JASS Blog Archives for October 2008

by Lisa VeneKlasen on October 14, 2008 on 11:47 am

Alas de MariposaSince my return from Guatemala, I've been trying to keep up with the unfolding political repression in Nicaragua. I admit that it's impossible for me to watch from a rational distance. It's very personal for me because my work in Nicaragua with the Sandinista government in the 1980s, and my peace and solidarity activism into the 1990s are formative political experiences and the foundations of my passion and thinking about power and consciousness.

For those who, like me, see nothing about this in the mainstream US press, the Nicaraguan government through the Attorney General has initiated actions against 17 NGOs including scaling up the ongoing actions against the Autonomous Women's Movement (MAM). Many of these NGOs have received letters requesting "an interview" while others, like the MAM, have been served with search and seizure warrants. Agents showed up on Saturday (11th) morning to haul off computers and files from the MAM and from CINCO, the prominent Center for Communications Research. Most have been accused publicly of money laundering while Sofia Montenegro, a leader in the MAM, has been the target of a very nasty smear campaign on the radio and TV, accusing her of being a baby killer, a corrupt agent of imperialism. Some of these ads call on Nicaraguans to mobilize against and silence women like Sofia and other feminists -- as if inciting a lynch mob. One by one, now up to 14 feminists from the MAM and from an organization in Matagalpa in the North, have been called in to the Attorney General's office. These scare tactics have been psychologically debilitating, as women such as Ana Maria Pizarro from Si Mujer who spent some years in Somoza's prisons for her struggle with the Sandinistas, sickened by the fear of what might happen.

The political persecutions have included prominent Sandinista intellectuals and leaders, like Carlos Chamorro, the head of CINCO, who was the editor of La Barricada, the Sandinista newspaper -- I knew him and took photos for the paper when I lived and worked there with the Sandinistas in 1981-83. His father, an editor of the prominent newspaper, La Prensa, was assasinated by Somoza for his outspoken criticism while his mother , Violeta Chamoorro, was the first woman President who defeated the Sandinista party in 199 0, a huge disappointment to us all at the time. The Chamorro family provided key leaders to all factions within the FSLN but Carlos Fernando was a critical leader within the FSLN. Others, like Fernando Cardenal, a prominent Jesuit priest who was outspoken against Somoza and who later became the Minister of Education; he oversaw the historic Literacy Campaign and so is someone Valerie Miller, Maria Suarez and I -- and others within the JASS community know well in our grounding as popular educators. Added to the list is Carlos Mejia Godoy, probably the most popular musician during the struggle against Somoza and in the first ten years after the FSLN came to power in 1979. His powerful revolutionary music led the lively popular culture that shaped the revolution in the first years.

Many of the women in the MAM who've been accused and smeared spent years in prison under Somoza, were leading combatants in the struggle, etc. It's wild. And the kind of cooptation and ideological distortion of feminism carried out by the Sandinista party is a more serious version of what we've seen in the US, with the Republican Party and various pundits claiming Sarah Palin as a triumph of women's rights. While in Nicaragua, we got a copy of a pink pamphlet written by President Ortega's wife, Rosario Murillo, entitled "Feminism and low intensity warfare," accusing the MAM of promoting an "old form of feminism" that excludes, marginalizes and destroys families and children. It's several pages long and some of it is surreal.

When one lives for several decades, even the most seasoned amongst us can be shocked by how power shifts to consolidates, corrupts and breeds corruption. The extraordinary role of ideology in this particular moment in which we live must be taken extremely seriously by anyone committed to social justice -- our work in consciousness-raising could not be more urgent. Both Sarah Palin's candidacy and the political repression unfolding in Nicaragua remind us too that the task is much greater than any simple campaign slogan or framing exercise can possibly touch. Face-to-face, deep conversations that last longer than an elevator speech are needed and I think, wanted, by so many people who just don't know what to make of the battle for hearts and minds in which we live with all of the many sources of so-called information bombarding us constantly.

