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Terror Hangs in the Air of San Marcos Aviles: Zapatistas

Nearly 200 Zapatista support bases members in San Marcos Aviles need help, who are fighting for freedom, justice, democracy in Chiapas, Mexico

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By Jessica Davies

SAN MARCOS AVILÉS, Chiapas, México.- “It is not only the task of the independent/alternative media to circulate the truth, but rather it is the responsibility of us all to do so.”

“Our compas from San Marcos Avilés are suffering this violence because they are indigenous, because they are Zapatistas, and because they have opened their own autonomous school.”

Terror hangs in the air of San Marcos Avilés, a small indigenous Tzeltal-speaking community located in the highland region of the state of Chiapas, in southeastern Mexico. The women, men and children from the community have sent out an urgent call to the world for support, a call that echoes in our very heartbeat and demands our solidarity, “as if it were said in the very language of our being”.

This urgent message comes from the nearly 200 Zapatista support bases members (BAZ) in San Marcos Avilés, who are fighting to live according to their own indigenous culture and struggling for freedom, justice, democracy and a dignified life for all. But they are faced with men with firearms and other weapons who intend to eradicate all that the Zapatistas represent and believe in.

Background

The nightmare of terror began in August 2010, when the BAZ constructed a small wooden building to house their new autonomous school, named ‘Emiliano Zapata’. The Zapatista Autonomous Rebel Education System is, along with their other autonomous systems of health and collective work, one of the most well-known achievements of the organisation, and of crucial importance as the BAZ work towards the construction of their own autonomy. Not only can the children learn according to their own culture, knowledge, and traditions; wear their customary clothing, speak their own languages and eat their traditional foods; but they can also learn the truth about their own history and situation. Learning is a shared experience, enjoyed together, without competition, judgement, or hierarchy.

“We attach great importance to the autonomous school”, say the BAZ of San Marcos Avilés. “We want a good education for our children, good learning, a good example. We see that the government has its schools, but it is not good education, nor do they teach our children well; they do not provide good learning, and what they teach has nothing to do with us. So we opened our school …”

The attacks on the BAZ began immediately after the construction of the school. Members of the Mexican political parties the PRI, PRD and PVEM, in armed “attack groups”, encouraged by the three levels of government, began to threaten and harass the community, attempting to rape the women, steal their land and possessions, and plunder their crops and livestock.

Within two months the attacks had reached such a level of violence that 170 BAZ, many of them women and children, were forcibly displaced from the community and had to take refuge on a mountain in the area. Here they lived exposed to the elements—under pieces of plastic sheeting, sleeping on the ground in the mud without any basic necessities, “we had no tortillas to eat; we had no pozol to drink”, through 33 days of wet, cold and hunger. During this period two of the women gave birth.

“I speak for all my fellow women: we are suffering a lot with our children. They do not take us into account, they see us like animals, like dogs. So I was told when I had my son in the mountains. That’s what really hurts in my heart. We hope to move the hearts of our fellow women when they see this video”.

When groups from neighbouring communities and the local Human Rights Centre assembled to escort the BAZ back to their homes, the BAZ found that their dwellings, belongings, plantations of corn, beans, bananas, sugar cane and coffee, and their few chickens and cattle, had been destroyed, plundered or stolen. Since that time the Zapatistas of San Marcos Avilés have lived in a state of trauma and terror, enduring constant threats, attacks, violations and insults. The emotional and psychological well being of the women, unable to provide for their children, is one of especially profound concern.

Statement from the Good Government Council (JBG) of Oventic

“We denounce,” they wrote in July, 2011, “the events now occurring in this community. …..Our compañeros and compañeras, the Zapatista support bases of San Marcos Avilés, are living in a very difficult situation, in their own community, caused by people affiliated with different political parties and by the authorities of the same community…… they are facing death threats, harassment, loss of their cultivated lands, and evictions from their own community, purely because they started to set up an autonomous education system for their people.

“The aggressors also put our coffee fields up for sale, at a price of 14,000 pesos per hectare, in order to get money to buy more firearms….. The amount of land our compañeros have now been deprived of is 31¼ hectares and 8,500 coffee trees; all of this is now in the possession of the aggressors from the political parties.

“In this situation of aggression, threats and theft of their land faced by our compas …..they have endured many injustices made against them and have shown great patience in not responding with violence. And neither have we….responded violently in word or deed to these attacks and threats, because the Zapatistas are people of reason and principles and we do not want to fight our own indigenous brothers and sisters. But the bad governors of our State and our country seek at all costs that among the indigenous we see our brothers and sisters as enemies and kill each other.

“The bad government has done absolutely nothing to resolve and prevent the serious problems which could happen in this community; what the state and municipal governments have done is to support and back the attackers so they can continue provoking, threatening and stripping our Zapatista support bases of their belongings. There are no signs of this aggressive and arrogant attitude of the bad governors and their people coming to an end.

“All the aggressions, persecutions and provocations are committed by those people affiliated to the different political parties, and by the paramilitaries supported, advised and paid by the municipal, state and federal governments who are the masterminds of these human rights violations.

