Thirty-five years of commitment and struggle for human rights
An NGO recognized for the quality of its work by the United Nations Economic and Social Council and accredited to the OAS (Organisation of American States), Centro Prodh has been committed to defending for 35 years those who, in Mexico, are marginalized or have no voice.
During a visit to Mexico City, we met the current director, Santiago Aguirre Espinosa, and the founder, Jesuit Fr Jesús Maldonado. Here are some of their answers to our questions.
In what way is Fr Miguel Pro an inspiration, even today, for the Center that you run?
The life of the Blessed Jesuit Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez evokes injustices that are
still happening in Mexico today. He was extrajudicially executed by the Mexican
Army. Pro remains an inspiration especially for those in the team who have
approached his legacy from a faith perspective, whereas for others in the team
the main inspiration is what the Center itself, under his name, has achieved over
more than thirty years of accompanying people who have been victims of abuse
What about the situation of human rights in Mexico nowadays and how has Centro Prodh contributed to the evolution of the situation over the years?
In the context of the ”War on Drugs,” the country has been experiencing a huge crisis of violence and human rights violations. According to international organizations, Mexico needs to strengthen the rule of law and its judicial system. Consider one of the most atrocious facets of the situation: the disappearance or murder of tens of thousands of people.
Thirty-five years ago, there was no knowledge of human rights among the general population, not even among the upper classes. Today, there are about 100 human rights groups spread throughout the country. Centro Pro has contributed a lot to this awareness and is involved in the vindication of rights through the “integral defence of emblematic causes.” This means supporting free legal defense and accompanying people fighting for justice.
You have been involved in the issue of the “disappeared” - a shocking topic. Why this topic? What can you do concretely about it?
Denouncing the forced disappearance of people in Mexico has been an important part of the work of Centro Prodh. A few weeks ago, official records showed that more than 100,000 people had disappeared in Mexico. The crisis has overwhelmed a Mexican state incapable of developing effective mechanisms to prevent and address the crisis from a human rights perspective. On the contrary, the militarized security policy that triggered the crisis of serious human rights violations has been maintained and deepened over the course of three administrations, under the pretext of combating organized crime.
Faced with the enormous challenges that this situation entails and from what we can contribute as Centro Prodh, we have accompanied the search for truth and justice of numerous families looking for their loved ones. We have had to reinvent ourselves to respond in the best way possible to the crisis, putting our technical, material and human capacities and resources at the service of the victims.
Given the magnitude of the crisis of disappearances and the exponential increase in the number of requests for accompaniment that we receive at the Center, we identified a way of responding to the crisis. We developed an accompaniment scheme for groups or communities that we have strengthened over the last few years, to help them understand the investigation process, their rights within it, and to follow up on their investigation files.
Centro Prodh has at times been at the centre of controversy. For example, in its support for women’s rights. It has been accused of deviating from the norms of the Catholic Church. What can you say about this?
The answer is simple: Centro Prodh has never taken an official stance against any of the official norms of the Church, ever! Centro Prodh has a clear position in favor of the defense of women’s rights, in the broadest terms in which they can be understood, based on a progressive understanding of these rights in accordance with international human rights law and what our own Mexican Supreme Court of Justice has ruled.
Inserted as we are in a macho and patriarchal culture, we have no doubt that we still have innumerable challenges ahead of us, both ad intra and ad extra, in terms of effectively contributing to the construction of a more just society between men and women. We undoubtedly share this with the Church, which still has much to do to ensure a dignified place for women in all areas.
The Center is a “social” work of the Society of Jesus. Do you see your commitment as having a pastoral, evangelical dimension?
Fundamentally, we provide legal support, human and Christian accompaniment. Something like Jesus did; if people were hungry, he gave them something to eat. When the fathers and mothers of the disappeared come to Mexico to demand that the authorities find their children and demand justice, we give them free legal advice, we talk to the authorities to encourage the search, we give them accommodation and food free of charge. Also when they come, we often celebrate the Eucharist in our auditorium, to comfort the parents, to share with them our faith and hope.
What hope do you have or what hope sustains you?
We feel that we have a hope-filled future. Every day at Centro Prodh, we see the hope of the victims who, despite all the adversity, continue to fight for justice and truth with resilience and generosity.
We work with low-income men and women who suffer injustice at the hands of the authorities and accompany them with legal advice. We publicize their cases on radio or television and in the written press. We could tell you about a case of some indigenous Yañ"u women who were imprisoned and sentenced to 7 years in jail. Thanks to the advice we gave, they were released and the Attorney General of the Nation asked for their pardon in an auditorium in front of 250 people, who of course cheered for 10 minutes. This was no mean feat!
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