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Obssesed about Twitter presidential debate

Presidential debate and the life in Mexico with yours social media farms

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By Rodolfo Soriano Nuñez

After the rather mediocre presidential debate, life in Mexico has plunged into one of those moments when one can see how immature Mexican democracy is.

The debate, unlike what happens in other democratic societies, displayed at once, the stiffness and shallowness of our public life.

Stiffness, because the underlying problems were left untouched, since each candidate had less than 30 minutes and there was no real exchanges among the participants.

Shallow, because on top of wasting, four-million Mexican pesos (more than 300, 000 USD), the presence of Playboy playmate Julia Orayén, the usher of the debate, gave a glimpse of how the top bureaucrats at IFE, the country’s top election authority, perceive themselves as entitled to such perks.

IFE, far from acknowledging the seriousness of its task, insists on acting as if it the Mexican democracy was robust and solid.

But not only IFE.

The main parties also show stiffness and shallowness.

The best place to watch how stiff and superficial political life is in Mexico is the social media, a much distorted mirror of what happens in Mexico.

Before a detailed analysis the Mexican social media and the stiff and shallow approach of the parties, it is important to note that, according to the information available in the AMIPCI 2011 survey, only 29 percent of the Mexican households have at least one computer.

About 21 percent of the Mexican households have Internet access, providing access to just over 31 million people.

Internet users tend to be mostly males, living in cities of more than 100 thousand people. They are very young, a good number underage. Many of them are members of families with medium to high income and a good number of them live in Mexico City or the State of Mexico. These numbers depict the proverbial Internet/technology gap between Mexico City’s metro area and the rest of the country (see page 7).

Another important fact is that the interest in politics among users of social media is markedly higher (16 percent), actually the double, as compared with people not participating in social media.

That is why it is more surprising that the three main political parties are spending so much time, money and energy in trying to dominate, to “colonize”, the Internet, the social media and, more specifically, Twitter.

This week provided a good chance to see how futile these efforts to “colonize” the Internet are since, right after the debate, someone published a video of one of the so-called “Twitter farms” in Mexico.

One can listen in this video a soft-spoken boss instructing others about fighting a couple of Twitter hash-tags criticizing, Enrique Peña Nieto, candidate of the Revolutionary Institutional Party, the PRI.

The video is just over a minute-long, and is almost impossible to understand what is actually happening in the room.

One cannot tell whether the people in the room are volunteers, as PRI officials said or if, as many assume, they are workers or “cyber-hauled” (ciberacarreados) operating accounts in social media to win the so-called Trending Topics.

What is clear to the educated user in Twitter in Mexico is that PRI tries very hard to give the impression of a unanimous support to their candidate, pretty much the way it used to be back in the 1960s or the 1970s.

The video confirms the suspicions many have expressed had about the PRI’s social media strategy, as there are way too may accounts supporting Peña Nieto which only post information or ideas favorable to Peña Nieto.

These accounts lack pictures or use photographs of professional models taken from other websites, so they are easily spotted as not related to real users.

Moreover, there is a deep chasm between the profile of those who could vote for Enrique Peña and the profile of Mexican Internet users and, more specifically, of social media users in Mexico.

This gap combined with the false sense of unanimous support to Peña Nieto in Twitter reveals the PRI’s intention to manipulate, to lie, about their ability to communicate.

PRI communication in social media lacks meaning. It, merely repeats slogans and ideas in a way leading many to wonder what else is the PRI willing to create this false sense of unanimous support.

Social media users rightly feel cheated and, given their academic achievement, income, and political preferences, they do not hesitate to worry about the risk of allowing the PRI to act like that.

On top, one needs to add the growing tensions between the old and the new media just emerging in Mexico. Conflicts between old and new media are not new, but they are more severe in Mexico because the old media is much more dependent on public resources transferred to them by the municipal, state, and federal levels of government. See also the paper published by the NGO Article 19.

It is a very unfavorable situation, aggravated by the way in which press offices allocate their budgets, and by the brutal concentration of income making very difficult for small and medium-size businesses to invest resources in advertising.

This is not just a matter of perceptions. As I said two weeks ago, there are on-going projects to analyze what happens in social media in Mexico.

