Dubbed “Plan México” by IRTF, the initiative pledges $550 million to combat drug trafficking, weapon sales, and gang activity in Central America by providing surveillance equipment and training regional law enforcement. The budget allots $500 million to México, granting $206 million for military aircrafts, $133 million to enhance military, and police forces, and $15 million for drug demand reduction.
IRTF says the initiative does little to combat the root causes of drug trafficking; poverty, lack of available jobs and healthcare—instead is bolstering México’s military arsenal. “The ‘war on drugs’ is being used as a guise to beef up the Mexican military to fight against social movements that are resisting first world amenities,” said IRTF Program Director, Brian Stefan. He explained these social movements are steered by community leaders concerned about the loss of jobs, decrease in quality of life and oppression of indigenous groups because of treaties like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
“The economic disparities between the rich and poor have increased tremendously since NAFTA was enacted in January of 1994,” Stefan said. Globalization and development initiatives build highways, roads, hydroelectric dams and ports, while depriving the people of their livelihoods. “For these people living off the land is more important; they can’t afford these amenities, like electricity, without paying jobs,” Stefan said.
IRTF is a Cleveland based nonprofit organization that advocates for human rights, economic justice, changes in U.S. foreign policies and peace in Central America. The organization was formed in 1981 after the murder of two Cleveland church women in El Salvador by U.S. trained soldiers.
Stefan said the organization joins efforts with activists in Central America who are risking their lives to improve the quality of life of the underprivileged. “It means a lot to people struggling there to know they are not alone, that people here support the work they do,” Stefan said. He hopes Cleveland activists educate themselves about México’s culture and will be inspired enough to help preserve it.
When needed, IRTF mobilizes more than 600 Northeast Ohioans into action by calling, sending emails, and faxes to Congressional representatives.
The ‘Plan México’ legislation action sheet suggests six talking points that ask for the de-militarization of the Merida Initiative, strengthening of judicial and law enforcement institutions, funding of rural development programs that provide well-paying jobs, and reduction of U.S. drug consumption that finance drug cartels.
For Mexican photographer Alex Rivera the heart of the issues comes down to diminishing natural resources in an increasingly consumer driven world. “The U.S. government wants to convert México into Columbia,” Rivera said—to him that means a U.S. monopoly on Mexican resources without the burden of supporting its population.
Rivera said the Merida Initiative is an indirect campaign to have the Mexican military curb the influx of undocumented immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexican border. “Social movements in Latin America are organizing to really put Democracy to work for the people,” he said. One of those movements is the Zapatismo of Chiapas, México, an indigenous revolutionary group that advocates against globalization, neoliberalism, and NAFTA.
Hiram College student Elisa Bredendiek spent the last four months in México, studying social analysis, immigration, U.S. intervention, and indigenous social movements. She lived with the Zapatistas and said they have united all struggles of oppression, discrimination, equal rights for women, bisexuals, and immigrants against capitalism.
“The U.S. should stop treating México like a little brother who’s to be exploited,” said Bredendiek. She shared a slideshow of images from the trip and discussed the injustices the people of Chiapas face daily.
The region is antonymous, with a functional economy, justice system, and education whose degrees are not recognized anywhere else in México. They don’t receive public funds and their amenities, like running water and electricity, are often cut off by the Mexican government which considers them to be radical factions. “Which is sort of romantic but also very annoying,” Bredendiek said.
She was disappointed that the Cleveland Mexican community did not attend the solidarity event. “I learned from the Zapatistas that in order to make a difference you have to organize your own community and any movement to prevent exploitation of others has to be organic,” Bredendiek said. She has little faith in large corporations and said measurable change is made possible by average people who care. Bredendiek said U.S.-Americans should be concerned about the exploitation of people in México especially when U.S.-American tax money is indirectly funding campaigns against them.
Her study abroad trip was sponsored by the México Solidarity Network which provides college credit, to promote dialogue and build alliances between the U.S. and México.
Guests at the event could buy Mexican bead jewelry at fair trade prices to support indigenous artisans, and $1 raffle tickets to win handmade purses, boxes of chocolate or gift certificates to a local restaurant. Portion of the proceeds were donated to Dignidad y Justicia (Dignity & Justice), a worker-owned ethical clothing company run by women who organize other women working in sweatshops throughout La Frontera—the northern México border. “They set their own working hours, conditions and wages,” said Stefan.
Another component of IRTF is the Rapid Response Network. “We respond to urgent human right abuses—like death threats, kidnappings, and torture,” Stefan said. The organization sends emails, faxes and calls leaders and law enforcers in Central America and the U.S., urging protection and justice for the victims.
IRTF regularly hosts educational events, provides speakers to local high schools like Lincoln West, and recruits volunteers and interns. For more information on IRTF visit their web site: www.irtfcleveland.org