Friday, January 28, 2011

The Guerreras of Ciudad Juarez

I was very impressed by the story of these women bikers who are braving one of the most dangerous situations in the world to bring help and comfort to their fellow human beings. We can learn a lot about courage and compassion from Las Guerreras. (English translation by Rebel Girl) and Reuters
January 25, 2011

They are ten women who get around on pink motorbikes. Every Sunday they give out money, medicine, food, clothing, and even birthday cakes in the most violent city of Mexico.

The Guerreras are mothers, housewives, and workers who have decided to help the poor in their city, which is the most dangerous one in the world as well. In cramped, metal-roofed homes on unpaved streets, the 10-member group comprising teachers, off-duty police officers and businesswomen volunteer their time to help single mothers, addicts, the elderly and the jobless, many of whom have no access to welfare and feel completely abandoned.

"Every Sunday we try to share some of what we have with people who really need help and then we ride around the city and form a council to plan what we're going to do next Sunday," Lorenia Granados, the director of the Guerreras bike club, explained to El Diario de Juárez.

Founded two years ago, this group has been working ceaselessly. "A guerrera is someone who fights not just to survive, but to get ahead. Our slogan is: 'Women without limits, making the difference'," she said.

These Mexican Robin Hoods don't go unnoticed when they ride their pink bikes. They say they're the target of propositions, but state that no one has disrespected them. "We draw a lot of attention from the children and the women cheer us on a lot. The men admire us and find us strange. Sometimes we come up against some chauvinist but we show them that we are not made just to sit around the house," one of the Guerreras says defiantly.

"It's an honor for us, because the motorbikes are made for men and we show them that a woman can do many things a man can. It's not just about getting on a bike, but using it to do good things," says Lorenia.

Despite playing host to 340 factories exporting to the United States and handling billions of dollars in cross-border trade every year, Ciudad Juarez has become one of Mexico's most desperate cities. In a forlorn desert region with few schools or opportunities, poorly paid or unemployed youngsters are enticed into joining gangs to kill rivals for as little as $100 a hit.

For the third year in a row, Ciudad Juarez leads the ranking for the most violent cities in the world, in which 25% of the cities in the list are Mexican. In Juarez, murders grew 5,681% in 25 years. In 2010, over 3,000 homicides were recorded in a population of only 1.3 million people. The city has a rate of 229 homicides for every 1,000 inhabitants.

Mexico's President Felipe Calderon, who assigned the military to fight drug gangs in December 2006, launched a major social program aimed at rebuilding Ciudad Juarez last year, but locals say progress is slow. "No one does anything," said 60-year-old Sanjuana Flores, whose daughter, a drug addict, was shot dead in 2008, leaving behind four children that Flores now looks after. Flores, receiving a handout of meat and vegetables from the pink bikers, said she was frustrated. "I've asked for help from the town hall and from town councilors. They promise things, but they are all lies," she said.

The Guerreras are not rich women either. "We are housewives, workers, we all work independently. We work the first shift at the job and the second at home. Most of us have kids who we try to bring along when we do these things to teach them that we can all do something for someone else," they add.

They are open to accepting new members "who want to help those who need support." However, the admissions process is strict: "There are rules. You would have to spend a certain amount of time rolling with us and helping, to know if you definitely wanted to belong to our group, because it isn't just taking a trip. We are trying to make a difference in the hope that someday peace will return."

A socio-environmental responsibility law?

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

There is already the law of fiscal responsibility. A ruler can't spend more than the amount of taxes collected allows. This has significantly improved governance.

The accumulation of social and environmental disasters that have occurred recently, with the landslides, devastating floods and hundreds of fatalities, coupled with the destruction of entire landscapes, forces us to consider the establishment of a national law on socio-environmental responsibility, with severe penalties for those who don't respect it.

We have already taken a step with corporate awareness of social responsibility. They can't think only of themselves and their shareholders' benefits. They must assume a clear social responsibility because they don't live in a world apart -- they are in a given society, with a government that makes laws, they are in a given ecosystem and are being pressured by a civic conscience that increasingly demands the right to a good quality of life.

Let it be clear that social responsibility is not the same as social obligation prescribed by law with respect to the payment of taxes, commissions and salaries, nor can it be confused with social response, which is the ability of firms to adapt to changes in the social, economic and technical fields. Social responsibility is the obligation assumed by companies to seek goals that, in the medium and long term, are good for them and also for the whole of the society in which they are located.

It's not about doing for society, which would be philanthropy, but with society, engaging in projects developed together with municipalities, NGOs and other entities.

But let's be realistic: in a neoliberal regime such as ours, whenever businesses aren't profitable, social responsibility decreases and even disappears. The greatest enemy of social responsibility is speculative capital. Its objective is to maximize the benefits of the purses and portfolios that it controls. It sees no other responsibility but to ensure profits.

But social responsibility is not enough, since it doesn't include the environmental factor. Few people have realized the relationship between the social and the environmental. It's an intrinsic relationship. All companies and each of us live on earth, not in the clouds -- we breathe, eat, drink, walk on the soil, we are exposed to changes in climate, immersed in nature with its biodiversity, inhabited by billions of bacteria and other microorganisms. That is, we are within nature and are part of it. Nature can live without us as it has done for billions of years, but we can not live without it. Therefore,the social without the environmental is unreal. Both always come together.

