Wednesday, October 29, 2014


By David Bacon
New America Media, 9/24/14

In downtown Tijuana, a huge concrete channel was built to house the Tijuana River.  The river rises in Sierra de Juarez in the south, and eventually crosses the border five miles before it reaches the beach.  Only a trickle of water, however, runs down the middle of this vast expanse of cement.  Instead, its walls house people.  Many have come up from the south, especially Oaxaca.  Some thought they might get jobs in a maquiladora factory, while others thought they might have some luck jumping the fence.

Juan Guerra cooks dinner in the camp.
Juan Guerra lives under one of the bridges that cross the river channel.  In their camp of stranded migrants he heats tortillas and a stew of vegetables, gathered from food thrown out by nearby restaurants catering to tourists.  Juan speaks Zapotec, an indigenous language of the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca.  Some in the camp speak Mixtec, another indigenous tongue, while others from Mexican states further north just speak Spanish.  "I'm proud that I speak my language," he says, "but people look down on me here.  Maybe it's because I'm from Oaxaca, or maybe it's just that I have no money or place to live."

Mexico is a country of young people.  Its median age is 26.7 and the average age of border crossers is even younger - 20 years old.  Guerra says he's 25, and the others living in the camp under the bridge look younger.  In the streets of Tijuana live hundreds of street children even younger than that. 

One man eats dinner while another climbs the channel wall to the camp.

I had a friend, Mario, who was a Tijuana cop.  He talked about the kids in a very matter-of-fact way.  "There are so many living on the street here," he said.   "Some are abandoned by their parents when they go across the border, or when they arrive in Tijuana from other parts of Mexico."  Once I drove with him through the honky-tonk area of downtown.  Some of the buildings at the bottom of Avenida de la Revolucion, as it gets close to the border, have broken boards and doorways on their front facing the street.  Small, dirt-paved alleyways weave through the blocks, where many street children live.  "They sleep in hotel rooms, under food carts, or in abandoned buildings during the day," he explained.

Next to the river's channel rise apartment houses for the luckier of Tijuana's working class residents.  These are the families who can pay enough rent to escape the dirt streets of the hillside barrios ringing the city.  In the trash bins behind the buildings, Luisa, a homeless woman, collected discarded plastic bottles.  She's doing the same thing homeless people do in San Diego, just a few miles north.  The border often seems a chasm separating wealth and poverty.  But the lives of people who have no home are basically the same, regardless of which side they live on.

Luisa finds plastic bottles in a bin behind an apartment house.

Mario had stories about street children that sounded like tales from Oliver Twist.  "Doña Lupe," he says, "has thirty three children.  She used to be a pollera [someone who guides people across the border].  Then she taught her kids to sell roses in the street in front of the clubs.  They'd surround a customer, and while they're asking him to buy roses, they've hidden a knife in the bunches.  Someone cuts the pocket of the pants of the customer, and their wallet falls out." 

Mario remembered the time when there was no fence on the border.  When he started he believed those crossing the border without papers were just criminals.  "I thought they deserved to be caught and punished because they were breaking the law," he said.  "But after a while, I began to understand that immigration and undocumented people exist in many countries.  After that, I began to look at myself as their protector, rather than as their enemy."

The wall.

Today no one can cross the border in Tijuana.  There are multiple fences, including one made of iron bars over twice the height of a person.  A concrete no-man's land on the U.S. side is lit by floodlights, and Border Patrol agents are omnipresent.  But there was a time, two and three decades ago, when people could still cross in Tijuana, hilariously dramatized in a famous scene in a Cheech and Chong movie.  Mario remembered a similar scene, but it wasn't as funny.

"Once the Grupo Beta squad [the Tijuana police group monitoring migrants] was called to a place where a lot of pollos [border crossers] had assembled to jump the fence," he recalled.  "A whole lot of them jumped over, and began to run.  The border patrol was about a hundred yards away.  There were two brothers among the pollos, and the migra got one.  After they had him, his brother began to throw rocks at the agents, to get them to let him go.  So then the migra began to chase the one throwing rocks.  He ran to the wall and began climbing back over into Mexico.  As his hand grabbed the top of the fence, and he was hanging there, the agents grabbed his legs and pulled him down.  They threw him down into the dirt, and one of the agents put his foot on his neck."

