By: Carlos Aznárez and María Torrellas / Source: Resumen Latinoamericano / The Dawn News / October 8, 2016
In the context of the International Seminar On the Crisis of Capitalism, held in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Resumen Latinoamericano interviewed Bishop Raúl Vera, a Mexican restless fighter who defends the rights of migrants and supports family-members in the search for their missing loved ones in these decades of state terrorism.
What is your work in the Church and how are you fighting for those who don’t have a voice, the disappeared ones, and the people who struggle?
I’m a Bishop at a dioceses in Northeast Mexico which is located in the city of Saltillo. The dioceses carries the same name. When I arrived there in the year 2000, the territory of the dioceses spanned all the way to the border with the U.S, specifically Texas. I saw two main problems and from then on I committed very seriously to solve them and have done it with passion until this day. One was the problem of coal miners. Currently, my work with miners is not as intense as it was then, but I’m still connected with them.
On the other side, is the issue of migrants, especially Central American migrants that go through all of Mexico on the road to the U.S. I identified the problem of migrants as soon as I arrived and the first House for Migrants that I helped to build was located close to the border, in the city of Acuña. That was our first experience of building a very formal House to take care of migrants and I found only one place that gave food to migrants, but after a year we had a fully-equipped place. And the one we’re building now, in Saltillo, under my command, is even better equipped.
What other actions do you do to help solve this problem?
We not only give refuge to migrants but provide Human Rights assistance and healthcare, because they arrived in very poor conditions, physically hurt, they are thrown out of the train known as “The Beast”. The only means of transport they have to reach the border is the train, which in Mexico doesn’t transport people anymore, only goods, and so people have to climb on top of the roofs of wagons in order to travel. We have to take care of their health, and provide them with psychological and, of course, spiritual assistance.
But there’s one thing in particular that I’m passionate about and that’s working so that forced migrations are without violence and influencing the Federal Government in Mexico but also at the international level. One thing that we did since the very beginning was building networks and we also worked to make safe pathways for the migrants and build more houses for migrants.
Do you also work with volunteers?
Yes. We used to welcome young volunteers from Europe. Sadly, organized crime began to make money out of extorting and kidnapping migrants, so migrant houses became a target for them.
Volunteers used to come mainly from Germany and the German embassy forbade them to come to our refuge because they considered it life-threatening. But we still have volunteers coming from local universities, especially the migrant services of the Company of Jesus, and we are also connected to a network of Jesuit universities that have volunteers.
You said earlier that many migrants come with bruises and wounds. Another issue is that criminal gangs and police officers attack these migrants and often rape women and children. There are documentaries on the “Beast” train that show very painful stories. Could you elaborate on the sort of violence that migrants have to endure?
The first documentary that became notorious and that we also helped finance, is called “Don Nadie” (in English, “Mr. Nobody”). When I arrived in Saltillo, in 2000, migrants were victims of aggression by the train’s private security (because the trains are franchised to private companies), and they murdered three migrants at the doors of Saltillo, where the train enters the city. The first time, in May 2001, they killed two, and in November that year they killed another one. There were witnesses in both cases and in the second case we had to protect one of the witnesses.
There was an investigation and, as always, the Mexican state was accomplice. I state this without ambiguity. All this sort of groups —in the beginning it was the train guards, then the Mara Salvatrucha emerged, and then organized crime came into scene— are currently being supported by the federal police, by the army who has troops there and by the National Institute of Migration. Because the Mexican policy regarding migration is of control, especially so that migrants can’t reach the U.S., but at the same time they make business off of that. Actually, they all profit off that —migrants are trade goods.
We also work to avoid migrants from suffering all kinds of violence —for example, the two cases of murder I just mentioned were committed when the migrants were already on the train; in the first case, they had already gotten off the train and the killers went after them. This is terrorism, these are terrorist attacks against them. I openly declared to newspapers that these group that attack migrants work just like the paramilitaries acted when they were in Chiapas and attacked indigenous peoples. This looks a lot like the counter-insurgent actions of the State and it seems to me that it’s a way to control migrants through fear so that they don’t cross the border to the United States.
The Presidential candidate, Donald Trump, who came here a few weeks ago to meet with President Peña Nieto, said in the US that the President had promised him that Mexico would help the US to block off the migrants. So, this is blatant and shameless. And the consequence for migrants is that all of the abuse they suffer on Mexican territory goes unpunished.
Our struggle is focused, on one hand, to cease Human Rights violations to migrants and on the other hand, to address the reasons why they are pushed out of their countries, which is the lack of money. So the economic model of Mexico and of Latin America as a whole is the reason for all of this, and this also happens with migrations from the Middle East to Europe.
The mechanism behind this is that transnational companies come to our countries looking for cheap labour and the state allows them to enslave our population. Therefore, a worker can’t subsist in Mexico on the minimum wage which is of 71 dollars. So people are forced to migrate out of Central America to try to survive because transnational companies come to fill up their bellies, because they can pay twenty times less for our work, and their profits grow exponentially. That’s the sort of advertisement that the governments of our countries make to say they are “attracting investment” and that they are greatly benefitting the country, but in fact it’s a vile form of slave trade, of human trafficking —nothing else.