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A critique of the abuses committed by the Mexican government against its own people requires a critical analysis of the role of US foreign policy in Mexico. The Mexican people have been and continue to be irrevocably affected by neo-liberal policies that seek to give free reign to transnational companies. They also continue to suffer state repression, such as disappearances and extrajudicial killings, when exercising their right to protest against the encroachments on their lands and other government abuses. The US has played a significant role in pushing a global neo-liberal agenda, as well as the War on Drugs, both of which have had negative effects in Mexico.
A localized example of human rights abuses committed by the Mexican government, is the repression against the grassroots organization FNLS (Frente Nacional de Lucha por el Socialismo), whose members are indigenous agricultural workers, teachers, students, and elders from different states throughout Mexico. This organization is both economically and ideologically independent, as they do not accept money from political parties or the state. It is fully supported by members of indigenous communities with their own government system. They focus on defense of the Earth and territory, education, labor, and housing. The organization also demands that the forcefully disappeared be returned alive, that political prisoners be freed, that those intellectually and materially responsible for these crimes be brought to justice, and that there be an end to state crimes against the Mexican people.
FNLS claims that the government’s refusal to give them written land recognition is a government tactic so that its state officials can give land concessions to transnational companies. Before NAFTA was implemented, the Mexican government made constitutional changes to the agrarian law in 1992, regarding communal indigenous land ownership and rights to sell it. Since the free trade agreement NAFTA came into effect in 1994, communal lands called ejidos, have been dismantled and given to private companies, through concessions. In many cases, the Mexican federal government ignores international law that dictates indigenous communities be consulted about their communal land. Transnational companies have thus been able to enter communities through land concessions by the federal government without the consent of the governed. One community member mentioned: “We live every day with the threat that the federal government will come and appropriate our land.” Chiapas is a state where ¾ of the land has been conceded to companies in the US, Canada, and Europe. If indigenous communities do not have legal government recognition over their land, then they also often have no access to fertilizers or federal agriculture programs. Transnational companies also enter and destroy the productivity of the soil and many times contaminate the water, causing poverty and displacement for indigenous communities that are already underrepresented socially and politically in Mexico.
Indigenous communities who have opposed land concessions have been repressed by the government through various methods. In the case of FNLS, they have suffered extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances. There is the case of Hector Santis López who was detained, tortured, and killed on September 29th, 2015, by paramilitaries. According to members of FNLS, Hector’s body spent three days on the road exposed to the rain, causing the wounds to be washed away; however, his bones were all broken. Similarly, Fidencio Gomez Santis was disappeared by paramilitaries on March 5, 2016 after he returned from Mexico City, where he had gone to demand justice for Hector Santiz López. FNLS asserts that these paramilitaries have the support of Manuel Velasco Coello, the governor of Chiapas.
In addition to the US’s neo-liberal trade agenda, the US-led War on Drugs, has contributed to acts of state violence, of which human rights defenders are at constant risk. In 2007 the US Congress approved the Merida Initiative, a binational initiative created to combat drug trafficking, which over a number of years would disperse almost 2.5 billion dollars to buy weapons from the US government and train Mexican military and police. As of November 2015, the US Congress has given about 1.5 billion dollars to the Mexican government, and the Obama administration has requested 119 million dollars. The US government continues to provide these funds despite widespread and well-documented human rights abuses by the Mexican police and armed forces. FNLS claims that paramilitary groups do not act alone but instead receive training from the military and funds from local government officials. There have been 120 cases of forced disappearance and 60 extrajudicial killings (from 2006-2015) as well as around 800 arbitrary detentions since President Peña Nieto took office. Comité Cerezo and other social justice organizations such as FNLS assert the Mexican government also uses the War on Drugs as a pretext, suggesting in many cases that human rights defenders who are disappeared or killed were involved in dealings with drug traffickers. They also assert that the Mexican government has used resources such as the police, military, intelligence, and high security prisons to punish human rights defenders.
One such case of state repression occurred on November 7th, 2015, when FNLS members Jesús Hernández Reyes, Rubicel Hernández Garcia and Matías Flores were the victims of an attempted extrajudicial killing in Iztapalapa, Mexico City. They had just attended an event to denounce acts of state disappearances and repression against those protecting their lands. An individual shot at the three victims and all three went to the hospital. Rubicel is now disabled and in a wheelchair because one of the bullets hit his thorax. When the incident was investigated, the suspect did not appear in any of the more than 60 cameras located in the region. Additionally, minutes before and after the incident, the camera on the street was directly at the scene of the crime, but during the event it was turned away. The three victims claim that the suspect was an agent of the state, either the police or military, sent to intimidate them and their organization so that they stop denouncing acts of state violence. Recently, FNLS documented the case of an an indigenous community in Chiapas that was attacked on August 11th, 2016. The community says they were attacked by a paramilitary group financed by the government; community members were shot at wth AK 47s.
As people living in the United States, we need to educate ourselves on what foreign policies our representatives are supporting with our tax dollars. Policy change is necessary to stop our U.S. tax dollars from contributing to the exploitation and state repression in Mexico. In an act of solidarity, we call on the U.S. community to contact your congressional representative today and tell them to NOT support the Merida Initiative and to NOT allow the Trans Pacific Partnership (the TPP) be approved by Congress.
Note: This article is based in part on an interview conducted by the WFP Mexico Team with FNLS members and members of an indigenous community in Chiapas on July 24, 2016.