When Trini found out the government had plans to take over her community’s land, she felt powerless. She remembered friends and family who came before her, who were born and buried in San Salvador Atenco. She imagined signs reading “Federal Property, Do Not Pass” littering her rural landscape.
This was in 2001, when Trini Ramirez Velazquez and the residents of San Salvador Atenco were about to embark on a fight for justice. They began protesting plans to build a new international airport on 10,000 acres of their land, spanning 13 villages.
“These are the lands of our sons and daughters and no one has the right to take them from us,” reflected Trini of Grupo de Mujeres del Frente de Pueblos en Defensa de la Tierra. “I thought about my children and grandchildren. From that I drew courage.”
Trini needed that courage as months of clashes with authorities followed. The Mexican government responded to the protests with violence so the protestors armed themselves with machetes and took to the streets to protect their homeland. Responding to the need for community organizing and women's leadership, Grupo de Mujeres del Frente de Pueblos en Defensa de la Tierra de San Salvador Atenco formed by courageous women like Trini. Combining human rights workshops and legal counseling, the Global Fund grantee partner was able to show the importance of community decision-making by defeating the government and running the airport project out of town.
For more than thirty years, political structures in Mexico have led to economic and social crisis in rural areas like Atenco. Women not only face poverty and lack of land ownership, but also sexual and domestic violence. Women who actively defend their own land are subjected to political harassment by federal and local governments.
“This magnitude of oppression breaks our social fabric. The fear paralyzes us and stops us from having the full confidence to continue advancing,” said Trini. “However, there is a moment when you face the fear…and together we discover the importance of making our own decisions, seeking equality, and demonstrating our capacity to find solutions.”
Global Fund supports groups like Grupo de Mujeres del Frente de Pueblos en Defensa de la Tierra because they work in rural communities that lack basic needs and cannot turn to their own governments for support. It’s been proven that when women are given the opportunity to develop their leadership skills to preserve their lands, knowledge, and ancestral practices, the quality of life for their entire community improves.
"We live in a system where there is much inequality and you can’t close your eyes anymore. You can’t deafen your ears to the screams of help from other brothers and sisters for legitimate demands for justice,” said Trini, who works everyday for change in the face of violence. “History is not written in a few hours or even a day, we write it day by day.”
Same Old Story
Unfortunately, 2001 wasn’t the last time citizens of Atenco would be targets for political violence. In 2006, police arbitrarily and violently arrested 145 people and inflicted sexual assault on 26 women all in the name of preventing flower vendors from selling their goods at a local market. More than five years later, these survivors are still awaiting justice. None of the officials responsible for their abuse have been held accountable.
“The consequence of the injustice I lived, the total disintegration of my family, my friends and my town, made me hit bottom. I decided to leave my depression and fear that was paralyzing me in these moments so I could fight for liberty and justice,” said Trini.