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LibreOrganize 0.6.0 - Documentation

A Woman for President: 42 Years Ago

from the April 10, 2024 Bulletin

Co-founder of third wave feminism in Mexico, Heather Dashner disagreed with male socialist leaders who believed that women's liberation should wait until after the working class took power. Since the 1970s, she’s been at the forefront of every struggle for women's equality in Mexico. Dashner has edited two books where she and her fellow women comrades tell their stories, Feministas Trotskistas, and Rebeldes y Transgresoras: Feministas Trotskistas, Testimonios 1974-1992.

Was Rosario Ibarra de Piedra a feminist? How did she become a political leader?


Rosario was not a feminist. She was a well-educated middle-class housewife who had studied medicine, married a doctor, and had four children. Her husband sympathized with the Communist Party, and their politics were left, but they were not activists.


In the early 1970s, her son Jesús Piedra went off to medical school. But instead of finishing, he dropped out of the family’s view. At that time in Latin America, an urban guerrilla movement had arisen — think Che Guevara. In Mexico, after the brutal repression of the student uprising in 1968 and the hunting down of political dissidents, many young people concluded that legal avenues to political reform were closed and armed insurrection was the only option. Jesús joined a revolutionary group, the September 23rd Communist League.

In one last letter to his family (signed with his pet name, Wu-Lee, because his family thought he looked Chinese!), he wrote that he was okay, but he might never see them again, and he hoped they would understand. In 1973, he was involved in a major crime: the kidnapping and killing of a major industrialist in the large commercial center of Monterrey. In 1975, Jesús was caught; he then disappeared.

Rosario Ibarra: Photo Sergio Dorantes/Sygma via Getty Images

Rosario started looking for him. And never stopped. 


How did she move from a personal search for her missing son to leading a movement of the families of the disappeared?


As she went from one government office to another, she met other mothers also searching for husbands or sons and realized that disappearances were a frigging plague!


Remember — this occurred in the middle of the “Dirty War,” which lasted from the 1960s to the 1980s. The Mexican government was supporting the US Cold War against communism. In the process, they broke up protests, jailed, tortured, exiled, murdered, and disappeared people. It’s estimated that at least 1200 people were disappeared, and most still have not been found, dead or alive.

Ibarra speaks at a EUREKA demonstration

Because Rosario had the social and economic chits to do so, she formed a committee, mostly of mothers, called the Committee in Defense of the Disappeared and Political Fugitives and Exiles, known by its acronym EUREKA. They wanted political prisoners freed from jail, the return of those exiled, and they defended those on the “wanted” list. The committee was reasonable; they demanded, “Show us the disappeared; if they are accused of crimes, bring charges against them, but do it publicly!”


Their work exposed to the entire nation the government’s role in politically motivated disappearances. As a result, they won amnesty for over 1,000 people, and freedom for 150 political prisoners. Some PRI leaders realized that their way of ruling was undermining the party's ability to stay in power; they announced a new rule that permitted parties, if they fulfilled a series of requirements, to be registered as legal with a right to run candidates. This opened up space for the left; the Communist Party, for one, became legal in 1979.


Rosario then ran for president in 1982 and 1988. What was her campaign like?


Because of her leadership in EUREKA, she was introduced to our Trotskyist party, the Workers' Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores, or PRT), which had grown out of the 1968 student movement. Rosario was neither a feminist, a veteran of the 1968 movement, nor a Trotskyist — but she became our candidate for president.


Her base? In the late 1970’s, several large mass fronts emerged: the dissident movement within the teachers union (the largest union in Latin America); a national peasant coalition; and the National Coordination of Urban Popular Movements (which had Maoist politics). The current Morena candidate for Mexico City mayor, Clara Brugada, comes out of this last movement. A Women’s Front was formed in 1978. A national coalition of all these forces — women, left parties, labor, and so on — formed a united front against repression.

Rosario was thus connected to all these movements. She campaigned in every state and always went to the jails to talk with prisoners. She talked with local movement leaders and met with governors with a list of demands based on her discussions with activists. In the state of Colima, she presented Mexico’s first woman governor with more than 60 demands; the only demand met was the founding of Mexico’s first public women’s help center. Her passionate speeches were electrifying. It wasn’t just me who couldn’t hear her without being moved to tears. 

 Campaigning with Heberto Castillo and  Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, PRD presidential candidate in 1994: via Pinterest

She lost the election but became a representative in Congress in 1985 and later a senator between 2006 and 2012. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize four times.


The anniversary of Rosario Ibarra’s death is on April 21. Did today’s movement for the disappeared grow out of her groundbreaking human rights work? How should we remember her?


No, the current movement isn’t a direct continuation of Rosario’s work. Since the “Dirty War,” disappearances continue, but not mainly for political reasons. Since 2006, they are mostly related to the war on drugs and collusion between government officials and cartels — but the issue of government impunity remains.


On October 23, 2019, in her last public act before her death, Rosario Ibarra was awarded the Belisario Domínguez Medal of Honor in Congress. At the end of her speech, read by her daughter, she handed the medal back to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, saying, "Mr. President ... I don't want my fight to be unfinished ... I leave ... this precious honor in your custody, and I ask you to return it to me along with the truth about the whereabouts of our beloved and dearly missed children and relatives, and with the certainty that the long-awaited justice has finally covered them with its protective embrace.”


That was pure Rosario.