Political Situation of Palenque/Mexico – 2013 (a report from sisters in Chiapas)
I. New President
PRI Party came into office (again) in December 2012. This is the party that was in dictatorship for over 70 years and now, after 12 years, is back in office. They say they are “different” than the PRI of the past but, that is not the case as has already been seen with the changes they have made in the structure of government over the past two months. Some of the things that President Pena Nieto has moved toward and that affect our people in Palenque, especially village communities of indigenous peoples are:
1. Labor Laws have been changed to favor competition in the market place rather than honoring the dignity of work that every human being has a right to. The new laws are unjust in workers rights, access to employment, benefits, etc. Big corporations are favored at the cost of slave labor of the unskilled and working class. This is especially true for miners, those working in refineries, etc.
2. Privatization of education that is making access to education for the poor almost impossible. The Educational system in the country is sub-standard as it is and does not provide opportunities for real learning to take place. For example, in Palenque, most village communities have “schools” only up to sixth grade and, even at that, teachers do not show up for class, the education is poor, lack of school books and supplies, no bi-lingual education so that native peoples can learn Spanish, etc.
3. Farming, production of food is at risk. The government provides free seeds that are genetically altered, free chemicals and pesticides that put Mother Earth at risk in favor of mass production of food that is exported. The poor do not have access to the fruits of their own labor, their hands.
4. There is an increase in government programs that supposedly help the poor, but what it is doing is creating dependency. Rather than providing opportunities for people to develop skills, they are given a check. This does not promote the dignity of the person.
5. The push for Tourism in Palenque is depriving people of their own land in favor of building up luxury hotels/spas, privatizing natural resources (waterfalls, scenic areas, etc.). Some comment that tourism brings in jobs and we are finding that these type of “jobs” destroy the make up of village communities and families, bringing in false values around money that can alienate people from their identify, values, culture, ancestors, etc.
6. Health Care: The Government provides insurance (Seguro Popular) that does not guarantee medical attention, access to medication, nor emergency care. In Palenque the people are afraid of the local hospital; they do not trust the government and say that if you go there you do not come out alive. Native peoples are not always treated and medical negligence is not uncommon. We helped set up a “Citizens’ Coalition” so that incidents can be reported and we can pressure for attention or improvement of services.
7. Economic concerns: basic minimum salary is still 60 pesos for a day of labor (about five dollars a day) and the cost of basic food staples have increased (tortillas, corn, beans, etc.) In town the cost of electricity, gas, etc. have gone up so much that the basic cost of living is putting pressure on the eruption of violence, gangs, assaults, robberies, etc.
8. Social: fear to organize and protest unjust situations. Police, federal and state law enforcement is corrupt and do not protect the people. We need to be a society that is more participative in announcing and denouncing so as to be a better country.
The list could go on and on . . . but these are some of our realities in Palenque and the village communities we serve. We know it is pretty much true all over the country.
II. Violence in Mexico: Organized Crime
Our past president, Calderon, went after organized crime with a military approach of violence against violence at the cost of 125,000 lives in six years. It has been a blood bath. Disappearances are common, increasing suspicion and distrust. No one is safe because sometimes the Organized Crime kills innocent people in retaliation. The News daily includes images of dead bodies, parts of bodies, heads, etc. that grip our senses. Organized Crime is about Drug Lords/families fighting to control the drug corridor of Mexico to bring drugs from further south and take them to the States. But this fight has also included the cooperation of politicians, security forces, police, military, etc. Money and the need for money have taken over our country.
Our new President has connections with organized crime and we suspect that a “deal is being cut” where the government will “look the other way” and criminal activities will continue. Impunity is common on all levels.
Not far from us, in Pakal na, a train stops to unload and load cargo. On top of the trains are anywhere from 50 – 200 people who are trying to find their way north. When the train arrives, they come down in need of water, food, medical attention, and a change of clothes, sleep, and safety. Organized Crime gangs assault the immigrants. There are deaths, kidnappings, forcing immigrants into gang activities, forced prostitution, etc.
Our Sisters have been called upon to provide medical care, meds and other supplies. We also are asked to come and give them a “spiritual pep-talk” because they are so fearful and discouraged. We pray, give blessings, rosaries, medals, etc.
Our parish, in collaboration with the Diocese, other parishes and international donations, has now employed two Sisters in full time ministry to the immigrants. They coordinate a daily food programs, medical attention, etc. while establishing a network system at each train stop that can help care for and protect the immigrants. A small parcel of land near the train has been purchased and a small house is being built so that the immigrants can shower, rest, eat . . . in safety.
IV. Signs of Hope
This little update on the situation in Mexico/Palenque would not be complete without sharing some of the signs of hope that have emerged out of this moment in our history. It is about the groups that have emerged out of our darkness:
1. “Peace with Justice and Dignity” (Paz con Justicia y Dignidad). Javier Sicilia, a well-known peace activist and poet, has organized a Caravan for Peace that includes 13 buses with 700 people. They travel all over Mexico (even went to Washington, DC) to bring their message of peace. They are family members of those who have been murdered, disappeared, kidnapped, etc. who share their story of sorrow, suffering, loss and pain. They arrived in Palenque. We met them with candles one night, welcoming them in solidarity. It is quite impressive and encouraging how many more groups are arising out of their pain, gathering strength in the country. Javier Sicilia’s son was murdered. This is what started this movement for Peace.
2. “We Are Number 132” (Somos Numero 132). This is a movement of University Students that began with peaceful demonstrations during the Presidential Campaign last year. The PRI party had controlled all news media, favoring their agenda. Reporters of independent news were killed, missing, for telling the truth about organized crime and government involvement with it. These students demanded truth and freedom of reporting. They marched streets, carried out various nonviolent actions. The government responded with violence and several students were killed, put in jail, etc. These students have given great Hope to the country, hope for it’s future.
3. This past December 21, 2012 (marking the end of the Mayan calendar and the beginning of a New Era) thousands of Zapatistas marched in silence into four major towns in Chiapas to make their presence known, to let the Government know that they are still “alive and well” and remind the Government that the Peace Agreements made after the Uprising in 1994 have still not been carried out. It was a rather powerful moment to see them walk down the main street of Palenque in silence.
There are many more reasons for Hope. One, of course, is what Holy Name Province is providing through the Medical Mission and the support given from all three USA Provinces to the diverse ministries our Sisters are carrying out that give further Hope to the people of Palenque.