Four years ago, on July 31, 2015, five lives were taken in a Mexico City apartment. They were Nadia Vera Pérez, Yesenia Quiroz Alfaro, Mile Virginia Martín, Olivia Alejandra Negrete Avilés, and Rubén Espinosa Becerril. Their torture and execution-style killings received international attention, in particular because Nadia Vera, a social justice organizer and human rights defender, and Rubén Espinosa, a photojournalist, had fled to Mexico City from Veracruz following attacks and death threats due to their work. Before her murder, Nadia stated that should anything happen to her, it would be Javier Duarte who was responsible. Duarte was then governor of Veracruz and is now serving a nine-year sentence for corruption after he fled the country and was extradited from Guatemala. During his rule, widespread human rights abuses were the norm, including the assassination of journalists and political opponents.
While a few people have been detained for the murders, the state’s investigation has been egregiously irregular, incompetent, and disrespectful to the victims and their families. Over the course of four years, it has offered a variety of narratives – from a robbery gone bad to a cartel settling of accounts – yet, unsurprisingly, has assiduously avoided investigating the most likely scenario, that it was an extrajudicial assassination ordered and organized by state actors.
“‘You’re going to die! Sign your deportation and go back to your country!’ was what I heard as I struggled to recover from the asthma attack I suffered in the migrant detention center. I felt cornered by the guard and considered doing it, but remembering the problems that led me to leave my country, I dropped the idea.”
Lizzi is one of 51,607 people detained in Mexico by the National Migration Institute (INM) during the first four months of 2019. She was detained for 45 days, during which time she says she suffered physical and psychological torture. “We felt like we were in a jail, it was horrible! I had two asthma attacks inside. When we came back from the doctor, another guard asked me, “And you want to ask for refuge? Do you know you’ll be locked up for three to six months?”
A few meters from Pakal’ Ná park, near the train tracks in Palenque where hundreds of migrants meet to share their stories, the young, twenty-year-old mother recalls her painful experience. She left Honduras because she had problems with her son’s father, who belonged to one of the gangs. After years of abuse and threats, one day she decided to flee with her son to the United States to start a new life.
#ElIstmoEsNuestro Isthmus of Tehuantepec June 2019
The Isthmus of Tehuantepec is a region of Mexico shared by the states of Oaxaca and Veracruz. It is the narrowest part of the country between two oceans: the Pacific to the south and the Atlantic to the north (better known as the Gulf of Mexico), and a meeting point between flora and fauna from the north and south. These characteristics make the Isthmus the most biologically diverse area of the country, an invaluable richness of life concentrated on the territories of 11 different Indigenous peoples. Eight with ancestral lands (Zapotec, Mixe, Ikoots, Zoque/Chimalapa, Zoque Popoluca, Chontal, Chochoco and Nahua) and three peoples who migrated due to displacement and forced relocation (Chinanteco, Mixtec, and Tsotsil). Indigenous peoples who to this day have resolutely protected the natural wealth of our territories.
Facing the imminent threat of the Fourth Transformation government and President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) to impose on the peoples of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the people of Mexico, and the nation itself, the so-called “Integral Development Plan for the Isthmus of Tehuantepec – Interoceanic Train” (popularly known since 1996 as the “Isthmus Megaproject”), and considering that:
For a little more than a year I lived in Palestine. This text is not about that time but rather a phenomenon I first encountered there. That would be, in an overarching sense, the experience of the normalization of the expectation of the abnormal event. In this context, an abnormal event refers to an incident or circumstance that is outside the range of normative human experience and often beyond the capacity of the human psyche to make sense of or healthily integrate. During my time in Palestine, abnormal events were occurrences such as the nighttime raids of villages or homes, killings, woundings, beatings, kidnappings, tortures, and home demolitions carried out by Israeli military forces or settlers. (This is limited to the West Bank and would be much more devastating if expanded to include Gaza. Also left out are scenarios such as protests, which one enters into knowing that Israel will utilize varying levels of violence.)
Israeli forces carried out these actions with a consistency accompanied by an intentional unpredictability. In practice, this meant holding in one’s awareness the knowledge that something bad was going to happen, and soon. There was no if. When, where, and how bad? were the ever-lingering questions. And, given the limited territory on which these events occurred, would it involve those one knows or perhaps even oneself? To daily hold the apprehension, dread, or anxiety of the knowledge of an impending but unknown calamitous event is psychologically and physically exhausting. Its presence festers in the background, tingeing even the most positive or enjoyable of activities with an ambiguous darkness, an ill-at-ease that can not be put aside. For at any moment, the phone may ring or text may arrive with the news that something has happened.
