Leftist governments across Latin America have fought tooth and nail to create more socially just societies.
Countries like Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Uruguay have improved conditions for marginalized people after years of political and armed struggle. They’ve won rights for workers, peasants, women and members of the Black, Indigenous and LGBTQ communities.
Despite murders and death threats, oppressed communities struggling for equality continue to stand up and fight back.
Today, on World Day of Social Justice, teleSUR spotlights a few of the many social justice movements resisting repression in Latin America.
Argentina’s Anti-Austerity Movement
Since right-wing Argentine President Mauricio Macri replaced former president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in December 2015, Argentines have experienced nonstop austerity.
Gas and electricity prices are rising. Jobs are being cut. Government institutions are downsizing. Private companies linked to the ruling administration are getting tax cuts.
But Macri’s rollback of social programs implemented by Kirchner’s populist government is breeding resistance.
Since early February, thousands of Argentines have led daily protests across the country against the “Tarifazo,” the national increase in gas and electricity prices. Armed with pots, pans and whistles, demonstrators have been calling for the resignation of Argentine Energy Minister Juan Jose Aranguren and a corruption probe against Macri. Protesters have been hosed down by water cannons, beaten with police nightsticks, and arrested en mass.
Simultaneously, thousands of Argentines have protested alongside 380 printing plant workers who were laid off earlier this year amidst spending cuts. The workers, who are demanding for their jobs to be reinstated, have also been met with violence, facing rubber bullets from police.
Brazil’s Indigenous Land Rights Movement
The United States-supported removal of former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff in August 2016 has introduced nonstop austerity, similar to Argentina’s economic shock therapy. But in Brazil, austerity is disproportionately affecting Indigenous communities trying to protect their land from neo-liberalism.
Center-right Brazilian President Michel Temer proposed legislation earlier this month that aims to lift limits on foreign purchases of agricultural land in the country’s northern Amazon region. Currently the world’s largest rainforest, it is also home to thousands of Indigenous communities that have lived in the area for hundreds of years.
The legislation would allow foreign multinational corporations to buy out what remains, tear down existing trees, extract natural resources, and send profits back to billionaires living outside of the country. It would also forcibly displace the Indigenous communities living in Amazonia without giving them a share of profits made from privatization.
Since the bill was introduced to the Brazilian Congress, protests have erupted in the northern states of Amazonas, Para and Piaui. Indigenous, environmental and socialist activists protesting the proposed legislation have been beaten and arrested by police.
And three months ago, when Temer announced plans to privatize Brazil’s Amazon, dozens of police led a preemptive raid on the Landless Workers’ Movement’s Guararema headquarters. Police stormed their way into their facility by forcing their way through the main gate shooting live bullets, and threatening people, the Centre for Global Research reports.
Colombia’s Campesino Movement
Colombia’s peasants have a long history of resisting repression.
In 1928, the U.S.-backed Colombian military massacred over 1,200 United Fruit Company workers leading a union strike for better working conditions. Populist leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitan and survivors of the massacre led mass protests against the ruling Conservative Party government.
Then, between 1948 and 1958, in the years that were referred to as “The Violence,” subsequent Conservative Party administrations are estimated to have killed over 5,000 peasants. This led to the formation of communist guerilla groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, and National Liberation Army, ELN, which have been fighting government and right-wing paramilitary groups alongside peasants ever since.
Attacks on Colombia’s peasants, however, continue to this day.
Last week, armed paramilitaries threatened Indigenous Bari families in the country’s northern Catatumbo region. And earlier this month, Indigenous Wiwa activist Yoryanis Isabel Bernal Varela was shot and killed by paramilitaries.
More than 110 peasants and human rights activists have been murdered since the FARC signed a peace deal with the Colombian government last year.
Honduras’ Environmental Movement
Honduras is the deadliest country for environmental activists, a report released by environmental rights group Global Witness confirmed in January 2017.
Since the 2009 U.S.-backed coup that removed democratic socialist President Manuel Zelaya from power, 123 environmental activists in Honduras have been killed. By now, you’ve probably heard some of their names: Margarita Murillo, Berta Caceres and Jose Angel Flores.
Murillo, the leader of a peasant's association in northern Honduras, was shot and killed by members of a right-wing death squad in 2014 for her political activities. Along with fighting to win higher wages for workers, she protected Indigenous Lenca territories from wealthy landowners planning to deforest the areas for profits.
Caceres, an Indigenous Lenca leader of one of Honduras’ largest environmental groups, was murdered in 2016. She gained prominence for leading her native people in a struggle against the Agua Zarca Dam, a controversial development project in the community of Rio Blanco that was launched without consent from local communities.
Flores, a leader of the Unified Peasant Movement of Honduras, was shot and killed last October outside of his organization’s office. He led protests against land grabs committed by the same wealthy landowners connected to Murillo’s assassination.
Murillo, Caceres and Flores were all members of the National Popular Resistance Front, the grassroots socialist movement that has protested Honduras' right-wing coup government since 2009.
Mexico’s Teachers Movement
Teachers are among the most persecuted workers by industry in Mexico.
“Normalistas,” teachers of working-class origin who train high school graduates to become educators, have been targeted for decades. They’ve been involved in leading important student movements across the country since Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa led the Mexican Revolution in 1910. State university professors have also led mass protests against the pro-U.S. administrations that have ruled the country since the fall of the Revolution.
In recent years, Mexican teachers resisting state repression have made headlines.
In 2014, when 43 leftist students from Ayotzinapa’s Normalista school were abducted, teachers across the country immediately protested the Mexican government, whom many believe was responsible for the abduction. Although many of the protesting teachers have been harassed and threatened by federal police, they continue to seek answers for the kidnapping of the 43 students to this day.
Revolutionary Mexican teachers also made headlines last June when the National Coordinator of Education Workers, CNTE, protested education privatization reforms implemented by President Enrique Peña Nieto. CNTE teachers set up blockades on major streets in Oaxaca and led nationwide strikes. Mexican police, however, killed over 12 teachers and injured hundreds more with tear gas and rubber bullets.
Normalistas, the CNTE and educators from across the country are currently participating in mass protests against Mexico’s “Gasolinazo,” a nationwide hike in gas prices also implemented by Peña Nieto.