Camping Protesters in Argentine Town Halt Construction of Monsanto Plant

MALVINAS ARGENTINAS, CÓRDOBA—For the first time in history, a campsite of neighbors in Argentina has stopped the construction of a multinational agriculture plant belonging to Monsanto.

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For more than six months, residents of Malvinas Argentinas, a small town outside of Córdoba, Argentina, have been camping on the land occupied by Monsanto, a biotechnology multinational which creates anti-pest poisons for grain crops. Construction of the plant has been halted at 20% and the activist resistance continues after months of attacks, environmental studies and marches.

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Last year, The Associated Press reported dozens of cases of food and water contamination in Argentina due to lack of protective gear for farm workers using anti-pest solutions and misuse of pesticide containers. Malvinas Argentinas Lucha Por La Vida (Fight for Life), the group that formed against the corporation as soon as Monsanto announced that it was going to begin construction, is defending itself against contamination.

Monsanto, whose world headquarters are St. Louis, Missouri, is the biggest producer of transgenic seeds in the world and usually appears in the list of “Top 10 Places to Work in Argentina.”

“We are very proud and happy to work here,” said Adrián Vilaplana, Corporate Affairs Manager at Monsanto and head of the project in Malvinas Argentinas. His first argument against the protestors was that they are not from Malvinas Argentinas.

Ironically, Malvinas Argentinas Lucha Por La Vida (MALPLV) made the same argument against Monsanto. “This is a national issue,” said Lucas Vaca, a member of the group. Eduardo Quispe, a member who has lived in the campsite for four months, said that the neighbors started to open their eyes to the issues presented by Monsanto’s construction plan.

Eduardo Quispe

Eduardo Quispe

Fight For Life

Two months after the protesters started camping out, Monsanto sent a letter to Sofía Gatica and Quispe, urging them to stop blocking construction. The letter said that if they continued to protest, they would be accused of crimes with punishments of up to three years in prison. Gatica is one of the founders of Madres de Itzaingó (a group formed 10 years ago to explore high cancer rates in the town of Ituzaingó).

“Monsanto, along with the government and UOCRA (construction worker union) have tried to kick us out with sticks, bullets and blows,” Gatica said. There have been 60 people injured in the conflicts, according to Gatica.

Monsanto argues that people are losing jobs because of the protests, but, according to a report by MALPLV, the majority of the workers contracted to work in the plant are not from Malvinas Argentinas.

“90% of the workers are from the outside,” Vaca said.

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Vilaplana has invited Gatica to see Monsanto’s plant in Rojas, Buenos Aires Province, which is similar to the plant planned for Malvinas Argentinas. He also insists that the plant will not contaminate the town. “There is no chance of contamination,” he said. “I have personally invited Sofía Gatica to visit us with technicians and journalists, but she doesn’t want to come.”

MALPLV is worried about the toxic wind coming from the plant into the town. The construction site is to the east/northeast of the town, and the wind coming from this direction is very strong, according to a report by MALPLV.

“The cloud of toxic dust will fall on the town,” the report says. Located about one block from the construction site is an elementary school. The assembly members call it “one of the fumigated schools” because it is right next to a soy crop field.

So Much Soy

The amount of soy in Argentina has tripled since 1996, when the genetically modified Monsanto seed first arrived in Argentina. Because soy generated such a high profit, its usage grew exponentially. Today, the amount of soy grown in Argentina is five times the amount of corn. Argentina is now one of the top soy-producing countries in the world.

“Our current worry is the rate of crop rotation in the country. There is a lot of soy and few other crops,” Vilaplana said.

Ernesto Vázquez, a farmer from Córdoba, says that the overproduction of soy is a problem based on the market, not the law. “It’s advantageous for the farmer to plant soy because it isn’t consumed in the internal market, and it is taxed more than corn when it is exported,” he said.

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But planting only soy without rotating in other crops has its price. “The problems with planting only one crop are serious, without a doubt. And we are very worried about that,” Vilaplana said. Problems that arise can include lack of nutrients in the soil, interruption of the natural soil recycling process and crops that are more susceptible to the spread of disease.

“This [the lack of rotation] was a decision made by the farmer himself, that unfortunately was not aware of the need to rotate at the time,” Vilaplana said. To combat this serious problem, the same company that brought GMO soy to Argentina over 20 years ago wants to have a 1 to 1 ratio between soy and corn. And to achieve this, Monsanto wants to construct the biggest corn plant in the world in a rural town with a population of 15,000: Malvinas Argentinas.

Contamination

Will the plant contaminate? Vilaplana compared Monsanto’s agrochemicals to Ford’s cars. The guilty party in a car accident is the person driving, and the guilty party in contamination is the farmer.

“Why are there cases of misuse? Because evidently there are people that do things well and people who don’t,” Vilaplana said.

However, the Associated Press documented several cases of contamination where toxic substances were used without scientific guidelines and with almost no state control. Not only did the report find workers using agrochemicals without necessary equipment, but it also found that the toxic substances were carried by the wind, contaminating schools, houses and water sources.

What does Monsanto do to prevent misuse? Vilaplana assures that the company communicates regularly with its clients to discuss the use of its products. He said that Monsanto has a close relationship with its farmers and that all products have labels about safety.

On the contrary, Vázquez said that only the largest producers have a direct relationship with the company. “Farmers have a relationship with Monsanto by way of their network of distributors that sell their products,” he explained.

Despite the evidence of misuse and contamination in rural towns, Vilaplana said that scientific evidence shows that there will be no contamination in Malvinas Argentinas. “We respond with scientific information,” he said. “Sofía Gatica is misinformed. We present technical information, they do not.”

