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In Zapata’s shadow, Minneapolis says “Yes” to refugees

By Wyatt Miller |
February 7, 2019
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Minnesota protest rejects Trump's wall.
Minnesota protest rejects Trump's wall. (Fight Back! News/staff)

Minneapolis, MN - A sizable crowd gathered at the base of the statue of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata at South Minneapolis’s Plaza Centenario, February 2, for an event titled “Rally Against the Wall.” The demonstration was initiated by Minnesota Caravan Solidarity/Minnesota en Solidaridad con la Caravana, a coalition of international solidarity and immigrants’ rights groups in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. About 90 demonstrators chanted in support of the refugees travelling in large groups from Central American countries like Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border and condemned President Trump’s racist anti-immigrant views.

Brad Sigal of the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee (MIRAC) was an emcee of the rally. During the rally he said, "Today is the anniversary of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, an unjust treaty that the U.S. forced Mexico to sign at gunpoint in 1848. In that treaty the U.S. took half of Mexico's territory, which became what's now the southwest of the U.S. When they say 'we didn't cross the border, the border crossed us,' it's literally true. The border was created by a historical injustice and it should not have a wall and should not be militarized. We demand legalization for all."

University of Minnesota physician Dr. Miguel Fiol spoke of his experience with a medical delegation to refugee camps in Tijuana, Mexico. “We said, where are these ‘rapists and murderers’? There’s none of that out there,” he said. “Oh my god - there’s just kids and kids, and people, and families.”

“Good people that travelled thousands of miles,” Fiol added. “We came out with the realization that they’re us. There is no evil out there.”

Protesters connected Trump’s antagonism toward the refugees from Central America with longstanding, U.S.-fueled destabilization of that region. “We demand the stop of the U.S. support for the corrupt and criminal regime of Juan Orlando Hernández – “JOH” – sustained by army and police, trained and financed by the U.S. government and, some allege, Israel, Colombia and other right-wing governments in Latin America,” said Marcial Castro of Minnesota Hands Off Honduras.

“All this condition – of poverty, insecurity, violence and repression by the government of Honduras – has been created after the military coup d’état of June 2009 in Honduras […] followed by a stealing of the election by electoral fraud with the blessing of the U.S. government,” Castro explained. “We ask where the international community is now, watching and witnessing this human disaster and doing nothing.”

Activists expressed fears that the ongoing U.S.-orchestrated coup attempt against the democratically elected government of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela would lead to a similar situation. “Honduras is just one example of how U.S.-backed regime change has never improved the livelihoods of its victim nations,” said Cullom McCormick of the Anti-War Committee. “Should we invade Venezuela, its refugees would again be turned away from our border.”

Demonstrators also highlighted the re-emergence of armed vigilantes in Guatemala, reminiscent of the U.S.-backed death squads of the 1980s that murdered thousands of indigenous Guatemalans. “On Sunday, January 27, an organized vigilante mob of Guatemalans, armed with clubs, machetes and rocks, attacked a group of caravan participants in the Guatemalan city of Técun Umán as they approached the border with Mexico,” said Sherilyn Young of Minnesota Caravan Solidarity, quoting from a press release from the Bay Area Migrant Welcome Committee. “Currently about 1000 caravanistas remain in the city of Técun Umán in three unprotected shelters, with vigilante mobs roaming. Approximately 2000 migrants in the most recent caravan are estimated to still be on the road yet to arrive at the city of Técun Umán. A second group en route from El Salvador is a couple days away.”

Others cited environmental destruction by big corporations as a source of migration across the U.S. border. “In Mexico, and especially where I used to live, there was a lot of different companies and factories that went to my town, and they contaminated the land,” said Jovita Morales of Minnesota Immigrant Movement (MIM). “And people who are farmers, people who are growing their own food, they cannot cultivate them as were doing before, because of these companies who come and contaminate our town. So that’s one of the reasons that many of us come to different places: to find food, to find a job, to work and support their families.”

Morales also pointed to the need for drivers licenses for undocumented people living in the U.S., a long-running demand of immigrant rights groups in the Twin Cities.

Demonstrators spoke with passersby along busy Lake Street in the heart of the heavily Latino neighborhoods of South Minneapolis. Chants included, “No ban! No wall! Legalization for all!” “Venezuela is under attack! What do we do? Stand up fight back!” and “¡Zapata vive! ¡La lucha sigue!” – Zapata lives! The struggle continues!

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