Category: Mexico

Priest Wins Human Rights Prize For Migrant Work

Solalinde received his award as Mexico comes to a crossroad. Pena took office amid protests just 10 days earlier, but public opinion polls show a sense of optimism among Mexicans – something expressed every six years with the transition of power: that the new president can keep his promises to calm violence in the country, combat poverty and corruption and pull Mexico out of an economic malaise. But Pena’s party, which ruled for most of the last century and retook power after 12 years in opposition, has a checkered reputation for human rights and sour relations with the Catholic Church. Pena, who called Solalinde “a good Samaritan,” said the priest’s call for a more just Mexico and leaders closer to the people “are aligned with this government’s project for the country.” That Solalinde would win such an award – a medal and recognition – surprised a few. He surged into the public spotlight over the past five years for his defiance of corrupt local officials in Oaxaca State – who, he says, belonged to Pena’s own party – and unwillingness to be cowed by organized crimes, which threatened his Brothers of the Road’s shelter for migrants. He left the shelter and Mexico during the spring of 2012 because of threats against him. The National Human Rights Commission, which sponsored the prize, reported more than 11,300 migrant kidnappings – often at the hands of organized criminal groups and abetted by crooked police and public officials – over a six-month period in 2010. Solalinde said, last November, that the Peña administration has reached out to those – including Catholic priests and religious – protecting undocumented migrants, but expressed reservations at the time. Political observers say publicly awarding the prize to Solalinde sets a new tone for the incoming presidential administration, which already has signed a comprehensive cooperation pact with the country’s three main parties to achieve structural reforms in the areas of education, economy and energy. “It’s a gesture of political communication,” said Aldo Munoz Armenta, political science professor at the Autonomous University of Mexico State. “The message is trying to convince those who are incredulous, in political terms, that the situation toward those seeking social justice has changed.” 

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