One of such projects is Monitoreo Electoral en México (Monitoring Elections in Mexico), which shows that both the PRI and PAN presence in Mexican social media does not reflect the activity of real, flesh and blood, users but rather the operation of social media farms like the one in the video I referred previously.

The rather shallow and conceited attitude of the Mexican political parties has come to generate “Trending Topics wars” that have been solved following three logics. PRI has resorted to using so-called BOTS, which are programs generating fake users and to using so-called “social media farms”, and a very active presence in social media of some of its regional leaders.

The ruling party, PAN, also uses BOTS. It has displayed some level of coordination of its grass-roots membership, with some presence of key congresspersons and top-cabinet officials. However, Ms. Josefina Vázquez-Mota’s BOTS strategy, an attempt to match Peña Nieto’s follower numbers in Twitter, ended up in a major gaffe.

The weakness of Ms Vázquez-Mota social media strategy is only one of the PAN candidate’s problems. She had the worst “post-debate” performance of the four presidential candidates, which included his appearance in “Third Degree”, the news commentary and analysis show of Televisa, the media monopoly in Mexico.

During the interview, Ms Vázquez-Mota not only refused to distance herself from Felipe Calderon’s administration. She even regretted the fact that Mexican law prevents the acting president from attending campaign rallies and events.

Ms Vázquez-Mota decided to become the heir of the Calderón administration legacy, despite the fact that she has been unable to match Peña Nieto and despite the fact she is now trailing Mr Andrés Manuel López Obrador in the Milenio daily poll.

Her situation is so difficult now, that voices talking about replacing her as candidate have multiplied. The problem here is, Who could become the PAN new candidate? If Ernesto Cordero decides to step in he will have to fight the ghost of his unfortunate statements about how some families survive on six thousand pesos (450 USD) a month salary. Who else then? Could Margarita Zavala, the Mexican First Lady, step in? Would Diego Fernandez de Ceballos come back from his retirement?

What many panistas are unwilling to acknowledge is that the problem is not Ms Vázquez-Mota, but the heavy, unsustainable burden of 60 000 dead from the futile war on drugs and, above all, the dismal performance of the economy. Mexican economy has been unable to create formal, well-paid, jobs. As the National Statistics Office, INEGI, acknowledged, during the last twelve months, 763 000 persons joined the informal, so-called, “black” economy.

With those numbers, there is no way for any ruling party to win.

PAN should acknowledge that Josefina is not a miracle worker. Moreover, Josefina would have to acknowledge the risks involved in being the heir of the current government’s legacy.

However, not only PAN and PRI make mistakes, the left too. Although no there are no documented cases of BOTS or “social media farms”, Mr. Lopez Obrador is, as I said two weeks ago, the “king of Twitter” in Mexico.

And indeed, the left, specifically the left in Mexico City dominate at its pleasure the Mexican social media. There is no real need to inflate the Twitter Trendinr Topics with hash tags pushed in social media “farms”, because the left has a “natural” majority of users identified with Mr. Lopez Obrador and Mr Miguel Mancera, the left mayoral candidate in Mexico City.

However, something that left the City has failed to understand since last year, when Eruviel Avila swept the gubernatorial race in Mr. Peña Nieto home State of Mexico, is that the reality in Mexico City is vastly different from the rest of the country, including that of State of Mexico municipalities within the Mexico City metro area.

That is why leftist social media users discredit almost all polls. They do not understand, as an example, why there might be people who want to cast a vote for the PRI.

The main problem for the Mexican left in Twitter is the fact that their dominance turns into insults, verbal aggression, and even bullying of whoever breaks rank with what the left perceives as politically correct.

This was evident in the reactions to the unfortunate episode that starred Enrique Peña Nieto and a group of people at Mexico City’s Universidad Iberoamericana campus.

The protest was not spontaneous. Far from it, it was prepared as a series of activities to express rejection to the PRI presidential candidate. However, rather than arguing with Peña and his ideas, a dynamic of insults and verbal aggressions broke out in the Iberoamericana campus.

As this was unfolding in the Jesuit University in Mexico City, in Twitter, PAN supporters allied themselves with the left to insult the PRI presidential candidate, despite the fact that Felipe Calderon has been repeatedly the target of insults from the left.

