In early June, I had the incredible opportunity to represent PAN at the 25th anniversary celebration of the Colectivo Ecologista Jalisco (CEJ) in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Over the course of my three days at the celebration, I learned how the 20-year partnership between PAN and CEJ has transformed local, national and international pesticide policies, as well as the health of farmlands and the environment in this region of Mexico. But most importantly, I learned how the collaborative work has transformed people’s lives.
I also felt transformed. I left Guadalajara with a bond to the people in Mexico’s environmental movement, a strong need to follow in solidarity with their movement on my return to the U.S. and a desire to return to Mexico one day soon to see just what the Colectivo will achieve next.
A legacy of making a difference
Upon my arrival, Maite Cortes, who has worked for the collective for 20 years and served as member of PAN’s regional Network Council, greeted me with open arms.
My very first night, I attended a moving awards ceremony and heard stories of many organizations that have worked for justice on behalf of the Colectivo. I was also able to share the history of PAN’s partnership with CEJ through a video compiled by PAN’s dedicated staff, and on a radio show that aired throughout Jalisco.
From its inception, CEJ has been committed to environmental health. The Colectivo emerged out of a vibrant student movement that recognized that Mexican ecosystems were deteriorating and human health was suffering.
CEJ’s work has transformed policies, farmlands, the environment and — most importantly —people’s lives.
One of CEJ’s first campaigns was to shut down a power plant in the state of Jalisco that was contaminating a local lake. I heard inspiring stories of this student organizing, and could clearly see and hear the passion many people still have for the movement 25 years later.
PAN has accompanied CEJ in their struggles for justice for almost 20 years.
In partnership with PAN, the Colectivo began reaching out to farmers to educate them about the dangers of pesticides, and engage them in efforts to ban toxic pesticides such as lindane - which Mexico succeeded in doing.
After this win at home, Mexico went on to drive the process of winning a worldwide phase out for lindane under the global Stockholm Convention. The U.S. is still playing catch-up on this one; lindane continues to be used in shampoos and lotions here in all states except California.
PAN and CEJ also joined efforts to fight the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has resulted in an increase of genetically modified corn, environmental laws that favor corporations and dramatic losses of jobs for small farmers.
Today CEJ continues to dream and expand their vision for environmental justice. They are working with farmers to bring organic products to market in Guadalajara. They fought for and achieved a law that incorporates community participation to develop organic standards for crops.
Throughout the process, they use social media to engage people in conversation about these issues and more. Through education, they are expanding their base of supporters dedicated to improving environmental quality in their state and beyond.
Twenty years of PAN’s accompaniment has truly made a difference in Mexico. It has changed lives, improved health and strengthened relationships within Mexico, across the region and around the world.
I left Mexico inspired and hopeful for the future of Jalisco’s environmental movement and the broader national movement. Here’s to another 25 years, CEJ!
Chloe Schwabe is Program Manager of the National Council of Churches’ Environmental Health Initiative, and a member of PAN’s Board. She spent several years working with Latin American communities to promote environmental justice and human rights. She also taught bilingual environmental education in the immigrant community of Portland, Oregon for two years as an Americorps volunteer.