Thursday, May 12, 2016

Strangers in Their Own Country: A Story of Resistance to Capital Expansion and Struggle for Identity

by Amy Cameron 
Photo Credit: FPDT blog http://atencofpdt.blogspot.mx/

"Prior to 2001, we lived in harmony and tranquility," Maria Trinidad Ramirez Velasquez (Trini) tells our Witness for Peace delegation in Mexico City, "each one of us has an identity that nobody wants to denounce."
On October 21, 2001, the community of farmers in San Salvador Atenco, Mexico woke up to a nightmare: they would have to fight their own government for their land and identity.
56,000 people faced displacement by an expropriation decree that claimed 133,000 acres of their land for a new international airport. Trini and her community say the Mexican government "tries to take your identity and make you a stranger in your own country."
President Vicente Fox declared that the plans to build the new international airport would require eighty percent of Atenco's communally owned property, land the community depends on for their livelihoods. Despite constitutional law that protects communal land ("ejidos") and requires consultation with the community for proposed changes, the people of Atenco were never consulted by the government. Furthermore, they were not offered any resettlement assistance or help finding jobs; instead they were offered around fifty-seven cents per square meter of land (Environmental Justice Atlas).
Trini says that she was never the type of person to speak in public but she felt so saddened, afraid and angry that she had no other choice but to speak out. As guardians of the land inherited by their ancestors, they weren't going to let the government decide the fate of the land where seeds of many generations had been sown with their ancestors blood.
She and her community knew that they had to respond quickly or lose their livelihoods.
It was in those moments, waking up to a land expropriation decree, that the people had to ask themselves what they were willing to do to defend their land, Trini says. They knew that they were facing an uneven war and that it would take all of the courage and heart they had. The government had threatened to use force to take the land.
Indeed, they followed through with those threats. On July, 2002, the government security forces entered the community to brutally repress the protesters. They took several political prisoners and killed a small farmer, Enrique Espinoza Juarez, whose body was later laid to rest in the very land for which he died defending.
In August of 2002, the community of Atenco made history and gained international attention. With "the movement in each of us," Trini says, the Peoples Front in Defense (FPDT) of Land blocked the land grab decree.
The FPDT became a revered example of popular resistance in the universal struggle to defend land against capital expansion and neoliberalism. It was a "barometer for the people's strength and love for their land," said Trini. But the community of Atenco paid a heavy price.
That year was full of constant tension and learning about organizing. The FPDT began to see how their struggles were tied to others. They joined with teachers, indigenous groups and all of those who struggle to maintain their way of life -- the groups that the government and capitalists try to manipulate and divide and take their land and offer them crumbs in return.
The Atenco community, with their machetes they use to harvest crops, now symbols of resistance, became a strong movement against capitalist expansion. As a result, in 2006, when the FPDT led a protest with the flower workers of Texcoco, 3000 police brutally repressed them. The attack on the protesters, ordered by current Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto (then governor of Mexico State) killed a 14 year old boy and detained over 200 people, 27 of which were women violated, raped and tortured in prison. Trini had to leave because the police were pursuing her on false accusations of a crime.
However, Trini says she had to keep fighting for justice. With the key support of women and young people and their guiding principles, truth and justice, the Atenco community stood up to their enemy: the government. Four years later, in 2010, they were able to get all of the jailed FPDT leaders released from prison and the false charges of kidnapping were dropped.
The FPDT still faces repression and they continue their struggle for their land and identity. The most recent move to expropriate the land is called the "Dominio Pleno:" privatization of communal land, for which the government was offering, in 2014, almost four times more per acre and paying neighbors of farmers in the community to convince them to sell their land.
Trini and the FPDT say, "we aren't the poor ones of Atenco, we are the ones that resist, we know what we want, it's clear to us: we'll fight with whatever it takes."

Maria Trinidad Ramirez Velasquez, Frente del Pueblo en
Defensa de la Tierra, San Salvador, Atenco, Estado de México

"La tierra no se vende"!

"The land is not for sale!"

Extraños en su Propio País: una historia de expansión capitalista y una lucha por identidad

por Amy Cameron

Photo Credit: FPDT blog http://atencofpdt.blogspot.mx/

Antes del 2001, vivíamos en armonía y tranquilidad", María Trinidad Ramírez Velázquez (Trini) le cuenta a nuestra delegación de Acción Permanente por la Paz (Witness for Peace ne ingles) en la Ciudad de México. "Cada uno de nosotros tiene una identidad de la cual nadie quiere renunciar". 