It is hard to know what will happen from now on. I have, however, some questions. what is the limit, if there is any limit at all, of the harassment strategy in Twitter? Is the left aware of the fact that there is a deep disconnection between the “Republic of Love” proclaimed by Mr. López Obrador and the active and systematic harassment in Twitter?

As far as PRI is concerned, would it be too hard to acknowledge that Twitter is not PRI territory and to stop using social media farms and BOTS to generate the false impression of an overwhelming majority supporting Peña Nieto? Does PRI realize how harmful is their leader’s obsession with unanimous support for their candidates? Will they ever acknowledge how this behavior comes out as harassment?

Does PAN will ever acknowledge that they have been ruling for almost twelve years Mexico? Will they ever acknowledge how unable they have been to do what people expected from them? Will they keep blaming PRI for their misadventures? Will they ever learn to admit their own mistakes? Will they take advantage of the remaining seven of weeks before Election Day?

Will the left acknowledge that Twitter is not Mexico? Will they acknowledge that rather than insisting on showing how much they hate Enrique Peña or Felipe Calderon they should be concerned, for example, with having enough representatives for little more than 120 000 polling stations? Something that, incidentally, they were unable to do back in 2006.

What is clear is that Mexican politics are far from being as mature as circumstances require and we get lost, sadly, in scandals which do not facilitate solving the country’s problems.

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The Governorship Elections in Venezuela. The PSUV Wins By a Landslide, Opposition in Disarray

A political Analysis on the recent electoral victory for State governorship by the governing party of Venezuela, the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela

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The closing of the campaign for Constituent Assembly elections, in Caracas, Venezuela, July 27, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

By Nino Pagliccia and Armold August

The governing party of Venezuela, the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela), has recently obtained a resounding electoral victory for State governorship. The election was called by the CNE (National Electoral Council) at the instance of the ANC (National Constituent Assembly). Soon after, the opposition group MUD (Democratic Unity Coalition) seemed to be in disarray. Enrique Capriles of Primero Justicia (Justice First) party, for example, resigned from the MUD coalition questioning Henry Ramos Allup of the AD (Democratic Action) party who in turn expelled the four AD governors who dared to be sworn-in in front of the ANC in acceptance of the election results.

I asked Canadian author Arnold August to give his assessment of the political significance for the Bolivarian process.

Question: In the last elections of October 15 for the 23 state governorships in Venezuela, the governing party won 18 states. What is your analysis of this result in the context of the political process in Venezuela?

Arnold August: Not only did it win the 18 states, but the PSUV substantially increased its popular vote compared with the National Assembly elections held in December 2015, when the opposition won by a wide margin. Thus, in a short period of time, the Bolivarian Revolution reversed the situation. These latest October 2017 state elections, therefore, are of great historical significance not only for Venezuela but for the whole region. The U.S. is hoping to subvert the Bolivarian Revolution and use it as a springboard to weaken, and even destroy, other left-wing movements and governments in the area. The latter represent an alternative to capitalism and they, along with other powers such as Russia, China and Iran, flourish as a major multi-polar challenge to the U.S. goal of world hegemony.

Thus, because of the domestic and international importance of this resurgence in the last elections, the analysis is still ongoing. Any serious observer is obliged to continue to reflect upon and investigate the upset victory, as you are striving to do now with this interview.

Nevertheless, there is one ongoing conclusion that I have been exploring since the elections. The election results marked a watershed in Venezuelan democracy. The majority of the people and the Maduro government crossed the Rubicon from participatory democracy toward protagonist democracy. They may not have yet reached terra firma on the other shore of the Rubicon, but Venezuelan democracy is firmly on the path toward protagonist democracy as the main feature of its political system.

Some Bolivarian Revolution sympathizers and activists in Venezuela and outside may raise their eyebrows in surprise, and even suspicion, with regard to my view. The analysis may seem, if looked at superficially and dogmatically, as an underestimation of the outstanding Bolivarian experience in participatory democracy.

However, this is far from being the case. For example, in my 2013 publication Cuba and Its Neighbours: Democracy in Motion, there is a section dealing with Cuba’s neighbour titled “Venezuela: New Experiments in Participatory Democracy” that provides a very positive analysis.

