Landmark cases: In Ecuador, Petita Albarracín demands justice for Paola Guzmán Albarracín

Petita Albarracín testifying

On January 28, 2020, Petita Albarracín, an Ecuadoran woman, pleaded before the Inter-American Court on Human Rights to restore dignity to the memory of her deceased daughter, Paola Guzmán Albarracín, as she demanded justice in the name of her daughter for young women and girls across Latin America. In so doing, in this case described as landmarkmilestone, and groundbreaking, Petita Albarracín opened a door and, hopefully, made history. 

Paola Guzmán Albarracín lived with her mother, younger sister and grandmother in a suburb of Guayaquil. She was a happy child, and life was good, if at times financially stressful. Then her mother started noticing a change in her daughter. For two years, starting at the age of 14, Paola Guzmán Albarracín was sexually abused by her school’s vice principal. When, at the age of 15, Paola Guzmán Albarracín discovered she was pregnant, she went to the school doctor, who offered an abortion and then sexually abused the teenage girl. On December 12, 2002, three days after her sixteenth birthday, Paola Guzmán Albarracín took an overdose, and the next day, she died. Since 2002, Petita Albarracín, Paola Guzmán Albarracín’s mother, has waged a campaign to demand justice and dignity, not only for the memory of her daughter but for all girls and young women in Ecuador, across Latin America and beyond.

After Paola Guzmán Albarracín’s death, Petita Albarracín demanded an investigation. Little was done. A warrant was finally issued for the vice principal, who immediately went into hiding. According to Petita Albarracín, “We exhausted all available resources. I did all that a mother could do, but unfortunately in Ecuador there was no justice. Today, he is free and alive, and my daughter is not. He works in private schools where they do not know him.”

Petita Albarracín sued the State, the case was thrownout . She secured allies, especially a local NGO, Centro Ecuatoriano para la Acción y Promoción de la Mujer – Guayaquil, and they brought in the Center for Reproductive Rights. Together, they approached the Inter-American Court on Human Rights. After eighteen years, the case has finally been heard. 

On the day of the trial, Petita Albarracín reflected, “When there’s impunity and no justice, a message of permissiveness is sent, which leads to these kinds of actions becoming naturalized, authorized and permitted. Then they become and remain part of the daily life for women across Latin America, in all the countries.”

For eighteen years, Petita Albarracín has persisted, has refused to accept the indignity for her deceased daughter, for her remaining daughter, and for all the girls and young women in Ecuador, across Latin America and around the world. She has demanded justice, justice for girls and young women, justice for all. The Court is expected to render its decision within the year. Paola Guzmán Albarracín would be thirty-three years old today, if she had lived. There is no justice for Paola Guzmán Albarracín. Her mother, Petita Albarracín, knows as much and has said as much, but there is justice and there is dignity, and, in the name of Paola Guzmán Albarracín, justice and dignity shall prevail.

(Photo credit: BBC)

In Ecuador, Indigenous people shut down the austerity program. Women were key

Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day! In the future, this day should be remembered as the day in which Indigenous peoples of Ecuador stopped cold an IMF-sponsored austerity program. Today, October 14, 2019, Lenín Moreno, Ecuador’s President, and leaders of the Indigenous Peoples’ movements announced that they had reached a deal to cancel the austerity package. It took almost two weeks of protest and seven deaths, but in the end Indigenous peoples and their allies succeeded. As Rosa Matango responded to the news, “I am happy as a mother, happy for our future. We indigenous people fought and lost so many brothers, but we’ll keep going forward.” Jaime Vargas, President of the Confederation of Indigenous Nations, added, “From our heart, we declare that we, the peoples and nations, have risen up in search of liberty. We recognise the bravery of the men and women who rose up.” Indigenous women have been key to the success of this mass mobilization against austerity and for dignity and decency.

What happened? On October 1, Moreno cut a deal, known familiarly as “el paquetazo”, with the IMF. The IMF insisted on austerity if Ecuador wanted loans and `assistance’. This package included a frontal assault on public sector workers: 20% wage cuts; decrease in vacation pay; and the `donation’ by public sector works of one day a month to the government. What the IMF calls donation, the rest of the world calls wage theft. Additionally, the package included an end to fuel subsidies, that had been in place for 40 years. Within hours, diesel fuel prices doubled, and regular fuel prices shot up 30 percent.

On October 2, labor unions, women’s groups, student unions, and Indigenous peoples’ groups announced their intent to protest. On October 3, the protests began, with transportation unions striking. Ecuador was shut down for two days, October 3 and 4. After talks between the government and transportation unions, the strike was called off. On October 4, Moreno declared a state of emergency. Mass protests continued and intensified. From October 3 to Saturday, October 12, protests grew and intensified. The country was at a standstill. Moreno moved his government from the capital city, Quito, to Guayaquil, on the coast.

