Mexican Peace Activist Says Focus Must Be More on Justice than Peace

mpjdAccording to Pietro Ameglio, activist and nonviolent resistance promoter, The Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity (MPJD) can be credited with initiating important processes in Mexico, such as transforming victims of the drug war into actors, highlighting their dignity and mobilizing society. However, he believes it still has many unfinished goals three years since its inception. Among these goals are the need for greater civil disobedience to demand immediate action for the re-appearance of the missing, justice for the dead and the need to change the State’s militarized security model that is increasingly becoming more criminal and wrought with impunity.

Ameglio complains that in Mexico, despite MPJD protests and dialogue with the authorities, violence has increased as the government merely pretends to present solutions. He also accepts the criticism that the movement has lacked an effective way to articulate its goals and has failed to resonate with indigenous groups, acknowledging that there are other actors in society that should not be led by the Movement for Peace, but rather that the Movement should incorporate itself into these movements.

The execution of seven youths in Temixco, Morelos, on March 28, 2011, triggered the emergence of the MPJD, headed by poet Javier Sicilia, the father of one of the victims. Sicilia, with his ever-present hat and khaki vest, led a march on foot from Cuernavaca, Morelos, to Mexico City, under the slogan “We’ve had it!” Later he led three caravans–one to the northern border, one to the southern border and another into the United States. On the caravans relatives of victims gave voice to the horrors of the “drug war” being waged by then-President Felipe Calderon, The caravans also met with politicians, engaged in dialogues with public officials and carried out dozens of other activities.

The party in power has changed since then. After being in the opposition for 12 years, the Institutional Revolutionary Party returned to the presidency and holds the most seats in Congress. Despite the change in administrations, the Movement continues strong. In March it symbolically renamed streets from known tyrants to names of victims of the war, it opened an exhibit at the Museum of Memory and Tolerance in downtown Mexico City, and initiated a series of workshops and conferences in May and June.

In an interview with Desinformémonos, Ameglio takes stock of the three years of the movement, highlighting its contributions and discussing its “Achilles heel.”

Mexico in 2011 and 2014

Ameglio, respected MPJD activist, says Mexico has seen three moments of moral outrage since 2011, all “connected with the cry of Ya Basta! (enough already!) of 1994, which is really the beginning of this new phase of civil resistance.”

The first cry was Javier Sicilia’s  “We have had it!” on March 28, 2011. His cry was echoed by thousands of victims throughout Mexico. The academic and activist says the outcry managed to “make visible the horror of war we are living, dignify the victims in their distinct histories and social identities, and break the normalization of this inhuman model of armed peace.”

In 2012, the second cry – also massive but more related to politics, and the media and democracy – was from the #YoSoy132 movement that “apart from being a great burst of desire for democracy, participation of young people and the denouncement of the manipulation of the electoral process, it also was a way of standing up.” Ameglio evokes the story by Subcomandante Marcos about the lion that kills with its gaze. “They confront authority, able to look at it directly in the eye and say, ‘we have had it up to here with your manipulation and we’ve had enough of the imposition of presidents and ways of doing politics.’ ”

Since early 2013 a third cry has been heard – the surge of self-defense  organizations in Michoacan, Ameglio says. “Dr. Mireles [a leader of the self-defense movement] said in an interview with José Gil of Proceso magazine, ‘enough already’.” The academic considers that this reaffirmation of “enough already,” comes in part from a sector of society – primarily the middle class, but also the poor – that has learned that simply pressuring the authorities and hoping that they will act does not tend to produce any solutions, “and with the level of violent attacks and the inhumanity they face, they declared ‘enough already’ and have armed themselves. They realize that to live humanely in their territory, it is not sufficient to ask the authorities to act. Rather they install a parallel power in their territory without permission [from the authorities].

To Ameglio, the local self-defense groups understand from their experience that Mexico is not a failed state, but rather a criminal state that is deeply active in the gang war for control of illegal merchandise, territories and bodies. “The state authorities are involved at all levels and on both sides,” he said. “There are businessmen, organized crime, police, armed forces and civil society directly or indirectly involved.”

The activist notes that without underestimating the value of the victims’ platform, the reality of the country has not changed since impunity and lack of political will to prevent and solve the crimes has not ended, and crime (homicide, disappearance, extorsion, kidnapping) has increased impressively.  “It isn’t that the groups want to exercise forms of violence, but it isn’t easy to find another path to say “enough!” and then organize to rebuild the social fabric. In a way, we went from “We’re fed up!” to “No more!”

Value of the Peace Movement

Pietro Ameglio argues that the ​​MPJD  process is very important, as it prompted a clearer national understanding that we are at war. “The social facts are brutal,” he said. “This war is about mass extermination (officially 85,000 dead in four years and 27,000 disappeared through 2012) and about selective extermination of social activists, defenders of land and territory and grassroots leaders. In Guerrero, about 20 social activists had been killed by late last year,he notes by way of example.

In Mexico, organized crime generates more than 600,000 direct jobs, according to a report by José Luis Calva from the Institute of Economic Research of the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

“Criminal activities touch all social classes and are now a way of life,” Ameglio says. “The MPJD, especially at the beginning – in the caravans and marches – made ​​visible this process of civil war, afforded dignity to the victims and showed that they had no connection with the issue of organized crime, but were rather victims of impunity and organized crime that is associated with the State.”

“State complicity was exposed and the model of armed peace in public safety is a total trap that increases the sense of violence and insecurity among the people.” Questioning the model of armed public security was another important contribution of the MPJD, Ameglio said. He pointed out that another contribution of the mass mobilizations of the first year of the Movement is that it activated the moral reserves in social struggle.
Achilles’ Heels

But Ameglio also has some self-criticism. “Many mass mobilizations were organized, direct dialogue with the powers that be – that produced more lip service and impunity than anything else – but it never moved to a stage that nonviolent civil resistance requires: non-cooperation and civil disobedience.”