MALPLV has technical information on its webpage about contamination, the Monsanto seed and what it means for Malvinas Argentinas. One of MALPV’s biggest concerns is the size of the multinational in comparison to the town.

“You can’t put a megacompany in a small town that doesn’t have healthcare infrastructure,” Vaca said. “They say that they will build a hospital but every contamination case is going to die here.”

Quispe is also worried about the lack of health care. “There is no follow-up,” he said. Cases of contamination are sent to the hospital in Córdoba and accounted for in the provincial statistics, therefore the rate of contamination in Malvinas Argentinas is lost in bureaucracy.

Future of Argentina Agriculture

To sway to people of Malvinas Argentinas, Monsanto has built two swimming pools and, according to the assembly, the company does big favors for people. “[Monsanto] manipulates and manages the people,” Vaca said. For Monsanto, losing this battle would mean much more than an economic loss. “What Monsanto has in Malvinas is chump change to them,” Vaca said. Monsanto can’t afford a loss because it would set a historical precedent.

On February 10, the Ministry of Environment did not authorize the environmental impact study that Monsanto submitted about the plant. The commission reported that the study did not meet the basic requirements of integrated waste management.

This was a big win for MALPLV.

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What does Monsanto want for the future of the country? More agricultural biotechnology.

“There is no more land. There is more productivity, more technology. Producing more with less,” Vilaplana said.

What does Sofía Gatica want for the future of the country? A world without Monsanto.

“Monsanto, to me, is death,” she said.

***

Taylor Dolven is an “infinitely curious journalist” based in Argentina. You can follow her on Twitter @taydolven. She is part of a growing independent media movement in Argentina, miarevista.com.

César Chávez and Me

Recently, I went to a film screening of “César Chávez” in Bakersfield, California. I went with my wife and children, and watched the film with a packed house of students and farmworkers at the Maya Cinemas. It was a fundraiser for FIELD (Farmworker Institute for Education and Leadership). I’m on the FIELD board and it was my duty to help put the screening together. I watched the movie with César Chávez’s daughter, Liz Chávez, his son-in-law, David Villarino, and César’s son, Anthony Chávez. I was surrounded by his family. David Villarino, the President of FIELD, is actually my cousin, so it was a family event for me as well.

Like everyone else, I’ve read the many reviews and opinions about the film. It seems everybody has something to say about the man and now the movie. I knew César had that ability to get people to have an opinion about him, good or bad. César was many things to many people, and the film successfully brought that out. I liked the light in which they showed the sacrifices of his family made; sacrifices that I witnessed firsthand, especially how important his wife Helen was in that struggle. That part in the film they got right. And in my not so humble opinion, I can only comment on what I know. Or what I saw.

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I met César the man —not the movie— years ago. I did a fundraiser and celebration for César Chávez in the early nineties. I have a picture of César Chávez and I together at the UFW event. There were plenty of Hollywood stars in attendance: Martin Sheen, Valeri Harper and many others. I sat at the star table with the rest of Hollywood as UFW members listened.

Chávez and the author

Chávez and the author

That evening I joked as the emcee of the night that, “César Chávez was a great fighter and a hell of a boxer.” I paused for comedic effect and then said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I thought this event was for the boxer not the grape guy.” There was a very long pause, but then luckily people laughed. It was a big laugh too. César himself laughed the hardest. I was treated as one of the family. Two of my cousins are married to his daughters and were organizers for the UFW. I remember their stories of making five dollars a week and their struggles.

Being a fairly shallow Hollywood comedy writer and comedian, I cynically thought at the time, “Wow, the only people paid that badly were extras in Mexico.” But I noticed something that evening. César had left the star area where Hollywood was sitting. I expected he would be there most of the night like organizers for these types of events always are, and then I saw something we in Hollywood seldom see: humility. I watched as César went from every UFW table to table and greeted every union member—man, woman and child. He made everyone feel like a star. I noticed how he listened so intently to their stories and how concerned he looked. He seemed more like a servant than a leader; a concerned friend not a labor leader; a fellow worker not an icon. I realized he was showing me a new kind of leadership for Latinos: he put others first. Simple as that.

I have worked for many years in Hollywood. As a writer and actor and comedian and producer, I have worked in this industry and met many famous stars and seen legendary egos and legendary selfish behavior. But that day, I —in my own eyes— saw a great servant and voice for those who had no voice. As Shakespeare said, “ambition should be made of sterner stuff.” César was never rich. He was a servant to a cause. He was a servant to people.

Is the César Chávez movie perfect? No. Was César Chávez perfect? No. César would have been the first to tell you that, but what I witnessed up close was a normal imperfect man doing a perfect thing: putting others first. He was at that moment and forever more, a hero to me because he understood that a true hero is a man or woman who simply does a heroic deed in spite of their imperfections. César asked us to all serve others more than ourselves and in the end that would makes us heroes too. I saw his legacy all around me that night in Bakersfield at the Maya Cinemas, created so that distribution of movies could go in Latino communities.

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I saw the tears in my son’s eyes as he watched the ending of that movie. I hope he will be the next generation of leaders, along with my daughters, and I realized that even in death César Chávez is a symbol to many. As for FIELD., they are dealing with what happens after the fields: education. That’s what César wanted —fairness and inclusion— and education above all. I don’t think he was so much about a union, as he was more about a movement. He was more about people. FIELD will be educating those people to excel in the new fields:  Silicon Valley, Wall Street and Hollywood.

Hollywood. That’s where I work, changing our Latino image. And perhaps one day I too will make an imperfect movie about a man named César Chávez. I will just like to remind those that will criticize this film that no movie ever gets it right; there is no such thing as a perfect film. The box office was not great and people might blame Latino Hollywood for that. But César Chávez was great… and complicated and deeply profound and at times funny. I watched him laugh that night years ago, and that will forever be my César Chávez.

