Friday, November 19, 2010

Bishop Raul Vera Lopez op is a fighter for Human Rights and Social Justice

FEARLESS MEXICAN BISHOP RECIEVES THE 2010 RAFTO HUMAN RIGHTS AWARD. José Raúl Vera López (65), the Catholic bishop of Saltillo, Northern Mexico, is awarded the Rafto Prize 2010 for his struggle for human rights and social justice. He is an uncompromising critic of power abuse and a fearless defender of migrants, indigenous peoples, and other groups at risk in Mexican society.

Human rights crisis in Mexico

Rafto Symposium 2010
Grand Selskapslokaler, Bergen, Norway
5 November 2010

As Mexico celebrates the bicentennial of its independence and the centennial of its revolution, the reality is that we are seeing the most aggressive human rights violations against its population and against migrants who pass through its territory.

Talking about human rights in the world today, particularly in Mexico, is inevitably to denounce the violent death and exclusion of millions of men, women and children. This situation challenges us to confront the structural causes leading to systematic violations of human rights and seek solutions at local, regional and international levels. Such a challenge can only be addressed by discovering the worth and dignity of human nature as the base from which to articulate efforts as an international society to defend and promote human rights collectively and in an organised manner.

Keys to understand the Mexican crisis
Mexico is currently suffering the consequences of a socio-political and socio-economic structure that generates systematic violation of human rights. The political regime strives to follow one rule: that of impunity and injustice. The effects of this choice are the dismantling and weakening of the state through questionable democratic processes. Dismantling the state enables mechanisms for the operation of highly profitable businesses enriching only a few people and a lack of regulations to determine the origin and destination of profits. The entire situation creates an environment of growing poverty for the vast majority of the Mexican population, institutionalised violence, and a culture of murder.

The current institutional war against organised crime in Mexico is having disturbing consequences for the population. I perceive this institutional war as a mere simulation, because the main elements supporting and feeding the power of criminal mafias are not being targeted, namely: flow of money and political support. Organised crime mafias have infiltrated Mexican political structures, and public institutions in charge of law enforcement and security to an alarming extent. Economic power used by mafias to corrupt people at all levels is increasing exponentially. They can corrupt public officials, private companies and also the business and financial centres that do their money laundering. This economic power helps them renew their structures when they lose members or when one of the senior bosses is killed or imprisoned. This is why, in reality, government actions have little or no effect on the mafias.

The government is confronting organised crime primarily in a warlike manner; using armed forces, with little or almost no law enforcement, and appearing increasingly weak before the power of criminal gangs. As a consequence, the population is at the mercy of mafias without anyone or anything protecting them. This situation facilitates the violation of the rights all people have to life, peace, freedom, security and integrity. The Mexican state currently does not protect or guarantee the life or property of its citizens. The country is falling apart. The common agreement now seems to be focused on a false “legality” deprived of any ethical dimension, used to prosecute those (companies, public institutions and officials) who make it possible for organised crime to obtain financial resources and weapons. But that alleged “legality” actually ensures priority is given to the accumulation of more wealth by renegade associations of large companies, with the subsequent reduction of workers’ rights.

For over 30 years, the neoliberal economic model has been adopted and assumed in Mexico with all the severity that one can imagine. It has lead to systematically growing poverty, widening social inequality and amplification of inequality in general. The Free Trade Agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico (NAFTA) has benefited large capitals, but has reduced the quality of life of over 80% of the population. Male and female workers have been left to the mercy of employers, whose rights are openly and non-ethically protected by the authorities above those of the workers. This lack of protection for workers and reduction of labour rights is regrettable.

Lack of protection is a widespread situation in Mexico. Freedom of association, which already had many threats before, is currently subject to persecution, reduction and excessive control. Independent trade unions that care for workers and were out of governmental control are being dismantled and removed. Peasants and indigenous people are being denied progress and access to a decent quality of life. There is also exclusion among young people living in urban areas; the rector of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico (UNAM) reported that nearly three million young people cannot access the education system and have no job either.

Another situation occurring at an alarming increasing rate in the State of Coahuila and northern part of Mexico is forced disappearances. Diocesan Centre for Human Rights, Fray Juan de Larios, has documented 84 cases of missing people only in the State of Coahuila. Press sources speak of more than a thousand people missing across the northern border, but so far neither the state nor the Federal Government has conducted investigations. Instead of working to protect families, both levels of government have managed to make the situation invisible by creating information blackouts for the media. Assault, intimidation, threats and kidnappings of male and female journalists have increased over the past two years. Not to mention the murder of two reporters in the Diocese of Saltillo and three attacks on the media (two on print media and one on television media) working in the State of Coahuila. Amnesty International (AI) in its 2010 report spoke of at least a dozen journalists murdered nationwide in 2009 in relation to public safety issues and corruption. According to the Foundation for Free Expression (FUNDALEX) so far, in 2010, ten journalists have been killed in the country, making Mexico the most risky country for this activity.

