Acupuncture for healing in border communities: Q&A with Ryan Bemis of Crossroads Community Acupuncture

Ryan Bemis, DOM, is an acupuncturist and healthcare provider based in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Crossroads has trained dozens of community health promoters in the border region. You can write to Ryan @

Crossroads will host a fundraiser dance party on Friday September 11th at 8pm 130 S. Main to benefit their project Flores de Juarez.

  1. How did you first get involved with acupuncture and what made you want to work in underserved/border town communities?

I started out as an addictions counselor at a detox program where group ear acupuncture was a daily therapy for alcoholics and heroin addicts.  And as a counselor I had the chance to study in the South Bronx, NY at Lincoln Hospital where activists had developed this model of grassroots, community-based ear acu care. Health workers from anywhere could come to Lincoln to learn it: a standardized ear acupuncture technique as an alternative to drugs, a tool for recovery, and adjunct for community health clinics.  One of the students in my class, for example, was a peer HIV counselor from Kenya.

The protocol—known as NADA (National Acupuncture Detoxification Association)–is safe and simple, and easily taught to community workers, and has been implemented in a variety of grassroots mental health and humanitarian aid contexts for the past 4 decades.  I saw what an effective non-verbal intervention it proved to be, especially for people who struggled with talk-therapy or 12 step groups or pharmaceutical care.  And the fact that it can be taught to health promoters and front-line providers makes the service delivery extremely cost-effective.

I went on to go to acupuncture school where I had the chance to write for a periodical that focused on researching the use of this protocol. One report I did was on a family clinic in Anthony, NM that was—in 2008—providing ear acupuncture for refugees from Juarez fleeing violence.  I returned in 2010 and visited a few different projects within churches in Juarez serving women and marginalized groups in the city, to learn more about the challenges in providing community care.

I was invited to do a community acupuncture session for some laid-off maquiladora workers. They were gathering regularly in a small church on the north side of Juarez to do breathing and relaxation and stretching exercises similar to taichi and yoga.

They liked the treatment, and asked me when I could come back. I told them that it would be much better if they could learn these techniques themselves. This led to many conversations with church leaders, who were able to organize a training in 2011 for pastoral workers serving in some of the fringe parts of the city.  At that time the churches were developing new programs specifically to serve victims of violence. Since then we’ve been invited back to offer several other trainings.

  1. What are some of the reasons people seek treatment at Crossroads? What are some common issues?

Like most community acupuncture clinics, pain and stress-related problems are the most common reasons why people reach out to us for help.  At our Crossroads clinic in Downtown Las Cruces we don’t specialize in any specific type condition or demographic.  We offer care in a group setting, using distal points in the hands, head and legs, as is traditional in Asia. So there’s no disrobing necessary, making it more comfortable for most people. The group setting, the “keep your clothes on” environment is essential to making acupuncture palatable for the masses. Community acupuncture strives to treat the largest slice of the population for everyday health conditions, from stress to migraines to sprained shoulders, and everything in between.

That said, we do offer care for patients who have diagnosed conditions like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and we’ve helped some come off medications or deal with the side effects of the drugs.  We’ve helped people get off their blood pressure meds as well as cigarettes.  We provide support for people with chronic conditions such as Parkinson’s, kidney failure, Diabetes, and various autoimmune disorders.  As our clinic has grown, a large number of people diagnosed with PTSD and/or who have a history of trauma or domestic violence have come in for care. We had one patient from Juarez who had recently been shot in the head, survived, heard of our clinic and having access to our services several times a week over a month we were able to significantly help increase his neurological functioning.  Even though it’s a group setting we treat patients for very sensitive health conditions like menstrual problems as well as prostatitis or even a woman trying to leave an abusive spouse and struggling with trauma and depression.

Our students providing free ear acupuncture in the region have reported success in this specific ear protocol in providing support for people going through cancer, pain, anxiety, and depression.  Another program in Juarez offers ear acupuncture for homeless people with a history of violence and severe psychiatric illness, and they have reported that the treatment has reduced aggressiveness at the shelter.

By no means are these therapies and protocols a cure for all conditions and all people at all times. Acupuncture excels in treating any condition where stress is involved.  It’s no secret that stress makes most health conditions and psychiatric illnesses worse.  Back pain is made worse by stress.  Same with anxiety.  Same with asthma, diabetes: all common problems for people in the borderlands, whether they’re a maquiladora worker in Juarez, or a soldier returned from Afghanistan, or a sales clerk at Wal-Mart.  Acupuncture helps people calm down, which can help a variety of body organ systems to function better.  So it’s no surprise that we’ve found acupuncture to be helpful as an adjunctive component in managing a broad spectrum of health problems worsened by stress. People are extremely resilient with a few supports in their lives and a few safe spaces to take refuge in.  Acupuncture can be one of these supports.  Community acupuncture can provide one of those spaces.

  1. What are some of the biggest problems when it comes to providing accessible healthcare to citizens in low-income communities?

For Crossroads, accessibility to healthcare is limited in a few ways that we seek to remedy. The high cost of healthcare, community disempowerment, and lack of sustainability all present problems.

Our approach first and foremost has been about making healthcare affordable for everyday people—rich and poor and everyone in between.  Healthcare does not have to be expensive to be effective.  We have seen this to be true for acupuncture year in, year out.

We also work to empower communities with the tools and resources so they can work towards solving their own problems.  It would be great if everyone had a doctor, or if more people could afford to go to medical school so more people could have access to a doctor.  But that’s not reality, especially here in this region.  So we look at what simple, safe, and cost-effective tools we can teach health promoters working within local, community-supported projects.

Sustainability is also crucial.  Any healthy, accessible system of care has to be sustainable.    This is inherently challenging within a humanitarian aid context, when we’re the outsiders coming from a place of privilege and resources, assisting groups that are marginalized and living in poverty.  A nun in Juarez told me a story about an outside medical aid group that came in and provided free lab tests and consultations for several months. They also offered some therapies within an impoverished community.  People came and got a lot of help from this group. But then the group lost funding and left and now there’s nothing there for these people that the outside workers left behind.  There’s very little that has lasted as a result of that project.

