News and views from the award-winning author of the novels The Skinny Years, America Libre, House Divided and Pancho Land

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Migrants to Mexico: Two wrongs do not make a right

Rev. Alejandro Solalinde is an exceptional man. His fearless example in the face of corruption is an inspiration to the overwhelming majority of Mexico's population that opposes the unofficial dictatorship of the drug cartels. 
      Solalinde proves that two wrongs do not make a right. The exploitation and violence against migrants from other Central American nations entering Mexico do not excuse the demonization of migrants that enter the United States. All of them are victims of economic policies, most notably the NAFTA treaty, that allow goods to cross over borders but not labor. With their farms and local economies ruined by government-subsidized corn and other agricultural products from the United States, most of these migrants are doing what any of us would do under similar circumstances: seeking honest work elsewhere to support their families. 
      Excerpts from New York Times article below reports more on this remarkable individual.

A Priest Stands Up for the Migrants Who Run Mexico’s Gantlet


OAXACA, Mexico When the Rev. Alejandro Solalinde chose to dedicate himself seven years ago to helping Central and South American migrants traveling to the United States, he was an obscure country priest and the migrants moved in the shadows.

Since then, both Father Solalinde and the plight of the people he serves have emerged into a very public light.

The crimes the migrants face — extortion, rape, kidnapping and murder — have become so brazen and brutal that Mexicans can no longer ignore them. As the horrors have multiplied, Father Solalinde’s demands for the migrants’ protection have begun to resonate.

At the same time, his insistence that the authorities pursue the criminals preying on migrants and his accusations that the police and politicians protect and even aid the gangs have also turned him into a target.

In May, after receiving six death threats in two months, he decided to take precautions. He left Mexico, traveled through North America and Europe, and then spent a few weeks resting in the Mexican city of Guadalajara.

Father Solalinde, 67, did not stay away for long, though. He returned this week to his beloved state of Oaxaca, where he runs a shelter in Ciudad Ixtepec, a sweltering railroad town where migrants wait to scramble atop cargo trains that will take them on the next leg of their wearying trip to the United States.

More migrants will be arriving, he said, pushed by poverty and violence at home. A long-suspended train service directly from the Guatemalan border is being renewed. “That means the merchandise is coming, the captive customers,” Father Solalinde said.

In Mexico City earlier in the week, he met with federal officials, who promised additional security measures for the shelter, Hermanos en el Camino (Brothers in the Road), and provided him with two new bodyguards, to add to the four state escorts who have protected him since he filed a complaint against members of the Zetas drug gang in late 2010. Two more guards have been assigned to the shelter.

Even amid the threats, Father Solalinde said there were tentative signs of change. After he spent years presenting evidence of abuses to the authorities, to no effect, a handful of state police officers have been put on trial, although none have served prison time. The federal government has taken on an investigation into one prominent attack on migrants and this week presented him with a chart showing more than 40 suspects.

The story of Father Solalinde’s mission is entwined with the slow acceptance of an essential hypocrisy here: for all the complaints about the mistreatment of Mexican immigrants in the United States, Central and South Americans face far worse as they travel across Mexico.

The massacre of 72 migrants, whose bodies were found in August 2010 on a ranch in the northern border state of Tamaulipas, brought home the reality of the dangers to migrants.

The following April, the authorities found 193 bodies in mass graves not far away, many believed to be migrants kidnapped from buses traveling toward the border shared by Mexico and the United States. Experts believe that as many as 22,000 migrants are kidnapped a year, based on testimony compiled by the National Human Rights Commission in Mexico.

But victims are usually too afraid to complain, and the families who might speak for them are far away and often ignorant of what occurred.

After lobbying from Father Solalinde and other advocates, Congress passed a law last year that recognizes migrants’ human rights and no longer makes it a crime to be in Mexico illegally, although the government has yet to put the law into effect.

The priest’s outspokenness prickles some of the church hierarchy in Mexico. When Father Solalinde left the country in May, the spokesman for the Mexican church conference, Msgr. Victor René Rodríguez, an auxiliary bishop, told reporters that the death threats were not a priority for the church. At the same time, though, lawyers from the church’s pastoral division have worked with Father Solalinde to file complaints against the abuse the migrants face.

“There is enormous impunity in Mexico,” he said, vowing to continue his activism. “If crimes against Mexicans are never punished, well even less so for those against migrants.”