Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year from Mexico

There are a couple of hours left in 2014—just enough time to give thanks for the blessings of 2014, to wish you a Happy New Year, and to get ready for 2015. Maybe…
A new day is dawning in 2015 for the impoverished people in the mountains of Guerrero
The “Mission Mexico” projects went super-well in 2014. Hundreds of impoverished families in the mountains of Guerrero benefited—especially in the areas of health and education—from the solidarity shown by their Canadian friends in southern Alberta. Add to that the other thousands of families supported during the fifteen years that “Mission Mexico” has existed, and one realizes that “Mission Mexico” really has empowered a great number of people and witnessed to the gospel in an incredible manner.
Students from the Champagnat High School of the Mountains (one of
Mission Mexico's main projects) walk to the church in Potoichan
Of course, 2014 wasn’t an “easy” year in many ways. The “worst” event was undoubtedly the killing of three students (by police) and the “disappearance” of forty-three other students on September 26; all were studying at the rural teachers college in Ayotzinapa. Those 43 are just a small percentage of the more than 5,000 cases of “disappeared” people in Mexico in 2014, but the case mobilized protests throughout the country. As the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center—that represents the families of the disappeared youth, and that receives support from “Mission Mexico”—stated this week in an editorial in a newspaper called El Sur, “The circumstances that unfolded on September 26 removed the rubbish covering an obsolete political system and showed it for what it is: a bureaucracy that is decrepit, corrupt, quarrelsome, mean-spirited, insensitive, and delinquent.”
The papal nuncio of Mexico, Christophe Pierre, during a Mass that he celebrated
with the families of the 43 "disappeared" students on December 22, 2014, in the
 rural teachers college in Ayotzinapa, 
The murder of three priests in the State of Guerrero in 2014 raised questions too. The three priests weren’t even a little “radical”; they simply preached the gospel. Of course, living and working in situations of injustice and violence may lead one to develop a kind of “rogue theology” rather than “rouged theology” (as John Caputo expresses it in his book The Insistence of God). These priests—and others—have learned the truth expressed by Father Richard Rohr in his latest book, Eager to Love, that “it is ironic that you must go to the edge to find the center.” These priests—and others living on “the edge”—learned the truth of what Meister Eckhart expressed seven hundred years ago (regarding Psalm 85:10): “Compassion is where peace and justice kiss.” Living that compassion, unfortunately, means risking death in Guerrero.
Father Gregorio Lopez Gorostieta, one of the three priests murdered in Guerrero this year—
his body was found on Christmas Day, 2014 (last week)
These struggles, and others, will surely mark 2015 in the State of Guerrero. Mission Mexico will undoubtedly continue to do great work and to nourish change and hope as the year unfolds, but the context will be a difficult one. Why do I think that? I will briefly mention a few “ingredients” of this context.
Will life change for the better for these children in 2015? Hopefully...
The poverty will continue. In the mountains of Guerrero, the “new” minimum salary that will take effect tomorrow, January 1, will be 66.45 pesos a day. That works out to be about $5.25 Canadian—a day! Since most of the adults in the mountains have little formal education and few “skills,” minimum wage may be the best they can hope for if they can find employment.
One of the many protests that occur almost daily in the mountains of Guerrero
The search for truth and justice in the case of the “disappeared” students from Ayotzinapa will continue. I doubt that the government will ever provide answers that satisfy the families and those in solidarity with the families. The situation of Mexico is not much different from the reality of the USA described by Sheldon Wolin in his book Democracy Incorporated when he writes: “I am convinced that certain tendencies in our society point in a direction away from self-government, the rule of law, egalitarianism, and thoughtful public discussion, and toward what I have called ‘managed democracy,’ the smiley face of inverted totalitarianism.”
One of the many marches in Mexico City of the families of the 43 "disappeared" students
and others in solidarity with them
An educational reform that was passed by the federal government this past year is scheduled to be implemented on March 15, 2015. Thousands of teachers and their supporters have already been protesting this reform for months. Indeed, in most of the villages of the mountains, the primary schools have been deserted during the past three months. The unrest will undoubtedly continue, and probably increase, in 2015.
Another protest march in Tlapa
State elections are scheduled in Guerrero for June 7, 2015. A new governor, 81 municipal presidents, and state and federal congress people are scheduled to be elected. But there are many groups in the state who are already urging people to not participate in these elections and to not allow the actual voting to take place. As I write these lines on New Year’s Eve, at least 28 of the 81 municipal offices in the state are closed; they have been occupied for months by protestors who are “fed up” with the way the political system is failing to generate change and (in many cases) seems to be in cahoots with organized crime.
The banner reads: "Against the looting and the lying—the peoples of the Mountain.
Resist!—From the trenches of the forgotten."
The struggle over strip mining in the mountains will undoubtedly become more volatile in 2015. The federal government has awarded (without consulting the people living in the involved areas) mining concessions to many foreign companies—predominantly Canadian companies—in the State of Guerrero. One article in “The Gold Report,” from March 20, 2013 —“The Gold Report” claims to offer “insight, analysis and ideas about gold investment from the best experts in the gold industry”—begins thus: “The Guerrero Gold Belt, a sexy, new, developing mining district in the state of Guerrero, Mexico, has attracted some exciting explorers that have unearthed key discoveries. While several companies have gone on land-grabbing sprees, there’s still good news: the Guerrero is growing.” Another publication states that “Mexico is a trove of accessible mineral wealth.”
The villagers would love to believe that these new roads are being built
for them. But not many people do believe that...Welcome, mining companies!
 I daresay that the indigenous villagers in these areas see nothing “sexy” about these concessions, see nothing in the way of “good news” in these concessions, and would question who decided that “their” mineral wealth is “accessible.” The government is still investing tons of money in developing the infrastructure (roads, bridges, electricity) to allow these mining companies to actually begin exploiting for gold and other minerals, but whole villages—concerned, like many Canadian indigenous communities, about the impact of deforestation, water pollution, and hazardous liquid waste—have already vowed that they will not allow mining companies to operate in their regions.
Progress??? Development??? Justice??? The future???
Finally, allow me to mention the risk of death that people who live and work with the poor will undoubtedly face in 2015. In the state newspaper La Jornada Guerrero today (December 31, 2014), Abel Barrera, the director of the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center, is quoted as stating that 2015 will undoubtedly be “a time of greater social crispación” (tension; agitation; ugliness), and such a time will represent “a tenebrosa scenario” (dismal; gloomy; dark; sinister) for the defenders of human rights. Everyone knows that the violence and the killings and disappearances of people will continue in 2015. I had lunch the other day with Abel, his wife, and his 83-year-old father, and his father was begging—well, it was almost ordering—his son to quit the struggle. I know Abel well; he has no more intention of giving up the struggle than Jesus of Nazareth had two thousand years ago.
Abel Barrera, one of the most respected and beloved (by the poor) supporters of the
indigenous peoples of the Mountain
So, my friends, please pray for the people of the mountains of Mexico in 2015, and please support “Mission Mexico” if you can. Forgive me for mentioning the “dark side” of the context in the mountains of Guerrero. I assure you that there is a “light side,” and “Mission Mexico” is a respected and important partner in that “light side”: I promise to share more of that "light side" in 2015. Solidarity is so very important. Thank you for what you have done in the past; please do what you can in the future. Have a wonderful 2015.
Two of my best friends: Baltazar and his sister Antonieta
(they wish all of you a Happy New Year too)

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