Who will be your César Chávez? Well, that’s yours to decide. See the film and tell me.

***

k3l4obvqilty428a2y57Rick Najera is an award-winning writer-performer-director-producer and author with credits in film, television, theatre and Broadway. His latest book, Almost White:  Forced Confessions of a Latino in Hollywood, has recently been nominated as an “Inspirational Non-Fiction Book” by the International Latino Book Awards. You can follow Rick on Twitter @ricknajera.

WATCH: Why President Obama Needs to Change Direction of His Immigration Legacy

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Time to Stop Calling Argentina’s Last Dictatorship a “Dirty War”

More than 30 years have passed since the last dictatorship ended in Argentina, and many English-language media outlets are still misusing the term “Dirty War.” The last dictatorship in Argentina (1976-1983) was not a war, but instead genocide, and it is time that we start calling it like it was, and still is.

GlobalPost Jerusalem correspondent Noga Tarnopolsky, whose five family members disappeared during the dictatorship said, “I don’t use the term ‘Dirty War’ unless I’m trying to illustrate the really evil way the Argentine military junta attempted —like other murderous regimes— to turn language into a tool in their favor. The term is a relic of that period.”

Tarnopolsky finds it unfortunate that English-language media still use the term. “The usage does seem to expose laziness on the part of editors and journalists who haven’t bothered even to look it up. I suspect they’d be horrified to know they are using a term that was invented to try to explain away as justified crimes against humanity,” she said.

Buenos Aires graffiti against the dictatroship

Buenos Aires graffiti against the dictatorship

The Dirty War

War is defined as a state of armed conflict between different countries or different groups within a country. The term “Dirty War” comes from a misunderstanding of the conflict between Argentina’s Montoneros and the military during the last dictatorship. The Montoneros were an armed opposition group with popular support. It was completely broken up after only six months into the Argentine dictatorship. On October 7, 1976, the Argentine junta’s foreign minister, César Augusto Guzzetti told Henry Kissinger, “the terrorist organizations have been dismantled.” Yet the dictatorship would go on for another seven years ending with thousands of deaths and even more disappearances.

Flag of the Montoneros

Flag of the Montoneros

Claudia Acuña, editor of the magazine, Mu, said that the military used terms such as, “The Dirty War,” during the dictatorship to hide what was really happening.

“In Argentina in 1976 there was no war. The opposition was militarily defeated. What was it then? Writer Rodolfo Walsh explained what was happening with facts and precious words in his Open Letter to the military dictatorship in 1977, and was killed for speaking out. Walsh called what was happening, “Planned Misery,” that consisted of a terrorizing dictator implementing an economic plan that plunged the country into poverty. To impose such a plan, it was necessary to destroy all civil, union, political and social resistance. And that’s what happened. That’s what left us with 30,000 people disappeared.”

History Rewritten

In September 2006, 30 years after the military takeover in Argentina, Miguel Osvaldo Etchecolatz, police commissioner of the province of Buenos Aires during the junta years, was sentenced to life in prison. The judge found him guilty of six counts of homicide, six counts of unlawful imprisonment and seven cases of torture. But the judge didn’t stop there, saying that in order to continue to preserve the “construction of collective memory,” he needed to declare that these offenses were “all crimes against humanity committed in the context of the genocide that took place in the Republic of Argentina between 1976 and 1983.”

This changed the official story for good. What had been thought of as a “dirty war” for years was finally taken for what it truly was: “a plan of extermination carried out by those who ruled the country,” the judge said.

The Hunted

Leading up to the dictatorship, Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Uruguay were flourishing in a time of economic development. Social programs, public education and nationalized industries made the Southern Cone flourish. With this came a dominant leftist mass culture.

“It was in the poetry of Pablo Neruda, the folk music of Víctor Jara and Mercedes Sosa, the liberation theology of the Third World priests, the emancipatory theater of Augusto Boal, the radical pedagogy of Paulo Freire, the revolutionary journalism of Eduardo Galeano and [Rodolfo] Walsh himself,” said Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine.

The junta defended its genocide by declaring it a war against dangerous Marxist terrorists. Admiral Eduardo Massera called it “a war for freedom and against tyranny, a war against those who favor death and by those of us who favor life. We are fighting against nihilists, against agents of destruction whose only objective is destruction itself, although they disguise these with social crusades.”

The majority of the victims of state terror were factory workers, farmers, economists, artists and psychologists. In these torturous ideological elimination operations, the juntas burned books by Freud, Marx and Neruda, closed hundreds of magazines, occupied universities and banned strikes and political meetings.

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In Argentina, 81 percent of the 30,000 people who disappeared were between the ages of 16 and 30. Five hundred babies were born inside Argentina’s torture centers. These babies were often sold or given to couples who were associated with the dictatorship.

“The last dictatorship can’t be described as dirty,” said Acuña. “Can baby kidnappings, torture and systemic rape of women, death flights that threw thousands of bodies into the Río de la Plata including the founder of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo or French nuns who lent their chapel to families of the disappeared? I have no words to describe what that means. Because that’s a dictatorship: the end of words, beyond language. Reducing a society to silence. So many years later, we are recovering our speech. Slowly, very traumatically and together we are walking down the street to yell, ‘Nunca Más.’”

Today’s Terms

Editor of The Argentina Independent, an English newspaper based in Buenos Aires, Kristie Robinson, said that the publication rejects the term “Dirty War.” “We don’t use the term ‘Dirty War’ as it would indicate that what was happening in Argentina during the 1976-83 military dictatorship was somehow two-sided, rather than state-backed terrorism.” By rejecting the term, Robinson does not deny that the left-wing guerrilla groups used violence or questionable techniques, “but the junta’s response was massively disproportionate, with systematic killings of those it deemed, often arbitrarily, to be the enemy. What happened here was not a war, it was oppression of dissidents by a military dictatorship. “

It’s 2014, and it’s time to start calling it like it was, and still is: the last dictatorship.

