Refinery Corridor Healing Walk, July 16, 2017

Idle No More SFBay organized 16 walks over the past four years to bring attention to the impacts of fossil fuels on local Bay Area communities that live beside some of the largest refineries in the country, suffering from the environmental and social impacts of polluting industries. The northeastern bay and the delta have long dealt with the presence of five oil refineries.   These images are from the final walk, held on Sunday July 16, 2017. It began with a prayer ceremony near the Conoco Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo. We then walked through Rodeo, Hercules, Pinole, El Sobrante and finally ended at Keller Beach.

These walks were organized and led by indigenous women living in the Bay Area, representing several tribes north and south. The participants represent the diverse environmental justice activists of the region, including high school youth who are part of Urban Tilth, an urban farming program operating in Richmond and the City of San Pablo. What was most inspiring about this walk was that, rather than a protest march that gathers at a given site or that often take place in the city centers, this walk brought us through various different residential communities in a way that felt far more engaging. On an early Sunday morning, people came out to their front doors and waved, church goers stopped and listened.

Below is a paragraph from the Refinery Corridor Healing Walk, explaining the vision:

“Our intention was to raise awareness of the fossil fuel corridor, the communities in these sacrifice zones, and the devastating health effects of those living near the refineries.  We walk along the land in prayer for those living near the refineries, including our non-human relatives who are also impacted, the refinery workers, and for high levels of maintenance at the facilities so that what happened in 2012 would never happen again.  We also pray for a just transition toward a safe and clean renewable energy future,  a transition to healthy jobs for people who work in the fossil fuel industry and an immediate transition off of fossil fuels in order to preserve a survivable climate.”

As a Bay Area native, I had never walked through and appreciated some of these towns north of Richmond which I have always driven past. I had never seen Hilltop from the vantage point from where we came, and I had never walked through the City of San Pablo, allowing me to appreciate the town which made me nostalgic for México. I also really enjoyed the shops and businesses that are featured in some of these photographs.


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The Bleeding of Mexico

This year is being marked by the incessant emergence of increasingly bad news, as just about every place on the globe seems to be negotiating social, economic and political crisis. In late January I moved with my family from Guadalajara, Mexico to Berkeley, California. Precisely on the eve of the election of Number 45. After two years of life and research in my southern homeland, I found that my northern homeland, the San Francisco Bay Area, had plunged into an emergency. The exponential prices for rentals has never been more visible, with homeless encampments nestled under freeway overpasses, R.V.s parked throughout our cities serving as mobile homes and, every night, people erecting temporary sleeping accommodations in the doorways of businesses on any given thoroughfare.

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Oakland 2017


And then there is the drug epidemic. In full daylight, grown and young men laid out or standing on the corner with the unmistakable slump of the heroin high or the nervous drive of crystal meth. Tiny bottles of liquor scattered amongst a population of elders in wheelchairs and younger junkies, day in and day out, struggling with abject poverty and substance abuse. This, in the face of luxury homes, restaurants and boutiques. In San Francisco there is a clear difference seen between those living through phone applications and those who are increasingly soaking up the debris of this most inequitable set of conditions.


For those of us who have been critical of capitalism’s contradictions this view sounds almost formulaic. For those in the Global South critical of the way U.S. society has grounded itself on the production of racial, socio-economic and environmental inequality this only seems to confirm the inevitable. Cuban poet José Martí saw the seeds of this fragmentation during his time in New York in the late 19th Century, as did Mexican Frida Kahlo while visiting the U.S. in the 1930s. We Latin Americans have always known this to be true of American Exceptionalism. That is, American Exceptionalism as seen from the underside.


Yet, fresh from a couple of years of living in Mexico, I cannot help but relate desperate consumption patterns in the North with the violent battles over land in the South. With the barrage of bad news emerging from every corner of U.S. politics, bombings over Yemen, Iraq and Syria, and a Republican Party regime that strives to wipe out any semblance of a social pact with the American people, it is unlikely that Americans have the attention span or strength to think about Mexico beyond the wall that Number 45 is calling to build. While the materiality of concrete walls are in the works, it is clear that there is a metaphorical wall barring Americans from understanding how much of what we consume is linked to our neighbors to the South. So as 2017 marks an upsurge in the murder of journalists and activists in Mexico, it seems necessary to make an attempt at reigniting conversations on the deep complicity of northern consumption with the perpetual conflict that is bleeding Mexico’s countryside.