And, more importantly, consider this. Hugo Chávez very clearly stated that “socialism means participatory democracy but above all protagonist democracy” (Comandante Chávez, “El Socialismo es la Democracia Participativa y sobre todo la Protagónica,” posted March 19, 2013).

Protagonist democracy means that the people are reaching the stage of consciousness and action – individually and collectively – to exercise on a daily basis their rightful protagonist role in their own revolution.

We saw this in the massive uprising by the Venezuelan people. A civic–military alliance overturned the U.S.-supported April 11, 2002 coup d’état against the Chávez government only two days later on April 13. This is how the now legendary Chavista slogan came into being: “Every 11th has its 13th!” The people themselves are able to overcome even the most adverse situation and seemingly hopeless obstacle by taking affairs into their own hands.

This growing protagonist feature of the Bolivarian Revolution’s democracy goes hand in hand with its development of socialist measures. It has been evolving over the years at a steady pace despite the economic war waged by the U.S. against Venezuela. Alongside this evolution, protagonist democracy has deepened and broadened to increasingly become a daily feature in the lives of the people. The Chávez thinking on this progression, as expressed above, is crucial to viewing today’s Venezuela from his perspective: socialism cannot be defended nor, even less, be developed without a political and electoral system based on protagonist democracy. Nonetheless, this developing level of consciousness is not tied to elections. On the contrary, the electoral process is just part of the battle of ideas that is being waged nationally and internationally in favour of socialism.

Out of necessity, this political movement in Venezuela increasingly becomes “daily” – perhaps not literally but very close to it since the death of Hugo Chávez. Ironically, Obama and Trump, by striving to subvert the participatory and protagonist people’s political defence of its Bolivarian Revolution and the biggest oil reserves in the world, have contributed to pushing the revolution to convert democracy toward, as Chávez said, “above all protagonist.” Thus, the paradox: Venezuela is now anchored in an even more favourable position to defend and expand its revolution, as the state election results glaringly exposed.

The 2002 American policy of blatant interference, as exemplified in the coup d’état, has become a daily staple in other more “smart power” forms feeding the unrest and crisis in Venezuela. This approach began to take shape after President Obama refused to recognize Nicolás Maduro as the constitutionally elected successor to Chávez on April 14, 2013. There has been virtually no let up since, with Obama handing the U.S. Venezuela game plan over to Trump on a silver platter. Only the form of the 2002 attempted coup has changed. It has become a slow-motion coup but with the same intent: to smash the socialist program. The response is that, metaphorically, every day in Venezuela is lived with the slogan “every 11th has its 13th” at the forefront.

However, unlike the military coup d’état attempt in 2002, now the “11th” is represented by the slow-motion coup that the U.S. has been fomenting since April 2013 to date, while the “13th” is the day-to-day people’s revolutionary struggle during this time to maintain political power. It was – and is – either that the Venezuelans will be the authors of their own revolution or that the revolution will be subverted.

Question: And what was the role that the National Constituent Assembly plays in the country?

AA: On May 1, 2017, the Maduro government announced the daring convening of elections to the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) to be held on July 30, 2017. The country was in the throes of the U.S.-provoked crisis. This was the only way out for the well-being and peace of the entire nation. The time had come to “re-found” the Bolivarian Revolution, just as in 1999 with the new Constitution after the election of Chávez, who founded it as a first step.

Please allow me to pursue the “crossing of the Rubicon” metaphor. The successful NCA elections, its dramatic convening and the results work together to represent the first plunge into the Rubicon: the protagonist feature of the Bolivarian Revolution overtook its complementary participatory characteristic to become what Chávez said was “above all” the need for being protagonist and not only participatory.

The NCA itself constitutes the highest expression of a protagonist system whereby the people themselves govern. It thus provided the orientation and confidence for the state elections only two-and-a-half months later in order to propel the Bolivarian Revolution further toward crossing the river to the shore. This new form of people’s power is the basis for safeguarding and further developing Venezuela’s socialism.

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Thousands march in Seattle to denounce white supremacists

When Seattle anti-fascists of many political persuasions massed to protest a “Patriot Prayer” rally on Aug. 13, police prevented them from marching to the site of the far-right gathering. But they made their message heard regardless.

