Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 17, 2003
A battle for rights in Mexico
Cochrane woman tries to bring hope to remote area
By JIM LEGG
Special to the WCR
They are battling incredible odds - extreme poverty, escalating violence, widespread drug cultivation and mounting human-rights abuses.
Yet, it is here, in Tlapa, Guerrero, the third-poorest state in Mexico, where Leslie Davies of Cochrane and a team of Mexican human rights workers are making their stand.
"It's very important work. We are trying to defend the human rights of the people. There are constant threats to their lives," says Davies, a Cochrane high school graduate who has taught English at Father Lacombe High School in Calgary.
None of the threats is more serious than those targeting Abel Barrera, director of the Tlachinollan Centre for Human Rights of the Monta¤a, a man who has been marked for death since 1997, an icon for freedom whom Davies has been working with for the last 18 months.
And still, despite the immensity of the challenge in front of them, they march on.
"I'm trying to, in some small way, live my faith and to take some concrete action about what I believe in," says Davies.
Davies is helping to inject new hope among the more than 630,000 people living in Tlapa and nearby mountain communities southwest of Mexico City.
"There are grave human rights violations - the military raping indigenous women. People have been repressed for decades," says Davies. "The undercurrents are always there. It's one of the seats of the Mexican Revolution."
Davies is in charge of international communications, translating and channeling it to Amnesty International, as well as the UN Human Rights Commission.
A team of lawyers at the centre provides legal advice and defence in the more than 600 human rights cases a year.
People are tortured, illegally detained, threatened and sometimes executed in Guerrero, which leads the nation in illiteracy, as well as the percentage of homes without electricity, running water and sewage disposal infrastructure.
"We provide international visibility and make governments aware of the problems - and the repercussions help prevent some threats from being carried out," she says.
Davies serves as a liaison for Mission Mexico, a plan spearheaded by Father Fred Monk, of Cochrane, and supported by Catholic churches in Cochrane, Airdrie and Calgary.
"Concern for the poor is not optional for Catholics - it is an essential part of who we are - individually and as a parish," Monk says. "Concern for the least among us is at the core of what we believe and who we are as disciples of Christ.
"Our call to serve the poor - those on the margin of economic, social and political life - is a constant theme in Scripture."
Nobody understands that theme better than 16-year-old Angela Velasquez, a Grade 9 student at Casa Hogar (The Home), a facility for orphaned girls in Tlapa, one of 38 projects completed in three years under Mission Mexico at a total cost of more than $600,000 - money all raised one loonie at a time.
"If they hadn't accepted me here, who knows how I would be right now," Velasquez says through a translator. "Here, they give me everything. In my community, I wouldn't have been able to go to school.
"I help out by sweeping, mopping, clearing the dishes and combing the little girls' hair.
"I see them as little sisters because I am one of the oldest. We all help each other."
That's vitally important to Velasquez. Touched by the love she has received, the teenager hopes to repay it some day.
"I'd like to be a doctor . . . or a nurse.
"If I don't have somewhere to live like Casa Hogar, I can't afford to go to school. If I go to the school of technology after high school, I can stay here and study to be a nurse.
"Then I can go back to my village and help the people."