Mexico Trek!   Trekkers DISPATCH: September 7 Silvia's Log

Profile of an Activist: Carlos Valdes Osorio


Carlos Valdes Osorio
23 year old activist
in Mexico City
Active member of the opposition political party, PRD
Dedicated member of "Tierra Firme" (Firm Earth), a center for the integral development of Tlalpan, the community where he lives in Mexico City

What obligations should youth have, Carlos?
Individually there is the question of assuming responsibilities ourselves. Youth can provoke a big impact and it is one's own choice to act. Also, we should try to inform ourselves about matters that will affect our future, such as the environment or education, because we will be living that future. We can't afford to limit ourselves to the present. Youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow, and the younger one begins to act to create change, the more experience will be gained so that our efforts will be truly valuable later.

In many countries organizations like AFS and Casa Alianza have come to play an important role in society. How have non-governmental organizations (NGOs) developed here, and what role have young people played?
NGOs are a very recent phenomenon in this country. The concept of NGOs started in 1968 when there was a major student movement at the UNAM, the Autonomous University of Mexico. Students organized themselves in underground networks, secretly because the government didn't acknowledge the movement. Since then, young people have been learning to get together to address social issues which they feel need to be dealt with and are not done so adequately by the government.

Have there been key events that helped rally young people to organize?
In the early 1980s, the students united to express their ideas, this time out in the open and made demands, such as the need for information from institutions. There was a devastating explosion in an oil refinery in 1984 located in an extremely poor neighborhood, and suddenly all of those families were left homeless. After such an unexpected emergency, they asked the government for help, and young people and women came to the rescue instead. A break between society and government occurred because the citizens felt that the government was not responding to their needs during a crisis, and they organize themselves and rely on themselves.

The following year there was a major earthquake in Mexico that killed many people and the city was in chaos. The government responded by sending out the military forces to maintain order, but not aid to address the damage and peoples' needs. It was the people who created shelters for the quake victims in schools and parks throughout their community. This is a powerful example of how a single neighborhood can make a difference in their own lives when they take the initiative themselves!

Have there been any challenges to the students organizing?
Back at the University, in 1987 the Rector, Mr. Carpizo, implemented reforms which would block the growth of student movements, and there was a break between the student activists and the university institution. The students established the CEU- Consejo Estudiantil Universitaria (University Student Council). Over 1,000,000 people protested in the Zocalo against the rector's actions, wanting the university to serve as a new focal point and creative nucleus for community service in society. For months there was a strike and there weren't classes. The public sympathized more with the students than with the government. Rock music became a way for youth to express themselves, new writers became popular, and nationalist ideas were revived.

What happened at the university?
Finally, the students come to an agreement with the government. A major convention is prepared to start the reform of the university as an institution. This agreement is an innovative experience in Mexico. Universities nationwide supported the movement at the UNAM. The CEU kept gaining experience as an NGO, a renewed sense of solidarity was born, and different organizations united together according to their shared areas of interest, such as environment, health, or education.

What have you seen in the 90’s that is exciting?
Towards 1992, important youth organizations were born. Foreign NGOs like Greenpeace and Hermanos de la Paz contribute their experiences and help raise funds for activities in Mexico. Even rock groups can found their own independent labels when mainstream ones don't want them, for example. The government didn't accept these NGOs and it wasn't easy for them to start up and work effectively, but the leaders kept working to make the NGOs real agents of social change.

What do you think the role of youth should be?
There is an apparent contradiction that hasn't been resolved:
students move to help indigenous cultures in other parts of Mexico, or look towards other countries altogether, but rarely work to affect change at the local level. I think this demonstrates a lack of identity with one's own community. Also, youth still aren't as appreciated as they could be, when they do something they are either criticized or don't receive much recognition because of their age, as if older people don't think the young know how to do things. The youth need respect to be given them both by the government and society. People believe in what we're doing but don't acknowledge the effort that goes into it.


Related Dispatches: 
Silvia - Profile of an Activist: Carlos Valdes Osorio
Silvia - Changing the world — Start here…

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