El 21 de octubre del 2001, la comunidad de campesinos de San Salvador Atenco, Estado de México se enfrentó a una pesadilla: tendría que luchar contra su propio gobierno en defensa de su tierra y de su identidad.
56.000 personas se encontraban frente el desplazamiento forzado debido a un decreto presidencial de expropiación de tierra que arrebataría 53.000 hectáreas de su tierra para construir el nuevo aeropuerto internacional. 
El presidente Vicente Fox declaró que el proyecto requeriría del ochenta por ciento de los ejidos y un tanto mas de tierras comunales en Atenco, tierra que sustenta a la comunidad para su subsistencia. A pesar de que la ley constitucional que protege los ejidos exige una consulta con la comunidad antes de cualquier modificación, el pueblo de Atenco nunca fue consultado por el gobierno. Además, tampoco se les ofreció ninguna asistencia para el reasentamiento o para encontrar empleo. Lo que es peor, solo se les ofreció alrededor de cincuenta y siete centavos por metro cuadrado.
Trini y su comunidad comentan que el gobierno mexicano "trata de quitarte tu identidad y convertirte en un extraño en tu propio país.” Aunque según ella nunca fue el tipo de persona a hablar en público, se sentía tan triste, asustada y enojada que no tenía más remedio que alzar la voz. Como guardian de la tierra heredada por sus ancestros, no iba a permitir que el gobierno decidiera “el destino de la tierra donde las semillas de muchas generaciones habían sido sembradas con la sangre de sus antepasados.” Ella y su comunidad sabían que tenían que responder rápidamente o perder su sustento.
“Fue en esos momentos, que nos enfrentamos a un decreto de expropiación de la tierra, y es cuando la gente se preguntaba qué estaba dispuesta a hacer para defender su tierra”, recuerda Trini. Ellos sabían que iba a ser una guerra dificil y desigual que requiría de todo el coraje y corazón que tenían, ya que el gobierno había amenazado con usar la fuerza para tomar la tierra.
De hecho, el gobierno cumplió con esa amenaza. En julio de 2002, las fuerzas de seguridad entraron a la comunidad para reprimir brutalmente a los manifestantes. Se llevaron a varias personas como presos políticos y mataron a un campesino llamado Enrique Espinoza Juárez, cuyo cuerpo fue enterrado en la misma tierra que había defendido.
A pesar de los retos, en agosto de 2002, la comunidad de Atenco hizo historia y ganó la atención internacional. Gracias a mucho esfuerzo comunitario, El Frente de Pueblos en Defensa de la Tierra (FPDT) logró bloquear el tal decreto.
El FPDT se convirtió en un ejemplo mundialmente respetado de la resistencia popular en la lucha universal para defender la tierra contra la expansión del capital y el neoliberalismo. Fue un "barómetro de la fuerza y el amor de la gente por su tierra", dijo Trini. Sin embargo, la comunidad de Atenco pagó un alto precio.

Ese año estuvo lleno de tensión constante la cual les llevó a unas lecciones rápidas de como organizarse. El FPDT comenzó a ver como su lucha estaba conectada a otras luchas. Se unieron a distintos grupos: maestros, indígenas y todos aquellos que luchaban para manterner su identidad - que el gobierno y los capitalistas tratan de manipular y dividir, además de tomar sus tierras a cambio de migajas. 

La comunidad de Atenco, con sus machetes que normalmente son utilizados para cosechar, se convirtieron en símbolos de la resistencia en contra de la expansión capitalista. Como resultado, en 2006, cuando el FPDT se sumó a una protesta de los vendedores de flores en Texcoco, 3000 policías los reprimieron de manera violenta. El ataque a los manifestantes, ordenado por el presidente mexicano actual, Enrique Peña Nieto (entonces gobernador del Estado de México) resultó en un niño muerto de 14 años y más de 200 personas detenidas, de las cuales eran 27 mujeres que fueron violadas y torturadas en la cárcel. Trini tuvo que esconderse porque la policía la perseguía con falsas acusaciones de un crimen.
Sin embargo, a Trini no le quedada otra opcion que seguir en la lucha por la justicia. Con el apoyo contundente de las mujeres y los jóvenes y sus principios rectores - la verdad y la justicia - la comunidad de Atenco se leventó ante su enemigo: el gobierno. Cuatro años después, en 2010, lograron obtener la libertad de todos los líderes del FPDT presos y los falsos cargos de secuestro fueron retirados.
El FPDT todavía se enfrenta a la represión y continúa su lucha por proteger su tierra y su identidad. La medida más reciente de expropiación de su tierra se llama "Dominio Pleno”, la privatización de las tierras comunales, para las que ofreció el gobierno en 2014 casi cuatro veces más por hectarea y dinero a los vecinos para convencerlos de vender su tierra.

Trini y el FPDT dicen, "no somos los más pobres de Atenco, somos los que resistimos, sabemos lo que queremos, es claro para nosotros: vamos a luchar con lo que sea necesario."

Maria Trinidad Ramirez Velasquez, Frente del Pueblo en
Defensa de la Tierra, San Salvador, Atenco, Estado de México

"La tierra no se vende"!


