored the community's demands for the past three or four years. It's criminal. In that time, about eleven people have died and even more have been disappeared; there are extortions and kidnappings, and the State hasn't done anything to stop these people who have squashed the dignity of the Cherán community. Now organized crime and the illegal loggers are collaborating. Organized crime protects the illegal loggers, because the illegal loggers pay "quotas" [fees] to organized crime in exchange for protection.

The political parties are responsible for this situation because they marginalized us and ignored organized crime and the indiscriminate theft of our forest resources. Since the political parties have become involved [in the community], they have imposed the people who serve as the community authorities. And we don't even know what those authorities are doing or why they're there.

It is the authorities' fault that the situation got so bad. Because who do I, a community member, go to to complain? I used to go to an authority and I would complain, and the authority would ignore me and wouldn't back me up, and I'm left standing there with my arms crossed. So when these heavily armed people started showing up, what were we supposed to do? What could we do, apart from turning around and running away? So compañeros started asking each other, what do we do? On a couple of occasions the people got together and tried to go and stop them, but since we went unarmed, we always left beaten and bruised and terrified.

I personally have tried to file formal complaints with the government in which I name criminals who have committed certain crimes. The government never even investigated those complaints, so I'm scared to even talk about them. I've filed complaints with the anti-kidnapping unit, with the Attorney General's Office, with the governor [of Michoacan], and we even went to Mexico City to file complaints with the Assistant Attorney General's Office for the Specialized Investigation of Organized Crime (SIEDO). And I haven't received any response from any of them. They haven't done anything. When we went to Morelia to inquire about how the investigation was progressing, they hadn't investigated because of the security situation in Cherán. They say that the safety of the officials they would send to investigate can't be guaranteed, so they don't send anyone. The criminals are outside Cherán, not inside. It makes us feel bad that they respond in that way, because there isn't a single official who knows what the problem is in Cherán, so the investigations into the disappearances and extortions don't go anywhere.

I have a brother who disappeared on February 10, 2010, because he demanded that the state and federal governments take responsibility for the environment, that they stop the illegal loggers so that our forests aren't depleted so rapidly. Before my brother was disappeared, he told me that the illegal loggers were threatening him. And now they've been threatening us since my brother disappeared. There's been no progress in the investigation. He disappeared without a trace.

The day my brother disappeared, two other people were also disappeared. An armed commando came into the town and kidnapped the two of them right out in the open. To this day we know nothing about where they are. We know even less about my brother, because no one saw what happened to him.

I feel as though I can't speak freely because we've been threatened. I'm not afraid for my own safety, but I have a family and young children. I don't want the criminals to punish me for speaking out by going after my family or another one of my brothers.

A barricade in Cherán. Photo by DesinformémonosErecting the Barricades
Emilio: Erecting the barricades in Cherán took about six months of planning and discussion. Before that, a lot have people had been beaten. The criminals began to have free reign in the town, and they corrupted it. The trucks loaded with illegally harvested wood would pass straight through the town. One time, the people were watching this happen, and they began to yell "Enough!" and they began to search for a way to stop it.

The town decided to rise up and put up barricades so that outsiders couldn't enter in order to ensure the community's safety. The barricades are still up because we haven't seen a response from the government. We are demanding that the government solve all of the crimes. We want justice.

Soon it will have been two months since we erected the barricades. Two months of intense sacrifice and struggle. Our children are missing school--that's a high price that they have to pay. Classes have been suspended since Easter vacation. The only thing I can leave my children with is an education. That's why I work, so that my children can receive an education and become better community members and better Mexicans.

The violence hasn't stopped despite the barricades. There are barricades in and around the town, so they can't come into the community to commit crimes. But out of necessity residents sometimes go out into the woods or they go out to feed their animals or lead them to pasture, and that's when organized crime takes advantage of the opportunity to sow fear.

Since we put up the barricades, the government sent some police and soldiers, but it's not enough.

Salvador: We don't know how exactly many police and soldiers the government has sent to the area because it varies. For example, since there was a rumor that [Javier] Sicilia [and the Caravan for Peace] were going to pass through Cherán today, today there were a lot of soldiers and federal and state police. They even brushed their hair and made themselves up real nice. But it's really relative. Sometimes they're there, and sometimes they're not.

Emilio: The criminals keep coming after us, and they keep disappearing people. So yes, there's a lot of police in the area, but what good are they? It might have diminished a little bit, but they are still logging illegally despite the police presence. I don't know if it's due to fatigue or what, but the police don't detain the loggers. There's even videos where the vehicles are leaving the forest with wood, and the state and federal police are right there and they don't do anything.

Salvador: And the day the police went to investigate a disappearance, the illegal loggers magically were nowhere to be found. Who warned them away? Is the state government in league with them? We don't know, but when there's a military or a police operation, the loggers disappear.

Recently, the press published some articles that we think came from the municipal president's office. The articles mention that the municipality is asking the public to stop sending aid to Cherán, because everything is back to normal there, even though absolutely nothing has been resolved. They're saying this so that people stop sending us aid, and it's worked, because now we're not receiving as much aid as we were before. Nonetheless, we continue to request that people send us aid, because we're still resisting.

