Pietro Ameglio: What Mexico Needs in the Time of AMLO

[With gratitude to Gandhian nonviolent strategist Pietro Ameglio for his reflection below. Pietro and I have worked together on the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative.–Rose]

BY PIETRO AMEGLIO

(Cuernavaca, Mexico) — January 2019 marked 25 years since the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico, an historic event of the greatest relevance in the contemporary global context, with roots that stretch back centuries and repercussions that will reach far into the future.

It is a truly original experience of building struggle and massive social organization that seeks to confront and slowly replace capitalist social and productive relations, burdened as they are with racism, plundering and exploitation, with others that are more egalitarian, communitarian and rooted in social justice.  

Zapatismo is a social construct that operates simultaneously in the short, medium and long term.  For millions of us in the world, the Zapatista process changed our lives. It helped us to think upside down, to not be so defenseless in the social order. We can’t help but feel gratitude toward these women and men, girls and boys, whose influence has been felt in many processes of humanization all over the planet. And the best tribute that we can offer them is to not give up our resistance efforts and to always maintain critical thinking.

We can start with reflection on ourselves and our allies, knowing that we all make mistakes. From there we can build a continuous process of reflection and action rooted in “proper disobedience to any inhuman order” (J.C. Marín), confronting any kind of blind obedience to authority, wherever it may come from.

In Mexico we are in the first months of the administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), who came to power promising deep change with a focus on the needs of the poor majority.

Currently we are engaged in a major debate regarding the astronomic levels of violence in the country and the new government’s “pacification” plans. Are they focused on peacebuilding, which gets at the root issues of truth, justice and reparations? Or are they more aimed at calming the waters – an urgent task! – but in such a way that the storm continues below?

In this regard, one element of López Obrador’s plans is troubling. In 2006, former President Felipe Calderon gave the task of fighting drug cartels to the armed forces. Since then, organized crime-related homicide rates in Mexico have skyrocketed, with the total number killed exceeding 150,000. Now AMLO has called for the creation of a National Guard to complement the armed forces in the fight against organized crime. But the new 50,000-strong force initially would be drawn from the ranks of the armed forces and federal police.

This has led to a heated debate about whether the creation of a National Guard signifies the increased militarization of the country (of course it does; why else was the December “National Conference on Peacebuilding and Security” held at the Colegio Militar, the primary military educational institution in Mexico?) and if it is simply inevitable, given the dimensions of the war we are experiencing.

In between his election and inauguration, AMLO convened a series of Listening Sessions on Pacification and National Reconciliation (Foros de Escucha para la Pacificación y la Reconciliación Nacional). Their supposed intent was to gather input for the shaping of the new government’s policy. But what good were they if the citizen input was ignored and we are told that there is no practical alternative to a militarized approach to the violence? So the forums appear to be just more political theater, when the decision had already been made, and not entirely by Mexico alone.

It may be that the new government could not adequately assess the full scope of the war we are facing before taking office, especially in terms of the corruption and weakness of state institutions. Nonetheless, pacification requires actions that show a true intention to get to the roots of the problem of violence: the deep-seated criminal associations among government functionaries at all levels, elected and appointed members of the three branches of government, businesspeople, criminal gangs, legal and illegal armed forces, and parts of civil society.

Given the evidence we see every day, it is imperative that all those involved in such collusion be deposed, arrested, and punished and that their money-laundering operations be cut off. When we start to see this kind of action, we can begin to think that a real process of pacification may be underway.

In addition to such action, we will also need to see government action that empowers and legitimizes the different kinds of community guards or police that are subordinate to the communities themselves and that actually have been able to control or even eliminate the manifestations of organized crime that were devastating them. These local or regional organizations, self-organized from below, are the only ones that can affirm that they have been able to confront organized crime with positive results, including greater humanization with regard to both the communities and the criminals, and to return peace to their territories. So they should be supported and held up as an example, especially in the regions of greatest violence. Or do we know other means of containing such massive violence and impunity?

