ON THE PLANE TO HONDURAS…
Where did all these days go? My visit to Atenco was only five days ago and here we are on our way to the second leg of this trip on already. In a few hours, we’ll be arriving in Tegucigalpa and I’ve not even written about our last three days in Mexico and all that we heard.
Sunday, January 22
Sunday, January 22, most of our time was spent listening to what some 50 women human rights defenders from eleven states in Mexico had to say about the situation for them. There were women from organizations of relatives of the disappeared, journalists, women who work on saving the environment, women defending their lands or trying to free family members who are political prisoners in Mexico’s prisons.
Their words are the story: One woman whose son was a policeman and was on the way to a function in another town with other police in the car. They disappeared and she’s never seen him since. Tears running down her face, she says, “I wake up every day to the knowledge that my nightmare is real. I could either get lost in it or transform my pain into social action.” She is part of an organization dealing with the disappeared.
Another woman from the state of Michoacan who told us that 19 people from her little village have been disappeared, “including four of my sons.” “I have found hope,” she said, “in the millions of us who don’t want to live this war anymore. Mexico has been converted into a place of blood and tears. We want peace back. We need support.”
“When we try to talk with officials about our disappeared loved ones, they make fun of our evidence. They humiliate us. They give us veiled threats in the form of ‘wise counsel’ about forgetting the past and just moving forward.”
Another woman, from Coahuila, said that forced disappearances are a form of terror by the State. The disappeared are labeled as “delinquents” or “criminals” and there is no presumption of innocence here in Mexico. The victim in all this is Mexican civil society. Most of the disappeared are taken by heavily armed men and they are taken in groups.
IMPUNITY is the key to decades of oppression, disappearances, murders. Impunity gives a “blank check” to the government to continue its oppression.
“My father was disappeared. The majority of those left in the wake of disappearance of our loved ones are women. We are intimidated and threatened at the hand of the State, which manipulates the laws to its benefit.”
A mother of a young woman disappeared in Ciudad Juarez said, “My daughter was disappeared in 2009. The state has absolutely no interest in dealing with disappearances. Investigating what has happened to them falls on the shoulders of the family members left behind.” At a break she came over and showed me a picture of a beautiful young woman wearing a pink gown. She’s about 20, smiling radiantly.
A woman from Chihuahua tells us that when they meet with government officials they are told the drug war is necessary and the military are heroes for carrying it out. “Of course, they say, it is inevitable there are some human rights violations.” Some 50% of complaints against military in this drug war come from women. The government tells us they are working on things, there are commissions, laws. “I can say we have seen no results from the government. Instead, our protests are made illegal and we are called ‘delinquents.’”
Femicide is increasing, but the state tries to make it invisible. There has been a 40% rise in femicide since Calderon became president. Most of the women are between 11-30 years old; only 20% of the cases have a domestic component. For eight years we have been looking for answers.
“I represent eleven women from Atenco who have a case before the InterAmerican Court of Human Rights. [In the attack of Atenco on May 3-4, 2006] We were taken from our homes and taken to prison. We were raped and assaulted on the way and raped again in prison. Governor Pena Nieto, who ordered the attack, is now getting the prize of running for president. The case of Atenco isn’t finished with the release of the 12 political prisoners. It isn’t finished until there is justice.”
Pena Nieto: “Surely the women raising the complaints of rape have been trained to make such charges.”
A woman from Chiapas: “Our bodies are exploited territory; despoiled objects for use in war.”
A woman journalist: “Being a journalist here is a very dangerous career. Aggression against the media comes more from the state than from drug cartels. Many of us feel we are helping human rights here by bringing light to the situation.”
“Impunity suffocates us and makes us impotent.”
“Mexico is a cemetery of migrants, full of unidentified graves.”
Two young women who have grown up practically as sisters recounted how they have to constantly keep moving because of all the threats. The father of one and the mother of the other have been held now for about six weeks because of their work to protect the environment. One, weeping, says, “I live to free my mother but I don’t know what I can do because I can’t take any more violence.”
A woman raped by military, tells her story through sobs and ends with, “If anything happens to me or my family as I seek justice, I say here now, the State is responsible.”
“Being a human rights defender is not the same as being a terrorist, despite what is said here in Mexico.”
(to be continued……)