Opinion » Guest Commentary
Miguel Ángel Vásquez de la Rosa points to a black-and-white photograph projected on the wall. The picture shows a masked teenaged boy standing in front of a burning bus and police in their riot gear. He holds a Molotov cocktail in his hand.
“If there is one photo, one image that can make you believe the democratic institutions no longer work,” de la Rosa says to his audience in Spanish, “this is the image.”
During the first week of March, I attended a Witness for Peace delegation in Oaxaca, one of Mexico’s southern states. Witness for Peace is a politically independent grassroots organization committed to nonviolence and positive change of international policies. Since 1983, Witness for Peace has hosted delegations between Latin American communities affected by human rights abuses and concerned U.S. citizens.
During the delegation, we met with teachers, lawyers, activists and community leaders, including de la Rosa. De la Rosa is a founding member of EDUCA, an alternative education program in Mexico that focuses on economic policies and indigenous rights.
While we discussed many different themes connected to human rights, one of the more disturbing things I learned about is the Security and Prosperity Partnership.
The SPP is a broad proposal constructed between the executive branches of the U.S., Canadian and Mexican governments. While development of the SPP has had no congressional involvement — and therefore no democratic accountability — it has seen the influence of an advisory board of CEOs.
The overarching goal of the SPP is to deepen economic and national security within and between the three North American countries.
That, in itself, is not such a bad idea. However, one key aspect of the SPP is the Merida Initiative, set to come to vote in Congress as early as April. If passed, the Merida Initiative would designate $1.4 billion U.S. dollars to Mexico during the course of two to three years.
The stated purpose of this money is to fight drug trafficking and organized crime. The reality is more complex. Sixty percent of the funds in the first year would go directly to individuals and entities in Mexico known for committing grave human rights abuses.
Take the 2006 teachers’ strike in Oaxaca, for example. In May 2006, a branch of the Mexican teachers’ union called Section 22 went on its annual strike for increased educational funding. They gathered in the state capital and set up camp until their demands were met.
At 4:30 a.m. on June 14, 2006, police forcefully drove the teachers out of the center of the city. As more and more people poured out into the streets to support the teachers, the uniformed police and plainclothes officers became increasingly violent.
Eventually, the situation culminated on Nov. 25, 2006, when federal police marched into the city and drove 800,000 protesters out with tear gas, billy clubs and water canons. By then, dozens of people had been arrested and tortured. At least 18 civilians were killed, including U.S. journalist Brad Will. Six people are still being detained to this day, without access to lawyers. Those organizations who seek to defend the victims are subjected to threats and harassment.
“We live in a process of criminalizing organizational activities,” said Almadelia Gomez Soto, a teacher and member of a human rights organization in Oaxaca. “All of us live in a system of constant harassment.”
This is not an anomaly in the Mexican criminal justice system. All of the organizations I met with during the delegation cited similar experiences. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have documented decades of human rights abuses at the hands of the Mexican government.
Is this where we want our tax dollars to go?
Sara Howard is a senior journalism and politics major. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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