MEXICO CITY — Thousands of people took to the streets Saturday to mark the anniversary of the disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero in a case involving corrupt police and high-ranking members of the army that continues to trouble Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
Parents and relatives of the missing students led the march from an area close to the presidential residence of “Los Pinos,” carrying with them pictures of their loved ones and shouting slogans rejecting the official statement of their fate.
Days before the march, President Nieto held a meeting with the parents of the 43 missing students to hear their demands and show support for their cause.
“We are on the same side,” Peña declared.
Nevertheless, the Parents described the president’s attitude toward the case as “indifferent,” and while more than 10,000 people were marching through one of the main boulevards of Mexico City, Nieto was attending to the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York City.
“Because alive they were taken, alive we want them back!” was the slogan of the march; Signs that read “Crime of the State,” “Get out Peña,” and “Peña, Murderer” were shown all along the march. Various Mexican personalities such as Elena Poniatowska, a Mexican journalist, author and activist, and Hipolito Mora, leader of self-defense groups in Guerrero, were also present, asking for justice.
The march proceeded peacefully except for one group 0f self-named “anarchists,” who launched a series of riots, ending in clashes with police but without causing much damage.
The march culminated at the historic Zocalo, a giant square in the heart of Mexico City, with a speech by the spokesman for the families, Felipe de la Cruz, in which he encouraged demonstrators to show their outrage over what happened in Ayotzinapa, Atenco and Tlatlaya, where state crimes have been committed and where impunity still reigns.
Mohamed Mahmoud street, one of the most iconic locations of modern Egyptian history, famous for its walls graffitied by artists who gave color to the Revolution of 2011, is now being demolishing as part of a renovation project.
Online news website Ahram Online reported that the order for demolishing the walls of The American University in Cairo, where the most famous graffiti is located, came from the Cairo Governorate. The instructions also include tearing down the university’s science building.
The indignation of the the Egyptian youth was immediate. Many consider Mohamed Mahmoud Street’s graffiti to be a monument to the 2011 revolution, in which President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown after almost 30 years in power.
A meme has been circulating on social media showing President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi peeking behind the wall that is now being destroyed, raising questions about the leader’s responsibility for the demolition of the iconic revolutionary locale, right next to Tahrir Square.
Image credit: Ahmed M. Tuni
A law that recently passed in Egypt dictates that any anti-government graffiti is now considered a criminal act. Many Egyptians have voiced opposition to the legislation, saying the law hits strongly against freedom of speech in the country.
With the destruction of the revolutionary graffiti wall, some fear that an era will sadly come to an end in Mohamed Mahmoud Street and the symbolic center of the Egyptian Revolution.
PUEBLA, México — A Mexican news photographer was among five people found dead in the middle-class neighborhood of Narvarte, Mexico City, July 31.
Rubén Espinosa, former member of Proceso and collaborator with the news agencies Cuartoscuro and AVC News was among five victims discovered by police beaten and shot in the head; a month ago, Espinosa claimed in interviews that he felt threatened by the governor of Veracruz state, Javier Duarte.
Veracruz is one of the most dangerous Mexican states for journalists, with a total of 13 killed under Duarte’s watch. Espinosa is the seventh journalist killed in Mexico this year. In total, 41 journalists have been killed since 2010 according to the journalism advocacy group Article 19.
The indignation of the country resulted in an almost immediate response, as hundreds of journalists, photographers, and activists gathered in the principal cities in Mexico such as Guadalajara, Monterrey, Puebla, Xalapa and Veracruz to demand Duarte resign. A major protest in Mexico City was held at the capital’s Angel of Independence monument, where many people holding signs and carrying masks with Espinosa’s face shouted for justice.
The 31-year-old photojournalist specialized in documenting social movements in Veracruz state. Many of his works were critical of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party with which Duarte and former president Enrique Peña Nieto are associated.
Nadia Vera, an activist killed alongside Espinosa, released a video days before the massacre. The clip, posted online, she said that if anything happened to her or her fellow activists, it would be the fault of Duarte and the state of Veracruz.
Following these events, the state of Veracruz and Duarte said little, and Mexicans in general do not expect much to come from the politician. The only statement to come from Duarte acknowledged that the murder happened in Mexico state and not in Veracruz, but said it was a matter for other branches of government to deal with.
More demonstrations and protests are scheduled for next week, and a photo exhibit will be on display in a gallery in Mexico City to commemorate the work of Espinosa.
This next series of pictures is from a demonstration held in Puebla city.
JANITZIO, Mexico — Hundreds of candles flickering, the smell of Cempasúchil flowers freshly collected and an ethereal mist fill the cemetery as Mexicans honor their deceased loved ones during the Day of the Dead on the small island of Janitzio.
