Thursday, November 04, 2010
Ciudad Juarez Students Rise Up
For at least the last three years over six people have died each day, violently, within view of the U.S. Almost 200 people a month, many of them young people. Over 2,000 each year.
Many of us here in the U.S., Chicano and otherwise, don't seem directly affected by this bloodbath. We may not live close to the border and avoid visiting Mexico because of the potential for violence. I'm one of those.
We don't have to think about it much and can set it aside and comment "Too bad" or "Pobre Mexico." We might even pride ourselves on not doing drugs and assume that what happens there is no individual fault of our own.
While I don't agree with such thinking, I sometimes wonder what I would do, or would have done when younger, if I lived as a mejicano amidst the horrendous chaos that is life in Mexico, especially the border and other areas.
I liken it to imagining how would I have handled myself as a German citizen in the 30's when the Nazis were rising to power. Would I have been a "good German" or would I have abandoned my country or would I have wound up getting gassed in an oven?
I wonder how closely today's Mexico is to that Nazi Germany. Government complicity, worldwide inaction or appeasement and institutional violence against citizenry play/played roles in both situations. Maybe there are many more parallels. Especially, I wonder, is what goes on today across the border just a modern version of a "final solution."
In any case, news pieces like we reprint below, however tragic, indicate there will always be those who don't go quietly into the night nor go along with the status quo, no matter the risks.
As you read it, put yourself in the shoes of those who experience, even daily, what you read transpires there. We owe much to those involved. Try a little introspection and let me know if you come up with something you want to share.
Ciudad Juarez News, 11. 3. 10
For months Ciudad Juarez's Plural Citizens Front and other opponents of Mexican President Felipe Calderon's so-called drug war planned an international forum on violence and militarization in their battle-weary city.
Ironically, on the first day of the October 29-31 event, a bloody incident of the kind activists were protesting marred the meeting site at the Institute of Biomedical Sciences (ICB) of the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez. Eyewitnesses told Frontera NorteSur that members of Mexico's Federal Police opened fire on young people who had just participated in the 11th Walk against Death and were arriving to the campus to initiate the left-oriented forum.
The apparent targets were a small group of unarmed, masked youth affiliated with the pro-Zapatista Other Campaign which had trailed the demonstration to spray paint walls with political slogans. As the group was running from police and towards an entrance to the ICB, shots rang out. A bullet struck 19-year-old protestor and university student Jose Dario Alvarez Orrantia in the back, spilling the young man’s guts on the pavement.
"He survived by a miracle, said Dr. Arturo Valenzuela, who performed emergency surgery on Alvarez. "Until now, we are very pleased to have saved Dario."
Outraged by the shooting, students temporarily occupied the ICB administration building. "An injury to one is an injury to all," read one banner hanging from the building.
With Dario Alvarez's blood staining one of the ICB´S entrances, marked off by a crude crime scene blocked off with a circle of rocks and a hand-written sign, the three-day forum proceeded in a tense atmosphere. The steady wail of ambulances passing near the ICB and the thud of gunshots in the distance were an audible reminder of the violence carving the rhythm of life in the border city.
The Federal Police shooting scared away many people who had planned attending the forum, said co-organizer Gabriela Beltran, who charged the Mexican government with staging the attack to undermine the meeting.
”The forum was meant to talk precisely about these types of situations in which the state has us submerged,” Beltran said.
Corroborated by Dr. Valenzuela, local news outlets quickly reported that a handful of Federal Police officers were detained by their superiors for the Alvarez shooting, but Beltran complained that nobody knew the identities of the supposedly arrested policemen and that a serious investigation was not underway.
For Rita del Castillo, the trip to the forum was a painful stop on a long journey that’s followed the drug war from the jungles of South America to the desert mesas of the borderland.
The mother of Juan Gonzalez del Castillo, a Mexico City student killed along with three other Mexican students in an unauthorized Ecuadoran encampment of Colombia’s Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) in March 2008, del Castillo came to the forum accompanied by the mother of another slain student to build support for their relatives’ movement aimed at bringing former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to justice.
A fifth Mexican student who was part of the group, Lucia Morett, survived the US-backed military assault but is now wanted by Interpol on terrorism-related charges filed by the Colombian government. The attack by the Colombian government also resulted in the killing of FARC negotiator Raul Reyes and nearly resulted in a war involving Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela.
