Mexican human rights leader values Cochrane volunteer

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, August 15, 2001

Internationally acclaimed Mexican human rights advocate Abel Barrera Hernandez, in the Cochrane area for speaking engagements, chatted with me a few days ago and praised the contribution a Cochrane volunteer is making to justice in his country.

More about this in a minute, but first, these words from two of our other coffee companions:

HI, WARREN! Thank you for the gift of your column and for the regular inspiration. Your column has always given me the filter to read the newspaper and pause for reflection. Please know that you are supported and deeply appreciated for all your efforts, and for "being present."
—Hanne Seidel, Cochrane

What a nice way to start the week! Thanks, Hanne. The second letter is from the heart of the Stoney Nakoda First Nation. An actor and cast member of the television series North of 60 responds to last week's column about people who have been lamplighters in life's journey:

GREAT COLUMN, WARREN! All you have written is true. People have to reach deep within themselves to find their purpose in life. With inspirations like these, they are guided with more passion to find their way.

Here's some inspiration I learned from Grandpa Bert Wildman: "Working with people, you know you're going to have dirt thrown at you. But from this dirt, roses blossom. So don't quit." That is just one of the little things grandpa has taught me.
—Marty Chief Calf Wildman, Morley

Marty, your quote from Grandpa Bert is a fitting tribute to this week's guest, a rose that has blossomed amidst the dirt of inhumanity in Latin America to help restore dignity and hope to many.

Abel Barrera is an anthropologist from Tlapa in the mountainous region of the state of Guerrero south of Mexico City. Eighty-five per cent of the inhabitants of the area are indigenous peoples living a feudal existence and caught between warring political factions. They are regularly subjected to indignities and abuses of military power that include arbitrary arrest, rape and murder.

Seven years ago Abel Barrera grew so incensed at the injustices endured by these First Nations peoples, he decided he had to take a stand.

"I took it upon myself, seeing myself as a citizen of the mountains, to do something with the indigenous peoples," Abel told me. "I started going beyond the romantic vision of just being ‘on side' with the indigenous peoples, to actually doing something."

He became head of the Centre for Human Rights in Tlapa, and soon experienced first-hand what so many of his downtrodden neighbours had been experiencing all their lives: threats of death and violence to his family and friends if he didn't keep his mouth shut.

Has this made him want to quit? Not at all! Even though his human rights advocacy has placed him in harm's way, he maintains his crusade for change. "My faith has motivated me to accompany the peoples of the mountains."

There's a reason his enemies have hesitated to carry out their threats: they know they are being watched by volunteers in an international network of non-governmental human rights organizations. Cochrane's own Leslie Davies is part of that network.

Leslie has been in southern Mexico since February with Peace Brigades International, and has had a close association with Abel and the Centre for Human Rights. I asked him what he thought of Leslie's volunteer help.

"I value her work with us," he said.

"Non-governmental organizations are like shields protecting our work. Leslie helps raise our profile. She gives it an international presence, showing that human rights is a global issue. She communicates what happens in the mountains of Tlapa so that governments and citizens elsewhere will respond.

"Leslie provides a valuable testimony, raising trust in the work we are trying to do."

© 2001 Warren Harbeck

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