Day 7 of the International Exchange: Strategies for Solidarity
Our first week of the exchange in Antigua was marked by building deep bonds of connection and grounding in the Mesoamerican context. The start of this second week is focused on getting more immersed in strategies of solidarity. We were lucky to have two powerhouse international leaders join us today in dialogue.
Congresswoman Sandra Morán is the first out lesbian in Guatemala’s Congress and a longtime leader in Sector de Mujeres, a movement building network of 33 organizations, and in the World March of Women. She shared her journey from being a resistance leader to stepping up to governance, and, with the many challenges of elected office, keeping herself grounded by always centering her dignity. “You can bring the revolution and feminism to anything you do. You have to walk in the mud, but you can still walk with dignity.”
That dignity partly comes from the recovery of her spirituality. She felt pressured to deny her religious roots when she first joined the revolution, but she later realized that spirituality is her anchor and inner strength. “We need spaces that open spirit” because that is our connection to each other and to the earth. She also shared the importance of unlearning and that it is something for all of us to do.
She pointed to a global shift toward conservatism and fundamentalism, where women like her are seen as the enemy because they challenge patriarchal power. A shift to an era where democracy is weak and organized crime is so systemic that organized crime networks are successfully running candidates for president. She remembers times in the past that felt similar and that solidarity is the way they survived. “Sometimes we don’t need great ideas. What we need is to put humanity at the center.”
As one of the few voices in political office who is consistently challenging the existing political structure, she says, “You have to shout. You have to be in the photo, you can’t just be the photographer.” Her outspokenness as a woman and as a leftist leaves her vulnerable to many threats, but she is clear that power is built in collectivity and anyone in governance has to be rooted in community. “The future is in community, not organizations. Let’s study how our ancestors built community. We all come from community. The answers are there.”
Laura Zúñiga Cáceres is a different kind of leader than Congresswoman Morán, only in her 20s and an activist in her own right who was thrust into the spotlight after her mother, the prominent activist leader Berta Cáceres, was murdered three years ago, but her message is similar: violence is systemic, we have to stay strong in the struggle, and solidarity is key.
Laura shared that part of the power of Berta’s leadership was that she was not just a woman defending a river; she was very strategic and constantly challenging power to achieve her ultimate goal of reclaiming Honduras from the grassroots. “She would ask how do we want to create our country. She was a leader who thought seriously about the future of Honduras and was taking steps toward that.”
Last November, seven men were convicted of her murder – employees of Desa, the company building the hydroelectric dam that Berta and her organization Copinh had been long battling, and the hitmen that were hired. Getting this conviction was partly because of international solidarity and pressure, but Laura knows that the men found responsible are actually not the ones with real power. She and Copinh are waging a fight against impunity, including against the Atala Zablah family, one of the most influential families in Honduras and wealthy investor in Desa. She also holds the U.S. responsible for its role in resource extraction and militarization of the region.
She is well aware that the fight ahead will be long, difficult, and dangerous. But there are many things that keep her strong and focused. With the ongoing criminalization of territory defenders, this is not the only case where people fighting for their community’s survival are being wrongfully targeted, and wins in Berta’s case can support others. Also, the State wants people to forget about the case, so she see it as her duty to keep up the pressure. “They are not going to have our silence.” She challenged us to talk about human rights in Mesoamerica, to put pressure on U.S. lawmakers, and to raise visibility for their struggle. And she focuses on the many successes along the way. “Continuing is a victory. People rising up everywhere saying ‘I am Berta!’ is a victory. The dam not being built is a victory.”
Through her passion for the campaign and discussing strategy, Laura is still a young woman whose mother was taken away from her due to greed and impunity. She acknowledged that “not everything is peace and love, anger is legitimate.” But she takes solace in the fact that “we have planted Bertas in many places.”