page last updated 5-22-2017
IF 160 Sunflower Lane Watsonville, CA 95076 Phone: 831-724-4108
IF is a nonprofit humanitarian, educational and social change organization located in the Santa Cruz, CA, area. We are a community of friends seeking hopeful alternatives to the violence, greed and destructiveness of our world.
Read more about IF's history and mission
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Updates on some of IF's supported projects
Mexico: Update from Pietro Ameglio
IF continues to support the courageous work of Pietro Ameglio in Mexico and beyond. IF's support has been integral to Pietro being able to devote himself full-time to nonviolence education and organizing. Pietro is one of the most important nonviolent activists in Latin America today in the specific sense of promoting both the study and the practice of active nonviolence. He has a sophisticated knowledge of nonviolence theory and history, and he combines that with a deep commitment to social justice and decades of front-line experience in nonviolent action. He is an inspiring and popular peace educator who walks his talk, who educates in formal settings as well as on picket lines and at mass actions. Below is his most recent update.
Watch a 15-minute video entitled "Weaving a Culture of Peace in Mexico". This video describes the work of the Peace and Nonviolence Collective in Mexico City, a group of young activists that emerged from some of the classes Pietro taught.
Cuernavaca, April, 2017
Once again I am happy to renew our long-distance dialogue and our commitment to continue to struggle together to build justice and peace in Mexico. I mention first the idea of justice (both social and legal) because it is what we are most lacking in Mexico, and without it, it is not possible to even begin to speak of peace.
I also reiterate my gratitude toward you, both individually and collectively, for trusting in our and my work and for stepping forward to share generously a part of this path.
This month we commemorate the assassination, 98 years ago, of the Mexican revolutionary leader, Emiliano Zapata, as well as the vile assassination, 49 years ago, of Martin Luther King. I read recently about the remembrances in the US this month of the 50th anniversary of King’s Riverside Church speech, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence,” and its profound relevance to today. In a certain sense, what many, very diverse social sectors in Mexico are trying to do today is precisely “break the silence” and challenge the normalization of and impunity for violence that depends on that silence.
Martin Luther King and Zapata were two great leaders of social struggle, intimately united with the people. They had more things in common than differences, even if they chose paths of struggle that appear opposed. The moral force of each of them, the trust the people placed in them, and their relentless persistence in the pursuit of truth and justice were unbreakable.
I just came from a meeting at the university with a couple who are my age, old friends, Gerardo and Norma Gomez. They had to flee Morelos three years ago, because at that time, Norma and three of her girls were kidnapped by an organized crime gang, which operated in apparent collusion with the police. Gerardo works in natural medicine, they have scant resources, and the whole family had to go to live in the state of Mexico, 3 hours from Cuernavaca, in a very small and poor town. Their life has been very hard, and all as a result of their work with the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity. We have tried to help them during these years. Several organizations, including ours, are trying to build a security strategy that will enable the family to return to Cuernavaca next July. The risks are very real, but they have asked us to confront them together.
A couple of months ago, a long-time member of our SERPAJ group who works in indigenous communities in Tabasco was kidnapped. He was released after a day, but he had to pay a large ransom. He has not returned to his town. Instead he is living clandestinely.
Kidnapping, and displacement from one’s home (something which I experienced at the end of 2011 and the first part of 2012 because of the attack we suffered when we were traveling to visit the indigenous community of Ostula) is commonplace in Mexico, whether the victims are movement activists or just normal citizens. And always we see in these situations the complicity of the government, whether national, state or local, with organized crime. The government that is supposed to protect us instead is colluding with the very criminals who are victimizing us. It makes us feel vulnerable and hesitant to travel about.
The principle national drama these days is that of the victims of forced disappearance. Their family members continue to discover clandestine graves all over the country, oftentimes as a result of anonymous tips from gangsters or from local people. Sometimes the graves are the work of organized crime and sometimes they are the work of the government. (In the latter case, typically government officials have buried unidentified crime victims, without even preserving DNA samples for later identification.) It is incredible how, seemingly every week, mass graves are discovered, with dozens of bodies. Just a couple of weeks ago, here in the state of Morelos, a grave was discovered with 46 bodies, including one of a high school girl wearing her school uniform. Recently the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) published a report noting the discovery of 855 clandestine graves between 2007 and 2016. The report also noted that the official government figure for the number of disappeared is 32,236. If that is the official figure, we can only imagine what the real figure is.
And the government and the political class act as if everything is normal!
The search of the family members for their disappeared loved ones is something we have to support, however we can, and very carefully so as not to expose ourselves, especially the youth, to unnecessary risk.
I have had a lot of contact with the organizations of family members of the disappeared. In fact, some of the funds you sent us during the first quarter of 2017 were used to support the caravans of family members in their search for mass graves. In an exemplary manner, they have decided that it is up to them to take on this task that the government will never do, because the government itself shares the responsibility for those disappearances. This is what Gandhi called non-cooperation, and what the Zapatistas call autonomy.
