Saturday, August 27, 2011

After Fighting Nuclear Waste, A Mexican Family's Fight For Survival: The Reyes Salazar Plight

Oct. 1998--Professor Manuel Robles, coordinator of the Binational Coalition Against Toxic Dumps, recognizing Sara Salazar for her family's work in defeating a nuclear waste dump in Texas near the Mexican border.   
On October 22, 1998 a binational coalition of citizens, activists, and political representatives won a major environmental battle over Gov. George W. Bush and the state of Texas when a proposed nuclear waste dump near the Rio Grande and the town of Sierra Blanca, TX was canceled. Thousands of Mexicans took part in the struggle, but one family particularly stood out: the Reyes Salazar family from the town of Guadalupe Distrito Bravos in the rural area downriver from Ciudad Juárez known as the Juárez Valley.  I got to know these friendly and hospitable folks well as I was a field organizer for an El Paso-based environmental organization, and enjoyed visiting them in Guadalupe where I was treated to delicious sweet bread from their family bakery.

Feb. 2011--Sara Salazar at the funeral of her daughter and son, Malena and Elías Reyes Salazar. They had been kidnapped and found murdered two weeks later. Her son Saúl stands behind her to the right.

The Juárez Valley has seen some of the most intense violence in all of Mexico since President Felipe Calderón escalated the drug war in 2006.  The murder rate in Juárez has increased tenfold. After losing four children and other relatives to the violence, Sara Salazar and remaining family fled their beloved home, first to the city of Juárez and then Mexico City. They are hoping to be granted asylum in another country. 

On Aug. 19, 2011 the Mexico City newspaper La Jornada  published an article entitled "The Reyes Family: history of extermination", which stated "the climate of harassment, persecution, and death that has devastated the Reyes Salazar family, who have a history of several decades of social activism which includes opposition to a toxic dump in south Texas, labor struggles against the maquiladora factories in the region, the struggle to shed light on the murder of women in Juárez, and protests against the abuses committed by the military within the context of the militarization of the border." (link to full article at end)

The global war on drugs was launched forty years ago by President Richard Nixon. In a recent editorial in the New York Times, "Call Off The Global Drug War", former president Jimmy Carter endorsed the recommendations by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which includes former presidents  Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico and César Gaviria of Colombia, and former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz. The commission's  report opens with the statement, "The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world." Recommendations include substituting treatment for imprisonment and for governments to experiment "with models of legal regulation of drugs...that are designed to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens." The report cited countries like the Netherlands and Switzerland which have already implemented broad drug policy reform with great success. (link to full report at end)

First a look back at a recent event in Ciudad Juárez where the plight of the Reyes Salazar family was often mentioned:

Mothers holding posters of their disappeared daughters for the arrival of the caravan for peace and justice in Juárez on June 10, 2011.
June has arrived and spring flowers are wilting under the heat.

The University of Juárez looks pretty much 
the same as it did when we organized environmental 
conferences on the campus fifteen years ago. 

A Memorial Wall of Victims 
was placed on the campus mall 
But a new topic dominates the landscape: the violence, the mounting death toll, and the toll it all takes on the living--you can
see it in many faces.

But this was not a day to cry, but a day of outcry. 

"Estamos hasta la madre!" (We've Had It Up To Here) was their theme. The Caravan of Peace and Justice had come to town.

The caravan was led by a poet named Sicilia, a poet who gave up writing poetry after his son was murdered. Not a charismatic leader but it didn't matter; he shared their same pain, the personal loss.

Javier Sicilia speaking at the university of Juárez
The images of two brothers stood out (above): 
Marcos and Jose Luis 
Two of sixteen students were who 
were gunned down at a party last year.
Innocent victims of the nightmare. 
Salvarcar, where they lived and died, was the caravan's first stop.
The tragedy of Salvarcar, the battle cry of Salvarcar.

Mexican journalists at the press conference
The brave journalists of Juárez were present as always.

Reporting about the drug war is risky business. According to Reporters Without Borders, Mexico is now the most dangerous country in the world for journalists. Thirty reporters have been killed since 2006 (7 this year).  

A contingent of folks from the U.S. marched across the bridge from El Paso to join the caravan.

A friend who marched with them took this photo along Juárez's tourist strip--collateral damage from the violence and widespread extortion. Tourists aren't the targets, but they're gone regardless.

Juárez residents marching to the plaza to join the caravan rally  
(photo by Todd Miller/Witness For Peace)

In the late afternoon thousands gathered in the Plaza del Monumento, which has a statute of Mexico's lone indigenous president, Benito Juárez. 

