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Wednesday, August 25,2010

Mission to Juarez

Two Lansing women prepare for a four-month peacekeeping mission to the front lines of the war on drugs

by Andy Balaskovitz
Sandra Cade and Sister Nina Rodriguez, both in their 60s, know they are not going to the sleepy tourist border town that Juarez, Mexico, used to be. Instead, their mission as part of the Michigan Peace Team will be to serve as bodyguards and consolers for those who can’t escape.

“Juarez has become a place of fear and violence for people who can’t afford to go elsewhere,” Cade said. “There is no doubt any place Michigan Peace Team goes there is a risk of danger.”


Their goal is to establish a long-term presence in Juarez using a technique called “nonviolent intervention,” which ranges from simply listening to stories to physically protecting citizens. Accompanying Cade and Rodriguez will be Angela Mann, 18, from Ann Arbor and Megan Felt, 23, from Des Moines, Iowa.


This will be the Peace Team’s first trip to Juarez. The organization has been based in Lansing for about 16 years and has done most of its nonviolent intervention work in Israel.


Rodriguez, Mann and Felt leave Tuesday and will be joined at the end of October by Cade, who has a consulting business teaching intercultural communication to young children. All four are scheduled to return Dec. 20. The trip is being paid entirely through fund-raising, though as of last week, Cade estimates the team is about $4,500 short of its goal.


“We want a long-term presence there to build up relationships of trust with the people who are hurting,” Cade said.


Across
the Rio Grande River from El Paso, Texas, the violence in Juarez is
largely blamed on the U.S.-Mexico war on drugs. The Mexican government
has estimated that 28,000 have died in drug war violence.


“Unfortunately
the war on drugs has become a war on people,” Cade said. “We are not
doing anything to stop the hunger of drugs here (in the U.S.).”


But
Cade, 64, said the so-called femicide — the often brutal murders of
hundreds of female factory workers, in and around Juarez beginning in
the mid-‘90s, according to Amnesty International — is what sparked her
interest in the trip.


Rodriguez,
69, has spent a good deal of her life as “a person of peace,” as she
calls herself, having spent 14 years living in Peru during a time when
Peruvian terrorists attempted to overthrow the government by killing
people who supported it. She recalls one night when her small coastal
village was raided by terrorists seeking medicine.


“They
took me aside, and I didn’t know if they would kill me or not,”
Rodriguez said. She remembers one young man to this day who was sitting
with her when their conversation turned to Mexican comedy routines.


Rodriguez
remembers a fleeting bond. “Since then I have had the hunger to be a
person of peace. It’s a journey and that’s why I am going (to Juarez).”


Felt
recently graduated from the University of Iowa with degrees in
anthropology and Spanish and is a Catholic volunteer. She was part of a
nonviolent intervention mission in Colombia that sparked her interest in
the work and learned over the Internet about the Michigan Peace Team’s
trip.


“I have heard
of the killings and the rapes of women and know the dangers,” Felt
said. “It’s concerning but all the more reason to go.”


Felt
views the humanitarian mission with a certain angst toward the Mexican
and U.S. governments and their policies in the drug war, which she
believes is feeding the violence. She is blunt about the nature of the
trip.


“Our bodies
will be human shields, escorting people during tough situations when you
don’t know who will come running through the door,” she said. “And
loving that soldier who has a gun at your head. We will be creating
space for that love to grow.”


She said almost every
one she knows has tried talking her out of going. Though it’s too bad
they feel that way, Felt said it’s her mission to do this work, which is
giving way to general excitement.


Cade refers to the Juarez situation as “just a step across the bridge that neither country is willing to deal with.”


While addressing a crowd of seven women at the Red Cedar Meeting House in Old Town, Cade fought back tears.


“I’m a bit overwhelmed. I
won’t say I am not terrified,” she said following a showing of
“Bordertown” — a modern Hollywood drama depicting the femicide in
Juarez. “I still don’t believe I’m going, but I’m going. Somebody has
to.”


She hopes their presence will be part of a longterm solution for finding peace.


“We
have no illusions that we will turn the world around in Juarez,” Cade
said. “It’s one person, one soul, one heart at a time.”


Members of the Michigan Peace Team will chronicle their experience at www.mptinjuarez.blogspot.com

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