This Father’s Day we celebrate three men who courageously strive to overcome adversity and improve the lives of their families and of their communities. Carlos Marentes, Sr., Antonal Mortimer, and Alfredo Lopez are three inspiring fathers, working with Grassroots International’s Partners in Haiti, Texas, and Honduras, and are key leaders within their communities.
Defending Workers Rights
Carlos Marentes Sr. is a leader of the Border Agricultural Workers Center in El Paso, Texas and co-coordinator of Via Campesina North America.
Carlos has fought for better working conditions for migrant workers in the agriculture and service industries since the early 1980s. Since starting the Agricultural Workers Center in 1995 Carlos has worked on addressing the connection between worker rights and other social injustices.
As new technologies have reduced the number of people needed to harvest crops, Carlos has expanded the focus of his work from primarily agricultural towards helping migrant workers in the construction and service industries. Many service workers have been marginalized for decades, receiving low wages and in many cases working in dangerous conditions. In order to combat these issues, Carlos and other members of Via Campesina are working to address the root causes of migration through bi-national and international action.
The continued need for cheap migrant labor has exacerbated the problems many peasants in Central and South America face. As Carlos says, “We must support the rebuilding of peasant communities in the South. If one peasant leaves, the whole family and community suffer. We have to restore our families and make our communities whole.” Otherwise, he notes, the constant cycle of forced migration will continue and the problems we see today will worsen.
Carlos has seen many successes in the fight to combat these critical issues. However, Carlos says that the most rewarding part of this work are the small victories “like a worker withholding work to successfully get a better pay for a bucket of chilies, is a victory that is sweet like honey.” Through his work, Carlos is laying down the foundation for future generations of activists working towards a common goal.
Upholding Black Rights and Territory in Honduras
Alfredo Lopez, a well-known and respected community leader, is the vice-president of the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH), a partner of Grassroots International. OFRANEH defends and promotes the rights of indigenous, Afro-descendant Hondurans (known as Garifunas), whose ancestral territory contains some of the most breathtaking and fertile areas along the Atlantic coast of Honduras. Their territory is the target of sometimes violent land grab attempts by agrofuel plantation financiers, tour-resort developers and narco-traffickers.
Alfredo has helped OFRANEH set up a network of six community radio stations that serve to unify the Garifuna communities along the coast. These radio stations educate communities about their rights, history and culture, and keep them up to date on current new and strategies for defending their territories.
Alfredo has experienced many challenges in his struggle for justice, including numerous death threats and six years in jail on trumped up charges. Through it all, he finds strength and solidarity from the past. “Our ancestors suffered through the same situation as us, perhaps even worse. They were forced onto boats and shipped from Africa. Many were not lucky enough to survive the journey and died along the way. We try to remember and respect their sacrifices, and this helps us today in our struggles,” said Alfredo.
Through his tireless efforts with OFRANEH, Alfredo is helping to preserve the Garifuna communities for Alfredo’s children as well as future generations.
Fighting for Human Rights and a Better Future for the Next Generation
As the former Executive Secretary of the Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organizations (POHDH) Antonal Mortimer has organized for human rights in Haiti since the 1991 military coup that overthrew democratically-elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Antonal’s efforts have been instrumental in providing legal aid for victims, reporting on human rights conditions, education, and carrying out advocacy campaigns.
But this work is not without its risks. Antonal, like many human rights defenders in Haiti, risks his life to protect the basic rights of Haitian citizens. The constant threat of exile, intimidation, and assassinations are part and parcel of daily life for human rights activists. Despite the substantial dangers, he is committed to continuing his work defending human rights in his home country.
Through his work with POHDH, Antonal has helped build a national network of local human rights monitors, pushed for judicial reform, increased access to the judicial system, improved international coordination, and development of a broad communications campaign for a national culture of respect for human rights. Antonal believes that through greater human rights and rights education, Haitians will gain a greater voice within their nation.
With all these ongoing efforts and activism, Antonal’s impact on his family’s future goes far beyond improving the lives of everyday Haitians. Antonal is a pioneer who is paving the way for a new age in Haiti. During his 25 years of human rights activism, Antonal has helped increase the voice everyday Haitians have in their judicial and governmental systems as well as improved the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable people in Haiti.
Toby de Peyster has been volunteering at Grassroots International since May 2016. He is a current student Wellesley High School interested in international rural development and community activism.