WINDS OF CHANGE IN THE AMERICAS CONFERENCE
-Our keynote speaker, Leonida Zurita Vargas, is an indigenous woman from Bolivia, a coca farmer and powerful grassroots leader who will shed light on Bolivia’s strong and growing social movements and recent election of a new government under Aymara indigenous President Evo Morales. (See below update on Leonida who was, last week, denied entry to the US by the US embassy that has outrageously suggested that Leonida has ties to terrorist organziations! IF WE CAN’T GET LEONIDA HERE IN PERSON SHE’LL BE ON THE PHONE!) George Ann Potter, Zurita’s political advisor, will be talking at the conference as well as translating and introducing Leonida.
-Hear from Vermonters who recently participated in the World Social Forum in Venezuela and discuss how to build our own social movements in
-Sunday March 5th from 3-9pm at Unitarian Universalist Church in
Burlington, VT (corner of Church St. and Pearl St.).
Schedule? (March 5th, 3-9pm)
3-5 Panel: Strategies for Social Change from Latin America to Vermont
Laurie Lyon–Vermont Workers’ Center and participant in Grassroots
Global Justice delegation to World Social Forum
Ben Dangl–Journalist, activist and editor of TowardFreedom.com
(recently returned from World Social Forum and investigative journalism work in Bolivia)
Peter Lackowski- Vermonter Recently returned from Venezuela
Chris Riel–UVM student who will share UVM student organizing against Coca Cola
Luis Yat–Luis, indigenous activist from Guatemala living in VT, will
share his stories
5-6:45 Dinner and Discussions:
-This is meant to be an engaging dinnertime discussion in which
everyone will have the chance to share experiences, ideas and
strategies for social change…
7-9 Keynote Speakers:
-Leonida Zurita Vargas–Bolivian grassroots leader, Coca Farmer, and
Alternate Senator in Evo Morales’ Government
Robin Lloyd-Publisher of TowardFreedom.com, Green Valley Media and activist who is going to prison any day now for civil disobedience at the School of the Americas in Columbus, Georgia.
WE HOPE TO SEE YOU THERE!
As you may know, a group of us have been planning a conference for March 5th at the UU Church in Burlington called Winds of Change in the Americas (3-9pm). We have just learned that a unpleasant gust of wind has blown our way from the Bush Administration: the Embassy in Bolivia has revoked the passport of our keynote speaker, Leonida Zurita Vargas.
We are hoping that she will be able to get a diplomatic visa, but at present her speaking tour is up in the air. We have sent out the press release below, and would like to encourage you to contact our Senators and Congresspeople to urge them to put pressure on the State Department to reissue her a visa. If you would like to express yourself directly to the people at the US Embassy in La Paz, Bolivia, the general switchboard number is 591-2216-8000.
This revocation is big news in Latin America: lets make it big news here, by speaking out for freedom of information, and against the Patriot Act!!
The conference will go on, in any case!!
For Immediate Release: February, 24, 2006
Bush Administration Bars Bolivian Human Rights Leader and
Senator From Entering the US
Leonida Zurita Vargas, a Bolivian coca farmer organizer and alternate Senator, was invited to talk at universities and communities across the US as part of a three week speaking tour. On Monday, February 20th, when she went to the airport to fly to the US, she was told her visa had been revoked. She has used this ten-year, multiple-entry visa she obtained in 1998 several times.
This tour would have taken her to Florida International University, the University of Florida, Stanford University, the University of Vermont, and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, among others. She has published an op-ed in the New York Times, spoken at Harvard University and several other U.S. schools, and is one of the leading women in Bolivian politics.
On this speaking tour she was to discuss issues pertaining to the new government of Evo Morales in Bolivia, the country’s social movements and the negative impact of US foreign policy in the "war on drugs".
On Thursday Zurita spoke to reporters in Bolivia: "When I deposited my tickets, my passport and the suitcase I was carrying, the secretary that worked for American Airlines told me "You cannot travel. It is an order of the ambassador (of the U.S.). What the letter that was presented to me said – I have read it – it talked about some articles – I don’t know which ones – and said that I could be involved with terrorism or associated with terrorism. I said if I was a terrorist then I should be in jail."
Actions such as this are a sign of the irrational political climate of the Bush administration’s "War on Terror." Zurita, as one of the leading voices for human rights and peace in her country, is anything but a terrorist. We invited her to speak at our conference to increase the dialogue between the two countries. Latin America is currently
going through enormous social and political change. Exchanges with people involved in the grassroots struggles in this region of the world are key to understanding what is going on on the ground, in spite of the US government’s foreign policy.
As such, the organizers of the "Winds of Change In The Americas" conference are continuing to pressure the US Embassy in La Paz, Bolivia to reinstate Leonida Zurita’s visa. We have also contacted the offices of VT Senator Patrick Leahy, Representative Bernie Sanders and Jim Jeffords to notify them of this situation and are awaiting responses from all three of them.
Our conference will take place on Sunday, March 5th from 3-9 PM at the Unitarian Church at the head of Church Street in Burlington, Vermont. We are working to make sure Leonida will be speaking at this event. In addition to her presentation, there will be discussions led by Vermonters who recently returned from Caracas, Venezuela for the World Social Forum, a gathering of social movements, NGOs and activists from around the globe. Representatives from the Vermont Worker’s Center will be discussing social movements in Vermont.