Civil Society, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Migration & Refugees

MEXICO: Peace Caravan Tells Migrants “You Are Not Alone”

Daniela Pastrana

TECÚN UMÁN, Guatemala, Sep 16 2011 (IPS) - Lucía and her family left their village in Guatemala village at 8:00 am to join the Peace Caravan, but they had to wait for six hours at the Rodolfo Robles bridge between Ciudad Tecún Umán, in Guatemala, and Ciudad Hidalgo, in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas.

When the motorcade, led by writer Javier Sicilia and activist Julián Le Barón, of Mexico City and Chihuahua state, respectively, finally arrived at the Guatemalan border, Lucía had held her one-year-old son in her arms for ages. Tired out by the wait, he was fast asleep, oblivious of the commotion on the international bridge.

“We came to represent our organisation (the Campesino Unity Committee), because there is a lot of crime, a lot of poverty, and many people are being killed or are victims of extortion in Mexico,” the young mother told IPS.

A few paces away from Lucía as she told of abject poverty and violence, Sicilia, who has become a symbol of the victims of violence in Mexico since his son was murdered, kissed the flag of the Guatemalan campesino (small farmer) movement and apologised to all Central American migrants for the ill-treatment they suffer in Mexico on their way to the United States.

“Mexico can no longer pose as the epitome of solidarity that it was during the Spanish Civil War or the massacres carried out by Latin American dictatorships, when it set an example by the support and safe haven it offered,” Sicilia said.

“We have come to ask our southern brothers and sisters to forgive us for not having raised our voices earlier, for not having had the necessary awareness and strength to prevent the kidnappings and murders of thousands of Mexicans and immigrants” from other Latin American countries, he said.

The caravan, organised by the movement of victims of the war on drug cartels in Mexico, crossed the Suchiate river Wednesday Sept. 14, on the eve of the anniversary of Guatemala’s independence from Spain, to do what the Mexican government itself ought to do, according to Sicilia.

Honduran schoolteacher Camila Meléndez, a mother of five, described the abuse meted out by people traffickers linked to the Los Zetas criminal group, which is notorious for its cruelty and operates in a large part of Guatemala and Mexico, according to the authorities.

“We ask (Mexican President) Felipe Calderón, as well as organised crime, to please stop mistreating migrants,” said Meléndez.

Every year some 500,000 Central Americans leave their countries to escape poverty and cross Mexican territory to seek a better life in the United States, but the trek across Mexico has proved a fatal trap for many of them.

They face a risk of harassment, sexual abuse, extortion, robbery and kidnapping by immigration agents and police, and are assaulted, raped, held up, kidnapped and sometimes killed by gang-members and thieves.

The problem could no longer be ignored in Mexico when the bodies of 72 Central Americans were found on a ranch in the northern state of Tamaulipas in August 2010.

Sicilia said these were acts of cowardice committed against the migrants by criminals. He also harshly criticised the Mexican National Institute of Migration, and condemned the “shameful” fact that all the branches, powers and sectors of the state have been incapable of guaranteeing the safety of those who cross the country.

Before arriving at the bridge, the Peace Caravan activists marched through the streets of Ciudad Hidalgo carrying placards and calling out slogans for peace and respect for migrants’ lives. “No human being is illegal!” and “You are not alone!” chanted the activists who have been following Sicilia for a week on this caravan.

Sicilia’s son Juan Francisco was murdered by organised crime on Mar. 28. Since then, the writer has devoted himself to building a movement of the relatives of victims of violence in Mexico. According to official statistics and social organisations, 40,000 people have been killed, 10,000 have disappeared and 700,000 have been displaced since Calderón took office in December 2006 and militarised the war on drugs.

This is the third peace march Sicilia has launched. The first, in May, was a four-day march on foot from Cuernavaca, the capital of Morelos state, to Mexico City, where a six-point national pact was proposed, including demilitarisation, a change in the country’s public security strategy and the restoration of the social fabric.

The second, in June, was a motorcade to the north of the country, stopping at 10 of the cities hardest-hit by violence and arriving at Ciudad Juárez, on the border with the United States, where a proposal for a law for victims was first made.

The goal of this third peace caravan is to build bridges between victims of the war on drugs and those who have suffered from the structural violence of the state, which criminalises poverty and social protest. It also seeks to spotlight the plight of migrants as they travel through Mexico.

“I can’t say whether the caravan has achieved its goals, but this visit is a stimulus for local organisations, encouraging us not to give up in the face of indifference,” Catholic priest Gonzalo Ituarte, a former vicar-general of the diocese of San Cristóbal de las Casas in the southern state of Chiapas, who was present at the event on the international bridge, told IPS.

On Tuesday Sept. 13 the caravan visited migrants at the Hermanos en el Camino (Brothers on the Road) shelter, founded by another Catholic priest, Alejandro Solalinde in Ixtepec, Oaxaca, where Sicilia’s fellow activists, including a number of parents looking for their missing sons and daughters, were able to talk to the Central Americans waiting for the train north.

Solalinde, one of the foremost defenders of migrants’ rights, has received numerous death threats. In August he organised a caravan to Mexico City to urge lawmakers to create transit visas for Central Americans.

“We need to pull together, because Javier (Sicilia) won’t be able to organise all this alone, none of us can. But it’s a movement that is beginning to flourish, and (having people from the north come to see what is happening in the south) is like a light shining for the migrants,” Solalinde told IPS.

“The south is another world. It’s a very good thing that people have had a taste of what we’ve been enduring in the south for years!” he said.

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