"We are all migrants"
Father Alejandro Solalinde is 71 years old and holds a backpack of hard experiences in his back, but his small dark eyes have not lost even a spark of vitality. Born in Texcoco, Mexico, this Mexican Catholic priest has become a champion in the fight for the human rights of migrants in Central America. Solalinde is the founder of Hermanos en el Camino, a network of shelters and parishes that provide food, medical care and accommodation to Latin American immigrants who cross Mexico to reach the United States. Most of these immigrants are victims of violence and abuses of all kinds committed by drug traffickers and other mafias trafficking with arms, organs and people. In addition, they have now an extra problem: a much tougher anti-immigration policy from the United States, as announced by President-elect Donald Trump in his campaign. Donald Trump did not only threat to build up a wall in the Mexico-US border and deport millions of undocumented migrants, but also he accused them of being rapists, thieves and criminals.
"People need to understand that Migration is not a crime, but a Right. In fact, we are all migrants, because we are increasingly universal citizens," said Solalinde on a short visit to Barcelona in mid-November, to give a talk about Human Rights and migration. The conference was organized by Casa América and Pompeu Fabra University, as part of a series of debates about immigration and the refugee crisis, a subject of utmost concern in Europe.
"People need to understand that Migration is not a crime, but a Right. In fact, we are all migrants, because we are increasingly universal citizens", says Solalinde.
Migrants have also become Solalinde's main concern since in 2001, the year he decided to found the first Hermanos en el Camino shelter in Ixtepec (Oaxaca), in order to interfere with the human rights violations suffered by the undocumented Latin American along his journey to the United States. Many of them travel illegally aboard "La Bestia” (The Beast"), a nickname for the train that crosses Mexico from South to North. Tired of being a village priest, Solalinde, who back in 2001 was sixty years old, was looking for a way to reinvent himself and keep busy during his retreat. Helping the migrants interested him more than following the Episcopal career. He had already assumed that he will never be nominated bishop, because he has openly criticized the Church on several occasions. Solalinde has accusing the Catholic church of "not being faithful to Jesus but to power and money; and of being misogynist", he said in an interview with the Mexican magazine Gatopardo.
Solalinde has not only irritated the Church. His work with immigrants has caused him many clashes with politicians and local officials, as well as several death threats from local mafias, which forced him to go into exile for two months in 2012. That same year, the human rights organization Amnesty International (A.I) organized a campaign to collect signatures to pressure the Mexican authorities to ensure the safety of the pastor and his team. A.I has publicly praised the work of Solalinde in various reports. The organisation defines the Mexican priest as a man who "has dedicated his life to providing a safe place for migrants, distancing them from criminal gangs that exploit them, and needs protection because his work is a constant target for threats and intimidation by local officials and gangs. "
But Solalinde does not like to become the protagonist. In Barcelona he spoke of the need to recognize migration as a right, and not as a crime, and said that Donald Trump "is nothing more than a stumble in history" because "all kind of power is temporary”. No matter how high is wall the new White House plans to raise, because "immigrants will continue to arrive in the United States, but in pieces," the priest insisted. Solalinde has lived closely the drama that these people live during his journey to the US and he can’t help striking against the hypocrisy of the United States and Europe: "It’s not possible that they recognize human rights, but not the rights of migrants," he complained.
When Solalinde opened the first of its four shelters in Oaxaca, he thought the migrants needed food and a place to rest. Today he has realized that the main thing they need is Love, "a helping hand.", he said. "It can’t be truth that the human being has become a commodity: we can not remain as spectators," declared the Mexican activist in front of the audience – mainly Hispanic - that came to listen to him in Barcelona.
"We are living a tragedy, an anti-humanism, but the most terrible is the exclusion, said the priest.
"We are living a tragedy, an anti-humanism, but the most terrible is the exclusion," insisted the priest, who has repeatedly criticized the indifference attitude of the Mexican authorities and the population, in general, towards this continuous violation of the human rights suffered by hundreds of migrants inside their national territory. "It is not romantic to help the migrants, we must accept them as they are and not as we would like them to be," he added. "We are all migrants. We are moving toward universal citizenship. "
Nothing seems to silence this controversial priest, who not only attacks corruption in his country, but also criticises the ecclesiastical hierarchy: "The bishops in Mexico act lukewarm and cowardly. It’s not acceptable that, having what we have, they keep thinking that nothing happens."
Near the Beast
A good way to understand Solalinde's work with the migrants is to see the documentary El Albergue, by filmmaker Alejandra Islas, which shows the Mexican priest working next to the "The Beast", the train that crosses Mexico in the direction of the US with many migrants hidden aboard "In the shelter you’ll find a bed and food," shouts Solalinde to the desperate migrants perched on the wagons, when the train passes along Ixtepec (Oaxaca). The migrants on board La Bestia are from all central America: Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Mexico itself: vulnerable victims of organ trafficking, robbery, rape, murder by drug kings and "polleros", as traffickers of persons are called. These mafias often collaborate with other gangs and cartels, like the "mareros," members of dangerous criminal organizations such as Mara Salvatrucha and M 18. “Maras” were born in El Salvador and expanded as an oil spill by Central America, "but also around the United States and Spain, "warns Solalinde.