In his state of the union address a few weeks ago, Mexican president Peña Nieto acknowledged that this past year had been “difficult.” In fact, his entire term has been difficult. Not so much for the companies benefiting from his constitutional reforms, the escaped kingpin Chapo Guzman, or the contractor who sold the first lady a luxury house suspiciously below market value. But it’s certainly been difficult for the 55.3 million Mexicans who are poor, and especially for human rights defenders. During his less than three years in office, there have been 81 cases of forced disappearances of human rights defenders (versus the already high 53 during the entire 6-year administration of his predecessor).
|Nadín speaking in Oaxaca|
Nadín: In the majority of cases, similiar things happen, as in the case of our family. We’ve heard testimonies of mothers where the same thing’s happened, where the authorities don’t want to take reports of this crime. They put up a lot of roadblocks, and refuse to take action. One issue is that the crime is not classified as such in all states. Additionally, they often tell the family members to go back home, or claim the disappeared person probably just left without saying anything, that they’ll probably be back in a few days. They give excuse after excuse as to not take the report. And that’s why… I think that it’s in over 80 percent of the cases that institutions give the same response, in order to not take a report. And the authorities intimidate a lot. Not only do they not take reports, but they also threaten family members. They tell them not to report the crime because since they already have a family member disappeared, one of them might also be disappeared. And they recommend not moving forward with a report. That’s the most common response from the authorities, who not only don’t take reports, but also intimidate and threaten folks not to make reports.
WFP: As part of your work, you support and share information with family members of disappeared. Are there patterns that you’ve noticed in their cases?
Nadín: One of the patterns we’ve seen is the difficulty of identifying who the actors are. We’ve identified them as paramilitary groups, but because they’re usually dressed in black with high-caliber weapons and ski masks, it can be hard to identify them, and to link them directly to the authoriries or state agents. It’s difficult to determine. However, in this context – in this country – a lot of criminal groups were started by members of the armed forces who deserted, or by police that we can clearly identify as operating as parastatal groups. This is so the government will not be held responsible for the disappearances. These are the majority of the cases that we currently see. Many of the disappearances that are happening now are being committed by these groups. Many call them organized crime but we have identified them as paramlitary groups acting with the clear support and consent of the state. Additionally, along with the crime of forced disappearances, there may be other crimes committed. For example, the disappearance of women which can be linked to human trafficking and sexual exploitation. There have also been collective disappearances of men, to create a workforce, where they’re forced into exploitative work, used for their labor. Then there are also many other related crimes; it’s very difficult to identify or separate one from another. There’s also a pattern we’ve seen in terms of ages. For the most part it’s young folks who are disappeared, of working age, when they’re strong and capable. And some with certain professional or technical skills have been disappeared. This may also indicate that they’re being subjected to forced labor. These are some of the things we’ve identified. And then there are the disappearances of human rights defenders who participate in social and political movements. And we can identify state police, municipal police, and the army that have commited them. And it’s sometimes made clearer by threats made prior to the disappearance. And sometimes there are testimonials of people who see the moment of arrest of people who are subsequently disappeared, and this also points to the participation state agents.
WFP: The majority of the readers of our blogs are US citizens. How can a US citizen be in solidarity with Mexico to support a change in terms of human rights and forced disappearances?
Nadín: I think one way they could be in solidarity with our country on the issue of forced disappearances would be first: questioning the situation in their own country, as Americans. Taking a stand against policies that hurt out country. The US intervenes in our security issues, and that’s one of the causes of increased forced disappearances. US resources are invested in the name of national security, under the pretext of fighting crime. But instead of being used to that end, they’re used to commit serious human rights violations which I’ve already mentioned. So one of the ways that US citizens can support us is questioning their government. How is this money being invested? They can be critical and they question. Another way is to disseminate information and bring light to the issues of human rights in Mexico and how Mexican citizens live in fear of forced disappearances. And I think it could be done in many ways. Sometimes there are young people with professions that may be able to support with their expertise. They can write and share information, and send any kind of support. Perhaps an exchange program where they learn about what’s happening here, and they can link up with organizations here and study and analyze what’s happening in Mexico. And they could share what they experience back in their country and their communities.They can also help with economic resources or with specific materials which we sometimes need. Most of the organizations struggling against forced disappearance are organizations that don’t have material resources, they’re grassroots. And sometimes very minimal support is invaluable to continue their work. So that’s another way you can help support these Mexican organizations.
Nadín will be on the Witness for Peace-Southeast Fall Speaker’s Tour in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Alabama and Georgia from November 1 – 22. Stay tuned here for more info.
Show your solidarity with the students of Ayotzinapa this Saturday, September 26th: http://www.soaw.org/news/organizing-updates/4323-ayotzinapa-events-1-year-after-mexican-state-crime-and-us-complicity
Sign this (easy, fast) urgent action demanding the US withdraw funding for militarization of Mexico: http://org.salsalabs.com/o/727/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=18454