Estela Barnes de Carlotto, president of Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo (Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo) arrived at Punto Latino (set created for the Deutshce Welle TV channel in Spanish) and took her allotted seat on a very comfortable sofa. “Thank you”, and quickly told me that now “we are waiting for everyone who left the country due to the successive crises”.
We were finishing a great interview with Amanda Camilo from Ruta Pacífica de las Mujeres, so we were able to chat with Estela and Buscarita Roa at the moment of her participation in the “Woman and Human Rights in Latin America – Giving a voice to those who don’t have a voice” panel, along with the Colombian Camilo, Kerstin Reemtsma from the Peace Brigades and Imelda Marrufo Nava, a lawyer for the Red Mesa de Mujeres in Ciudad Juárez.
Estela de Carlotto began telling of the historical moment in Argentina when the agony of disappearances, persecutions, tortures and losses began. And she continued narrating the appearance of Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo and the shaping of human rights organisations in the country. She also spoke of the change to these bodies caused by Néstor Kirchner’s coming to power in 2003, which transformed the meaning of the words Memory, Redress and Justice.
Under his mandate, some of the most important detention, torture and death centres from those which existed the width and breadth of Argentine territory were converted into memorial areas. But above all, Estela highlighted the governmental decision to make the call for “Memory, Truth and Justice” a pillar of state politics, relying in this sense on Abuelas y Madres de Plaza de Mayo and Línea Fundadora, as well as the HIJOS group, the most emblematic and persistent in their efforts.
The story of Amanda Camilo Ibarra, coordinator of Movimiento Ruta Pacífica de las Mujeres, has been no less violent or less filled with meaning. Originally from Putumayo, in the south of Colombia, her life has been marked by constant confrontation with paramilitaries, whether for or against the state. Women are victims in many ways, including forced enrolments and executions, sexual abuses and aggressions of all types. Faced with this situation of complete uncertainty and uncontrollable violence, these women have decided to exercise their power. The power to refuse to encourage violence and to send their children to war. “Women don’t have sons and daughters for war” she reported while spreading her slogan “No food will come from our hands or bellies for the war”.
The feminism which Ruta Pacífica embodies is an ethical, political, pacifist and non-violent position which seeks to bring about deep changes in public and in private. It is mainly made up of women from the working classes who have managed to break the silence and leave the circle of fear which war creates.
Their investigations on the subject of sexual violence in Colombia have given consistency to their political claims which have enabled them to enact a law which established and categorises violence against women. “There are still legal holes and a lot to improve, but it is a huge first step which allows us to progress in our demands and create awareness” they state. At the same time as commenting and showing some of the awareness campaigns carried out by her organisation.
Imelda Marrufo represents Ciudad Juárez’s Red de Mujeres (Women’s Network). A series of groups of women who refuse to accept the violent circumstances that surround their lives and their city, standing up to the drug problems, the addicts environments and even the government, which has declared “war against drugs, which has already caused the killing of 40 000 people”. The lawyer condemns the Mexican government for “simulating, making people think that it is working against drug trafficking, but it is not so”. Ciudad Juárez has become the most dangerous city in the world and these activists refuse to give up going out, taking their children to the squares and living dominated by fear.
The International Peace Brigades have been protecting indigenous Guatemalans for years from military raids which aim to eliminate the social resistance networks. More than 20 thousand refugees escape to the mountains, mainly women and children. Kerstin Reemstma is the European representative for this association which offers protection and support to those who live under threat of death and don’t have any state protection.
Not forgetting the tireless work of some priests and nuns in Latin America, all of the panellists have agreed on criticising the role of the Catholic Church, which is many cases has been an accomplice to the massacres or prevents the spreading of the non-violent culture of emancipation. The same has occurred with the mass media, which far from supporting their fights, has been damaging and defamatory to their works.
When fear paralyses and the easiest thing it to look the other way, these women have decided to advance, to fight for justice and have passionately committed so that no one has to go through what they have gone through. It is an absolute delivery action of profound conviction.
The moral dimension of these women reconciles with the human race and opens a window to the hope of change and transformation. The best thing about human beings dwells in their chests and they are an example of integrity, persistence and absolute dedication. As the sub commander Marcos said: “The brave are the cowards who run forwards”. There is no one who detains them.
*Translated from Spanish by Kirsty Cumming*