Buenas Noches dear reader. As you already know we are all back home safely. I have to say that I am none to glad to be back in familiar surroundings with my dear family. During our last few days in Chiapas I noticed how natural it had become to greet people in Spanish and respond with “Gracias” instead of “Thank you.” I wondered if I would continue out of habit for days after our return. Nope. I am struck by how easily I have also slipped back into familiar patterns. The only hesitation I have noticed is when using the bathroom.
I have a moment when I am not quite sure where I am to dispose of the toilet paper. I did get quite used to placing it in a trash bin instead of dropping it in the toilet! Other than that, I am back to English and to the regular tasks of life—grocery shopping and cleaning up around the house.
Saturday afternoon I embarked on a grocery run which was long overdue even before I left for Mexico. As I trudged through Cub with my grocery cart filled to overflowing I again thought of the humble home of our new acquaintances in Zinacantan. They would not have anywhere to keep so much food and I am sure might wonder at the sorts of things I put in my cart.
Sunday I finished taking down some holiday garland that had not been taken care of prior to leaving and by 8 pm Sunday evening I was dead tired and so went to bed until morning. Monday and Tuesday I was back at my usual workplace. Even so, the people and experiences of Chiapas continue in my mind and heart.
I thought I would take some time to finish telling you about a couple organizations that time did not allow me to do earlier. On Thursday, January 19 in San Cristobal we heard from representatives of two organizations that came to the hotel to speak to us. One was from ProMedios and the other was from Other Worlds.
ProMedios is a media organization whose purpose is to put video equipment into the hands of the indigenous communities so they can tell their own story and record life as it is from their perspective. After the breakdown of communication between the indigenous communities and the Mexican government over the 1988 San Andreas Accords, it was obvious that the dialogue was not going to go very far. One of the needs of the indigenous communities was to have a voice. The story they tell is vastly different from what is portrayed in the government biased media. The idea behind ProMedios is that the people should have access to their own media in order to communicate what they want to say. The organization provides equipment and training to use the equipment to the communities, but then steps back and allows the communities to do with it what they wish. It is one more way to provide the communities with the autonomy to portray their lives as they see it.
This media also helps the communities to stay current with what is happening in neighboring communities. It is also used to raise awareness among the communities about needs that must be addressed such as health and educational issues. ProMedios helps the indigenous communities produce posters, DVDs and other such media that are created within the indigenous culture and context for effective communication.
ProMedios is also an independent journalist organization that produces alternative ways to complete the portrait of what is happening in and to the indigenous communities as they strive to live autonomously from the Mexican government, refusing all money and programs that the government offers.
The endeavor of ProMedios may not seem to us from the U.S. to be a big deal, but in Chiapas it is risky business. There have been incidents of arrest and detainment by the government of people who possess this equipment as well as confiscation of equipment as recently as November of 2011. The representative reminded us that all of us are fed lies by the mainstream media. The same lies are given to the people in Mexico and in the rest of the world—and yes, in the United States of America. The lies we are told are: 1. This is a democracy 2. Somewhere else is worse 3. You have many choices. Hmmmmm. Think about it.
We were able to view two short segments from a DVD that explained the focus of ProMedios. This DVD also includes five other segments that were created by the communities. Of course, we all wanted a copy to take home with us and were each able to purchase one for 50 pesos. I am sure many of our home churches will have an opportunity to view them!
The other organization I want you to know about is Otros Mundos (Other Worlds). This is a teaching organization that helps communities to promote self sufficient families focusing on ecology, food production, clean water, energy, bio diversity and forests. This organization is a member of Friends of the Earth International (the link here gets you to their Facebook page—can’t seem to get their url http://www.foei.org/ to load) that accompanies the social process to pay attention to major environmental concerns, especially mining and dams.
There is a U.S. counterpart to Otros Mundos called Other Worlds where you can find out more information about the sort of work that Otros Mundos does in Chiapas and see what is happing in the United States.
On the 19th we heard from Gustavo Castro who was able to educate us about the effect that NAFTA has had on Mexico in and of itself and also how fraudulent companies get away with their fraud due to clauses written into NAFTA. For Mexico to kick a company out of the country for fraud would require Mexico to compensate the company for future losses—for what it would have made had it not been kicked out and had been able to function until NAFTA ends…which is basically never. As a result, it is easier for the Mexican government to criminalize social protest against corporations on the grounds of terrorism rather than address the fraud and irresponsible business practices that abound with mining and dam building.
I am really getting a bit ahead of myself as you may be wondering why it would be assumed that Canadian and U.S. companies doing business in Mexico would have harmful practices. You are right, it should not be assumed, yet many corporations are not acting responsibly toward the environment and are only concerned with their own bottom line and getting the most for their investment.
Gustavo told us some disturbing facts about mining which has the most social impact and that 1/3 of Mexico is owned by Canadian mining companies. Even finding a very tiny amount of gold or other minable commodity gives a company the “right” to go ahead and destroy entire mountains with “open sky” mining. Tunneling is not required, but the mining simply takes off the top of the mountain. It takes 1 million liters of water per hour to mine gold. Multiply that by a 50 year concession (given by the NAFTA agreement) x 60 projects. Also, mining for gold dumps enormous amounts of cyanide into the environment. There is mud. Fish die. Children develop spots on their skin, houses are damaged. People are hurt.
Hydroelectric power is the other social concern in Chiapas. There are 4 hydroelectric dams along the Grijalva River. According to Gustavo, hydroelectric power in Mexico is displacing communities and destroying the rain forest. When the dams are opened water floods the surrounding land all the way into Tabasco. The fermentation of the vegetation covered by water produces methane. Rivers and towns have disappeared since the installation of these dams. The hydroelectric power that is produced powers much of Mexico. Ironically, very little power is provided to the state of Chiapas.
Oil is the name of the game in northern Chiapas. Gustavo Castro likened oil companies to vultures, hovering over what corporations and the Mexican government like to call Mexico’s “natural resources.” Perspective is an interesting thing. What the indigenous communities might call Natural Communal Wealth is to the outsider, Natural Resources (for the taking).
The Other Worlds school teaches communities how to filter water, produce foods without chemicals, multiply species of fruit trees, how to use solar to produce energy for light and heat. The school teaches communities how to live without contaminating the water. The trick is to teach the cities which tend to only consume and not sustain the environment that supports it.
Gustavo told stories of violent incidents that have happened because of resistance to the corporations that cause such environmental devastation. A leader of the resistance movement was assassinated not long ago. Ironically, when there is more violence, Gustavo holds more hope. The violence is a sign that the world might be about to “hit bottom” and then things can only go up. Sigh. It may sound bleak, but I do believe that if people start paying attention to what is happening in the world and stop taking for granted that those in power have everyone’s best interests at heart, perhaps things can begin to change. Perhaps Other Worlds really are possible—a new way of living and moving and being in this world; one in which everyone has enough to eat. One in which the natural communal wealth is preserved and people begin to respect each other’s way. One in which every voice is heard.
Please do not rely on what I have written here as fact. I am writing this nearly two weeks away from what I heard and using sketchy notes. Do look up these organizations for yourself and begin to discover what is happening in our world. Specifically how NAFTA has harmed the poor in Mexico.