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Madera, Chihuahua: A Land Living through War (Marco Antonio López – La Silla Rota)

Madera, Chihuahua: A Land Living through War
Marco Antonio López (La Silla Rota)

Las Varas 1

Las Varas, Chihuahua has a population of 1,417. It is the site of brutal confrontations between two warring drug cartels.

Las Varas, Chihuahua is a town where nobody knows who is in control nor what rules apply. To survive people know what it takes to stay safe after six in the evening. Survival is what they think about when they use the highways crossing Chihuahua’s western mountain range.

Las Varas, with its population of 1,417 people, is where two drug cartels fight over territory, according to the explanation from the Office of the State Attorney General in the Western District. La Línea of Ciudad Juárez and the Sinaloa Cartel have let loose war in Chihuahua’s mountains, submerging the western part of the state in a violent dynamic, severely impacting the region’s tiny population. Death, shootouts, kidnappings and disappearances have become routine, daily events.

Those in control for now are the state, federal and military security forces. They arrived this Wednesday after a confrontation between both criminal groups leaving fifteen dead and wounding five people. But the second in command of the Chihuahua State Police, Alberto Chávez also says that once they leave the area will be unprotected, at the drug traffickers’ mercy.

So the police do not have permanent control. Nor do La Línea or the Sinaloa Cartel. The mountains are the land everybody wants and nobody has. The paradox is that the people who have least control are the ones who live there.

Las Varas 2

At the town’s entrance there is a sign that says, “Las Varas.” The rectangular metal bearing these letters has holes in it from at least a dozen heavy caliber bullets. Next to the sign there is a cemetery, and in it lie the dead with their rights to a name, remembrance, and Christian burial. The entrance to the cemetery is littered with spent shell casings, its gate shot up more than a hundred times. A bullet-ridden cross serves as a warning against poking around.

Las Varas 3

Two improvised bunkers sit right there by the main entrance. The hideouts are littered with cartridge boxes, two mattresses, food, cans, and bottles of beer. The police here said that they belonged to La Línea.

Behind the cemetery is a place set aside for those dead who, somebody decided, don’t deserve a cross with their name. Without a marked grave family do not know where to stop by with flowers from time to time. Five graves were found right there: a total of seven bodies in a state of decomposition. A mess of bones. All of the dead bodies were mutilated and two were decapitated. Untended graves. Nobody is looking any deeper into things. Although the second in command says that there are permanent traces of what happened, there are no investigators because they are all occupied elsewhere, collecting cadavers or identifying unnamed bodies.

Further into town there is a warehouse, the scene of a brutal massacre. Outside, shot up doors and walls. Inside there are bloody pools and blood spatters, macabre decorations left by merciless killers. Right here the lifeless bodies of those fifteen men and the five left alive but wounded were gathered up and taken to Chihuahua. The prosecutor says that the confrontation between the two criminal groups began around six o’clock on Wednesday morning, lasting about an hour, with security forces arriving afterwards. However, an official said that where you see a blood stain on the wall, that’s where an injured man was resting when somebody else found him and shot him in the head. His brains were spattered across the wall. The official version is dubious if not kind of tactless. “That’s where that pig was,” he says under his breath.

There are stretches of blood on the warehouse floor. They are black, that color blood makes when it dries. They are run through with the marks of truck tires trying to getaway. Nine vehicles – one of them armored – were seized there, along with long arms and fragmentation grenades. By midday Thursday what remained were bags of corn, potatoes, tomatoes and other food along with cushions, casings, bullets, bags, clothes, and marijuana. Everything behind a metal door bearing a stenciled sign: “Failing to make time for God means living is a waste of time.” It too is shot up.

Las Varas 4

The cemetery and the graves are by the town’s eastern exit, the one that leaves for the state capital. The warehouse with its massacre and its remains are to the south, towards Madera. The municipal building is in the town center. It is closed. Nobody came to work. There is a little building, barely the size of a room right beside the municipal building, its front wall riddled with holes left by large caliber bullets. The windows are all shattered. A burnt out truck sits right by the door. The room was a command post. Last week an armed group ambushed two state police officers, murdered without anybody able to stop the brutal attack.

In less than a month, eight bodies turned up, two police officers were murdered and fifteen suspected drug traffickers were killed. All of it happened in Las Varas. One person, who would only speak on the condition of anonymity, said the graveyard was shot up because it was the site of another battle leaving as many or more dead from the warehouse fight. But no police turned up and each group carried off their own dead. These facts, however, do shock: at least twenty-four people were killed in the last month. Most of those buried bodies are just bones in several graves. The town has fewer than 1,500 residents.

The person who told the story about the graveyard said armed men who are not police have placed roadblocks on the highways. These men ask about where you are going and your purpose. They decide if you can continue on or not. They can take whatever they want from you, including your car. “That’s why I have this cellphone,” the man says, before proceeding to say how they took his other one on the highway from Madera to Las Varas.

The countryside is impressive and overbearing. Las Varas is one of 42 communal land holdings (ejidos) in the municipality of Madera. It’s the town that provides access to deep into the mountain range. It has a waterfall, a scenic overlook, rivers, swim parks, archaeological zones. All this beauty makes Las Varas magical. On sight paradise springs to mind. But these are abstract notions and the facts overwhelm instead. Violence has made this place into something quite different: a town with and without law in the service of drug cartels.

Las Varas 5

The natural beauty that makes Madera attractive is also its principal problem. Situated on the highway that wends into the mountain range, it has become a strategic point for drug trafficking. That’s why factions within the two cartels fight over this place, says Félix González spokesperson for the Western District of the Chihuahua Attorney General’s office.

The problem became so big that the municipal police, with its 100 officers and less than forty patrol cars became overwhelmed. State authorities entered into an agreement with the town, assuming control over security since 18 February. But violence is still on the rise. “Unfortunately, these things that cannot be avoided. It is a war between them. It’s like a family feud,” observes second in command Alberto Chávez Mendoza.

Las Varas 6

Of the fifteen killed in the shootout, five have been identified. They came from towns in Chihuahua. The youngest of them, Luis Leonel C., was 18 years old. Rafael C. was 25. Hugo Antonio G. was 33, Álvaro T., 35, and Astolfo C., 47. They spent their last day alive surrounded by the terror guns cause when aimed to kill.

The five wounded men were arrested. Only one of the wounded comes from Chihuahua, Leonardo G., who is 18 years old. Carlos H., 24, was born in Hidalgo. Efraīn G., 25, is from Michoacán. Marco Anotnio M., 27, comes from Tabasco. And Luis G., 36 years old, was born in Minatitlán.

A week ago, Chihuahua’s governor, Javier Corral announced a salary increase for state police officers, grants for their children and an increase in their life insurance policies. He committed himself to reducing violence in the state and of bringing calm to Chihuahua’s residents. The state attorney general, César Augusto Peniche, said the homicide rate was deceptive and that really security had improved.

Las Varas 7

The prosecutor’s office in the Western District impounded the shot-up trucks from the confrontation. One even has a bloody handprint on the bodywork.

A woman came out of the coroner’s office in tears. She had to identify a dead family member so that he could a have a name and a grave with a cross on it to visit from time to time.

A convoy of about thirty squad cars with more than sixty state police and prosecutor’s officers patrol the highway that winds into the Chihuahuan mountains. Soldiers on the lookout for criminals. Two helicopters soar above the immense pines. A commander says that they are about to leave and that the cartels will continue their fight over the region. In this battle the one with more kills wins.

Journalist Marco Antonio López Romero writes for La Silla Rota. He is based in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and freelance journalist based in Mexico City. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project.

 

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The Doorman who Died on Duty (Samuel Adam, Reforma, RevistaR)

This article was published on 2 November in RevistaR, Reforma newspaper’s Sunday supplement. The article has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project.

The Doorman who Died on Duty (Photo: Grupo Reforma)

The Doorman who Died on Duty (Photo: Grupo Reforma)

The Doorman who Died on Duty
By Samuel Adam (Reforma, RevistaR)

Mexico City (2 November 2014).- “Don’t mess with me. I’ve been to prison. I’m not afraid of going back.”

The threats from the car keepers [franeleros] on the street had become more and more frequent. Antonio was the doorman for a building in Chihuahua Street in the Colonia Roma. He had questioned them on the more than one occasion when he saw cars parked in the entrance to his building’s garage.

They ignored his requests. On the contrary, they insulted him. They destroyed what he put out to stop them from parking there. They stared him down.

A few months ago the neighbors noticed that he doubled back in the street so as to not bump into the group of thirty-to-forty year old men who “took care” of the cars. The conflict, however, had been going on for almost a year.

On the morning of Monday 13 October, when he left his home headed for work, the threats achieved their objective. The blows they gave him before a police cruiser or ambulance could come to his aid left him in a coma. A week later they ended his life.

With the failure of legislation to regulate car keepers and valet parking, and even with parking meters, the streets and avenues of the Roma-Condesa corridor have been taken over by groups who control the flow of clients to the more than 500 businesses in the area. They are groups who have been called, “the lords of the street” and today, among their number, Mexico City’s prosecutor is looking for Antonio’s murderers.

* * *

For thirteen years Toño was the filter between the outside world and the intimacy of the building’s residents. They only knew his first name.

First, he was employed as a worker for the building’s renovation. When the Art Nouveau and Art Deco architecture in the Roma from the end of the Porfiriato [ca. 1910] did not stand up to the passage of time, Antonio contributed to its resurrection from its very foundations.

He built trust when he welcomed the new building’s first occupants. He took care of the building until it was totally occupied. He was a trusted worker until the time of his death.

At the beginning, his task was to open and close the door; from time to time he would help the upstairs neighbor with her groceries; he swept and mopped the stairs, the corridors; he cleaned the railings.

“At four thirty in the morning you would already hear the sound of him sweeping. He liked to work early,” commented a neighbor whom he got along with for more than ten years.

Later, trust in the doorman grew, as did his responsibilities: charging for water, light, gas; buying paint for the walls, looking to buy new pipes for the boiler, changing the broken window glass… even taking care of children while a parent ran chores or went to work.

