…the 2011 conference of female ex-guerrilla insurgents of the Mexican Dirty War. From the afternoon of July 15th through the evening of July 17th, eleven ex-guerrilleras participated in over 20 hours of both classroom-style discussions (mesas de trabajo) and one-on-one interviews (testimonios) about their experiences in the guerrilla insurgency of the 1970s. Did female guerrilla fighters play a unique role within the insurgency, or did they share the same responsibilities as their male comrades? What was the government’s objective in torturing captured dissidents? Did the sexual and gender revolutions (which were occurring at nearly the same time around the globe) influence the social structure or political agenda of the guerrilla?
Marisol Cabrera and Mirada Documental
Each mesa de trabajo ended with a filmed, all-group discussion. These video recordings, conference photos, and additional tapings of every testimonio, were all made possible by Mirada Documental, a documentary film crew headed up by UAEM student Marisol Cabrera (UAEM is the Autonomous University of Mexico City ).
Marisol visited Haverford last spring to attend a screening of her documentary Casa Libertad; and the guerrilla fighters’ conference was officially kicked off with a private screening of this same film: a close look at the experiences of one political activist who was incarcerated in Mexico following her nonviolent participation in the 1968 student movement.
The Women Are Here!
The conference was scheduled to begin at 2PM, and the women – who had flown into the capital from all different parts of Mexico – began arriving at around noon. It was two hours of hugs, cheek kisses, chatter, and noises of happy recognition. Although some of the women, in groups of twos or threes, live quite close to each other and maintain frequent contact, others had not seen one another in months. All eleven had been held as political prisoners (and thus in the same section) of Santa Martha Acatitla prison in the 1970s. Living at close quarters for a period of several years and sharing their devotion to the guerrilla in common had clearly drawn the women into a very close camaraderie that stands to this today.
Who They Are and Why They Joined
The women are mostly in their sixties. That means they were roughly my age or even younger when they joined the guerrilla. Most have children, many have grandchildren. My first impression of the ex-guerrilleras was a group of very friendly, family-oriented ladies.
All eleven were taken into custody for politically-motivated reasons by the Mexican government during the 1970s. They were transferred between clandestine and official prisons (disappeared), tortured, and released in the late 1970s, at which point many went into exile. Ten of the eleven were guerrilla insurgents, some of whom received training in North Korea. Gladys López, the only participant who was not a trained insurgent, worked as a messenger on behalf of the anti-government movement. Most were members of the guerrilla group Movimiento de Acción Revolucionaria (the MAR, or Revolutionary Action Movement), but some fought on behalf of the Lacandones and the FUZ (Frene Urbano Zapatista).
Almost all of the women described their entrance into the guerrilla movement as a nearly inevitable development in their moral and political maturation. They remember being swept up into a struggle to protect their country’s and their family’s future. The government-perpetrated massacres of 1968 and 1971 were pivotal in convincing many of the women that joining the guerrilla was the right choice, indeed, seemingly the only choice in the face of such terrible government crimes. A great deal of them had fathers and/or brothers who participated in the anti-government movement, and thus some were exposed to the political ideals of the struggle from a very young age. A few of the women say they had very little political consciousness prior to encountering the movement in student circles or other education-related forums. Elia Hernández, for example, did not identify with the movement until after she became a teacher and began to meet politically conscious people in education.
Many thanks to Elia for recently giving me permission to share her photo and parts of her personal history on this blog.