In the year 2007, an organisation emerged, made up of Ecuadorians who have been fighting for the rights of immigrants. It has brought changes to the community, political changes in its country and in Great Britain.
Juanjo Andrés Cuervo
“There was a need from the Ecuadorian and Latin American communities, to organise themselves on the topic of justice for cleaners and that nobody is illegal”, explains Juan Carlos Piedra, an Ecuadorian man who arrived in England in 2002 in search of a new life.
Five years later, 1st April 2007, and with Juan Carlos as one of the founders and its director (he still is today), the Ecuador Movement in the United Kingdom (MERU) emerged, coinciding with the beginning of the Citizens’ Revolution led by Rafael Correa, a president who was supported very closely by members of the organisation during the entirety of his mandate.
Therefore, last year’s transition of power to Lenin Moreno seemed like it was going to establish a policy of continuity.
However, the political turn that the current leader of Ecuador has taken, has disappointed the members of MERU as well as many compatriots.
“We voted for Lenin Moreno”, acknowledges Juan Carlos, but he admits that at the moment, “the President’s politics do not coincide with the work that we did during the campaign”.
Finally, “there was a total breakdown and they are looking for alternatives on a political level”, says Juan Carlos and mentions the Alfaro Movement, even though “it has not been recognised by the National Electoral Council”, he states.
Regarding the eleven years that he has spent working as Director of the Ecuador Movement in the United Kindom, the change in profile of Latin American immigrants and the political reality that he experiences in his country, Juan Carlos Piedra spoke to The Prisma.
Birth of MERU
During Sunday 1st April 2007, around 90 people formed the first General Assembly of Ecuadorians to speak about politics at SOAS University.
“At that time, both Ecuadorians as well as other Latin Americans did not want to talk about politics due to the bad experiences that we brought from our countries”, says Juan Carlos.
“We were all upset”, he emphasises and therefore “we preferred to talk about work when we got together”. However, they decided to change this and started to meet to analyse politics in Latin America and the United Kingdom.
“We started to make propaganda and we formed the commission to create MERU, and we declared that day as Ecuadorian Migrants Day”.
As a result of that, they joined the march on 7th May 2007 in favour of the rights of undocumented people and asylum seekers.
Furthermore, they started to work on matters of human rights, condemning what was happening in Palestine, organising the campaign in defence of the popular consultation in Ecuador and illegal detentions in the UK, among other topics.
Eleven years fighting and resisting
Juan Carlos Piedra arrived in London in 2002 and discovered that “there was capitalism that was not how it was portrayed in Latin America”. “We realised that there were serious problems relating to health or education”, he says. Faced with this situation, “you have to fight, join forces and keep working, to be able to stay in this country and make sure that there are alternatives for other people”, he highlighted.
“We are not trying to install communism or socialism, but we want there to be equality so that people can enjoy basic necessities of health or accommodation. Therefore, we started to organise ourselves with Latin American groups and English groups”.
In this way, they have been developing a close connection of solidarity among Latin Americans to move forward. “We work with the organisations of CLAUK, IRMO, LAWRS, LAWAS, or with the The Prisma newspaper, to create events and projects, and with campaigns such as “Justice for Cleaners” with SOAS, that emerged at the same time as MERU”, notes Juan Carlos.
Regarding politics in the United Kingdom, “we support Labour, especially since the interesting fever was woken up by Jeremy Corbyn”, he admits.
The Latin Americans
After so many years fighting for human rights in the British capital, Juan Carlos warns that there has been a change in the profile of Latin American immigrants. “When I arrived, the majority were undocumented, out of every ten Latin Americans, eight of us did not have permission to reside in the United Kingdom”, he acknowledges.
Precisely why this situation must be kept secret among them to avoid deportation. “We built a type of barrier to talk about these topics because we knew what our situation in the United Kingdom was like”, states Juan Carlos.
In fact, he expresses that “the main topics of conversation revolved around the cases that were being prosecuted, or the deportation that had happened to someone we knew”.
Currently, he admits that the subject has changed and they speak less about people who do not have documents. “The situation is different, out of every ten Latin Americans, eight have documents”, he states.
Nevertheless, the theme of exploitation continues.
“Now, businesses abuse Latin Americans who have Spanish documents, many suffer sexual harassment and we are always getting complaints about these type of problems”, he states.
“The problem is that these people arrive in the United Kingdom and they have difficulty with the language, they do not know British laws and businesses exploit them, they don’t pay them or they work for one month and then fire them”, he adds and says that “it is a very much standing topic within the Latin American and Spanish-speaking community in the United Kingdom”.
Campaigns and projects
“In 2009 we launched the first Ecuadorian Library at Elephant and Castle. It had a very good welcome. People borrowed books, others bought them from Ecuador. There was a lot of integration, books were gifted, we held workshops about Ecuadorian immigration politics”, he says.
Unfortunately, two years later there was a fire and all the books were burned, and now they are trying to recover material to launch the library again.
On the other hand, they have held a festival for the rights of women for eight years, and they also celebrate International Migrants Day.
In 2011, they took part in the Newham carnival for the first time, an area highly populated by Latin Americans. “To begin with, we were one group, but now the festival has developed and we have managed to get 6 Latin American groups participating”, he says.
Therefore, in 2012, the first Latin American carnival in Newham arose, and this year it will take place in August.
On the other hand, the second edition of the Latin American carnival in London is being organised, which will probably take place in Lambeth.
Within MERU, it is the Women and Family commission that organises festivals for children, in which there are games, popular artists come, and which will be in Elephant and Castle. For the following year, they will organise a forum to talk about the topic of women, and they will exhibit photos taken by Latin American women.
On the international level, MERU participated in the Global Forum on Migration and Development in Valencia, alongside Rumiñahui, the association of Ecuadorians who live in Madrid.
“Next, we will go there to hold a preforum, and we will go to the global forum that will be in Mexico, and we are organising ourselves for these events”, declared Juan Carlos.
For the community
“We have suffered drawbacks”, recalls Juan Carlos, and he recognises that the organisation “suffered a very sad rupture in 2013”. As a result of this problem, “we learned that, when you are within an organisation, before attacking, you have to resist”, he expresses categorically.
Because, as a colleague told them, “the organisation that resists, wins”. Therefore, “through resistance, work and experience”, they were able to overcome in 2013.
“We are a team of volunteers who, once we finish the working day, after 5 or 6 in the evening, we organise ourselves from our respective homes to work in the organisation”.
“During weekends, we go onto the streets, we deliver flyers, we develop projects and organise festivals.” Simply put, “a true work in the community that we have developed and that deserves every respect from members of the community”, he states.
(Translated by Donna Davison – Email: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org) – Photos MERU Facebook