Obviously it is not true that everything is back to normal in Cherán. It's so untrue that a few days ago one of the community members went to his fields to check his crops and his animals. And they kidnapped him, and we haven't heard from him since. Is that what they call security? Is the government really complying with its obligations here? Fifteen days ago, another compañero was kidnapped. Fortunately, he has now shown up. But this is how they're scaring us. There's no security, so how could the government be saying these things?

The government doesn't see the real problem here, which is that they're still illegally logging our forests. Today, at this moment, they're still pillaging our natural resources. The government doesn't even look at that problem.

Solidarity and the Road Ahead
Salvador: We won't stop until we achieve our goals. Our first objective has been achieved, and that was town unity.

Emilio: We have to be very organized so that the political parties don't come in and divide us. This dignified struggle has required a lot of sacrifice from the community. We won't let the [electoral] candidates break us or co-opt us. We are trying to govern ourselves through uses and customs [traditional governance mechanisms that exclude political parties]. Instead of helping us, the political parties in Cherán have left us to rot. All of the political parties are corrupt. They've violated us and led us to the situation we're in right now. That's why now, the people of Cherán are saying "no more political parties," because the political parties sunk Cherán.

Salvador: We decided against the political parties, because the parties only represent the people in power, and they're not interested in the people and their problems. That's become very clear to us since we rose up.

Emilio: There's a lot of people from Cherán who are in the United States. I have three brothers who live there. Now that the insecurity has gotten so bad, people from Cherán who live in the United States have sent us money to support us. A lot of Mexicans who live in Los Angeles and St. Louis have sent us money, as have social organizations. With their help, we've been able to travel to Morelia and Mexico City to demand justice. Because bus fare isn't cheap. And since we can't work, we wouldn't be able to pay travel costs otherwise.

When my brother was disappeared, the kidnappers demanded a ransom for his release, but then they didn't hand him over when we paid it. And since he disappeared, my family and I haven't been able to work because we're afraid. The majority of the people in Cherán are in the same situation. As a result, the town's economy has been affected so badly, and that's why we've been asking for solidarity from outside the community, solidarity in the form of food and money. And we thank all of the Mexicans who work so hard to earn a dollar in the US and send it to us so that we can keep struggling.

I ask for support from all of my fellow countrymen who are in the United States. But not just economically. Support us with ideas, because we need ideas to move forward with work projects so that we can create jobs in our community. Because before, a lot of our people also made a living from illegal logging. Now what are they going to do? So we really do want people to support us with ideas so that we can solve Cherán's economic problems.

Salvador: Please keep supporting us, and hopefully we'll achieve our dignified objective, which is peace. Our people are hardworking and they never beg. Today, we've decided that we won't beg, but we will ask for support, because it's necessary. We've kidnapped ourselves and our town in order to protect ourselves. We can't leave Cherán, but you can come visit us. The press is very welcome in our community. We treat them very well, because they're our voice to the outside world. That's how our voice has crossed borders into other countries, and they hear us demanding justice and peace. We're demanding justice for the fallen, the kidnapped, the forests, our rivers, and for Mother Nature. That's all we're asking for.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Javier Sicilia Denounces Federal Police Raid of Juarez Human Rights Center During Peace Caravan

Standing in front of the San Xavier mine in Cerro de San Pedro, San
Luis Potosí, Javier Sicilia denounces a Federal Police attack on the
Juarez-based Paso del Norte Human Rights Center.
Statement by Javier Sicilia in Cerro San Pedro in front of the San Xavier mine (San Luis Potosí)

This morning we found out that in Ciudad Juarez the Paso del Norte Human Rights Center, which is directed by Father Oscar Enriquez and is one of the organizations that is preparing for our arrival [in that city], was attacked by the Federal Police.  They broke windows, they entered with violence, and they took documents.  

Once again, we ask the government, "What message are you sending us?  Are you going to fight against us?  Are you going to end up killing us?  Are you going to humiliate us?  Or are you going to work for the citizenry?"

I demand that President Calderón investigate [this attack] and that he guarantee us security--not only for the citizens of Ciudad Juarez,  but of the entire caravan.  Because [with this attack the government is] responding to citizens' ethical demands with violence.  It must be investigated, and we demand a response now from President Calderón about this attack.  

We can't tolerate this!  Especially not in a peace movement which is driven by a demand for justice.

We demand that President Calderón give the citizens of Chihuahua and Ciudad Juarez the security and peace that we're demanding.  Because this was an attack by the authorities, and we can't allow that. 

Transcribed and translated by Kristin Bricker

Juarez: Federal Police Raid Paso del Norte Human Rights Center Prior to Arrival of Peace Caravan

by Blanca Carmona, El Diario 

Federal Police carried out a warrantless raid of the offices of the Paso del Norte Human Rights Center, an organization that is actively participating in the march initiated by poet and writer Javier Sicilia, which is expected to arrive in this border city sometime next Thursday or Friday.

