How to fight impunity in Mexico

The assassination of social activists, human rights militants, journalists and politicians in Mexico is a continuing criminal affair. It feeds on the total impunity that the government guarantees its partners. Español

Pietro Ameglio
19 January 2016

Police repress peaceful rally for 43 missing students in Mexico. Débora Poo Soto/Demotix. All rights reserved.

On January, 2, Gisela Mota, mayor of Temixco (state of Morelos), was executed at her home within hours of taking office; on December, 23, Alberto Guzmán, neighbourhood leader of Chilpancingo was killed near his home; on December, 19, Martín Negrete, leader of the Peasant Worker Independent Popular Union (UCOPI) in Guanajuato was killed near his office; on December, 25, the son of Heraclio Rodríguez, the leader of the El Barzón movement in Chihuahua, was gunned down in Ejido Juárez; on December, 21, Nahua co-op members in Ayotitlán (state of Jalisco), sought protection from death threats for fighting for their land.

At the same time, the Chiapas civil pacifist organization Acteal Bees reminds us how, 18 years on, the slaughter of 45 Indians remains unpunished and the paramilitaries who by all accounts were responsible for it have been released on the grounds that "due legal process" safeguards were allegedly lacking. In Morelos, for the very same reason, the actual murderers of the Popular Revolutionary Front (FPR) social activist Gustavo Salgado are about to be released and the masterminds of the assassination – among them, according to the FPR, José Tablas, then mayor of Ayala – remain unpunished.

Amid these constant armed attacks, covered by state impunity at every level, a very good piece of news at the start of the new year has been the release “for lack of evidence” of Cemehí Verdía, the leader of the Ostula community guards, wrongly imprisoned from 19 July to 25 December 2015. It should be noted that his release has come as a result of determined resistance by the Nahua people of Ostula, and not through the normal performance of an official justice system that deprived him of freedom for several months, and that still holds hostage Nestora Salgado, leader of the Olinalá community police force; Dr. José Manuel Mireles, leader of the Michoacán self-defense groups fighting the Knights Templar drug cartel; other prisoners from the state of Guerrero indigenous self-defense Regional Coordination of Communal Authorities – Community Police (CRAC-PC); Enedina Rosas, activist against the Huexca pipeline project; numerous Zapatista prisoners...

How to stop the “murderous hand” that nurtures plundering and slaughter?

Clearly, there is no single path, nor is there any single reflection, that can provide an answer to this question. The solution must come through learning from the many experiences at all levels - analytical and tactical/strategic -, for the shape of the struggle varies from place to place and depends on both the available resources and the actors involved. In this sense, it is worth evoking some social struggles which have been taking place in recent weeks in Mexican society and try to reflect on their characteristics in order to explore the possibilities of organizing some further collective steps. January is an important month for nonviolent civil resistance, for this is when the world remembers and pays tribute to two great radical social activists against inhumanity: Dr. Martin Luther King was born on January, 15, 1929, and Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on January, 30, 1948.

First and foremost, we must celebrate the 22nd anniversary of the War Against Oblivion of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) against "bad governance". A statement from the EZLN highlights a fundamental proposal for the struggle: "Let us organize... let us prepare ourselves to fight, to change this life, to create another way of living, another way of governing ourselves". How do the Zapatistas call this "other way of governing" that Gandhi called Constructive Program or Swaraj (self-rule)? They call it Autonomy. Organization and Autonomy thus become the two key parameters to fight so much inhumanity and impunity in Mexico today.

“Organizing" is a way to coordinate horizontally, respecting pluralism and multiculturalism as a means of uniting over and above differences, as a form of due regard for the agreements reached through consensus​​... This may be more readily understood from the long and extensive Mexican popular experience, permanently attacked by power through division, authoritarianism, co-optation and repression.

Building "autonomy" seems a less common and more complex experience, opposed to the dominant social order, difficult to achieve in a real and radical way (in the Marxian sense, i.e. going to the root). Gandhi said in his Constructive Program for India: "By autonomy I mean a government based on the political will of the people, defined as the maximum number of people contributing their own manual labor to the service of their country... Self-government must be achieved by educating the masses to a sense of their ability to regulate and control power. "

How to stop the current level of violence in Mexico will have to do either with the ongoing proposals of militarization, the creation of the National Gendarmerie, the Unified Command, the raising of the spiral of violence, etc. coming from the government, or with the community models, especially the peasant-indigenous police and community guards, the neighborhood police, where the people assume, from the standpoint of their own organization and social fabric, the control and direction of their own security. With the former model, which reproduces the dominant heteronomy and criminal power, peace is subsumed to the need for security - built from above through the sowing of insecurity -; with the latter, which reproduces the individual, local and communal autonomy, peace is subsumed to the need for justice and consensual social control.

From this social and conceptual base (Autonomy and Organization) taken from the Zapatistas and Gandhism - two historical experiences, with many things in common, regarding the humanization of our species -, let us examine four current Mexican experiences in social struggle pointing in a similar direction.

The commander of the Olinalá (state of Guerrero) Community Police, Nestora Salgado, unjustly imprisoned for 28 months for defending the security of her people against criminal gangs and the government that protects them, has decided to go on hunger strike coinciding with the new year – her second hunger strike in recent months: "I have been left with no other choice than to use my own body as my last weapon to achieve freedom, or death" [1].

In late December, a communal assembly of Chol people supporting the EZLN Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle and members of the Ejido Commissary of Tila (Chiapas) decided to expel the mayor and the city officials (accused of reviving the Peace and Justice paramilitary group) in order to force the restitution of the lands that were taken away from them and, from there, to continue building their autonomy.

At the same time, on December, 20, Nahua people in Ostula blocked all the entrances to the Ternium Las Encinas iron mine in Aquila, demanding the release of their leader Cemehí Verdía and the revocation of other arrest warrants against them.

On December, 18, major unions and US and Mexican peasant social organizations announced the start of a boycott on Driscoll’s transnational corporation and other partners’ agricultural products, because these companies refuse to pay a fair minimum wage ($ 200 a day ) to Mexican laborers in San Quintín in Baja California. This boycott in Mexico adds up to the one already in force in the US by groups closely related to Céasr Chávez’s historical experience.

What do these four nonviolent civil resistance actions have in common?

According to Gandhi's proposal, about which the Zapatistas have taught us so much, one of the foundations of Autonomy is "the education of the masses to a sense of their ability to regulate and control power”. Delving further into this idea, Gandhi launched his Constructive Program saying: "The truth is that power lies with the people and is momentarily entrusted to whom the people choose as its representatives. Parliaments do not have power, not even existence, independently. To convince the people of this simple truth has been my task over the last twenty-one years. Civil disobedience is the repository of power. Imagine if all the people did not want to adapt to the laws of the Legislative and were ready to bear the consequences of their non-adherence..."

What all these actions come to show is how people are organizing to say Ya basta! (Enough is enough) to official and criminal violence and impunity. They are exploring different forms of social struggle along individual and collective noncooperation lines, starting from awareness of the fact that if the situation of violence and injustice continues, it is partly because we allow it to be – due to complicity, fear , indifference or lack of organization. By becoming aware of our responsibility in this and by organizing autonomously before official power, we are fighting to change things - for justice, peace and truth.

[1] Abel Barrera. “Nestora: mi cuerpo como mi última arma” (Nestora: my body, my last weapon) in La Jornada. Mexico, December, 30, 2015.

This article was previously published by Desinformémonos.

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