Stories of Resistance from La Mixteca in Oaxaca, Mexico
domingo, 9 de mayo de 2010
In Honor of the World's Mothers. In Memory of Bety Cariño! Qué Viva la Mixteca!
Dear Friends and Family:
This mother's day may we remember the great mothers who have sacrifices so much to make this world better for the generations to come.
This Sunday, please pause and remember Bety Cariño, a mother and freedom fighter in the struggle for peace and justice who was
assassinated last week in rural, Mexico. Bety was an admired friend whose murder has produced feelings I did not know existed. Read my
response to this heinous and cowardly murder, and please never stop dreaming of a better tomorrow.
Free the land...emily posner
ps...i know its long, but I have a lot to say
Her face reflects the grief of the great Rio Grande
A once bountiful river now abused and damned
Sucked dry of the life that it once had
Cause she’s distracted, extracted and sad
Like a scared mother in the heart of Baghdad
Today wrinkles crevasse her cheeks deeply
like tearful currents cutting contours steeply
as a canyon’s rebellious raging river
exposing earth’s history layer by layer
the epochs and the era’s
500 years of colonial players
who have fossilized
of internalized conquer and divide impositions
etched into stone by controlling politicians
who are the wardens of poverty’s imprisoning conditions.
Excerpted from Rivers Run by Emily Posner
Just over a week has passed since one of my dearest comrades en lucha sent me a chat message me online from her home inside the Beltway. Without warning the IM appeared, “If you haven’t heard already, I need to tell you something really bad that happened in Oaxaca [Mexico].” As my eyes scanned the sentence, an uncontrollable sickening feeling sunk my heart deep into my digestive tract. A slow fear of the horrendous truth about to be shared pulsed through my body, undeniably warning of the pain to come. It was a moment similar to that deafening period when the timpani controls the orchestra's coming direction.
I was sitting in Cochabamba, Bolivia—half way across the world from the Washington DC apartment where the g-chat had originated. My personal involvement in a growing global water justice movement had brought me to the South America to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the region’s Water War. In 2000, the people of this Andean valley united across economic and cultural differences to resist a water utility privatization scheme imposed on their community by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and Bechtel Corporation. Despite the unprecedented level of state violence inflicted upon this city's mostly indigenous population, for months the people of Cochabamba took to the streets and eventually kicked out Bechtel and regained public control over their water utility. A decade later, water justice activists from around the world had come and gathered to celebrate the people’s victory over neoliberal economics and to recognize its significance in all of our localized struggles for the rights to clean and affordable water and the rights of mother earth.
Within this context, many of us in Cochabamba spoke often about the particular model of social justice organizing in Southern Mexico, as well as the great inspiration derived from the literature, history, dignity, and courage of that region's culture. Just a few days earlier, I had discussed with a new friend about my brief experience with the Triqui community in western Oaxaca State and their mutual aid relationship with CACTUS, a grassroots organization whose community work I support and highly respect. In this environment of celebration, it had became all-to-easy to romanticize and forget the on-the-ground reality of those organizing for peace and justice in Chiapas, Oaxaca and other areas in Southern Mexico. The unexpected chat message was a poignant and sharp reminder of the dangers faced by social justice organizers, journalists, the poor and indigenous populations of the area.
My hands quickly typed a response to her, asking for one moment so that I could sign into skype, knowing that a face to face conversation was more appropriate than continuing this conversation on gmail. A half of second later, I wondered how would we have possibly communicated if this had been just five years earlier, and an instantaneous and silent blessing of gratitude for the technology available at my fingertips emerged from an unknown place in my soul. The inexplicable and intuitive grip that still held hostage my internal organs seemed an obvious forewarning to the news I was about to receive. I briefly hesitated to dial. As my thumb and index fingers stumbled over the computer's touch pad, an almost forgotten incident flashed subconsciously before my eyes. Blurring with the present, I confused real time with the past, and returned to a moment when I had to make similar calls through tears after our roommate tragically passed away in a bus accident doing relief work in New Orleans. I prayed to learn that perhaps our shared friend in Oaxaca was sick or hospitalized; but when the skype video finally initiated, my girl’s puffy eyes and streaked cheeks revealed everything that I had feared.
They had killed Bety!
