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MEXICO: Government Frustrates Dialogue with Peace Movement

Daniela Pastrana

MEXICO CITY, Oct 17 2011 (IPS) - “I feel bad. They led me on with false hopes,” complained María Herrera, one of the pillars of the Mexican peace movement led by writer Javier Sicilia, hours after the activists’ second meeting with President Felipe Calderón.

Victims' relatives kept out of meeting with President Calderón. Credit: Courtesy of Arturo Malvido

Victims' relatives kept out of meeting with President Calderón. Credit: Courtesy of Arturo Malvido

Sixty-two-year-old Herrera, four of whose children have been forcibly disappeared, shook the country when she gave her moving testimony Jun. 23 at the first meeting that representatives of the victims of violence movement had with Calderón.

“I believed in them, but I think we have been tricked,” Herrera told IPS. She is from a village in the western state of Michoacán where 19 people have disappeared during the Calderón administration.

The failure of the dialogue on which the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity had staked its hopes was perhaps predictable, after the federal government twice postponed the meeting and changed the format to include participants who agree with its policy of a militarised war on drugs.

“I don’t hold out much hope,” Sicilia himself said, a few days earlier.

But on Friday Oct. 14, the president dismissed out of hand two of the movement’s key demands: a reversal of the militarised security policy, and the creation of a truth commission to investigate the countless reports of abuses by the state security forces.

“What we saw was a clear attempt by the government to dilute the movement,” Magdiel Sánchez, in charge of logistics for the peace caravans that have quartered the country from north to south, told IPS.

“Calderón talked about other issues, rather than dialogue, petitions or working groups. His manner of speaking, and that of his cabinet ministers, was like delivering a formal government report, and it was clear they wanted to denigrate the movement’s importance and treat it as just another interest group,” the activist said.

The catalyst for the peace movement was the Mar. 28 murder of Juan Francisco Sicilia, the famous writer’s son.

Since then, thousands of people have joined Sicilia to demand reform of the security policy based on militarisation, to which they attribute the escalation of violence which has left close to 50,000 people dead and more than 10,000 disappeared since January 2007.

Mass demonstrations forced what was, for Mexico, an unprecedented meeting between Calderón and the victims’ relatives on Jun. 23. Four working groups were established and the government proposed another meeting to evaluate results three months later.

On Sept. 28 – a week after the three month deadline – the deputy interior minister Juan Marcos Gutiérrez informed movement representatives that the meeting would take place with a different structure: it would be closed to the press, and would include “other social groups” interested in security matters.

Two weeks of negotiations resulted in a mixed proposal: half the meeting would be in the old format, and half in the new.

The other people invited were Isabel Miranda de Wallace and Alejandro Martí, members of the business community who after the murders of their children created civil organisations to work on security proposals, but who are seen as being in agreement with the government’s strategy.

Miranda de Wallace was awarded the Mexican government’s National Human Rights Prize in 2010 for her work on modernising and certifying police corps. However, she is in favour of reinstating the death penalty.

Martí has focused on criminal code reforms to guarantee the rights of victims. But he also supports the National Security Law, contested by every human rights organisation because they regard it as extending the president’s powers to deploy the army.

Moreover, on this occasion the president’s office regulated media access and did not allow victims’ relatives to attend the meeting. Instead, they protested outside the meeting venue.

“They left us outside, like animals in a pen. I asked the police: ‘What, are you afraid of a group of pacifists?'” Arturo Malvido, who joined the peace movement in pursuit of justice for his murdered brother, told IPS. “It would be right and proper for them to look after citizens the same way as they guard the president and lawmakers.”

On Oct.6, a few days before the meeting, Pedro Leyva, a member of the indigenous community of Santa María Ostula which is besieged by paramilitaries, was murdered. Leyva was a peace movement delegate to the working groups in the dialogue with the government.

Sicilia opened his remarks with a demand for the murder to be cleared up, and took the president to task for still maintaining his security strategy after three months of dialogue.

“Your decisions are provoking the rise of paramilitary groups,” complained the writer, who in recent weeks had warned that this could be “the last opportunity for a peaceful movement.”

Then he called for demonstrations on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, days for honouring the dead in Mexico.

“We call on all Mexicans to employ all peaceful forms of civil resistance against violence; in the face of the horror (of violence) and the failure of the state, it is time to organise according to our needs, always peacefully, so as to resist together both criminal and state violence, and to re-found the state,” he said.

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