“Up until the end, he had my key,” said a young man who lives on the top floor. “He was a person whom my wife and I trusted with the kids.”

Instead of an apartment number, his door buzzer still has a word: “doorman.”

His wife also earned the trust of the building’s residents. Every Tuesday and Thursday or Friday when she worked she would clean the apartments of some residents, whether they were in or out, to help Antonio with their family expenses.

They came from Zihuateutla, in the Sierra Norte de Puebla. Antonio and his wife were part of the 244,033 Totonaco residents in the country, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI). Like many of the country’s indigenous people, they had to come to Mexico City in search of work.

For the last fourteen years, they lived two blocks from Antonio’s work, in a small apartment in a building where his wife also worked as a concierge for 1,000 pesos per month (US$77).

Toño also had to paint the rooms in each of the unoccupied apartments. He changed the light bulbs, fixed imperfections and took out the trash every morning before he ventured into the streets where, two hours before, bars were open and people made merry.

He drank coffee in the morning before going to take care of his building. At midday, he would return home for breakfast and then return to work. At lunchtime he would go home to be with his wife and at night he ate dinner at home. He returned to the building again to work a little bit more. Close to midnight he returned home to his wife and their two daughters to sleep.

In total, he went to and from these buildings four times a day.

Two years ago his routine changed: he stopped leaving home after dinner to care for a boy whom he and his wife decided to adopt.

A year and a half ago, one of his neighbors advised Antonio to obtain a basic Internet package so his daughters could use it for their education. He did not know anything about technology. In the shop they tricked Toño into buying a computer with Windows 95. He had to replace it so that his family could go online.

A little bit after, Antonio trusted a man who offered to enroll him in a housing program. After taking 16,000 pesos (US$1,230) for the new home, the man vanished.

Antonio characteristic shyness and naïveté also formed part of his wife’s personality. It pained him to speak to officials when he needed things for his family. Outside the circle of his best friend and the residents in the building where he worked, he was alone. Yet he wanted to remain in the city where his daughters were growing up.

After her husband’s murder, the owner of the building she lives in said she could stay and that she would increase her salary to 3,000 pesos (US$230) per month in exchange for also doing Toño’s work.

* * *

With the explosive growth of the Roma-Condesa corridor, the area’s floating population increased exponentially, and with it the valet parking services and car attendants keeping watch over diners’ cars.

Given the disorder of the area’s car park contracts and the car keepers’ wholesale street takeover, the Borough of Cuauhtémoc’s manager, Alejandro Fernández, introduced the parking meter project. It was rejected by a large number of the area’s residents.

Several protests forced a public consultation in which five of the area’s nine districts rejected parking meters. The Roma Norte III district – where Antonio worked and lived – was one of those areas that rejected the meters.

The rejection caused a “cockroach” effect: many car keepers abandoned the four areas where parking meters were installed and took over the areas without meters using boulders, buckets and trash cans. They also began to monopolize the time and take control of spaces in the area where there were parking meters.

Eva Morales and Mario Rodríguez, members of the Roma Norte III Citizens’ Committee have received complaints from residents who have been intimidated by the car keepers. There are those who say that they have had a pistol flashed at them when they don’t pay the high parking costs. The neighbors had wanted to confront them but they dare not since they know where they live.

“They have messed with my building four times in two years. They knew I used to go out one particular day a week for four hours, and on that day they came in. With the other residents, they enter when they go out to eat. They see you. They know who you are, the apartment you are living in, how many live there and the relationships you have,” comments Eva.

The area’s residents accuse police of ignoring drivers or valet attendants who park in the entrances to buildings, calling off the tow trucks when they come to impound a vehicle, of forewarning the car keepers when a police operation is about to begin and of not turning up when the keepers fight between each other.

The group of car keepers who control Chihuahua Street, between Córdova and Jalapa, started to confront Antonio when he asked them not to leave cars in the entryway.

Each car keeper charges between 40 and 60 pesos per vehicle (US$3 to US$5).

At night, the four or five car keepers that control the area drink alcohol with the other groups “taking care” of other streets in the Roma neighborhood.

They used to sleep in three vehicles stationed in the street, according to the neighbors: a brown Ford Explorer truck with San Luis Potosí license plate of UZH-5767, a red Phantom with a plate of 840-XHX and another vehicle, JFA-9609 from Jalisco. All of these vehicles have since been taken away.

* * *

At the beginning of this year, because of the car keepers who insisted on parking cars on the curb, the doorman built some cement planters to block them. In one of them he planted a chayote plant. One day Toño awoke to find it destroyed, just as it was about to bear fruit. It was clearly a message.

On one occasion, Antonio left a paint can outside the building. Minutes later the can had been taken to reserve a parking spot.

Toño asked the car keeper to return the paint can to its place and he was threatened. He told him about his time in prison. He told him he wasn’t alone and that it wouldn’t do to mess with him.

The full group – four or five car keepers – began to harass him, insulting him when he crossed the street. They confronted him and challenged him to a fight. He avoided that. He preferred to go the long way around on the streets, so as to not see them.

He did not file a complaint with any of the authorities or tell people in the building where he worked. Only his wife and his best friend, who had known him since his arrival in the Roma, were aware of the situation.

On Monday 13 October at 4:30 in the morning, Toño left the building where he lived with his family to go to work. A group of men pushed him back inside and began to beat him with a metal rod and a triangular piece of steel.

In the assault, they broke his arm, shattered almost all his teeth, broke his nose and poked the metal rod into his right eye going through his skull.

The extensive description provided by the medical examiner in investigation FCH/CUH-7/T1/03459/14-10R3 noted: “laceration to right eye… wound runs from the temple along the skull and measures 28 centimeters.” That wound resulted in his death a week later on the night of Tuesday 21 October.

“When his wife heard the cries for help, she came down from the building and found Antonio lying on the ground, alone. She spoke to a neighbor and said, “they wounded Antonio.” Minutes later the police arrived. The attackers had already fled.

“It was ‘El Flaco,’ (the Skinny One),” Antonio managed to say to a police officer before falling unconscious and being taken to the Red Cross in Polanco.

A patrol car arriving at the crime scene saw three people fleeing, each one in a different direction. It followed the one who escaped on Álvaro Obregón Avenue but did not catch him.

The police did not collect evidence from the patio where Antonio had been beaten. They did not return for the scrap metal used to beat him until Sunday 19 October. By then, the rain had already washed away the injured man’s blood.

Toño’s wife could not file a complaint at the borough offices because of the serious state in which she had found him.

* * *

The building’s residents pressured the authorities for justice. They threatened blocking Álvaro Obregón Avenue in protest at Antonio’s beating.

On Friday 17 October, Mexico City’s prosecutors stopped El Flaco near the crime scene. When the police identified him as responsible, he blamed Antonio for trying to give him a ride in a car while he was drunk.

However, Antonio did not know how to drive and he never drank.

El Flaco gave a false first name to the authorities and when at last they found out his real name, it offered up his extensive criminal record.

The same day of his arrest, an operation began in the Roma-Condesa corridor where they arrested 35 car keepers. They had to use a traveling Civic Judge since the sector does not have its own Civic Judge.

On Wednesday 22 October, after Antonio died in the Polanco Red Cross, the investigation turned into a murder case, and the residents’ anger increased.

A week later, in a meeting held at the Universidad de Londres in the Roma neighborhood, the neighbors complained to borough officials that those who had been arrested returned a few days later to take control the streets. In the meeting they also commented on those car keepers who control collections in the parking metered areas.

Antonio’s wife had not had a run in with El Flaco, her husband’s alleged murderer. People keep on seeing two of the car keepers who harassed her husband in the street he once avoided. Now she avoids that street, too.

Antonio Ignacio Sánchez was buried on Thursday 23 October in Zihuateutla, his hometown. Hours later, his wife had to travel 200 kilometers to return to the borough so she could give her statement about what had happened.

The neighbors from the building where Toño started as a laborer lent money for the return of his body and its burial. They found a lawyer for his wife who would take charge of the case.

Officials have promised to enroll her in social programs in various institutions. Until now, nothing conclusive has been arranged.

In the building on Chihuahua Street they are looking for a man who can open and close the door, somebody with Antonio’s warmth, somebody who will bid them “good day.”

Journalist Samuel Adam reports for Grupo Reforma. Follow him on Twitter @AdamSamuel01. “El conserje murió cumpliendo su deber,” available at: http://www.reforma.com/aplicacioneslibre/articulo/default.aspx?id=382034&md5=f7d53550ce94df63e31682201bf38097&ta=0dfdbac11765226904c16cb9ad1b2efe#ixzz3I9wwtVNr.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons. The MxJTP has a Facebook page: like it, here.

 

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At the Bus Terminal: Meet Guatemala’s Child Workers Struggling to Study (Oswaldo J. Hernández, Plaza Pública, Guatemala)

Fire Destroys the La Terminal School

Fire Destroys the La Terminal School

This article was first published in Guatemala’s Plaza Pública on 4 April 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP). Financial support for the translation of this article comes from an anonymous donor and is gratefully received.

At the Bus Terminal: Meet Guatemala’s Child Workers Struggling to Study
By Oswaldo J. Hernández (Plaza Pública, Guatemala)

One of the three schools operating in the bus terminal’s market disappeared when a fire destroyed a large part of the structure during the last week of March. (Translator’s Note: the bus terminal is known simply as, “La Terminal” PT.)

The educational center attended by 40 school age children was part of the Educational Program for Working Adolescent Boys and Girls (PENNAT). Getting an education there has always been different. It’s part of another reality. But something behind the burned out school remains: an educational system that operates on the sidelines of state coverage. This schooling provides a portrait of working children in Guatemala’s largest market. Those marginalized children who cannot get an education any other way.

In Guatemala’s largest market, an almost invisible scene repeats itself every morning, Monday through Friday. There are the usual comings and goings of buses and cargo. The selling, the cries, smoke, eateries, improvised stands, liquor, bars — the rush of it all, the places that sell meat, vegetables, grains and fruit. And right there, in that uproar, about 150 children – some of them vendors’ children, others of scarce resources, but mostly all workers – walk the aisles towards three different places inside La Terminal’s market (El Granero, La Tomatera, y El Techado). The Grain Aisle, the Tomato Aisle, and the Covered Section. These are also the children who steer themselves early in the morning towards studying in makeshift schools that operate in the innards of La Terminal.