So we hear stories like this and we ask: What can we learn? How can we go about this in a sustainable way, not a quick fix, band-aid, hit-and-run way?

Crossroads’ work has always evolved out of looking at what types development models have proven to last over time, and approaches to serving the underserved that don’t contribute to an unhealthy dependency.  We call our model Community Supported Healthcare.  We draw from various branches of grassroots acupuncture care including the NADA and the community acupuncture movements.

The Guatemalan Acupuncture and Medical Aid Project (GUAMAP) and the Pan African Acupuncture Project are two acupuncture training programs for health promoters working in humanitarian aid contexts, started decades ago and still going today.  These groups have offered us a template not only in how to implement acupuncture as a direct intervention in the aftermath of war and epidemics, but they have also proven to be long-standing, sustainable, and continue to offer grassroots care.

Another example:  We knew of a project in Uganda—MoxAfrica–training health promoters in a Japanese technique called moxa, which has documented astounding outcomes in treating drug-resistant Tuberculosis. We learned from MoxAfrica how we could start something like this in Juarez.  A volunteer came to conduct the training, and since then, over the past year and a half, our students have provided thousands of moxa treatments for free. This new tool has increased their skill sets in being able to address some of the common health problems in Mexico for people who lack access to other forms of healthcare.

We also look at social medicine models like the Barefoot Doctor model in China and adapted by the World Health Organization. Basically this model of care taught health promoters in Asia and the Americas simple, effective moxa and acupuncture protocols.  This is what our new school came out of:  Promotores Descalzos.  Barefoot Health Promoters.

We’ve been fortunate to have groups like GUAMAP and the Pan African Acupuncture Project, and community acupuncturists around the US lend support and mentorship to our project. Their wisdom helps us avoid the pitfalls of a hit-and-run humanitarian aid project.

We knew early on that if we—as outsiders—are the ones providing the care then it makes it less sustainable.  So we focus on training health promoters already working within low-income communities.

The great thing about acupuncture is that it can be very affordable. The cost of acupuncture supplies is extremely cheap when compared to drugs and surgeries and hospitals. The cost of needles for a community acupuncture treatment is less than 50 cents.  Moxa: half the cost of needles.  How many drugs are that affordable?

  1. From a medical perspective, how have citizens in these regions (i.e. Juarez) been affected by the violence? How do the acupuncture treatments help these patients?

The violence and these lasting wounds in Juarez, I’ve learned, have deep roots in poverty, destructive policies, and a failure of democracy and justice in Mexico as well as in the US.  These issues are intricately connected to killings and massacres and kidnappings.  In the grand scheme of things, medical services like acupuncture play a small but important role in healing. If any medical project can be empowering to a community, even better, then that’s one step towards getting to the root of the problems of economic inequality and social injustice.

We partner with churches because we’ve seen many people feel safe reaching out for help in their church.  The effectiveness of the service delivery, the cultural competence in which these health promoters offer care, happens because they are the ones healing their own people. It’s less about acupuncture and more about their resiliency, their resolve to serve their people week in, week out.

At a basic level of responding to violence and preventing violence from escalating, we’ve also seen our students’ efforts to be a humble unassuming facilitator peace-building. In a community setting, they create neutral, nonviolent, nonjudgmental, noninvasive, silent and meditative spaces for healing to happen, for people who have been hurt as well as and sometimes even alongside and sitting next to, those who have hurt others.

They have treated people who have experienced forms of violence.  For some, in their recovery, the focus may be alleviating anxiety and nightmares. For others, the group setting of our model of care helps victims to feel safe being around other people, preventing isolation, and providing safe space for them to reach out and get help.

Many people may not even recognize trauma as an experience. In fact, it’s not even necessary for the person to have insight into trauma or the nature or cause of their emotional pain in order to benefit from acupuncture. The acupuncture provider doesn’t need to know anything that someone has been through in order to help them.  The person doesn’t need to disclose anything or be diagnosed with PTSD or admit they’re a victim. They just have to be willing to sit and rest. Some people—even if they don’t like needles– find a great benefit out of just sitting quietly amidst a group of people receiving acupuncture. These groups hold space for people just to “be” without any cost to them to participate. Everyone needs access to activities like this to rest from society, yet connect with community.

Acupuncture—specifically this model of community acupuncture–works well as a mental wellness activity particularly in cultures where western talk therapy and psychoanalysis is rejected, inappropriate or inaccessible. In working with people with trauma, these types of cognitive based therapies can be ineffective, especially for recent events.  For someone who has had a recent traumatic experience, one priority is to help them get better sleep. If they don’t sleep for a few straight days after an event, then they may—no matter how healthy they are—start to experience psychosis or lose stability. And one of the first things that many people experience with acupuncture is sleeping better. That’s an important first step in the healing process.

There are also health problems that predated the violence.  Diabetes and tuberculosis have long been two of the top health problems in the border region. The fear and insecurity brought on by violence in Juarez affects access to healthcare for the people with these conditions.

We’ve witnessed their volunteer efforts to be a part of alleviating some of the burden of the local the healthcare system.

Many of our students report that people in general have a hard time asking for help for any type of condition, and that the violence has made this worse.  We work with them to help them figure out how to make it easier to come in for care. One of our students works in a town where 90% of the population has vanished, and few medical services are available. In response, she offers her own free services for those who have no choice but to stay.

  1. Can you tell me about the training and outreach programs Crossroads offers in Juarez? How have the people in this region benefitted from these programs?

We were able to conduct a qualitative study on patient reports receiving ear acupuncture in Juarez, and were able to see that 89% of patients report a positive experience, and 0% reported any severe negative effects.

