PRODESC: 15 YEARS BUILDING SPACES OF HOPE AND DIGNITY

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PRODESC: 15 YEARS BUILDING SPACES OF HOPE AND DIGNITY

Without a doubt, this year has changed the lives of all women and men in Mexico and the entire world. 2020 brought inestimable losses of life and the planet itself.   The pandemic caused by COVID-19 has demonstrated that during recent years we have been surviving exploitation and the disproportionate consumption of the planet’s most important resources. It has also revealed that the more vulnerable populations have been increasing.   Inequality, as I have already posited elsewhere, is the real pandemic and women, as well as those considered minorities, such as indigenous peoples, as well as women and men workers, continue to keep the wheel of the economy turning, but nonetheless are not recognized and even less protected.   In the face of this panorama expressive of a highly complex situation, we must become conscious of our position and try to make changes. In my case and that of the women and men defenders that form part of ProDESC, this is the question we wish to answer within the framework of our fifteenth anniversary.   Looking back at what we were imagining we could do in 2005 and seeing what we have actually achieved is mainly an opportunity to rethink the next fifteen years of work that lay ahead.
15 años ProDESC
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I launched ProDESC after ten years of experience working as a human rights defender in different organizations, all of which were important and enabled me to learn a lot—Kinal Antsetik, CEREAL, CEJIL, and Centro ProDH.   In all these organizations, I encountered women and men defenders who were highly committed, courageous, creative, idealistic, passionately engaged, and full of hope.   We were also exhausted, lonely, working in precarious conditions, surrounded by hostile practices and discredit. All this was part of our human condition. Needless to say, we became burnt out in the struggle for a little bit of justice in a country where injustice is the rule and a circle of impunity has prevailed for decades.   During that time, reflection about ESCRs was insufficient and in many spaces was based on a logic of signing pacts that were not grounded in Mexico’s social reality and what was implied in the actual experience of ESCRs.   By 1994, the Zapatista movement was already referring to the political content of ESCRs in their Lacandon Jungle Statement. The human rights movement, however, had not yet clearly linked together the importance of not only protecting human rights, but also making them justiciable, i.e., subject to trial in a court of law.   ProDESC was launched within this context in 2005. By coincidence (or not), it paralleled the Zapatista uprising and the signing of NAFTA.   The devastation was already clear. ESCRs were undergoing severe hardships. Labor precariousness, the seizure of communal land and indigenous territories, as well as violence of all kinds against women were increasing and no real efforts were being made to put an end to this situation and impose sanctions.
At that moment, the decision was made to create an organization that would promote ESCRs and also litigate violations to those rights both locally and globally. Three women imagined that this was possible — Ana Paola Gutierrez, Aurora de la Riva, and myself. We started with loans and deep conviction, and perhaps with some level of naïveté.   For some years, we constructed this project together. Later, more colleagues and more cases were integrated. We were increasingly clear that our Comprehensive Defense methodology had to integrate two specific elements: strengthening organizational processes and learning to investigate corporations.   We also became aware that we are feminists and that our team is made up of women and men with a diversity of ways of living and experiencing relationships. We think that organizational structures and collectivity do not mean the same to everybody.   Reflecting upon these fifteen years of history, it is impossible to only mention one case. All the cases we have accompanied have provided us with deep learning, lessons we take up to continue improving our work.   Our accompaniment of the Popular Assembly of the Juchitán People, for instance, is worth mentioning. As ProDESC, we accompanied the first indigenous consultation carried out under the reforms to the Electric Power Industry Act. ; Another case was the support we provided to La Sierrita Communal Lands in the state of Durango, in defense of land seized by Excellon, a Canadian mining company, and the creation of the Coalition of Women and Men Seasonal Migrant Workers from Sinaloa, as an articulated group that defends the rights of workers in Mexico and the United States.
An additional illustration is the construction and consolidation of the National Coordination of Women Human Labor Rights Defenders that groups different organizations of economic sectors that have become more precarious and which this year started to promote its political agenda.   In spite of the challenges faced within the context of the pandemic, I would also like to mention a couple of cases we have been promoting using our method of preventive litigation.   These two cases are the accompaniment to the indigenous Zapotec community of Unión Hidalgo, in Oaxaca, which became the first community on the American continent to be able to suspend the construction of a wind power park wind power park in its territory apart from starting legal proceedings against a French company under the protection of the Duty of Vigilance Law for French companies The other case is that of the Dziuché Communal Lands Mayan people who were able to defend and safeguard their lake against a decree issued by the governor in order to turn their communal lands into a “natural reserve” and thus grant concessions to the private sector.   In response to our emphasis on the collective, we also carried out four Latin American meetings aimed at constructing community and territorial security measures that led to the creation of a manual that serves to rethink security from the perspective of community defenders.   Another fundamental achievement that we hope will be a contribution to the extensive movement of human rights defense is the creation of the School for Transnational Justice. We expect this educational option to strengthen the capacities of defenders in local contexts facing serious human rights violations. This project, however, is also intended to create links between human rights defenders and continue to create networks.   We have already trained three generations, a total of 93 graduates. In spite of all the difficulties we have been facing this year, 2021, we decided to open a fourth generation following a hybrid format that includes online classes and expert mentors, hoping to be able do the final module in person once again.
Today, we are celebrating our first fifteen years. We acknowledge all the communities that have trusted us, the women and men workers, the women who face double or triple working days; the civil society organizations that have worked shoulder to shoulder with us; our families and friends; thank you from the depths of our hearts. Without your support, we would not be celebrating this fifteenth anniversary and only with your continued support will we be able to celebrate ProDESC’s thirtieth anniversary.   Although the challenges have been colossal, and the lessons learned and the trouble faced have also been enormous, constructing a project collectively and honestly provides more possibilities. As sociologist Angela Davis has said, “You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.”   Alejandra Ancheita and the ProDESC team
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