***

Taylor Dolven is an “infinitely curious journalist” based in Argentina. You can follow her on Twitter @taydolven. She is part of a growing independent media movement in Argentina, miarevista.com.

Farmworker Women Leaders Making Major Impact

In observance of Women’s History Month, LatinoRebels.com is celebrating Latinas who are making a difference every day. Today, as a part of National Farmworker Awareness week, we honor some of the women who are leading the migrant women’s rights movement.

Farmworker women put food on our tables.  They plant, pick, and pack fruits and vegetables, among other crops and plants.  It is estimated that more than 600,000 women are responsible for feeding us. These women are often subject to poor and unsafe working conditions. They are often victims of wage theft, gender discrimination, including sexual harassment, and a range of other problems.

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Often, a one-size-fits-all approach has been applied to efforts to improve conditions for farmworkers, with little attention paid to the unique issues that confront farmworker women as women workers.  However, farmworker women and their advocates have fought to ensure that farmworker women’s concerns are not ignored.  These women are strong, brave and they are making a difference for the benefit of many. In addition to Dolores Huerta, recognized in a previous Women’s History Month blog, below is a list of a few women who are making a difference in the fight for farmworker women’s rights:

Olivia Tamayo is the first farmworker women in the history of the United States to have a federal jury decide her case for sexual harassment against a major agricultural company. Tamayo sued Harris farms for failing to protect her from sexual harassment by her supervisor and for failing to remedy the problem once they became aware of it.  Tamayo prevailed in her lawsuit against the company, along with the related appeal. Tamayo is a role model to thousands of farmworker women throughout the United States.  She has also provided many advocates with her advice and expertise.  She has been lauded and honored for her courage to seek justice for the sexual harassment against her and for encouraging other women to come forward.  Among these, Southern Poverty Law Center presented her with the Esperanza Award in 2006.

Mily Treviño-Sauceda is the co-founder of the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, the first national farmworker women’s organization.  She is also the co-founder and the former Executive Director of Organización en California de Líderes Campesinas, Inc., known as Líderes Campesinas.” As a former farmworker, Trevino-Sauceda has firsthand experience regarding the issues confronting farmworkers.  She has been very vocal about gender discrimination, wage theft, health risks and immigration reform. Treviño-Sauceda has worked on the local, state, national and international levels to ensure that farmworker women’s issues are included in the workers’ rights and women’s rights discourse. She has received numerous awards and recognitions for her work, including being recognized as one of the “100 Heroines of the World” and the Ford Foundation and New York University Leadership for Changing the World Award, among others.

Marcela Olvera-Morales is the first woman to challenge gender discrimination in the H-2 guestworker visa programs on the basis of gender segregation in the case Olvera-Morales, et al vs. Sterling Onions, Inc. et al. Olvera-Morales filed her lawsuit on behalf of herself and other similarly situated guestworker women against the defendant employment agencies and employers for deliberately steered her and other women into lower paying jobs with fewer benefits. According to the lawsuit, Olvera-Morales and other women were able and willing to perform the higher paying jobs but those jobs were reserved for men.  The overwhelming majority of work-based visas are awarded to men and women are commonly steered into less desirable positions with fewer benefits in the work-visa programs.  The parties reached an undisclosed settlement to resolve this matter.

Kimber Nicoletti is the Director and Founder of Multicultural Efforts to end Sexual Assault (MESA) at Purdue University.  She has been an advocate for migrant farmworker communities for over 20 years.  Nicoletti works at the national, state and local level engaging communities and organizations in the use of culturally relevant models for promoting healing, healthy relationships and preventing sexual violence. She was the first anti-sexual violence advocate in the United States to specifically focus on sexual violence prevention within the farmworker community. Nicoletti also created and moderates the Mujeres del Movimiento group which is a designated safe space for support and resource sharing for Latinas who work in violence prevention.  She was selected as the 2013 Woman of Distinction by the YWCA for her work with the farm worker community.

Elvira_Farmworker Association of Florida

Elvira Carvajal is a migrant rights activist and leader in South Florida.  She was raised on her family’s farm, alongside her six brothers and sisters, in Michoacán, Mexico.  Carvajal migrated to the United States at the age of 19, where she began to work on lemon farms and nurseries. She worked in the Florida agricultural industry for 20 years until she decided to learn English and get her high school diploma to better support her three children.  Carvajal graduated from high school in 1998 and made the decision to dedicate her life to improving the lives of migrant families and children.  She has served as a leader within the Farmworker Association of Florida since 2006.  Carvajal provides migrant women workers with information about their rights. She trains workers on pesticides safety and she has been an active voice and leader in the immigration reform debate.

LatinoRebels.com thanks all farmworkers, including these amazing Latina leaders for all that they do feed our families and fortify our nation.

Latina Leaders Courageously Fight to End Violence Against Women

In honor of Women’s History Month, here is the second part of our series.

In the U.S., incidents of domestic violence and sexual assault are rife, but the true extent of the problem is largely hidden from view. A staggering one-quarter of women have experienced domestic violence and more than six million children witness domestic abuse in their homes every year.

Worryingly, children learn violent behavior from witnessing violence. Men, too, can be victims of domestic violence and account for 15 percent of all cases.

In immigrant communities the statistics are harder to come by, but the National Latino Alliance for the Elimination of Domestic Violence says that domestic violence “is a widespread and destructive problem in Latino communities.” Language barriers, fear of deportation and cultural differences make it hard for immigrant victims of violence to come forward and receive the support they need.