Del Castillo insisted that her son and his friends were not terrorists but students on an academic research trip.
In her first visit to Ciudad Juarez, del Castillo arrived at the ICB just in time to hear shots puncturing the early evening and then see Dario Alvarez writhing on the ground.
“As parents this also fills us with indignation, and we extend our solidarity to the young people of the university, the university community and the family members of the young man wounded here yesterday on the university campus,” del Castillo said.
The October 29 shooting took place in the context of escalating violence in Ciudad Juarez and other parts of Mexico, including the slayings of four factory employees of a foreign manufacturing company in the Juarez Valley only days before the forum.
Contrary to rosy assessments of the drug war’s progress, such events demonstrate an overall deterioration of the public safety situation, said Victor Quintana, former Mexican lawmaker and adviser to the Democratic Campesino Front of Chihuahua. Condemning Alvarez's shooting, Quintana said similar incidents cannot be allowed to happen.
Occupying the ICB campus during the weekend which immediately preceded Mexico’s Days of the Dead holidays, Dario Alvarez’s fellow students strategized their response to the police shooting of their friend.
In an exercise of direct democracy rarely seen in Mexico or the US, the students met in popular assemblies to carefully analyze, debate and decide possible courses of action.
A solemn mood characterized the meetings, shaped by the historical knowledge of the impact students have had at other times in Mexican history, such as the 1968 student mobilization that culminated in the October 2 government slaughter of protesters in Mexico City's Tlatelolco.
“We are for the transformation of the world,” one student told his assembled classmates. “Another world is possible, and we are beginning it here in Ciudad Juarez."
Within hours of Alvarez’s shooting, messages of outside support were coming to Ciudad Juarez students. In short order, the event was acquiring national political ramifications. Speeches at the forum urging the cut off of US security assistance to Mexico and a sweeping redirection in the drug war gained resonance.
Locally, much of the political class and media downplayed, ignored and even distorted the October 29 incident. However, a group of prominent Ciudad Juarez academics and citizen activists authored an opinion piece for the October 31 edition of the city´s daily Norte newspaper.
Slamming human rights violations and the killing of young people in different parts of Mexico, the column posed a question:
“How much blood of innocent civilians, of the children and of the young, will have to run until the government comprehends that its public safety strategy and little war against organized crime is a noisy disaster?”
The statement was signed by Alfredo Nateras, Carlos Cruz, Julia Monarrez, Irma Saucedo, Luciana Ramos, and Lucia Melgar.
On Nov. 2 and 3, Ciudad Juarez students and their allies once again took to the streets. According to local media reports, the first march drew at least 1,500 people.
The demonstrators demanded justice for Dario Alvarez and other youthful victims of violence, the demilitarization of Ciudad Juarez and the withdrawal of the Federal Police from the city.
Reportedly greeted by generous honks of support from passing motorists, the mass protest represented “a university movement that hasn’t occurred in Ciudad Juarez since the beginning or middle of the 1980s,” declared the website of the Arrobajuarez.com news service.
Meanwhile, on many fronts, struggling civil society organizations wage a fight for peace and reconstruction in Ciudad Juarez. Once the poster child for the booming global economy of the late 20th century, Ciudad Juarez now hosts a “broken society,” said university student and health promoter Perla Davila. “Everyone” has been affected one way or another by the carnage that’s left about 7,000 people murdered since the beginning of 2008, Davila contended.
A psychology major, Davila works for a new non-profit organization, SABIC, which employs traditional herbal healing, alternative medicine and therapy to assist victims of violence. In its first year of operation, SABIC has attended about 5,000 people in ten community centers scattered across Ciudad Juarez, Davila told Frontera NorteSur.
Juarenses, she said, are sunk in a “tremendous stress” that shows no signs of letting up. The shooting of Jose Dario Alvarez Orrantia, Davila maintained, only adds to the official disdain of her troubled city and its embattled residents.
Said Davila: “We are trying to find an exit…nobody has a manual on how to survive a social war, on how to survive the war of a government that doesn’t want to listen, that doesn’t want to see what it is causing--especially in the young part of society.”
Additional sources: Diario de Juarez Nov. 3, 2010.
Arrobajuarez.com, Nov. 3, 2010. Norte, Oct. 31, 2010.
© 2010 Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
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