A camp in the Tijuana River channel.

There wasn't much love lost between the U.S. Border Patrol and Tijuana cops.  Border Patrol agents think the cops are all on the take from drug gangs, Mario said.  And the cops think the Border Patrol is filled with agents who look down on Mexicans.  "We criticize the U.S. government for sending army troops to patrol the border here, but the Mexican government sends troops to the border with Guatemala," he charged.  Once the Mexican government sent him there after the Guatemalan government asked the Mexican government to investigate complaints of beatings and rapes.  Mario said he found the crimes were committed by former police and border guards themselves. 

Mario's dead now, but I once asked him what he thought the border should be like.  "I've come to the conclusion that it's OK the way it is," he said.  "What would happen if our roles were reversed?  Lots of Americans live in Rosarito [half an hour south of the border], and have houses and jobs.  The government doesn't say anything because it thinks they're good for the economy.  But what would happen if the U.S. fell into the same kind of crisis we have now in Mexico, and millions of people wanted to come here?  We'd build a wall twice as tall as it is now."

Families at Playas de Tijuana.

In Tijuana the wall and the border are omnipresent facts -- taken for granted, yet a physical and social presence in each resident's life.  At Playas de Tijuana, going to the beach seems at first the same as anywhere.  Looking south along the sand families stand and sit in the sun and wade in the waves.  But looking north a 20-foot high barrier of iron posts marches into the Pacific, a wall whose other end terminates in another ocean entirely, 1,954 miles away.

Curious visitors go up to look between the bars, at the concrete barriers beyond, and then a similar stretch of sand that continues north to San Diego.  A little park -- Friendship Park -- welcomes families on the Mexican side, but the impenetrable wall (at least for humans) belies any visible sign of friendship with the U.S.   On the park's little platform and exercise bars, Jorge, a boxer, acts out his fantasy of the ring.  He moves through his exercise routine, from one stance to another.  They all seem to defy the border itself.

Jorge, the Tijuana boxer.


Oaxacans Want the Right to Not Migrate
By David Bacon
The Progressive, web edition

OAXACA DE JUAREZ, MEXICO (10/20/14) -- For six weeks hundreds of teachers in the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca have been living in tents, in the capital city's main plaza, the zocalo.  Bonifacio Garcia, one of the protestors, declares, "We will stay here until the state Chamber of Deputies agrees that our education reform will move forward in all our schools." 

Teachers planton in the Zocalo, or main plaza, in Oaxaca.

Each week teachers from one of Oaxaca's regions take a turn at sleeping in the tents.  This is the week for the schools on the coast, including the communities of people whose ancestors were slaves.  Garcia comes from Santiago Tapextla, near Pinotepa Nacional, where most people trace part of their ancestry back to Africa. 

On the coast, family trees are very mixed.  Most also reveal other ancestors among the indigenous people who were here long before the Spanish conquerors arrived.  "Spaniards brought slaves with them from the Caribbean and Africa," Garcia explains. "After Mexico outlawed slavery in 1821 we became an autonomous community.  But in Mexico African people aren't considered an original people, the way indigenous people are.  We're still not really recognized, so we have to fight for our rights."  

Garcia is principal of a "telesecondaria" -- a secondary school in a remote area where part of the instruction is given through a national televised curriculum.  While he uses that TV program, he and his fellow teachers reject most of the other reforms Mexico's national government has attempted to impose.  Oaxacan teachers and their union, Section 22 of the National Union of Education Workers, say the Federal education reforms rely too heavily on standardized testing, and punish teachers for the low scores of their students. 

Teachers Bonifacio Garcia and Gabriel Vielma Monjaroz talk with another teacher in their encampment in the main plaza of Oaxaca.