More importantly, we measure success on the basis of community empowerment.  Are they able to carry on their own projects, through the support of their own communities? We’ve trained about 80 Juarez health providers so far. We always train with the goal of empowering them to be able to carry on their own projects, through the support of their own communities. For the 35,000 treatments we’ve tracked since 2011, they have raised their own funds from within their own communities to pay for their own medical supplies. They aren’t dependent on Crossroads in this aspect. This is a success. It’s very important for us that they reflect critically about and problem-solve locally towards self-sufficiency, even if they’re working in a very poor neighborhood.

They also offer massage and herbs and other alternative therapies. They’ve told us that the NADA ear acupuncture is now one of the most effective interventions they have for helping people calm down. One student told us before she learned this technique she didn’t know what to do for someone who came to her with really bad anxiety and lots of stress. Now she can apply this simple ear therapy and within minutes the person calms down and even can take a nap for an hour.  They leave looking a lot different than when they came in.

A lot of our students migrated from other parts of Mexico to Juarez with their families to work in the maquiladoras, and a lot of the people they help are employed in the factories (or used to be until they got laid off).  Our new school is inspired by another migrant and factory worker who is credited as the founder of acupuncture in the West: Miriam Lee. Back in the 70’s, she assisted other factory workers in California after she immigrated from China.  It’s fitting that we are teaching her techniques and her spirit of service has caught hold among our students.

  1. Are there other clinics like Crossroads in the US/Mexico border region that offer healthcare services on a sliding scale?

At this time there are no other community acupuncture clinics—that is, affordable full body acupuncture treatments (points in the head, ears, hands and feet) in a group setting– in our specific region other than our Las Cruces downtown clinic at 130 S. Main. Outside of the El Paso/Las Cruces region, there are 3 community acupuncture clinics in Tucson, and some in San Antonio and San Diego as well.

We have helped start up and offer ongoing support to other group-based ear acupuncture clinics that offer walk-in free services.  These clinics are by donation-only. Anyone can attend these free clinics.

There’s one in El Paso at Casa Vida on Saturday afternoons 2pm.

There’s one at Community of Hope at St Luke’s Health Clinic in Cruces, Tuesday mornings at 8:30am.

Families and Youth, INC in Las Cruces has a syringe exchange program for injection drug users that offers free ear acupuncture as well.  We’re hoping to train more harm reduction workers in the coming year, to help increase access for care to people struggling with addiction.

Anthony’s Desert Pride High School for at-risk youth has a social worker offering free ear acupuncture.

And then throughout the Catholic Diocese of Juarez there are many parishes that offer the ear acupuncture.

In the greater border region, ear acupuncture groups are offered for immigrants through GUAMAP in Tucson and women’s recovery programs at Shakti Rising in San Diego.

  1. You’ve worked with health promoters in Mexico to help establish free acu clinics. How can others get involved?

We’re throwing a Downtown Dance Party with Project Mainstreet and Shakti Rising on September 11, to help raise funds for our school.   DJ RiseOhm Shahid Mustafa from MountainView Coop will provide the tunes and the beats. So all you have to do is come and dance to the music and have fun!

Also, just by getting acupuncture at our clinic in Las Cruces, you can help. We share a percentage of our surplus revenues as a dividend for our project in Juarez.  So patients of Crossroads are making a contribution to people in Mexico getting care, by taking care of themselves.

Visit to learn more about our project, where you can find access to acupuncture in the borderlands, or donate and make a tax-deductible contribution through your credit card, or to stay updated on trainings we’ll be offering.

Shakti is now teaching at our school in Juarez. They’re another creative, innovative and grassroots project to get involved with.

Crossroads Community Supported Healthcare

130 S. Main, Las Cruces, NM 88005




Bloody Attack on Police in Mexico Raises Jalisco Cartel’s Profile…Insight Crime

I have been busy with other stuff the last few days, but I have not seen any analysis (or even speculation?) about this event in Jalisco other than the Mexican government’s focus on the CJNG. Has there been any mention of the fact that one of the original leaders of the original Guadalajara Cartel–Rafael Caro Quintero–was released from prison in 2013 and has been at large since, despite manhunts and rewards offered by both Mex-Feds and US-DEA? There were also rumors months ago that Ernesto Carrillo–his older compatriot from Guadalajara and also uncle of Juarez cartel leaders Amado and Vicente Carrillo Fuentes might be released from prison. Both of these men were tried en absentia in the US for the torture and murder of Enrique Camarena in 1985 and never extradited by Mexico despite years of requests from the US. Their incarceration in Mexico stemmed from nebulous drug charges and not specifically the murder of Camarena. Numerous Guadalajara state officials as well as Mexican federal cops and politicians were also involved in the Camarena case and some of them were convicted in federal court in the US in the early 1990s. The analysis below also does not mention that the slaughter in Ciudad Juarez began in early 2008 with the murders of state and municipal police working for the Juarez cartel and that this was the catalyst for the federal police and military incursions into Chihuahua in March 2008. The death toll in Juarez by the end of 2014 was 12,000+ and much higher if homicides from the whole state of Chihuahua are counted. -Molly

Q & A with Sally Meisenhelder of La 72

Sally Meisenhelder is a nurse who regularly volunteers at the La 72 shelter.
Boarding La Bestia

Boarding La Bestia

Can you give us a little background about the shelter?

The shelter began in 1995 as a parochial mission, staffed and funded by the Franciscan order. It moved to its new location in 2011 and was renamed La 72 Hogar – Refugio para personas migrantes in honor of the 72 migrants found in a common grave in San Fernando, Tamaulipas. It is intended to be a home and a refuge where people can receive information and legal services. As the number of people fleeing violence and poverty in Central America increased, the shelter has expanded.

It is probably the most comprehensive shelter in Mexico and the only one I know of where people can stay an unlimited amount of time.

