Sunday, March 22, 2015

They're Massacring our Neighbors

Bianca is a farmer and a mother. Her son Jorge is a carefree young man, full of laughter. He plays his guitar and sings to her – when he's not fixing a neighbor's recalcitrant computer. He loves children, and attends a small teachers' college.

But he has disappeared.

Estanislao grows corn and beans and trades in food. Today, wearing a bright red cap reading, “Union Pacific – Building America,” he could be some NMSU student's visiting uncle.

His son Miguel attended the nearby teachers' college. One day a neighbor asked if he'd heard that 43 students had been taken, and that Miguel was among them. He rushed to the college, where another student said he'd seen Miguel taken. Then he searched the hills.

Angel Neri survived the terror. His brother explains that there was a collecta to raise funds for a demonstration. The municipal police attacked, shooting to kill. The massacre spread into town. Federales blocked off streets to keep students from escaping.

Angel called his father and brother, frightened. Previously, police had punched and kicked the students for speaking out, but this was different. Angel hid in a building. Then he and others ran to a clinica.

Soldiers came. Relieved, Angel and the others greeted them as saviors. The soldiers took their belongings and tossed the students back into the street, where the municipal police were still murdering people. Angel and others finally found refuge in a house, where a woman hid them overnight in a small room.

Since, even with the help of human rights lawyers, the parents can learn nothing.

The Mexican Government denies involvement. First it said that the students' bodies were in a mass grave, killed by outlaws; but Mexican forensic scientists disproved that. Then the Government said the outlaws burned everyone at a dump, and threw the ashes in the river; but Argentine forensic scientists dispute that. Other than one bone that apparently belonged to a student, there's no supporting evidence. A story that starts with “no police involvement,” when witnesses saw federal, provincial, and municipal police involved, is not a promising story.

These folks are our neighbors. They have come to the U.S. asking for our support because what else can they do, except shut up and go back to their farms and businesses, silently mourning their sons? They will not be silenced. Nor would we in their place.

We can't do much; but we can protest. We can speak out, with a safety they don't share.

We can write or call our President and Senators, demanding that the U.S. cease shipping weapons to a government that uses them to massacre its citizens. We can urge suspension of economic aid until the Mexican Government tells the truths, apologizes, and disciplines those responsible – and provides credible answers to Bianca and Estanislao, who insist their sons are alive.

These folks want only what we would want. They speak quietly but firmly, acknowledging that when they return they may be punished for telling us all this. Mexican newspapers do not freely discuss the incident.

Their stories are hard to tell, and Bianca wipes away tears as she speaks with me. Their stories are hard to hear, when I can do little more than mumble “Que lastima!

Their sons were – or are – good young men did agricultural work to help the teachers' college make ends meet. They wanted to teach. They wanted to exercise, and teach children to exercise, the kind of critical thinking and speaking we value so highly that our First Amendment enshrines it.
In his village, the children still ask Estanislao where Miguel is.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 22 March, 2015.]
[These folks visited Las Cruces this week on a tour designed to raise our awareness of this incident, the repressive governmental attitudes that spawned it, and the government's arrogant refusal to deal with this as it should have.  It doesn't help that the newspapers in Mexico are not so free to publish factual details and pertinent questions without retaliation.]


For one, express our views on the Ayotzinapa "Disappearances" to our President and U.S. Senators, as well as directly to the Mexican Government.  In addition:

Amnesty Internationall has this campaign regarding Ayotzinapa, with form letters readily available to express your shock and disgust to Mexican officials
SOA Watch has pushed for an end to the Mérida Initiative along with all military training for foreign governments for years.

The US government has actually suspended aid to Mexico before over human rights violations, the most serious being in 2010. But it's always been for very shallow reforms. This year, though, the Obama admin actually gave more offensive aid to Mex shortly after the disappearances.

Action and expressions of opinion in the US to address need not be focused specifically on Mexico to help.  Rethinking our free trade policies could help displace fewer people in Latin America from their land. Anything to stop militarization here will help. More generally, as we've seen around the globe, the U.S. should be a lot more selective than it is in making arms deals.  Flooding the world with cheap arms solves nothing except the bottom-lines of arms manufacturers and dealers.

In particular, the Merida Initiative, through which the U.S. has contributed billions in the past few years to help fight drugs, contributes to the militarization of Mexican police forces --- and to the arrogance that allows them to commit atrocities such as Ayotzinapa against the Mexican people.  One can't say Ayotzinapa couldn't have happened without the Merida Initiative, but continuing to provide an abundance of arms to forces that do such things can't be in our best interest -- let alone the Mexican people's!]

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