lunes, 20 de abril de 2009

Protest and Social Change in Mexico

By Kimberly Griffin

“In defense of water, land, and air” in a mural in Cuernavaca, Mexico, painted by a local youth activist group

A couple of weeks ago, we had a series of great speakers from different parts of Mexico, and one theme that I noticed across the talks was the different methods of protesting. Even though not all of the speakers identified themselves as activists, they were all actively working to see the change that they believed needed to happen. I used to only picture protest as a strike or a march on the capital lawn, but through these past two weeks, I’ve realized that protest comes in many different forms, and I think all different types are needed in order to make change happen.

One of the speakers, Dr. Rosalba Aida Hernandez Castillo, spoke about indigenous women and justice from her experiences working in a center for victims of abuse in Chiapas, a state with a high percentage of indigenous peoples. She worked actively to try to change the state of indigenous women in Southern Mexico by working directly with the women to try to determine what their needs were. Another speaker, Nadia Alvarado, is an Afro-Mexican from the state of Guerrero who has spent years researching the history of Afro-Mexicans in Mexico. She said that although she originally wanted to educate everyone about the prevalence of the African heritage in Mexico, she soon realized that it was most important to start with her own family. Now her activism is directed toward trying to encourage her family not to deny their black heritage. Her protest is not advocating for any specific policy, but rather just trying to change the way her family sees their own history.

We also spoke with a panel of speakers about sexual diversity. All three are involved in an activist group that works to promote LGBTTQI-friendly legislation and awareness. The group organizes a march in Mexico City and here in Cuernavaca every year, so that is obviously an important part of their protest. However, just living out their lives as they want is also a form of protest. One speaker was a lesbian woman, one a transgender female, and one a gay man. All three of those identities are highly stigmatized, so just living their lives as openly non-heterosexual is an important was of protesting heterosexism.

This theme of protest also continued while I was traveling over Holy Week. While walking through the streets of Oaxaca City, I walked past some graffiti on a wall that had several different protest elements. Written on it were things like “Meat = murder,” “Go vegan,” “Free your mind,” and “EZLN.” This type of protest also reminded me of several of the protest murals I have seen around the city of Cuernavaca. These are painted by an activist group here in Cuernavaca that works to build community solidarity around a variety of issues.

All of these things, from refusing to let your family deny their heritage, to living an openly non-heterosexual life, to tagging a wall with some political graffiti, are different types of protest. They are all inspired and sustained by a desire to see a change in your world. Because people vary so much, they are affected by different things, so these different methods of protest are all necessary if activists are going to be able to make the changes they want to see.

“Free your mind” and “Meat = murder” on awall in Oaxaca City, Mexico

Dirty Politics?

By Ben Pounds

We were going to see Cuernavaca’s new landfill. We had left the edge of the city and now saw cows grazing. Then we hit what could only be described as a homemade checkpoint. A barb wire fence stretched across the street. After a few residents serving as guards opened the gate and our van passed, I had no clue what to expect.

The farmer who owned the land was happy to show us around. He opened yet another fence and let us walk through.

So, without setting foot in the landfill itself, we saw it.

(All photos above courtesy of Kimberly Griffin)

The gate had not been meant to stop us from entering government property. It had been built to stop the government or its allies from coming in and coercing the residents out of their land.

I had not intended for this entry to be about politics primarily. Our partners, the bloggers in Thailand, had been writing about human rights and government accountability rather than environmental concerns. Politics here though is tricky as is politics everywhere. It may involve bribery, alliances, networks, and (if I am to believe what some people have told me with regards to the landfill) physical threats. In short it is like politics everywhere else. I would hate for what I write here to be misinterpreted as an insult to Mexican politics particularly. However, one can broadly say that the “perfect dictatorship” described during the years of one-party domination continues in some ways in today’s multi-party Mexico.

The landfill was itself an improvement on the previous open-air dump near an indigenous community. Not everyone has access to the services of the privatized, new garbage collection company, PASA (the privatization of garbage collection was a controversial move on the part of the government in recent years). The rivers in some ravines, already a place for dumping sewage, hold a great deal of garbage put there by the residents whose houses cannot be reached by garbage trucks. Studies say that the soil is too porous to protect the below-ground aquifers from possible leaching. Thus, the project deprives neighboring communities of the right to clean water as their water is now contaminated. The local government representatives that we met with countered by saying the lands do not contain very much fertile soil. They may not be very fertile although that does not stop people from raising corn, cattle, chickens, and (as I found out the hard way) bees. Despite the vocal opposition all the political parties are in favor of the landfill, including the “Ecological Green Party.” When they proposed other sites, government officials said “go research them yourselves.” Perhaps the greatest motivation for the current site is that the contamination that results from the landfill flows into smaller, poorer communities and doesn’t directly affect the city of Cuernavaca.

Some local citizens have found their own solution in setting up recycling centers and small-scale water-treatment plants. Despite, or possibly because of, their general distrust of the city government, these people have received some government support, including the filming of a public service announcement. Yet they remain cynical. When asked about the sewage treatment plants in Cuernavaca created directly by the government, the creator of a small scale plant at a local school was quick to point out that they did not work.

As I watch the local citizens in the Cuernavaca area so actively engaged in their communities, I remain aware of my role here as a foreigner. The last thing I want to be is another invader in this country, so my own involvement has limits. However, in learning about the struggles of this place and of the people here working for a more just world, I am convinced that my involvement back in the U.S. will always be affected and inspired by the activists of Mexico.