Much of the news of Mexico’s Drug War focuses on the shootouts, massacres and abductions which have killed tens of thousands of people in the north. Violence in the south takes on a different form and generally receives less attention.
The southern states of Guerrero, Oaxaca, and Chiapas share certain characteristics. They are Mexico’s poorest states, are rich in natural resources, have large indigenous populations and long traditions of social movements.
In parts of southern Mexico, the legacy of the decades-long Dirty War against political dissidents has dovetailed with the climate of violence and impunity of the ongoing Drug War.
MICAELA CABAÑAS: “Desde hace mas de 40 años que tenemos en esta lucha…(fade under, reporter interprets)
Such is the case of Micaela Cabañas, who joined the caravan in her home state of Guerrero. Her father, the iconic guerrilla leader and rural teacher, Lucio Cabañas, died during an army siege in the mid ’70s. Her mother and aunt, Isabel and Reyna Anaya, were assassinated just over two months ago while leaving a church. Just hours after the crime, Micaela Cabañas received a death threat from the cell phone that had been stolen from her murdered mother.
MICAELA CABAÑAS (voiceover): “We have to continue the struggle. We have to continue planting seeds – seeds that send down firm roots steeped in education and culture – to continue on this path towards the light.”
A historic grievance in this corner of Mexico has been indigenous control over ancestral territory. Conflicts over land can take many forms; from outright paramilitary displacement campaigns sponsored by powerful regional land bosses…to rifts within a community over religion or politics. Exploitation of inter-communal divisions are sometimes fueled by outside forces.
One of the deadliest recent rural conflicts in Oaxaca occurred last year in the town of San Juan Copala. Armed men forced supporters of
a local self-governance model to flee the town after a 10 month long siege. The displaced say their aggressors received resources from what was then the state’s ruling party to keep the town under siege and crush the indigenous autonomy project.
Macario Garcia Merino spoke to the caravan during one of its stops in Oaxaca.
MACARIO GARCIA MERINO (voiceover):“It’s not just the situation in San Juan Copala and it’s not specific to the state of Oaxaca. We’ve come to realize that this situation, this war of extermination, is throughout the entire country. This is why we need all need to band together and walk together to find justice.”
San Juan Copala, like other areas experiencing forced displacements, is believed to contain significant mineral wealth.
(SPEECH/AMBI – Monte Alban ceremony)
The issue of conflict and indigenous control over their mineral-rich lands was acknowledged specifically during a ceremony for caravan participants at the Monte Alban archaeological site.
Amada Puentes, whose son has been missing since he was taken from the streets of Monterrey by policemen more than 2 years ago, said the ceremony for peace had a profound impact.
AMADA PUENTES: “Cuando iniciamos la caravana, yo todavía traía en mi corazón deseos de venganza, ya no tanto de justicia, de venganza. En esta ceremonia creanme que me cambió la manera de pensar “(fade under, reporter interprets)
Puentes says even at the start of the caravan her heart yearned for revenge; not so much for justice any more, but revenge. But she says the ceremony at Monte Alban changed her way of thinking.
PUENTES (voiceover):“I now feel calmer than at the start of this journey. And I know now that it was worth it because I felt connected and I could see that I’m not alone. Even with all the people at the start of this trip, I felt isolated. After such an amazing moment [in the ceremony], my way of thinking and feeling changed. Even though I continue to cry on the inside, I now feel strong. I feel accompanied. And I feel hopeful that I’ll find my son soon.”
From Oaxaca, the caravan continued on to Chiapas, where a delegation met with the indigenous pacifist community Las Abejas and the leadership of a Zapatista base community.
Sunday night, the bus loads of drug war victims, human rights activists, observers and journalists received a welcome by thousands ofpeople in Xalapa, the state capital of Veracruz – a city which has recently begun to experience the shoot outs and spike in missing persons cases that have plagued the north.
(Julian LeBaron tape – fade under, reporter interprets)
In Xalapa’s main plaza, Julian LeBaron, a home builder who has lost a brother and a brother in law to the violence in his home state of Chihuahua, told the crowds of people who have lost loved ones that the house that is best protected isn’t the one with the most police guarding it, but rather the one with the most organized residents.
(Julian LeBaron continues, reporter interprets)
LeBaron said that while he is a victim of crime, members of the the movement need to stop viewing themselves as victims and become the agents of the change they want to see.