Miguel Vázquez (second from left) reading Regional Wixárika Council Press Statement concerning land restitution in San Sebastián Teponohuaxtlán, August 9, 2016

On Saturday May 20, two Wixárika brothers were assassinated at the hands of the relatively new Jalisco Nueva Generación cartel. Over the past few years Miguel Vázquez had been a vocal indigenous leader, recently serving as the President of Communal Goods for his Community of Wuat+a (San Sebastián Teponohuaxtlán) in the northern region of the state of Jalisco. In the fall of 2016, Miguel and his community executed a land restitution effort that they had legally won after nearly 100 years of tensions with non-indigenous farmers and cattlemen who were granted the land by the Mexican government. Despite pleas from both sides to have the appropriate governmental institutions intervene and facilitate a peaceful transfer of land back to the Wixárika, by early 2017 it was clear that the State was unwilling to guarantee negotiations and security. Vázquez and other community members subsequently announced that they would form a self-defense committee, following the examples of their indigenous brothers and sisters from Michoacán. Miguel’s brother Agustín had recently finished studying law with the intention of advancing his people’s territorial rights.


1550 Representation of Nueva Galicia, the Sierra Madre is marked by warring Indians and mining activity

The municipality of Bolaños rests in one of the country’s most infamously remote topographies. Imagined by early Spanish explorers as a region of barbarity and darkness, it lived some glory years with the colonial mining boom, yet has largely existed in partial isolation from the political economic events of more connected regions of the state of Jalisco. Bordering the mountainous eastern region of the state of Nayarit, the community of Waut+a and its mestizo neighbors have navigated the pressures of mining, logging as well as poppy and marijuana cultivation. The people here are not unfamiliar with the collusion of licit and illicit economies—this includes clandestine mineral extraction and illegal logging.


It goes without saying that vested interests in the region’s land and resources have become a direct contributor to the territorial conflicts that had begun under Spanish colonial and Mexican Republican land surveyal and demarcation. And while many questions remain as to the assassinations of the Vázquez brothers, it does not seem too early to point to the links between their efforts to defend their historic homeland and the verbalized threats by individuals linked to the web of drug trafficking and resource extraction.


Greenhouses in Michoacán

South of Jalisco, in the state of Michoacán, struggles over land are also marked by American consumption. Licit and illicit. In Mexico we talk of our exportation of water to the United States via industrial agriculture. Driscoll’s berry farms have overtaken the countryside, feeding a global love for berries, no matter the weather and no matter the distance. Mexico’s middle class and wealthy also enjoy the steady stream of raspberries into their kitchens—believing this to be progress. Avocadoes add another layer to the land grabs happening in and around Purépecha territory. This green gold has wrecked so much havoc on the landscape that local communities have increasingly sought autonomous forms of collective policing to prevent further abduction. Jalisco and Michoacán tell us of the threats, kidnappings and murders of leaders seeking to protect their lands from speculation and dispossession.


To limit our conversations on Mexico to the wall and the legality of migration will only continue a pattern of disconnection between the reasons why people are fleeing their homelands and the direct responsibility our unbridled desire for goods and services has on fueling an escalating problem. There is a moral impediment that should make us visibilize, speak and strategize around our mutual present and future; but this must occur across borders. The murder of the Vázquez brothers, following the assassination of journalist Jaime Valdés in Sinaloa are the regional effects of a global chain of events that we witness on the streets and shops of our American cities everyday. Ultimately, the real distance erected between the Western Sierra Madre and the United States lies is in the mutual recognition of our relationship.



Proud Student and Mother or Sasquatch on Acid?

TODAY I was in the computer room at school and noticed that someone had left some articles on file about being a doctoral student and mother at the same time. I eagerly read the articles and wondered whether it was someone considering motherhood or one of my colleagues who already has the privilege of balancing the world of dissertation writing and breastfeeding.

Many questions center around the effects of motherhood on a woman’s career. Undoubtedly a mother in academia already faces one setback: that of being a woman. The studies clearly demonstrate that women are absolutely underrepresented in tenure-track positions—a combination of discrimination and an absence of structures to support academic mothers being the culprits.