These facts demonstrate the Mexican state’s current inability to ensure its citizens’ safety and freedom of expression, information and truth, something which we all have and which are essential in respect of future actions and complaints. It signifies a waiving of the duty to protect human rights. It also is linked to the corruption of officials who, instead of promoting and enforcing the rule of law, have decided to ally themselves with the criminals to their benefit, enabling them to impose their rules on society.

Kidnapping of migrants: "A humanitarian tragedy"
In late 2007, organised crime groups began to take over territories through which migrants frequently passed. Then, kidnapping and extortion started to take place systematically. In May 2009 the National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH) estimated that over a period of six months, 9,758 migrants were kidnapped throughout the country. This number shows that systematic crimes against migrant populations in Mexico are widespread.

Brutality is a feature of this problem. Victims suffer all kinds of torture, cruel and degrading treatment, psychological and physical punishment, and murder. These events take on a more serious dimension when it is known that organised crime operates in collusion with or with the consent of local authorities. Victims have said that municipal police can be directly linked to the crimes and that agents of the National Migration Institute (INM) and the Federal Police (PFP) quietly observe from their checkpoints as men, women, children and adolescents are taken hostage, and undertake no action to free the victims and stop offenders.

Victims are mostly migrants from Central American countries such as Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, but also include people from South American countries. More than two months ago the news published the abominable and outrageous slaughter of fourteen women and fifty-four men from Central America, Ecuador and Brazil. Their bodies were found on a ranch in Tamaulipas State, north-eastern Mexico; they had been shot dead. Besides serving to prevent migrants entering into the United States, the purpose of the kidnappings is to obtain money from their relatives who are waiting for them there. This started in 2007, but was poorly organised; it was well known that migrants were being kidnapped but the mechanisms they nowadays use to carry out this type of kidnapping had not yet been established.

About two years ago, details of the terrible tragedy unfolded and became known. Members of organised crime gangs, with the reluctant consent of state agents, had been establishing contacts to carry out kidnappings and gruesome tortures to ensure that migrants supply phone numbers of their relatives in the U.S. These are then blackmailed to release the kidnap victim. This information has been obtained thanks to family members who have paid a ransom or to complaints made by victims who were released or somehow managed to escape and found protection in shelters and institutions specially organised to help them. Now we know that the police themselves were a tool used to “hook” migrants (they call “hitch” the person making the first contact between the kidnappers and migrants) and delivered them to the kidnappers. Mexican immigration agents often act as accomplices. Organised crime also forces some migrants to act as “recruiters” with the delusion that they will provide guidance to fellow migrants moving to the U.S., posing as “coyotes” or “boats” , but they are actually taken to the kidnapping gangs.

In Mexico, the railroad is no longer used to transport people. Migrants travel on freight trains, hidden inside or up on the roof. Organised crime members agree with train drivers to take migrants with them and let them get off where vehicles are waiting for them. They are taken to “safe houses” (where up to 300 people remain locked up) where they are tortured into supplying phone numbers of relatives in the U.S. who are asked to pay an average of 3,500 dollars, but may be up to 8,000 dollars, per person. Sometimes 200 or 300 dollars are accepted if the family has no means to pay more. The regimes enforced in these “houses” represent true slavery: women are forced to cook small rations of food for male and female hostages, women are constantly raped, and men do cleaning tasks and forced labour.

There are probably qualified medical staff available in those “houses”. Some of the migrants, who have no family in the US, are made to pay by the removal of a kidney, which is then sold in the market for organ trafficking. The same thing happens with pregnant women: they sell the newborn baby. They even dismember people while they are alive. They gradually cut off body parts until they are beheaded. They do it in the presence of all the other people in the "safe house", in addition to torture and control them. This way, they get intimidated and end up “freely” giving up phone numbers of their friends or relatives in the U.S. Those who have no connections in the U.S. or simply refuse to deliver contact information are invited to join the criminal organization, offering them robust amounts of money as salary.

Causes of the tragedy
Forced migration is caused mainly by the global economic model of the free market, since states no longer have control money flow mechanisms. Within our system of production and consumption, the producer of goods and services primarily aimed to respond to consumer needs within the parameters of the consumer's quality of life. Since consumers are the workers, maintaining their purchasing power, through their salaries, used to be important. Within the economic model of the free market, the concept of service that keeps the balance between laws of supply and demand is missing.

State intervention becomes necessary to keep the balance between exchange value (value obtained by producers for providing goods and services) and the utility value (value that consumers obtain from the goods and services they have purchased). The idea of state intervention is to maintain the balance between supply and demand in the context of justice and law. The current economic model requires the state solely to protect large producers who (without any public control) have overstated the exchange value in order to swell the capital needed to stay in the game of the free market. This exaggeration in exchange value affects utility value as well, because when the spirit of service is missing, producers seek as much profit as possible, at the cost of the intention of consumer’s quality of life.