Can you describe how the shelter functions on a regular basis? Who is involved?
Two Franciscan friars are the driving force behind the hogar. A few long term residents are also instrumental in its operation. Recently a couple joined and became volunteer coordinators and operations manager, taking some of the burden off Fray Tomas and Fray Aurelio. The migrants themselves do much of the work of cooking, cleaning and security operations. Doctors without Borders offers the services of a psychologist and a social worker, a worker from the UN provides entertainment and education for the children, Volunteers fill the gaps by staffing a First Aid clinic, an area where migrants can speak with their families and use the internet, receive money sent to migrants from their family, an intake area, a kitchen and the operation of two dormitories, one for men and one for women and children. A lawyer provides representation for those who wish to stay in Mexico and those who qualify for refugee status in Mexico.
It’s located in Tenosique, one of the first stops of La Bestia. How does this affect the shelter?
People arrive there because it is the beginning of the train line north from that part of Mexico.  Trains run on an irregular schedule and are several days apart.  The shelter fills up and empties when a train arrives.  Plan Frontera Sur has changed this dynamic.

What is Plan Fronera Sure and has it been effective? Why or why not?
Plan Frontera Sur was announced in July, 2014 by the President of Mexico about a month after Obama declared an “urgent humanitarian situation” due to the apprehension of 38,833 children “on the run” and alone. At that time Peña Nieto claimed it was a program to protect the human rights of migrants.

To those on the ground the plan is obvious, it closely mirrors U.S. immigration enforcement. The goal appears to be to force migrants into more remote areas and to make passage as difficult as possible. The train now moves rapidly through Tenosique.  If it stops so that people can get on, it probably will stop in an isolated area or a train yard for immigration officials to try to arrest as many migrants as they can.
Plan Frontera Sur seems to be part of the “21st century border” funded by the U.S. government through Plan Merida.  The marines now patrol the rivers between Mexico and Guatemala. I have seen new equipment, identical to that used by U.S. Border Patrol at immigration checkpoints near Tenosique, Palenque and San Cristobal. Changes in Mexican immigration law have made it more difficult for people to receive permission to stay in Mexico if they have been victims of a crime in Mexico. This will make it even more difficult to prosecute corrupt officials and criminal who prey on migrants.

From a human rights standpoint, Plan Frontera Sur has been a disaster. This week there has been much discussion on Frontera list about an article by Valerie Espinosa and Donald Rubin  that documents increased homicide rates in areas where military-style interventions took place. Plan Frontera Sur uses the Army, two branches of federal police, and immigration authorities to enforce immigration law. If this article is predictive, murder rates of migrants will increase.

Each of these agencies has separate checkpoints and everyone, including local people are subjected to scrutiny and extortion along the routes.  There are 3 rings of enforcement, reaching to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. People are now walking into more remote areas to avoid these checkpoints. Forcing migration routes into more remote areas will increase the potential that organized crime will be involved and the cost in human lives and the transit cost to migrants will increase.  This happened in the U.S. as enforcement increased, people were forced into more dangerous routes, cost to the migrants increased and people became merchandise to be moved north.

What Plan Frontera Sur does is move the abuse of migrants away from the view of U.S. citizens. It is an attempt to avoid another public relations disaster like the one that occurred last summer.

You say 90% of those coming to La 72 are Honduran and this is in the wake of more than 70,000 minors crossing the border. What has it been like since then? Has the situation improved at all?

My impression is that the number of children on the run has decreased but this is only one point of entry and if children are coming with a coyote, they may stay in a hotel or safe house instead of in a shelter.  La 72 tries to keep out anyone involved in trafficking of human beings. The U.S. Border Patrol website has confusing information about the numbers of minors.  Always on the lookout for more money, they appear to be saying that they will face another “crisis” this summer.  However, the numbers on the charts show overall the numbers are down compared to last year.

Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, stated “The federal government has engaged in an aggressive, coordinated response to provide humanitarian care,” and that they have “heightening deterrence, enhancing enforcement, strengthening foreign cooperation and increasing border security.

As a result of these efforts, the number of unaccompanied children attempting to cross the Southwest border has declined precipitously, and the federal government continues to focus its resources prevent a similar situation from developing in the future,” he said.

The large percentage of Hondurans is influenced by the location of Tenosique. Migrants from El Salvador would more likely cross into Tapachula as would most Guatemalans seeking to come north.
Other factors seem to be pushing people out of Honduras.  A fungus, el royo, has decimated the coffee crop, or so many migrants told me.  They had previously been employed on coffee plantations but now there is no work.  I also expect migration out of  the highlands of Chiapas to increase. Lack of rain has ruined the corn crop and there will be no coffee harvest for many due to el royo.  See Christine Eber’s report of a recent trip to Chiapas.

What is the shelter most in need of? Are a majority of the residents families? youths?
It seems to me that donations of money are the most useful and can be used where most needed at the moment. Currently, La 72 is constructing a separate shelter for unaccompanied minors. They now live with the adults in a dormitory setting.  I think money to complete and furnish this is needed.  Also the diet is very unvaried, mostly beans and rice with tortillas.  Some vegetables and fruit are donated by local businesses but not enough.
The majority are men traveling without their families. There are some families and some unaccompanied minors.
What changes need to be made?

As a nurse and a fan of Paul Farmer, I join him in advocating pragmatic solidarity. In other words put your money and your body where your mouth is. Join with La 72 and demand an end to Plan Frontera Sur and by extension, Plan Merida.  Demand a right to migrate. Volunteer with local agencies serving migrants.

Donations can be sent to La 72 through this link

22 murders in March 2015–lowest number since 2007; more bodies found in Valle de Juarez

There were 22 murders in Juarez in month of March 2015…the lowest figure in any month since 2007. The total for 2015 is now 81.

January 30

February 29

March 22

There were 18 days with no homicides during March 2015. That is the good news.
However, 8 of the 22 murder victims this month were women–a higher number and higher percentage than has been seen in recent years–36 percent of the victims were women. The victims ranged in age from 16 to 51 and they were killed under a variety of circumstances according to the details in the El Diario article below.
On March 7, Alicia Diaz Murillo, 51, was tortured and strangled in colonia Barrio Alto–the crime has not been clarified.