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March Anti-racism. Photo: Freedom Socialist Party

Police attack protesters trying to counter far-right rally

SEATTLE, Washington.- Downtown Seattle was awash with opponents of white supremacy on Sunday, August 13 as a diverse crowd of 2,000 marched in opposition to a rightwing “Patriot Prayer” rally at Westlake Park. Participation swelled dramatically as the counter-protest also became a response to the August 12 car attack on anti-racist demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia. Although police blocked the main protest from entering the park, the demonstrators’ message of solidarity reverberated through downtown canyons. In addition, several hundred protesters managed to enter the park and shout down the rally attended by 75 or so Trump supporters, Proud Boys, and militaristically clad allies.
 
The “Patriot Prayer” gathering was planned weeks earlier by Joey Gibson, of Vancouver, Washington, who claims to oppose racism, but whose events consistently draw white supremacists and neo-Nazis. He previously visited Seattle on June 10 as part of an anti-Muslim rally in Seattle that drew hundreds of counter-protesters.
 
Many of the organizations that came together in an ad hoc coalition to defend the Muslim community in June joined forces again for the August 13 march. Organizers and endorsers included Greater Seattle IWW General Defense Committee, Freedom Socialist Party, Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity, Veterans for Peace Chapter 94, Seattle Solidarity Network, Radical Women, ANSWERSeattle.org, SAFE in Seattle, Party for Socialism and Liberation, and Clifton Wyatt, former president of the International Association of Machinists Local A 751.
 
The M.L. King County Labor Council encouraged unionists to attend with a note stating, “If we are not fighting racism, sexism, homophobia we are not really fighting for workers’ rights.” Speaking for an endorsing union, Washington Federation of State Employees Local 304, Steve Hoffman addressed the key role of the labor movement in opposing the far right and roused the crowd before the march began with the slogan “An injury to one is an injury to all!”
 
Approaching the city core, marchers became frustrated as Seattle police repeatedly blocked their access to Westlake Park. Scores of police in riot gear, with bicycles, batons, tanks and other vehicles, blocked all intersections and alleyways leading to the park. They lobbed flash-bang grenades and pepper-sprayed protesters in unprovoked attacks on a crowd that included elders, children, and people with disabilities. In response, protesters chanted, “Who do you protect? Who do you serve?” and “Cops and Klan work hand in hand!”
 
“We need to protest to Seattle’s mayor and police chief for essentially taking the side of the racist reactionaries by teargassing locals who came to take a stand against them, while providing a military-type escort for the bigots,” said Patrick Burns, a union carpenter who was a marshal for the counter-protesters’ march.
 
“I urge everyone to call the City Council and demand that the police be brought under control,” said Annaliza Torres of Radical Women. Torres said sixty organizations and community leaders signed onto a letter protesting “biased policing” at the June anti-Muslim rally. She said police allowed the Proud Boys to repeatedly attack the anti-racist rally, but then pepper-sprayed and arrested the people who attempted to defend themselves. “We haven’t yet had a reply to our complaint. Instead, we got intensified police harassment today,” said Torres.
 
Su Docekal of the Freedom Socialist Party, one of the march organizers, said, “The police and the city absolutely violated our constitutional rights to protest and free speech. We know from experience with the Aryan Nations and others here in the Pacific Northwest that the way to prevent fascism from taking root is through direct, disciplined confrontation when they come out in public to recruit. Our goal is to build a broad, democratic united front able to stop them in their tracks.”

 

Source: Freedom Socialist Party LA

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I Am the World’s First Abortion Refugee: a woman Salvadoran

Maria Teresa Rivera is the first Abortion Refugee from El Salvador

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María Teresa Rivera. Photo: Jorge Rivas

By Jorge Rivas

In 2011, María Teresa Rivera was arrested in El Salvador. She was accused of having an abortion and sentenced to 40 years in prison on the charge of “aggravated homicide.” Rivera claims she had a miscarriage and did not even know she was pregnant. Attorneys were able to free her, but not before she served four and a half years of her sentence. She fled the country when a prosecutor appealed the judge’s decision to a higher court.

On March 20, the Swedish Migration Agency granted Rivera and her 12-year-old son political asylum. She is believed to be the first person in the world to be granted asylum for abortion persecution.

