Last Tuesday, October 11th, a delegation from the Movimiento por Nuestros Desaparecidos en México [Movement for Our Disappeared Ones in Mexico] (MNDM) landed in Washington, D.C.  They came to receive the 46th Annual Letelier-Moffitt International Human Rights Award given by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS).  Since 2015, MNDM has helped families throughout the country in their search for justice for their disappeared loved ones.  The Movement is comprised of more than 80 groups in 24 Mexican states.  It undertakes extraordinary efforts, from excavating common burial sites to working to get the first legislation on that issue passed, even as it confronts organized crime, institutionalized corruption, and an incompetent and indifferent bureaucracy.

The award ceremony was held on October 13th (see video here).  The national Letelier-Moffitt Award was bestowed on the first labor union in the United States of the giant exploitative company Amazon.

IPS has bestowed the awards since 1976 in honor of IPS colleagues Orlando Letelier and Ronni Karpen Moffitt, who were assassinated by agents of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who placed a bomb in the car in which they drove that exploded as they traversed Sheridan Circle in Washington, D.C.

It is a most prestigious award.  Just this year, two past winners were elected presidents of their respective countries – Gabriel Boric, whose Movimiento Estudiantil Chileno [Chilean Student Movement], which he led, won the award in 2012, and Gustavo Petro, the first progressive president of Colombia, received the award in 2007 – and this month, Lula, the 2003 prize winner, is close to returning to the presidency of Brazil.  Mexican award winners include Bishop Don Samuel Ruiz and Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Bartolomé de las Casas [Brother Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center], Coalición por la Justicia en las Maquiladoras [Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras], Alianza Cívica [Civic Alliance], and Casa del Migrante de Saltillo [Saltillo Migrant Shelter].

Susan George, president of the Transnational Institute (TNI) in Amsterdam, notes of Letelier, “He was profoundly political.   A Socialist from his high-school days onwards, he was a fervent supporter of Salvador Allende from the outset.  Forced to leave Chile, even from exile he continued to fight against the horrors of the Pinochet regime and decided to return to Washington where he had been Allende’s Ambassador. There he became a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS).  He was also named Director of the fledgling Transnational Institute (TNI) in Amsterdam founded by IPS in 1974 and then run from Washington.  The common project linking the two institutes was the New International Economic Order which was supported by many independent, non-aligned governments in what we then called the ‘Third World’.  At the time it seemed highly promising until President Reagan crushed all hope of a NIEO as soon as he took office.”  At the time of her death, Ronni Moffit, who was barely 25 years old, worked in IPS raising funds to provide musical instruments to disadvantaged sectors of society.

The MNDP delegation to Washington was comprised of Diana Iris, representative of the Fuerzas Unidas por Nuestros Desaparecidos en Coahuila collective [Forces United for Our Disappeared Ones in Coahuila] (FUUNDEC), who is searching for her son Daniel; Martha Camacho, representative of the Unión de Madres con Hijos Desaparecidos de Sinaloa de los Años 70 collective [Union of Mothers with Disappeared Children of Sinaloa from the 1970s], a survivor of forced disappearance in 1977; Virginia Garay, representative in Nayarit of the Guerreras en Busca de Nuestros Tesoros collective [Female Warriors in Search of Our Treasures], who is looking for her son Bryan; and Marisol Esquivel, representative in Guanajuato of the Mariposas Buscando Corazones y Justicia collective [Butterflies Searching for Hearts and Justice], who is searching for her daughter Irma.  They were accompanied by Servicios y Asesoría para la Paz [Services and Counsel for Peace] (SERAPAZ), the renowned peace-building organization, and the Latin America Working Group (LAWG), the network of organizations that nominated them for the award, during their activities in Washington.

Diana Iris noted in a press bulletin that “more than 100,000 people have disappeared in Mexico, the majority over the last 16 years. The Movement for Our Disappeared Ones in Mexico emerged out of the need to pass laws regarding forced disappearances to ensure the government recognizes that the victims are not a number but rather, persons with names and faces . . . We have coined the phrase ‘not without the families’ to reinforce the strength and power of our voices and our demands.”

Tope Folarin, Director of IPS, was pleased “to honor the winners this year of the Letelier-Moffitt Awards for their historic contributions to the labor rights movement in the United States and the movement for justice for the disappeared in Mexico.”

The award to MNDM was presented by Congressman Jesús “Chuy” García (D-Illinois), who declared that “when we stand up together, we can make people listen to our voices.  That has been an emphatic message when ordinary people in Mexico and the United States have joined together in solidarity in search of justice and to defend their rights.  Both the Movement for Our Disappeared Ones in Mexico as well as the Amazon Labor Union illustrate the solidarity and courage that drive progressive change.  As a Mexican immigrant and former union member, I feel proud to present the Letelier-Moffitt Award to these organizations.”

The MNDM delegation also carried out advocacy work last week before the US government, highlighting the need for the Sistema Nacional de Búsqueda [National Search System] to operate with greater inter-institutional coordination and collaboration of the public prosecutors’ offices with the Mecanismo Extraordinario de Identidad Forense [Extraordinary Forensic Identification Mechanism]; the urgent need for a governmental strategy for implementing the recommendations of the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances; and for the public prosecutors’ offices to investigate and file cases, given that to date only 36 sentences have been issued out of the tens of thousands of pending cases.

As Mariano Machain of SERAPAZ noted, “While there has been progress made in the fight against forced disappearances, it remains nowhere near enough.  The recent setbacks in the Ayotzinapa case should serve as a wakeup call to the Mexican State regarding the need to re-envision its response to those 43 families of the 43 students disappeared, and the more than 100,000 families throughout the country that are searching for their loved ones.”  As it does every year, the Letelier-Moffitt Award strengthens the struggles and work of the most courageous causes.

Adapted from original article in Spanish in La Jornada:

Manuel Pérez-Rocha is an Associate Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington and an Associate of the Transnational Institute (TNI) in Amsterdam. He is a Mexican national who has led efforts to promote just and sustainable alternative approaches to trade and investment agreements for two decades.

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