Mexican activists in São Paulo
23 Jun 2015 Ayotzinapa's Caravana 43 circulates through South America
“Our Struggle Has No Borders”
By Armando Carmona
The Caravana 43 has emerged as a strategy to circulate struggle, disrupt misinformation, and create a context for a deeper discussion on how state violence and repression in Mexico has become systematic in Mexico and in other parts of the world. The Caravana 43 has traveled throughout the United States, Canada, several countries in Europe and most recently has crossed through Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. In each of their appearances, they begin by situating their struggle to find the 43 forcibly disappeared students in the context of a systematic effort in Mexico to normalize violence against indigenous people, campesinos, political activists and of course, students. They share their word with the hopes that people will listen and support the struggles currently underway in Mexico.
The Caravana 43 in South America is particularly significant because of the region’s similar history in regards to state violence, repression and forced disappearances. During Argentina’s Dirty War, thousands of alleged political dissidents were illegally taken, detained, tortured and many times killed in clandestine detention centers. The group Madres de la Plaza de Mayo were formed by women who met each other in their search for their missing sons and daughters. In Uruguay, thousands gather each year in the annual March of Silence to commemorate those that where “disappeared” by the country’s dictatorship. In both of these instances, as well as in other South American countries, there are documents that detail the United States’ complicity in Operation Condor which was a coordinated campaign led by various Latin American governments to crack down on leftist activists and intellectuals.
Here are testimonies from some of those in the Caravana 43 traveling throughout South America:
“The Mexican Government has continually lied to us. As of this date, there is no scientific evidence to support the government’s claim that any of the 43 are dead. The independent forensic team from Argentina has provided alternative accounts, and refutes the Mexican government’s claim. We know they took them, this is why they’ve stopped searching for them. They took them alive, we want them back alive… and we will not stop until they are home” – Hilda Vargas, mother of Jorge Antonio Tizapa, one of the 43 that were forcibly disappeared by Mexican Federal Police.
“We first thought it was 43 that were disappeared; now we realize that there are thousands, all throughout Latin America.” – Francisco Sanchez Nava, survivor of the attacks on Ayotzinapa on September 26, 2014.
In Brazil, state repression, police violence, killings and forced disappearances have continued throughout the military dictatorship and have arguably worsened under the Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores), a center left political party that was widely supported by left wing social movements throughout the country. A study by a Brazilian non-governmental organization found that of the amount of homicides, no less than 50,806, an estimated 2,212 of those people died at the hands of Brazilian police in 2013. There have been a total of 11,197 similar killings in the hands of police since 2009.
The group Mães de Maio, (Mothers of May) a group of mothers, fathers, and family members was formed when more than 500 people were killed in the peripheries of São Paulo by the Military Police in the early weeks of May 2006. The voices of these mothers are a powerful testimony to the realities that are faced by residents of favelas who encounter several layers of discrimination; One reason is because they live within a favela, another because they are poor, the third because they are Black. The racism against the afro-Brazilian community and poor people has been key in maintaining and justifying the systematic violence against them. The media and state officials typically blame drug traffickers for any violent acts making it very difficult for the poorest and most marginalized people to pursue any level of legal justice.
During a debate and discussion both the Mães de Maio and members of the Caravana 43 shared their struggle and testimony in order to learn from each other and to challenge the misinformation spread through corporate media outlets and the governments themselves.
One of the coordinators of the movement of Mães de Maio, Débora Maria da Silva, spoke for the movement. “In the name of our movement, we want to say to the family members of the disappeared in Mexico that we, the Mães de Maio, have been with you since the beginning. I am a sister of someone who was disappeared… the reality here in Brazil is a cruel reality, where the clandestine bullets are directed at the poor, the black, [the indigenous] and those that live in the peripheries…we are in solidarity with this struggle.”
In Brazil, though the death penalty doesn’t legally exist, members of the Mães de Maio argued that the state, a “terrorist state” applies the death penalty to those who are “suspect” of criminal activity. The “suspects,” Mães de Maio members explained, however are categorized and defined as the “poor people, black people, indigenous, and those that live in the peripheries… There is no difference” between the governments of Mexico and Brazil, they said. “There is no war on drugs; the only war is against people…it is a politics of extermination.”
Following this intervention some of the mothers and fathers who are members of the Mães de Maio movement shared their testimony, and experience. Here are excerpts from what various movement members said:
“My son was taken from our home, he was tortured, two days later [he was] hooded and masked men came and killed my son. On my front steps I heard the bullets that killed my son.”
“My son was killed on March 26, 2010 by the Military Police, they were denounced, but unfortunately nothing has happened, no one has been held accountable.”
“My son and daughter in law were both killed in 2011 on Mother’s Day. He was shot at the corner of our house, inside of a car where they had their child of 4 years of age. My niece saw everything, and I am certain that it was the military police.”
