As the polar vortex shifts the seasons into a wintery overdrive, even the ordinarily balmy and frivolous Thompson-Okanagan has taken on a grey pall. The mercury is heading south and the frost-tipped ears after a morning walk suggest that it’s time to think about booking some time down south again.
For years now my partner and I have nurtured a love for Mexico that brings us back year after year. It’s not just the sanity-restoring sunny heat of the place, its gorgeous beaches and pounding surf, or its unique culinary traditions that bring us back. Part of it, no doubt, is the chance to “turn on, tune in, and drop out” of the quotidian cares of the day-to-day busy-ness. The chance to forget about the smallish concerns of working First Worlders and to give ourselves over to a more ephemeral, spiritual kind of self-renewal.
Trouble is, you’ve got to be freaking oblivious to anything beyond the well-rehearsed niceties of resort culture in Mexico if you ever want to truly feel that you have been spiritually cleansed within the borders of our trading partner south of El Paso.
Because the country is a cauldron of death.
To deny this fact is to perpetrate the myth that Mexico is simply a sunny getaway-destination for the touristas of the Great White North. It’s not.
Many folks in Canada remain unaware of the thousands of women, murdered or missing, in Mexico. Reports began to trickle out of the north, in Ciudad Juarez, in the late ‘90s. The mutilated bodies of young women, raped and despoiled, littered the desert on the city’s outskirts, in sewage ditches, and in the streets of the slums surrounding the maquiladoras, sweat shops quickly erected near the American border, following the establishment of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
At first, no one seemed to pay much attention to the new phenomenon of the murdered and missing women. In the rush to build factories in free trade zones to meet the demand for garage door openers and other essential chochkas for the pampered populace to the north, factory-builders were eager to announce thousands of job-openings for Mexico’s struggling poor. And local police were either bloody-mindedly indifferent to the plight of these women, or worse yet, collaborators in their victimization.
Most of the workers in the maquiladoras are young women. They come from all over Mexico, Central America and beyond for a chance to rise above the grinding poverty in their home provinces. And despite the fact that they get few or no benefits, and their remuneration keeps them impoverished, they believe that work in the factories will give them opportunities to advance.
At this time in the dam-break of despair, well over 1,400 women have been murdered. Equally alarming is the estimate that beyond the 1,400 murdered are over 4,000 women who are missing and also feared permanently disappeared. Each one a hopeful migrant worker, a woman, wanting a chance for herself and her family.
Sociologists try to explain what’s happening; and the conclusions are complex. Part of it no doubt stems from the overtly macho culture of the country, where men often look askance at women daring to leave home to seek economic opportunities. Part of it speaks to the desperado culture of organized narco gangs, whose swaggering disregard for women generally casts women into the role of disposable agents: Suitable for beating into subservience as prostitutes or simply to dispense after picking them out from a dark street on the way to or from work.
Of course, the mindset of the gangs are not dissimilar to the corporate bosses behind the many maquiladoras in this last regard. The bosses are utterly indifferent to their disappearing workers. These women are so easily replaced by others, equally disposable as factory workers. As long as the assembly lines keep rolling, and as long as state and local police ignore the plight of these working women, it’s business as usual.
For Canadians who travel to Mexico it is often difficult to align the terror on Mexico’s streets with the sunny ambivalence of the tequila-drenched all-inclusive resorts of this magnificent country. We just don’t like to look that closely behind the smiles of the beautiful young women and men who serve us our margaritas.
But we must look at what is happening in our hemisphere, to our brothers and sisters in the world's richest trading bloc. Our deals to broker freer trade between the countries that comprise North America have an effect on all the working peoples in our three countries. And in those instances where mass murder goes unchecked, it behooves us to demand of our governments that more is done to account for the particularly egregious death stalking our favourite tourist destination. Because we have a hand in it, folks; and it is our economic policies and epic wars on drugs, and the corporate war on working people, that are the true axis of evil in our own hemisphere.
It’s time to become aware of what lies behind the facade. It’s time to begin remembering the missing women of Mexico (alongside the hundreds missing in our own country). And it’s time to demand an end to the conditions and policies that perpetuate the misery.
— Having lost his 2,500 volume library in the Okanagan Mountain Park Fire, Jeffrey is beginning to fill the void by writing his own. Reach him at jeff.loewen(at)gmail.com