These children cast silhouettes between the market stalls along this route. Just more among many. Small, invisible – until each one enters their classroom. At that moment they seem to say “we exist,” “we are here,” leaving behind for an instant the mass of more than ten thousand people who pass through each day.

Children attend school for two hours a day.  This is the school before the fire destroyed it.

Children attend school for two hours a day. This is the school before the fire destroyed it.

Fifteen-year old Catalina trod that path on the morning of 25 March 2014. As is her custom she wends – small and invisible – through the terminal. She does this every day, losing herself in the throng to finally arrive at her class for study in the fifth and sixth grade of primary school. She’s taking the two grades at the same time, the last stage before graduating from primary school in the PENNAT program. After she finishes her day, she buys fruits and vegetables in the market and in the afternoon returns home to work in another market in Zone 1. But this morning, when she arrived at the bus station, she couldn’t get in. “When I arrived, I saw the smoke, the firemen, and the market in flames. The first thing I thought about was my little school,” she says, a day later.

The Terminal’s covered market had burned, almost in its entirety. Inside, between the stalls on the second level, was the classroom attended by forty child workers from PENNAT. It was a small space. Every day the first task was to make a drawing. Each child expressed his or her feelings. Weeks before the fire pictures on the walls in Catalina’s classroom read, “I am happy,” “Today I feel happy,” “I feel sad,” and “I haven’t eaten.”

Self-esteem is important for the child's development. Most say they feel happy, but a couple say they are sad.

Self-esteem is important for the child’s development. Most say they feel happy, but a couple say they are sad.

Daniela is the only girl in her class in the covered market who comes to school in a uniform. She had written on the wall that morning: “I feel happy.” She also said that in spite of the fact that La Terminal’s school doesn’t require a uniform, she wears it so that “she doesn’t lose the custom.” According to her friends, María, Heidy, and Flory, Daniela has been in an orphanage where “they hit her.” Daniela, fourteen years old, is at the PENNAT school to finish fifth grade. “My grandmother works close. She says that I must study. We went to a school but they told me that since I was fourteen, I couldn’t enter at the right grade level. We never thought that if I grew up I would be left behind. But they wouldn’t take me. So they told my aunt about a school in La Terminal, and here I am, studying.”

La Terminal’s fire last 25 March destroyed Daniela’s classroom. Flames consumed one of the three PENNAT schools operating in La Terminal. Officials calculated the loss at some 80,000 Quetzales (US$10,000). Teachers in the program issued a press release asking for help: “We need to replace 40 triangular desks, 40 chairs, 3 bookshelves, 20 computers…” La Terminals is where they also have to provide computing classes to the 150 that still study inside the market. “We still have to pick ourselves up, to dust off the ashes,” says Lenina García, PENNAT director. “The children that lost their classroom have to study temporarily in our other two classrooms, in El Granero and in El Tomatera, while we begin to recover.”

In public schools, children older than ten  are considered too old for primary school.

In public schools, children older than ten are considered too old for primary school.

The school here has never been like a conventional school. The primary school inside the market is split into three phases each with two grades (first/second, third/fourth, fifth/six) with each phase taking one year. A child that attends the Terminal school graduates from primary in three years. In the first two phases, each child attends only two hours of school a day. The third phase of primary requires four hours a day. But the students are the school’s most important element: children who work; children who have not been able to continue their studies because the official education system has rejected them because they exceed the age limit for each grade; children with a different reality. It bears repeating that to study inside La Terminal is different from what happens in other primary schools in Guatemala, in schools that have their own buildings, with classrooms, with a central courtyard, where children wear uniforms and spend five hours a day on average in school, inside a classroom.

In this market, this gigantic center of business, some crucial factors make studying fundamentally different. “They are children who help their families. Poverty doesn’t give them any other option. Most get up before dawn, and from the early morning they are selling or helping out in some stall or other. They work. They help. For such reasons they don’t succeed in finishing official grade school, and out of necessity, many of them are obliged to abandon their studies completely,” explains García, while walking between the market’s aisles.

The smallest child goes to school. Resources for education are minimal but the enthusiasm of teachers and students is immense.

The smallest child goes to school. Resources for education are minimal but the enthusiasm of teachers and students is immense.

PENNAT is responsible for the educational programs in La Terminal. Similar projects exist in another seven markets in Guatemala: the Central Market in Zone 1; the San Martín Market in Zone 6; the Guarda Market in Zone 11; the Educational Center in San Pedro Sacatepéquez, zone 4; and in zone 1, the Mixco Educational Center; the San José Pinula Educational Center, and the Alliance with the Children’s Shelter (Lazos de Amor and Amor Sin Fronteras educational centers).

Around four thousand children work and live in La Terminal, according to its financial backers Save the Children and the German non-governmental organization THD. There are 150 children attending their three schools. In 2014 they hope to serve 600 children.

 

When age is the obstacle

After the fire, one of the schools that Daniela and Catalina will study in temporarily is the Granero. Around it there are hundreds of banana and grain stalls, as well as a charcoal seller. It’s hot under the damaged five-meter high zinc ceiling. The Granero is really a type of giant warehouse. Its inside is suitable for hundreds of divisions, fragments, spaces that form cement and wood stalls. The school operates there in a space of fifteen square meters.

A girl's snack: tortillas with sausage.

A girl’s snack: tortillas with sausage.

It’s morning. Some twenty children between seven and thirteen years old make circles with their work tables, shaping homemade Play dough, made with flour, water, oil, and powdered drink mix. Trapped under a thick fug and dirty surrounds, they are studying for the first and secondary grades of primary school; two grades at a time. That’s how the educational system works in La Terminal.

It’s weeks before the fire at La Terminal and the Granero children are concentrating. Nine-year old Hector explains that he spent more than two years trying to study first grade in a school in zone 18. “I stated at six, but I wasn’t progressing,” he says. His grandmother, Corina de la Cruz, a house cleaner, says that one day the teacher at the official school didn’t want to accept him, explaining that he had exceeded the ideal age to write and read, that he wasn’t managing to focus and wasn’t retaining information. That was the end of it. The school viewed him as a lost cause. They ended his educational career. They would no longer accept him. At the very moment when his grandmother was speaking, Hector read some paragraphs from an advertising leaflet. “He is learning here,” says his beaming grandmother, one hand palming her grandson’s head.

Sindi Paola, thirteen, comes up to show off a drawing. “A drawing,” she says enthusiastically and holds out a notebook covered in dust. She has formed the letter B with small balls of paper stuck down with white glue. In a delicate doodle, she has drawn a boot to show how to vocalize the sound, the form of the letter. There’s the drawing. At thirteen years old, this is the first year of her life in which Sindi Paola is in the first year of grade school. “I work. I clean tables. I help to pay for the room where my parents and my brothers live.” Then she goes on, taking a breath, “I want to learn to read.”

Sindi Paola: "I work. I clean tables. I help to pay for the room where my parents and my brothers live." And she studies: "I want to learn to read."

Sindi Paola: “I work. I clean tables. I help to pay for the room where my parents and my brothers live.” And she studies: “I want to learn to read.”

The schools in La Terminal run by PENNAT started eighteen years ago. “A group of education students, among them Professor Jairo González, went from stall to stall, teaching the sellers’ children to read and write. It was 1995,” says Lenina García. Since then the Education Ministry (MINEDUC), through the General Director of Extra-Curricular Education (DIGEEX), certifies the accelerated primary to provide education.

The content of the course books is based on the everyday lives of the children.

The content of the course books is based on the everyday lives of the children.

The textbooks have been adapted to the reality of La Terminal's working children.

The textbooks have been adapted to the reality of La Terminal’s working children.

“The reality for the children of this place is distinct and, in a certain way, incompatible with the official education program,” says García. “That’s why PENNAT started, an option close to the context of the market: an alternative education for boys, girls, and adolescents who, because of their economic condition have to work to survive. The most urgent consideration is that children must not abandon school. When they work, they don’t complete school grades, they get older and bit-by-bit the system excludes them. They can’t read or write. Left without opportunities,” she explains.

The Ministry of Education says a few weeks later that the ideal age to complete each grade of primary school does not rest on one factor. There’s nobody to give a reason to say this or that child is barred from admission because of age. However, teachers employ criteria that mean it is difficult to teach a child when they are older than their classmates. That’s what Patricia Rubio outlines. She’s DIGEEX’s current director – the entity that supports market-based education, even though it’s not a part of the state. “It is important to understand that DIGEEX does not assist children,” she says up front. “DIGEEX works with those who are too old for regular schooling. We mostly help adults. Our programs – Correspondence-based Education for Adults (PEAC) and Family Educational Centers for Development (NUFED) – are focused on people that have been excluded – because of poverty, displacement – and this situation challenges their studies. We help after the age of thirteen,” Rubio says.

The state does not have any options when it comes to avoiding children falling behind when they are over thirteen years old. In fact, the Ministry of Education waits until that age to help them, providing assistance programs through an accelerated primary that attempts to help them move forward. Adults attend, as do some adolescents. The DIGEEX offers primary in two phases: all of primary school in two years, but a very young child, lagging behind, and not yet 13 years old, cannot attend.

“That’s our mandate. It’s that way to avoid fighting with the regular school framework that covers ages from six to twelve years old,” maintains Rubio.

Meanwhile, hundreds of children from nine to twelve years remain in limbo in those cases where the teacher applies the criteria, or, when a school that tells them that “they are sorry,” that they excuse them,” “they forgive them,” but that they can’t finish first grade if they are already “too old.”

She is the oldest. She takes care of her two brothers while her parents work. The boys go with her to school.

She is the oldest. She takes care of her two brothers while her parents work. The boys go with her to school.

