Dominican youth leader shares farm worker struggles during U.S. tour
By Ivonne Rivero, El Hispanic News
Portland, OR — José Julio Pérez Morales, youth affairs coordinator for The National Confederation of the Farmworker of the Dominican Republic (CONFENACA), visited Portland last month as part of a U.S. tour aimed at alert the public about the union’s efforts to improve the lives of farm workers and to stop a mining project that threatens their efforts and the environment.
Pérez Morales spoke in the boardroom of the AFL-CIO Labor Center in Portland on Oct. 8. Ramón Ramírez, president of the Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United (PCUN), Pérez Morales, whom he affectionately called “Chelo,” praising his efforts on this tour, during which the young leader has been able to contact more than 500 people.
“Our union is directed at helping poor families and farmers,” Pérez Morales said, adding that CONFENACA is in the midst of a serious mining conflict. Through his six-week tour, he hopes people here will see what is happening in his community and help stop surface mining operations that threaten their health and home.
Pérez Morales presented a video detailing what is happening in El Cibao, in the northern part of the Dominican Republic. The video shares the origins of CONFENACA, which was founded in 1994 and represents more than 700 workers. Their mission is to defend the rights of the farmer workers, working for the welfare and prosperity of rural communities. The union provides vaccinations, school supplies, free computer classes, and trainings at various levels, and is working to give Dominican women equal rights. CONFENACA helps women produce blankets and pillows to be sold to help with their economic empowerment, and also provides capacity development training to rural women.
The union’s most economic justice important program is the provision of heifers and training in animal care to needy families. The union provides each participant with a “living loan” of a heifer, and the family later donates the heifer’s first calf, thus empowering another family and creating an endless cycle of hope for the most marginalized families.
But all these projects could have a sudden end. For many years, open pit mining operations have been carried out on Loma de Miranda — a mountain in El Cibao — causing several problems that affect the sustainability of life in the area, according to the video. The extraction of minerals by the Canadian company Falcondo Xstrata has caused many cases of cancer, especially in women, who have experienced high incidences of breast cancer in those under 30 years of age. Furthermore, CONFENACA asserts, the extraction threatens to destroy the source of 25 rivers and displace half a million people living in the area.
So far, the union has held peaceful demonstrations to stop the mountaintop mining, and CONFENACA President Luis Ureña “convened a meeting of farm worker leaders to support them in the struggle,” Pérez Morales said. “We do not want our people to disappear, nor the rivers to dry up. That’s going to be devastating.”
More than 200 community organizations have expressed opposition to the mining operations of Xstrata Falcondo Nickel in the area, he added, and CONFENACA has sent letters to all legislators in the region.
“We hope to achieve our goals and we are looking for support throughout the U.S.,” Pérez Morales said.
“We are talking about a mountain where 25 rivers are born and this is a vein that irrigates the entire agricultural region — the most important of the El Cibao,” Ramírez said. “PCUN passed a resolution in support of the struggle, and we will be sending a letter the president of the Dominican Republic.”
PCUN and Oregon immigrant rights organization CAUSA are planning to send a delegation to the Dominican Republic in the spring of 2013, and is seeking more community members to join the investigative trip. Ramírez said eight people, including himself, are already confirmed. The week-long trip will cost about $1,000 per person, with accommodation with local families. For more information, contact Ramírez at 503-989-0073 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“People think that this is an issue for Canadians,” Ramírez said, “but few know that large banking corporations such as Wells Fargo, the same banks that we built, are exploiting the Dominican people.”
“I marched in the first march in Loma de Miranda,” Ramírez added, “along with 26,000 women, and 20 of them had cancer. There have not benefited from all the gold and silver that is being taken, nor is any of that wealth reflected in anything. Canadian companies like Xstrata Falcondo Nickel are making billions of dollars and the place looks as barren as Mars. … The contract dates back several decades and belongs to the Dominican state. This is a problem that has been brewing for a long time already.”
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