It was Consuelo Morales’s religious calling that landed her in the world of human rights. It was there that she discovered that serving God and serving man go extremely well together. For over twenty years, she has led the human rights organization Cadhac in the Northern Mexican state of Nuevo León. In recent years, she has focused primarily on Mexico’s most serious problem in this area, the over 27,000 desaparecidos (‘missing’).
‘The first disappearances in Nuevo León began in 2006,’ Consuelo Morales remembers. During that year, the Mexican president at the time, Calderón, decided to send the army into the streets to do something about the increasing violence between criminal factions. It backfired: the Mexican drug war spiralled completely out of control and cost over one hundred thousand people their lives. Many of the over 27,000 people who disappeared did so after they had been arrested by the army or the police. For Cadhac, the human rights organization that the nun Consuelo Morales had founded in 1993, the disappearances became the most significant area of interest.
The Mexican government emphasizes that its efforts reinforce the rule of law. ‘Here in Nuevo León, we see how the authorities define this: more military,’ Morales says. ‘They arrest as many suspects as possible; anyone with a suspicious face is picked up. This often includes poor kids who can’t help it that they have a face that the military thinks looks suspicious. This is undermining the rule of law, not respecting it. It’s a serious error, particularly because the safety of citizens is not a priority.’
Morales accepts the fact that working for human rights is not without risk in Mexico. ‘Everything in life comes with risks. It might be better to take risks for our beliefs than for other things.’
Aren’t there days that she is afraid? ‘Yes, of course. We have had some very difficult years. Our telephones were tapped, the park across the street was always full of police, I was followed whenever I went anywhere. One day, someone had hung four decapitated cats on our door, with the message: “You all are next.”’
Late last year, Consuelo Morales won the National Award for Human Rights, personally presented to her by the Mexican president, Peña Nieto. Didn’t it feel strange to receive an award from a government that is responsible for such a poor human rights situation? ‘We had long discussions about this. Ultimately, we said if even the government is able to acknowledge that our work is important, we will accept the award. It is recognition that the path we have chosen in the right one. Besides, it was a good opportunity to make the tragedies so many families have suffered visible.’
By Cees Zoon