That was Hector’s case: after being rejected by the official system, he began studying in the Terminal in the PENNAT school. In practice, it was the only option left to him. That was when nobody was betting on his future. Rubio added that in spite of age, schools are obliged to provide primary education but it’s recognized that there are few teachers who will support a child of ten or more years in their first grade classes. On first sight, they distort things. Statistical, ethical, and psychological distortions.

A System that Adds and Subtracts

Adding. The child workers of La Terminal learn to count before they go to school.

Adding. The child workers of La Terminal learn to count before they go to school.

When was age linked to learning by grades? How did pedagogy establish exclusion from primary school for a child who exceeds a grade level by two years? How to understand the decision to establish such criteria?

Félix Alvarado, an education specialist, says that it is likely that the origins of age-linked primary grades, as with school-based education more generally, comes from industrial production in the first half of the nineteenth century. “They needed to learn just enough to start work in a factory at around age 10 or 12, if that’s what they were going to do.”

When school gets out, the children have to run home to deal with their reality: working to survive.

When school gets out, the children have to run home to deal with their reality: working to survive.

In DIGEEX they don’t offer a solid response. They admit that even though they have to help this population no criteria defining that population actually exists.

MINEDUC’s overage school rate (the percentage of students behind by two or more years according to their corresponding grade) implies that a number of students will chance their fate: at primary level, the figure for those children who exceed the age of their grade level has remained stable in recent years at around 22 percent. But in 2009, something strange happened in primary schools: the overage primary school population surged by more than half, to 51.69 percent.

Perseverance and commitment. Maybe they haven't learned these words at school yet but every day these children already practice them.

Perseverance and commitment. Maybe they haven’t learned these words at school yet but every day these children already practice them.

Enrique Maldonado, an economist with the Central American Fiscal Studies Institute (ICEFI), has analyzed this sudden peak: “Primary school coverage increased, the number of children served grew, but that was the year in which conditional transfers began. The error of those programs was that there was no pedagogical strategy that differentiated between children in extreme poverty that had never been to school with those that normally went to school. Thus there was a distortion in the indicators of internal efficiency and more assistance to overage school children in primary school.” From that year on, there has been a mass desertion from primary school. “For 2009, in first grade of primary school enrollment was 624,359 children; 567,830 in 2010; 530,976 in 2011, and 480,039 in 2012, meaning that in four years the national education system expelled around 150,000 students, just in the first grade of primary school.”

— What are the general causes of overage schoolchildren?

— First, there are bad teachers in first grade. When a school gets a new teacher, without experience, from the moment of their entry the other teachers conspire to assign them to the first grade. And, second, the pre-primary coverage the state provides. In recent years, the state has failed to cover half of the children between four and six years old. Children enter the first grade of primary school without any preparation.

— Why did so many children drop out after conditional transfers?

— They did not find what they were looking for. The children didn’t find teachers who spoke their language, nor books in their language, nor utensils, nor desks, and even food and schools were scarce. One of the errors in implementing the conditional transfer program was to have first not strengthened public school supply, responds Maldonado.

After studying, she helps her mother sell used toys.

After studying, she helps her mother sell used toys.

The primary and pre-school educational system gives the sense of a giant paradox of advances and setbacks: rate improvements followed by declines. A framework containing obstacles against school enrollment if a child is too old, and has to repeat a grade several times. Or it amasses dropouts in those cases where access diminishes at each education level. In 2009, primary coverage in Guatemala reached 98.7 percent; but in 2012, according to MINEDUC figures, it dropped to 85.1 percent. There are highs and lows: the children who abandon school, of still more exceeding school age; the intricacies of the system’s paradox; among the percentages; the rates of child work. And still PENNAT works in the markets. PENNAT takes on most of the excluded, the product of the advances and the setbacks.

Doing chores and distributing tortillas made and sold by his mother are some of the things he has to do when he leaves school.

Doing chores and distributing tortillas made and sold by his mother are some of the things he has to do when he leaves school.

The Child Worker

The Tomato Aisle is La Terminal’s area for bulk tomato sales and because of its age may be one of its most emblematic features. Resistance by its tomato sellers to any intervention by the city authority has been strong and ceaseless. They have organized themselves. It’s the most formal face of the informal economy. Battle hardened. Within the Tomato Aisle, however, the sellers have given space over to PENNAT. Usually it’s the sellers meeting room but from Monday to Friday it functions as a school. The school population has reached 60. It was one of the places that remained intact after the fire. Students begin the second phase there: third and fourth grade of primary.

At ten in the morning, the children sing a song. Their voices may be heard from outside. “When they come full of energy, we need to drain their batteries a little. We do that by singing,” says teacher Jenny Chocochic. Around her there are children that have bootblack on their hands. Others say they sell gum in the market. One girl sells atole. A boy helps his mother distribute tortillas throughout La Terminal’s aisles. Their ages range between nine and fourteen years old. “If there are more than two hours of school I wouldn’t have time to study,” says Mateo, who helps his family run a market stall. “I am going to finish fifth grade as quickly as I can,” he adds.

La Terminal's children quickly turn into adults. Not because of biology, but because of their responsibilities, taken on at an early age. He's a seller and he takes care of his sister.

La Terminal’s children quickly turn into adults. Not because of biology, but because of their responsibilities, taken on at an early age. He’s a seller and he takes care of his sister.

Most work on the outskirts of the market, where they also sleep and study. Speaking with the children you understand the market is their world, their immediate universe. They have tough histories to share – of alcoholism, separated parents – families that have had to travel to the capital to rent a small room to survive. Overcrowding. “One day we saw a dead man,” says nine-year old Gerson, “he’d been shot. He was a thief. They shot him in the head.” Lucia and Jocelyn, seven and eight years old respectively, live nearby. The girls were abandoned by their mother in the house of their grandmother, María Gaspar. The sisters do their homework beside a bus and near the tortilla stall where they help their grandmother. “I take care of them like they were my daughters, my little girls,” Zacarías jokes, who stands behind them in the sun, drunk, and who says that he does whatever in the market. The girls eye him not with fear but just normally. Jenny the teacher says, “They already have another world view. They know a lot of bad things about the world. They know about sexuality, abuse, and death. They come to their studies with a mountain of knowledge and prior learning. We just adjust this education to fit their surrounds.”

Homework done between sales. No time to lose.

Homework done between sales. No time to lose.

“Because of work, many of them are not accustomed to dancing, to thinking, to choosing. We look at them as an achievement. Like when they dance or sing. Our first objective is to restore the magic of being able to dream. And then establishing a way they can achieve their dream,” says Lenina García.

Questioning Reality

According to the Survey of National Living Conditions (ENCOVI) and the International Labor Organization (ILO), in 2011 850,937 children were working in Guatemala. Child is defined as between the ages of seven and seventeen years old. Of those, 60 percent are under fourteen years old. It’s estimated that children produce twenty percent of Gross National Product (GNP).

 

Beside the notebook is today's work.

Beside the notebook is today’s work.

“For the ILO, child work is an outdated practice that must be fully punished, equally dealt with everywhere. UNICEF’s focus, however, and even children’s protection organizations have turned that process on its head. They proceed from the view that to prevent or eradicate child labor the first step is to invest in education,” Garciá explains.

– What do you tell a child so that he or she can stop working?

– Our model focuses more on how boys and girls begin to question the reality that surrounds them. They begin to be agents of their reality and not its objects. If they work they have to know that this work is dignified and that they are not going to allow anybody to exploit their rights or abuse them. We try to plant this seed. This child is going to continue studying, continuing to educate themselves, and at some point the cycle will be broken, says García.

In DIGEEX, Estela Tavico, head of the Department of the Method (Modalidad) of Distance Education, emphasizes that in certifying a program like PENNAT, the Ministry is not supporting child labor. Not in its worst forms. “We acknowledge the value of work. We can’t deny that reality. We know that before these children have breakfast they have already sold fifty jocote, a box of gum, or made five corn tortillas. It’s work. Our task, however, is to provide education. We acknowledge the value of work. But our goal is to support an option among all these difficulties.”

By law MINEDUC cannot directly certify institutions like PENNAT. Its legal charter does not cover that type of education, with those sorts of characteristics. “As luck would have it, that’s where the DIGEEX – that’s where we come in. Since we are a subsystem of extra-scholarly education, we have other characteristics, other goals, other objectives, and a distinct nature. So, we can approach you and say, ‘Yes, it’s possible. We can and do support them.’ To support this population, the legal backing for that support occurs via a ministerial agreement,” explains Tavico.

The Ministry of Education (MINEDUC) does not think the results of success in these programs can be measured. Nor does it collect statistics on programs for adults and children over thirteen, those from the DIGEEX. Wendy Rodríguez, deputy director of educational projects puts it this way: “In the educational subsystems – in and outside school – there’s a unit that is specifically in charge of evaluation and research in education. It assesses math and language. Those are key indicators about how well things are turning out. However our programs – the ones that deal with overage children in accelerated primary and basic programs – are characteristically different: neither in terms of timetables nor calendars can they be seen as school-based. Since they work the whole year this difference has an implication for the statistics. There’s no beginning and no end. In 2013, participants numbered 72,098 people.”

That figure counts adults and children older than thirteen. The child workers of La Terminal were included.

They say at PENNAT that some of their graduated students “come back to teach.” Some have graduated as accountants, from high school, as teachers. García says that they are taught to be critical about the individual’s role in society, and sensitive to gender equality. “About a year ago on May Day (1 May) we celebrated with the working children. They came dressed as what they wanted to be later in life. There were teachers, secretaries, lawyers, and accountants. They want to pursue interesting professions. They don’t just want to be sellers.”

There's no time for breaks. When school finishes, work begins.

There’s no time for breaks. When school finishes, work begins.

– In terms of the decision to work, are there opportunities outside La Terminal market?

– You mean how to break the vicious cycle of child labor. It’s like giving them back a dream.

Education in the market means that La Terminal’s child workers don’t stay marginalized while they grow up.

Journalist Oswaldo J. Hernández reports for Plaza Publica. This article first appeared bearing the title, “Trabajar y estudiar en La Terminal para no quedar fuera del sistema,” and is available at: http://www.plazapublica.com.gt/content/nunca-creimos-que-crecer-nos-dejaria-fuera. 