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Latinas and immigrant community members are also at risk of sexual violence.  They also often face sexual harassment at work. Human trafficking is another major problem that afflicts Latinas in the United States.

Below, we highlight five Latina leaders who have worked tirelessly to improve the situation for the millions of women and men who are the victims of violence each year.

Maria Jose Fletcher is trained as a lawyer and is actively involved in the fight to end human trafficking and violence against women. She spent two years on the National Advisory Committee on Violence Against Women and she is the co-director and founder of the not-for-profit VIDA Legal Assistance. VIDA exclusively provides support and legal representation to immigrant survivors of violent crime, making it the only legal service of its kind in Florida.

Undocumented immigrants often exist in precarious circumstances, meaning they are less likely to want to alert the authorities if they are in trouble. One VIDA client explains, “My biggest fear in reporting the acts of domestic violence which I was subjected to by my husband, was being deported and leaving my children alone.” However, part of VIDA’s work is to educate immigrants on the laws that exist to protect victims of domestic abuse, as they do not necessarily face deportation for pressing charges in such cases.

Laura Zárate is the daughter of parents from the Mexico border region. She has three decades of advocacy and training experience, and in 2001 she co-founded Arte Sana (Art Heals), an organization that encourages healing through art for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. Arte Sana has been recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a model program for survivors of sexual assault.

Founded in Austin, Texas, Arte Sana was the first national Latina-led organization to address sexual violence. Zárate has led the development of bilingual training programs on sexual assault, as well as championing internet-based collaborations amongst victim advocates. Arte Sana has also provided capacity-building training to organizations across the border in Ciudad Juárez, known worldwide for exceedingly high rates of violent crime against women.

Rosie Hidalgo has dedicated her twenty-year career to the fight against domestic violence, both in her former capacity as an attorney in New York City and Northern Virginia and in her current role as the Director of Public Policy for Casa de Esperanza (based in Saint Paul, Minnesota) and the National Latin@ Network, a network of organizations committed to improving the health and wellbeing of Latin@ communities.

Hidalgo also played an integral role in ensuring that the Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized in 2013. Rosie spent four years working in the Dominican Republic on domestic violence prevention, and she had also worked as a consultant for the World Bank on social protection initiatives.

In 2013, Hidalgo won an award recognizing her work on domestic abuse and immigration reform. Hidalgo said in her acceptance speech, “… comprehensive immigration reform is the critical next step to reduce the vulnerabilities to abuse and exploitation of millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States and to strengthen families and communities.”

Olga Trujillo is an attorney, author and consultant, renowned for her work to end child abuse, domestic violence and human trafficking. Trujillo began her career in the early nineties at the US Department of Justice, where she became the youngest women and only Latina to ever serve as General Counsel to the Office of Justice Programs.

As a survivor of abuse in her own family, Trujillo has an insider perspective on issues to do with violence against women. “Part of the coping that I developed was to basically dissociate, to leave my body and watch it as if it was happening to someone else,” Trujillo explains in ‘A Survivor’s Story,’ a courageous documentary that details the impact of emotional and sexual violence on her life.

Her current work includes providing training to mental health, medical and criminal justice professionals, as well as speaking at events across the country. In 2012, Trujillo published an autobiographical book called ‘The Sum of My Parts: a Survivor’s Story of Dissociative Identity Disorder.’

Susan Reyna was born in the US to a migrant farmworker family in 1955. She witnessed ongoing domestic abuse against her mother and at age five went to live with her grandparents in Texas. Far from a safe haven, she then experienced sexual abuse at the hands of her grandfather.

At age 19, when she already had two young children and a failed marriage behind her, Reyna got her first big break and was offered an office job with a migrant rights organization. She worked her way through the ranks of several organizations and today Reyna is the executive director of M.U.J.E.R. (Mujeres Unidas en Justicia, Educación y Reforma), an organization that primarily provides services to farm worker communities in Miami-Dade County, Florida. M.U.J.E.R. assists adult victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. You can read more about Reyna’s amazing success against the odds here.

Who would you add to this list? Share your names below.

***

Jen Wilton currently lives in Oaxaca, Mexico and reports on social and political issues related to Mexico and Latin America more widely. Jen tweets as @guerillagrrl and blogs at revolutioniseternal.wordpress.com

What Does #NuncaMás Mean to Different Generations of Argentines?

On March 24, 1976 in Argentina, a military dictatorship took over. Today Argentines remember the ghosts of the disappeared and still try to make sense of it all. Hashtags such as #NuncaMás (Never Again) and #DiaDeLaMemoria have been trending on Twitter to knowledge those who disappeared 38 years ago.

(The ESMA, the tortures, the babies born in captivity, the disappearances, the deaths, the books and the prohibited music. Never Again)

Those who still disappear today, and suffer the consequences of violence, poverty, and injustice in the present, have also been added to the commemoration. Declared a national holiday, today thousands headed to Plaza de Mayo—a central political gathering spot in front of the presidential house in Buenos Aires where activists, citizens and students march every year. The older generations and the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo are still looking for their sons, daughters, and grandkids that disappeared, and asking for justice against the murderers. The younger generations commemorate this day, but have also added their own concerns about what #NuncaMás should represent.

For example, the students from the National Buenos Aires, a historically prestigious public school in the city, tweeted today:

(We are going to “the Plaza” for the 30.000 disappeared, but also for those who disappear in democracy: for Luciano Arruga, for Julio López).