My daughter is nine months old and I believe that I could not have found a better time to have her. Flexibility, funding from a fellowship, and the support of my husband, friends and family have all helped me continue to progress (alas, this is not the condition that all women face as mothers). As of last month, I finished the draft to my fourth chapter, leaving me optimistic that I can graduate in one year. Despite my positivity around the timing of my entry into motherhood, too many others seem to believe that I am out of my mind and that this will surely set me back in graduation and my career (whatever this CAREER may wind up being).

Although my pregnancy was planned and I remained confident about the timing, other people’s doubts seemed to linger in my mind. From an relative’s stern remarks that I should wait because I would never finish, to my attempts to hide my baby bump in the halls of my department, my confidence was constantly questioned by the social context in which I was becoming a mother. While I enthusiastically announced my pregnancy to friends and family, I postponed informing my professors until it was too difficult to hide. I was terrified that my advisors would take my personal choice to become a mother as an unwise decision and subsequently diminish their interest in me. Happily this was not the case. All of my advisers congratulated me and have continued to be supportive and enthusiastic about my work.

Undeniably, for me motherhood as a doctoral student has been great even in the face of future uncertainty.

YESTERDAY I was at the library and ran into an acquaintance from another doctoral program. Our conversation quickly shifted toward this male PhD candidate’s astonishment at my progression as I was clearly moving more quickly toward graduation that he. Not only has he been in the program two or three years longer than I, but I HAVE A BABY!!! He grotesquely asked about labor and how it must have been “awful” noting that women in labor sound like “sasquatch on LSD.” Really?  Sasquatch on LSD? I was so amazed by this analogy of labor and a beast on acid, that I barely noticed his politically correct afterthought: “that is why women are stronger than men.”

Statistically, this jerk who appears to be moving through his dissertation at a snail’s pace has a better chance at academic success than I. Could this be the reality that I face?

I see the articles left anonymously on the shared computer and my initial reaction is to dismiss them and pat myself on the back for not letting these issues deter me from my balancing act of mama, student, and activist. These facts should not bother me since 1) I have always felt that family supersedes career choices; 2) I have never been 100% sure about my desire to spend my life as an academic; 3) I optimistically believe that I will find the right job for my lifestyle, even if this takes time.

THIS AFTERNOON I still hold on to my optimism. I would not trade being a mother to my beautiful daughter for any measure of career success. I will do what I can to be as present as possible for her (and her little brother or sister which I hope to have some day) and I will also do what is possible to follow my professional dreams, whether this gets me a position as a professor at a university, a high school teacher, or in some other field.

I sit here with my baby in the background learning to crawl her way to trouble. I accept her interruptions to my work and invite her inspiration.

I didn’t drop out nor do I plan to. I didn’t scream like sasquatch on LSD. Nothing has been awful even though the challenges are always present. I am a proud PhD mama and am naively ready to take the skeptics on.

The Fight for the Desert of Catorce’s Future

Fotos de Patricia Diaz Romo

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During the past year and a half, a struggle has ensued over the 346,523 acre reserve of Wirikuta located in the northwestern Mexican semi-desert of Catorce in the state of San Luis Potosí. Local residents and small business owners, transnational corporate interests, and the Wixárika (Huichol) indigenous people stand in an intense faceoff over a series of mining and agroindustrial concessions that violate the norms that protect the area from activities that disturb the delicate ecological and cultural integrity of this desert. Since the summer of 2010, Mexican and international organizations have joined with Wixárika authorities in a multifaceted effort to pressure the Mexican government to stand by the international accords it has signed, observing the rights of the country’s indigenous populations.  This includes the conservation of the lands on which indigenous peoples historically live and those which form part of their cultural and religious traditions.

While the Wixaritari do not live in Wirikuta, their annual pilgrimages to this location where Our Father Sun is said to have been born date back hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. As follows, Wirikuta is an integral part of sacred Wixárika territory which extends past the communities where they traditionally live in the states of Jalisco, Nayarit, and Durango. For the Wixaritari, the recognition of these sacred territories does not imply that they seek private or communal ownership over them—what they request is the protection of this land in order to ensure their continued capacity to practice their traditions.