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons. The MxJTP has a FaceBook page: like it, here.

 

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My Country, You Are Watching Me Leave (Rodrigo Soberanes Santín, En El Camino, Periodistas de a Pie)

This story is part of a series produced by En El Camino by Periodistas de a Pie, and funded by the Open Society Foundations. It has been translated pro bono, and without permission, by the Mexican Journalism Translation Project.

My Country, You Are Watching Me Leave
By Rodrigo Soberanes Santín (En El Camino, Periodistas de a Pie) 

What lies behind the numbers of tens of thousands of migrants who cross the border each year? Statistics suggest that people in their tens of thousands cross into Mexico without migratory documents – mostly from Honduras. But these figures don’t explain the reasons behind the exodus, for the misery and violence that permeate their countries of origin. For those who have left, and for those about to leave, the absence of the future leaves them with few options: stay to die a slow death, or risk their lives in a hellish journey.

Progreso, Honduras.- José Luis places his artificial limb on his leg, puts on his shirt with only one sleeve, and places a bandana around the only finger on the only hand he still has from that day in the Mexican desert.

He opens the door, passes the ongoing construction site that one day, he says, will house his family when he is married, and goes out into the street in search of a family that has a story of migration to tell him. He is president of the Association of Migrant Returnees with a Disability (Asociación de Migrantes Retornados con Discapacidad), and he has a remarkable interest in familiarizing himself with all the cases of forced migration from his country; he offers himself as a guide to know their stories.

For many years, José Luis has been well known in this city. Famous at one time for his talent singing rancheros and religious songs, eight years ago he lost his arm, a leg, and four fingers when he fell from a cargo train. It was his second attempt to reach the United States as an undocumented migrant. That’s who he was when he came back to Progreso and so he became involved in accompanying those who experienced the same thing he had lived through.

José Luis, on a walk around Progreso

José Luis, on a walk around Progreso

Honduras, his country, is the place most Central American migrants leave to go north. The flow of migration from Honduras has the greatest human cost in the world. Progreso, his city, is one of Honduras’s principal manufacturers of manpower ready to undertake the journey.

The journey north seems to be everywhere but above all else in those places where the exodus begins. When the drivers and their helpers have enough passengers, the buses parked in the city’s dilapidated central bus station can leave. The first buses to go are those for San Pedro Sula, a good place to leave the country. Then, when they enter Mexico, they are in the land of murders, fatal accidents, kidnappings and disappearances.

The Mesoamerican Migrant Movement labels the region the place of “migrant genocide.”

Before 1998, when Hurricane Mitch destroyed Honduras, Progreso was a place that attracted workers from the country’s south because of its banana industry and its factories. Today, its streets bear the marks of what forced migration gives and takes: houses constructed from material but with fractured families; small businesses and fast food restaurants that mingle with this place’s customs; places to receive Western Union remittances that spring up like businesses mining migrants’ savings.

A walk around Progreso’s streets and one finds Claro telephone stalls belonging to Mexican business magnate, Carlos Slim, and brimming with clients complaining about the poor service. Further on, in the dusty peripheral neighborhoods, residents leaving work avoid the darkness so they won’t be assaulted. Day laborers from the last of the banana plantations, industrial workers, taxis, office workers, and the unemployed – all of them are somehow linked to migration.

“Most of them were, or will be, migrants,” says Javier, a factory worker.

His eleven year-old grandson Anthony is with him and asks, “Is Honduras beautiful?” He replies that it’s not because “anybody can pull a pistol on you.”

It won’t do anything for Anthony to remember all the beautiful things about his country. Neither the Copán ruins, nor the Caribbean port of Puerto Cortés, nor the marvels of the sea around Atlántido, and not even the impressive mountain ranges of Santa Bárbara. He is growing up in a crumbling country.

Meanwhile, surefooted, and dextrously dominating his prosthetic leg that hangs halfway down his right thigh, José Luis walks under the intense Honduran sun, pointing at the houses built with dollars from migrants’ remittances, the country’s principle source of income.

They are houses that break the mold, built according to their owner’s criteria. They have painted walls, space for a car, for several rooms and they are covered with anti-theft devices. Each house represents a survival story. More light enters their windows.

“There are a ton of houses built thanks to migrants’ remittances, those who risk their lives on the journey. Here in Progreso, and especially in this neighborhood are the roots of migration, where there are orphans because parents left and there’s significant family disintegration because of migration,” says José Luis.

In the same block there are other houses that are concrete blocks with plastic roofs, built by Honduras’s government through its social housing program. These are the homes where nobody sends back remittances.

Karla lives in one of these houses. She’s seventeen years old. She still hasn’t left.

Yet.

If she migrates, Karla is most afraid of being kidnapped.

If she migrates, Karla is most afraid of being kidnapped.

THE COUNTRY THAT WAS

Guido Eguiguren, a sociologist from the Association of Judges for Democracy (Asociación de Jueces por la Democracia), a Honduran human rights defender, explains forced migration in his country taking place after Hurricane Mitch, in October 1998.

“The hurricane didn’t just physically destroy the country, its infrastructure, and thousands of lives. It also showed the world a country it barely knew, with a staggering level of inequality, a country forgotten by the world of development and cooperation. A country known for the nasty role it played in the 1980s acting as the United States’ aircraft carrier.”

While El Salvador and Nicaragua were battered by civil war, Honduras lent its territory to train the armed forces of the governments of those countries.

Honduras is a country of poor people where 66.5 percent of its residents do not have sufficient income to feed themselves. It’s also an unequal country that spits on people like José Luis or Karla as they look for ways to survive: 10 percent of the richest people in the country have an income equal to that of 80 percent of its low-income population.

Honduras shares first place with Guatemala and El Salvador for pushing out migrants to Mexico, and it takes first place in the divide between rich and poor. In terms of inequality in the Latin American region, Honduras take third place, Guatemala is in fourth, and El Salvador comes in at number seven.

Central America, undermined by poverty and violence

Central America, undermined by poverty and violence

Nobody knows for certain how many Hondurans leave their country each year, and it’s a figure that the government does not want to give out. The rough estimate by the Catholic Church’s Pastoral for Human Movement comes from counting the numbers of people deported from Mexico and the United States: in 2013 it was 72,000 Hondurans, including children and babies.

From Monday to Friday, deportees arrive in two airplanes every day at the Center for Returnee Migrants (Centro de Atención al Migrante Retornado, CMAR) at the San Pedro Sula airport, 30 kilometers from Progreso. Men and women get off the planes who left the country free and who come back with their feet bound in tape, their wrists in chains, and with a half-empty sack as their only baggage.

They walk a few steps on leaving the plane, look around from side to side and leave the airport terminal. In a few days, maybe at that very moment, they will undertake the journey back, starting from scratch.

José Luis, who is normally a chatterbox, keeps silent when he sees them arrive, recently unbound and thankful that their country greets them with a “baleada,” a meager flour tortilla covered in beans.

It’s a brutal brush with reality. When they return they are even poorer, more vulnerable, and more exposed to the violence that forced them to flee in the first place.

 

THE COUNTRY THAT IS

José Luis lives in a street in the San Jorge neighborhood, a barrio established by Jesuit missionaries at the beginning of the last decade after Hurricane Mitch “positioned” itself for a day and a half over Honduras, inundating the country with the water and wind of a category five hurricane, the most furious of them all.

Today San Jorge is controlled by two spies (“banderistas”) of the Mara Salvatrucha who report to their bosses who comes and goes. Its four entrances are guarded by the “güirros”, some young men recruited by the Maras and armed with pistols that scare everybody. Instructions from the underworld that extend throughout Progreso come from the hill above, behind an imaginary curtain that marks the barrios’ borders.

Manuel de Jesús Suárez, communications officer of the team of Reflection, Investigation and Communication, an organization that tries to understand the causes of migration from Honduras speaks about the country it is now.

Previously, migration used to occur as an escape from poverty. Today it is a way of saving one’s life, escaping from the daily violence that is permanently in the street, house, and in the Honduran government.

“The causes of migration are not conjunctural but structural, meaning the lack of work and decent salaries, access to health, to education, to housing. Now the other phenomenon is violence, organized crime, and the drug business shaping the country’s structure. The causes are a cyst in the system. They are there. The system makes it so that the majority of the poorest men and women remain excluded and so they leave,” he explains.

Manuel de Jesús, a man of more than 50 years old, knows this history well. He was born in Progreso and he has seen the collapse of the factories and the banana plantations, along with the arrival of the U.S. fast food outlets that spew out their greasy odor in the chaotic streets at the heart of the city. Wendy’s outlets, Burger Kings and Pizza Huts – all have armed guards with shotguns stationed inside their branches.

In 2013, 9,453 people died in Honduras for “external reasons”, meaning they were victims of violence. Of these 71.5 percent were murdered. In this country where an undeclared war rages, 563 people die each month. That’s nineteen deaths every day.

These numbers mark Honduras with the highest homicide rate in the world.

Viridiana wants to flee Honduras

Viridiana wants to flee Honduras

 

DISPOSSESSION AND DERELICTION

José Luis walks Progreso’s streets with mastery on his only leg. The sounds of radios drift from the windows of houses. Radio Progreso was established by Jesuits. On a Sunday program serving as catharsis to confront the abandonment, the station covers work problems, neighborhood violence, the educational system, human rights and migration.

The signal that can be heard from these windows accompanies people whose families have been broken. A migrant comes on the air to tell how, when he left Honduras, “another cock feathered his wife” and his wife left him. The calls keep on coming. Mostly on the radio one hears about those who live or lived with some consequence of forced migration.

The presenters on the Sunday program are Rosa Nelly Santos and Marcia Martínez, members of the Committee of Relatives of Disappeared Migrants (Cofamipro), and on this occasion they are talking about family disintegration. Before moving to a break in the program, Rosa Nelly announced the tune Hermano Migrante (Fellow Migrant) by Natividad Herrera who sings, “Return soon and enjoy what’s yours / forget the crying and all that pain.”