When we begin to see  initiatives like these, in the quantity and quality that the war in Mexico requires, then we will be able to have a rigorous debate about militarized or justice-based  approaches to peacebuilding. That is the true reality check that the country urgently needs.

In the mean time, a significant portion of Mexico’s population has accepted the war, with its endless turf battles among criminal organizations for monopoly control of territory, as the norm and as their principle source of employment. In fact we are talking about a huge capitalist enterprise that creates many thousands of jobs. And with the global economic crisis, those dependent on organized crime for a job are not inclined or do not even know how to change their employment. So we can expect a continuing increase in the spiral of war, as the daily news shows.

In January and February, the Fourth National Search Brigade for Disappeared Persons is taking place in the state of Guerrero. The Mexican government’s own tally of the disappeared is more than 34,000, a phenomenal number.

In the face of recent governments’ demonstrable unwillingness to resolve those cases, family members of the disappeared and their allies have organized their own search efforts, uncovering hundreds of clandestine graves all over Mexico.

These brigades, born of desperation, are a practical response to a human catastrophe and also a moral challenge to society to not accept this situation as normal and to join them in demanding the historical truth, justice, and reparations for the victims and their families.

In this strategic nonviolent offensive, the family members are exercising their social, moral and autonomous power directly, without requesting permission while seeking as many civil society and official allies as possible. We hope that with the new government, there will be better conditions for them to reverse the abandonment they have suffered.

This direct action by the families of the disappeared, like the autonomous government model built by the Zapatistas with their Councils of Good Government, is based on the direct exercise of power by the people. It is also similar to the massive Yellow Vest protest movement that has swept France since November, where important decisions are made in communal assemblies and in direct vote referendums.

Enough of spurious and anti-popular liberal representations. These are clear examples of the urgent need to organize and demonstrate in the streets with relentless persistence.[]

Pietro Ameglio is a Professor of Peace and Nonviolence Culture at the UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico) and an activist in nonviolent struggles in Mexico. Translation from Spanish to English by Phil McManus.

 

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

"Our Lady of Louisiana" by Rick Delanty
“Our Lady of Louisiana” by Rick Delanty

“Christ has lived each one of our lives. He has faced all our fears, suffered all our griefs, overcome all our temptations, labored in all our labors, loved in all our loves, and died in all our deaths. Through Jesus, God knows our hidden selves, and still God delights to be one with us.”—Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“The afflicted and the needy seek water in vain, their tongues are parched with thirst. I, the LORD, will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will open up rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the broad valleys; I will turn the desert into a marshland, and the dry ground into springs of water.”Isaiah 41: 17-18

It was a cool, dry day with a breeze when I walked through the market that surrounds the Cathedral of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Everything related to Guadalupana was for sale. T-shirts, bumper stickers, ash trays, rosaries, plastic roses, 3-D posters with eyes that followed you as you passed by. I passed under an allee of riotous red, pink, and orange bougainvillea into the Cathedral plaza and finally into the church itself. Downstairs is the painting of the Virgin that appeared to Cuatitloatzin (Juan Diego), a Nahuat Indian in 1531.

To view the painting you must stand on a moving walkway that takes you past the painting. That day several viejitas were riding the walkway on their knees, then returning to the front and riding it again. My friend told me that I had to prepare my heart before passing before the painting. She translated the message engraved on the marble wall. Among other things, it said that one must not approach the Virgin of Guadalupe with a list of demands. On the contrary, one must approach her with an open heart and a clear mind so that one can hear and fully receive the message of the Holy Spirit.

“That light, does it rise from the earth or fall from the sky?” writes Eduardo Galeano in his reflections on Cuatitloatzin and the Virgin of Guadalupe. “Is it a lightning bug or a bright star. It doesn’t want to leave the slopes of Tepeyac and in the dead of night persists, shining on the stones and entangling itself in the branches. Hallucinating, inspired, the naked Indian Juan Diego sees it: The light of lights opens up for him, breaks into golden and ruby pieces, and in its glowing heart appears that most luminous of Mexican women, she who says to him in Nahuatl language: ‘I am the mother of God.’”

What healing of the feminine do you need in your life?