The activist says that when there is such a large degree of impunity and complicity by the State, the pressure of mass mobilization and dialogue are not enough, because it allows the state to play along the margins and create pseudo-institutions, such as the Victims Law and the Provictima organization, which in practice do not function.
“In non-violent resistance through civil means, the scale of dialogue – public forums, negotiations – mass mobilizations, proved insufficient to pressure the state.”

Another criticism is that the movement was unable to articulate and link with indigenous peoples and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). “During the southern caravan (September 2011), two types of victims, equally dramatic, were made visible: individuals (killed, disappeared, displaced and extorted) and collective victims, farmworkers and indigenous peoples, who are at war over territory, natural resources and protecting their culture.”

Ameglio makes clear that the indigenous and the EZLN were very generous in their offer to join with the victims, “but there were difficulties in understanding, particularly internally. The movement needs to assume that there were cultural difficulties in understanding the dynamics of indigenous peoples, and a great opportunity was missed to really create an organized national movement of the masses, with awareness as social actors, with the indigenous peoples, who by far are the ones in the country with the clearest and most advanced struggles of civil resistance.”

Movement for Mexico and New Actors

Ameglio thinks the Movement for Peace now is on the moral high ground, with a lot of it based on the leadership of the victims and Javier Sicilia, who was there from the very first demonstration. “We have a lot of weight in the media based on dignity, courage and confronting the authorities. For relatives of the victims, that moral force, which was built mainly in the first year, though it has been different the two years since, accompanies them as they confront the state, and at the national and international level.”

Another positive effect of this movement is that it multiplied and empowered other organizations of victims’ families. With inspiration from the MPJD, organizations such as FUNDEM have been created. He says that there was stagnation in the struggle, because “if you do not adopt forms of civil disobedience, mass mobilization and dialogue with authorities will not be enough to pressure the authorities to find the missing, fulfill justice for the dead and change the model of militarization and war on public safety.” However, he realizes that this is not an exclusive task of MPJD, nor is it wholly responsible for leading any movement, but rather should join forces to make the struggle more effective.

Given the existence of a “criminal state,” Ameglio suggests that the most advanced social actors since 1994 are organized indigenous groups and campesinos born out of the Zapatista movement, the National Indigenous Congress and the Community Police in Guerrero, among others.

“They are the ones with a model that moves toward the defense of territory, of a solidarity economy, being self sufficient, regionally integrated, autonomous, with education and health in the hands of the people,” he said. “Hopefully they are able to fully coordinate among themselves as well as us, especially where we have more problems in urban areas. The movement is very much an urban struggle and it was impossible for us to integrate this struggle with the rural campesino-indigenous struggles.”

Another important player will be the victims’ families, who have endured a great deal of pain, confinement and terror for being public social actors with great courage and dignity. “They are lions fighting as they seek truth and justice.”

“The subject of political parties is scandalous,” he went on. Ameglio derides the main parties for ​​simulating a protest against oil industry reform. “They conducted three marches to the Zocalo as resistance to a worldwide transnational campaign. “I would repeat the popular Argentine saying: ‘They should all go.’ The lack of results should lead to the realization that negotiations with the political class are not going to lead anywhere.”

Memory and Justice, Justice and Memory

Ameglio emphasizes the need to remember the MPJD’s own victims, “a task that must always be pushed, asking for truth and justice.” He cites them from memory: Pedro Leyva, Nahua community member from Ostula, Michoacán, killed on Oct. 6, 2011, just before a meeting with President Calderón scheduled for Oct 14; Trinidad de la Cruz, also of Ostula, kidnapped and executed on Dec. 6, 2011, during a human rights mission with the MPJD; that same day, Eva Alarcón and Marcial Bautista of the Organization of Campesino Ecologists of the Sierra del Sur went missing in Petatlán, Guerrero; in the autonomous Purépecha municipality of Cheran, Michoacan, which has worked closely with the MPJD since the begining, several villagers were have been killed in the past three years. “The last two victims were Urbano Macias and Guadalupe Jerome,” recalls the activist.
“On Oct. 22, 2012, two founders of the Barzón movement in Chihuahua, Ismael Solorio and Manuela Solís, both of whom participated in our first march from Cuernavaca to Mexico City, were viciously murdered.” Ameglio closes the list with the beloved Nepomuceno Moreno, who was killed at noon on Nov. 26, 2011, in downtown Hermosillo. “He was a truly exemplary man who should go down in history for giving his all to the movement, constantly spreading the message that we must all march forward for justice, not only for his own son, but for all the children and all families.”

“There has yet to be truth and justice in any of these cases. These were direct victims, all deeply active in the movement,” he laments. “If these victims are not vindicated, than no one can talk about dignity in the movement.”

“Right now in our Movement, there is much talk of the memory process. But before that you need to speak about truth and justice.” He says this focus on memory will translate into all Mexicans knowing how the war started, how people disappeared, and how extortions work. “That process begins with memory. But if you do not start talking about truth and seeking justice, memory – partly due to official manipulation – remains at the level of symbolism and monuments, and not of actions for justice and truth.”

This has been a difficulty of the movement, he admits. “The authorities have carried out massive simulation and exerted pressure on activists. And because of that I would say that in the country there is a need to talk less of peace and more of justice. It is one of the lessons of the movement right now.”

Adazahira Chávez is an editor with Desinformé, an “autonomous, global communications project” and sister organization to the Americas Program Originally published at Desinformémonos

Translation: Clayton Conn



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