Return home; fill the towns with people that migration took north. Progreso, like many communities and barrios in Central America has been slowly emptied in the past year. Houses remain behind, sometimes empty, but most half inhabited.

Behind every door and window lie fractured stories.

Floridalma's House: She hides behind its walls.

Floridalma’s House: She hides behind its walls.

 

Teodora stays behind

Teodora stays behind

 

LIFE, MUTILATED

The year was 2005, and it was José Luis’s second attempt at going to the United States. He and his friend Selvi took nineteen days to reach northern Mexico; those days were uneventful. They traveled from Progreso without stopping. They took the train in Tapachula, Mexico. They arrived in Chihuahua. They were going to cross the border at Ciudad Juárez-El Paso.

For José Luis, the success of the journey consisted in not leaving his friend while he slept on the train. He annoyed him. He spoke to him. He made him angry and he kicked him. He didn’t want him to fall asleep.

José Luis – a good footballer, guitar player, and fan of fishing in the Ulúa River bordering Progreso – sat beside the train wagon’s gears and stretched forward to tie a shoe. Strange thing: sweat covered the whole of his neck to the top of his head. He had never been in the desert. The train entered the city of Delicias and José Luis blinked.

“Suddenly things went dark and I fell. I fainted from the dry, June heat. The train severed my leg. Then I put out my arm because I couldn’t free my leg and it cut that off, too. I put out my other arm and the train wheel squashed it.

Silvi, his friend, did not realize what had happened until kilometers further on when he noticed blood covering the train wheels. He thought he was dead. He now lives in the United States where he has started a family. In the south, his friend remained behind: the man who took care of him on the train and who now moves around the streets on one leg, balancing on the arm left him by La Bestia.

 

Texts in Spanish: Rodrigo Soberanes Santín, for Periodistas de a Píe
I am a reporter who travels all around, mostly in Veracruz, Mexico, a good place for my job. Stories have to be brought out from nooks and crannies, and brought to the surface, like kites. Currently I work with Noticias MVS, Associated Press, Diario 19, and Jornada Veracruz.

Images: Moysés Zuñiga Santiago, for Periodistas de a Píe
A photojournalist from Chiapas interested in the struggle of indigenous communities and migration across Mexico’s southern border. I work with La Jornada, AP, Reuters and AFP. My work has been shown in New York University in 2010 and 2013. I traveled with young people like myself crossing the border in search of opportunity, taking personal stories with me that let me journey beside them. I do this work because of that; I want to make extreme situations of violence visible so that these situations don’t occur and people don’t die.

Images: Prometeo Lucero, for Periodistas de a Píe
Freelance journalist focused on human rights issues, migration, and the environment. I have collaborated with La Jornada, the Expansion group, Proceso, Desacatos, Biodiversidad Sustento y Culturas, Letras Libres, Variopinto, and among other agencies, Latitudes Press, Zuma Press, AP, and Reuters. My photojournalism appears in books such as 72migrantes (Almadía, 2011), Secretaría de Educación Pública (2010); Altares y Ofrendas en México (2010); Cartografías Disidentes (Aecid, 2008) and I have been published in other books: “Dignas: Voces de defensoras de derechos humanos” (2012) and “Acompañando la Esperanza” (2013). I was a finalist in the competition, “Rostros de la Discriminación” (México, 2012), “Los Trabajos y los Días” (Colombia, 2013) and “Hasselblad Masters” (2014).

Translation into English: Patrick Timmons, for the MxJTP
Is a human rights investigator, historian, and journalist. Follow his activities on Twitter @patricktimmons. Timmons has publications — translations, articles, or reviews — in the Tico Times (Costa Rica), El País in English (Spain), CounterPunch (USA), The Texas Observer (USA), The Latin American Research Review (USA & Canada), and the Radical History Review (USA). A graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science (1996), Timmons holds three advanced university degrees: a Master’s in Latin American Studies from the University of Cambridge, UK (1998); a Ph.D. in Latin American History from the University of Texas at Austin, USA (2004); and, a Master’s in International Human Rights Law from the University of Essex, UK (2013).

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Diego Fonseca: “I don’t think that justice should come from retaliation or revenge” (By Paula Chouza, El País)

This article was first published in El País on 7 December 2013. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Diego Fonseca: “I don’t think that justice should come from retaliation or revenge”
By Paula Chouza (
El País)

– At Guadalajara’s International Book Festival Diego Fonseca introduces a work of memoirs and essays about the 40 years since Pinochet’s coup

On that “first September 11,” while Pinochet’s dictatorship took La Moneda, Diego Fonseca (Argentina, 1970) was grabbing records from his father’s collection so he could trample them with his orthopedic shoes. Fonseca was three years old at the time. He uses that image from 1973 in his latest book, but it took three months to spring to mind, and came to him when he was looking at his four-year-old son. Little Matteo, of course, doesn’t scratch records – “because there are none in the house” – but with unconscious energy he will break an iPad’s screen.

The conversation with the journalist and writer takes place around a table on the third floor of Guadalajara’s Hilton Hotel, between events at the Feria Internacional del Libro (International Book Fair). Crecer a golpes. Crónicas y ensayos de América Latina a cuarenta años de Allende y Pinochet brings together the vision of 13 important storytellers and journalists to review the last four decades of the region’s ongoing conflicts. During the interview the author speaks about Latin America’s past and present, a story that belongs to a generation that grew up among the dictatorships. Diego Fonseca was 13 years old when Argentina recovered its democracy. Son of a teacher and a provincial lawmaker, at 14 he became politically active. “At the time I thought that being young could change things. Now I believe more in transformation as a progressive process. If you clear away everything at once the problem is that tomorrow people expect that public services will continue to function. Processes take time. Changes require force, dedication. Deep transformations don’t occur from one day to the next,” he says.

Question. Some say that Latin America has turned its back on its past. Do you think that there can be justice without damaging the economic and social well being that some of the region’s countries have achieved in spite of not judging their dictators?

Answer. I think that there’s an attempt at recuperation, of a re-reading of the past. At certain moments some countries did turn their backs because the necessary conditions did not exist. Argentina was the only country that didn’t turn its back. Scarcely two or three years after democracy’s return to Argentina, Alfonsín had put more than 300 soldiers in prison, between 40 or 45 years old, and who were fully a part of the armed forces. To me Guatemala’s attempt also seems consummately dignified. El Salvador is trying, a little, to look at that past. Chile still has a way to go. Argentina was complicated because while it tried to deliver justice, the economy tanked and the government couldn’t manage both fronts. Chile’s process, however, is distinct. Its economy has remained pretty stable but the political sphere needs some redefining. I hope it won’t take too long. But I don’t believe either retaliation or revenge make justice. The past needs to be reviewed in its entirety. Across the political spectrum they have made errors and I prefer that justice come later [rather than never].

Q: After the first round of elections in Chile, there are predictions of the Left’s return to power. Do you welcome that?

A: Yes I welcome the coalition’s return to government. I have always liked Bachelet. She’s a solid woman, a statesperson. The experience of the unreconstructed right, still stuck to the Chilean military’s old praetorian guard really wasn’t practical. It seems to me that there’s a huge social movement trying to argue about Chile’s values and I think that Bachelet must place before her some attention to those values that arose during her first period in office. Looked at another way, her style of managing social issues is different. Under Piñera, society’s demands exploded and I think that these can’t be ignored. Questions about educational policy need to be looked at again and that’s going to be central.

Q: How do you view the recent results of the Honduran elections: the victory of the official party’s candidate and the claims of fraud from the Left?

A: What’s certain is that I haven’t followed the elections deeply enough to judge the results. But on first blush it seems there is not sufficient proof to speak of fraud.

Q: You write that Latin America still hasn’t come of age. How old is it then?

A: It’s surely more than 13 years old and it’s probably closer to being a 17 year old. At that age rebellion sets in, responsibilities are looming, and one has to think about doing something in life. Latin America has thickened its understanding of strengthening institutions. The main goal is to try to bring stability, in society, as well as in the economy.  Through politics it’s possible to create those much-needed transformations. If any one of those three factors falters in a process of transformation, problems are going to arise. For example, in Chile’s specific case, if your economy is good and your institutions are good but you don’t manage social conflict, you are going to have little fare ups that, in Piñera’s case cost him keeping the Right in power. Improvement in equilibrium is much needed and Latin America is learning. But there are countries that still have to resolve many things, like freedom of the press or the rights of individuals.

Q: And what’s left for Mexico to resolve?

A: Mexico has many things left to do: the war against drug traffickers, the problems in managing public information… I think that there is an enormous question mark in respect to the PRI’s capacity and desire to show that it’s had a deep internal discussion about bringing democracy to the Party and at the same time that it has the capacity to manage the state through democratic government. This is a huge doubt that’s going to follow Peña Nieto throughout his term in office.

Q: Since drug trafficking is one of this country’s outstanding problems, does the growth of the self-defense movement warrant an opinion?

A: It’s a complex phenomenon. I don’t think it’s reasonable that civilian or social groups should take justice into their own hands. Having said that, one has to think about how to build the Mexican state. The idea of the nation hasn’t taken hold throughout the country. When one travels into the country’s deep south, like Chiapas, one finds that ethnicity exists before the idea of Mexico. It’s as if politics was a game of occupying spaces, and where the state doesn’t have any presence other political actors occupy that vacuum. In this way, the narco has created its own proto-state micro-relationships in places where it’s dominant. The self-defense groups finish with the state by saying it doesn’t have the capacity to provide the required security and that because they’ve been deserted the only thing that families can do is defend themselves. It’s an ugly message. I don’t like them. I understand why they’ve sprung up but I don’t like them.

Q: By way of conclusion, would you ever return to politics?

A: No [it’s resounding no]. I want to write. I believe that my role is trying to understand processes. My father’s a politician, but I’m not motivated in the same way. I dedicated the book to those who believed, to my father who still believes, and to my son who will believe, but I don’t put myself in any of those three places. I have believed and I stopped believing. I want to believe again but I am not stubborn like my father. I ought to be a bit more stubborn to return to politics and I think that just doesn’t grab me.