I do not remember the exact words that we shared. Instead my memory is stained with the sound of a raw wail that erupted from my guts, the feeling of angry tears burning my cheeks, and the rotten taste of political violence forever corrupting my faith and respect of our human dignity. Through cyberspace we cried great rivers together over our world's immense loss. Rivers, which I have since learned, have joined thousands of other salty tributaries throughout this hemisphere and far away lands.
They are Rivers
strongly flowing through Arizona's deserts
swiftly crossing Oaxaca's highlands
widely flooding cities from Mexico City to Toronto
fully washing over valleys reaching from the Appalachians to the Andes.
They are rivers that dig beds in our cheeks with meandering tears of never-ending streaks.
Bety, your death has not passed in silence!
Alberta “Bety” Cariño Trujillo was assassinated by paramilitaries in rural Oaxaca on April 27, 2010. She was our mutual friend from Huajuápan de León, Oaxaca, Mexico. Thirty-seven years old and the mother of two young children, Bety was more than an acquaintance; she was a trusted ally in our global movement from below and to the left. She was a true modern-day revolutionary, wholly committed to dismantling the political, economic, and social infrastructure that threatened the cultural and ecological integrity of her community in la Mixteca of rural Oaxaca, Mexico. Bety was the example worth following. With love, faith and commitment, Bety’s daily routine confronted neoliberal socio-economic models, corporate corruption and political dynasties that have ripped apart la Mixteca with forced migration, industrialized agriculture and political violence.
La Mixteca and all of its profound history was just as much a part of Bety as were her hands and feet. Her every breath inhaled the trying environmental and economic conditions forced upon her people; and her every exhale spoke of an ancient resistance steadfastly committed to the dreams of a different tomorrow. Bety's unwavering vision reflected her localized Mixtecan experience, and is perhaps best recounted by subcomandante marcos of the Zapatistas. He writes about la Mixteca and its people in his essay “To the Indigenous National Congress” (March 2001):
They fear it because it allows past history to be seen. They fear it because today it rebels. They fear it because it announces a tomorrow. They fear our language, and that is why they persecute and kill it.
Bety was the executive director of CACTUS—Centro de Apoyo Comunitario Trabajando Unidos—Center for Community Support Working Together. Cactus worked in the predominantly indigenous Mixtecan community in Oaxaca State. The organization worked as part of the Zapatista’s Other Campaign (la otra campaña)and adhered by many of the horizontal organizing models that have originated from the Lacandón Jungle in Chiapas, home to the Zapatista National Liberation Army. Prior to the 2006 Oaxacan Uprising, Bety and CACTUS supported local indigenous communities, helping them to secure money for small business and agriculture projects.
Bety and CACTUS worked often in rural regions of La Mixteca that have been ripped apart by free-trade policies. Places like La Mixteca are the ground zero of NAFTA, where agricultural subsidy dumping has all but destroyed local agriculture, forcing thousands of Mixtecan farmers to abandon their land, local genetic seed pools, and indigenous knowledge base of their surrounding environment. Unable to sustain their livelihoods, men from this region’s rural towns have traveled North to look for jobs in maquiladora’s along the border or to venture on to the United States. Void of men, La Mixteca has become a region of children, women and the elderly. subcomandante marcos summarizes well the contemporary circumstances of the Mixteca in his fable “How Big is the World?” (Feb 2006). In responding to the story’s title, he writes that a young indigenous Mixtecan woman says:
My papa went to the United States more than twelve years ago. My mama works sewing balls. They pay her ten pesos for each ball, and if one of them isn’t good, they charge forty pesos. They don’t pay then, not until the contractor comes back to the village. My brother is also packing to leave. We women are alone in this, in carrying on with the family, the land, the work. And so, it’s up to us to also carry on with the struggle. The world is as big as the courage this injustice makes me feel, so big it makes my blood boil.
The world of la Mixteca complicates the immigration story spun by US mainstream press. Nothing is easy, concrete or simple when it comes to comprehensively understanding migration throughout North America and Central America, and its subsequent and complex impacts of families, communities, cultures and gender roles on BOTH sides of every border between Canada and Panamá. The women and children in rural Oaxaca are rarely given a voice to broad audiences, or allowed to tell their stories, in US discourses about immigration. They rarely get to ask those on this side of NAFTA's economic borders, “What might it mean to you to loose your father to migration for years? What would it feel like to mortgage your family's land of generations in order to have enough money to travel North? What would you do if you saw all of your sons abandon their community in order to earn enough to support their families?
