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The Search for Social Justice Continues

By Jesus Aguado

Those who know the city—all of its 90 neighborhoods and 120 surrounding communities—recognize that there are in reality three distinct San Miguel de Allendes.

The first is the Historical Center, the one that comes up in the travel magazines, the one of hotels and super-luxurious boutiques. But included in this first San Miguel are homes where the fronts of houses are rental spaces, but behind those facades lies poverty. Owners of these properties don’t have the money to maintain the historical structures, even though there are legal requirements to do so dictated by the municipality, the state, and the federal government. These requirements have been in place ever since San Miguel was declared a Zona de Monumentos Historicos (Historical Monuments Site) in 1982.

The new administration talks about wanting this San Miguel to evoke the past, the city of their grandparents, a San Miguel that is orderly, clean, inhabited by year-round residents and secure. But that San Miguel has disappeared with the city’s economic boom, driven by tourism and what some would say is out-of-control land development. It has marginalized those who cannot pay the real estate taxes driven up by the boom, nor the costs of restoration to historic structures that must be preserved by law. These owners have had little choice but to sell their buildings to affluent foreigners or Mexicans from other states, many from México City. Those who have survived the economic shift live in buildings that are humid, divided up, old, and often almost at the point of collapse.

The second San Miguel exists along the periphery of the urban area, in places like Nuevo Pantoja and Ejido de Tirado, where the streets are unpaved and, in some neighborhoods, there is neither sewage nor potable water. San Luis Rey is one such example.

The third San Miguel consists of the rural communities that are part of the municipality but are located firmly outside—where there’s little to no access to education, potable water, healthcare, transportation, or employment, and the only option for economic survival is to live off the land.

Is this social justice?

It’s clear that the local government is doing what it can; it optimizes its resources and tries to do more with less, especially now since the federal government has cut its budget. According to the Consejo Nacional para la Evaluacion de la Politica de Desarrollo Social (The National Council for Evaluation of Policies for Social Development), San Miguel has 27 indigenous communities, most of them impoverished. It also has 120 charitable organizations that each day attempt to bring food, health services, culture, sports, mental health services, first aid, and ecological advances to these largely cut-off communities.

The United Nations’ World Day of Social Justice, February 20, is a day to mark the worldwide struggle to do away with poverty and to promote nonexploitative employment, gender equality, equal access to social services, and social justice for all.

On the eve of World Day of Social Justice, Atención talked to representatives of various NGOs about how they contribute toward the cause of social justice in San Miguel and how they feel about President Andres Manuel López Obrador [known as AMLO] announcement that these types of organizations will no longer receive any government resources in order to avoid giving money to intermediaries. All government funding, López Obrador has said, will be going directly to communities.

While San Miguel’s government has attempted for decades to have an egalitarian community in which riches and abundance are well distributed—and much of this has been due to the work of the multitude of charitable organizations in town—these same organizations say there is still a long way to go to reach their ultimate goals of social equality. And even when there is justice for the majority, there will also be minorities that are oppressed.

David Winfield, Patronato pro Niños

“We contribute to social justice by bringing health services to rural children—we also offer medical services, a dentist, a neurologist, and a psychologist in the Ignacio Ramírez neighborhood and in our office. We have many things to do in the city, and this is a challenge, to bring them medical services. We receive the support of the federal and local government. The decision of President AMLO is unfortunate, but I do understand that he has a reduced budget. However, the government ought to offer medical services to its people, and it is not doing it. We will be looking for more private support.”

Gifford “Giff” Moody, Feed the Hungry

“We bring food to children in 43 schools in the urban and rural areas. We teach the parents, teachers, and students about food and nutrition, and also how to grow their own food products. Our kitchens are immaculate, very hygienic. Our studies have demonstrated that wherever there is a Feed the Hungry kitchen, school attendance increases by 20 percent, and that in some cases it’s the only food the children get all day.

All outside help strengthens us. DIF (the federal department) and the Secretaria de Desarrollo Social (Social Development Office), have been very generous. We work very well together, and if there were no federal support, it would be a great loss. It’s naïve. Enough, Mr President; think twice about this.”

Ali Zerriffi, Biblioteca Pública

“The only way to promote social justice is through information and education. In the Biblioteca, we have a great collection of books in various languages. The building is open to the general public because it is the center for any community—for learning, for meetings, discussions, communications, for education, and the fusion of cultures. In the Biblioteca, we do not get government support—only the building is rent-free, for which in the future we will have to pay rent—but if there were resources, we could do more, reach farther, to the surrounding communities. All the organizations need additional monies to facilitate their operation. Furthermore, some have demonstrated that they have done great work, and have placed the money in the right place and with the right people. But the ONGs [NGOs] must be transparent and offer accounting [of their activities] and [show] results to the government and the people.”