In their pursuit of exaggerated profit, producers of goods and services do not care about the quality of life of those who work for them; they do not care about fair wages. Producers want the state to keep wages low and facilitate reduction of employment benefits. Thus, workers are left with no chance of progress or any possibility of achieving a decent standard of living. States are obliged to “deregulate” fiscal controls (having no tax regulation) so that capital can multiply. This deregulation not only entails tax exemptions for which investors must pay, but also the loss of public control over capital gains in the speculative market (before the New York Stock Exchange crisis, this used to be an absolute principle, now they are trying to correct the situation using state measures that are still very weak).

Within this economic model, human beings and their needs come second, becoming only tools that help a few families in the world increase their wealth. Countries with weaker economies are the ones more severely tempted to impose deregulation of their fiscal controls. They control neither foreign nor domestic investment capital and policies of privatisation are imposed on them, so that services normally provided by the state are taken over by large private companies. I believe that in this way political systems which should care for the integral development their population, are at the service of those who gain by the economic system. This is unfair, because the social responsibility of the state is reduced to a minimum. In this situation, many people are driven to forced migration, not only in the search for a job, but for more decently paid work and a better quality of life.

In addition to money flow mechanisms at an international level (with no control from the state) there are illegal flows generated by organised crime. The global economic model maintains conditions that allow these illegal flows of money to be laundered into legal money, with which criminal organisations buy weapons that are more powerful than those used by the police and armies of many nations. They can also corrupt security forces, politicians, public officials, business and operators in financial centres. With laundered money they hire young people as assassins and gangsters, because many youngsters have no offer of honest work.

Everything is against Central and South American migrants, fostering a climate of terror and suffering on their transit through Mexico. They walk in the hope of achieving what has been called the “American Dream”, that is, going to seek a better life for themselves and their families in the U.S. Even when we consider it a tragedy that they cannot find a decent life in their own countries, the suffering they face in the hands of organised crime and a whole system of oppression during their migration is an even worse tragedy.

Tackling the tragedy
Those aspects of our laws that criminalise migrants have disappeared. Until recently it was considered a crime to enter Mexico without proper admission requirements. After a legal reform it turned out to be just an administrative transgression. Various civil society organisations are working on creating a document that certifies immigration status in order to protect migrants during their passage. Mexico has signed international agreements assuming the responsibility to protect the human rights of migrants who illegally enter its territory. Only in this way we can avoid the position of helplessness into which migrants are forced when crossing our country.

Migrants in Mexico face very dangerous conditions when using trains. They have to get on and off trains when they are actually moving, then find a place to travel by walking on the roofs, moving from carriage to carriage, at great personal risk. Often they fall onto the train tracks and suffer injuries, get mutilated by wheels, or even die. Because they do not have legal identification cards and thus can be arrested and deported to their countries of origin, they transit on foot through isolated places, through forests, jungles, mountains and deserts, which not only expose them to the dangers of dehydration and disease, but also of assaults and robberies, in which some of them are killed and most women sexually abused. Facing continuous complaints for violations of human rights against migrants, the Mexican government created a temporary visa, which allows migrants who have been victims of such violations to remain in Mexico while perpetrators are prosecuted. They have even access to work. Unfortunately, even though those visas are granted and victims protected, no trials are conducted and no damages are received by injured persons. This visa represents a bureaucratic procedure that aims to portray Mexico as a defender of human rights of migrants, but it does not provide real protection.

To prevent further violations of migrant’s rights it is necessary to change public immigration policies. The Mexican government should stop attempting to manage migration flows by acting as a retaining wall for migrants attempting to reach the U.S. By continuing to do this Mexico will not defend rights; rather it will continue to feed the culture of human rights violations and impunity and being an accomplice in these crimes. There are people in Mexico asking migrants for immigration papers without being authorised by law to do so. They do it only out of the suspicion that a person may be foreigner. Punishment for those actions is urgent. The only officials authorised to require documents to prove legal presence in Mexico are officials of the National Migration Institute. The Mexican government is responsible for human rights violations when implicitly collaborating with this “containment” policy aimed at preventing Mexican, Central and South American migrants from “reaching the United States”.

A complaint was presented at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) for kidnapping and other violations against the human rights of migrants passing through Mexico. In March this year information on this grave “humanitarian tragedy” was reported during a thematic hearing at the Commission, where the Mexican Government and immigration officers were denounced for being accomplices in the kidnappings, extortion and murders. There was no reaction, answer, or denial from the Mexican authorities who were present. The Mexican state is accused of violating international covenants that ensure the security of any person in its territory, thus strong condemnation by the international community is needed.