News  UQÀM panel laments Latin American human rights

Regional activists discuss their struggle against oppression and disappearances

The Canadian division of Peace Brigade International (PBI) stressed its growing concern for the conditions of workers in Latin America at a panel of guest speakers from several sister organizations, Monday evening at UQÀM.

The four speakers, hailing from Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico, painted a grim picture of their respective countries for the group of around 25 avid listeners.

“Every day, three or four people disappear, [in Colombia]” said Gloria Gomez, president of the Association of the Family Members of the Detained and Disappeared (ASFADDES).

ASFADDES disseminates information about kidnappings that are used to suppress political opposition, and fights to bring justice to the victims’ families.

After 12 years of struggle, a collective suit seeking justice for 64,000 disappearances in Colombia over the last 30, was tried at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, where the Colombian state was found guilty. Even though the country’s government refuses to recognize the verdict, ASFADDES is not giving up.

“We expect justice proportional to the crimes perpetrated,” Gomez said.

Jorge Lopez, president of Guatemala’s Organization to Support an Integrated Sexuality to Confront AIDS (OASIS), spoke on his organization’s role promoting the rights of the gay and transsexual community within a violent political regime.

“It isn’t easy being Guatemalan at all, regardless of one’s sexual orientation,” Lopez said.

“[As transsexuals,] we have two choices,” added his colleague, Zulma, who witnessed the murder of friend and fellow OASIS worker by the Civil National Police. “Either we hide who we are or we fend for ourselves on the street, because we are denied the right to education [and thus, to a good job].”

Zulma noted that even McDonald’s refuses to hire transsexual employees, because it is considered bad for their company’s image.

“And who is going to help us?” Lopez asked, before responding sardonically, “Certainly not the government.”

The climate in Mexico is just as worrisome, according to Tita Radilla, a founding member of the Association of the Family Members of the Detained, Disappeared, and Victims of Human Rights Violations in Mexico (AFADEM).

Since the seventies, the country’s system of repression has overseen the torture and disappearance of over 1,300 individuals.

“Persecution, execution, and rape still occur [in Mexico] today,” Radilla said, whose father disappeared in 1974.

“We have been fighting for justice for the last 40 years, without any reaction from the government, despite promises to investigate,” Radilla said.

Indeed, when the United Nations published a report in 2003, it was found that the Mexican state and the military were responsible for the crimes perpetrated.

Zulma, however, remained hopeful about the future of human rights in Latin America.

“[All this unfairness] is what motivates us to fight for our rights,” Zulma remarked.

PBI’s panel will continue its tour of North America in the following week, stopping in Ottawa, Toronto, New York, and Washington to promote its message.