12 years ago, I was stringing for The New York Times when I lived in Mexico City where I was writing my dissertation. Fierce war reporter, mentor, and hermana Julia Preston had called, asking if I could help out.
As I traveled throughout the area from polling booth to polling booth in the shantytowns that make up part of this megalopolis' sprawl, I witnessed history. Mexicans were casting ballots that eventually elected opposition candidate Vicente Fox from the conservative PAN party, breaking the ruling PRI party's nearly 70 years rule.
Despite being scared that the PRI government would reject the results and roll out the military tanks, people went out to vote. They wouldn't tell me who they choose, but would slyly smile and flash me a "V" sign with their hands--the not-so-hidden gesture that they had voted for Fox, the PAN, ultimately victory for themselves, the people.
I'll never forget one woman who had a string of toddlers and wasn't that much older than I was saying, my life is over, but I am here to vote for them. Imagine that, being a woman in your early 30s and thinking your life is finito. But that hope for a better future for her kids is what motivated this lady and millions to vote for "change."
Since 2000, Mexico has been choked by escalating violence touched off by the following president's War on Drugs. Felipe Calderón's calculation has cost tens of thousands their lives, with the drug cartels and military forces facing off, innocent ordinary citizens paying the price, a weak judiciary and corrupt police force unable to protect them.
The drugs keep flowing north to the U.S. and the ebb of gobs of money and guns heads back to Mexico. In America, we are largely uninformed, something that blows my mind given that we share a nearly 2000 mile border.
Mexicans on Sunday returned to the polls and elected the PRI's Enrique Peña Nieto, returning that party to power. Although there is talk about cheating, it is likely that the people voted--again for change--but this time weary after years of drug-related violence and death.
What's going to change? One group says very little. You may remember I moderated a panel at the U.S. Institute of Peace on a report, From Survivors to Defenders: Women Confronting Violence in Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala, that was released by the non-profit Nobel Women's Initiative. I asked Mexican human rights advocate Blanca Isabel Martinez if she believed the incidences of femicide would diminish depending on the party elected. She quickly answered, no, saying it doesn't matter which party wins. Although the violence against women has reached crisis proportions, it is deeply ingrained in Mexican culture.
Excuse me while I lift my hanging jaw from the ground.
While guest hosting NPR's Tell Me More with Michel Martin while Michel was away, I was able to delve deeper into the findings with report author Laura Carlsen who is also the director of the Americas program for the Center for International Policy:
###Original Post Published 6/6/2012###
One day after I starred in my first reality show acting as none other than moi (Click to read TWLC’s Viviana Hurtado Interviews Mary Mary or How I Added Reality Star to My Resume), I was back to my "real" life, as a politics blogger and journalist who specializes in Election 2012 and the Latino vote. My mentor and friend, fierce Latina journalist María Hinojosa connected me with the Nobel Women's Initiative, a non-profit founded by the 12 female Nobel Peace Laureates devoted to raising awareness and stopping violence against women around the world.
Thus began my BITD (back in the day) moment, my reach back to a past life that includes a BA, MA, and PHD in Latin American literature and extensive reporting in the region when NWI asked me to moderate a panel. "Caught in the Crossfire: Women on the Frontlines in Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala" is based on the findings of a groundbreaking report From survivors to defenders: Women confronting violence in Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala which was unveiled in Washington, DC. We passionately live-tweeted using the hashtag #defensoras--defenders--a powerful position to stake in the Twitterverse as we amplify the voices of this underreported story.
The panel included human rights advocates Gilda Rivera from Hondura and Blanca Isabel Martinez from Mexico, Laura Carlsen who directs the Americas Program in Mexico City for the Center for International Policy (and is a fellow alum of Stanford University's masters in Latin American Studies which I learned about "live" on a panel!) as well as 1997 Nobel Peace Laureate and NWI co-founder Jody Williams.
I learned that while in our country, 18-34 year olds are targeted by marketers because of their buying potential now and in the future, in Mexico and Central America, this age group, particularly women are being murdered at a mind-blowing rate. In Honduras alone, Gilda informed us that the killing of women has increased 250% between 2002-2010.
What is causing this violence to spiral out of control? The regional "war on drugs" waged by local governments with significant military and financial support from the U.S. Some dangerous context: weak governmental institutions, corrupt police, detailed laws that aren't enforced, and a weak or bribed judicial system. Now add the transnational tentacles of the drug trade--the narcos whose reach has penetrated the "cleanest" ruling class families, the greed behind their iron grip a tightening noose that chokes countries with so many natural resources and as important, human potential.
Sadly, non-existent institutions, a feeble civil contract, if any, and violence are problems that have plagued Latin America, virtually since the wars of Independence, some would say since the Conquest, conditions confirmed by reading not history books but the ravaged soul of a continent documented in the literature of the late Carlos Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa, Augusto Roa Bastos, Jorge Luis Borges, and Gabriel García Márquez, whose famous last line of One Hundred Years of Solitude masterfully sums up Latin America's cyclical history of violence:
"Races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth."
There is always "esperanza" affirms Gilda, even along the rutas de terror--the routes of terror--Laura detailed stretch upwards through Central America into the U.S.--the final destination for the trafficking of drugs and humans who endure unspeakable horrors on their way to El norte. Gilda's insistence that hope can not be extinguished can be found with the women who stand up and fight for their families, who dare to speak truth to power despite threats to their lives and their loved ones, whole families who Blanca reports in parts of Mexico are being exterminated.
The logic is that terror will silence resistance. Let me qualify "logic" with "twisted."
It hasn't shut them up. The delegation interviewed more than 200 women, human rights advocates, researchers, and government officials who won't be silenced, who won't take no for an answer, whose courage, and persistence is the only guarantee that whether mothers find their children dead or alive, at least they will know what happened.
The recommendations to U.S. policy makers at the State Department and members of Congress are simple: demand demilitarization, government transparency and accountability, stop U.S. military aid to Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico, force multi-national companies to respect local laws and communities, and support human rights organizations.
But is there the will to comply given the breadth and depth of political and economic interests?
The answer to this question is disputable. What isn't is these women's, these mothers' search for justice.Why is what happens in Mexico which directly impacts the U.S. given that we share a nearly 2000 mile border, underreported?