392The people of Mexico have lost one of their best young leaders. Gisela Mota was shot to death Saturday morning, Jan. 2, just 15 hours after being sworn in as mayor of Temixco, the suburban city on the southern edge of Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico.

I didn’t know Gisela personally, but for six years in the 1990s, when I worked with the Cuernavaca Centre for Intercultural Dialogue on Development (CCIDD), I was part of some of the same church, human rights and political circles. News of her death reached me just hours after my return to Toronto after a three-week visit to various parts of Mexico that included several days in Morelos.

portaditaGisela grew up in the Christian base communities that were a legacy of the work of Bishop Sergio Mendes Arceo, who served Cuernavaca from 1953 to 1983.

Her funeral mass was celebrated Sunday by Cuernavaca’s present bishop, Ramón Castro. His remarks reflected the sense of the people in a way that was reminiscent of Mendes Arceo. Their “indignation,” he said, had “acquired an air of rebellion and stabbing pain.” This murder, he added, could be understood as a warning to other political leaders and was a sign of the “failed system of public security in Morelos.” (You can see photos and video of the funeral and subsequent march here.) The funeral included parts of Nicaragua’s Misa Campesina:

I believe in you, compañero, Christ human, Christ worker, victor over death.

With your great sacrifice you made new people for liberation.

You are risen in every arm outstretched to defend the people against the exploitation of rulers;

you are alive and present in the hut, in the factory, in the school.

I believe in your ceaseless struggle, I believe in your resurrection.

Just 33 years old, Gisela Mota had already served a term in the national congress. She was a member of the centre-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), but of a faction distinct from that of Morelos state governor Graco Ramírez and those who took the party into a sad alliance with those who promote and continue Mexico’s ill-conceived “war on drugs.”

Javier Sicilia (2009)

Javier Sicilia (2009)

The writer Javier Sicilia, whose own son was murdered in Temixco in 2011, said the murder was a sign that the state’s security system was failing. He and others said that a new “single command” police system adopted by the state does not work.

“Far from developing security strategies that advance human rights standards, in which citizens have participation, the authorities (from all three levels of government) opt to strengthen military and police bodies,” said José Martínez (an old friend of mine) of the Morelos Independent Human Rights Commission.

More than 100 mayors have been murdered over the past 10 years, most as a consequence of Mexico’s drug war that has killed more than 100,000 people.

The killing of Gisela Mota is directly connected to recent waves of violence in Morelos and Guerrero, including the disappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa education students in nearby Iguala, Guerrero, in September 2014.

In Cuernavaca in December 2009, federal government forces killed Arturo Beltrán Leyva, who with three of his brothers, had led a cartel that dominated drug trafficking routes between Mexico City and Acapulco in Morelos and Guerrero. Since then, various factions including two known respectively as Los Rojos and the Guerreros Unidos have fought for control of the zone.

It seems to me that governments need to rethink their strategies with regard to illegal drugs, and recognize that the violence associated with illegal trafficking may be worse than the damage caused by drug abuse and addictions.

In 2009, three former Latin American presidents—Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, César Gaviria of Colombia, and Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico—evaluated the impact of “war on drugs” policies and framed recommendations for safer, more efficient and humane policies.

Indeed, as argued by the Washington Office on Latin America, the John Howard Society, the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition,  and others, drug abuse and addiction are public health problems that should be addressed as such.

May Gisela’s death at least draw us more deeply into debate on the question.

 

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