The festival is one of Mexico’s most rooted traditions. It has been alive for over 4,000 years and is celebrated by millions throughout the country, attracting tourists from all over the world.
In Janitzio, in the state of Michoacan, a group of indigenous people called Purepechas exercise self rule over the island in the form of a cooperative, and each year they prepare themselves to honor their loved ones in the old-fashioned way. They receive thousands of tourists wanting to witness the folklore of the island. For the Purepecha people this represents a double-edged moral issue: On one hand the excessive flow of tourists prevents them from performing their rituals and honoring their deceased in peace, but on the other hand, tourists provide an important source of income to the local economy that cannot be ignored.
The celebration starts on October 31, when friends and family gather together to create a huge wreath of marigold flowers, fruits and sweets which will be taken to the cemetery on November 1. A feast in honor of the deceased is held in which the taste of traditional food delights the palate of those present; meanwhile, locals start preparations to receive the biggest flow of tourists the island will see all year — boats, life jackets, handcrafts, spectacles, everything must be ready for their arrival.
In the cemetery of Janitzio at 5 a.m. on the first of November, families of the deceased are carrying marigold flowers and offerings. This will be the only part of the day when they can enjoy their time with the dead in peace. A mass takes place at the cemetery and in the distance the first boatloads of tourists are slowly making their way to the island. A heavy mist can be seen from the cemetery, perhaps the announcement of the arrival of another kind of visitor — those who don’t belong to the living world.
Mexico is in a deep human rights crisis as a result of its continuing mistreatment of Central American immigrants. The government has started a campaign with the objective of reducing the number of immigrants who attempt to cross the southern border of Mexico.
Thousands of officials from the National Institute of Migration (INM), the federal police forces and even military personnel have been deployed along the southern border, managing to significantly reduce the flow of immigrants who attempt to cross the border in order to reach the United States of America.
The constant presence of checkpoints along the roads and railways has left immigrants without many options apart from displacement. “Now we have to walk for miles and miles to avoid checkpoints,” Alejandro Maldonado, a 49-year-old migrant from Honduras said. He has made the trip four times.
Public transportation is always stopped by the INM and the identity of each passenger is checked. Trains are also halted and immigrants on board are persecuted and apprehended by the authorities.
Despite knowing the risks and dangers involved in riding the Beast (the name of the train which the immigrants use to cross into Mexico), there are still many individuals who are willing to make the attempt. The Beast remains the best way to reach the center and north of Mexico. Though it is the fastest way, it is certainly not the safest.
Several NGOs and religious organizations that offer help and assistance to immigrants have become an oasis on the road for those wishing to obtain the American dream. These shelters provide housing, food, medical care, and legal assistance, and provide what is by far the best treatment that immigrants receive on their journeys.
“La 72,” for example, is a shelter which was set up in honour of the 72 immigrants brutally killed by an organized crime group in San Fernando, Tamaulipas in August 2010. The shelter is located in Tenosique, Tabasco, 80 kilometers away from the Southern border.
The center is run by Fray Tomás González, who has helped to provide safety and rest to thousands of Central-American immigrants for over 20 years. “Every immigrant arriving to ‘La 72’ is allowed to stay for three days to a week or even longer, depending on the condition and status of the immigrants. They are fed three times a day and are encouraged to participate in different activities organized by the volunteers working there. In return, they only have to behave, contribute to the cleaning tasks and the stronger ones are able to help with the maintenance of the shelter,” Tomás explained.
According to official numbers from the House of Immigrants in Tecum Uman, Guatemala, the flow of immigrants has been reduced to less than 50 persons per week, of which most were young and adult males, compared with 700 immigrants per week in 2011, when children and woman represented over 50 percent of the immigrant population.
Even though the numbers have dropped dramatically, there are still women and children trying to cross into the country with the hope of a better life, the illusion of joining their families or just running away from the poverty and violence that certain communities in Central America are subjected to.
There are very few support services for immigrants in Mexico apart from support homes run by NGO’s and religious organizations.
Another organisation that does exist, however, is in Veracruz state, where a group of women run “Las Patronas.” They gather every day together to prepare food, wrap it up and throw it to the immigrants travelling on the rooftop of the beast.
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The road remains a hostile place full of dangers, where the possibility of being attacked by organized crime, officers from the INM, the Federal Police, or the army is very high. Kidnapping, rape or even murder are examples of the horrendous things that the immigrants face daily.
A 38-year-old Salvadoran immigrant who refused to give his name was brutally beaten after being robed while he was walking to Arriaga, Chiapas.
For many, the American Dream has faded away, which has meant some immigrants have begun to choose Mexico as a second option. They try to find a job and start a whole new life, as described by one of the immigrants I met in the district of Pakal-na in Palenque.