Luciano Arruga was 16 when he disappeared in 2009. He was intercepted by police in Buenos Aires Lomas del Mirador, a low-income neighborhood in Buenos Aires Province, Argentina. So far, no policemen have been judged for this case, although family members claim policemen were beating him up before he disappeared.  His sister Luciana Arruga declared in January 2014:

This keeps happening even in democracy. More than 4,000 young people have been murdered due to police violence or shootings. More than two hundred people have disappeared. I am not counting the women who disappear due to sex trafficking networks. So this is a problem of the present and the past. It is urgent we make visible the problem of violence because young people are getting killed in low income neighborhoods and we have to talk about real security.

In 2006, Julio Lopez. who survived the last Argentine military dictatorship, presented himself as a witness in the trial against military repressor and torturer Miguel Etchecolatz. The day he was supposed to show up to court in La Plata, he disappeared and no traces were left.

To the new generations, #NuncaMás means that we also don’t forget those who disappear during democracy.

(For Luciano Arruga, for Julio Lopez. For all those disappeared in democracy. Because without them there is no NUNCA MÁS).

The women disappeared in democracy are also a pressing issue caused by the intersections of poverty, race, class, and patriarchy or machismo in Argentina. The popular site La Marcha released an article today expressing that we also need to say “Nunca Más” to current female trafficking and sexual exploitation:

Before, it was the activists who were killed. Now, women carry in their gender identity the failed marks of freedom and the uncompleted promise of their liberation. They live lives reduced to their bodies-simplified and objectified as consumption objects-young girls, teenagers; women are taken from poor neighborhoods. They are kidnapped and disappeared systematically by sex trafficking networks. For them, we also claim “Never Again.

A source from Argentina, who studies in the University of Buenos Aires and attended the 2012 march for the disappeared, explained to me today in an e-mail, that when she made the signs to promote #NuncaMás, her student group included the images of current disappeared along with those who disappeared in the past dictatorship.

There are also those who disappear today, and violence today. When we made the sign, we wanted to include the portraits of those disappeared in democracy such as Florencia Penachi, who disappeared through sex trafficking networks, and Luciano Arriaga.

A 36 años del golpe

***

Carolina Drake is a NYC-based writer and journalist from Argentina interested in intersectional feminisms and Latin America. She contributes to Latino Rebels, blogs, and Latin American Radar. You can follow her on Twitter. Interviews and references were conducted in Spanish and have been translated to English. 

LatinoRebels.com Celebrates Latina Leaders for Women’s History Month

In observance of Women’s History Month, LatinoRebels.com celebrates the Latinas who are making important contributions to our society across industries, sectors and movements. This week, Rebeldes Mónica Ramírez, Jen Wilton and Luis Marentes worked together to highlight some of these incredible leaders. They are role models in their communities, schools and workplaces. We thank them for their leadership and for their tireless efforts to make our world better each and every day.

Rebelde Mónica Ramírez (second from left) with Dolores Huerta (far right)

Rebelde Mónica Ramírez (second from left) with Dolores Huerta (far right)

Today we begin our series by spotlighting some of the Latinas who have made a significant impact in the fight for civil rights, including the fight for immigrants’ rights.  Historically, Latinas in the United States have confronted a number of civil rights issues, including discrimination in employment, housing, and education.  Latinas have been denied their voting rights and have been subject to amplified anti-Latino and anti-immigrant sentiment, including an increase in hate crimes.

Below is a short list of some of women who have helped promote equal rights for all:

Dolores Huerta is one of the most important labor rights, civil rights, human rights and women’s rights activists of all time. Among her many accomplishments, Huerta co-founded the United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez in 1962. Today she is the President of the Dolores Huerta Foundation.  Through her activism she has worked to achieve the passage of new laws and protections for farmworkers and others.  She coined the phrase, “Sí Se Puede,” which has been used as a slogan for the farmworker movement and many other important campaigns, including President Barack Obama’s  for President of the United States. Huerta has received many awards and recognitions for her incredible advocacy, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  She was also inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Felisa Rincón de Gautier, commonly referred to as “Doña Fela, was a passionate and staunch leader. She first rose to the spotlight for her activism in the fight for women’s right to vote, which was achieved in Puerto Rico in 1932.  In 1946, Rincón de Gautier became the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, the first female to hold this post in the Americas.  She was mayor for 22 years. Rincón de Gautier promoted the well being of the Puerto Ricans that she served. She focused on improving the infrastructure and health systems on the island. She died in 1994 at the age of 97. Rincón de Gautier helped pave the way for other Latina politicians.

Sylvia Méndez and her siblings were catapulted into the limelight when their parents Gonzalo and Felicitas made the decision to fight for the right for their children to receive the same educational opportunities as white school children.  In 1943, Latino students in California and other parts of the U.S. were still subject to school segregation. Mendez’s parents, along with a group of other parents, sued four school districts in California in the case Méndez vs. Westminster for discriminating against Latino students.  The Court found that school segregation was unconstitutional. The Méndez case resulted in school desegregation in the state of California and laid the foundation for school desegregation throughout the United States.  Méndez was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

Ana Avendaño, recently appointed the Vice President of Labor Participation for United Way Worldwide, USA, previously served as Assistant to the President and Director of Immigration and Community Action at the AFL-CIO. Through her work, she promoted critical labor-community partnerships and worked to connect the labor movement with Latino and immigrant communities.  Avendaño helped represent the labor community in discussions with business leaders in the immigration reform debates, leading to the historic shared principles that were announced prior to the introduction of the “Gang of 8’s” immigration legislation. She formerly served as Assistant General Counsel to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union where she was one of the leaders in the labor movements’ call for immigration reform and legalization.

