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Boy in clown face sits with a photo of his slain uncle, Ruben Reyes during recent Juárez peace memorial and peace vigil. photo: Ted Lewis

Urgent Request for Support of Kidnapped Family Members of Slain Juárez Activist, Josefina Reyes.

Before spelling out this action request, I wanted to thank every one of you who wrote letters in support of last week’s all night peace vigil and fast for justice in Ciudad Juárez. Your support really helped.

All together, the organizers of a growing Juárez peace and justice coalition received more than 2,000 letters from around the world. This raised spirits among those camped out in central Juárez and put both local and national authorities on notice that their actions were being watched by thousands of eyes across Mexico and internationally.

But violent repression has not ended and your direct help is again being urgently requested in the kidnapping cases of Malena Reyes, Elías Reyes and Luisa Ornelas Soto, Elias’ wife.

All three are relatives of Josefina Reyes, a prominent anti-militarization activist in Valle de Juárez who was assassinated in 2010.

Peace and justice organizations in the region have issued statements saying they fear for the lives of all three and are calling on everyone to distribute the following report and write letters to the authorities demanding their safe release.

These recent forced disappearances take place in the context of threats and attacks against the Reyes family since several years ago, when human rights defender, Josefina Reyes, became an outspoken critic of the state of impunity in Chihuahua and military abuses. She was assassinated on January 3, 2010. On August 18, 2010 her brother, Ruben Reyes, was also assassinated. Both cases remain unresolved.

A translation of the alert issued in México and further background information has been made available.

Send a letter to the Mexican authorities to denounce the kidnapping and demand the immediate appearance of Malena, Elias Reyes and his wife, Luisa Ornelas Soto alive.

You can also watch this video of people who are fasting in Juárez demanding action from authorities in this kidnapping case.

This weekend, Global Exchange’s Human Rights Director, Ted Lewis participated in the fast for peace and bi-national rally that took place in Juárez. He shares his experience.

As we pay fifty cents to walk across the bridge from El Paso Texas to Ciudad Juárez on Friday night the sunset is beautiful, but I am nervous and a little scared.  We’ve driven 20 hours overnight from San Francisco to participate in a fast for peace and public commemoration of the massacre of 18 high school students planned for the weekend.

We’ve arranged to be met on the other side by Silvia, a former nun who is helping organize the event. Everything is well planned, but as evening falls, I can’t help thinking that we are about to arrive at dusk in what has become the most dangerous city in the world and where the lines between criminal gangs, federal police, army, and local police have become blurred.

I’ve always been struck by the contrasts along the border: the wealth of the United States literally side by side with the unrelenting poverty in Mexico.  Tonight I reflect on another contrast – in Juárez three thousand people died in 2010 in violence attributed to a war over drug profits, yet neighboring El Paso where the drugs arrive for shipment to markets around our country, ranks as one of the safest cities in the United Sates.

As we reach the other side a pleasant young soldier gives a cursory look at my backpack, while we scan the crowd for Silvia. There she is, a tiny woman who guides us a few paces to her battered old car and drives us through darkening streets filled with shuttered businesses to a small convent where we spend the night. The only sounds I hear throughout the night are the horns of the trains that ply the tracks along the border, just a few blocks away.

Early the next morning, we gather in the center of the city with a group of Juarenses who have decided to step forth, defy their fear, and overcome the divisions that have kept them silent.  The crowd gathers in the center of the city at the base of an elegant marble pillar topped by a statue of Mexican hero, Benito Juárez, the city’s namesake. The crowd slowly grows as a list of the fifty some organizations that have joined together are read by a priest from the Human Rights Center Paso del Norte, the prime organizers.

We settle in, knowing that this is going to be a 28-hour overnight vigil in the cold with no food. Then, the somber crowd is shaken up by a clown who brilliantly mimics our downturned faces and manages to get us all up on our feet participating in his silly antics. He sets the mood for a long day filled with music, face painting for kids, and dancing that keep spirits high despite devastating testimonies from families whose loved ones have been victims of the growing violence that has inundated the city. Many of the people that take the microphone during the day comment that sharing their tears and fears in public space is uplifting and a needed ingredient to build resistance to the terror that has kept them hunkered in their homes.

At noon, we join a caravan of more than a dozen vehicles that heads to the border fence. There, in the presence of a dozen border patrol vehicles, we take place in an extraordinary bi-national demonstration against the violence in Mexico and its roots in the insanity of the never ending U.S. “war on drugs” and permissive gun laws that allow thousands of assault rifles to be legally purchased and then smuggled south across the border. Speakers on platforms set up in the glaring sunlight on both sides of the fence stir the crowd with a mixture of Spanish and English. One of the fasters, Emilio Alvarez, the former human rights ombudsman of Mexico City asks why the U.S. can catch so many migrants heading north, but can’t stop the thousands of guns heading south every year. Reporters mingle with the crowd and the border patrol looks on nervously.