Instead, Section 22 formulated its own education reform plan five years ago, the Program to Transform Education in Oaxaca (PTEO).  It seeks to develop an intensely cooperative relationship between teachers, students, parents and the surrounding community. Lulu, a young preschool teacher from Huatulco, further south along the coast, says, "I have a much closer relationship now to the parents of my children than we did before."

For Garcia, the central purpose of PTEO is to help students get a better education, especially those in rural areas who speak pre-Hispanic languages like Mixteco, Zapoteco or Triqui -- Oaxacans speak 23 indigenous tongues.  But education, he believes, should also provide an alternative to the out-migration that is devastating small farming communities. 

"I know the cost of migration very well, " he says.  "I lived for four years in Elgin, Illinois, working for an organization there that helped immigrants understand their rights.  So I know how hard life can be in the north.  Migration also hollows out our communities here.  If we want young people to stay, we have to have an alternative that is attractive to them.  That starts with education.  That's why our program to change the schools is so important, and why we're willing to sit here in the zocalo until the government agrees."

A group of preschool teachers from the coast in the teachers' planton.

Oaxaca has about 3.5 million people, who began leaving the state because of intense rural poverty in the 1970s.  At first people migrated to work on the industrial farms of northern Mexico.  But then indigenous Oaxacan towns, dependent on growing corn and other agricultural products, were hit hard by the North American Free Trade Agreement.  In 1990, before the agreement was implemented, about 527,000 people had already left.  A decade later that number had mushroomed to 663,000.

Beginning in the 1980s, Oaxacan migrants began crossing the border, first into California, and then dispersing into states all over the U.S.  By 2008 about 12.5 million Mexican migrants were living north of the border (up from 4.6 million in 1990) -- 9.4% of the population of Mexico.  But even in this huge wave, Oaxacans have been over-represented -- 19% of its people are migrants.

Rufino DomÆnguez, who heads the Oaxacan Institute for Attention to Migrants, estimates that there are about 500,000 indigenous people from Oaxaca in the U.S., 300,000 in California alone.  One result has been an explosion of Oaxacan culture in exile.  Currently, at least 16 Guelaguetzas (the annual festival that showcases the elaborate dances of Oaxaca's many regions) take place, not just in California (where there are 11), but also in Seattle WA, Poughkeepsie NY, Salem OR, Odessa TX, and Atlantic City NJ.

Two teachers in their encampment in the main plaza of Oaxaca.  Their banner says, "In these times, it is more dangerous to be a student than to be a criminal," which refers to the murder of students at the teachers' training college in Ayotzinapa.

Beautiful dances, however, are performed by communities that live on the economic margin.  Rick Mines, author of the 2010 Indigenous Farm Worker Study, says surveys reveal that among Californias indigenous Mexican farm workers (about 120,000 people) a third earn minimum wage, while a third are paid illegal wages below that.  The U.S. food system has long been dependent on the influx of an ever-changing, newly-arrived group of workers that sets the wages and working conditions at the entry level in the farm labor market, he elaborates. 

California has a farm labor force of about 700,000 workers, so the day is not far off when indigenous Oaxacan migrants may make up a majority.  Indigenous people constituted 7% of Mexican migrants in 1991-3, the years just before NAFTA. In 2006-8, they made up 29%four times more.  The rock-bottom wages paid to this most recent wave of migrants sets the wage floor for all the other workers in California farm labor, keeping the labor costs of California growers low, and their profits high.

It was no surprise, therefore, that anger over discrimination, displacement, migration and poverty ran through many denunciations heard last week in Oaxaca at the triennial assembly of the Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations (FIOB).  "We are not people who were 'discovered' by the Spaniards, the Americans or anyone else," thundered Romualdo Juan Gutierrez Cortez, FIOB's new binational coordinator.  "We are people in struggle!"

The newly elected binational coordinator of the Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations (FIOB), Romualdo Juan Gutierrez Cortez.

Gutierrez is a teacher with a long political history in Oaxaca.  He was elected a decade ago to the state Chamber of Deputies, and after his term ended, was jailed in reprisal by the governor from Mexico's old ruling party, the Party of the Institutionalized Revolution.  When a teachers' strike spiraled into a virtual insurrection in 2006, the following governor put his name on a list of activists to be arrested yet again.  When the PRI lost the governorship for the first time in 70 years in 2010, Gutierrez went to work in the state's migrant assistance agency.

FIOB is a unique organization created in 1992 by both Oaxacan migrants in California, and by the communities in Oaxaca from which they come.  It has chapters in four California cities, in several towns in Baja California in north Mexico where Oaxacans work as migrants, and in many indigenous towns in Oaxaca itself.  Many FIOB activists are teachers because educators play such an important role in community life.  Now FIOB will be headed by two of them -- Gutierrez and Ezequiel Rosales, who led the union during the 2006 strike.

In 2010 both FIOB and the union supported the candidate who defeated the PRI -- Gabino Cue, the former mayor of Oaxaca's capital city.  That gave teachers enough political influence to insist that the Oaxaca Institute for Public Education, which administers the states schools, begin implementing their PTEO reform.  It's been a fight, however.  Two years ago, Claudio Gonzçlez, one of Mexico's wealthiest and most powerful businessmen and head of a national group backing standardized testing, warned Governor CuÄ that he had to break the hijacking of education by Secciùn 22.  He called the teachers tyrants.  Under pressure from the PRI administration in Mexico City, Oaxaca's state government is backtracking on its commitment to PTEO.  That's the reason for the encampment in the zocalo.

A delegate speaks from the floor of the FIOB assembly.

When Cue was elected, FIOB met with him to ask that he appoint Dominguez, FIOB's former binational coordinator, to head the Oaxacan Institute for Attention to Migrants.  Cue then declared that his administration was dedicated to implementing the "right to not migrate."  This right, a centerpiece of FIOB's political program for a decade, calls for alternatives to forced migration, including better schools, higher agricultural prices, jobs, and health care in rural areas.  If people have an alternative, FIOB activists argue, they can choose freely if they want to leave home or not. 

FIOB's outgoing binational coordinator, Bernardo Ramirez, says people in the U.S. don't really understand what causes migration.  "The wage here in Oaxaca is 73 pesos ($6) a day," he explains, "and in some of the poorest areas people are living on 30 pesos a day.  They'll eat if they produce their own corn for tortillas and beans, but they just have enough money to buy an egg.  When the free trade agreement came in, they lost the market for the little they were producing.  The products coming in from the U.S. had government support and subsidies.  Mexicans couldn't compete with that.  People see migration as their only option to survive." 

In a poor state like Oaxaca it is difficult to provide the alternative.  High hopes for Cue led to frustration and anger when the state couldn't deliver on many promises of economic development.  FIOB has tried to encourage its own rural development projects.   "We want people to produce what we eat," Ramirez says, depending less on buying processed food, or instance. 

A delegate speaks from the floor of the FIOB assembly.

FIOB also goes into the schools, especially secondary schools where young people are already thinking of leaving, to dispel illusions that life is always better in the north.  "The people who come back just talk about the good part of migration," Ramirez charges bitterly.  "They don't talk about how many days they had to walk through the desert.  They don't mention that seven or eight people were sleeping on the floor in the room where they were living.  They don't say they were robbed or beaten while they were traveling, and the government did nothing."

Therefore, in addition to advocating the right to not migrate, FIOB also says people have the right to migrate, and to basic human and civil rights when they do.  Deportations from the U.S. were on everyone's mind.  FIOB members in California have been marching for months to demand a halt to the separation of families, and to support the thousands of migrants who spend time in detention centers every year.  In Oaxaca, people in almost every community have had a deportation experience that has left its bitter memories.