Bety was committed to bringing these populations and their voices to the forefront of the political process. And it is their perspectives, I believe, which make draconian measures in the US like the militarization of the border, private for-profit detention centers and the recent Arizona legislation that much more reprehensible and racist.
With the acute presence of global economic policies undermining Mixtecan family structures as a backdrop to the Oaxaca narrative, it is important to recognize that this region also has been plagued by political violence intimately connected to voter fraud and political dynasty. The PRI is a Mexican political party that stands for the Institutional Revolutionary Party in English. For nearly 9 decades, the PRI dominated the Mexican Federal Government until the election of Vicente Fox in 2000 finally brought to power a different political party. In Oaxaca, nevertheless, the PRI continues to hold political power by maintaining a system of caciquismo, where they support the authority of local political bosses. In turn, these bosses sell their votes to the PRI in order to ensure the continuance of certain social services like road repair, schools and educational supplies.1 This manner of dominance is also often upheld by paramilitary violence, which has more or less become institutionalized in rural Oaxaca. In June 2006 Nancy Davies published on Narco News, a web-based news service committed to Latin American journalism,that “Oaxaca is a contentious state, with conflicts in towns, on public and communal lands. Assassinations each year number between 20 and 30. The state has 570 municipalities, but in 2004, 750 cases of agrarian conflict.”
This type of violence, as reported by Davies, has largely been associated with Oaxaca's rural communities. So when Section 22 of the Oaxacan teachers union went on strike in May 2006, as they do every year, it was surprising that the PRI government opened fire on a group of peaceful urban protesters. A following shock came when the city's population responded to police aggression with a direct and collective ya basta(ENOUGH!) scream, loud enough to be heard by media outlets and journalists from every corner of the world. They came into the streets and evicted the police from the city. Then, their initial ya basta eruptionturned into a people’s movement to remove, as the Zapatista's commonly say, the bad government headed by Ulises Ruíz. (First elected in 2004 with great suspicion of electoral fraud, Ulises Ruíz continues to be the governor of Oaxaca.) A coalition of civil society groups—known as the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO)—emerged as the driving organizing force of the diverse groups taking to the streets. For eight months the APPO led a popular rebellion against the Ulises Ruíz corrupt government. Over 27 people were killed or disappeared, an estimated 350 individuals were wounded and 370 arrested. Brad Will, an indymedia journalist from New York, was also killed by a paramilitary in October while reporting from one of the street blockades in the capital.
Outside of Mexico, main stream and alternative media outlets primarily reported about what happened in the capital of Oaxaca. The media, however, hardly touched on how this revolt was carried through in other more rural parts of the state, or the impacts that this four year old revolt has had in places like la Mixteca and in the lives of social justice organizers like Bety Cariño.
APPO had committees in places throughout the state of Oaxaca. In Huajuapan de León, CACTUS was on APPO’s organizing committee. In November 2006, this region sent a large group of supporters to participate in a planned mega-march. Their buses were attacked en route to the capital, and nearly 50 poor people from a community associated with FNIC (another APPO member organization) were arrested and detained in an unknown prison. It is events like this where the power and significance of the Zapatista’s and their organizational model must be recognized.Through CACTUS’s relationship with la Otra Campaña, Bety and others were able to find their comrades across the country in Nayarit, and immediately initiated a network of support in Nayarit for the Oaxacan political prisoners.
It was during this period that an unfounded arrest warrant was placed on Bety Cariño, her husband Omar Esparza and other CACTUS organizers. She also received death threats, and someone on the radio someone threatened to cut out her tongue.
When the arrest warrant was issued, Bety put out an online call to her international community for both support and human rights accompaniment. Our mutual friend received Bety's email. She previously had traveled to la Mixteca to support Bety and CACTUS's work in rural Oaxaca. Knowing that she had to go and stand beside her comrade in this time of political unrest, she phoned me and within two weeks the two of us were on planes heading south. Armed only with documentary equipment and a spirit of solidarity, I ventured to a Mexico I only knew through text books, the poetry of subcomandante Marcos and the stories told by migrants working the blueberry and broccoli fields of my home in Maine. The idea was to accompany Bety and her husband, and bring an international presence to la Mixteca with the hope that our white skin and gringo accents would deter a police arrest or politically motivated violence against our friends.
