Our Common Good

The Supreme Court of Mexico issued a unanimous ruling Wednesday afternoon that paves the way to universal marriage rights in the country.

The actual ruling won’t be published for a little while, but the gay rights advocates who brought the case are proclaiming that today’s ruling “opens the door to equal marriage in the whole country.”

The court ruled on behalf of three same-sex couple seeking to marry in the southern state of Oaxaca. The court had already ruled in 2010 that gay marriages performed under a Mexico City ordinance had to be recognized nationwide. With this precedent, the remaining bans on gay marriage in most Mexican states could quickly fall.

This ruling does not immediately eliminate marriage statutes limiting unions to a man and a woman—the Mexican Supreme Court doesn’t have the power to strike down state laws like that en mass as the United States Supreme Court does. But the lawyer who brought the case, Alex Alí Méndez Díaz, said before the ruling that victory would mean the beginning of the end for bans on same-sex marriage.

(More about Méndez here—he started the case as a law student.)

The court’s ruling that the ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutionally discriminatory is partly based on a February ruling from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that governments can’t discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, Karen Atala Riffo y Niñas v. Chile.

This case could have repercussions outside of Mexico—by expanding this precedent to include the right to marry, courts in other Latin American countries that recognize the Inter-American Accord on Human Rights could follow this precedent and determine that marriage rights are also protected in their countries. And the Inter-American Court itself could be more likely to recognize a right to marry—a case brought by three couples trying to strike down Chile’s ban on gay marriage has already begun making its way through the international judicial system.

In the past year, Texas women watched as lawmakers slashed funding for family planning and passed the “Sonogram Law” which, you may recall, forces women seeking abortions to undergo a sonogram a full 24 hours before the procedure. In retrospect, the 2011 legislative session basically operated as a reminder to Texas women that while we can have babies, we can’t have a voice.

Now, in reaction to the lack of available family planning resources, New American Media is reporting on women in Texas border towns who travel to Mexico to obtain Misoprostol (also known as Cytotec), an ulcer medication that, when taken in high doses, can terminate unwanted pregnancies in the first nine weeks. The drug works quickly, is (relatively) cheap and available without a prescription.

On the morning of April 15, 2011, using rocks and fireworks, a group of women attacked a busload of AK-47-armed illegal loggers as they drove through Cherán, residents said. The loggers, who local residents say are protected by one of Mexico’s most powerful criminal organizations and given a virtual free pass by the country’s authorities, had terrorized the community at will for years.

Cherán’s residents said they had been subjected to multiple episodes of rape, kidnapping, extortion and murder by the paramilitary loggers, who have devastated an estimated 70 percent of the surrounding oak forests that sustained the town’s economy and indigenous culture for centuries.

What happened next was extraordinary, especially in a country where the rule of law is often absent and isolated communities are frequently forced to accept the status quo. Organized criminal syndicates, like the drug cartel La Familia, created in Michoacán, act like a state within a state, making their own rules and meting out grisly punishments to those who do not obey.

But here in Cherán, a group of townspeople took loggers hostage, expelled the town’s entire police force and representatives of established political parties, and forcibly closed the roads.


Last November, in a court appeal, Cherán acquired a degree of autonomy from the Mexican government; the town still receives federal and state money, and its people must pay taxes, but they are allowed to govern themselves under a legal framework called “uses and customs” that has been granted to some indigenous communities.

Legal experts and academics say that Cherán is the first community to be granted this right as a result of a conflict over natural resources with one of the country’s increasingly powerful criminal syndicates.


Cherán now exists in an uneasy calm, but its residents are beginning to doubt their survival as an island amid hostile waters. In late July, an army base was set up near Cherán after two residents were killed when they ventured into the forests. Since April 2011, other residents have been murdered under similar circumstances. The presence of soldiers provides a level of comfort, residents say, but even Obdulio Ávila, deputy secretary of Mexico’s Interior Ministry, acknowledges that it may not be enough.


“You can see that an entire beautiful forest existed and no longer does,” said Pedro, a native of Cherán who moved to Southern Illinois 35 years ago and last visited in 2009. Pedro and other expatriates have sent money and basic staples to their families still living in the embattled town since they began their uprising.

Some in Cherán say that they have begun to feel captive and desperate, confined to their town but still dependent on the forests, from which they take wood and wild mushrooms, a community staple. The forests also represents something more intangible but no less important to them — a source of wisdom and an integral part of the Cheránean identity.

With access to the forests cut off, Cherán’s economy is beginning to dwindle. Unemployed woodworkers are now trying to secure odd jobs inside the town, but there are few to be had. The prized colorful, fleshy mushrooms are sold at increasingly high prizes in the main square. Outside support has become increasingly vital.

“They are living practically off of the remittances coming in from the United States,” Leonardo Velazquez, a hospital administrator living in Cherán, said of his neighbors. Indeed, Michoacán was the Mexican state with the highest flow of remittances in 2011 and the first three months of 2012. Still, the state’s economy appears to be falling apart.

In comments posted on his Twitter account on Saturday, Calderon offered his condolences to the United States after a gunman went on the rampage with an assault rifle at a midnight premier of the new Batman film in Aurora, Colorado.

But Mexico’s president, who has repeatedly called on Washington to tighten gun controls to stop weapons flowing from the United States into the hands of Mexican drug cartels, said U.S. weapons policy needed a rethink after the killings.

"Because of the Aurora, Colorado tragedy, the American Congress must review its mistaken legislation on guns. It’s doing damage to us all," Calderon said.

Mexico City is trialling an innovative way of giving free Wi-Fi to conscientious dog walkers, by exchanging it for their pet’s “mess”.

That’s right, dog poo for Wi-Fi. Walkers are encouraged to place bags filled with dog turds into designated boxes, which will weigh the deposit before calculating how many free Wi-Fi minutes your “gift” warrants. (via Free Wi-Fi? Then give us your dog poo - Pocket-lint)

The flood of tens of thousands of weapons underscores complaints from Mexico that the U.S. is responsible for arming the drug cartels plaguing its southern neighbor. Six years of violence between warring cartels have killed more than 47,000 people in Mexico.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives released its latest data covering 2007 through 2011. According to ATF, many of the guns seized in Mexico and submitted to ATF for tracing were recovered at the scenes of cartel shootings while others were seized in raids on illegal arms caches. All the recovered weapons were suspected of being used in crimes in Mexico.

At an April 2 North American summit in Washington, Mexican President Felipe Calderon said the U.S. government has not done enough to stop the flow of assault weapons and other guns from the U.S. to Mexico.

Calderon credited President Barack Obama with making an effort to reduce the gun traffic, but said Obama faces “internal problems … from a political point of view.”

There is Republican opposition in Congress and broad opposition from Republicans and gun-rights advocates elsewhere to a new assault weapons ban or other curbs on gun sales. The Obama administration says it is working to tighten inspections of border checkpoints in the absence of an assault rifle ban that expired before Obama took office.

Mexico’s Senate unanimously approved landmark climate change legislation yesterday that sets the country on a pioneering path to drastically reduce its domestic greenhouse gas emissions.

The measure calls for Mexico to cut carbon 30 percent below business-as-usual growth by 2030 and 50 percent by midcentury. It now goes to President Felipe Calderón, who has championed action to control climate change and is expected to sign it.

Once the legislation is finalized, Mexico will be only the second country after the United Kingdom to have domestic global warming legislation in place, activists said. It also will be a leader among developing nations taking concrete steps to rein in explosive carbon growth.

"No developing country in the world has a climate law, let alone a climate law that has this vision and this ambition, that integrates all of the sectors at the national level in a system for climate change," said Vanessa Perez-Cirera, head of climate and energy programs for WWF Mexico.


As the U.S. Supreme Court holds an unprecedented three days of hearings on whether the 2010 health care law is constitutional, we take a look at how other countries handle health care.

A 2010 analysis by the Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that promotes health care in the United States, found that the U.S. spent more per capita on health care than any other industrialized country. The research used data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Here are highlights of other countries’ health care from the analysis and a 2009 comparison by PBS Newshour:

Canada: Under the Canada Health Act, Canadians receive health coverage through Medicare, and may opt to purchase private insurance for services not covered under the public plan (dental care and prescription drugs, for example). Taxes fund the system. Most hospitals are not-for-profits owned by religious orders, universities and governments. Australia’s system is similar.

Japan: Under Japan’s social insurance program, all citizens must have health insurance. Not-for-profit insurers work through employers and the national health care program, and offer the same services and medications at the same prices controlled by the health ministry. Patients can choose their health care providers. Individuals pay 20-30 percent of costs up to a certain level, and then receive full coverage.

“Not only does it have universal coverage but it has excellent health status … and at a very low cost,” Francesca Colombo, a senior health policy analyst at OECD, told Newshour.

read on for the Netherlands, England and Mexico

While appearing on Glenn Beck’s show today, Santorum criticized President Obama for allowing his daughter Malia to travel to Mexico on a spring break trip. Why? Because the entire nation Mexico is terribly dangerous.

The program, called Bolsa Familia (Family Grant) in Brazil, goes by different names in different places. In Mexico, where it first began on a national scale and has been equally successful at reducing poverty, it is Oportunidades. The generic term for the program is conditional cash transfers.  The idea is to give regular payments to poor families, in the form of cash or electronic transfers into their bank accounts, if they meet certain requirements.  The requirements vary, but many countries employ those used by Mexico: families must keep their children in school and go for regular medical checkups, and mom must attend workshops on subjects like nutrition or disease prevention.  The payments almost always go to women, as they are the most likely to spend the money on their families.  The elegant idea behind conditional cash transfers is to combat poverty today while breaking the cycle of poverty for tomorrow.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Saturday that he would consider sending U.S. troops into Mexico to combat drug-related violence and stop it from spilling into the southern United States. “It may require our military in Mexico,” Perry said in answer to a question about the growing threat of drug violence along the southern border. Perry offered no details, and a spokesman, Robert Black, said afterward that sending troops to Mexico would be merely one way of putting an end to the exploding cartel-related violence in the region.

Black said Perry’s intention is to work with the Mexican government, but he declined to specify whether Perry is amenable to sending troops into Mexico with or without the country’s consent.


Texas Governor Rick Perry - who is seeking the Republican nomination for US president - has said he would consider sending American troops into Mexico to combat drug-related violence.

Mr Perry was speaking during a campaign appearance in New Hampshire.

“It may require our military in Mexico working in concert with them to kill these drug cartels and keep them off our border,” he said.

“There are bad people. We will shoot the bad people. Then the bad things will stop.” Is there a problem this approach can’t fix?

Any deployment of US military forces on Mexican territory would almost certainly be unacceptable to the Mexican authorities.

The [BBC’s] use of the term ‘drug-related violence’ is interesting too. ‘Prohibition-related violence’ would surely be more appropriate and less ambiguous. And while some [I’m not really talking about the BBC] are initially happy to call it drug-related violence (associating the pejorative word ‘drugs’ with violence), if you suggest a ‘drug-related solution’ such as legalisation, they’ll be quick to suggest that the cartels would continue to fight anyway and that drug-smuggling is only one of their activities, and so on…


For all you clowns who justified Obama’s silence over the execution of Troy Davis:

President Obama is asking the Supreme Court to stay tomorrow’s planned execution of a Mexican citizen in Texas, arguing it could do “irreparable harm” to U.S. interests abroad.

In 1994, Humberto Leal Garcia Jr. was convicted of rape and murder and sentenced to death. Few are contesting his guilt, but an omission in the handling of his case may make things tough for American citizens arrested abroad: Leal wasn’t told that he could contact the Mexican Consulate.

The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, a treaty that includes 170 countries, says a foreigner who is arrested must be allowed access to her home country’s consulate. The International Court of Justice ruled in 2004 that U.S. states’ sentencing of 54 Mexican citizens to death without allowing them to contact the Mexican Consulate was a violation of the treaty. Then-president George W. Bush ordered Texas to review its policies, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that neither Texas nor any U.S. state could be held to an international treaty unless Congress passed a law binding them to it.

Now, President Obama is asking the Supreme Court to stay the execution until Congress passes such legislation, which was recently introduced in the Senate. The administration says the execution would do “irreparable harm” to U.S. interests abroad.

(via Yahoo)

Foreign relations are involved in this one, which is why the executive branch can have a say, though at this point he is asking the court to take that into consideration, not acting himself.  

Social media users who denounce drug cartel activities along the Mexican border received a brutal warning this week: Two mangled bodies hanging like cuts of meat from a pedestrian bridge. A woman was hogtied and disemboweled, her intestines protruding from three deep cuts on her abdomen. Attackers left her topless, dangling by her feet and hands from a bridge in the border city of Nuevo Laredo. A bloodied man next to her was hanging by his hands, his right shoulder severed so deeply the bone was visible. Signs left near the bodies declared the pair, both apparently in their early 20s, were killed for posting denouncements of drug cartel activities on a social network.

Bodies hanging from bridge in Mexico are warning to social media users - CNN.com (via pieceinthepuzzlehumanity)

Sickening.  As economies sink, I just don’t see how this ever gets any better unless we call an end to the war on drugs.  Legalize the shit and use the money saved and raised to offer treatment and disease containment.

One group of women on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula decided not to wait for the rich and powerful to stop sheltering their own self-interest and act on behalf of the planet. According to IPS News, they live in a coastal area where climate change is bringing more hurricanes and flooding. With heavy storms and changes in seafood species affecting their livelihood, they acted.

In 1999 they formed Mujeres Trabajadoras del Mar cooperative. Three years later Hurricane Isidore battered the Yucatan Peninsula, ripping out coastal vegetation. Storm chaser Geoff Mackley pieced together the video below, which shows some of the horrendous devastation.


The cooperative is one effort to address gender inequity in dealing with the impacts of climate change. A study by the Gender and Environment Network (Red de Género y Medio Ambiente) gives a sense of how much is yet to be done to address the inequities: “women are in a position of greater social vulnerability due to the rigid gender roles that persist in local communities and relegate them to a subordinate position in decision-making, and they are aware of this.”