"I thought I was at La Sierrita to help them find solutions, but as I spent time with them, I understood and appreciated how the community were using me: to buy them time, so they could figure out what to do next."
Alejandra Ancheita is the Founder and Executive Director of the Mexican NGO ProDESC (standing for the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights). Since 2005, she has led processes aimed at the protection of economic, social and cultural rights, reaching unprecedented results in the application of accountability mechanisms to important, transnational corporations. Due to the impact of her work, she received the Martin Ennals Award, dubbed the “Nobel Prize of Human Rights”, in 2014. Furthermore, the Mexican Senate awarded her a recognition for her continuous work as a human rights defender of workers, and indigenous and agrarian communities in Mexico. She has a Degree of Law by the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (UAM, Mexico) and an LLM by the Law School of Fordham University (USA). Furthermore, she was bestowed upon a Doctorate Honoris Causa by the Université Paris Nanterre in 2019 for her dedicated work to defend human rights. Besides this, she is now a member of the Global Reference Group of Bread for The World; a member of the Martin Ennals Foundation Board; a member of the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights at the University of Oxford (UK); and a member of the Academic Boards of the Law Faculties at the Universidad Iberoamericana (IBERO, Mexico) and Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Cuajimalpa (UAM-C, Mexico).
Alejandra Ancheita was following in her father’s footsteps when she became a lawyer defending indigenous peoples’ rights in Mexico. He died while on the job in Chiapas when she was still a child, and in this compelling essay Alejandra twines the personal, the political, and the professional. The contrast between her father’s work and her own, she writes, “suggests a distinction between the lawyer as leader and the lawyer as organiser.” Whereas communities “often expected a leader, a man with all the answers I decided from the start that wasn’t going to be my position. My father was a lawyer-as-leader partly because he was a man. I am a lawyer, and I’m also a woman, and a community organiser who is not interested in using law in a traditional way.” Alejandra draws lessons from deep and vivid readings of her work with communities, against foreign energy and mining corporations: “By the time we won our victory at La Sierrita, the scars were already deep in the community and on the environment, given the extraction that had already taken place. In the future, I resolved, we would need work with communities to stop such damage before it even began."