“Our support base compas of the community of San Marcos Aviles …….have the right be in their own community and to work the land which belongs to them…….They should not think that they will stop the struggle of the Zapatistas for the construction of our autonomy and for national liberation with provocation, threats, assaults and persecution, because whatever the cost, and whatever happens, we will continue to go forward, as is our right…..And we demand that they [the BAZ] be respected and that their stolen belongings be returned to them”.

What are the Issues Here?

The words of the newly released Call to Action leave no room for doubt:

“We stress here that these attacks are not isolated incidents, but rather are integral components of the prolonged war of extermination that the bad government of Mexico, together with capitalist interests, has carried out for the past 18 years to wipe out the Zapatista movement and all it has given to the world.

“The objectives of this war have been and remain to continue the colonial project and destroy at any cost indigenous autonomy and resistance, and take over their ancestral lands, and in this way, exploit for the exclusive benefit of those from above the natural resources with which our Mother Earth provides us.

“Repression, violence, and death are meted out by the bad government of Mexico to those who resist this, who defend their lands, their identities, their cultures, and autonomy – their very existence.

“Our compas from San Marcos Avilés are suffering this violence because they are indigenous, because they are Zapatistas, and because they have opened their own autonomous school.”

There is also the issue of land, the most basic and essential resource, vital to people’s sense of history and identity, home of their ancestors, source of their culture, and means of their survival. In this case, the BAZ of San Marcos Avilés bought the land twelve years ago and have the title deeds to prove it. As throughout Zapatista territory, however, this does not stop the governments from giving the land to others in return for driving out what the powerful most fear: the threat of a good example.

“We want there to be happiness in our lives and in the lives of our children. We want to have corn that is no longer stolen. We want tranquillity to be able to grow our pumpkins on our land. We want to find peace again in our hearts, and we want to eat with love what we have.”

The Current Crisis

In recent weeks, the situation of threats and aggressions has intensified to the point where a repetition of the events of 2010, or worse, is feared at any time. The lives of the BAZ of San Marcos Avilés are seriously at risk, along with their dignified struggle for a better world.

Their urgent call for solidarity has been taken up by one of the most effective, experienced, admired and inspiring campaigning organisations struggling for justice at a grassroots level, the Movement for Justice in El Barrio (MJB), of the Other Campaign New York.

“Particularly in the past few days, more threats against the Zapatista support base members have taken place in San Marcos Avilés. The culprits remain an attack group of political party members, who have stated that they will kidnap authorities of the Zapatista community, and in this way, forcefully displace the support base members from the ejido. They have also made threats against those who denounce these acts of aggression and harassment, claiming that they will incarcerate them. It is feared that another wide-scale displacement of the community, similar to the one that took place in 2010, will occur”.

The MJB first released a powerfully moving and shocking video, in Tzeltal with Spanish and English subtitles, in which the compas of San Marcos Avilés tell their own story.

“They think we are worthless. They treat us badly, like animals. They do what they want with us. That is still happening now. When we sow our maize, we cannot take it home. They come to steal our beans, cane … bananas, they steal everything. All we do is sow and work and there is nothing….

“We cannot enjoy the fruits of our labour with our children, because…members of the political parties PRI, PRD, and PAN are eating it ….on the orders of bad government.

“The parties do not want the Zapatista organization in the ejido San Marcos. According to them, we set a bad example. They showed they want the organization to disappear. We will continue our struggle, there is no choice, because we are not committing any crime … because we have the right to struggle to be taken into account. Freedom, justice and peace is what we are asking for. But we are not afraid because we know quite clearly what we are looking for and how we want to live”.

This story evoked a response from all corners of the world. The MJB followed it up on July 27th, 2012, with the launch of a worldwide campaign: “Worldwide Echo in Support of the Zapatistas: Freedom and Justice for San Marcos Avilés and Sántiz López”

The campaign will be in two phases. The first, an intense period of education, dubbed “Walking the True Word,” of which this article is part, is to be followed by a phase of direct action.

The call also symbolically includes all Zapatista support bases, especially those from other communities which are also under attack. For this reason the MJB also calls for freedom and justice for the Zapatista prisoner of conscience Francisco Sántiz López, who has been imprisoned since December 2011 for crimes it has been proved he did not commit. Francisco comes from the community of Banavil, Tenejapa. In the video message, the BAZ of San Marcos Avilés call for the liberation of all political prisoners.

In true Zapatista fashion, the MJB call on the people of the world to set up Committees of the True Word, in whatever ways they can, in order to inform, educate and help raise awareness of the current situation of crisis in San Marcos Avilés. The Movement also undertakes to “share all reports we receive with the community of San Marcos, so that they know they are not alone”.

“We believe that the true word and knowledge are very important for the struggles of those from below—it is not only the task of the independent/alternative media to circulate truth, but rather it is the responsibility of us all to do so…..Education and knowledge are also tools and weapons in the struggle for justice, dignity, and democracy—they are nothing less than the forms in which we will construct this new world we seek.”

And in the words of the BAZ of San Marcos, “perhaps one day, together, we may attain what we are fighting for – that there be a dignified justice.”

WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW:

– Watch the video

Show it to everyone you know. Organise a screening. Circulate it widely.

– Inform yourselves. Look at the website http://sanmarcosavilesen.wordpress.com/

Circulate the Call for Action to all your contacts and social networks.

– Set up a Committee of the True Word

Let the MJB know you have done so on

laotranuevayork(at)yahoo.com

 

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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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