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Mexico is Burning

In Mexico, as in many other countries, we have been experiencing a new economic phase of development by dispossession. Large corporations are aggressively focusing on depriving the people of their natural wealth and their right to land. In 2017, 13.5% of Mexico’s national territory was occupied just by mining concessions. Seventy-three per cent of the mining projects and 259 mining concessions are located in Protected Natural Areas (ANP in Spanish). Over the years, the situation has only aggravated. 

Movements and organizations have asked the current president “to refrain from continuing to promote the extractive development model which is causing ecological devastation, and is structurally responsible for generating the pandemic that we are experiencing on the planet today.” 

“Mexican environmental defenders suffered in 2020 one of their most violent years of the last decade with 18 murders and a total of 90 aggressions. ” Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental (CEMDA).

Members of the communities that resist these megaprojects often face serious human rights violations such as torture, forced disappearance, extrajudicial execution, impunity, censorship and harassment. The hegemonic media also take part, censoring the voices of these communities, portraying them as people who oppose development. Often, companies and government authorities use disinformation campaigns and conflict within communities, as well as criminalization against those who defend their territories, to install their projects. 

Understanding Narratives

In early 2018, La Sandía Digital, a Mexican feminist collective, embarked on a journey to understand the current universe of communication for the defense of land and territory. Several insights led La Sandía Digital to pause and reflect. These are challenges that many other social change organizations and movements face worldwide: 

  1. The context has changed and the threat to defenders have intensified;
  2. The lack of clear communication strategies and their impact were rarely evaluated;
  3. Exhausted narratives and increasing difficulty to reach wider audiences.

As part of this exercise and in collaboration with WITNESS, a participatory assessment on communication for land defense was carried out between May and November 2018 in Mexico. To conduct the participatory assessment, we held exploratory interviews and “learning communities”, which were gatherings that took place in many cities around the country.  

The questions that guided the design of both instruments were:

  • How do land/territory defense movements define communication? 
  • What are the kinds of communication? What are our communication objectives?
  • What are the hegemonic narratives that exist? How are these narratives being contested? 
  • What are the narratives that we construct to engage in these narrative disputes? 
  • What components of the narratives have we used that have had the most impact, and why?

The learning communities gathered movements, organizations, media and journalists from Chiapas, Veracruz, Puebla, Oaxaca, Sonora, Baja California, Jalisco and Mexico City. We included three different phases: a Milpa (maize field) for mapping why, how and what regarding communication for territory defense, a discussion around the results of our communication efforts, and finally, an analysis of the narratives. 

Images of the learning community held in Mexico City. The complete planning of the Learning communities is available here in Spanish. The Milpa (maize field) methodology is also available on Page 62 of the assessment PDF.

The final result of this assessment process helped us understand: 

  • The urgent need to strengthen the strategic muscle of movements, organizations, media doing communication for the defense of land and territory in Mexico. 
  • The dynamics in which communication is taking place: 1) putting out fires “emergency mode” or short term; 2) key moments “coyunturas” or medium term, and 3) communicating our own agenda or long term. 
  • The need to look for other ways to tell the story about the processes in which the movements are the protagonists, and to prioritize the long-term agenda and efforts, which will also allow us to make room for evaluation exercises.
  • The need to include the voices and participation of young people and women. Beside the human rights violations and risks that women and men defenders face, women face the added injustice of gender-based discrimination.
  • We have a pending task of speaking about our victories, which have been many, to narrate and share them.

Launch of the School

The assessment also informed the design of the 1st School of Strategic Communication for the Defense of Land and Territory. It was carried out from June to December 2019, and coordinated by La Sandía Digital and WITNESS. 

The School gathered 28 women and men defenders of the land and territories in Mexico, who are part of movements and organizations in the states of Michoacán, Chihuahua, Zacatecas, Veracruz, Baja California, Chiapas, Puebla, Oaxaca, Estado de México, Ciudad de México, Morelos and Guerrero.

Through five convenings, participants learned and shared knowledge about strategic communication, building narratives and text, audio, graphics and video production. As we come close to launching the 2nd edition of the School, our goal remains the same: to strengthen the strategic muscle on the communications work of movements so that they amplify their capacities to position their alternative development projects in the social debate, through transformative narratives in favor of socio-environmental justice.

We invite you to read and share the participatory assessment “Weaving voices, defending life: The role of communication in land defense processes in Mexico”. In this document you will find the reflections of more than 100 people from all over Mexico regarding communication actions, as well as hegemonic and counter-hegemonic narratives about land, territory and common goods. 

Download the PDF assessment here (Spanish).

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Date of publication: 6th May 2021

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