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Posts Tagged ‘witness for peace’

Ash 3 Ash Eames 

A dozen people who were active locally in Central America solidarity movements gathered June 9 at World Fellowship to reminisce, catch up, and sing songs of liberation. 

The New Hampshire Central America Network formed in the late 1980s to provide greater cohesion for activists working to end US aggression against Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala.  Working out of a downtown Concord office, the Network kept local activists in touch with international developments, sponsored speakers tours and delegations, organized demonstrations, and let the state’s elected leaders know we opposed the imperialist policies of the Reagan and Bush I administrations. 

My own memories of the period include numerous local residents making visits toAndy & Lynn Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras; speakers from Central America cris-crossing the state; sit-ins in the offices of members of Congress; and lots of meetings (of course). 

Ash Eames, a Wentworth resident who was one of many New Hampshirites who traveled to Nicaragua with Witness for Peace, was the Network’s key convenor. 

The June 9 gathering included Ash, Deborah Stuart, Lynn Clowes, Andy Davis, Andrea Walsh, Paul Marcus, Paul Baker Hernandez, Jack Bopp, Craig Blouin, Beth Allen, Judy Elliott, and me.  

As we shared what significant memories and what we’ve learned, just about everyone talked about the importance of building community among activists. 

The NH CAN reunion was not officially on the schedule for World Fellowship, where the 2012 season gets its formal start June 25.

Click here for more photos.

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Don Gregorio was one of the first people our Witness for Peace group met in San Juan Sosola, a small village in the Mixteca region of Oaxaca. One of the first things he told us was a story about a young woman from the village who had died in Los Angeles without her family being able to contact her.

You don’t even have to scratch the surface in Oaxaca to learn something about Mexico-US migration. Talk to just about anyone and they’ll ask, “where are you from?” Once you say, “the USA,” you’ll hear stories about brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, and cousins living north of the border. The challenges facing separated families are painful, even without workplace raids, desert border crossings, and deportations.

If you do scratch the surface, you can learn why beautiful, peaceful villages like San oaxaca 2010 07 19 s j sosola 058 Juan Sosola are pretty much empty of young adults, most of whom leave as soon as they are old enough to travel on their own. Some reasons, like soil erosion caused by excessive logging, go back centuries to the time of Spanish colonialism. Others are more recent, like the pressures put on Mexico in the 1980s to reduce price supports for tortillas, and the flood of subsidized corn from the USA which entered Mexican markets after the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect in 1994.

According to Jesus Leon Santos, of the Center for Integral Doaxaca 2010 07 19 s j sosola 079evelopment of the Mixteca, the region has experienced longer periods of drought and periods of intense rain brought on by global climatic change. Moreover, he says, chemical inputs of the “green revolution” made the land less productive.

Miguel Angel Vásquez, of EDUCA , Services for an Alternative Education, says 60% of the Mexican youth who enter the labor market every year are unable to find work. Oaxaca is Mexico’s second poorest state, and according to some figures, a third of its people are now living in the USA.

And it’s not just Mexico. In a religiously affiliated shelter in the city of Oaxaca we met 3 young men from El Salvador and Guatemala, trying to make their way through Mexico past migration police and criminal gangs. A Salvadoran man says, “If I could stay in my country and make money I’d never leave.” But he’s making his second oaxaca 2010 07 19 s j sosola 044 attempt to reach the USA – the first ended with arrest in northern Mexico – despite his knowledge of the perils of the road. It’s not like he expects money to fall from the sky, he says. He expects to work hard so he can send money home to his mom.

When the farm economy is failing, rural people migrate. That’s the story of US history in the 19th century, of modern China, of modern Mexico and Central America. But unlike the “mill girls” who left my state’s small towns in the 1830s and 1840s for the bustling new cities of New England, and unlike the workers in Chinese sweatshops now, Mexicans and Central Americans have to cross a highly militarized border and face a climate of racism and persecution if they reach the other side.

Our ten days with Witness for Peace deepen my understanding that “immigration reform” requires addressing the reasons why so many people are forced to migrate in the first place. My passport will enable me to return across the border to my own community with new insights, and with my heart enriched by the people I’ve met.