On March 8, Lluvia Graciela López López, 18, was killed by her husband Edgar Franco.

On March 11, Maribel Delgado Rodríguez, 32, and her husband Jesús Manuel Monárrez Arreola, 40, were beaten to death in the Colonia Granjas de Santa Elena.

Ivonne Adriana Valenzuela Gómez, 45, and her daughter Cinthia Berenice Valdez Valenzuela, 25, were murdered on March 15. Their bodies were abandoned on the street in the colonia Fray García de San Francisco and both had been stabbed to death.

Perla Nalleli Monreal Vázquez, 23, was shot to death on March 18 in colonia Virreyes.

On March 21, Esmeralda Guadalupe Galván Guerrero, 16, was found dead and partially buried in a vacant lot in Parajes de San José. She had been strangled. The young girl had disappeared around March 9 near the University.

On March 22, María Luisa Méndez López, 36, was killed in colonia Lomas de Morelos.

According to the Fiscalia, the unresolved cases are related to the local drug market (el narcomenudeo).

Also posted below, El Diario reported new findings of human remains in the Valle de Juarez–possibly 8 or more bodies. No mention of when these people were killed. But these deaths are not included in the number of murders for March or possibly for any other period.

MARCH 2015

Cierra marzo con 22 asesinatos, la cifra más baja ¡desde 2007!

Luz del Carmen Sosa

El Diario | Martes 31 Marzo 2015 | 23:22 hrs

El mes de marzo concluyó con 22 homicidios dolosos registrados en diferentes puntos de la ciudad, de acuerdo con el seguimiento periodístico que se lleva de este delito en la cobertura diaria de hechos y la información oficial de la Secretaría de Seguridad Pública (SSPM) y la Fiscalía General del Estado (FGE). Este es el número más bajo de asesinatos registrado en esta frontera desde antes de que comenzara el período de mayor violencia, que arrancó en enero de 2008.

El Diario | Peritos de la Fiscalía General del Estado en la zona del poblado Doctor Porfirio Parra

Localizan más osamentas en el Valle


El Diario | Martes 31 Marzo 2015 | 23:51 hrs

Por segundo día consecutivo, personal de la Fiscalía General del Estado (FGE) Zona Norte realizó excavaciones en el Valle de Juárez, donde se presume se localizaron varios restos humanos. …

Reflections on a trip to Chiapas, February 2015, by Christine Eber

Christine Eber is an anthropologist, writer and artist who has worked with Maya communities in Chiapas for 30 years. Her most recent book (co-authored with Antonia), The Journey of a Tzotzil-Maya Woman of Chiapas, Mexico: Pass Well over the Earth is published by the University of Texas (2012) and is available here.

“Winning does not tempt this man. This is how he grows; by being defeated, decisively,

by constantly greater beings.”

maya_normalistas_chiapas                            From “The Man Watching” by Rainer Maria Rilke

“We’re going to win!” I often heard my Maya friends say when I visited with them around their home fires in the 1990s. They were filled with hope in the aftermath of the Zapatista uprising. After centuries of being forgotten — remembered only when their labor was needed in fields or factories — they had finally made the Mexican government listen to their demands for justice and equality. During those years I was swept up in the surge forward and tried to accompany my friends from afar.

It is March 2015 and I have just returned from a trip to Chiapas after being away two years. Reuniting with Maya weavers and students I was moved as I always am by their quiet courage and perseverance. But this time I couldn’t contain my anger at the Mexican government for treating these people as obstacles to “progress.” Just a few months ago, 43 young indigenous men from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, studying to become rural teachers, disappeared while protesting the government’s neglect of their school. These students were on almost everyone’s minds when I was in Chiapas.

During my visit, tears poured out of me when I least expected. I am much older now and was sick much of my trip. But my biggest obstacle wasn’t age or illness; it was my inability to let go of the expectation that social change will necessarily involve my friends’ liberation from oppression.

Every day I was in Chiapas I kept asking myself how economic conditions could seem worse than when I first came to highland Chiapas in the 1980s. A couple things were different this year than in previous years. Two major crops failed. The corn crop suffered from lack of rain at a crucial time in its growth. Most households I visited had only half a burlap bag of corn, enough to feed the family for one month. Corn still constitutes the bulk of people’s diets and cash is needed to buy what cannot be produced. Where will they get the money to buy the rest of the corn for the year? Not from coffee, the other crop that failed. Throughout Chiapas and as far away as Honduras, coffee was hit by a plague called “la roya.” Most small farmers lost their entire crop, leaving them to sell their labor or products that they make in order to earn cash to buy corn and other necessities. For women who weave textiles, selling their work has become an important source of revenue. But not all women weave or know how to make artisan products. What is left? With scarce opportunities for employment in Chiapas, migrating to the United States or to farms in distant parts of Mexico or cities in the Maya Riviera has become a major survival strategy.

When I was in Chiapas in the 1980s, the Mexican government had not yet fully withdrawn subsidies and dismantled public works projects to pay back its foreign debt. Today these are all but gone and small farmers have little support for their land-based lifeways and must contend with misguided development projects. A few years ago, the people of San Pedro Chenalhó, where most of my friends live, mounted a well-organized protest against the government’s plans to build a rural city in their township. They succeeded in stopping the city from being built while knowing that any day they may need to defend their lands and lives again.

My best friend, Antonia, who joined a Zapatista support base in 1994, told me not long ago that despite hearing others in the movement speak of “winning” she doesn’t think about that. She just tries to live each day with respect for the earth, plants, animals, and her fellow humans, without being preoccupied about the future. She accepts that she can’t end poverty or control forces such as globalization. All that she can do is work with others in her community to strengthen their connections to the land, the ancestors, and each other, one day at a time.