Journalist Paula Chouza reports from Mexico for El País. Follow her on Twitter @pchouza. This interview first appeared bearing the title “Diego Fonseca :“No creo que se deba hacer justicia por revancha ni venganza”,” available at: http://cultura.elpais.com/cultura/2013/12/07/actualidad/1386376286_662915.html.

Writer, journalist, and editor Diego Fonseca is the author of numerous articles and several books. His latest edited volume is Crecer a golpes (Penguin Random House, available on Kindle and in paper). You can follow him on Twitter @DiegoFonsecaDF.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist based in the Americas. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP). Follow him on Twitter@patricktimmons.

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“I didn’t know that a human could take so much pain” (Daniela Rea, EL UNIVERSAL)

This article was published in El Universal on 15 March 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project.

“I didn’t know that a human could take so much pain”
by Daniela Rea (EL UNIVERSAL)

The first thing that springs to mind for Gustavo Martínez Rentería about the torture he and his friends suffered at the hands of the Federal Police, whose officers forced them to admit to being criminals, is the moment when the uniformed agents opened the door to the room where they had been hitting them for several days. At that moment, the officers asked if they wanted to say anything, as it was going to get worse.

The door opened. They were in a giant warehouse, bound hand and foot, in front of TV cameras that were pointing at them. To one side was Luis Cárdenas Palomino, then spokesperson for the Federal Police, saying that they were narcos, responsible for planting the car bomb in Ciudad Juárez on 15 July 2010.

“When I saw myself in front of the cameras, the world stopped turning and the only thing I thought was: ‘Holy shit, we are done for’” says Gustavo, now free, after spending three years and seven months in prison accused of a crime he confessed to under torture, along with four childhood friends: Rogelio Amaya Martínez, Noé Fuentes Chavira, and brothers Víctor Manuel and Ricardo Fernández Lomelí.

“I didn’t understand what was going on, they had beaten us so much… you don’t know what’s truth and what’s a lie. They even make you doubt yourself,” he says during a conversation with EL UNIVERSAL.

Gustavo was 24 years old when he was arrested. He was working in a bar in Ciudad Juárez. Like his friends, he looks like he just came from another world. He walks gingerly, like he’s trying to recognize the ground.

“The only thing I can ask for is patience from my people,” he says.

To prove the youths’ innocence, their defense – headed by the Paso del Norte Human Rights Centre (Centro de Derechos Humanos Paso del Norte) and the Collective Against Torture and Impunity – implemented the Istanbul Protocol, an international test that comprises assessing bodily and emotional damage done to victims of torture. The test demonstrated that they suffered beatings to both body and face, electric shocks, simulated murder and suffocation with plastic bags and water, threats of being raped, or their families being raped, and that they were made to watch their friends being abused or hearing their torture. Subsequently, the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) confirmed these results in recommendation 75/2011.

— Gustavo is asked, “How do you see yourself now that you are out of prison?” He closes his eyes, and tries to imagine.

— I see a skinny guy, hobbled, spent, who walks slowly, nervously… on the ground are the bits that they broke off: dignity, self-esteem, strength, patience, confidence, a whole life.

Rogelio Amaya, one of the arrested youths, looks at himself and is surprised to have discovered personal strength. “I didn’t know that I could bear so much, so much pain. How is it possible that a living being can tolerate so much pain? I see somebody who thinks he’s now stronger than he was [before the torture].

We Come Back Damaged

On 13 August 2010 the Federal Police brought the five youths accused of the Ciudad Juárez car bombing in which four people died before the media. The defense alleged that they were tortured to admit their guilt, and even the Federal Attorney General withdrew its criminal complaint, and freed them on Friday 7 March.

“During Felipe Calderón’s presidency, we witnessed the fabrication of criminals through torture. The government needed to find the guilty and so it fingered these young men. The Federal Police tortured them in Ciudad Juárez, then when they were transferred by plane and in the hangar, and later at their Iztapalapa base. They had them for five days so that they could do unthinkable things to them,” says Javier Enríquez of the Collective Against Torture and Impunity at a press conference on 11 March in Mexico City as he announced these youth’s release. The young men were present at the press conference.

The defense has begun a judicial process against the police officers who arrested the youths. They hope for sanctions against federal agents Manuel Calleja Marín, Víctor Aquileo Lozano Vera, Manuel Granero Rugerio, Federico López Pérez, Adán Serafín Cárdenas Cruz and Luis Alberto González Gutiérrez and for reparations agains the damaged caused to the youths and their families.

The first night that Mayra and Rogelio spent together, after his freedom, they talked without stopping, trying to bring each other up to date. “We didn’t come back from a holiday, Mayra, we returned damaged, bitter,” Rogelio said to her at one point, when the certainties of the “return to life” began bit by bit to fall into place.

Days later, in Mexico City, he would remember and reflect upon that scene: “We went three years and seven months inside and suddenly realized… Starting over again is going to be difficult, and I spoke to her a lot so that she can be patient with me.”

Mayra sits by his side. The wife who has been with him over the past eight years has to get used to the idea that her husband is now different from who he used to be.

“I see that he has changed. He has a different look. A lot of courage and insecurity, of sadness. In his eyes he is always on alert. Before, he used to look normal. I don’t know how to explain it… it’s also in the way he walk, as if he’s being watched, always turning back, surprised that a guard isn’t following him.”

The results from the Istanbul Protocol reflect how the torture has marked them: insomnia, nightmares, frightened of going out, of being alone, of closing their eyes, unexpectedly reliving the torture, of wanting to be dead, lack of appetite, migraines.

Mayra knows what the psychologists have told him: these are normal feelings coming from an abnormal situation. “We need to talk a lot. He was a prisoner there, but out here a lot of things have happened. I want to understand, to know how to get close to him again,” Mayra says.

“What do you want to know? How they tortured me? What it’s like to be lock…” he replies.

Rogelio worked in a Soriana warehouse before his arrest. He leaves sentences unfinished. That’s how he came out: he doesn’t speak very much, or he interrupts himself. For the press conference the youths agreed that he would speak for his friends. Once again, TV cameras were pointed at him, but now they want to hear the truth. He couldn’t talk.

One aim of torture is to extract words. The youths had words taken from them when they were fored to confess to crimes they didn’t commit. And they had words taken from them again when, in front of the cameras, they couldn’t talk about the torture. Now free, words seem to be beyond them. Words stuck in their stomachs, in their throats, in their mouths. It’s like the words want to come out but they drown in teary eyes that, it seems, don’t belong to them.

Back to Life

It was 1430 on the afternoon of Friday 7 March when Rogelio and Noé left prison in Tepic, Nayarit State. Meanwhile, in the south of the country, Gustavo, Víctor and Ricardo left the prison in Perote, Veracruz. Hours later, for the first time since their arrest, the five would reunite in Mexico City. They were never allowed to communicate.

“We didn’t recognize each other. Noé and Gustavo were really skinny,” Víctor jokes, the youngest. When they put him in prison he was 19 years old and he was about to become a father. His son was born two weeks after he went to prison and he only met him last year when his lawyers managed to obtain permission to visit the maximum-security prison. That time they saw him through glass. They couldn’t touch.

“The first time that he said “daddy”…” he says, and his face lights up.

Rogelio also became a father again when he was a prisoner. Prior to that he had a four year-old son and his wife Mayra was about to give birth to a girl. When he regained his freedom on Friday, the first thing that he did was to run to embrace her. The girl was unsettled and began to cry. She didn’t know who he was. As the days went by, she has been getting used to his arms, to his smiles.

“What’s it like to be free again? It’s like being born. There’s no way to describe it,” and a smile appears on Rogelio’s face.

To be re-born, that’s what freedom is for them. Rogelio, Gustavo, Víctor, Noé and Ricardo know they have been broken, but the torture made them discover something about themselves they did not know.

“I always thought I was a strong person but this has told me that ‘I’m great’.” It’s let me know that I can pick myself up,” Gustavo exclaims.

“I have matured a lot. I realize that I am a person who can behave like a father, like a man,” Víctor adds.

Family is their bulwark, what sustains them. They want to regain lost time, to find a job, to build a business, to show themselves and others that they can keep on going.

“The greatest payback for what they did to me is to take the life they stole from me and show them that I can go on. I want to move on and leave everything behind,” says Rogelio, summing up how he and his friends feel.

They are hungry to get back each of the 1,305 days they spent in prison. Their families know that’s a tall order, to carry all that on their shoulders. To pick up the pieces and to get back to full strength is going to be a slow, painful process.

Mayra, Rogelio’s wife, can feel it already.

“I tell him that the most important thing is that he believes it, and that he is back with us and that we are going to move forward.”

Journalist Daniela Rea reports for newspaper El Universal. Follow her on Twitter @danielarea. This article first appeared in Spanish with the title, “No sabía que un ser humano podía aguantar tanto dolor,” available at: http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/nacion-mexico/2014/impreso/-8220no-saba-que-un-ser-humano-poda-aguantar-tanto-dolor-8221-213959.html.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.

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Imagine the Coast from Spain (Anon, MISSION STREET ARTS)

Mission Street Arts, in collaboration with the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), presents a long-form poem of Spanish New Mexico by Anon.

Sometimes translations do not only work from language to language, but from one time to another time. The historian is a translator, so, too, the poet. Translations convey movement, of turning experience into lively text. In Anon’s long form poem, the poet transliterates the Spanish people and the language of colonial southwest North America, enabling the reader to embrace long passed visions, now made accessible, now rendered translatable. PT

IMAGINE THE COAST FROM SPAIN
by Anon

Imagine the coast from Spain
walking across gods know what
to get to El Morro in the territories,
imagine the diet,
coming from the Mediterranean
where everyone wakes wondering
what they can put into their mouths
that day.
And now the wind blows sand into your teeth,
the weather will get in
the sunlight turns off
and the blue stays,
trickle of water and slime on rocks,
off shining teeth, off bright eyes. Hands and feet.
What heart? Come out from Spain,
without knowing what you are in for.
Who could? who knows of the others who they were
hard handed, and among the three of us,
lettered. an artist.
Ortega might have done anything,
but he wouldn’t turn himself to it.
Tomás? He was a servant
and meant to be.
Arrellano? the artist,
sculpt something to last
through time,
of course I knew
about the edge of time and prayer.
why else would I have been off here
where these sights were?
my father was one before me
without the moisture of the mid-earth sea,
light reflects off rocks, What come to read but sculpted rock,
wind scribbed grass drawing on sand, eclipse of day and night and man.

