Tuesday, 17 December 2013

LASC, Dec. 2013: Background

Bill Jungels spoke about the economic crisis for Mayan campesinos in Highland Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost, poorest and most indigenous State. The corn crop on which they depend for a large part of their diet failed and they are forced to buy their corn. Coffee sold at a very low price (about 70 cents a pound for those lucky enough to have a small plot) eliminating a main source of cash. And sales of women’s weavings have been off due to recession in places like the U.S. where they hope to get a just price for their work.

In this context there has been a heating up of paramilitary activity, with people being violently forced off uncultivated land they occupied in the wake of the 1994 Zapatista uprising. From Puebla, township of Chenalho, 98 persons have been forced to flee to Acteal (in the same township) site of the 1997 massacre of 45 unarmed members of the Catholic organization, the Abejas (Bees).  Most of those who fled are Catholics who were trying to rebuild a church. Some fear that things could escalate to new mass killings by paramilitaries. In Chiapas religious and political affiliating often go together and those driving the people out are from protestant sects allied with the PRI, the most powerful and corrupt party in Mexico. Padre Manuel, the Catholic pastor of Chenalho was held by the paramilitaries for four hours, beaten and threatened with having gasoline poured on him and being set on fire. The 98 people who fled to Acteal are living in sub-human conditions crowded into a very small dwelling and sharing a single kitchen (where food is cooked over an open wood fire).

To  purchase weavings from 3 cooperatives: http://www.weaving-for-justice.org

For information and actions on human rights violations in Chiapas, including the Puebla incidents: http://www.frayba.org.mex   (English and Spanish available, with some documents only in Spanish. For the Puebla conflict look on the Spanish site under “Acciones Urgentes”) 

Dec. 2013 LASC Coffeehouse

The December 2013 LASC Coffeehouse was held 7-9 pm Monday, Dec. 16, 
at El Buen Amigo, 114 Elmwood Ave.   Lots of people came to hear REPORTS FROM CHIAPAS
presented by Tom Potts and Bill Jungels, just returned from projects in Chiapas, Mexico.
Many brought food to share, and we had a celebration in the setting of the most beautiful store.
Santiago and Anne and Mike at the store graciously and enthusiastically made room for us all.

The event was co-sponsored by the Latin American Cultural Association (LACA at Buen Amigo)
and by the Latin America Solidarity Committee (LASC, a taskforce of the WNY Peace Center).

Tom Potts told us of his free dental project there, and how it runs; the cross-section of people he treats,  the politics of the township, the work the committee there, the valuable assistance of a local translator from indigenous languages to spanish, the way the word gets out to the outlying communities, and the possibilities and problems of funding a scholarship for a local person to study to eventually carry-on the project year-round.  Suggestions included a kickstart campaign or medical school in Cuba.

Tom also mentioned the huge privatization of the mexican energy enterprise, which involves constitutional changes and massive opportunities for corruption.

Bill Jungels told of terrible agricultural problems in the area this year: of falling  revenue from coffee growing, and failed corn crops.   He also told of the work of the weaving cooperatives and tensions in some nearby communities that reminded him of the paramilitary lead up to the Acteal massacres.

Questions were asked: protests planned for the 20 anniversary of NAFTA, celebrations of 20 years of autonomous Zapatista communities, differences between politics in Mexico and Colombia, versus other progressive politics in Latin America.

We hope to post some links here:

El Buen Amigo (the Good Friend) opened on Elmwood in 1989 as part of the Latin American Cultural Association, a non profit organization formed in 1977 to spread the culture of Latin America and raise awareness of present-day social and economic struggles of the region. The store deals directly with craftspeople, cooperatives and small family businesses, and returns profits to the artists and their communities. Everyone welcome to our party.