[PRONOUNCEMENT] COVID-19: In the midst of this crisis, it is urgent to halt authoritarianism and defend life, care, rights and human dignity.

March 26, 2020

Mesoamerica, March 20, 2020 – For the last few days, our embraces have become words of encouragement that fade into the distance. Uncertainty and distress mar the lives of people in situations of confinement and the lives of those who can’t afford the luxury of seeking refuge because poverty and injustice are epidemics that have intruded our societies for a long time now. 

The crisis provoked by the global invasion of COVID-19 finds a world already beset by serious crises (of neglect, climate change, violence, inequality, and human rights violations) and expresses the unsustainability of the prevailing political, social, and economic model reproduced by governments increasingly controlled by private interests. Hence, this situation has, and will continue to have, inordinate impacts on us, our communities and our struggles.  

This model, based on “capitalist, racist and patriarchal” depredation, in the words of our partner and friend Berta Cáceres, has focused on markets and neoliberal rationales for decades, destroying institutional, community and cultural structures of collective care and  leaving most people without access to a decent life. Due to the destruction and scorn of public and common spaces, we now find it difficult to cope with situations like this one from a standpoint of human rights and social justice.  

We are concerned about the ways in which governments take advantage of this crisis before the general public to deepen and normalize policies of social control, repression and persecution of activists and human rights defenders, as recently exposed by a group of United Nations rapporteurs. 

In Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala emergency plans have been implemented based on militarization,  fundamental rights’ suspension, and curfews, thereby strengthening authoritarianism and deteriorating survival mechanisms practiced by a large part of the population.  In México, structural social conditions’ vulnerability for crises management are evident. In Nicaragua we are troubled by government’s neglect to respond to a health emergency and official refusal to provide access to health data.        

Implementation of such emergency plans drastically affects the work of women defenders, limiting their right to freedom of expression, protest, and the free development of activities.  It also increases the risk of being attacked and criminalized by State actors (to date we have registered attacks against women defenders in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala in the context of this crisis) and of suffering gender-based violence in their homes. 

In view of our political wager on collective care and comprehensive feminist protection, we contemplate the panorama opened up by the COVID-19 crisis with deep concern, but we also see on the horizon the possibility of collectively changing the structures in which we organize our societies. 

As noted by the Afro-indigenous Garifuna leader Miriam Miranda, women, original peoples and Afro-descendants in our region are not only the comrades plunged into a situation of highest vulnerability, but also those who have the greatest strength to confront and overcome this crisis with the knowledge of mutual care, the reproduction of life, the construction of autonomy, the care and cultivation of the land and water that nourish us, and alternative and spiritually emancipating health systems. 

We of IM-Defensoras demand State authorities:

  • To deal with the current crisis from a comprehensive perspective of collective care and human rights, taking into account health, social and economic dimensions with an inter-sectional focus in terms of class, ethnicity, age, and gender-based sexual orientation. 
  • That they abstain from utilizing security forces in roles that do not pertain to them and that they guarantee total respect for human rights. 
  • That they abstain from taking advantage of the situation of exception produced by the emergency to attack or criminalize activists, journalists, organizations and individuals engaged in the defense of human rights. 
  • That they recognize and establish open interlocution with women, defenders, and communities whose contributions are fundamental for constructing a response that places the care and maintenance of society and life at the center. 
  • That they implement effective policies for combating inequality, which is a risk factor for persons and communities in situations of vulnerability, whose rights must be placed above those of the interests of corporations, businesses and economic elites. 
  • That they guarantee effective mechanisms for the prevention, protection from, and urgent attention to macho violence inside the home, which can potentially result in situations of confinement. 
  • That they guarantee the flow of transparent, objective and contrasted information to the entire population, for the purpose of counteracting fake-news (false news) and other information that exacerbates fear and confusion. 
  • That they stop creating and encouraging discourses that provoke discrimination and stigmatization of persons with COVID-19 and that attention to patients be given in a responsible, scientific and secular manner. 

Likewise, we call on organizations, collectives, social movements and the general population to care for us and back us collectively in promoting solidarity and dealing with the current situation with all measures, creativity and energy at our disposal to keep us healthy, vigilant and active in the construction of life alternatives that, as underscored by the current crisis, are increasingly urgent and necessary.

Let’s transform fear into a compost of freedoms and rights for the present and future!
Let’s make solidarity viral!

Mesoamerican Initiative for Women Human Rights Defenders (IM-Defensoras)

Just Associates (JASS-Mesoamerica)

Feminist Collective for Local Development in El Salvador

Oaxaca Consortium

Central American Women’s Fund (FCAM)

Nicaraguan Initiative of Women Defenders (IN-Defensoras)

National Network of Women Human Rights Defenders in Honduras

National Network of Women Human Rights Defenders in Mexico

Salvadoran Network of Women Human Rights Defenders