Translated by Jane Brundage for Mexican Voices
|Julian LeBaron, Social Activist|
Tragedy changed Julián LeBarón. First his brother and brother-in-law were kidnapped and killed, then his friends and neighbors. He is an activist, a social fighter who does not believe either in the government of Enrique Peña Nieto, or in a system that he considers "criminal" because it does not meet its citizen's needs for freedom, security and prosperity.
LeBarón just arrived in Mexico City from his hometown of Galeana in northwestern Chihuahua. He has spent two months demanding the release of Dr. José Manuel Mireles, whom he regards as a "very decent" man:
"He sacrificed his life to defend his neighbor, something that my brother did and paid for with his life. Arresting him is a direct attack on the most sacred right in the world: the right to defend oneself. Any authority that denies us that right is a criminal authority."
A man of the countryside, a builder of houses and social movements, LeBarón symbolizes the struggle for a change of consciousness in a country where, faced with all kinds of abuse from power, the majority of citizens seem mired in the throes of conformity.
LeBarón first joined the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity begun by Javier Sicilia, then began making his own path in solidarity with the noblest causes seeking justice and redress for migrants, disappeared, political prisoners, victims of war:
"Not one person has been sentenced for my brother's murder. I've met thousands of victims, but I haven't seen justice done in a single case."
With no fear of being wrong, LeBarón repeats:
"Our system is criminal."
LeBaron is tall, sturdy, he wears a cowboy hat; his gaze is firm and direct, like his speech. The interview with La Jornada begins with a question on his part, a question that ultimately throws everybody:
"As a citizen, would you give money voluntarily to government officials in exchange for what you get?"And he quickly replies:
"Until today, I have not found any Mexican who says he would do so voluntarily. This means that originally government was conceived as a way of organizing ourselves in order to do things for the benefit of society. But it isn't that now. Today, the government is a violent, destructive and corrupt tool."La Jornada: Why has the government become like that?
"Because it does the opposite of what it should do. Government institutions say that they know how to spend the fruit of your labor better than you do. And everyone, because some ignorant and crazy ones made a mark on a piece of paper, put those bits of paper in a box and say they counted those marks, and they have a majority. This means that the government has the right to hire police and armed people and to forbid you to defend yourself. It is a way of imposing their will and taking away the fruits of your labor, even though we may not agree."La Jornada: It is assumed that this is called the State ...
"I don't know what that means. What is the State? The government and the State are things that do not exist. In reality, they don't work. They are people just like you and me, and we have accepted that the principles of those who govern are differ from ours."
"The government is damaging the entire society. And everything that harms a human being is criminal. Our system is criminal."La Jornada: It is presumed that we live in a democracy ...
"Our elections are secret, and we have allowed this system to perpetuate itself. The President won the election with 18 million votes in a country of 120 million Mexicans. And we don't know who voted, because voting is secret."La Jornada: Why doesn't the system work?
"If you go and tell a government official, 'I voted for you, but you lied. You haven't done anything you promised'. The official replies that the vote is secret, and he has no way of knowing whether or not you voted for him.
"The only thing that is certain is that he has the power for three or six years, and you are in the position of having to obey. If you resist, he kills you or throws you in jail. You decide what you want to do. This is the system that has swallowed us."La Jornada: Then in Mexico there is no real democracy?
"No. We have accepted a language that distorts reality. The majority decides, but just because it is a majority doesn't give it the right to steal or hurt citizens. Democracy is a great tool for reaching agreements on issues. It is very necessary to have a government in order to organize ourselves, but when the liberty, property and life of an individual are not protected, then we live in a dictatorship."La Jornada: And what can you do?
"We have to work compassionately as a peaceful society to get respect for the fruit of our labor and for everyone's life. Any authority that prevents the individual from defending himself (which is what self-defense groups were doing in Michoacán), that authority commits a crime. It is treason. If the government does not allow us to defend ourselves, that is a completely criminal government."La Jornada: Are you still threatened with death?
"Not that I know of."La Jornada: Are you still struggling for human rights?
"There are people who say they have rights to health, electricity, housing, public security ... then we also have the right to use the police and army to force them to provide us with security. I do not believe in violence of any kind."La Jornada: And the violence continues ...
"It's a recognized fact that violence in Mexico continues to get worse for everyone. We have reached the point where the citizen knows that the delegated authority is not going to defend him. And the authority does not accept being told what to do. The government has become a dictatorship. We live in a near-absolute dictatorship. A dictatorship over life and property."La Jornada: That much?
"The people who defend themselves are in jail because they dared to do so when they found no defense in the authority. And we have allowed self-defense members to be treated as if they were criminals."La Jornada: Do you believe in the right to defend oneself?
"Society's authority is delegated--all of it. All legitimate authority begins with self-defense, by people who are first willing to do something for ourselves and then for others."La Jornada: Has anything changed with Peña Nieto?
'The basic problem that we have in the country is not the violence: it is fear. If violence doesn't have the power to inspire fear, then it only provokes disgust. We citizens cannot overcome fear by putting more soldiers in the street. That's something that only makes it worse. It is something that has to be done from inside society to organize and resist institutional abuses of power.A Bleak Future
La Jornada: Is there any future with the reforms in this administration?
"I do not see any future in the presidency of Enrique Peña Nieto, but I am convinced that in the long term, Mexico will be the first country to shake off the drivel of fear.
"The violence is so oppressive that the people are losing their fear. Now it's the only thing that causes adrenaline to rise. That's what happened in Michoacán. The only tools that our system has to establish order are violence and laws."
La Jornada: Have you any hope for change with Enrique Peña Nieto?
"I have no hope that solutions might come from this government. I do not agree with this system. We have more than 150,000 victims. All the evidence is right in front of our faces. We would be fools if we allow the government to continue perpetuating [the violence]."
La Jornada: Why do they kill social activists in Mexico?
"Because they represent a threat to people who do not want to work. It's as simple as that. And they are going to continue killing social activists until consciousness is sufficiently raised for citizens to unite around not allowing that to happen."
La Jornada: Why are social activists considered dangerous?
"Because they are the bearers of a new idea, a different way of doing things."
La Jornada: How are you able to survive as a social activist in Mexico?
'The only way is there are many of us."