María Gabriela (Gaby) Pacheco  is a leader in the immigrant rights movement.  Pacheco first gained national recognition in 2010 when she and three other immigrant youth leaders set out for a four month walk from Miami, Florida to Washington D.C. with the goal of raising awareness about the plight of undocumented youth.  Their action came to be known as the Trail of Dreams and their mission was to push for the passage of the Dream Act.  She and her colleagues set out to educate Congress about the reality of undocumented youth and adults who were brought to the United States as children.  Pacheco and her family moved to the United States from Ecuador when she was eight years old. Consequently, like hundreds of thousands of other immigrant youth, she grew up and studied in the United States.  However, she did not have legal status to live or work in the United States.  Pacheco’s leadership helped pave the way for the   federal government’s decision to permit certain qualifying youth to apply for deferred action from immigration deportation, along with the opportunity to attend college and work.

Of course, this list could go on and on. Who would you add to this first list? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. We will have another one tomorrow.

East Harlem Tragedy May Point to Larger Ticking Bomb

On the days following the March 12 tragic explosion that leveled two five-story tenement buildings in Spanish Harlem (that is being attributed as possibly gas-related), the death toll had been officially verified at eight. One of the victims was found just after sunrise, as the surrounding community arose to prepare for another work day, to send its children off to school, and to open the doors of their local businesses and service organizations.

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Among the confirmed and identified victims are Griselde Camacho (48), Carmen Tanco (67), Andreas Panagopoulos (43) and 21-year-old Rosaura Hernández-Barrios. Camacho worked at Hunter College’s Silberman School of Social Work campus located a short walk east at 119th Street and 3rd Avenue. The search for other missing continues, known parishioners of the Spanish Christian Church that occupied the ground level storefront in one of the buildings. Another 60 or more were also injured, some critically. About 100 have been displaced.

The unfortunate, and perhaps preventable, event in East Harlem shares a lot in common with the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the World Trade Center towers that anchored New York City’s financial district in lower Manhattan. Both took place on a sunny, blue-skied morning full of promise. Although not on the same scale, in both cases two structures collapsed leading to the loss of valuable life. Likewise, the catastrophe that would eventually take place in each region was unimaginable to those who ultimately suffered through it.

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To me, the smell of the smoke billowing from the footprint of the blast in East Harlem is indistinguishable from the clouds of 911 smoke that permeated lower Manhattan for months following the attacks on the towers. It stands to reason, then, that Congressman Charles B. Rangel would call the East Harlem tragedy “Our community’s 9/11.” Could these two dramatic events also share the kind of knee-jerk political whitewashing and “not our fault” entrenchment that often follow these kinds of tragedies?

In my thinking, there are two paramount questions that need to be kept at the forefront following the East Harlem tragedy:

  1. What caused the explosion that demolished two tenement buildings in East Harlem, and is there any culpability and/or neglect that resulted in the tragic event?
  2. Does the air quality following the explosion and fire pose a dangerous and potential health risk to the residents who live near the blast site, the East Harlem community as a whole, as well as the first-responders who put out the fire and attempted to rescue possible survivors in the wake of the catastrophe, in addition to those now digging to find the missing?

In my humble opinion, new Mayor Bill de Blasio, not yet past his first 100 days in office, was all too quick to drink Consolidated Edison’s (Con Ed) Kool-aid and hold as gospel the utility’s claim about the 9:13 a.m. call on Wednesday being their sole insight into the possibility of a dangerous gas-related situation at 1644 and 1646 Park Avenue, as well as the local vicinity. He seemed to further underscore his belief of Con Ed’s account during the impromptu news conference, which took place at the intersection of 116th Street and Lexington Avenue: “This is a tragedy of the worst kind,” he said, “because there was no indication in time to save people.”

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Mayor de Blasio also rapidly brushed aside any possibility that the acrid smoke and noxious fumes rising from the still-burning rubble and debris of the collapsed structures could potentially hold hazardous health consequences to those who live within reach of those questionable elements. (Really? The blast took place at approximately 9:30 a.m. and you were certain of this by your initial afternoon news briefing?) At least former New Jersey Governor-turn-EPA czar Christine Todd Whitman waited seven days after the World Trade Center attacks to make a public statement to reassure New Yorkers that “their air is safe to breathe and their water is safe to drink.”

And given all the deaths of first responders, steel workers, and volunteers attributed to poisonous fumes from the WTC rescue and subsequent debris removal, we know how that turned out. Sound judgment on de Blasio’s part to jump the gun before all the facts are in? I don’t know that I’m that reassured, Mayor. Nor should anyone else.

In the early evening on the night of the blast, two plainclothes detectives came knocking. They were inquiring if anyone living in the apartment (which is at the corner of 115th and Park Ave.) had noticed the smell of gas prior to the explosion. They also wanted to know if we personally knew any of the people who lived in the buildings demolished as a result. The answer to both was “No.” The detective asking the questions flipped his notebook closed, thanked me for my time, and left.

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Very routine, I would imagine.

But their visit got me introspectively asking similar questions. And this, coupled with de Blasio’s out-of-hand early assessments got me to write this. Not as a hard-hitting, investigative journalistic piece, but rather as a community call-to-action op-ed. Was Con Ed really “on it” or are we merely being Con Ed? And why did Mayor de Blasio rush to judgment on the air quality in East Harlem, even before definitive testing could be conducted?

These questions are not being posed by a conspiracy theory aficionado, nor are they entirely accusatory in nature. They are being raised by a concerned community resident who lives in direct eye-shot of East Harlem’s ground zero. And I’m not the only one starting to ask these questions. A New York Daily News article published on March 13 by Pete Donahue and Greg B. Smith casts the first eye toward the possibility of neglect by Con Edison, and points to previous calls by various community residents who claim to have reached out directly to both Con Ed, as well as the city’s non-emergency 311 government assistance hotline about the smell of gas over an extended period of time. As a community we have to take charge and make sure these valid questions do not become mere fish-wrap after a few days of sensational news coverage. People in our community, our neighbors, friends, family members, loved ones, have died as a result of a tragic event. Why? We should know the unequivocal truth. We must demand it.