That which seems obvious, isn't for most people. Why do we exclude nature? Because we are all anthropocentric, that is, we think only of ourselves. Nature is something external, for our enjoyment.

We are irresponsible with nature when we cut down trees, when we pour billions of liters of pesticides onto the soil, when we launch about 21 billion tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere annually, pollute water, destroy waterfront vegetation, do not respect the decline of the mountains that can collapse and kill people, or see the flow of the rivers that, if they grow, can take everything before them.

We don't internalize the information biologists and astrophysicists provide us: We all have the same basic genetic alphabet, so we're all cousins and brothers and sisters, and thus we form the community of life. Every being has intrinsic value and therefore has rights. Our democracy can not only include human beings. Without the other members of the community of life, we are nothing. They count as new citizens who should be included in our concept of democracy, which then becomes a socio-environmental democracy. Nature and things give us signals. They draw our attention to the possible risks that we can avoid.

Social responsibility is not enough, it must be socio-environmental. It is urgent that the parliament pass a socio-environmental responsibility law to be imposed on all managers of public matters. Only then will we avoid tragedies and deaths.

Monday, January 24, 2011

In Memoriam: Mons. Samuel Ruiz Garcia

Mons. Samuel Ruiz García, emeritus bishop of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, died this morning at age 86 of cardio-respiratory complications and diabetes at Ángeles del Pedregal Hospital in Mexico City where he had been hospitalized since January 12th.

“Jtatic" ("father" in Tzotzil), as the indigenous of Chiapas called Bishop Ruiz, served 40 years as bishop of the San Cristóbal de las Casas Diocese, one of the largest in Chiapas. He was born in 1927 in Irapuato, Guanajuato, and entered seminary at age 13 in León. In 1947, he moved to Rome to study at the Gregorian University and was ordained two years later on April 2, 1949. He also completed a dctorate in theology and sacred scripture there. Pope John XXIII named him bishop on November 14, 1969 and he was officially installed on January 25, 1960.

Bishop Ruiz participated in both Vatican II and in the CELAM Conference at Medellin. He chaired the Mexican Bishops' Conference's panel on ministry to the indigenous communities from 1965 to 1973. In 1975 he began promoting the permanent diaconate in his diocese and by the time he retired in 2000, 341 married men had been ordained as deacons.

In 1989, he founded the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center, a non-governmental organization devoted to advocacy and the defense of human rights, especially of the indigenous people. In a statement on their Web site, the organization recommitted itself to working for their founder's objectives, saying that "our beloved Jtatic left us the incorruptible decision to struggle for justice and peacebuilding with dignity and perseverance." In 1993, Bishop Ruiz wrote a pastoral letter, “En esta Hora de Gracia” ("In this hour of grace" -- a selection is available in RELaT), in which he warned about the injustices that were being committed against the indigenous people.

In 1996, Mons. Ruiz received the Pacem in Terris award and in 2000, he was awarded UNESCO's International Simón Bolívar Prize for his struggle against violence, poverty and exclusion. He also received an honorary doctorate from the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City.

Bishop Ruiz lived through the armed struggle in Chiapas that began in January 1994 when the Zapatistas -- Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) -- appeared on the scene, composed largely of indigenous people with limited economic resources, who confronted the government. From 1994 to 1998, Bishop Ruiz served as mediator between the EZLN and the Mexican government, heading the Comisión Nacional de Intermediación (Conai). In 1995, he participated in the signing of the San Andres Accords.

In eulogizing Mons. Ruiz, Mexican President Felipe Calderon recalled his peacemaking work during that period saying, "From his diocese in Chiapas, Samuel Ruiz tried to build a more just, egalitarian, and worthy Mexico, one without discrimination and when the indigenous communities would have a voice and have their rights and freedom respected by all." He said the bishop's death was a great loss for all of Mexico.

The Mexico's Bishops' Conference issued a terse statement mourning Bishop Ruiz's death and indicating that a funeral Mass will be celebrated this Wednesday in the Cathedral of San Cristóbal de las Casas at noon. The Diocese of San Cristóbal de las Casas issued a more detailed communique about the arrangements and summed up Bishop Ruiz's life and legacy in 15 points:

1. The integral promotion of indigenous people as full actors in the Church and society.

2. The preferential option for the poor and liberation of the oppressed, as a sign of the Kingdom of God.

3. The freedom to denounce injustice before any arbitrary power.

4. The defense of human rights.

5. Pastoral participation in social reality and in history.

6. The inculturation of the Church, promoting what Vatican II required, that there be autochthonous churches, embodying the different indigenous and mestizo cultures.

7. Promoting the dignity of women and their co-responsibility in Church and society.

8. A Church that is open to the world and a servant of the people.

9. Ecumenism not only with other Christian denominations but with all religions.

10. A joint pastoral ministry, with shared responsibilities.

11. An indigenous theology, as the search for the presence of God in the original cultures.

12. The permanent diaconate, with a specific process among the indigenous people.

13. Reconciliation in the communities.

14. Unity within diversity.

15. Affective and effective communion with the Successor of Peter and the universal Church (III Synod, 571).