Things That Matter

They Discovered Mass Graves And Now These Grieving Mothers Are Being Threatened By Drug Cartels

Latin American history is full of brutal cases of disappearances that most likely translate into the death of a loved one. From the crimes perpetuated by the military dictatorships in Chile and Argentina, to the attacks on indigenous communities in Central America, numerous citizens have been killed and then their remains disposed of illegally.

Mexico is the latest country to be hit by a wave of desaparecidos, whose desperate relatives literally get down on their knees to dig the Earth and try to find an indication, anything, that could provide a clue on the ultimate fate of their loved ones. We cannot even imagine the pain of not knowing if a family member is alive or dead. Closure is also hard to attain as the circumstances of killings are rarely, if ever, clarified. 

Since 2006, when then president Felipe Calderon Hinojosa waged a direct, and many claimed poorly planned, war against the Mexican drug cartels, the country has become a mass graveyard.

 It is now common, although never ever acceptable, to hear about rural spots in which bones, clothes and other objects indicate that people have been killed. This reminds us, sadly, of dark passages in history, such as the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia, which saw people of all ages and backgrounds murdered in what is infamously known as “the killing fields”. Well, some areas of Mexico are today’s cemeteries for those who faced death in a violent way, while possibly having been tortured. 

It is not only cartel members that are being found in clandestine burial grounds: rotting infant clothes are a common, heartbreaking sight.

In the past 13 or so years, numerous sites have been dug up by desperate relatives, and some by the authorities. In states such as Coahuila they have found the remains of numerous women and children who were caught at the crossfire of the cartel wars. Some migrants coming from Central America have allegedly also been murdered and then buried in the desert. Some corpses indicate that they were burnt or dipped in acid.

This is the true, dehumanizing face of the war on drugs that has plagued Mexico for decades, product of local corruption, weapons being sold by US arms dealers and the insatiable thirst for drugs in Global North markets including the United States, Australia and Western European countries. 

Families in states like Sonora take matters into their own hands and volunteer to form search parties: they are now being threatened.

The Northern state of Sonora, which borders with Arizona and New Mexico, is at the epicenter of the cartel wars. It has a vast border area that is prime “real estate” for traffickers trying to get their product (drugs or, increasingly, victims of human trafficking), from Mexico into the United States. A group of citizens has formed voluntary search parties looking for human remains under the blistering Sonoran sun. As if the task itself wasn’t taxing enough, they are now being threatened by armed men. 

A recent discovery in Puerto Peñasco by the “Searching Mothers of Sonora” group raised a red flag.

The Sonora state prosecutor has revealed that while the mothers were waiting for the authorities to arrive and start investigations on a recently discovered burial pit, a group of sicarios arrived and, gun in hand, threatened them and ordered them to leave. Excavations produced four skeletons, which now need to be identified through a lengthy and costly process of DNA matching. The number of disappeared in Mexico is in the thousands, so even if a body is found matching it with one of the entries in the vast databases (many of which don’t “talk to each other” in the sense that there is no reliable list of desaparecidos) is a hard task. 

These mothers have lost almost everything, so they are proud and fearless.

It is likely that these mothers won’t budge. Their work has extended for years and just last month they found another burial site containing 42 skeletons near an area known as Rocky Point. As Arizona Central reported, when these volunteers found the mass grave they clearly stated their drive behind such a consuming task that basically takes over their lives: “to bring peace to other families that are going through the same pain”.

The figures are overwhelming:  an estimated 40,000 people have gone missing and more than 3,000 graves had been found across the country, according to media reports. Just trying to grasp this figures makes our heads in. It is a geopolitical crisis that needs to be addressed by all parties involved, it is not merely a local problem. 

500 Years After The Conquest Of Mexico Began, Descendants Of Both Cortes And Moctezuma Meet

Things That Matter

500 Years After The Conquest Of Mexico Began, Descendants Of Both Cortes And Moctezuma Meet

The scars of the Spanish colonization of what is now known as Mexico are still fresh in the racial, social and political relationships that shape the Latin American country. Current president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has continuously demanded Spain and the Catholic Church to apologize for the many crimes perpetuated against indigenous populations during La Conquista and La Colonia, periods in which the European colonizers imposed their will by brute force, enslaving the original owners of the land.