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Berta and Cuba: A History of Solidarity that Highlights Unjust U.S. Policies



by Catherine Walker, WFP Cuba Team

“They killed a dreamer, thinking that it would make us stop dreaming. But for Berta, there will be no moment of silence, rather a whole life dedicated to the struggle.”
-Reverend Raúl Suárez

On March 3, 2016, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center (CMMLK) of La Habana, Cuba was filled with international solidarity partners of all ages responding to the urgent call to action following the assassination of Berta Cáceres, Honduran activist and indigenous leader. Pictures of  Cáceres were hung around the crowded room, where over 50 people gathered to pay homage to the founder of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). One by one, community activists, popular educators and religious leaders shared their memories of Cáceres, of the work they had undertaken with her and of the tremendous impact that she left on the CMMLK.

Cáceres first came to the CMMLK in 2001 to receive training in popular education. “The Center has worked for a long time to support COPINH…and [we] joined Berta in her struggle to protect the Lenca people,” recalled Lisette Govín, member of the Solidarity Department of the CMMLK. “They were always after her,” said Govín, referring to the years of death threats that Caceres received from the Honduran government as well as her placement at the top of the Honduran army’s hitlist.

“[Cáceres] was advised many times to come to Cuba or to go to another country, to protect herself,” stated Raúl Suárez, Reverend of the Ebenezer Baptist Church and member of National Assembly in Cuba, “But she preferred to be in the struggle with her people even if it meant giving up her life.” Despite the numerous protective measures that Cáceres took, her dedication to fight for human rights in Honduras ultimately led to her murder.  

Human rights abuses, such as Cáceres’ assassination and the illegal appropriation of indigenous lands, in U.S. supported post-coup Honduras highlight the hypocrisy of U.S. policy towards Cuba. At this historical moment when Cuba and the U.S. are beginning the long process of reestablishing relations, the U.S. continues to cite Cuba for flagrant human rights violations. Raul Castro, in his encounter with Barack Obama, admitted that Cuba does not meet all of the articles laid out in the International Declaration of Human Rights. However, Castro added, no country meets all of these conditions.

The U.S. maintains that the main reason for keeping the half a century long blockade against Cuba in place is due to human rights violations on the island. However, Honduras continues to enjoy normal relations with the U.S. and even financial support despite a longstanding history of human rights abuses in the area. While the Cuban people continue to endure the effects of an unjust U.S. blockade that imposes punitive economic sanctions on the island, the U.S. government is providing $750 million in assistance to Honduras, among other Central American countries, to “address the violence, lack of opportunities and weak governance driving migration from the region.” Furthermore, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) directly funds DESA-Agua Zarca, the private corporation that is building a hydroelectric dam on Lenca territory.

With Cuba accruing over $1 trillion in accumulated economic damages as a result of half a century of the imposition of the blockade, the unequal approach towards Cuba not only carries grave financial implications. Since the passing of the Cuban Adjustment Act in 1966, any Cuban who migrates to the U.S. is immediately granted permanent residence.  World Policy Blog cites Silvia Welhelm, former director of Puentes Cubanos, as stating that, “The Cuban Adjustment law is providing Cubans with an economic escape hatch that is unfair compared to our policy to other potential immigrants.” This is evidenced by the fact that, while Cuban migration is used by U.S. media as proof of human rights abuses on the island, Central Americans fleeing both institutional, governmental and social violence are criminalized and denied access to legal status in the U.S.  Under current U.S. policy, people like Cáceres who flee grave human rights abuses are highly likely to be turned away at the border, while any Cuban who reaches U.S. soil is granted legal entry, regardless of their lived experiences.

These ironies are not lost on the Cuban people. “Obama comes to Cuba and says that in his country, human rights are respected,” argues Yaima Palacio, Popular Educator at the CMMLK. “What about the human rights of the many immigrants who arrive to the United States and are deeply disrespected after having been sold the American dream? Where is the respect for those human rights?”

While nearly all Cubans recognize the numerous benefits that lifting the inhumane blockade will have in Cuba, there are many who simultaneously fear that increased U.S. involvement in Cuba will result in the human rights abuses that in neighboring Latin American and Caribbean countries are manifested as extreme violence and lack of access to education and healthcare. “Part of the reason why there is more safety [in Cuba] in comparison with Honduras…has to do with the fact that…Cuba decides what happens in Cuba,” Palacios remarks.  She points out that in Cuba, in contrast to Honduras, “the fact that transnational companies and the U.S. haven’t been intervening has allowed for the possibility to have less struggles in that regard. The Cuban people demand that the U.S. lift the blockade, as this is one of the ways that the U.S. destabilizes and erodes the morale of the Cuban people so that they will revolt against the revolutionary government; and the costs have been high. But living this way has also given us the slight advantage of freeing us in many ways from neoliberal domination that is placed at the center of the capitalist market.”

As the Witness for Peace International Team (IT) in Honduras points out, the U.S. Embassy in Honduras is cooperating with the Honduran government led investigation, despite the call for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to take over. Our IT in Honduras cites COPINH as stating that “the same government that criminalized Berta Cáceres….the same government that persecuted her, threatened her, and is responsible for her murder cannot possibly investigate itself.”

This raises the question: if the U.S. can cooperate with and financially support the Honduran government despite the atrocities committed against Cáceres and so many others like her, why is Cuba continuously punished and isolated?