Splinter spoke with María Teresa Rivera in her new home near Stockholm in June. Interview has been edited and condensed.

 

The nightmare started in November 2011 in San Salvador, El Salvador. It was the night before my son’s elementary school graduation and I went to bed late preparing food and ironing his outfit. A few hours later I woke up with stomach cramps. I went to the outhouse because I felt like I needed to go poo-poo. I just remember feeling like something in my stomach collapsed. When I went to clean myself I noticed I was bleeding. I walked back to the house and my mother-in-law called the ambulance for help. I was losing blood and it took so long to get me to the hospital that I fainted. I don’t remember anything after that.

I mentioned to a co-worker in January 2011 at the factory I worked at that I was worried my period was late. Later she came to testify in court to say I knew I was pregnant. But the prosecutor claimed I had an abortion in November. That’s illogical because it would have meant I was 11 months pregnant at the time of the abortion.

I’ve always said that if I wanted to have an abortion I would not have waited 11 months. It just makes no sense to condemn me for an 11-month pregnancy.

I was sentenced to 40 years in prison for a homicide I did not commit.

When the judge gave me the sentence, I felt like it was all over. The first thing I thought was, “How old is my seven-year-old son going to be in 2052 when I leave prison?” I did the math and told myself, “He is going to be 47 years old and he’s going to hate me. He is going to blame me for missing his life.” I thought about all the things that can happen to my child in that amount of time. It was very difficult.

The truth is I’ve had a hard life, but that’s also what gives me strength. I was five when my mother disappeared during the civil war in El Salvador. We never heard from her again. My grandmother raised my brother and me. She used to take us to work with her. We helped clean vegetables at the market. But when she got sick family members juggled us around. I was eight when I was raped on my way home from school. I had to walk through a dark road and my aunts blamed it on me. My brother and I ultimately ended up in an orphanage for children of the disappeared.

I never watched the news on TV, much less read newspapers. I didn’t want to poison my mind with bad stories. I’ve had to live through my own stories. So when I got to prison I assumed I was the only women in prison for having an abortion or miscarriage.

I was all over the news, so the women in prison recognized me. It turned out there were a lot more women in prison who were accused of having abortions. Some of them had 30-year sentences, others were sentenced to 35 years. But I got the most severe sentence. I was the first to get a 40-year sentence, so my story made international headlines.

In prison it just takes one person to recognize you and then word travels. Rumors spread.

The women in prison called me the “mata niños”—the baby killer. They threatened to kill me just like I had killed my son. Luckily they never physically attacked me; it was all just emotional stress.

But I met other women in prison, some as young as 18, who were incarcerated for having an abortion. All of them were poor. The women who have money pay private doctors for the procedures or they fly out of the country for an abortion.

Women would come to me and tell me they were in there for an abortion. I’d get their names and share them with my lawyer.

[At least 129 women were prosecuted for abortion-related crimes in El Salvador between 2000 and 2011, according to Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto (Citizens’ Coalition for the Decriminalization of Abortion), an advocacy group that also helped fight Rivera’s case. Of these, 23 were convicted of receiving an illegal abortion; 26 were convicted of homicide. There are at least 21 women in Salvadoran prisons serving time for abortion related charges.]

I met 11 of these women during my four years in prison. We all had similar stories. We came from poor and working-class families. Some of them had little schooling. Some of the women were raped. There were cases of incest and miscarriages.

We all lived through this very difficult experience and only we know how we feel.

We made a pact and promised each other that the first one to be freed was going to become a spokeswoman for all of us. There were 11 of us who made the agreement. We all thought the other person would be freed first. But it turned out to be me.

Now I have that responsibility, and I cannot break that commitment. I don’t speak out so people know who I am—I speak out so that people learn what’s going on. My commitment to the women who are still incarcerated are what give me power to keep going now.

When I heard the judge say he was overturning my case I felt like I was dreaming.

María Teresa Rivera (center) hugs her attorney Vítores Hugo Mata moments after a judge declared she was free. Credit: courtesy of Jorge Menjívar/ Agrupación Ciudadana

The judge ruled there was not enough evidence to prove the charges against me. He annulled the sentence and ordered the State to pay damages for sending me to prison for almost five years.

