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America is a mass grave

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Figure 1 Members of REMA Mujeres and the From Relajo to Refusal Work Group at UNAM, Mexico City, June 12, 2019. Photo courtesy of Kate Klein.

An ensemble of living and non-living beings is calling an alarm: América es una fosa común. America is a mass grave.

According to the Government of Mexico, at least 200,000 people have been murdered and 40,000 people have been disappeared since 2006 -- when the then president launched an offensive against organized crime groups, which has accomplished the opposite of its stated intent.

The violence Mexico faces is nothing short of an armed conflict.

Mexico's new government has recently disclosed that it is aware of at least 1,100 clandestine graves. Everyday citizens, who are in search of their loved ones, have found most of these graves across fields, deserts, forests, hillsides, and what seems like every corner of the country. This is to say nothing of the feminicides -- the thousands upon thousands -- who have gone missing and murdered in Mexico since at least 1993, on the eve of NAFTA. 

Like in Canada, where Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people are systematically disappeared and murdered with impunity and without being accounted for by the state, the federal government of Mexico's figures on the dead cannot, or will not, be exact. And, missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people in Canada add veracity to the claim that America is a mass grave, as the authors of the National Inquiry's Final Report into MMIWG ascertain in their own way.

The many migrants who go missing and are found dead -- sometimes murdered -- in the deserts of northern Mexico and the forests of southern Mexico on their journeys towards the United States also announce that, indeed, América es una fosa común. And, so do the countless more unaccounted for from Patagonia to Nunavut.

I say America in the hemispheric sense.

And, I say America, and not Turtle Island or Abya Yala, because I am describing an ongoing condition, an effect, and a result of the long durée that is and has been white settler colonialism.

In another sense, America is a mass grave due to the violence of environmental degradation, including but not limited to the decline of entire non-human populations and destruction of habitats and ecosystems, which is arguably not disconnected from the bloodshed in Mexico; the assault on Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people in Canada and beyond; and the circumstances migrants from across the globe, and especially Central America, are leaving and endure through and across multiple bordered states.

Scientists and scholars identify that the destruction of the environment is not only a leading cause of climate change and the mass decimation of life and its sources but also an outcome of white settler colonialism. To put it another way, when white supremacy combines with settler colonialism, the resultant is an aggregate that is anti-life.

To contest that white settler colonialism is responsible for inflicting violence on the land, water, air, as well as on living and non-living beings, is to reject an attunement to the history and current state of the planet. To dismiss white settler colonialism's responsibility and blame all humankind without taking differentials of power into account is to deny history, replicate such violence, and forsake the possibility of a world committed to a more expansive definition of life. 

But it is important to underscore that the ensemble does not just proclaim that América es una fosa común because the ensemble mobilizes in antiphony. There is a response, even as the call is being drowned out by the status quo.

And fundamental to the ensemble's response are land and water protectors -- individuals and groups -- who, while being the victims of smear campaigns, criminalized, harassed, targeted, and killed for their work, reply to the call by refusing the appeal to deny not just the figures but also the facts:

  • The dispossession of peoples, lands, and resources by a select few has and continues to have disastrous consequences for most;
  • As an unregulated practice and ideology of accumulation through dispossession, extractivism tends to harm local human and non-human communities and their habitats, including sources of water, air, and food;
  • Women, girls, and non-normatively gendered and sexually oriented persons, including two-spirit people, experience dispossession in multiple and compounding ways -- on their lands and thus also on their bodies;
  • And it can be argued that Canada, as a settler-colonial nation state and global extractive power house, dispossesses.

It was under these premises that nearly twenty of us gathered in Mexico City at the UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico) campus from June 9 to 15 as part of the "From Relajo to Refusal: Resisting Extractivism, Performing Opposition" work group at the XI Encuentro Hemisférico, a performance and politics conference of activists, scholars, and artists whose concern is America. Participants from Argentina, Ecuador, Mexico, the United States, and Canada discussed extractivism as a model of dispossession and a catalysis for mobilization.

Most importantly, members of REMA Mujeres -- the women's caucus of the Network of People Affected by Mining in Mexico -- and Sol Pérez Jiménez, a PhD Candidate in Geography at UNAM, joined us on June 12 to discuss their efforts in the face of extractivism. Sol provided the work group with an overview of resource extraction in Mexico. She highlighted how Canada has the most mines in the exploration and development phases, at 77 per cent and 60 per cent respectively, in Mexico. Sol's research points to the overwhelming presence of Canadian junior mining companies in the country; it is these smaller companies that conduct, with little to no regulation, the early phases of a mining project before selling the project to a larger corporation.

Esperanza of REMA Mujeres presented on the network's overarching work in 15 states. While the caucus' other members, Ale, Angela, and Grecia, provided case studies. Ale focused on her home state of Veracruz where two Canadian mining projects are located just a few kilometers from Mexico's sole nuclear power plant. Angela shared how her community in Hidalgo is organizing against the dumping of mining waste in her town. Grecia highlighted a project in Zacatecas where, among other things, a silver mine project's water needs are driving the construction of dam that will most likely flood and displace neighbouring towns.

REMA Mujeres were clear: when left minimally regulated or unregulated, extractive companies cause and have the potential to cause havoc in Mexico and contribute to a national climate of conflict. The group drew our attention to the Mariano Abarca case in Chiapas. Abarca was murdered almost a decade ago after his public efforts in organizing his community against a Canadian mining company. Documents suggest that the Canadian Embassy in Mexico was aware of threats that had been made against his life and still proceeded to publicly advocate for the Canadian corporation. There are known links between security forces hired by the extractive sector in Mexico and organized crime groups. The trafficking of women and children for foreign mine workers is a recurring tendency of extractivism in Mexico and in Canada. In Mexico, researchers, as well as land and water protectors, have been murdered. Front line Defenders' 2018 global analysis reveals that 48 human rights defenders were killed in Mexico, most for their work on environmental rights.

American is a mass grave.

América es una fosa común echoes back and in the lingering trace of the phrase we can hear the work of land and water protectors, including REMA Mujeres, and the many others who, as the ensemble, refuse to consent to an understanding of life fixed on the key of dispossession.

Gabriela Jiménez is KAIROS Canada's Latin America Partnerships Coordinator. 

Image: Members of REMA Mujeres and the From Relajo to Refusal Work Group at UNAM, Mexico City, June 12, 2019. Photo courtesy of Kate Klein.

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