Although the bulk of media attention has focused on Wirikuta as a cultural sanctuary, the struggle over its preservation is increasingly bringing into focus the conditions of the desert’s residents. Caught between poverty and the threatening presence of drug traffickers, many locals welcome the presence of the mining and agribusiness industries. Yet some of the region’s residents are hoping for more sustainable economic alternatives that will not damage the environment and the health of the local population. Many now hope that the focus on Wirikuta as sacred land will bring about the needed attention and resources to make economic alternatives come into fruition.


Corporate Interests and Broken Pacts

A key element of the struggle to defend Wirikuta focuses on the Pact of Hauxa Manaka for the Preservation and Development of Wixárika Culture signed in April of 2008 by federal and state authorities to protect this indigenous group’s sacred sites located in the states of San Luis Potosí, Jalisco, Nayarit, Durango, and Zacatecas. At the ceremony marking the pact, President Felipe Calderón donned Wixárika attire and vowed to protect Wixárika sacred sites adding that his government stood committed to preserving this culture as a “patrimony of humanity” and the “pride of all Mexicans.” As it stands, the Pact of Hauxa Manaka is being sidelined by corporate interests under the pretext of creating jobs for local residents and helping grow the Mexican economy.

The first alarm came with the news of Vancouver based First Majestic Silver Corporation whose La Luz project is comprised of 22 concessions covering 15,627 acres, 70 percent of which lie on the reserve. While the La Luz project is yet to begin exploiting the silver veins of Wirikuta, its management has actively courted the local population: in addition to creating jobs, they promise to build a local mining museum and a much needed water treatment facility. As the months pass, more mining concessions have been awarded, this time to Revolution Resources of Canada. Because of Mexico’s constitutional law that prohibits foreign entities from directly exploiting the nation’s subsoil resources, all of these concessions are being operated by Mexican affiliates. These ventures are greatly facilitated by nearly two decades of market-driven reforms to the country’s mining laws which have helped bring in approximately 281 mining companies, 75 percent of which are Canadian. Not only do Mexican authorities rarely enforce labor and environmental protections, but they celebrate the country’s flexibility toward foreign investors. The Secretary of Economy openly cites low wages, an ample gamut of untapped ecological resources, and favorable exploration and exploitation rights for foreign companies.

The mining industry, which is the second contributor to the nation’s GDP after oil, offers great expectations for local populations who have been devastated by diminishing agricultural returns and an unstable climate that has led to a year in poor rains. Ironically, while small and medium farmers have seen drastic cuts in public subsidies, large agroindustrial plantations have gained government backing. Dry tomato farms have ripped through Wirikuta’s periphery toppling the region’s unique cacti, including the peyote, the sacramental plant used in Wixárika tradition. The locals’ inability to make ends meet through smaller scale farming has been these large industries’ gain.


The Defense of Wirikuta and its Critics

In May of 2011, two Wixárika delegates attended the First Majestic Silver Corporation’s annual shareholder meeting in Vancouver. Despite holding shareholder passes, they were initially barred from entering the meeting where they eventually were allowed to distribute literature but not speak on the matter of this corporation’s mining ventures in sacred Wixárika land. Outside of the conference venue, hundreds more gathered as part of a week of protest against the mining industry’s reckless practices which have historically placed profit over the wellbeing of workers, the environment, and the land of indigenous populations. Concurrent to this mobilization, two other Wixárika delegates traveled to New York in order to attend the 10th session of the United Nation’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. This venue gave the delegates an opportunity to share their concerns and seek wider international support in their struggle to protect their sacred pilgrimage site of Wirikuta. The United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya, has since called on the Mexican government to cancel the mining concessions.

Over the past year and a half the movement to defend Wirikuta has picked up steam through a series of popular mobilizations that include a three day action involving thousands of demonstrators in Mexico City in late October 2011. This past February, a historic pilgrimage involving 600 members of Wixárika ceremonial centers arrived to Wirikuta bringing to the desert their message of opposition to these projects. With each mobilization the cry “Wirikuta no se vende, se ama y se defiende” (“Wirikuta is not for sale, it is loved and defended”) has met the backing of other indigenous peoples, writers, actors, musicians, and community organizations. These actions have resulted in important media coverage yielding radio shows as far as New Zealand.