The judge’s decision made headlines again, but the stories focused on how the prosecutor would appeal the ruling. One of the largest newspaper included graphic details in the story about the annulment. They said I had cut my own umbilical cord, removed the newborn and threw it into the latrine while it was still alive. They never quoted the judge who freed me.

I tried to get work immediately but I quickly realized I wasn’t really free. I’ve had to work since I was a young girl. I’m a hard worker and willing to do anything so I could provide for my own son. I’ve never had fear of any work. In prison I would stick my hands in toilets to clear them up. I’m not afraid of an honest job.

But I’d walk into businesses that had hiring signs on their windows and they’d look at me and tell me the position has been filled. People recognized me and didn’t want to hire me.

I told myself I wouldn’t speak to reporters again. The media in my country only used my story against me. They never printed anything in my favor.

Then officials announced they were going to appeal the judge’s decision to annul my case. That’s when I knew I had to leave.

I was invited to speak at a conference in Stockholm. That was my way out. People in Sweden who I’ve never met raised money and paid for the flight for my son and me.

I feared they wouldn’t let me fly out of the country because the prosecutor was after my case. I knew my sentence was annulled and felt more secure when I was able to get a passport without any issues. But at the airport I was still anxious. I was shaking when they scanned my boarding pass to enter the plane. In the end we didn’t have any problems getting out of the country.

The first flight in my life I went from El Salvador to Panama, Panama to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Stockholm. I didn’t know anything about Sweden before I got here. All I was able to gather when I looked at a map is that were a lot of lakes.

María Teresa Rivera lives in a small town outside of Stockholm. The two-hour trip involves two bus transfers and a train ride. Credit: Jorge Rivas/Splinter

I arrived in Stockholm in October last year in the evening and the next morning I applied for asylum. They were very kind to me. I know that other women like me have fled to the United States without authorization. Some of them are undocumented or still going through the asylum process.

There was a sense of relief when I arrived here but it’s also been very difficult. I can communicate with very few people and all I have here is my son.

I live in immigration housing provided by the Swedish government. It’s in a rural town and two bus rides and a train ride away from Stockholm. But I’m walking distance from a lake. We’re the only Spanish-speaking family around here. I knew we were going to struggle and have to fight to start our lives here but sometimes I feel like I don’t even know where to start.

I’ve met other Salvadorans who have asylum here. Many of them fled during the civil war in the 1980s and early 1990s and some of them are missing limbs. They’ve formed a community here and have been supportive, even extending invitations to dinners.

Right now I’m learning Swedish using the internet. My son has started school and he teaches me words, too. We don’t have internet at home. When I can afford cell phone service we use my phone but sometimes we have to go to shopping centers with free wifi to get online. I’m not allowed to work until I get my work permit.

People who heard I was coming to Sweden through advocacy groups have donated a few things. My neighbor also let me have his old TV. He’s from Syria, a single dad with three girls.

I’ve also done a little shopping myself. When I went to the immigration office I was walking by and saw a big ad on the side of a retail building. I looked at my son and I said, “Let’s go in there.” It’s a place called Ikea. I got my dishes there. I had never heard of Ikea but I saw people going in and out and I just went inside to see what we’d find. The first thing I said was, “Wow this place is big. We don’t have anything like this in El Salvador.” But you know, the most important thing for me right now is price.

It’s been five years since the judge declared I was guilty of aggravated homicide. That was in July 2012. And this is still happening.

[On July 5, a Salvadoran judge sentenced 19-year-old Evelyn Beatriz Hernandez Cruz to 30-years in prison for giving birth to a stillborn baby in a toilet. She was at home on April 6, 2016 when she felt sharp pains in her stomach and went to the restroom. She later fainted and woke up in the hospital. Medical staff at the Hospital Nuestra Señora de Fátima in Cojutepeque reported her to law enforcement officials.

Prosecutors could not provide evidence to determine whether the fetus died in utero or moments after delivery, but she was still charged with aggravated murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison.]

I’ve told my son that when the time is right I want to him to share his story with reporters, too. I want the world to know what these laws and the stigma are doing to the families of these women. I’m not afraid to speak out anymore. I don’t care what people say about me. I’m going to speak and talk about the lives that Salvadoran women are living.

Original Source: Splinternews.com

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