To add to the drama, in the last couple of months, with total impunity and even in front of their family members, four journalists have been murdered, including Miroslava Breach, a very well-known reporter for the national newspaper La Jornada. [Ed. Note: A fifth journalist, Filiberto Alvarez, was killed on April 29.] It is a global scandal. Last year, Mexico was the third most deadly country in the world to practice journalism.
In the midst of this situation, our peace and nonviolence work has focused on two areas: 1. Support for social movements in the form of workshops, study materials, public talks and panel discussions, mediation between the government and different social movements (teachers, family members of the disappeared, peasant and indigenous communities who are defending their territory and natural resources); 2. Leadership development in particular with young activists and teachers on themes related to their struggles, with an eye toward creating a national network of youth who are building peace in the midst of terrible violence. (In May we will probably have a second planning retreat focused on building such a network.)
The work of formation in nonviolence and peace is very complex, and slow, especially in the context of the violence and instability here in Mexico today. We believe it is something that should be done well and carefully rooted in historical issues; in values and spirituality; in a strong moral foundation capable of confronting adversaries and society; in nonviolent tactics, actions and strategies; and in the ability to do clear analysis of what is happening where the activists are engaged in struggle, because if the analysis is wrong, their very lives could be at risk. My experience, and the reality that my energy is not as great as it was when I was younger, have taught me that this approach is very important in order to ensure that this culture of peace may grow and spread and not be dependent on any one person.
For example, during Holy Week some members of our Peace and Nonviolence Collective at the UNAM (National Autonomous University in Mexico City) worked with the migrant movement of Fr. Solalinde in Ixtepec (Oaxaca) and with the Zapatista movement in their conference in Chiapas entitled “The Walls of Capital, The Cracks of the Left”. Others lead workshops that they themselves designed in two poor and violent neighborhoods of Mexico City, Santa Fe and Tepito. The workshops, which are for women, youth or children, cover peace and nonviolence in human relations, in gender relations, in sexist language, in the body, and in direct action for peace. In addition, some of the women from our Grial-Serpaj group went to Chiapas to work with women there on health issues.
Another of our groups, “We Miss Them” (Nos Hacen Falta), which works to find UNAM students who have disappeared and to pressure the university to support the families in their search, is organizing a national conference in the near future, with accompanying actions.
I am happy that the youth from our peace and nonviolence collectives are preparing a video on their work to share with you. They have been thinking about and discussing it and working with a lot of enthusiasm on it. I’m happy they will have this direct contact with you.
We are all very clear that all of this is what we call “ant” work; small steps, lots of ants. The results are modest but real: the organizing work, including direct actions; the leadership development of the youth and women; the concrete actions for peace and nonviolence that they undertake in their distinct situations in Mexico.
I send you my best wishes for strength and inspiration in the Spirit to sustain you in your work and in your lives. We carry on closely united, thanks to your generous sharing.
Read more of Pedro's activities in Mexico.
Updates on Sergio Castro/Yok Chij
For over 45 years Sergio Castro (Yok Chij) has been working within the indigenous Mayan communities of San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas, one of the poorest states of Mexico. Sergio spends most of his time providing medical and wound care to burn victims, and, with increasing frequency, patients suffering from the effects of type 2 diabetic complications. Don Sergio does not charge any fees. He is a “one-man-wound-care clinic” and is always moving, hence the name ‘yok chij’, Maya language, Tzotzil for ‘deer foot’, because he’s always moving.
Don Sergio's project activities are regularly updated on his blog by Patricia Ferrer, who has worked with him for eight years, @ http://sergiocastrosc.blogspot.mx
DONATE to SERGIO CASTRO & YOK CHIJ.
(updates from Patricia Ferrer on Sergio's blog).
We had been aware of the recent protesting and violence in Oaxaca and although we did not see any protesting, we definitely experienced the effects. Teachers and health professionals (to my understanding have not been paid) create road blocks which prevent certain items to come in and out of the city. Tourism numbers are low and gasoline is limited. The lines at gas stations are long and they run out quickly. We cannot go out to the communities so we only treat the local patients....keeps us busy enough!
As usual, he is grateful to all his friends that continue to support him and his work. The never-ending influx of patients with burns and wounds seems endless and all donations help reduce the suffering in this part of the world.
At this time we have a 2 and a half-year-old that was pushed into a tub of hot water by her brother, which burned her back, legs and genitalia. These are first-degree burns (epidermal blisters) and superficial second-degree burns (the superficial portion of the dermis). These types of burns are so painful and although the little girl cries when we change her bandages, she lets us do our job.
We do it as quickly and smoothly as possible.
The poverty she, her family and neighbors live in astounds us:no clean water, no toilets, they cook with wood, the walls are thin planks, and discarded items are used in any way possible for shelter. There is no waste for
the poor; they find utility in everything, just as nature does.
"Its hard to believe I met Sergio 8 years ago and how little things have changed in his world of wound and burn care. At least as far as patients go: same accidents, different people. Our patients are the young, the old, and everyone in between.
read more about Don Sergio's work in Chiapas, Mexico