The growing issue of people forcibly displaced by violence in Mexico is getting scrutiny from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). At a November 1 session of the Organization of American States’ commission in Washington, D.C., a representative of the IACHR asked the Mexican state to enact “specific” policies for forcibly displaced persons.
“We can’t confuse internally forced displacement with Mexican state policies for the attention of refugees, and neither can we incorporate it within a perspective of citizen security and public policies against violence, because it is a plainly defined problem,” said Rodrigo Escobar, IACHR Mexico rapporteur.
Laura Leal, a researcher with the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico (IATM), testified that upwards of 170,000 people could be displaced in the country, but the number is hard to pin down since many displaced people operate below the radar screen to avoid reprisals.
Many have also fled to the United States or other countries. Citing U.S. Department of Homeland Security statistics, El Diario de Juarez reported that 23,000 Mexicans sought U.S. asylum during the first 9 months of 2013-three times the number than in 2009.
According to El Paso immigration attorney Carlos Spector, approximately 90 percent of asylum applications are rejected. “There is complicity between (Mexico City and Washington) in denying that violence exists in Mexico,” Spector told El Diario. “The reason is because the U.S. has sponsored a failed war that has also cost the Mexicans a lot.”
In Washington, Escobar urged Mexico to adopt a policy with multiple components, including “early alerts” to prevent displacement; making the issue publicly visible; special programs to guarantee housing, work, education and health care; and continuing home return programs when possible.
The Mexican government is “fundamentally in agreement” with the proposals aired at the IACHR meeting, said Roberto Campo, Interior Ministry undersecretary for crime prevention and citizen participation.
Already attending displaced populations, the Pena Nieto administration is open to improvements in its work, Campo said.
“We have a violence problem that has generated these changes,” Campa added. “Most of the proposals form part of our work or are going to enrich them.”
In addition, a representative from Mexico’s National Population Council said the federal agency is working on a more precise profile of the displaced population.
Meanwhile, displaced residents of the Sierra Madres in southern Guerrero state set up an altar on November 2, the Day of the Dead, in the historic plaza of Acapulco to draw attention to their plight.
Former inhabitants of the communities of La Laguna and Hacienda de Dolores demanded official recognition of “victims of forced internal displacement” and treatment in accordance with international human rights and humanitarian legal norms.
La Laguna and Hacienda de Dolores are remote mountain towns located in a region where clashes variously involving multiple narco bands, leftist guerrillas, illegal loggers and security forces have prompted hundreds of people to flee for their lives. Some of the displaced persons have found refuge in another region of Guerrero, but complain of a lack of resources and land for tilling crops and grazing animals.
Speaking to reporters in Acpaulco, Juana Alonso Ochoa told how she had lost 2 sons and three grandsons to murderers.
“If they want to help us, return us to our land, so we can live the way we were used to living,” Ochoa said. “We had enough land over there. We didn’t ask the government for anything. We had a lot of corn and animals. We lost everything there, and that’s why we ask the government to help us…
Ochoa and supporters also demanded justice for 27 people murdered in the region of La Laguna since 2005. In one of the 2012 incidents, community leader Juventina Villa and her 17-year-old son were brazenly murdered while preparing to evacuate their family and neighbors supposedly under the protection of state police escorts.
The November 2012 evacuation wasn’t the first time La Laguna was displaced. In April 2011, more than 150 residents fled for the relative safety of Puerto Las Ollas, a community also impacted by previous bouts of violence. After visiting the displaced community a month later, a delegation of human rights observers from the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center of the Mountain and two other organizations issued an urgent action alert.
The activists demanded “priority” attention to an emergency situation in conformance with Red Cross and World Health Organization protocols. Eventually returning home, La Laguna’s residents undertook another forced exodus after violence resurfaced without effective government intervention.
Since then, the circumstances of displaced residents of La Laguna and many other Guerrero communities have been complicated by the widespread devastation wrought by this year’s Tropical Storm Manuel, a climate disaster which in turn has created new groups of displaced persons.
Roman Meinardo Lopez Pachuca, spokesman for the Guerrero State Coordinator of Education Workers, warned this week that climate and violence-driven displacements, combined with the percolating frustrations of long-running economic marginalization, are creating a volatile mix that “could translate into a social explosion in the short run.”
According to IATM researcher Laura Leal, the causes of forced displacement in Mexico have changed during the last two decades. Previously, forced displacements were regional issues linked to land disputes, religiously-motivated expulsions, the construction of mega-projects and the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Leal told the IACHR. Since 2007, however, violence from organized crime has transformed forced displacement into a national phenomenon, she said.
Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico