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Poverty and vulnerability in Oaxaca, México Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Alejandro Hernández, Mexico Mar 13, 2004
Child & Youth Rights , Poverty   Opinions
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I want to share with you a real story that happened in one of the poorest States in Mexico, in which I was a witness.

Emilio Macedo was sixteen years old when he attended secondary school in 2002. He lived in a very small and poor town in Oaxaca. His father, an alcoholic man, had requested a loan to migrate illegally to United States in 2001. His mother, who stayed in town, was responsible to work for paying the debt while attending to her five children. She worked harvesting vegetables, preparing ethnic food, and selling her products in Putla of Guerrero, a small city two hours and a half away by bus.

After the illegal travel, the father met another woman and never sent money for the debt nor for the familiar stipend in Mexico. In fact, it was better for the wife, who was free of the physical punishment that her husband applied to her. Emilio was the one who defended her every time.

Then Sergio, the older brother, decided to migrate to the United State: pressed by the paternal debt, the various economic contributions that the Agency –the local government of the community- asks for in the name of each citizen of the family; the loans the family requested to be able to harvest corn and beans for their own feeding in the very small land they own, and their poor economic conditions.

The family acquired a new debt by ten thousand pesos –one thousand dollars- to be able to pay the illegal journey and a ‘coyote’, a trader of people. When Sergio crossed the border and installed himself in a town, he began to send money to his family, whom used the money to cover the debt of the father, but not Sergio’s. The cash had to be well administrated to also cover the quotas of the Agency, and for the familiar maintenance.

That is to say, the remittances of one or two hundred dollars that Sergio sent every fifteen or twenty days were not enough to cover the expenses of the family: “they ask for everything [the local indigenous government], plus tequio, the food, and the debts” (tequio is a social and mandatory physical work for men, benefiting the community itself).

Emilio meanwhile dedicated himself to replace his father in the tequio, to avoid the economic penalties that can accumulate if a citizen does not cooperate. Besides, he was in charge of his own domestic work: when he arrived from secondary school he took off his uniform and washed it, to have it ready for the following day. He also cooked for himself, and swept parts of the house. He was in charge of a very small piece of land that the family had, and took care of some domestic animals. For that reason, he knew the complicated and expensive process to sow. Emilio confronted several times the adversities of the agricultural production in Mexico: plagues, expensive use of instalments and fertilizers without the production would not occur, etc.

When by lack of money he did not buy the liquids to fight to the plagues, he lost the familiar harvest. In these cases they did not request lent money because they did not want to become indebted themselves. They do not receive governmental or organizational aid except from one or two political parties in the local or presidential elections. Emilio generally did not have breakfast nor lunch, just dinner. Sometimes at school, he used to buy something when her mother gave him some money obtained from her vegetable sale. The day of the interview, for example, he had eaten soup with beans and tortillas, like almost every day: “we pass the day likewise, with which we have”.

When Emilio finished the secondary school, he requested his mother to support him to study high school at ___, the municipal seat. In the interview, he had commented his great desire to continue studying and to be able to obtain an employment in the municipal seat, because international migration did not call his attention. Nevertheless, she refused his request alleging that she did not have money and that she needed him working. Resigned, he began to work like assistant of bricklayer with great responsibility, learning quickly the labour. In November 2002, raining season in the region, a contractor paid by the Municipality hire him to work in the positioning of the system of main drainage in town. For this reason, he was ordered to open ditches and to put the respective tubes.

Nevertheless, this work was illegal in the sense that did not follow the procedure established for the accomplishment of public work, according to the uses and customs of the region. The representative of local government notifies all people of town -reunite in assembly- that there is certain budget for public work, and between all of them decide how they will use this resource. In this occasion, the municipal President of ___ ordered directly to the Agent to use that money for the installation of drainage.

For that reason, Emilio and his best friend opened a ditch of three meters of depth in the highway. It just lacked the final work relative to the interconnection of the tubes, and both friends decided who of them would put them into the hole. The luck designated Emilio who descended into the hole; the son of the contractor followed him. When they were inside the ditch, a truck cross through the highway pulling the mud that they had removed, and a piece of the pavement of the highway slipped, impelled by mud, and fell directly striking the jugular of Emilio, who died instantaneously. The mud covered the son of the contractor as well, but nothing happened to him.

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