                                                     For Whom the Bell Tolls

left to right: Susana Chavez, Josefina Reyes,
 Marisela Escobedo
Many were remembered:
Susana Chavez, an activist and poet who protested the killings of women and coined the phrase "Ni una muerta mas". Josefina Reyes, who helped defeat the nuclear dump and fought injustice her entire adult life. 
Marisela Escobedo,
murdered while protesting the murder of her daughter.
A peace sign at the rally with the ubiquitous symbol
 for "No More Blood"    (Miller/WFP)

Olga Reyes Salazar speaking at the rally
Speaker after speaker told heartbreaking stories of family members disappeared or murdered. At times it almost seemed like a ritual of healing, but anger was also present: at the army, the police, President Calderón, the impunity, Plan Mérida (U.S.
military funding for Mexico). The message from participants was loud and clear--the drug war is a disastrous failure, and "A National Pact For Peace" was drafted to offer a way out of the abyss.

It was a day of intense emotions. There were tears, but smiles and hugs were also plentiful.

The day's events showed that the spirit of struggle in Juárez  is alive and well and that life goes on. That peace and justice are possible, and people are risking their lives to make it happen.


Ruben Reyes (left) at the trench dug for nuclear waste
in Sierra Blanca, TX

1,200 people marching through Juárez in March 1998 
to protest the proposed nuclear dump in Sierra Blanca

The march through the then peaceful Juárez Valley  Aug. 1998
In August 1998 hundreds of people from the Juárez Valley, Ciudad Juárez, El Paso, and other areas took part in a four day 90 mile march to Sierra Blanca. The first two days the Mexican and U.S. contingents marched separately on opposite sides of the border, but on the third day the two groups merged together for the final two days to Sierra Blanca.

The Mexican contingent crossing the Rio Grande from the Juárez Valley to join marchers on the U.S. side

Meeting U.S. Customs and raising hands to say "We come in peace!" The end of the march for those without papers.
 The arrival of the march in Sierra Blanca, Texas  Aug. 1998

Oct. 12, 1998--Over a thousand Mexican students block five international bridges in Juarez and the Juarez Valley to protest the Sierra Blanca dump.      
 Marching together in Austin, Texas   Oct. 21 1998 
Saúl Reyes speaking at the final rally in Austin
Mexican congressional representatives protesting the dump in Austin, Oct. 1998, where they held a three day fast. Holding the sign is Juarez city council representative Jose Luis Rodriguez who fasted on an international bridge for over 20 days.  At far right is Juarez congressman Carlos Camacho, who was murdered in Juarez in 2008.
All night vigil in Ciudad Juarez Oct. 21, 1998--the day 
before the final decision.

 Guadalupe held its own candlelight vigil on Oct. 21.  Five Reyes Salazar siblings are shown, three of whom were victims of the violence: Malena and Josefina, first and second from left; and Rubén, second from right. Third from left is Eleazar who died from natural causes. Fourth from right is Claudia.
A sing-along around the campfire during the Guadalupe vigil.
Josefina Reyes Salazar
and two sons (far right)
Murdered in Jan. 2010
She founded a human rights
organization in the Juárez Valley
after her son's murder.

Rubén Reyes Salazar--Murdered in Aug. 2010
In addition to his environmental and
     human rights activism,
he and his brothers 
operated a bakery in Guadalupe.
Oct. 22, 1998--The Day of Triumph. Matachines dancers from Guadalupe perform outside the offices of the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission in Austin TX.

U.S. and Mexican dump opponents celebrate in Austin on Oct. 22, 1998. Sara Salazar (dressed in white with right arm raised) is standing in the back row, third from left, next to Texas State Rep. Norma Chavez in the red dress. 

Oct. 23, 1998--the headline of the El Paso Times. Photo shows several of the Matachines dancers from Guadalupe.

Here's a video from the Hobo Dispatch about the Reyes Salazar family's participation in the Sierra Blanca struggle and the disastrous violence that struck their beloved town of Guadalupe, with footage from a visit to Guadalupe in Sept. 2015 which has become a virtual ghost town.
Click on the above video to watch the Story of the Reyes Salazar family.

Oct. 22, 1999--The Diario de Juarez newspaper does an anniversary report on the Sierra Blanca nuclear dump struggle focusing on the valiant efforts of the Reyes Salazar family. Shown here is Sara Salazar at her home in Guadalupe.
In early 2011 the house was set on fire and now sits empty.

click on the link to read:
Famila Reyes: historia de exterminio (La Jornada 8-19-11):

Other Links:
Killings Jolt A Family In Mexico (New York Times 2-25-11):

Call Off The Global Drug War by Jimmy Carter (N.Y. Times 6-13-11)

To read the Global Commission on Drugs report: