Twenty-First Letelier-Moffitt Memorial Human Rights Awards Ceremony
Speech of acceptance by Carlos Marentes
Director of Sin Fronteras Organizing Project
September 27, 1997
Washington, D.C.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would also like to express my most sincere gratitude to the Institute for Policy Studies and the 1997 Letelier-Moffitt Awards Selection Committee, for honoring Sin Fronteras and our work.

Thanks also to our family and to all our friends who are with us this beautiful evening.

And thanks Congressmen Bonior, you are a true representative of the working class of America.

This is a very special occasion. Twenty years ago, Alicia and I joined the farm labor movement. It was the month of June of 1977, I remember it like if it was yesterday, when we decided to help a small but very struggling organization, the Texas Farm Workers Union (TFW). The TFW carried out a 1,500-mile-82-day march, from Austin to Washington, D.C., to call attention to the plight of the agricultural workers of South Texas. We marched through the South and learned about racism and inequality, but also about the civil rights movement. The march was called the " The Texas Farmworkers March for Human Rights." The TFW was asking for one and a basic right, the right to organize. We arrived in September, on "Labor Day" of 1977. But the President of the United States, did not meet with the group of farmworkers because he was too busy meeting with a group of Latin American "dignitaries" which included Augusto Pinochet, Anastacio Somoza and other sinister figures.

Today, the farmworkers continue to be the only sector of the working class that lacks the sacred right to organize. Without this right, the 4.2 million men, women and children who work in the fields of America are unable to change the current agricultural system of oppression and exploitation.

But the lack of collective bargaining rights is not the only responsible for the terrible situation of the farmworkers in this country. We have to place responsibilities on a handful of greedy agricultural and food corporations which are dedicated in body and soul to producing cheap products to satisfy the consumer and make profits despite the brutal exploitation in the fields. And let's also take into account the public sector. Bad political and economic laws and actions have increased the suffering of the agricultural labor force. Specifically, I am referring to the so-called free trade agreements, which only benefit the rich, welfare reform that punishes the victims of our economic system and the current repressive immigration policies.

Also at fault is the lack of historic memory on the part of our society. Hardly anyone remembers that during World War II, almost 5 million Mexicans came to this country to produce the food needed by this nation to defeat fascism.

But the problem is also beyond our borders. As long as the people of the rural communities of México and the rest of Latin America continue to lose the ability to grow their own food and survive in their own land, we will continue to see the rapid deterioration of the quality of life for the agricultural workers of this country. And this deterioration affects society as a whole.

Fortunately, there is also a rapidly growing farm labor movement in this country and a heroic peasant movement south of the border.

Despite the tragic current situation in the fields, there is faith and hope.

In February of 1983, we formed Sin Fronteras Organizing Project, with the objective of attempting to organize the agricultural workers of the U.S.-México border. Once organized, they will be able to improve their wages and working conditions.

We still have a long way to go, but we have also made some gains and we are very proud of our accomplishments. Our struggle has involved many farmworkers and many friends and sympathizers, we share with all of them this award.

We appreciate with all our hearts this significant recognition.

Congratulations to our hermanas and hermanos from Alianza Cívica and praise to Reverend Mac Jones. We admire and respect the Institute of Policy Studies and its important work. We honor Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt and reaffirm our commitment to bring dignity to the border agricultural workers. We join the colleagues, the friends and the relatives of Orlando and Ronni and reaffirm our commitment to the cause of human rights.

Thank you.

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