Call for a common front in face of the
possibilities of new US/Latin America relations


Washington . D.C. January 26, 2009. Feminist International Radio Endeavour (FIRE)

Women from the Mesoamerican region which comprises Panama, Mexico, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala met with delegates of 35 organizations based in Washington D.C. in the United States to share perspectives and proposals regarding “A New U.S. Administration, A New Agenda for Latin America:  Women's Perspectives on Re-invigorating Democracy, Human Rights and Economic Stability.”

The venue was the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) office in D.C. Conveners were WOLA, Just Associates and The Women’s Nobel Initiative.

  • WOLA is a nonprofit policy, research, and advocacy organization working to advance democracy, human rights, and social and economic justice in U.S. policy towards Latin America

  • JASS (Just Associates) is a global network of activists, educators, communicators and scholars in 25 countries committed to strengthening the voice, visibility and collective organizing power of women to create a just world. 

  • The Nobel Women's Initiative was established in 2006 by sister Nobel Peace Laureates Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Wangari Maathai, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan Maguire bringing together their  experiences in a united effort for peace with justice and equality by supporting the work of women worldwide.  (

The speakers from the Mesoamerican region were four feminist human rights activists in different arenas of social transformation.


  • Marusia López Cruz is a Mexican feminist and human rights activist, who is part of the recently created Petateras network in the continent and is currently the Regional Coordinator for JASS Mesoamerica.

  • Patricia Ardon, a Guatemalan feminist, who is the founding Director of Sinergia N’oj which provides leadership training to indigenous and social movements and is a founding member of Petateras and of  JASS in the region.  

  • Roxana Arroyo, a Costa Rican feminist lawyer and activist in the communications strategy of Petateras and also is a permanent consultant to the Women, Justice and Gender Program of the United Nations’ Latin American Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (ILANUD). 

  • Maria Suárez is a Costa Rican and Puerto Rican journalist and women’s human rights activist,  who works as a co-producer of FIRE (Feminist International Radio Endeavor), the first women’s internet radio station.  Suárez also co coordinates the recently created artistic project for movement building Wings of the Butterfly. She is also a Petatera and advisor to JASS.

Participating organizations included

The context of the meeting:

  • The United States has just inaugurated a new national government headed by Barak Obama under the banner of change and participatory democracy to undertake the changes in policy.  Both Obama and his newly appointed cabinet members have declared their intention to “make diplomacy a priority in international relations.”

  • One announcement about Latin America that the new administration made about changes in USA-Latin American relationships was issued in an campaign speech last year (May 23, 2008).  Then candidate Obama stated that the government of the USA has been "stuck to tired blueprints on drugs and trade, on democracy and development." Obama proposed dialogue, increasing foreign aid, being more meticulous when it comes to trade deals, among other policies. 

  • Regardless of these potentially positive efforts, women are still not fully part of the picture in those expressed policies, yet women have a lot to offer and have bore the brunt of the effects of the past “Reaganomics” and Bush policies in the region. However, one of the first policies Obama signed once he assumed office was to lift the “Global Gag Rule” placed by Reagan, changed back by Clinton, then imposed by Bush and now lifted again by Obama.

Latin America and the Caribbean are not only part of the widespread problems that the world faces today, it is also part of the solution. The region shares with the rest of the world problems such as the growing gap worldwide between rich and poor, widespread and increasing poverty levels, all forms of violence and discrimination, declared and undeclared wars and conflict, drug trafficking and corruption.  However, it is a region that presently showcases innovative experiments in more socially-oriented governance in Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador and Venezuela; governments headed by women (Chile and Argentina) and by indigenous representatives (Bolivia); and social movements challenging free trade agreements such as in México, Costa Rica and practically every country in the region.

In those and all other contexts, women’s groups are offering new voices and solutions to rebuild a badly tattered social fabric that threatens community, national, regional and global alternative roads to new understanding and actions regarding a way out of the global financial crisis.  This crisis has at its root the present neo-liberal policies and their interactions and intersections with fundamentalisms, militarism and strictly marked-driven relationships among human and its environments.  