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Four years ago the farmers of San Antonino, a village in the Oaxaca Valley, didn’t have enough water to irrigate their crops. The wells weren’t dry, but after pumping for 15 minutes or so they’d have to stop and wait for the well to recharge. As rich in communal spirit as they are lacking in cash, the farmers came up with a plan: a series of new wells to capture rainwater and runoff from their fields to recharge the aquifer. They built 60 of them, and once they proved successful, the municipal government built 60 more. The wells, 25 or 30 meters deep, are lined with concrete and also filled with rocks and sand to filter the water. Now, they have sufficient, clean San Antonino 2010 07 14 san antonino 005water year-round to irrigate their radishes, flowers, squash, lettuce, beets, and herbs. They also have a model that attracts farmers from nearby towns and grad students from Mexico City.

That doesn’t entirely solve their water problems, explained leaders of the Committee for the Defense of Water. The federal water agency, CONAGUA, is trying to impose a permitting system that would force farmers to register their wells and pay the government to use their own water. Their village still lacks a reliable water supply for their homes. Deforestation and climate change have produced serious droughts. And a Canadian company has been given permission to mine near  by mountains for gold and silver, a process which is sure to use up copious amounts of water and leach toxic chemicals back into the environment.

The Committee in San Antonino isn’t all by itself; they have aid from the Flor y Canto (Flower and Song) Center for Human Rights in Xoxocotlán, 20 km away. Flor y San Antonino 2010 07 14 san antonino 003Canto’s mission is defense of indigenous rights, and in recent years that has meant a focus on water. With a staff of 5 women, all volunteers, Flor y Canto works in 12 communities in the municipalities of Ocotlán and Zimatlán providing technical and legal assistance.

Nationally, 90% of Mexicans are said to have access to water services, but those figures can be deceiving. In the house where we stayed for a few weeks, water service had sporadic interruptions. In some neighborhoods, the pipes may be empty for weeks on end. When that happens, families have to buy water from trucks that cruise their neighborhoods selling water for ten times the rate of public water supplies.

The rate of access to water and sewage services drop off in rural areas and drop off further for indigenous communities like San Antonino. According to a report from the Coalition of Mexican Organizations for the Right to Water, 42% of indigenous people lack water service, and 70% lack sanitation.

Giant dam projects are still being proposed, often over the objections of local communities, to address water scarcity. Better approaches include reoaxaca 2010 07 10-ocotlan pipapair of leaky pipes, micro-dams, and reforestation projects.

Claudio Ortíz, a member of the Committee for the Defense of Water in, said San Antonino doesn’t have water service, but he has a truck that he fills from his own well. Instead of charging an arm and a leg, he said he just charges what it costs to run the truck.

Speaking of the community well project, Delfino Hernandez Sanchez, president of the Committee, said, “We started doing this because we had a need.”

I was fortunate to meet Delfino and his neighbors on a study tour sponsored by Witness for Peace, in which we are looking into the relationship between social conditions and migration from rural Oaxaca.

“What our parents left us is this land,” he said, and he’s proud he will be able to pass it on. “It’s not just for my children; it’s for all the children in the community.”

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“Knowledge emerges only through invention and reinvention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, and with each other.”

- Paolo Freire

This morning after breakfast, 14 people sat on the rooftop patio of a Oaxaca hostel to begin our exploration of economic and social realities facing this southern Mexican state, one third of whose residents are now living in the United States.  We are a delegation organized by Witness for Peace, a US-based group whose roots are in nonviolent resistance to US aggression in Nicaragua in the 1980s.  Now, WFP organizes study tours in Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, and Cuba, and conducts advocacy programs aimed at changing US policy in Latin America.

Our delegation is diverse in age, but with a common interest in enriching our activism with a deeper understanding of Mexico.  Today the WFP Mexico staff, Nikki and Betty, gave excellent presentations on Mexican history, and on how the debt crisis of the 1980s drove Mexico into the clutches of neo-liberal economics.  As they explained, neo-liboaxaca 2010 06 27 ixtlan 099eralism refers to a school of thought that favors unrestricted trade, privatized public services, weak protections for labor, low levels of social spending, and favorable climates for private investment, especially by large corporations that can operate across national borders (in other words the ideology that provokes the global economic crisis in we are still immersed).  But as capital, goods, and services flow more freely across borders, walls and laws increasingly block the movement of people, who must migrate to find work.

The next week will be full of meetings with Mexican organizations working on issues such as migration, sustainable agriculture, water, and human rights.  We’re going to learn a lot.

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