Scoured the wind
shaped rock,
arms on it,
delving through the body,
stone-shapes writing,
What then men
worn, abraded
weathered into
twisted shapes inside,
through the middle.
Long it was nights
knowing
sure as wind’s turn
this substutio
couldn’t
last long.

Water dripped and the rock had the feel of personage
not lost in the not time
of these savages,
hoped here where passersby
had carved their names,
hoping, if someone were to come
they’d come here
him? his name would be
here. Such script
(what would you be remembered
by?) Felipe by his script.

Rough as he was,
what he had seen out here,
trickle of water, you could
stay alive then
They squatted right on the top of it
Built walls among the trickles
and that settled it
And the water was none
the worse for it
so we settled too
taking over with their metal
those swords, such shining
there were just the three of them

Steady as you could go,
three of them, a triangle
Ortega topping the girl
what wasn’t the same story
and then there was no place for…
But with the three corners,
someone had to sleep,
stand up anything if you
leant it upon triangles
someone had to sleep,
Ortega thought he could trust
that maiden (maiden)
may the virgin take me
under her wing

Nestle me against her bird feathered
side, conmfort me with pinions,
with smell of burning feathers,
with the three of them
someone could be at your back
this way, drawn up,
hoisting the ladder up,
taking one of the women up too
what had they to use
against them
with the three?
Mary. Father, Son.
Virgen de Guadalupe
comfort me with your cloak
scoop me in your skirt of roses

That too was the way of suffering
And there wasn’t in it
for Chuy, the one hung up,
anything,
Virgin, hear me when I speak; your voice
only
against the wind
which sculpts these strange shapes.
The boy and I, the two of us,
there is no where for us to go
and no chance of getting there
he would let me make the decisions
Decisions? What does the stone say
to the wind from the hollows.

Belly ache
astringent roots, smoke under the skins
where the child roared like a bad wind
twist of blue in the corner of your eye
where was the red of roses
velvets of the internal crown
so soft you could taste it,
round as the curve of the earth
final as the movement of a knife
once the powder was fouled
which woman, was it spilled?
had it been contaminated?
At the ladder pulled up
that close to the sounds
Ortega below on the woman
voice her women’s voice angry.

I saved the eye of a boy
and he was mine, crippled but sighted
moon faced like flower petals
he it was who knew the roots,
Weitabotan.
he was but a child
sleeping there in the skins,
during the day he helped his sister
below
Virgin where is the blood of your roses?
where is the trickle
from the cleft which feeds
which lead the track
across the sand to turn
against these rocks
where the water pools
Nino afloat in the sea of velvet
Virgin mother, fold coat
with your petaled eyes.

The boys eyes are not the same
after the cleaning with sulfur
but he sees now
and is mine
He is not of these people
the Manahoj. traded to them
crippled for their crops
good-luck these bulging lumps
those ball joints
that cough
when wind silts us in.
But we dig out the spring
from the sand screen skins
against it
for what will it do but run away
and even now we cannot remain here
these people only against the water
this season
and now at a distance
strong parties seen far off
camping at a distance
but untrustworthy after dark.

Better to rest far off
and not contest
but who might pass?
word would come long before
it is months of travel terror
not one would live
through travel in the country
of these people

Harder than Cataluña
where water rode the wind
where light had promise in it
and wind brought seasons and weather.
Food and the sun, the days passed,
one desperation to another
for some smoke
from one of them
what is in that plant?
Is this the same root
when the fever raged
and the feathers
and the sweat took the demons away
the moon waves blue
and her roses tumble
petals and lips, birth blessing,
hard dark, sudden in choke-throat?
Virgin draw to this water
word of some other
chance one can stop looking back
the way toward home
Tomás wouldn’t mind
staying
he keeps his warm,
Ortega exposed out side to it,
those berries look slightly different,
perhaps it is the season,
the long storage,
the leather bag is no longer
in the rafters
someone knows
Virgin may I die without sin,
forgive me mother my sins,
and praise my god I could
be in at the crushing of these demons,
I could be in at, I, the night was long
and other than bones broken
life was fear, three of them
might have made it,
too simple, two, no one sleeping,
no one gets the rest,
turn your back to the wind, put your back against it,
lean safely only against thick brick,
fire could start below you
Virgin keep these dreams

Leave you here,
order you to stay,
will not allow you to come home,
outpost, deserted, forgotten,
assigned to a foreign post,
adventurer, administrator,
may as well make the worst of it out here,
After the thing that night
life at home, no such thing,
a hell. he’d cut that possibility.
Left then. how we are to make it.
Three against the Demons,
some of them are beautiful, the girl of Tomás is smooth, Ortega didn’t wait
for one of them to come to him.

I was in command. Three of us,
back against the world
the ones who knew they would would
Virgin of my prayers
envelope me in your radiance,
Entrenched among the people
encamped, in command.
Four thousand demons,
white faces lost in the numbers,
not so white anymore.
Weight. Iron, steel,
three so one can sleep,
so one can walk and one can stray,
Naweisuna had me,
son of my great king, great chief
beyond the waters,
beyond the waters, indeed,
where were these far off peoples,
some left-over hell,
some other place, some other time.
Naweisuna had me in his brother’s house,
the other two slept below,
I sat in the sun window,
my room a prince’s view,
the sun warm and the food plentiful.

Ortega’s eyes went on their own
restlessly, not sly, searching,
as if he smelled something,
he couldn’t get off his intensity,
his heart led him where demons rule,
Virgin hear my voice as one of yours
Ortega couldn’t keep his eyes,
the daughter had a chosen,
these people have old ways
the window of the sun,
they watched the sun of the scene
like a calendar,
his carved on a stick,
a totem to him now
Virgin please forgive me,

Ortega hadn’t made it to three hundred,
winter and we being inside,
something maybe got his brain,
it may have been the root
in the tea,
the boy will make up a fire
and get water.

It was winter before three-hundred
And Ortega pressed on the daughter,
squashed her and ploughed her,
as he said, exulting, winded.
You could hear the voices.
The boy and I came away
at the demand of Neiwansuma,
we had seen them with the knives,
cleaning the flesh from the bones,
protein wasn’t for throwing away,
rattled her. slammed her. wasted her by the well,
Ortega wouldn’t have one of the others
who come in the dark, who climb the ladder
the breath close beside you,
who climb the ladder silently,
who know about the rafters,
too late now even after Ortega.

Child of me and all Christians
come to me in your help,
lift me into your heavens,
Suspend me above this scene
and make me see.
Virgen, mother of the Niño,
born both of you into miracle
you with your blanket of sorrows
the child rising from the light,
rotten these screaming urchins,
thieving, rock-throwing, noisy.
Ortega cornered into the rocks
in the first notches, not a month into it,
he could throw rocks too, he said,
once he got started you could hear their noises,
Many were listening,
and their eyes filled with hate
thereafter
but none of them threw stones.

Ortega worked a flute
of one of the reeds
his call curled among the rock faces,
sometimes he found the tune in it
and all the sounds and feels and smells
of home come rushing,
and I could hate Ortega those times,
no sense looking across the sea,
what family doesn’t have its troubles?
how could he oppose his brother Carlos?
the new world! but what stretch?
this world was old as greed
and lust and anger and hate and envy.
the people knew them
as well as we Christians,
but still they didn’t mean anything
in the eye of God,
Virgin thanks you for the blessing
of the life which you have given me,
I can do nothing,
Niño and mother hear from this waste
your voice rise in prayer.

He sang the evening before the girl,
played the flute all day before sucked a stem
the women had given him,
stared off with them
from the stone towers,
led in underground,
showed the chamber of initiates,
traced with this finger
the mark on the wall,
the chamber ran N/S,
the smoke had a particular scent,
it weighed heavy in the limbs,
drew the shoulders down,
the face they could see he saw,
they let him.
Ortega would flute over it,
make it a song,
and they wouldn’t.

These people perform a sort of chant,
old voices, women’s voices, men’s offices
off the rocks
wall faces and rock faces, faces of the sun,
faces of the wind,
blast any rose that wind,
waste any flower that sun,
wither any blossom that breath,
Ortega lost… I left, Tomás with me,
the boy pointed us to another point on the compass,
along the angle toward the valleys far to the south,
we are come that way now.
That day as the two of us
climbed the rock face opposite
Ortega shouted for a time,
his voice changed later and the voices
changed, and we couldn’t climb fast enough
to get out of the sound
Women’s voice made your flesh crawl.
Tomás and I shivered under the stars,
it was the wrong time for it,
they could use his hide,
Ortega knew about the knife on the bone.

So we came here, to an outpost,
smoky with the villages
over the broad valley where the river
exhausts itself into this neverland,
trickle of water, mosses and coolness,
birds among the ferns
laughter, bathing,
talk of the day
of the new child, husband,
portent.
Rabbit skin was superior, supple but soft,
easier to work with.

My day stick was somewhere before 300
When we left the cave villages and brick towns
for this time in the waste,
scant light shining on this lost land,
carvings of the Virgin
occupy my hands,
Juan Agostini grinds with stone
and scrapes with flint,
would that he would come among these people
(Can you know this? In spirit, but you need to check the fact.
Yes.)
The second day one we knew from the village
overtook us by the fourth old of mountains on the low trail,
he could keep us from being killed.
He carried of Ortega, a book. IbnArabi.
Tomás couldn’t read
though god knows he would have saved it,
it’s among the things the boy
carries,
I see him sometimes opening the leaves
as he has seen me do,
and as he must have seen Ortega do,
though I knew nothing of it,
or what his name might really be.

Mission Street Arts is an open arts collective in Jemez Springs, New Mexico.

The Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP) supports new voices that break borders.

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