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by Lisa VeneKlasen on October 11, 2008 on 9:11 pm

Dear friends,

Please read the urgent condemnation letter to register support for the Nicaraguan feminists who've been targeted by their government for their support for reproductive rights and criticism of the shrinking democratic space in that country. If you'd like your name and organization to go onto the letter, please send it to petateras@justassociates.org. This kind of solidarity means an enormous amount to the Nicaraguan and Mesoamerican feminists gathered at the Forum.

This key action arose out of an Observatorio (Feminist Transformation Watch) at the America's Social Forum, where thousands of social justice activists and movements are gathered in support of an alternative path for the Americas as inequalities deepen, with organizations on the left concerned about land, water, the environment, healthcare, labor rights, repression and the financial crisis on Wall Street.

Women are numerous, diverse, and very visible at the Forum here in Guatemala City and the attack on Nicaraguan feminists is particularly complex, given the fact that Daniel Ortega's government is held up as an important symbol for the left's return to power in the region, alongside those of Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia. Women at the Forum from all perspectives and backgrounds -- including the voices of older feminists who were par of revolutionary struggles like the Sandinistas in the 1970s and 1980s -- are questioning loudly whether any political agenda or movement can be called "left" or even "progressive" if it does not fully and unwaveringly support the fundamental rights of women, including all sexual and reproductive rights.

There is broad support for this important challenge from among women and men at the Forum and a concern that left agendas need to be clarified and refined to fully represent the people mobilized behind them - more than half of whom are women. At the same time, the Ortega government has mobilized many women to attend the Forum and actively challenge this perspective.

We urge you to share the information about Nicaraguan feminists and the call for support with all in your networks and send in your names to add to the growing global list in support of Nicaraguan women.

With all best wishes,

Lisa Veneklasen

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by Carrie Wilson on October 10, 2008 on 6:30 pm

Wow, what a week. It is hard to know where to start and exhaustion is setting in so my thoughts are all over the map. Perhaps I should begin by attempting to share some of the moments that stand out the most in my mind.

First off, one of the most exciting things that I have witnessed at the Social Forum of the Americas is the solidarity of women. Women all week and in all spaces have been sharing their experiences, marching for and demanding their rights, forging alliances, strategizing, telling each other “I support you in your fight” and ultimately strengthening each other’s voices by standing together. SO powerful. One young indigenous woman from Guatemala – maybe 14 years old and incredibly articulate for her age – told me that this meeting is so important because people from all countries have come together. She said that although rights for women exist, the reality is that they are not realized and that we need to come together, to fight together.

Another woman I spoke with a couple of days ago told me that she was so excited to be here because she was learning so much. For example earlier that morning she attended a session where the word feminism was used several times. She explained to me that the word feminism does not exist in her language but now that she has experienced its meaning firsthand, she is very proud to call herself a feminist.

One of the more provocative experiences this week has been witnessing a division among the Nicaraguan women participating in the forum. While so many women have come to Guatemala to bring international attention to the fact that government in Nicaragua is intimidating organizations and activists who are fighting for women’s rights, some women here are expressing support for Ortega’s government of the “left” because they believe he is for the people, a champion of social justice. It is difficult to comprehend how you can call yourself a feminist and at the same time support a government that puts women’s lives at risk by taking away their right to a therapeutic abortion. Fortunately the voices of hundreds of women calling for “Aborto legal “, and chanting “Nosotras parimos, nosotras decidimos” (We give birth, we decide) have been so predominant during this forum.

The most incredible part of this experience for me has been having the honor of being part of a team of remarkable women activists: Lian, Jackie, Crystal and Emely, who joined JASS for the first time here in Guatemala and whose dedication to their individual causes I admire so much; Ale, Ana and Lisa, who I am proud to call my colleagues and finally; the Petateras, some of whom have been fighting this fight for years and years and still with the same amount of passion, energy and devotion. You truly inspire me.

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