Where are the women in all this? Everywhere and at the forefront.

From the moment the Indigenous masses began pouring into Quito, people started noticing the large presence of women and children in the protests. Indigenous women from all parts of the country made it clear that they were in for the long haul. They made this clear in words and actions. Many brought food and cooking utensils and set up kitchens to feed the ever growing populations. As Marta Chango, provincial coordinator for the political movement Pachakutic in the Tungurahua province, explained, “We are here to resist to the last moment, we are mothers, women and daughters who have come from provinces from across the country to proclaim that the State, in its abuse of power, will not succeed in murdering our people. We will not let that happen.”

They came by the tens of thousands and continued to shut down the country. When the State attempted to respond with severe repression, with bullets and tear gas, the women organized, and on Saturday, they organized a women’s march which linked State violence and repression with State austerity. Indigenous intersectionality was everywhere, as women explained their choices in clothing to why they brought children. Repeatedly the answer was the same: this is women’s resistance, this is the community’s resistance. We will not be massacred, exterminated, or erased. When Indigenous women marched, they were joined and supported by a variety of non-Indigenous women’s movements. Together, women, led and organized by Indigenous women, filled the streets of Quito, filled the sky with their chants, “No more deaths!” “Not one more bomb! Not one more rock!” On Saturday, as State and Indigenous leaders began to meet, Indigenous women turned Quito into an Indigenous women’s temporary autonomous zone, and they threatened to make it last for as long as necessary. On Sunday, the talks continued. Today, a pact was announced. 

As has happened frequently in Ecuador, the Indigenous women are united. When they say, “No!”, they mean, “NO!” The people united and demanded attention, dignity and justice. They demanded that the State belongs to the country’s residents, and not to the IMF. They demanded peace. And they won. Women were key to this victory. Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day 2019!

(Photo Credit: Al Jazeera / Fernando Vergara / AP) (Photo Credit 2: BBC / Matías Zibell)

The women are united. When we say `no’, we mean `NO!’

 

Around the world, forest dwelling women are organizing and mobilizing, and leading agrarian movements, land rights movement, and more. They are part of a global movement of rural women workers who are seizing the threats of multinational corporations and big money, turning them upside down and inside out, and shaking them to see what falls out. Often, what fall to the ground are the seeds of democracy.

In Ecuador, for decades, Wuaroni women have been organizing to stop the degradation and theft of their lands and lives. Ten years ago, they organized formally into AMWAE, Asociación de Mujeres Waorani de la Amazonía Ecuatoriana, to make sure they represented themselves in ongoing struggles and negotiations. In particular, they have been organizing against Texaco’s, then Chevron’s, incursions into Yasuní National Park. From the start, women of AMWAE argued that the loss of water, land, and home would hurt everyone and would target Wuaroni women. Recently, they have worked with the YASunidos campaign for a popular, and extended, consultation on the fate of the Yasuní area, foregrounding its residents. At the same time, they have affiliated with another new group, Colectivo Miradas Críticas del Territorio desde el Feminismo, who have just published their report, La vida en el centro y el crudo bajo tierra: El Yasuní en clave feminista. The report found that along with the contamination of the local ecology, one of the richest in biodiversity in the world, the assault on community increased inequality between men and women by rewarding and subsidizing patriarchal structures. At the same time, the poisoning of the waters has been a direct assault on women’s labor and bodies. In linking with feminist and women’s movements and with women in online advocacy movements, as well as others, rural indigenous women are opening spaces of common and mutual dialogue, action, and vision. And, little by little, they are winning.

From petroleum to the dirty business of palm oil, women are engaging in the struggle for autonomy, respect, and dignity. In Liberia, the Jogbahn Clan has been organizing to stop British palm oil company Equatorial Palm Oil PLC (EPO) from stealing their forest lands. While Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has declared that the land under question is to be considered community land, and thus protected from external interference, reports claim EPO is still cutting down trees, surveying the land, and intimidating the Jogbahn Clan. In a recently released video, Deyeatee Kardor, the Clan’s Chairwoman, explains, “There’s no happy relationship with the company. From the time they arrived, there’s been nothing, just nothing for those who were evicted. All they have done is try to divide us. They identify important people, then offer them a little money to convince them to change others’ minds. As owners of the land we were intimidated because we stopped the company from taking our land, grabbing land. Now they must not expand their plantation onto our land. The women are united, not divided. When we say `no’, we mean `no.’ We stand together and say no! I am very happy my land is free, because when our land is free, we are all free.”

The women are united, not divided. When they say `no’, they mean `NO!’

 

(Photo Credit: IFADTV / You Tube)