Witness for Peace in Oaxaca, Mexico: Advocates for Sustainable Agriculture and Immigration Reform

Wood-yoked oxen with traditional plow

Several days ago, I wrote that Stephen and I were planning to attend a Witness for Peace (WFP) presentation by a U.S. delegation that had just returned from Oaxaca.  Nineteen people from across the U.S. ranging in age from 18 to 73 years old, teachers, artists, and advocates participated in this delegation.

We did attend and heard from Sharon Mujica, Jane Stein, David Young and Eduardo Lapetina who had spent a week in Oaxaca in June 2011 meeting with local community-based leaders, living in villages, and hearing about immigration, sustainable agriculture, economic development, and the impact of the drug wars. Their mission, as volunteers, was to learn as much as they could, immerse themselves in the culture, return to the U.S. and help raise awareness about issues facing Oaxacaquenos.  The NC chapter of WFP started many years ago as the Carolina Interfaith Task Force on Central America when NAFTA was under consideration in the U.S. Congress.

Sharon Mujica has been part of the Latin American studies program at UNC Chapel Hill since the early 1990’s and lived in Mexico for 20 years.  Jane Stein is one of the founding directors of CHICLE, an intensive language school in Carrboro, NC.  David Young was a founding director of Visiting International Faculty (VIF) program that hires international teachers of English and places them in rural NC public schools.  Eduardo Lapetina is an artist originally from Argentina.

Taking alfalfa to market

Here is a brief summary of what they discussed:

  • Oaxaca is a microcosm of what goes on in Mexico
  • It is complex, rural and isolated
  • There is tremendous out-migration; people in search of jobs
  • 76% of Oaxacaquenos live in extreme poverty
  • The state is rich in natural resources
  • It is very much affected by NAFTA
  • 57% of the population is indigenous
  • 14% don’t speak Spanish (they speak an indigenous language)
  • In Mexico, 17% attend University but only 5% graduate
  • Saw no impact of drug war in Oaxaca; localized to border states
  • 90% of guns used in drug war come from the U.S.
  • Globalization and industrial farming result in chemically treated, genetically modified corn and beans
  • Small family farms are at risk; cross hybridization results in contamination of indigenous seeds
  • NAFTA floods Mexico with below market corn, small farmers can’t compete, drives them out of business
  • Multinational corporations are present to extract minerals and other natural resources
  • There is a strong desire for economic parity to keep young people from migrating; out-migration is a necessity not a wish
  • NAFTA was supposed to “float the boat”

Plowing the milpas to plant corn, squash, beans

These are some of the local organizations the delegation visited to learn more about sustainable agriculture and indigenous human rights:

  • Centro de Derechos Indigenas Flor y Canto
  • Universidad de la Tierra, post-secondary alternative education
  • La Vida Nueva women’s cooperative in Teotitlan del Valle
  • CEDI CAM reforestation/water catchment project in the Mixteca

Delegation members stayed with families in homes and took their meals with them.

Shucking dried corn kernels for planting in the milpas

Witness for Peace (WFP) is a politically independent, nationwide grassroots organization of people committed to nonviolence and led by faith and conscience. WFP’s mission is to support peace, justice and sustainable economies in the Americas by changing U.S. policies and corporate practices which contribute to poverty and oppression in Latin America and the Caribbean.

WFP has a field office in Oaxaca, Mexico, currently staffed by four team leaders.  Oaxaca is a state in southern Mexico with one of the largest indigenous populations in the country. Its rural population has been devastated by corn imported from the United States as a result of NAFTA. Many small farmers from Oaxaca have few options but migration. Learn about the complexities of this state and the movements being formed to make a better world possible!

Witness for Peace, 3628 12th Street NE. 1st Fl., Washington, DC 20017 – 202.547-6112 – 202.536.4708

Dried corn husks will wrap tamales

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