Breathe in. Breathe out. Ad…vent.

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print..

Video: Will Religious Leaders in 4 Countries Join Migrant Caravan?

Migrant Caravan 2018

Pietro Ameglio Patella of SERPAJ and Catholic Nonviolence Initiative in Mexico calls Catholic bishops of Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, and United States to walk with Migrant Caravan.

Posted by Rose Berger on Monday, October 22, 2018

Pietro Ameglio, who works with SERPAJ-Mexico (Servicio Paz y Justicia/Peace and Justice Service), speaks in the video above about the caravan of migrants that has crossed from Honduras to Guatemala to Mexico. I work with Pietro through the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative.

Pietro reminds us that the members of the caravan are people fleeing violence and poverty. They “refuse to be killed in the name of progress,” he says. This caravan should be considered akin to the Salt March in India led by Gandhi in 1930 and the March on Washington led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1963.

Pietro calls on the Catholic bishops from Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and the United States to join the migrants on their journey. #ThisIsNonviolence

For more about the Migrant Caravan, see Thousands of migrants ask us to share the journey by Bernadette Mary Reis

#MigrantCaravan #USCCB

Latino USA Radio Interview: Remembering Chiapas’ Bishop Samuel Ruiz

I did a radio interview with Latino USA’s Mincho Jacob on Wednesday about the death last week of Roman Catholic Bishop Samuel Ruiz of Chiapas, Mexico.

I’m not sure if Mincho read my Huffington Post column on Bishop Ruiz or if my friend Sean Collins at Latino USA tipped Mincho off that I might be a person to call. Either way I was grateful for the chance to remember Bishop Ruiz with the Latino USA audience.

To listen to the interview, click on the link below and go to minute 3:00.

INTERVIEW: http://latinousa.org/salsa/wp-content/lusaaudio/930seg02.mp3

However, the story before is also worth listening to. It’s with Arizona-based journalist Terry Greene Sterling on the trial of members of the paramilitary group the Minutemen who are accused of killing nine-year-old Brisenia Flores and her father Raul Flores.

‘Las Novias’: Same-Sex Marriage in Mexico City

Mexico wedding portrait
Jesusa Rodríguez and Liliana Felipe

I love Mexico. And now I have a reason to love it even more. Tomorrow, Mexico City will be the first in Latin America to put into effect laws legalizing same-sex marriage and adoption. (Mexico City legalized same-sex civil unions back in 2007.) There is, of course, sharp criticism and hand-wringing from my beloved Catholic Church hierarchy and social conservatives — but with a 50 percent approval rate for gay marriage among regular Mexicans (89 percent of whom are Catholic), I’d say that the laity are once again leading the way.

Here’s an excerpt from today’s Washington Post article:

On Thursday, [Mexico City] this sprawling megalopolis will catapult to the front lines of gay rights in Latin America when a city law legalizing same-sex marriage and adoption goes into effect. … Mexican actress Jesusa Rodríguez will marry her partner, Liliana Felipe, after 30 years together. “The important thing is that this law grants equality,” Rodríguez said. Many marriage-minded gay couples are preoccupied by concerns about the security of their loved ones. Reyna Barrera, 70, had a breast removed two months ago, and although she is weak from chemotherapy, she is busy planning her wedding to her partner of 36 years, Sandra Ponce. “This way, she is protected. She will get my pension, our house, everything from the life we built together,” said Barrera, a literature professor at Mexico’s National Autonomous University.

The Legislative Assembly passed the gay marriage act by a broad majority in December, as activists cheered and PAN representatives looked on in dismay. Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, a PRD leader, signed the bill into law — a first in Latin America. … Mexico City legalized same-sex civil unions in 2007; they also are recognized in Colombia, Uruguay, Brazil, Ecuador and Argentina, but advocates for gay rights say only marriage can protect the rights of families in such matters as property and custody. … An opinion poll by El Universal newspaper in November found that 50 percent of Mexico City respondents accepted gay marriage and 38 percent opposed it. Residents ages 18 to 39 were more likely to be supporters.

Read the whole article here.