Mexico City/Bogota/Santiago, Aug 19 (EFE).- “Let us resist power until dignity becomes a habit,” Francia Marquez told supporters during the campaign that led to her election as Colombia’s first vice president of African descent, breathing new life into a phrase coined 50 years ago in Chile that became a mantra for the oppressed throughout Latin America.
Marquez, as much as any public figure in the region, has lived up to that motto.
A single mother at 16, she worked in a mine and cleaned houses to keep her family afloat amid poverty and pervasive violence from leftist rebels, right-wing paramilitaries, the security forces and criminal gangs.
The future vice president’s first experience of struggle was a battle to stop the government from diverting a river away from her village for the benefit of a commercial venture.
Five years ago, “until dignity becomes a habit” was the expression that occurred to indigenous schoolteacher Estela Hernandez when she got the chance to speak at a ceremony where Mexico’s then-attorney general, Raul Cervantes, apologized for the wrongful prosecution of her mother and two other women who spent more than three years behind bars,
Estela’s mother, Jacinta Francisco, and two other indigenous women, Alberta Alcantara and Teresa Gonzalez, were falsely accused of abducting six police officers in 2006.
“That demand for respect toward human rights is what I chose as ideal to make people aware of the urgency of acting in favor of life,” the teacher told Efe as she looked back on the 2017 event.
“It makes me happy that persons in other places have made (the phrase) their own to bring dignity to the lives of many people,” Estela Hernandez said.
The origins of the resistance slogan date back to the dark days of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship in Chile.
On Dec. 13, 1973, two months after the coup that toppled Socialist President Salvador Allende, Dr. Bautista van Schouwen, a founder of Chile’s Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR) was arrested and taken to Villa Grimaldi, where he was tortured nearly to death before his captors finished him with bullets.
Months later, singer-songwriter Patricio Manns and other Chilean exiles in France formed the band Karaxu and released an album, “Songs of the Chilean Popular Resistance.”
One of the cuts, “When Dignity Becomes a Habit,” was dedicated to the memory of Van Schouwen and other MIR members who died “with their heads held high and without betraying any of their comrades.”
And the phrase experienced a revival in October 2019 with the eruption of Chile’s largest wave of protests since the end of the Pinochet regime in 1990.