Rossana Alvarez Martinez, Via Organica

“We are involved in the care of the earth, the environment, the soil, and in [the production of] produce free of contaminants and hormones. We teach people to value their produce. They need to feel that the way their produce is grown is a plus to the consumer. We teach them how to sell. The project accepts people from the city, the surrounding communities, from wherever, as long as they are interested in being a part of change, of caring about their health. We teach people that to misuse the earth in an injustice, that we have to look toward farming in a sustainable manner, and that the farmer be well remunerated [for his efforts].

About the budget cuts: fortunately for us, we have not depended on the government. The organization is supported by Organic Consumers Association. There have been organizations that have abused the system, and perhaps that is why the president has decided on the budgetary cuts. But if he analyzed each organization [separately], he would then have a different perspective. I hope that such an investigation is made.”

Laura Torres, Banco de Alimentos

“We bring food to people. We want them to know that someone cares about them, loves them, that they are not alone. We want them to know that there is a movement for them to live better, healthier, and stronger, and that they should have food. There are many people who are attempting to achieve social justice; what is needed is for us to work together so we have the capability of reaching everyone. The resources exist, as does the desire. What is needed is for an agreement to be made for abundance to reach us all. San Miguel is large, but we are working hard. We can achieve social justice soon. San Miguel gives us everything; we need to return some of what we receive. Without government support, the organizations will survive, but we are its support. Not to support them will not bring anything good.”

Rossanna Patlan, Mujeres en Movimiento

“We help women to improve their quality of life by getting to know their rights in an objective and responsible manner. A woman living with violence has the right to live free of violence, to make her own decisions. Programs to prevent violence do not exist in the city—or at least they have not been shown to us. We want a assessment of the violence [in the city]. We want to diminish it. We want to facilitate the resources and programs.

Regarding federal resources, it’s necessary to know if the NGOs use them in the manner intended. We do not have such funds, nor do we work with them. If the gentleman [President López Obrador] thinks that NGOs do not need the support, I think he will have a super program to provide the necessities. It’s unfortunate. But in San Miguel, Luis Alberto Villarreal is sympathetic and knows the needs. The programs for improvement will come to women.”

Adriana Ramírez, Mujeres Unidas de El Salto

“We have not had government support. What we have done has been achieved because we give talks about herbal products to men, women, and children, and this is how we get our resources. Regarding social justice, it doesn’t exist; there is much preferential treatment. We have a long way to go for everything to be equal, but we continue working at it. And if there is no federal money for charitable organizations, it’s bad; we need the support. But up until now we have done without it, so if we are clear about our objectives, we will achieve them.” (To support this group, contact 415-1196-196 or adisflor.ram.83@gmail.com.)

Martha Hamill, Centro Comunitario Don Diego

“There is no social justice in the community, because the differences are marked. There are people who have a lot, and others who have nothing. We should all be sharing. If we do, we will have social justice. The association was founded with foreign donations.”

Lucy Nuñez, Proyeccion Cultural

Nuñez was mayor of San Miguel from 2012–2015. She campaigned on the idea of a San Miguel with more equality, with the same opportunities for all. She worked toward this goal by creating the Centro Comunitario Cuevitas y el Rosa Kent, made possible fully by NGO support.

However, Canal 4 (a community public access television channel) and Radio San Miguel where she is highly involved, offer spaces where one can question and debate, where there are open mikes for everyone, oppressors and the oppressed, for anyone who has something to say. One can criticize and find solutions to problems.

As a matter of fact, El Reto de Ser Mujer (The Challenge of Being a Woman), a program on Channel 4, has resulted in the creation of the Instituto Municipal de la Mujer (Municipal Women’s Institute), says Nuñez.

“Through the television channel and radio, we can support bringing to light public policy for needs specific to determined areas. Channel 4 and Radio San Miguel are clear examples. That’s social justice, attending to public needs. What the two mediums have in common comes from our mission: service and help to the community. The mediums in particular are clear-cut. They are mediums in which you don’t need to be an executive to be granted an interview. Come and tell your truth, criticize, but also make proposals.”

Nuñez recognizes that San Miguel has 120 powerful organizations who perform extraordinary work. However, many are “patito,” (not legally founded in México), she said, and yet survive through government resources.

“They arise through inefficient government, so later its administrative apparatus lives off of government,” she said. “So the resources never reach the people.”

Fortunately, she says, “there are organizations here that work without waiting for government support.”

We asked Nuñez if social justice is an achievable goal.

“It’s difficult,” she said. “Social justice means that everything is equal, and that [is something] the human condition itself does not allow. Social justice is a utopia. It’s a goal, the search for justice. But it’s the path we are walking in San Miguel, and that we are trying to reach.

“There is a long way to go. The problems keep changing. But Channel 4 is a place [for anyone] to tell the truth and to search for solutions—oppressors and the oppressed; that is equality: anyone can criticize, propose, and ask for help.”

 

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