Apparently, the effort of the Mexican State to reduce the flow of immigrants to the country has been successful.
However, it has been the target of strong criticism due to the violent measures used to enforce it and the rising toll it has on human lives — families, women and children included.
The tactics and policies of the Mexican government have been compared to those performed by the Border Patrol further north in the United States which is not by any means an example of success either politically, economically or socially.
For centuries the Wixarika people have occupied the lands of Western Mexico. This indigenous group, directly related to the Yuto-Azteca tribes, has lived an independent life away from the big empires of Mesoamerica, encouraging the development of a solid and unique identity in the region. At the time of the conquests, the Wixarika people found refuge in the mountains of the Sierra Madre Occidental range, which permitted them to remain unnoticed by the Spanish due to the difficulty of access, and safeguarded their identity and their traditions in utmost purity.
It was not until years later that the Wixarika people allowed the presence of Franciscan friars in the area, which resulted in the integration of Christian ceremonies and a religious syncretism between Christianity and the Wixarika worldview.
Each year different festivities related to the Wixarika cosmovision of life are celebrated in the main ceremonial center of the Wixarika people. One of the most important festivities is the celebration of the Wixarika’s Holy Week, marked by the return of pilgrims from the holy land: Wirikuta. According to the Wixarika cosmovision, it is believed that the sun rises up for the very first time in Wirikuta and it is the place where all deities and ancestral spirits inhabit. And for this reason, every living creature in Wirikuta is considered to be equally sacred. Initially, the Wirarika pilgrimage began at the Pacific coast, in the state of Nayarit, formerly known as Tatéi Haramara (Our Mother, the Sea) and ended at the point where the sun rises up for the first time (Reunax), the current Burned Hill, located in the San Luis Potosi plateau.
Nowadays, the pilgrimage is done with the support of different means of transportation in order to recreate the mythic walk. On the way, rituals are carried out with the help of Maraka’ames (Shamans), ending with the picking of Hikuri (Peyote), brought back to their communities in order to regenerate the cosmogenic cycle of life.
I had the chance to attend the Wixarika Holy Week, which took place at the ceremonial center of Tateikie, also known as San Andrés Cohamiata. This small community is located in the mountains of the Sierra Madre Occidental. Getting to the location is not an easy task. When the second day begins, the town closes its doors to all foreigners. Those who had the chance to arrive on the first day are allowed to stay until the end of the sixth day, when the town’s doors are open again.
When I first arrived, the unbreakable rules of the festivities were explained to me, which included the prohibition of taking any pictures of rituals and ceremonies during the third, fourth and fifth day, under threat of ending up in the local jail (Cepo). However, I was allowed to attend all ceremonies and cultural events in town.
For a week, the ceremonial center of Tateikie fills with a mystic feeling. Each passing day new ceremonies and rituals are performed, and, every night, Tetewari (Our Grandfather, the Fire) must be watched. For those who need to work on themselves, Peyote sessions take place under the supervision of a Maraka’ame. For the Maraka’ame, heavy consumption of Peyote helps them as a way to reach a high conscious state of mind and also allows them to perform different rituals, ceremonies and healing sessions.
Everyday processions around town are carried out, the figure of the Hikuri, the Deer and the Corncob can be seen everywhere: on Wixarika clothes as well as on their outstanding and unique jewelry. Some Maraka’ames even carry with them deer horns and corncobs while eating Peyote. Those three iconic figures are the main symbols of Wixarika life. The Deer represents faith; the mythical animal that raised the sun in the sky with its horns became the most iconic animal in the Wixarika wordview. The Corn primarily portrays agricultural development, food and livelihood. Finally, the Hikuri is a teacher and a guide. The whole cosmovision of the Wixarika people is based on this psychotropical cactus.
When the sun goes down on the fifth day, the whole town gets ready to spend the night awake and on watch. Cows and goats are tied to wooden posts that have been placed in the main square of Tateikie. During the night the animals are blessed and watched over by the Maraka’ames. At the end of the night more than 30 cows and 15 goats are ready to be sacrificed as an offering to deities in exchange of goods and wealth; the ceremony officially begins with the first sunlight.
A week has passed and the communities who came to take part and witness the festivities of Wixarika Holy Week get ready to start the journey of their way back home. Most of them came to Tateikie by foot and by foot they will return. It will be from a one- to a three-day walk in the mountains to reach their own communities.
For me, witnessing the Wixarika Holy Week was a whole new experience and a true demonstration of how indigenous tribes have such a complex and unique culture, a completely different lifestyle and a perspective of life that is not always appreciated or even understood. The Wirrarika culture is the closest we can get to a time capsule from pre-Columbian times, that shows us what really matters is not found in materialism and consumerism, but rather in our inner world.