Last week, the city of Los Angeles hosted the convening of the Ninth Summit of the Americas. The theme was “Building a Sustainable, Resilient and Equitable Future” and this year marked the first time the summit had been hosted in the U.S. since 1994. The five-day conference where President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and dozens of other world leaders from North, South and Central America attended, tackled the most pressing issues from immigration to trade to climate change to Covid-19.
However, less than a mile away local leaders also hosted The People’s Summit for Democracy from June 8-10 at the Los Angeles Trade Technical College (LATTC), which was organized in opposition to the Summit of the Americas. Numerous world leaders, including Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, boycotted in response to the exclusion of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua from the Summit of the Americas.
The People’s Summit was intended to uplift the voices of the working-class people in the Americas and prioritize “people’s democracy first,” as stated on their website. The Biden Administration’s summit did not represent the people of the Americas, according to the organizers of the People’s Summit. “The exclusion of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua have already made Biden’s summit a political disaster,” organizers stated in a declaration letter. “We add that this exclusion does not speak for the working class and people of conscience of this country who desire friendship and dialogue with all the peoples of our hemisphere.”
Via 25 workshops and panel discussions, the People’s Summit covered issues impacting the world that organizers believed were not appropriately addressed at Biden’s summit. The topics covered included prison abolition, immigrant rights, vaccine apartheid, Pan-Africanism, women’s rights, unfair socio-economic systems and institutionalized white supremacy.
One of the most anticipated speakers was Puerto Rican activist, writer and self-described militant, Oscar Lopez Rivera. He is considered a national freedom hero, as honored in New York’s long-standing Puerto Rican Day Parade and has the distinction of being one of the longest held political prisoners in the world. López Rivera was a member of the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional Puertorriqueña (FALN), a leftist organization that fought for Puerto Rican liberation and independence from the U.S.
In 1981, López Rivera was arrested and charged with seditious conspiracy against the U.S. government and sentenced to 70 years in prison. He was released from prison in 2017, after then-President Obama shortened his sentence.
On the second-to-last day of the summit, Lopez Rivera spoke to a full house of attendees about Puerto Rican liberation and the colonization of the island by the U.S. “They said Puerto Ricans were a mongrel race, that we were incapable of self -government, that we were incapable of developing anything that was worthwhile,” he said referring to the U.S. “We will not be defeated. I definitely believe that Puerto Rico will be an independent, sovereign nation.”
On the third and last plenary of the People’s Summit, titled “Our Peoples Speak!,” Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel, Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro and former president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, offered pre-recorded video messages of solidarity to the organizers and attendees of the summit.
Díaz-Canel said Cuba was an honorable survivor of 63 years of blockade by the U.S. and thanked the summit for not excluding Cuba. “Dear comrades participating in the People’s Summit, I was not wrong when I said that I would not be at the Summit of the Americas, but that the voice of Cuba certainly would be. You’re our voice,” he said. “The revolution has always had it very clear: When governments deprive us from our voice, peoples will always be there to represent us, to speak on our behalf.”
In his pre-recorded message, Morales called the Summit of the Americas a “failed summit.” He confessed that at one time it was scary to be expelled from the Organization of American States (OAS), which helps organize the Summit of the Americas, but today he considers withdrawing from it to be “dignified and healthy, “ decision.
“The United States proclaims democracy,” Morales said, “but by excluding Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, they lie to everyone, that is not democracy.”
Lastly, Maduro called the People’s Summit the “true summit of LA” and said it was helping the advancement of a new America, “our America, popular, socialist, revolutionary and humanist, the America of the 21st century.” He added: ”There is a world beyond Washington DC, there is a world beyond imperial arrogance and it is a world that is emerging.”
The last day of the summit ended with approximately 200 people marching down from LATTC to the LA Convention Center. Led by chant leaders and People’s Summit organizers, attendees carried signs that read “End white supremacy” and “Cancel school debts” and “End mass incarceration” and “Workers make the world run.” Grassroots organizations like CHIRLA, CARECEN, Healthcare for All – Los Angeles (HCA-LA), Party for Socialism and Liberation, National Union of the Homeless, National Women’s Liberation, Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and other groups were also present in the march and throughout the three days of the summit.