Antonia’s philosophy may sound like something out of self-help literature. It does share elements with these, but one thing is distinct in how Antonia puts her ideas into practice. She moves through life as part of a something larger than herself. She belongs to several community groups that sustain her and that she in turn sustains. These include a Zapatista support base, baking, weaving, and general store cooperatives, and the Catholic community in her hamlet that draws its strength from Catholic social justice teachings. Antonia would feel bereft without these groups. They help her imagine and enact a better world.

Back home in Las Cruces, New Mexico, I reintegrate into my more solitary existence while doing what I can to assist Maya weavers and students. As I come to terms with my limitations I find inspiration in poems such as Rilke’s, “The Man Watching,” and these words from the Nigerian poet, Ben Okri:

We are greater than our despair.

The negative aspects of humanity

Are not the most real and authentic;

The most authentic thing about us

Is our capacity to create, to overcome,

To endure, to transform, to love,

And to be greater than our suffering.

We are best defined by the mystery

That we are still here, and can still rise

Upwards, still create better civilisations,

That we can face our raw realities,

And that we will survive

The greater despair

That the greater future might bring.

From “Mental Flight” by Ben Okri (1999)

For more information about the organizations I work with on behalf of Maya weavers and students, please see and, or email Christine:

Above photo of Carlos, Patricia and Aminadad, Maya normal school students supported by the Maya Educational Foundation. Photo by Carol Vanier.

Q & A with Morgan Smith

Morgan Smith is a freelance writer and photographer whose work can be found in the Denver Post, Santa Fe New Mexican, Denver Business Journal, New Mexico Business Journal, El Paso Inc., New Mexico Mercury and La Voz Colorado among others.


By Virginia Isaad

  1. Juarez has a reputation as an impoverished war-torn city and yet you’ve written about and visited places like Vision in Action, El Árbol de Vida, and Reto a la Juventud. What do you think about the fact that such places exist in the midst of such violence and poverty?

What I discovered some five years ago is that there are a handful of very heroic and dedicated people who are committed to helping others, no matter what the danger to them might be. My first encounter was with a Mexican woman named Martina Ontiveros who had lived in Santa Fe but went to Palomas to live in and volunteer at an orphanage named La Casa de Amor Para Ninos. When I asked her if she was afraid – it was very dangerous in Palomas at the time – she simply said that this was her mission. The same is true for people like Elenita Porras at Reto a la Juventud or Pastor Galvan or Dr. Vicente Pantoja or many others I have met. It’s their personal dedication that keeps these programs going.

  1. What stands out to you the most when you visit such places? Why?

The physical conditions of these places is usually not what we would expect in the US but the spirit and the sense of optimism and caring is always extraordinary and I very much enjoy being a part of it and also trying to publicize it.

  1. Through the years, how has the government’s involvement changed, if at all? Has there been an increase in donations and awareness through the media?

I don’t see any additional government presence in the areas I go to. Traveling through poor colonias in Juarez, for example, I just don’t see the presence of whatever social services they might have. Pretty much all I see is the presence of these private, non profit humanitarian groups.

That’s a neutral comment, suggesting, for example, that the government does little for the poor. On the negative side, one on going frustration is the way the Mexican customs officials hinder the work of these organizations by often blocking them from bringing in food or clothing or building materials for housing construction.

  1. Have you ever seen or heard of a place like Vision in Action? What is it about patients caring for one another that seems to work in this case?

I have probably visited Vision in Action 60 or 70 times in the last 4 plus years and am always amazed at how effective many of the patients – some like Elia who can’t even talk coherently – are at calming and consoling others. It’s evidence that even people who are deeply disturbed or have committed serious crimes can and do respond to affection and an environment of caring. This is an important lesson for our US mental facilities where there are very strict rules about patients are allowed to do.

The basis of this is Pastor Galvan and his insistence that his patients be treated with dignity and the many things he does to treat them as we would treat people without illnesses. For example, I was there on February 14 when several patients got married.

  1. Do you think if organizations like Vision in Action had governmental aid that they would sustain the system as is? What you seem to be most in awe of is how the patients help each other but if more money were to come in that would probably change. How do you feel about that?

I was a member of the Colorado House of Representatives many years and Chairman of the budget committee. As a result, I came to know many state programs in the social services area. Although funding was always important, what set the really good ones apart was leadership, not money. Vision in Action would stay the same if it had government support but only if it had the leadership of someone like a Galvan. How do you find that leadership? That’s the tough question.

Last, I would add that these characteristics – providing work which makes people feel productive, organizing the same kinds of events that “normal” people have such as the wedding I mentioned, showing affection, focusing on dignity – seem intangible as compared to, for example, therapy sessions in US facilities but they work. So Galvan is not only responsible for the survival of his patients but he has also given us some new insights on what it takes to change human behavior.

Read Morgan Smith’s previous guest post on Vision in Action here

Work, pray, love…in Ciudad Juárez By Megan Cullip

This week’s guest posting is from Megan Cullip. A chaplain and mental health professional, she wrote this reflection on her time spent at Vision en Accion, the shelter for homeless, mentally disabled people in Juárez, Mexico.


In 2008, when I was in my junior year of college, I saw a YouTube video about El Pastor, a man in Juárez, Mexico who had built an asylum in the Chihuahuan desert for those who are drug addicted, mentally ill, or developmentally disabled. I had a lump in my throat within three minutes of the video. I always had both an intellectual fascination and a tender-heartedness toward people with atypical brains. El Pastor, in the video, said that people referred to the residents at the asylum as: “human trash.” But what I saw, when I went there, was far from a dump.

Fast-forward about six years, the mental asylum in Juárez had been cemented in the back of my mind for some time. I had a deeply passionate compulsion to go.