The California section of FIOB has criticized for years U.S. proposals for immigration reform, because of their emphasis on enforcement and guest worker programs.  It has called for a progressive alternative, based on labor and human rights, and at the Oaxaca meeting voted to join a U.S. network of organizations supporting it, the Dignity Campaign. 

Cheers at the end of the FIOB assembly.

Last year FIOB activists implemented this formal position by helping Oaxacan farm workers organize an independent union in Washington State.  During that fight the grower employing them, Sakuma Farms, fired several workers, denied families a space to live in the company labor camp, and tried to keep wages at the level of the state's minimum.  When workers organized to protest, ranch owners tried to bring in a replacement force of guest workers from Mexico, under the H2A work visa program. 

During the workers' strike last year, Ramirez went to Washington State.  FIOB and the new union, Familias Unidas por la Justicia, then mobilized opposition that kept the U.S. Department of Labor from approving the farm's application.  In last week's assembly one worker, Herminio Ortiz Espinoza, described his four years as a guest worker in Canada.  "The bosses always yelled at us and treated us as though we were inferior," he recalled.  "I had a friend who protested, and he was deported right away.  After that, we were all afraid to say anything."

"We've talked with 70% of the people recruited in Oaxaca, and there are enormous violations of the rights of workers by guest worker programs," Ramirez adds.
"We're also concerned about the Oaxacans who are already living in the United States.  Sakuma Farms already had a lot of workers, very good ones.  But the grower wanted to keep them from organizing, defending themselves and demanding higher wages.  He knew people here in Mexico are desperate for work, and that he could make them work for the minimum.  He wanted to put Oaxacans into competition with other Oaxacans.  That's why in FIOB we want an immigration reform in the U.S. that doesn't have guest worker programs.  Migrants need the right to come and work, but to work with rights."

The newly-elected leaders of the FIOB.

At the end of the assembly, FIOB reiterated its support for the union at Sakuma Farms, and its opposition to guest worker programs.  When it announced its opposition a decade ago, it was virtually alone among migrant organizations in Mexico in doing so.  Today, as guest worker programs grow in the U.S., and the number of people who return with direct experience in them grows as well, so does that opposition. 

As the delegates left at the end of the assembly, a number went to talk with the teachers in the zocalo, sharing their outrage over the students killed and kidnapped at the teachers' training school in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero.  This issue is convulsing Mexico.  Banners and signs hung everywhere in the encampment, expressing revulsion at the attack. 

The assembly itself accused the government of responsibility for Ayotzinapa, calling it "state terrorism that the government is implementing in order to suppress social protest." Back in the U.S., FIOB members mounted protests at consulates in Los Angeles, Santa Maria, San Diego, Oxnard and Fresno.  In a letter delivered in each, FIOB's new officers also demanded that the U.S. government recognize its responsibility "for the economic and political instability of Mexico, because it is the greatest consumer of drugs, because it supports the big corporations that produce the arms used by Mexican criminal groups, and because it imposed on Mexico the North American Free Trade Agreement and other neoliberal policies."

A sign in the teachers' encampment in the main plaza of Oaxaca has a slogan common throughout Mexico:  "Ayotzinapa, your pain in my pain, your fight is my fight.  They took them away alive, and we want them returned alive."  It refers to the murder of six students and the kidnap of another 43 at the teachers' training college in Ayotzinapa.

The letter added, "We want a Mexico with democracy, justice and liberty, where young people who are the future of our country can thrive and participate with their knowledge and skills in building a healthy, strong and dignified country." 

Today people speaking Oaxaca's indigenous languages live in very distant places, separated by thousands of miles and a militarized border.  But whether in the zocalo or the FIOB assembly, they increasingly function as a single community.  Anti-immigrant hysteria may have come to dominate politics in the rich countries of the north, but Oaxacans are moving in the opposite direction.  They are asserting the right to decide when and how crossing borders is in their interest.  And instead of being simply divided by borders, they are organizing across them.