With a sense of urgency, several collectives, organizations and adherents to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandón Jungle, as well as support networks for the Indigenous Governing Council (CIG), met on May 9 to agree upon actions against the increased military and paramilitary presence in Zapatista territories.
The collectives also spoke out against the recent increase in attacks, including the killings of members of the National Indigenous Congress (CNI), particularly in the states of Guerrero and Oaxaca.
For these reasons, the organizations agreed to hold a Global Action on May 31 against the militarization of Zapatista territory and in defense of the land, territory and autonomy of the indigenous peoples and communities of the CIG-CNI.
For the indigenous peoples of Mexico, the winds of war today seem to be the same as those of previous governments. Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) government has been in power just four months and the imposition of development projects, dispossession, persecution, harassment, forced disappearances, and murders continue as before.
On May 4, in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero, indigenous Nahuas belonging to the Popular Indigenous Council of Guerrero – Emiliano Zapata (CIPOG-EZ), held a meeting to coordinate actions at state and federal agencies to pressure them into meeting their social and political demands that had been rejected by the three levels of government. At the end of the meeting, at approximately 6pm, an armed group in Chilapa, Guerrero, kidnapped and later murdered José Lucio Bartolo Faustino and Modesto Verales Sebastián, both members of the National Indigenous Congress (CNI).
Splat…splat…splat. Over and over. Butterflies. Mile after mile of hundreds and hundreds of butterflies. The painted ladies are doing well this year. Unfortunately for them, their migration route is intersected by Interstate 40. Here, outside of Ludlow, California, I’m committing vehicular lepidopteracide at an alarming rate. In a manner that is both macabre and hypnotic, I’m captivated by the split second before each impact when time seems to stop: the butterfly hovers mid-flight only feet away in crystal clear profile against the blue, late-morning sky, orange wings outstretched as it strives towards its singular purpose, oblivious to impending calamity. That suspended instant unfailingly passes as Chronos reasserts his reign and 3,000 pounds traveling at 75 miles an hour collides with 0.5 grams of Vanessa annabella. In a most unnatural metamorphosis, butterfly transforms into yellow smear on windshield with an onomatopoetic splat.
Crows line the highway, feasting on carcasses. At rest stops, every car appears to be covered in egg yolks or to have been shot with yellow paintballs. I think of the thousands of vehicles daily covering this stretch of interstate and wonder at how many butterfly fatalities that must add up to. Of unintended consequences in this seemingly desolate landscape of high desert. Of how I-40 killed Ludlow itself – now with a population of 10 and consisting of a gas station-cum-Dairy Queen – when it superseded Route 66. Of how I came to be driving it at that moment, saying goodbye to more than just butterflies and ghost towns.
The military industrial complex companies that are feeding the wars and authoritarian regimes of the Middle East and North Africa with weapons and technology are also the main beneficiaries of border security contracts attempting to isolate European Union countries from the flow of migrants coming primarily from the Middle East and North Africa.
A report by the Transnational Institute, a research body based in the Netherlands, implicates weapons and biometric security manufacturers in particular who have benefited from the crisis: first feeding repression and conflict in these countries and, later, obtaining multimillion-dollar contracts to provide border surveillance equipment and technology. “The companies benefit from both sides of the refugee tragedy. The companies create the crisis and then benefit from it,” says Nick Buxton of the Transnational Institute.
A couple of weeks ago, the mainstream media began covering the multitude of migrants who sought entry into Mexico in order to pass through it and reach the United States. Coming mainly from Honduras, with some from other Central American countries, they were able to enter the country using the caravan as a strategy, though not without first receiving a welcome from the Mexican police – an incident that Mexican society in general was highly critical of.
Now being in Mexican territory, their reception in Chiapas was contrasted between people who were in solidarity with them with others who complained of their presence. A few days after their arrival, the government sprayed them with pesticides while they slept before dawn. On their passage through Veracruz, the situation became more complicated. There is talk of a kidnapping by organized crime disappearing more than 100 migrants – mainly women and children. However, the actual figure or what really happened in unknown. The only sure thing is that the route through that state, where these types of events happen most frequently, is one of the most dangerous for migrants.
In this episode of the It’s Going Down podcast, we speak with two ongoing IGD contributors Peter Gelderloos and Scott Campbell about the shifting terrain of US empire globally as well as internally. Touching on everything from new global free trade agreements which seek to remove the United States from the equation, the continuing possibility of world nuclear war, as well as continued attacks at home on workers, migrants, and the poor, we look at life in the US one year under Trump.
But as we discuss the current terrain, our guests return again and again to the reality of declining US hegemony and power, as well as the question of what that means for humanity. The fact that we are living in a country that is losing both economic as well as military supremacy, both in terms of influence and control, is now not a controversial statement, but one of growing academic discussion.