Bety immediately made a strong and warm impression on me when we first met in Mexico City in Decemeber 2006. After our introduction, I wrote on our blog…
Today, [my friend] and I met her comrade from CACTUS. Bety is a mother, sister, daughter, organizer and freedom fighter. Her energy and spirit are clearly rooted in visions and dreams for a better Mixteca, Oaxaca, Mexico and world. Bety sees through the facades of neoliberalism because of her profound experiences of living with the economic, political and cultural hardships that the ideology has brought to her community. The world would be a more loving place if there were more people like this woman.
Despite traveling all morning with her two children that she hadn’t seen for a month (because she had gone into hiding due to the political violence in Oaxaca), Bety spent hours with [my friend] and I this morning. She brought us up to date on her specific situation and the political repression that her people are enduring.
We remained in Oaxaca for two and a half weeks. Stories of the trip can be found at the blog www.vivamixteca.blogspot.com. My most vivid memories of this trip remain the long evenings of speaking passionately with Bety and her husband about their parallel experience of Oaxaca's political crisis to mine as a relief worker in post-Katrina New Orleans. With both occurrences fresh on our minds, we compared and contrasted the successes and failures of our social movement(s) respective responses to the power vacuums that the political disasters produced in both locations. A commonality we discovered is that the well-armed right will violently defend the status quo through the State and paramilitary/vigilante force when the traditionally disempowered organize themselves horizontally and transparently.
I distinctly remember visiting San Juan Copala just after Christmas on this trip. A group of us traveled many hours on a rundown road to the indigenous community near the Pacific Coast of Oaxaca State. We went to observe the APPO, primarily led by the Indigenous Tiquis Tribe in that area, return the municipal seat to the PRI government. They were the last municipality to concede power back to the PRI after 8 months of rebellion in Oaxaca. At the same time, this community declared itself to be autonomous and under EZLN (Zapatista) control, making San Juan Copala the only Zapatista community outside of Chiapas. And since January 2007, the Triquis associated with the EZLN have maintained their autonomy from the PRI despite being constantly under siege by the ruling political party and associated paramilitary organizations. Hours before sunset, I clearly remember when Bety hastily gathered our group to return to Huajuapán de León. Traveling at night through this region of Oaxaca was not an option.
Bety and CACTUS supported the autonomous movement in San Juan Copala. Starting in 2007, my friend worked with CACTUS to provide technical, financial and labor support to a radio station used by the autonomous community. Violence in this region reached a new low when in April 2008, Felícitas Martínez and Teresa Bautista, two young indigenous reporters, ages 20 and 22, with the Radio Copala community station, were ambushed and assassinated on a rural road outside of San Juan Copala. The women were trained by CACTUS volunteers from California just before their murder.
Two years later, just days after Bety's assassination, during an April 30, 2010 Democracy Now! interview, free-lance journalist Kristin Bricker succinctly outlines the contemporary situation in San Juan Copola:
San Juan Copala declared itself autonomous in 2007 following the 2006 uprising that nearly overthrew the governor. Ever since then, they’ve been the subject of paramilitary violence. The organization that carried out the attack is the UBISORT which is an organization that has been declared a paramilitary organization by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. The state’s ruling party, the PRI, created the organization in 1994 in order to control the Triqui region. Likely out of fear that the Zapatista uprising would inspire indigenous people in Oaxaca as well, which to some extent, was the case. The autonomous municipality of San Juan Copala, for example, are adherent to the Zapatista’s Other Campaign and take much of their inspiration from them. UBISORT paramilitary organization continues to be led by PRI members, that’s the ruling party in Oaxaca, and its leaders were actually both state representatives in the Congress. The UBISORT is very open about its close relationship with the PRI. What happened with the attack on the caravan is that the caravan was taking basic necessities, as you said, to San Juan Copala because the community has been under siege since January. Paramilitaries have blocked access to the community with rocks and armed gunman. And the teachers have been unable to give classes. And the paramilitary has cut off electricity and it cut off the water. The people of San Juan Copala are completely incommunicado. Nobody can enter. Nobody can leave.
Bricker's interview was in response to a paramilitary attack that she survived while accompanying a human rights envoy to San Juan Copala. She and Bety Cariño joined a caravan of 27 others. Journalists, international human rights organizers, teachers and local activists gathered in Huajuapan de León to travel the same road Bety and I took three-and-a-half years earlier. This time they carried food, water, medicine and educators with the hopes of passing through UBISORT's blockade to take this needed humanitarian relief to the people of San Juan Copola.