Tribunal Takes Up Mexico's Migrant "Hell"
By David Bacon
The Progressive, web edition

MEXICO CITY (10/5/14) -- Just before judges heard testimony on migration at the Permanent People's Tribunal in Mexico City last week, the Mexican government announced a new measure that might have been deliberately intended to show why activists brought the Tribunal to Mexico to begin with, three years ago.  Interior (Gobernacion) Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong told the press that the speed of trains known by migrants as "La Bestia" (The Beast) would be doubled.

Photos of "La Bestia" have become famous around the world, showing young migrants crowded on top of boxcars, riding the rails from the Guatemala border to near the U.S. It's a slow train, but many boys and girls have lost arms and legs trying to get on or off, and wind up living in limbo in the Casas de Migrantes -- the hostels run by the Catholic Church and other migrant rights activists throughout Mexico.  Osorio Chong said Mexico would require the companies operating the trains - a partnership between mining giant Grupo Mexico and the U.S. corporation Kansas Southern - to hike their speed to make it harder for the migrants. 

In the Tribunal, young people, giving only their first names out of fear, said they'd see many more severed limbs and deaths as a result, but that it wouldn't stop people from coming.  Armed gangs regularly rob the migrants, they charged, and young people get beaten and raped.  If they're willing to face this, they'll try to get on the trains no matter how fast they go.  "Mexico is a hell for migrants already," fumed Father Pedro Pantoja, who organized the Casa de Migrantes in Saltillo.

Outrage wasn't limited to the Tribunal hearings.  Former Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, now the head of one of Mexico's left parties, the Movement for National Renovation, asked, "How can the government keep them from freely moving through Mexico, when they're trying to stay alive, and find work so their families survive?"  If Osorio Chong really wanted to reduce migration, he told La Jornada, Mexico's leftwing daily, "he'd support the farmers, so that people have work and don't have to leave to seek life on the other side of the border."

While the Tribunal hearings offered an insight into the way the Mexican left sees migration to the U.S. and Canada, the Tribunal itself is an international institution based in Rome.  It was first organized by the British philosopher Bertrand Russell to investigate U.S. war crimes during the Vietnam War.  Since then it has held hearings about the violations of human rights during the "dirty wars" under the military dictatorships in Latin America, as well as in the Philippines, El Salvador, Afghanistan, East Timor, Zaire and Guatemala.

In 2011 the Tribunal announced it would hold hearings in Mexico on a wide spectrum of issues, including attacks on unions, farmers, the environment and women.  Of them, the hearings on migration have been the most extensive, including three pre-hearings in Mexico, three in the U.S., and a weeklong debate at the national autonomous university (UNAM).  Bishop Raul Vera declared at their start, "We are experiencing the breakdown of the social order and the militarization of the fight against drugs [and] actions imposed by a state whose leaders are full of ambition, where it is not political proposals that count, but business and theft."

For many Mexican migrant rights activists, the most serious violations are committed against migrants passing through Mexico.  In August of 2010 seventy-two people were found massacred outside San Fernando, a small town in northern Mexico.  All were migrants passing through Mexico, and had been kidnapped and murdered.  The following April 193 bodies of migrants were discovered in 47 graves.  Many were Central Americans, but others were Mexicans.  In May of 2012 another 49 graves were found.

While the perpetrators of these crimes were, according to Tribunal testimony, members of drug cartels and their paramilitaries, the accusation submitted to the judges charged the Mexican government was ultimately responsible.  Not only did the government fail to protect migrants, knowing that they were being kidnapped regularly for extortion, but it did not recognize their right to migrate at all, treating them instead as criminals.  "All these acts are the predictable and preventable result of its policies and actions," emphasized Mexican academic Camilo Perez at the hearing's start. 

He urged the judges to use the massacre in San Fernando as a lens through which to examine the causes of migration and the reasons for the vulnerability of migrants.  "Government policies actually depend on migration at the same time it criminalizes migrants," he cautioned.  "The responsibility is structural, not just the actions of individuals."