“On September 7th 2012, two members of the Military police were killed. Thirty minutes later, they killed eight people in our community. Amongst them was my son.”
“My son was murdered on the 14th of May of 2006… He was constantly sought after by the military police, they often promised him that one day they were going to kill him. It wasn’t long after that he was killed, on Mother’s Day.”
These are only some of the statements shared individually by the members of the Mães de Maio.
Guarani Village Tenondé Porã says: “You are not alone”
Members of the Caravana 43 were hosted by the indigenous Guarani in their “aldeia” or village Tenondé Porã located south of the main city of São Paulo (SP). The evening consisted of a welcoming ceremony, an exchange of testimonies, struggles, experiences and most of all an exchange of hope to continue the search for the missing 43 and to strengthen the ties between communities that are fighting for their rights. The Guarani are Brazil’s largest indigenous group, numbering roughly 50,000 people.
The following are excerpts from some of the statements made by the Guarani:
“We feel the suffering you are going through… we feel your pain, we want to give you strength…”
“There is a lot of work that we need to do together, in the same way that our creators, those that take care of us here and take care of you over there [in Mexico] and listens to your pain. In the same way that our creator takes care of us here to make sure we have food, makes sure we continue with our way of life, we ask that they also take care of you and help you in the search for your family, and their well-being…”
“Just by having you here, and looking at you, being with you… we see and feel your pain. We feel compassion for you. To lose just one of our family members is a huge burden, we see you as part of our family and we know the pain that this can all represent…”
“Here [in Brazil] we also have our struggles. Sometimes we have demonstrations to fight for our land and we strengthen each other so this struggle continues…”
“We also struggle and [it is] similar to how it happens with you, the leaders and the politicians don’t respect us as people, nor [do they respect] our rights. But as you can see we still have our way of life, our kids, our language, our sacred home, we still conserve all of this to this day. This is why we do not stop struggling, nor will we stop struggling until the politicians and leaders of this country recognize our rights to our lands…Here in Brazil we mostly struggle for our lands, because the Brazilian government doesn’t want to recognize our rights.”
“We are glad you have made it here to Brazil, and hope that from now on we can walk together…”
“And you should know that when we are in our sacred spaces speaking to our creators, we will ask them to support you in your struggle and in the search for your family members…”
“We recognize that you are here in a very sad moment, I would like for this encounter to be under different circumstances. This is a historical moment that we are living, we are certain that because of these exchanges, we will be stronger in our fight for our rights. We have traditional rights that are based on land, so that our children and grandchildren can have land so they can live here many years. We don’t think about profiting off of our land, we don’t think about making things to sell and make money, we want to have land to live and to maintain our way of life.”
“With certainty we will walk together. One of the worst things that can happen is to not know where your children are. You don’t know if they were killed, if they are being tortured somewhere, it’s one of the strongest feelings that I think you all are carrying with you. I feel a lot of emotion in learning about what you’re going through. I have my own son, and I am struggling for my community but also for my son so that he can live and so his children can also live and have rights. These are the objectives that strengthen our struggle.”
In the conclusion of the event, the Guarani community exchanged gifts that included t-shirts with statements in the Guarani language saying “You are not alone.”
Favela Do Moinho Resiste!
During their last day in Sao Paulo, the Caravana 43 were hosted by Favela do Moinho, a Favela that is located in the center of Sao Paulo and in the area that has the third largest real estate value in the capital. This community occupies land that is in dispute by City Officials, the Federal Railway Network, and labor union. The favela has existed for over 25 years with multiple structural and urban problems that affect the daily lives of the people that live there. The residents are some of the most marginalized members of the city and are often invisible in the eyes of the government and others that live in Sao Paulo. The region has a long history of both industrialization and deindustrialization. In the 1930s the area was home to large factories that were later abandoned.
“When they took our children, they took our fear.” Mario Cesar Gonzalez, father of Cesar Manuel Gonzalez Hernandez, one of the 43 that were forcibly disappeared by Mexican Federal Police, continually reminds the crowds of this. The statements from the Caravana are consistent, concise and informed by their experience of having a member of their family forcibly disappeared. “This is not symbolic, we want to find them…” Gonzalez said.
The Caravana 43 has continued its efforts to garner support and ask for solidarity for their cause. In this process they have encountered other communities, families, and individuals that not only share their pain but have lived through the same pain and violence of having family and friends unjustly and taken away with impunity. Though the tears of pain continue to flow, their hope and strength lies in the hearts and wills of other people, those who are willing to walk with them, and support them in this struggle.
“Governments have globalized violence, disappearances, displacements… We must globalize resistance, our struggle has no borders…” Francisco Sanchez Nava explained. “If you join in solidarity with us, if you come out in the streets and yell ‘Todos somos Ayotzinapa’ (We are all Ayotzinapa) you can be sure that we will do the same for you.”
All photos by Aldo Santiago – Agencia Subversiones