The response of governmental entities has trailed behind. In February of 2011, at the behest of an international letter writing campaign, the body in charge of environmental affairs, SEMARNAT, claimed ignorance of any mining activity in the reserve. It has taken this entity a full year to acknowledge the existence of the concessions by stating that companies are prohibited from operating until an environmental impact study is carried out. The good news is that since this latest mobilization, the federal judiciary has placed a suspension on the projects until further analysis. But whether or not Mexico’s environmental protection agencies have any teeth to stand up to these transnational corporations is yet to be seen.

The mobilizations to defend Wirikuta have functioned through an alliance between Wixárika and non-Wixárika communities who understand that the cultural and ecological significance of this semi-desert cannot be matched in monetary value. Supporters have aided in writing articles, providing interviews, researching the activities of mines and agribusinesses operating in the region, and fundraising for mobilizations and the legal defense. But the impetus of this movement has not been without its critics who accuse the Wixárika people of attempting against the wellbeing of the desert’s impoverished residents and would-be-laborers. The pitting of local desert residents against Wixaritari obscures the efforts that are simultaneously being made to find economic alternatives that do not devastate the ecology of the region, the health of its inhabitants, and the sacred land that the Wixárika venerate. As the debate moves ahead, the wellbeing of those living in the desert should continue to be a central concern.

The defense movement is also accused of being controlled by a small group of folklorists who are speaking for and manipulating Wixárika authorities. Meanwhile, any differences between Wixárika communities have been seized as opportunities to delegitimize an independent defense and push for the government entity in charge of indigenous issues to be the sole arbiter. Yet this entity, the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples, holds a poor track record when it comes to protecting indigenous lands and respecting the will of traditional authorities. What is indisputable is that traditional Wixárika authorities continue to emit declarations showing their adamant opposition to activities which can damage their sacred pilgrimage site.

The mining companies involved dubiously claim that their operations can bring good to the locals and Wixaritari alike. In addition, they assert that the methods of extraction will produce no damage to the health of the region’s residents and to the reserve’s flora and fauna. Yet even the best innovations in extractive methods give little credence to these claims as toxic chemicals inevitably are released into the environment and astounding amounts of local water are used in the process. As for the dry tomato farms, cloud-seeding techniques that manipulate rain fall devastate the little prospects that local farmers already face.

Ultimately, the defense of Wirikuta is not just a matter of upholding the rights that indigenous peoples have to practice their millenarian traditions—it is about protecting one of the most biologically diverse regions in the world, and one more step toward preventing further damage to the global climate. No measure of short term profit can justify the long term effects of losing this region from our world heritage and destroying the home of the desert’s inhabitants.


Guadalajara de las Indias: Quinientos años de construcción étnica en la Perla Tapatía

Chequen mi articulo en el siguiente enlace:

The Outraged Occupy

Es el movimiento de las indignadas. The outraged who from New York to Oakland, Santa Rosa, Seattle, Fresno and Philadelphia have moved into government plazas and parks to contest the corporatocracy that has placed the 99% on the precipice. Housing, health care, education, and employment all temporary and for too long out of order. For the 1% the world’s ruin is their profit—paychecks are limitless, recirculated back into their coffers in a system of shameless cronyism. Fela Kuti rightly called them thieves in a suit and tie. What is most astounding is how this greed is seen as a right, how within this logic accumulation is defended in the face of unprecedented inequality. Within this logic our life paths are guided by the notion of making money by any means necessary.

The poor and middle class have also fallen for and defended this logic. Too many still believe that government is too big when it has in fact been dismantled bit by bit leaving us only traces of what were already sickly social services. Most astounding is how so many people oppose the very elements of government (education, health care, housing) that help maintain a livable society, thereby supporting the 1% and their own downfall.

Perhaps this is slowly beginning to change.

En otras esquinas del mundo el movimiento en contra del status quo neoliberal se ha llamado el de los indignados. Porque estamos indignados del vil robo que es perpetrado día tras día por empresas que lucran de la guerra, de las drogas lícitas e ilícitas, del maíz y la necesidad que tenemos de educarnos. Lucran de nuestra hambre y de nuestra soledad. Lucran de nuestra sed al privatizar el agua y de nuestro frío al alzar el precio de vivienda. Lucran de nuestra desesperación al erigir fronteras militarizadas.