Raul Ramirez Baena testified before the Mexico City hearing by Skype from Mexicali, the capital of Baja California, just across the border from California's Imperial Valley.  Ramirez Baena, Baja's former human rights prosecutor, argued that U.S. border enforcement policies were also linked to violence against migrants south of the border.

"U.S. border enforcement really got going when NAFTA took effect in 1994," he explained, "and national security became a major justification, even extending U.S. authorities' reach to Guatemala.  At the same time, it established a policy of deportation, which made the problems of poverty and gangs here worse.  Then Mexican government militarized the Mexican side, using the war on drugs as a pretext.  The killings and kidnappings in northern Mexico are a consequence of this joint policy."

There was something very Mexican about focusing on the situation of Central American migrants passing through Mexico.  In one way it highlights a generosity of spirit - "their situation is worse than ours" - and responds to the extreme brutality of kidnapping and murder.  But it also reflects the way Mexicans, especially on the left, have looked at the migration of their own countrymen.  Historically, many leftwing activists saw those who left for the U.S. as people who had abandoned the struggle for social change at home.  In addition, they sometimes argued, migration relieved the social pressure of poverty on the Mexican government. 

Yet at the same time, Mexican political activists have not only come to the U.S. (sometimes fleeing repression themselves), but they've become increasingly outraged by the treatment Mexicans get there.  And the increase in migration has been phenomenal.  Today there is no town in Mexico so isolated that people haven't left for the U.S., and to which dollars now flow from those working in the north.  The most important achievement of the Tribunal, therefore, was not just assigning responsibility for the violence, but digging into the reasons and responsibility for the migration itself.

According to the conceptual framework established at the beginning of the hearing by Ana Alicia Peûa Lopez, an economist at UNAM, "Mexicans and Central Americans are forced to leave home because of their precarious economic and social conditions.  These are the product of neoliberal reforms, especially the free trade treaties implemented in Mexico and the rest of this region."

Peûa Lopez listed several changes in migration in the free trade era -- most important, its massive size.  In 1990 4.4 million Mexican migrants were living in the U.S.  At the beginning of the economic crisis in 2007 it was 11.9 million and in 2013 it was still 11.8 million.  In other words, jobs in the U.S. might have been harder to find, but people didn't go home because the conditions causing them to leave hadn't changed. Money sent home by Mexicans reached $27 billion by 2007, even during the crisis.     

But, she also noted, migrants now include women, young people, indigenous people and even children.  "Employers take advantage of this to lower their labor costs," she charged.  "Criminalizing migrants hasn't simply led to the violation of their rights, but has made their labor even cheaper.  And Mexico pushed this process, through reforms that lower wages and make jobs less secure, that drive rural communities off the land to enable mining and energy projects, and that put basic services like health and education out of the reach of more and more people."

The Tribunal's report on migration will be presented to another set of judges in November, where it will be included with those on other human rights issues.  The tribunal has no power to bring legal charges against the Mexican, U.S. or Canadian governments over human rights crimes.  But it can focus international attention on violations, and create a climate in which progressive jurists can try to use their own legal systems. 

Throughout Latin America, in the wake of military dictatorships and civil wars, truth commissions were established to counter the culture of impunity - that governments can jail and murder people with no consequences for those who give the orders.  Mexico has never had such a commission, nor has the U.S. or Canada.  The Tribunal hearings certainly found evidence and witnesses that testify to widespread abuses, and provide an argument for further proceedings with more formal consequences.

But to Andres Barreda, another UNAM economist involved in setting up the hearings, the ultimate goal is also to ask Mexicans themselves what direction they choose for their country.  "Trade agreements and economic reforms have undermined Mexico's national sovereignty, and led to its economic and political subjugation to the United States," he says.  "Mexico has a right to a national economic system that protects sovereignty and autonomy, and therefore places the needs of its people before the profits of corporations and an economic elite.  Unless we face this, we can't resolve the situation of migrants, whether our own or those passing through Mexico."

David Bacon was one of the judges in the PPT hearing in Mexico City.