Latin America: Pax Christi International organises Mexico meeting with Latin American members and partners to discuss extractives, share experiences of resistance

 

by Vittoria Valentina Di Gennaro,
Communications Assistant, Pax Christi International

7/6/2018, San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Mexico - From 23 to 26 May, Pax Christi International organised a meeting in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, in the Mexican state of Chiapas, in order to share experiences about nonviolent resistance strategies regarding the extractives industry and transnational megaprojects. The aim was also to analyse the context leading to conflicts in the region, as well as at the global level, and to look at methodologies of active nonviolence and advocacy as a means to influence decision-making institutions for the common good.

The meeting, hosted by Educación Ambiental Moxviquil and co-organised by FRAYBA -  Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Bartolomé de las Casas and SIPAZ - Servicio Internacional para la Paz, counted more than 60 people from many organisations and communities in the six countries (Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay and Peru) participating in the project,“América Latina, entre Violencias y Esperanzas”.

The event was facilitated by:

  • Ms. Martha Inés Romero, Pax Christi International Regional Coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean
  • Mr. Pedro Faro, Director of the Centre for Human Rights Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas (FRAYBA), , Pax Christi International member organisation in Mexico
  • Ms. Marina Pages and Mr. Tommy van Straten, Coordinators of Servicio Internacional para la Paz (SIPAZ), Pax Christi International member organisation in Mexico

The meeting was preceded by the news that the International Human Rights Award Letelier-Moffitt 2018 would be given to Derechos Humanos y Medio Ambiente (DHUMA), a local Peruvian NGO member of Pax Christi Peru. This annual award began in 1978 to honour and elevate outstanding human rights efforts, in memory of two former colleagues at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., Orlando Letelier and Ronni Karpen Moffitt.

One highlight of this meeting was that member organisations and their respective delegations produced a statement in Spanish, translated also into English, launched during a press conference with journalists from Tuxtla Gutiérrez, capital of Chiapas, where they “reaffirm their commitment to continue fighting for a comprehensive life for their peoples, peasants, indigenous and non-indigenous communities, for their coming generations and for the care of their Mother Earth.”

The signatories of the statement also state that they “will continue promoting nonviolent citizen actions expressed in the fabric of allied networks, organizational processes, exchanges of experiences, models of community defense; and in the context of the death that the extractive model brings, they will strengthen their cultural and original identity, communial unity in defense of their territories, and establish agreements to declare themselves free of mining and megaprojects, by means of assemblies and councils, creation of vigilance committees, pilgrimages, information forums, training, the strengthening of their cultural and spiritual expressions and relationship with Mother Earth, among many other actions.”

They point out that they “will also use legal instruments and political advocacy as citizens’ tools of participation and influence to show the strength of their arguments and their struggle.”
During the press conference representatives from each country working on human rights and environmental issues, international cooperation and trade, also had the opportunity to introduce their organisations and present their work in defence of their territories to the media.

Participants also shared that most of their governments have been supporting the practices and interests of these corporations – which in some cases promote corruption – through legislative changes, the reduction of taxes and the degradation of ecological protections, as well as putting at their service the police and the army. They also pointed out that "even more, those who defend their rights and territories are criminalised, prosecuted and, in some cases, assassinated.”

The statement produced by participants was well-received. There were questions from journalists referring to the active nonviolence approach. Media coverage was important (See the article from La Jornada). Contacts for future actions were strengthened after the press release.

A visit to the Chicoasén hydroelectric plant and an extractive project in San Juan Cancuc was organised during the three-day meeting in order for the groups to learn about the process and experience of nonviolent resistance to these projects. The idea was for people from other countries to know the experiences in these communities and for them to share what they work on in their countries and communities of origin. Each member organisation and the respective delegation had the opportunity to exchange their own experiences and learn from each other, including about the complex but successful implementation of the project started 6 years ago. Besides their differences and the complexity of their contexts, all the communities have the common denominator of being affected by extractives; and, in defence of their territories, they keep the same strong interest: to protect the lives of their peoples, Mother Earth, their culture and worldview against an extractive model that the industrial companies seek to impose on these populations.

Another positive coming out of this event has been the strong commitment to continue to raise human rights violations regarding extractive industries in their dialogues with Latin American governments. Moreover, they stated that they will "continue contributing to the network, building a sense of belonging from their active nonviolence approach". Specifically, delegations suggested that the situation of indigenous people should take precedent.

Ms. Romero added that such meetings and training processes are very important to establish links because it is not only the defence of the land at the local, regional and international level, but also at the personal and cultural dimension, from the Amerindian feeling that covers us to the entire region.

In fact, the process leading to this second phase of the project has resulted in great satisfaction, seeing how communities resist, organise, learn, empower themselves and incorporate other groups, such as young people, or mothers or fathers. In total during the first two years of the project, about 1,800 people have participated in the training and more in advocacy actions and defence of their land and water, through mobilisation, lobbying, and raising awareness about their demands.

In conclusion, the Organising Committee confirmed by the commitment of communities in the region, agreed to present a new proposal to solidarity cooperation, with three strategies: 1) Strengthening capacities through a “Training of Trainers” (ToT) methodology; 2) Promoting a second exchange meeting in one year, and 3)  Developing an advocacy strategy at the local and national level by participants in the ToT school and at the global level in conjunction with Pax Christi International’s global strategy on extractives in Latin America and their impact on human rights, communities and the environment. Such a strategy would involve advocacy at the European Union, United Nations, OAS and the Vatican, jointly and collaboratively with our partners in the region and our member organisations in the Global North.

 

Frayba, Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas AC, DHUMA, Derechos Humanos y Medio Ambiente, Pax Christi Peru, Martha Inés Romero, Pedro Faro, Malina Pages, Tommy van Straten, Sipaz, Servicio Internacional Para la Paz, América Latina entre Violencias y Esperanzas, Latin America, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru