And yet it moves! – Education for peace in Mexico

By Johan Galtung & Fernando Montiel


The indigenous rising in Chiapas, 1994 changed Mexico in several different ways. On the one hand it placed hidden historical –and yet massive and painful- topics just in the middle of the political debate: racism and indigenous rights among others came out of the closet to be discussed, addressed and -hopefully- solved.

Hard politics entered the scene after the romantic episode of the Zapatista rebellion -characterized by the masked men and women and their tale-writer and political leader- by means of counter insurgency policies, paramilitary groups and propaganda campaigns, among others. And it was exactly then, when more concern and attention and clarity and coverage was needed from the international community, that the eyes of the world started turning to some other crises elsewhere. The massacre of 45 woman and children in Acteal (Dec. 22, 1997) briefly placed Chiapas again in the headlines but after the atrocity silence ruled again.

Those past events in the 90s seeded and nurtured much of the cataclysm that would come later, which in recent past became known as the “war on drugs.” For these reasons it is quite surprising that specialists fail to make the connection between one crisis and the other notwithstanding the common ground. The special forces used now to fight drug dealers/producers were formed because of the 1994 uprising; the militarization –now rampant and nationwide- began with Chiapas; the abandon of the countryside –one of the Zapatista complaints- is fertile soil for drug trafficking and NAFTA –North American Free Trade Agreement- which was enacted the exact same day the rebellion started with three effects:

1) it destroyed the little farmers –who now had to compete with the heavily subsidized U.S. agro industry,

2) it flooded Mexico with legal corporations –but not jobs- and illegal money, which in turn

3) flooded the US with drugs and Mexicans who were expelled from the countryside and for whom their country has nothing to offer but corruption.

That is a brief rough draft of the tragedy.

And now? Well, after six years of the “war on drugs” (which in fact is 42 years old; it started in 1971 under Pres. Nixon; six years is the Mexican government ‘official’ count) just add a hundred thousand people killed, thirty thousand disappeared, millions traumatized, the fact that one out of four Mexicans live in the US as economic refugee, that six out of ten live in poverty, and that ten million of them –out of a population of 120 million- live in misery, and we will have an updated image of the situation.

Hopeless? No. Certainly not.

Massive structural violence as the one depicted above can only be addressed with massive peace policies; and in Mexico, much of them are on their way -both in national and regional levels- but even better, some of them are already here, working, acting and yielding good results.

At the national level an overarching program to prevent violence has been designed and enacted. Despite the fact that it misses some important topics –such as peace journalism, peace museums, peace business and nonviolent communication- it is a bold proposal, grounded in a legitimate peace philosophy –one in which peace is constructed through the satisfaction of basic human needs- and is well equipped in scope and with enough budget and personnel to achieve transcending results by construction of peace infrastructures (i.e. mediation centers, academic degrees in peace for civil servants, etc.) and the buildup of a mediation-dialogue-conciliation culture that had been floating in the air for some years but is now becoming a very concrete way of life not only in scholarly circles but also in civil society and government.

This top-down approach is then linked with efforts bottom-up from the ground level in the different regions. In the same way the State of Puebla was a pioneer in boosting mediation in legal practice; the State of Mexico –a region of the country- is a formidable example of how peace education can be better served by summing up efforts in all directions from NGOs to government to individual commitments. Under the overarching umbrella of a project called Programa para una Convivencia Escolar Armónica (Program for a Harmonious Coexistence in School) thousands of school teachers, parents and tens of thousands of students are getting acquainted not only with strategies on how to deal with bullying but also on a wide range of conflict transformation techniques for everyday conflicts in all domestic contexts.

TRANSCEND is an active partner in all of the above–and more. Supporting the development of legal mediation throughout the country along with the Supreme Court, enhancing the possibilities for the constitution of a National Commission of Peace –now well advanced at State level with State Commissions already active and supported by up to 300 NGOs now contributing with trainers instruction, documenting experiences, designing proposals, certifying competences and providing study material for dissemination and articulation of peace education.

This is taking place right now; and next year –already around the corner- a giant leap could take place: the creation of the first Peace Study Center associated with the public administration.

Certainly not enough, but not bad either.

Originally published at Transcend Media Service here.

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