Pero ahora decimos que no. Miles de millones de personas están saliendo a las calles para decir que estamos hartos de vivir bajo el mando de empresas.

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Cities and college campuses are being occupied by bodies that are placing the question of inequity center stage. Meanwhile the media is symbolically occupied by the clamoring voices of the 99%, forced in one way or another to cover the story—in many cases one spots the sympathy of the many local reporters who are dispatched. These are eclectic and contradictory voices that nonetheless reflect the vast heterogeneity of those of us who are being screwed over by a few magnates and the politicians and police forces who shield them. The unemployed, underemployed, and even the fully employed are reclaiming OUR RIGHTS and pushing forth the idea of the greater common good. Some are braving the coming winter and police tear gas and batons to make the statement stick. Others are engaging in dialogues, divesting from banks and participating in powerful public mobilizations.

Thus far the state, the corporations, and their police forces have responded with cowardice, making evident their fear and more palpable their inability to lead. For my daughter, I hope that this is just the beginning of a transformative movement for we are outraged and deserve a more promising and sustainable future. ¡Ya basta estamos indignados!

Trece años

Mientras las primeras planas de los periódicos y las últimas noticias en el internet intentan celebrar la “presentación” del más reciente narco o sicario en manos de la policía, arden las noticias cada día más escalofriantes de las muertes. Esta semana en Torreón hallaron el cuerpo de una niña de aproximadamente 13 años. Trece años. No me cabe en la mente cómo esto puede suceder.

<<El horrible hallazgo fue reportado alrededor de las 22:00 horas de ayer. Una llamada alertó de un cuerpo embolsado en calles de la colonia Ana, en Torreón.>>  Periódico Zócalo, Saltillo, Coahuila.

Embolsada, muñecas atadas con mecate, señales de tortura, dos tiros en la cabeza. Traía puesto el uniforme de su escuela.

<<Delgada, piel blanca y con el cabello largo, su cuerpo de un metro con cincuenta centímetros vestía playera blanca y pants azul con franja roja con el logotipo de la escuela Leandro Valle.>> El Diario Nacional, Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua.

Siento horror al pensar que existe gente capaz de matar a una pequeña. ¿Quién está tan enfermo? ¿quién puede emanar tanta maldad? Pura maldad. Asesinar a una niña, asesinarla después de haberla torturado. ¿Qué gritos y patadas han de haber escuchado aquellos que apretaron el gatillo?

<<…un cuerpo dentro de una bolsa de plástico negro, de las que se usan para depositar basura.>> La Jornada, Ciudad de México.

En pleno día de las madres salió la noticia, mas sin gran difusión. Una pobre nota al pie de esta guerra feroz. La vida de esta niña y su muerte solo alcanzan ser una pequeña nota el día después del hallazgo. Nada más. Como tantas y como tantos angelitos muertos. La inquietud que nos causa para ser correspondida con despreocupación. Un cuerpo más… ¿un cuerpo más?

Ni me imagino el llanto de una madre o de un padre ante la pérdida de su hijo…ante una muerte tan cruel para su criaturita.

Los padres salen a manifestarse, desde Cuernavaca a Ciudad Juárez, a manifestarse ante la impunidad y la desesperación. La fragilidad de sus vidas.

<<Madres de adolescentes desaparecidas de 2008 a la fecha se plantaron ante la Fiscalía General del Estado (FGE) para exigir la localización de más de 130 jóvenes. De acuerdo la dependencia, de enero de 2008 a abril de 2011 desaparecieron en Juárez 3.25 mujeres por mes, en promedio, es decir, alrededor de una cada 10 días, la mayoría en el centro de la ciudad.>> La Jornada, Ciudad de México.

Pasé la semana pensando en esta niña sin nombre ni rostro. Pensando en la imagen de su uniforme y la bolsa de basura.

Un comentario en línea del Periódico Zócalo de Saltillo exclama: <<“SEÑOR NO TE OLVIDES DE NOSOTROS SOLO TU ERES GRANDE SOLO TU SEÑOR”amen>>

¿A qué hemos llegado? No me quedan palabras.