A recent event brought together two of the direct descendants of the Spanish conqueror, Hernan Cortes, and the conquered Aztec emperor, Moctezuma. The meet up was organized by filmmaker Miguel Gleason, who is making a documentary about the conquest. They met at a church were Cortes is buried. 

Yes, it has been 500 years since Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec empire, fell, but the episode still resonates with today’s Mexicans.

Contrary to other countries that were born out of European invasions, such as New Zealand, the indigenous population in Mexico has not been fully assimilated into political life, and many decisions are made for them in the higher echelons of power.

The story of the conquest is still seen as an us versus them, and even for Mexicans who are casually racist against indigenous people on an everyday basis there is a tinge of historical resentment against the Spanish.

It is important to point out that the Conquista was brutal: it was not the joyous founding of a new country, but a bloodshed that saw the indigenous population wiped out by guns and diseases such as smallpox for which they had no antibodies. It was cruel. To add insult to injury, they were also conquered ideologically and religiously by envoys from the Catholic Church that were hand in hand with the Spanish Crown. 

Un abrazo that is worth a thousand words… but are they empty words?

With much fanfare, surrounded by cameras and reporters, two men shared an embrace 500 years after their ancestors first met in 1519 and changed the history of the world.

Federico Acosta, a Mexican man whose family is directed down 16 generations to the daughter of Moctezuma, met with Ascanio Pignatelli, an Italian citizen related to Cortés’ daughter. Pignatelli’s family held one of  the conquistador’s noble titles, but sold it over 150 years ago. This was a heartfelt moment, but perhaps is was too naive. The event was covered by the Mexican and international media, but one should wonder the impact it could really have beyond the wow factor. Acosta said: “It’s not that there were good people and bad people. It’s that, that’s the way things were done”. Excuse us? 

This was a tender media moment, and it is an ideal scenario in terms of reconciliation. But how much can an act like this actually mean?

Pignatelli told Acosta: “I want to ask your forgiveness for all the bad things that happened. We need to leave the past behind us. Today is a day for leaving all the bad things in the past”.

This apology sounds all fine and dandy, but what does it mean for today’s world?

Acosta said: “We are the fusion of two cultures, the European and ours. We are the result of that meeting, the vast majority of us have Spanish and Mexican blood”.

And what Acosta said is true. Today’s Mexico is made up of a melange of heritages that extends far beyond Spain and the Aztec Empire. On the indigenous side there is Olmec, Mixtec, Maya, Tarahumara and many, many other ethnic groups that are often forgotten and still live under precarious conditions, akin to colonial times. On the European side, there have been German, French, Portuguese, European Jewish and all sorts of migrations. So Mexican identity is much more than an Aztec/Spanish dichotomy. 

Now AMLO is asking for an apology… again.

Pignatelli’s apology is something that the current Mexican president AMLO would like to hear from the Spanish Crown. His government’s ideology is based on a look into history and the many debts accumulated towards the marginal sectors of Mexican society. Among them, of course, are indigenous Mexicans.

He said: “I still ask the king of Spain and Pope Francis, humbly, that they apologize for the abuses committed during the conquest and the colonial domination”. This would be a merely symbolic act, as economic elites dominate the country regardless, oftentimes, of race.

Also, this view perpetuates the us vs them political imaginary that perhaps ends up not being very productive at all. But then again, AMLO’s ideological postulates are based on a revisionist approach to history. 

She Was Body-Shamed During The 2016 Olympics And Has Now Been Named Mexico’s Best Non-Professional Athlete

Entertainment

She Was Body-Shamed During The 2016 Olympics And Has Now Been Named Mexico’s Best Non-Professional Athlete

alexa.morenomx / Instagram

In 2016, Mexicana Alexa Moreno traveled to Rio de Janeiro to compete for her country in the Olympics. Mexico rooted for her as she impressively competed in the uneven bars, floor exercise, beam, vault and more, earning 31st place. Meanwhile, instead of being deeply impressed by her skills, Mexican Twitter trolls body-shamed her. Not for long. Some people around the world rallied to her defense and pointed out her superior athleticism.