At the conclusion of the rally, we return to the city center and gather anew around the statue of Juárez. We are buoyed by reports from simultaneous fasts happening in Mexico City, Cuernavaca, and nearby in the Salvacrar neighborhood of Juárez where last year’s massacre of the 18 students took place.

As night falls, we light hundreds of candles in paper bags on the steps around the statue. The glowing bags, arranged to spell JUSTICIA, stay lit all night, reminding us why we are there as the temperature drops and we huddle around fires and sing together into the darkest hours of the night.

As day breaks, we are cold tired and hungry, but amongst the Juarenses one senses a spirit of victory. No, we have not changed the insane drug policies that fuel this war, nor have we broken the links between the Mexican state and the vicious criminal cartels, but we have stood up and said NO MAS SANGRE–NO MORE BLOODSHED.

A seed has been planted and at least for a moment people have broken though the fear that has paralyzed them. We depart at noon with hugs, prayers, songs, and silly clowning around and refresh determination to build a powerful movement to put an end to this scourge that has blighted so many lives.

It is clear that this tragic violence is fueled by U.S. military aid to Mexican security forces through the Merida Initiative. Help us grow our petition of calling on the Obama Administration to uphold human rights and halt drug war aid to Mexican security forces.

Earlier this week we sent you the announcement of a high profile public fast starting on Jan 29th — the first anniversary of a massacre of 18 teenagers in the Villas de Salvárcrar neighborhood of Juárez. On this day, there will also be a bi-national rally taking place on the border between El Paso and Juárez.

Global Exchange is organizing a small delegation from San Francisco to join the fasters from across Mexico. Stay tuned to this blog for updates from Juárez.

Also, we repeat our requests that you send letters of support to the organizers of this event:

Centro de Derechos Humanos Paso del Norte
With Copies to:
Felipe Calderon, Mexican President,
César Duarte, Chihuahua Governor,

Sample texts in Spanish and English.

It is clear that this tragic violence is fueled by U.S. military aid to Mexican security forces through the Merida Initiative. Help us grow our petition of calling on the Obama Administration to uphold human rights and halt drug war aid to Mexican security forces.

We also wanted to acknowledge the passing of two wonderful men who, in very different ways, gave unstintingly of themselves to the most downtrodden — “los de abajo”— in Mexico.

The remarkable life and transformation life of Bishop Don Samuel Ruiz is encapsulated in this obituary by Laura Carlsen.

John Ross, the rebel journalist who often gave us permission to republish his provocative missives is remembered here.

"No More Blood" and other Mexican groups held a vigil at the Mexican Inspector General's office January 12.

Last week, in a counterpoint to the unrelenting grim news coming out of Mexico and particularly from Ciudad Juárez, a new peace initiative was announced by civil society and religious organizations who are saying: No More Blood.

On Saturday, Jan. 29 there will be a high profile public fast on the first anniversary of a massacre of 18 teenagers in the Villas de Salvárcrar neighborhood of Juárez.  The fasters, who will arrive from across Mexico, seek to make visible their collective moral outrage, pain; as well as the hopes of Mexicans, that the violence sweeping their country – claiming more than 15,000 lives in 2010 alone – can be challenged and stopped.

Our partners in Mexico have asked us to support the people of Juárez, and their brothers and sisters throughout Mexico, with both our physical presence and through letters of support.

This appeal comes to us from ten parishes in Ciudad Juárez, as well as the Paso del Norte Human Rights Center, Migrant Human Rights Center, Woman Worker Pastoral Center and Citizen’s Medical Committee of Ciudad Juárez. Activities in Juárez will include a bi-national rally on Saturday, January 29.

If you are interested in joining the fasters in Ciudad Juarez, please contact Ted Lewis for more details.

Send a message of solidarity that will be read publicly during this fast and copied to Mexican State and Federal Authorities.

As additional background, we recommend:

  • New Wave of Cross-Border Activism: Border reporter Kent Patterson describes events and organizations “galvanized by the recent murders of two women from Ciudad Juarez, activist mother Marisela Escobedo and poet Susana Chavez.”
  • Dispatch from Juarez: Fear and Happiness at War: How life goes on in Juárez in the face of tragedy and terror by Colorlines reporter, Debbie Nathan.
  • Arming Mexico’s drug cartels: A year-long investigation by The Washington Post that for the first time reveals the top 12 stores that sold guns traced to Mexican crime scenes.