“We are here to see with you how to build new relationships and how to address the new administration with a human rights-based approach where social and economic rights are not separated from political and civil rights,” stated JASS Executive Director, Lisa Vaneklassen. 

 “We also ask ourselves what should our dialogue be with the new administration and how do we build a common agenda among organizations that are interested in a rights agendas” stated  WOLA.

Examples regarding the context and what potential solutions can be launched together were provided by each of the presenters: 

Marusia López of Mexico stated that “democracy in the region cannot be understood without taking into account the situation and the role of women, because while they are the ones who carry the brunt of poverty and discrimination, they are at the forefront of the struggle for democratic rights and participatory democracy.  [This is evident]  in cases such as Atenco andOaxaca in México where women and their organizations have resisted repressive policies and have demanded accountability of local governments regarding unjust imprisonments and assassinations.”  

López also highlighted the recent case of the struggle against the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) in Costa Rica where women-led organizations at all levels of resistance claimed that a new agenda has to recognize the impact of neo-liberal policies, the rise of fundamentalism and the need to address women’s sexual and reproductive rights. “Our countries are far away from equality; on the contrary, inequality and discrimination is breaking apart the social fabric into deeper and extended forms of violence, drug abuse, drug dealing and persecution as is seen in the cases of Nicaragua, El Salvador and all of the countries in the region.”

Asked about the impact of the new law against femicide in her country, Guatemalan Patricia Ardon  stated that to this day, very few of the most recent 300 cases have received justice and on the contrary, femicide escalates on a daily basis.  Ardon emphasizedthat laws alone are never enough because justice does not come form the law alone but from a very organized civil society that holds all accountable to human rights. Furthermore, she added, “Democratic sustainability must be based on human rights.”  She also reminded the audience that in a case like Guatemala, policies that take into account ethnic diversity are absolutely necessary. ”In my country Maya people at this point know who is President of the United States but do not necessarily know who is president of Guatemala! That does not speak well about democratic participation,” concluded Ardon. 


Maria Suárez Toro of FIRE presented one case where Latin American feminists have experience to offer to the United States. 
On January 23rd, US President Obama eliminated the Global Gag Rule - a major obstacle to women's health. Under the Global  Gag
Rule, no  US funds were to be directed to any foreign healthcare organization that provides abortion services or advocates for the 
legalization of abortion, even if those activities are funded by non-US money.” Suárez noted that “more than 95% of abortions
 in our region in Latin America are performed under unsafe circumstances.  
The criminalization of abortion remains one of the leading causes of pregnancy-related deaths around the world, taking the lives 

of nearly 70,000 women per year. The Global Gag Rule, first imposed by President Reagan, was undone by President Clinton,

 then reinstituted by President Bush and now again, banned by President Obama. This is where you can see that claiming laws and

 their  implementation are not enough.” 

Suárez continued, “A different approach to this is what happened recently in Mexico City where the government put this issue 

of women’s  reproductive and sexual rights into the Constitution.  This major policy change was a result of pressure from the 

feminist and women’s movement, women who need abortion and have done them illegally speaking out about it, women’s 

health clinics carying out this medical procedure while also claiming the right to do so in alliance with the health system, the 

political party in government in the city and the international health and rights movement,” Suárez concluded. 


In strategizing a common front regarding the human rights framework in US – Latin American relations, participants from the Mesoamerican region proposed three main points: 

1)      Social and economic rights that include feminization of poverty and enabling political and civil rights to exercise them;

2)      Addressing the intersectionality of all forms of violence including declared and undeclared wars and war against women; peace and security and the centrality of women’s contributions to peace efforts;

3)      A new economic framework that goes beyond what we already know that has pushed us deeper into crisis, but rather builds on the experience and frameworks of women and some indigenous communities that live by alternative paradigms that are about sharing, living lightly on the land, caring and producing for life and livelihoods, not only for markets alone.

Whola’s delegates expressed that the presentations allowed her to see that they do not do a sufficient job of taking gender into account in their policies. “The impact of this is very relevant, yes we miss it sometimes.”

For more information go to:


Just Associates at

Petateras at

Nobel Women’s Initiative at

FIRE -- Feminist International Radio Endeavour at


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