In fact, Mexico just awarded Moreno with the Premio Nacional del Deporte, naming her the best non-professional athlete in the entire country.

In a video shared to Twitter, gymnast Alexa Moreno thanked her supporters.

Credit: @alexa_moreno_mx / Twitter

“Thank you for this recognition and thanks to all who have supported me on the way to get here,” she captioned the video. “Today, I was informed that I was the winner of the Premio Nacional del Deporte. I’m very shocked. The truth is that I didn’t imagine this would happen at all,” she told her fans in the video. “It’s a huge surprise. It’s very gratifying. Yes, I’m very, very happy. There’s nothing else to say but thank you to everyone. I want to thank everyone who has been a part of my journey. There’s been an entire circle of people around me. It’s not just me. It’s not just my job. I want to thank all the people who believed in me, for believing in me. Thank you very much.”

Moreno is the first Mexican woman gymnast to medal at a world championship.

@alexa_moreno_mx / Twitter

Moreno became the first Mexican woman to medal at a world championship just last year, when she earned bronze on vault. Last month, Moreno competed in the 2019 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Stuttgart, Germany. Her performance on vault qualified her for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo!

Moreno’s supporters emoji-clapping all over Twitter.

“HONOR TO WHOM HONOR IS DUE,” tweeted sports journalist Jocelin Flores in Spanish. “Alexa Moreno, the first Mexican to climb the podium of the World Artistic Gymnastics Championship, is the winner of the 2019 National Sports Award, Non-Professional category.” One mother tweeted at Moreno to say in Spanish, “Congratulations! You are a great role model for the children of the country.”

“The most deserved,” tweeted Twitter user Sebastián, “I think she’s already established herself as the best Mexican gymnast of all time.”

When the haters were hating, some people were creating beautiful illustrations of Moreno.

Credit: Jose Acosta / Facebook

Moreno signed up for gymnastics when she was just 3-years-old. “Mexico needs people who prove that everything is possible,” Moreno told CCTV America in 2016. “You need to believe in yourself and fight to be able to do things that no one has ever done before.” Moreno is just 4’11” and 99 pounds. As the haters started deleting their tweets, Alexa Moreno went viral for all the fan art her inspirational performance generated.

We hope all the Mexican niñas are watching and being inspired by Moreno.

Credit: @kaleidoscopao / Instagram

“I can’t believe the criticism and bullying of #AlexaMoreno,” one Mexican woman shared to Instagram, along with a video of her routine. “I see this routine and I applaud it, it excites me, it inspires me. This girl is a champion and an example to follow. I was a gymnast and BELIEVE ME it is very difficult to reach that level in this country where the support for gymnastics is almost nil. How can it be that instead of being proud and encouraging we are the first to trash her?!?! What kind of country are we? How do we intend to train valuable athletes if we are the first to throw them down?!?!”

Even though Moreno did nothing to achieve her beauty, we have to say, she’s so beautiful.

Credit: @danpichardo / Twitter

Of course, we should all be talking about how 23 years of regimented, back-breaking athleticism has made her Mexico’s best gymnast. That takes the kind of athletic work that many of us will never know. Moreno is also “drop-dead gorgeous” as my mom would say. Not that it matters.

Felicidades a la favorita de México!

Credit: @publisportmx / Twitter

We are rooting for you, Moreno! The medal that qualified her for the 2020 Olympics scored at a 14.508, less than one point behind the infamous U.S. gymnastics gold champion Simone Biles. Mexico has never taken home a medal in gymnastics. With Moreno competing on behalf of México, we’re high-key rooting she becomes the first Mexican to climb up on an Olympic podium to medal in gymnastics. Let the haters hate. Mexico loves you, Moreno, and so do we.

READ: A Mexican Gymnast Who Was Body-Shamed During The 2016 Olympics Just Qualified For The 2020 Games