I work in a state psychiatric hospital in the United States. We serve a wide variety of individuals with a spectrum of mental health issues: schizophrenia, bipolar, major depression, substance abuse, personality disorders. Because we are a state institution, we receive ample government funding. We are a multi-million dollar facility with about 1,200 staff members and, on average, 420 patients. We have professionals with lots of education and specialized experience. We have access to enough meds for everyone to receive whatever dose the doctor deems necessary, daily.

But we have codes daily. We have much conflict, patients fighting patients, patients fighting staff, patients harming themselves. We consider emergency restraints, where a patient has to be restrained in a chair or bed, “a treatment fail.” And it is.
Our patients are scheduled to attend groups throughout the day: psycho-education, medication management, spirituality group, individual counseling, music therapy etc.
But the patients rarely work with their hands, though some do get the opportunity to work in the greenhouse or the copy center.

Vision in Action has done something incredible without having millions of dollars to spend, nor teams of specialized professionals. I remember walking into the kitchen at the asylum. I was immediately handed a spicy dish of pork smothered in sauce and a plate of cheese quesadillas. Every morning, afternoon, and evening, the ladies and gentlemen who worked in the kitchen would offer me food-refried bean burritos with avocado slices, bottles of soda. They delivered their hospitality and quality cooking with broad smiles. They make 360 meals a day, and they don’t work in shifts.

During the day, people are working. They are cleaning, cooking, building, helping other low functioning patients perform their daily living tasks. When I was there, a new patient named Monica was dropped off from the local hospital. The other patients were at the gate waiting to receive her. She was placed in a cell for observation. She was despondent, when I asked her how she was. Monica appeared the same way many of our patients do upon their arrival at the hospital. But, as I looked around at the other patients at Vision in Action, I saw Monica’s potential. Monica would not meet with a treatment team. She would not be scheduled for groups. But I would not be surprised if, as I write this, she is putting her hand to cleaning, or laundry, or any of the other options. I wouldn’t be surprised if another patient is making friends with her and helping her adjust to this strange place of dignity and hospitality in the desert.

I had the privilege to speak at length with the medical doctor who works hard (for free) to try and give the patients the best quality of life possible. He showed me the supply of Haldol and Klonopin and other psychotropic medications that he locks in a tiny room in the asylum, out of reach from patients. If I were to take my own personal medicine cabinet, stuff it with psychotropic meds, and multiply it by three, that would be the maximum amount of medication that I found at the asylum. It was clearly not enough for 120 people, and definitely not enough for a consistent daily medication routine. The doctor told me that sometimes he has to cut one Haldol pill in half to serve two patients. It’s not enough. It’s inconsistent.

There is not a doubt in my mind that medication is helpful. And Vision in Action lacks the appropriate amount.

But there is also no question about the “success” (if you can ever talk about success when you talk about people) of this asylum. I did not see misery there. I saw sickness and poverty, yes. But I saw joy and community. I saw faith. I saw people who poured themselves out for others. I saw an energetic man in black slacks and a black blazer, named El Pastor. I saw him share the story and fundraise and care for his people, everyday crossing the border, praying to Jesus. Rabbi Abraham Heschel, when he marched to Montgomery during the civil rights movement, said: “I felt my feet were praying.” This is what I saw El Pastor, and all of those who help Vision and Action, doing.

Throughout the week I met many people involved in many different things: art dealers, curious givers, and a man with a landscaping business building an irrigation system for the asylum on his own dime. These people came and went, like the wind passing through from different directions. My last afternoon at the asylum, a pastor from Oklahoma came to pick up blankets. The asylum had extra blankets that they wanted to donate. The pastor from Oklahoma was going to take these blankets to natives on a reservation, who lived in caves. The poor were donating to the poor.

At Vision in Action, I saw a lot of my own values at work: faith, community, hard work, preserving human dignity. Many of my coworkers at the hospital feel similarly as I do about patient care and best practices. But the system is very overwhelming, with a lot of red tape and the like. It is frustrating. Change comes slowly. In many ways, it seems, we are slaves to liability. We are under fear of litigation or scrutiny from authorities. It is hard and almost unfair to compare a large state psychiatric hospital in America with a small faith-based asylum in the deserts of Mexico. My hope for state psychiatric hospitals in the US is that they would look a little more like Vision in Action. I hope that patients are allowed to use their hands, to do good work. I hope that everyone treats each other with dignity, treating people as whole people and not diagnoses’ on a page. I hope that programming and schedules would be seen as one of many tools and not a prescription that will magically heal every brain and heart. I hope that staff, at the end of the day, will be able to utter: “I felt my feet were praying.”


Megan Cullip works as a chaplain at a state psychiatric institution in the United States. She can be reached at

Q & A with Jason McGahan

Jason McGahan is an investigative reporter who covers organized crime and drug trafficking in Mexico and the United States. His special investigative report “Drugs in Chicago” was awarded a 2014 Peter Lisagor Award for In-Depth Reporting from the Chicago Society of Professional Journalists. His work has appeared in Vice, The Daily Beast, The Guardian, Time, Texas Observer, Chicago Reader, Chicago Magazine, The LA Times, and in Spanish in Proceso, M-X, SinEmbargo, and Spleen! Journal. Follow him @JasonMcGahan

By Virginia Isaad
 You recently wrote about anti-clericalism and the murders of priests in Tierra Caliente. Do you see the violence against priests escalating or do you think these are isolated to certain areas? 
Centro Católico Multimedia tabulated eight murders of Catholic priests and two forcible disappearances since the start of the Enrique Pena Nieto presidency in December 2012. I wrote about the Dec 21 murder of Father Gregorio Lopez Gorostieta. In the course of my reporting, I learned that Father Gregorio was the fourth priest murdered in the region of La Tierra Caliente since 2009, not counting two students at a Catholic seminary who were also murdered. Another priest was wounded, and yet another was kidnapped and managed to escape with his life through a very fortuitous incident that distracted his kidnappers. When my story about the priests of La Tierra Caliente came out, Chivis, the administrator of the news site Borderland Beat, commented that priests have also been murdered in Tamaulipas and Veracruz. So the danger does not appear to be isolated to any one part of Mexico.

