15 Latin American Women Who Have Fought For Justice
Latin American Women Who Have Fought for Justice
Dolores Huerta is a Mexican-descendant U.S. labor and civil rights activist who co-founded the National Farmworkers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers, with Cesar Chavez in 1962. She has been a tireless advocate for the rights of workers, women, and immigrants. She is credited with coming up with the slogan "Si, se puede!" which was later co-opted and popularized in Barack Obama's presidential campaign "Yes we can." As a lifelong activist, Huerta has been arrested more than 20 times during peaceful protest and strike actions. She continues to organize for social justice.
Celia Sanchez was a Cuban revolutionary, political activist, and researcher. She joined the struggle against the Batista dictatorship after the 1952 military coup and played a key role in founding and launching the revolutionary movement. She joined the 26th of July Movement, the revolutionary organization that eventually overthrew the dictatorship in 1959, and became one of the first woman to organize a combat unit. She had a close relationship with Fidel Castro and also worked alongside Che Guevara. Sanchez also documented the revolution, collecting notes, letters, and other documents that would later become the official archive of the revolution.
Josefina Fierro was a Mexican-born, U.S.-raised labor organizer and activist, known for her resistance against racial discrimination in the southwest. She dropped out of school to continue leading boycotts, organizing communities, and battling the social inequities. She fought to build a working class movement to secure basic rights for Mexican immigrants.
Digna Ochoa was a renowned Mexican human rights lawyer and political activist. She advocated for the interests of Mexico’s poorest and most vulnerable, including campesino ecologists in the state of Guerrero, Zapatista rebels in the state of Chiapas, and indigenous people in her home state of Veracruz. She also took on the Mexican army and brought soldiers to court to be charted with torture. Ochoa was kidnapped multiple times throughout her left and suffered attempts on her life. She was eventually found shot dead in her Mexican office. Although authorities attempted to cover-up her death as a suicide, many believe she was assassinated for the challenge she posed to the powers that be.
Comandante Ramona was a commander of the EZLN Zapatista National Liberation Army where she fought for indigenous and women's rights. The Zapatista struggle in southern Mexican state of Chiapas is rooted in the marginalization of indigenous people and the systemic discrimination against Mayan people in Mexico. Comandante Ramona was an early member of the Zapatista leadership. She struggled for indigenous self-determination and respect for indigenous peoples, especially indigenous and impoverished women.
Rigoberta Menchu is a Guatemalan human rights activist who began campaigning for human rights as a teenager. She has since dedicated her life to fighting for the rights of indigenous people and for justice for all the victims - many indigenous women - of the brutal Guatemalan civil war. In 1982, Menchu was forced to flee France because of her activism, and in 1992 she won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work to protect social justice and respect for the rights of indigenous people.
Berta Caceres is a Lenca indigenous leader and environmental and human rights defender in Honduras. She co-founded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). Caceres, along with residents in Rio Blanco, spearheaded a successful resistance movement to halt the construction of the Agua Zarca Dam, a project that did not have consent from the local indigenous community. Her fellow COPINH leader Tomas Garcia was tragically shot dead in a peaceful protest in 2013, and Caceres has also faced repeated death threats, threats of sexual violence, and other harassment from state forces and the company behind the dam project. In April 2015, Caceres was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for South and Central America.
Argelia Laya was a Venezuelan educator, political activist, philosopher, and defender of women’s rights. She was a lifelong advocate of equality in education and fought against sexism and exclusion in the education system. A political activist with the country’s Communist Party and founding member of the Movement Toward Socialism, Laya also worked to defend the right of women to participate in politics. She dedicated her life to tackling injustice in all forms, working as an advocate not only for women, but also disabled people, Black and indigenous communities, workers, and the poor. Laya also defended women’s sexual and reproduce rights.
Piedad Cordoba is a Colombian human rights and peace activist, lawyer, and politician. She has actively participated, as an official mediator and an activist with the Broad Front for Peace, in Colombia’s ongoing peace process between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla movement that aims to bring an end to over five decades of armed internal conflict. She advocates peace with social justice. She was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 for her work defending human rights and promoting peace in conflict areas.
Transito Amaguaña, popularly known as “Mama Transito,” was an Ecuadorean indigenous activists and an important 20th century feminist icon in Ecuador. She began her political work and community activism through the country’s Socialist Party. She later participated in major indigenous and campesino actions, including agrarian strikes and marches to reclaim labor and land rights. She co-founded the Ecuadorean Indian Federation in 1946 to fight for land redistribution and organized through the Communist Party for agrarian reform and a cooperative system for campesinos. Mama Transito also worked to introduced bilingual schools with education in both Spanish and Kichwa.
Domitila Barrios de Chungara
Domitila Barrios de Chungara was a Bolivian feminist, labor leader, and revolutionary activist. She is best known for launching a hunger strike along with four other miners’ wives in 1978 credited for cracking the Banzer dictatorship. The strike caught the country’s attention and exploded into a national, thousands-strong strike that forced the dictatorship to concede to the movements’ demands. Barrios also brought international attention to the plight of mine workers in Bolivia and long advocated the critical role of women in political and labor struggles.
Lelia Gonzalez was a Brazilian intellectual and political activist. As a school teacher under the military dictatorship in the 1960’s, she brought politics and resistance into her classroom and encouraged her students to think critically. As an Afro-Latina anthropologist and professor, she focused on researching the relationship between gender and race. She was actively involved various organizations focused on women’s and Afro-Brazilian issues, including Brazil’s Black Women’s Collective and Black Movement of Brazil. She was focused in her writing and activism on bringing the demands of Afro-Brazilians into broader political struggles, especially demands of Black women.
Estela Barnes de Carlotto
Estela Barnes de Carlotto is an Argentine human rights activist and president of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, an organization founded in 1977 to find children stolen and kidnapped during Argentina’s dictatorship-era Dirty War. Carlotto’s pregnant daughter was disappeared in 1977 and gave birth in detention before being murdered. Carlotto looked looked for her missing grandson for 36 years before being united with him in 2014. The grandmothers have identified 118 missing grandchildren. Carlotto has been widely recognized for her human rights work, including by the United Nations.
Eva Peron was an Argentine feminist and political activist. After a career in radio and film, she went on to become one of the founders, alongside her husband President Juan Peron, of the Peronist political movement based on social justice, economic independence, and political sovereignty. She founded the country’s first large scale women-only political party and is considered a key figure in getting women the vote in Argentina. Peron also founded a society that supported orphans and provided housing for homeless women. Her legacy in Argentina also remains strong: Argentines mark the anniversary of “Evita’s” death each year and current President Cristina Fernandez is politically aligned with the Peronist movement.
Juana Azurduy was a South American guerrilla military leader and critical figure in the South American struggle for independence. At the height of her command, she led an army of some 6,000 fighters. Azurduy spoke Spanish, Aymara, and Kichwa indigenous languages. She led battles that were fundamental for the South American independence movement and her legacy is part of the longstanding regional defense of Patria Grande, which roughly translates to Big Homeland.
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