Priest and director of the Human Rights Center, Oscar Enríquez said that at about 8pm on Sunday, at least five patrol cars arrived at the organization's offices, which are located on Francisco Portillo Street #2307 in the División del Norte neighborhood.  The police broke the locks on two doors in order to enter the building.

Once inside, the agents reviewed files and computers.

The patrol cars that participated in the raid were identified by patrol numbers 12427, 13972, 13943, 13748, and 10573.

Other units surrounded the block to secure the perimeter.

Translated by Kristin Bricker

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Historic Anti-Drug War Caravan Heads to Juarez, Mexico

by Kristin Bricker

The caravan reaches Mexico City.  Photo: Santiago
I waited until it was a sure thing to announce it: I'll be covering the Juarez-bound caravan against the drug war that Mexican poet and journalist Javier Sicilia convoked following the brutal murder of his son, Juan Francisco, this past March.   Sicilia chose Juarez--the deadliest city in the world--as the site to sign a "Citizens Pact for Peace" on June 10.

The Citizens Pact for Peace is a commitment that civil society organizations will make to each other to pressure the government to fulfill specific demands within a firm timeframe, such as justly resolving eight high-profile crimes: the deadly campaign against the Reyes Salazar family; the murders of Rubí and Marcela Escobedo, Bety Cariño and Jirí Jaakola; the deadly fire at the ABC Daycare that claimed the lives of 49 toddlers; the murders and kidnappings of members of the LeBarón family in Galeana, Chihuahua; and the youth massacred in Juarez’s Villas de Salvárcar and the state of Morelos.  They are also demanding constitutional human rights reforms and that Congress kill the proposed reform to the National Security Law, which would legalize the unconstitutional drug war.  The Pact also demands that Congress pass laws that would allow impeachment.

The caravan left Cuernavaca this morning.  Following a stop in Mexico City, it'll head to Morelia, Michocan, the site of the horrendous frag grenade attack against Independence Day celebrations in 2008.  The Morelia attack marked the first time the world (including many Mexicans) realized that innocent civilians were targets in the drug war.  Morelia is just one of twelve Mexican cities the caravan will visit.   Sicilia's idea is to caravan into the heart of the drug war, to the cities that have been most affected by drug war violence

The caravan will also visit Toluca, Mexico State; San Luis Potosi, San Luis Potosi; Zacatecas, Zacatecas; Durango, Durango; Saltillo, Coahila; Monterrey, NL; Torreon, Coahuila; Chihuahua City, Chihuahua; and Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, where a cross-border event will happen with El Paso, Texas.

Check back to this blog, and also on Twitter at, because I'll be sending out constant updates about the people I meet as the caravan makes its way through some of Mexico's most war-torn cities.

Today, I would like to leave you with a letter that Julian LeBaron wrote to Javier Sicilia's murdered son, who was known as Juanelo.  LeBaron, whom I wrote about in "Mexico's Drug War Victims Find Their Voice in Massive Silent March," lost his brother and brother-in-law to drug war violence because the LeBaron's community dared to stand up to organized crime.  Here's what LeBaron had to say to Juanelo today:
"I didn't arrive in time to shake your hand.  I couldn't look you in the eyes.  I don't know how many years you lived, or what games you played.  Nor do I know what your favorite food was.  I don't know if you ever held a woman's hand, and I never heard the sound of your voice.  But your absence hurts me greatly.  Your father's gaze has infected me.
"I also don't know much about your friends' lives and what happened to them--those who were murdered with you.  Nor do I know what to say about the 40,000 men, women, and children who are no longer here.
"You know what?  I lost a brother, too.  They killed him because he wanted to live in peace.  But you didn't know him, either. 
"There's too much bloodshed.  The color red accumulates on the ground, and it begins to erase names, last names, professions, ages, sexes, social classes, and skin color. 
"Today, collective tragedy must unite us as we have never been united before.    This time, the cause isn't an earthquake or a flood.  The cause is a seed of disdain for us, the Mexican people, which we have silently cultivated for years.  And now we can see its tricks. 
"I've come to march to scream that all of the dead are sons and daughters of someone.  They aren't stones or numbers.  Imagine the fathers and mothers of all of the people who are dying in Mexico.  We are all sons and daughters of someone.  And sadness and pain is accumulating in fathers' and mothers' eyes.  But hearts accumulate decision. 
"Javier Sicilia's son isn't here anymore.  Many other sons and daughters are no longer here.  I want to march in their name, because I don't want to be anyone's anonymous son.  I don't want apathy to erase everyone's faces. 
"This march is to once again meet with each other on a route of humanity and strength.  This is the beginning of the solution.  The philosopher Keith Raniere says that human suffering is the driving force behind our ability to be noble. 
"Over the next few days, I invite you to march, so that we leave behind prejudices and the hate that keeps us from seeing each other.  Let's propose, in this caravan of condolences, to feel deeply and respect our pain.  Let's use this great instrument as our weapon to connect with the spirit and the truth."