The slogan for Ayotzinapa is, as you mentioned, “the cradle of social consciousness.” do you believe the cartels were trying to send a specific message by going after the 43 students?

I think the problem with the Ayotzinapa case is the lack of a verifiable explanation from the PGR as to what happened that night. Even though the massacre is more than 5 months old, the story is still developing, the search for the students continues, and highly qualified professional investigators continue to examine the evidence A major break in the case is liable to happen at any time. Certainly, the Ayotzinapa students are known for their political activism. Part of the reason the abduction of the 43 students resonated so strongly with the Mexican public was that the student victims had no ties to organized crime. The truly mobbed-up elements of the Mexican political class, and here I am thinking of someone like the First Lady of Iguala, Maria de los Angeles Pineda, tend to keep an especially virulent form of disdain for political idealism. They don’t understand it, they don’t speak the same language. At this point, what we can interpret about the “message” of the Ayotzinapa massacre is that three students can be murdered (one of whose corpse was found with the face sliced off and the eyes plucked out) and forty-three forcibly disappeared in the downtown area of a mid-sized Mexican city, without legal consequences for most, if any, of the individuals responsible for the crime.
From priests to young social activists/students, the violence knows no bounds. How do you feel the impassioned protests and heightened attention have affected the war against drugs? 

I think the protests have inspired individual Mexicans to risk taking a stand against the impunity of organized crime in Mexico. The parents of the disappeared students from Aytozinapa have played the most decisive role in that respect. Thousands of Mexican parents have walked the proverbial mile in their shoes, have seen their children disappeared in recent years. But other parents were too afraid of reprisals to demand answers, much less to take matters like the search or investigation into their own hands, the way the parents of the Ayotzinapa students have. They carry a tremendous moral authority in Mexico, both for the pain they have endured and the courage they have displayed in demanding justice. The parents have set an example that others are following, to take a crisis into one’s own hands and to challenge the climate of impunity that prevails in the Mexican justice system.


In your article about U.S. visas you talk about informants getting sideways: “Get sideways” is cop slang for breaking the law. It is most commonly applied to informants who want to have the thing both ways. They want the benefits of being an informant and the income from doing something illegal” How often would you say this occurs and how has the U.S. dealt with it? 
In my investigations, it seems as though the agencies of the United States Government charged with combating organized crime invariably seek to identify and enlist the help of insiders –criminals or corrupt public servants– as a way to study the architecture of a given criminal organization. Any DEA agent, in a moment of candor, will admit that confidential informants are the bread-and-butter of any investigation. Much more important, in the grand scheme, than things like electronic surveillance or wiretaps. What I found, in the investigation of mine that you reference in your question, is that the higher up in the chain of command that investigators reach for their informants, the better position the agents are in to influence the outcome of a conflict, like the turf war in Ciudad Juarez. I wrote about a situation where high-level traffickers and enforcers for the Sinaloa Cartel in Chihuahua were provided with visas to enter the United States and provide sensitive information on their enemies in the Juarez Cartel. But all the while these informants continued to work as active members in mid- to high-level management roles within an international crime syndicate that was the largest supplier of cocaine, meth, and heroin to the United States.

What would you say has been your most challenging story (regarding the violence in Mexico) and why? 



I recently wrapped up a six-month murder investigation in Mexico. I won’t get into specifics until the article comes out. But gaining the trust of sources who do not know anything about you, who have never met a reporter before, much less a reporter from the United States, and where the decision for them to talk can have immediate life or death consequences, is a challenge that can only be overcome with patience and understanding.

Death on Sevenmile Road…Border Killings Investigation…Texas Observer

A long and deeply researched piece by Melissa del Bosque on the Texas DPS shootings of Guatemalan men from a helicopter in 2012. Go to the link for the full story, photos and video… This is the piece to give the lie to the “violence spilling over the border” hysteria we hear so often.  What I would say is YES, violence is spilling over the border…from NORTH to SOUTH… not the other direction as Fox News, the US Congress and the Texas DPS wants you to believe.  

I will share something personal:  During 2010 and 2011, I had the opportunity to work with Charles Bowden and to travel with him from one end of the border to another… On one trip we drove from Las Cruces to Brownsville. We spent time on Falcon Lake in Texas looking into the disappearance of David Hartley. We took a ride in a fast bass boat over to the Mexican waters of the lake. Our guide showed us the spot where reports said Hartley was shot and disappeared. The depth of the water there was 2.5 feet. ( There was a lot more leading us to question the official story about the disappearance of David Hartley and many more of the hysterical “violence spilling over the border” stories.

Charles wrote the story (commissioned by a high profile magazine for outdoor sports) and debunked this and other “violence spilling over the border” myths. It was rejected because he didn’t write the story they wanted. He wrote the truth. He sent the story to another very high-profile left-liberal magazine. His editor there rejected it also because she said she didn’t believe the story because “it stands to reason that violence was spilling north.” Chuck wrote a personal memo about this later: “At that point, I thought of two things: why lies rule on the border and why Americans feel the need of a wall.”

So it is refreshing to see the Texas Observer on the case of immigrants being shot from helicopters… by US law enforcement.

If you’d like to see an entertaining video of Chuck talking about this, here’s a link:
Charles Bowden: America’s favorite lethal lies about the border, Utah Valley University, May 2011:

30 Homicides In Juarez In February; 67 So Far In 2015

The El Diario report posted late Saturday (Feb 28) reported 29 homicides in Juarez in February.  But late Saturday night, a young man was shot to death by a police officer bringing the total to 30. Channel 44 reported 31. These discrepancies have been fairly common over time. El Diario reported 37 homicides in January; Channel 44 reported 36.

Three victims in February were women, exactly 10 percent of the total number of people killed. This female to male ratio is also fairly constant when looking at Juarez homicides from 1993 to the present.