“The U.S. has no right to speak about democracy when the people here face homelessness, police violence, climate destruction and countless other social issues every day,” read one of the People’s Summit Instagram posts.
For more information and to watch pre-recorded panel discussions from the People’s Summit for Democracy, visit their YouTube channel HERE.
CALÓ NEWS was on hand the event and interviewed attendees of the People’s Summit for Democracy who shared their visions for Latinos living in the U.S.
Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.
WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR LATINOS AND PEOPLE OF COLOR LIVING IN THE U.S.?
BERTHA ZUNIGA CACERES, 31, Los Angeles, Social Activist, She/Her, Hondureña
What I hope is that there’s a guarantee of fundamental rights so that working class people can have a decent life. I hope we continue to be aware of our power and that we do not forget our history and our roots because that’s what will encourage us to live better. Many of us have reasons to migrate, to live where we are now, so it is important to not be indifferent to other people who are also fighting against forms of oppression. Within the U.S., we all deserve to live in a country with justice and respect. This is why it’s important for working class people to continue organizing and liberating each other. I want future Latinx generations to not just survive but to live. Lastly, I hope that we never lose connections with the Earth and that we continue to protect it.
NAZARAETH JIMENEZ GARCIA, 18, Los Angeles, Youth Organizer, She/Her, Latina
I hope for solidarity across everybody, Black, Indigenous, Asian, Hispanic and Latinx folks living in the U.S. Real acts of solidarity is something that I have always envisioned within our communities, within minorities. It’s important that as minorities living in the U.S. we continue to support each other and have each other’s back, because we are stronger together that way. A lot of Latinos and people of color live in fear of something, whether that’s because of their immigration status or color of their skin or being at the wrong place and wrong time, and living in fear is no way of living. I want Latinx and people of color to live in peace, unafraid and to be able to empower one another because that’s going to empower our ancestors and most importantly our future generations.
BRUNO TAPIA GARCIA, Los Angeles, Technician, They/Them, Latinx
My hope is that we can create organized communities where we are fighting for our individual rights and also for other people of color rights. I hope that we can continue to create spaces where we fight towards the liberation of oppressed people regardless of their race, age or gender. I hope that as people of color, we take the power back from the ruling [powers that be] because within the U.S. there’s so many barriers that are meant to make us feel weak and incapable of a better future, but that’s not true. I hope that one day we can see beyond our differences and instead look at how similar we are, the similar struggles that we face and that we become more unified.
FIDEL SANCHEZ, Los Angeles, Retired, Him/His, Salvadorian
I’m an immigrant from El Salvador. I came to the U.S. in 1986. For those of us who came to this country, my hope is that we never forget our roots, that we fight for a better future here in the U.S. and aback home, wherever home is for you. It’s important to understand that many Latinos are living in this country because our own countries are not safe, are at war. My hope is that Latino immigrant parents support their kids to thrive, to be who they are, to fight for better conditions than the ones their parents grew up in. I hope we continue to invest in our kids, because they are our seeds. In our kids and in the youth is where the power to change these conditions lie. As Latinos, I also hope we never lose sense of our language, that we preserve our native tongue because by doing so we are reminding our kids that who we are is something to be proud of.
MAR HERNANDEZ, 24, Los Angeles, Chef, They/Them, Mexican
I envision that in the future, people of color will be valued as human beings. That documentation, color of skin, resources, education and disabilities aren’t used as an excuse to dehumanize us. I want for us to be informed about all injustices happening around and somehow to get involved and to come together and create a community without discrimination, so we can stand up for each other stronger against the greatest evils of white supremacy and patriarchy. I want real freedom for people of color in the U.S. By this, I mean the liberty of walking in the streets without being harassed by cops. For human beings without legal status to not fear going to places because of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. I believe that we are all born freely and it’s the laws of men that cage us in.