Instead their caravan was attacked by UBISORT paramilitaries. The backtires were shot out of the SUV Bety was traveling in, which prevented the car from being able to escape. Bety was shot in the head, as was Jyri Jaakkola, a human rights observer from Finland, who sat next to Bety in the car. I could not help but think of the countless times that I sat next to this fearless woman as we traveled together.
In her interview, Bricker continued to describe Bety as
dearly loved and she [Bety] was a very important political leader in the region. She was the director of CACTUS, which is an organization that advocates for indigenous rights, particularly indigenous women’s rights. They do radio projects in the area, in the Mixteca. She was probably one of the two most important people politically who was on that caravan. And so it is very suspicious that it was her who was shot in the head.
We still had so much to learn from BetyCariño, who til her dying breath remained
loyal to horizontal organizing,
devoted to ecological stewardship,
dedicated to revitalizing local agriculture and economies,
confrontational to racism, patriarchy, and greed,
faithful to a vision of world where many worlds fit,
and committed to democracy, liberty and justice!
Bety could not have been taller than 5’2’’! Those cowards who ordered her murder could only have been scared of her voice, because it was
A voice committed to speaking truth to power.
A voice that spoke for the voiceless
A voice more dangerous than 1,000 rioters
A voice that others listened too….
A voice that clearly identified those of the bad government
A voice that never wavered
A voice that never stumbled
A voice that others listened too….
A voice of love that undermined from below and to the left
A voice of sovereignty
A voice of autonomy
A voice of dignity
A voice that others listened too….
A voice that lives in my steps
A voice that breathes in her children’s hearts
A voice that grows strengthening sustenance amongst the vitality of the three sisters
A voice that finds water amongst the cacti forests
A voice that sings the moon to sleep
A voice that welcomes the eastern sun with thanks
Un voz de pie, nunca de rodillos!
After celebrating the 2006 winter solstice with Bety, I wrote that while humanity’s struggles for peace and justice are as diverse as the earth around us, we all dream of a better world looking at the same stars. These are the same stars gazed upon by US slaves escaping bondage on the underground railroad, and that provided sanctuary to the civil rights protesters when they marched from Selma to Montgomery. They are the same stars that protected the integrity of the Sandinista revolution and St. Patrick Battalion. They are the same stars that those of Landless Peasant Movements stare at from reclaimed land, and looked upon by autonomous communities from liberated territories. They are the same stars our night eyes study from the forests we defend, the streets we block, and the earth we occupy. They are the same stars that keep our inspiration sacred, our dreams magically real, and our hope unwavering. And perhaps it is this reason that those who dedicate themselves to eradicating oppression and marginalization often unite under the symbol of the star. For it is under one universal sky that our diverse desires for hope, dignity, sovereignty and justice are born.
In my most recent thoughts of Bety I have found myself returning often to the comfort of the soft lyrics of Sueños con Serpientes (Dreams with Snakes) by Cuban folk singer Silvio Rodriguez:
Hay hombres que luchan un día There are people who fight one day Y son buenos. And they are good. Hay otros que luchan un año There are others who fight one year Y son mejores. And they are better. Hay quienes luchan muchos años There are those who fight many years Y son muy buenos. And they are very good Pero hay los que luchan toda la vida: But there are those that fight all their life Esos son los imprescindibles. Those are the indispensable!
At night when I stare at the same sky in rural Maine that I stared at 3.5 years ago in Oaxaca, I think of you Bety and see that
Her face reflects the spark
Of the fireflies at night
Who through the chaos of the dark
Stay the course to bring the light
And though the struggle of our plight
May be long
And full of blight
It is the truth in her face for the reasons why I fight.
Excerpted from Rivers Run by Emily Posner
During Bety's burial a mourner called out: "Que te quede claro, a Alberta no la vas a enterrar. La vamos a sembrar, porque es de las flores más bellas, y su ejemplo dará fruto. Be sure that we are not going to bury Alberta. We are going to plant her because she is of the most beautiful flowers, and her example will bear fruit.”
Dear Bety….we miss you like the land clear-cut of its forests and the river void of its salmon. My heart is sieved like the mountain once filled with gold or the spring once bountiful with water. They have stolen part of us Bety, and I will never forgive the bad government for that. But you are here in everything we do.