There are past events where the interests of the under-served and working poor, especially in communities of color, have been of less concern than that of the city’s own agenda (read “more affluent communities”). When the Bronx burned during the 1970s and 80s, municipal services like garbage collection, fire-fighting personnel and stations, as well as NYPD officers, were reduced or cut back entirely to ensure that those services could continue undeterred in Manhattan.

Brooklyn and the Lower East Side also felt the impact of these warped and failed policies. Why the civics lesson, you ask? Because whenever we choose to ignore the mistakes and indignities imposed upon us in the past, we are destined to relive them. And because the past also provides insight into the playbook and tactics that are undertaken to whitewash less-than-desirable outcomes that are better swept under the carpet.

More recently in 2003, fearing a potential blackout during the hottest days of the summer, Con Ed authorities intentionally created a “brownout” (no pun intended) by cutting power to upper-Manhattan’s Washington Heights region. And let’s not even get started with the City’s “stop-and-frisk” policies.

Did a backlog of unanswered 311 calls lead to a 911 emergency? Did Con Edison ignore repeat reports of leaking gas, only to respond once the explosion had actually taken place (‘en route’ indeed)?

The East Harlem blast was so strong that storefront windows were shattered as far away as Granada, a store that sells nightgowns popular with older “gentle ladies” called ‘batas’—even though the steel gates were down! The store sits diagonally from the blast site on the northeast corner of Park Avenue and 115th, more than a block away. How much gas would it take to cause such a chaotic and destructive reaction? After all, two buildings were completely demolished. These concerns cannot be allowed to become white noise, put on the back burner or diluted.

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Which makes utility VP Edward Foppiano’s comment all the more zany: “There was no evidence of that yet.” (Referring to gas as a catalyst. Say what?)

During a press conference related to the Park Avenue blast, National Transportation Safety Board Chief Robert L. Sumwalt offered that “We will be looking at Con Ed’s call logs to see when the first calls started coming in.” Likewise, as concerned community residents, we should make Sumwalt’s job easier. Contact the NTSB, or your local leaders and regionally-elected officials and provide information if you reached out to Con Ed or the city and felt ignored or never heard back from either one. The proof of your outreach lives in the call logs of both your smart phones and analog LAN-lines, from whichever you placed the call. And during an official, comprehensive investigation that data counts toward finding the truth at the core of this tragedy.

Unlike the aftermath of 911, you won’t find fliers from distraught friends and relatives in search of their loved ones posted on walls in East Harlem. The scope of the tragedy does not warrant that. But to be sure, we must put pressure on our elected officials and associated city and federal agencies, to ensure that this tragic event is not set aside as merely another trivia footnote in NYC’s history, or, more importantly, ever happens again. Those already confirmed dead—and those who are still to be recovered from the smoking rubble—deserve as much.

***

Edwin Pagán is a New York-based writer, photographer, filmmaker and cultural activist. He produced the hard-hitting documentary Latinos Beyond Reel, and is currently in production on his signature project BRONX BURNING, a documentary that chronicles the rise, fall and resurrection of the South Bronx. Pagán is the founder-in-chief of LATIN HORROR, a website and online publication geared to the genre of Latin horror in all its forms. He is also writing a book on the subject titled “MIEDO – The History of Latin Horror.”

Via Presente.Org: Fire Police Officers Responsible for Death of Luis Rodriguez

We got the following post from our friends at Presente:

WARNING: THE VIDEO CONTAINS GRAPHIC CONTENT AND MAY BE UPSETTING. VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.
Five Moore, Oklahoma police officers attacked and killed Luis Rodriguez in front of his wife and daughter as his family left a movie theater on Valentine’s Day. Luis was unarmed, innocent, and a threat to no one.

Police Chief Jerry Stillings said that his officers did nothing wrong that day—but he seems to ignore that his officers’ overreaction caused the death of an innocent man and traumatized his family.

Tell Chief Stillings to fire the officers who killed Luis Rodriguez.

The Message

Below is the message we’ll send to Moore Police Chief Jerry Stillings on your behalf:

I’m calling on you to fire the officers who needlessly escalated an encounter with Luis Rodriguez, leading to his untimely death. Luis was an innocent family man whose life ended as a result of your officers. That isn’t justice. I urge you to hold the involved officers accountable immediately.

You can sign the petition here.

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Here is a local report from a few days ago:

News9.com – Oklahoma City, OK – News, Weather, Video and Sports |

CNN also reported about it:

An autopsy may reveal more about why Luis Rodriguez died, and surveillance camera footage of the encounter in the movie theater parking lot may reveal what happened before his wife pulled out her cell phone camera.

What police describe as normal procedure, lawyer Brooks-Jimenez describes as something brutal and possibly deadly—pepper spray to the face and the weight of five men on top of him.

CNN has reached out to Brooks-Jimenez for further comment.

Lewis, from the Moore Police Department, said that three officers from his department who were involved in this incident have been suspended with pay while the Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation reviews the incident.

The two game wardens working security that day at the theater are continuing in their normal roles, according to Holmes of the state wildlife department.

An autopsy on Luis Rodriguez was conducted on February 16, said Amy Elliott from Oklahoma’s office of the chief medical examiner. His body was released four days later, but Rodriguez’s full report won’t be released until toxicology results come in, adds Elliott.

Regardless of when that happens, the Rodriguez family may have to wait for closure.
The Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation doesn’t anticipate it will make any findings for months, according to spokeswoman Jessica Brown.