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Cindy Vargas-Ortiz

Cindy Vargas-Ortiz is an indigenous member of the Térraba tribe in south-east Costa Rica. She has been working in the realm of politics for a number of years, leading nonviolent movements against racism within public schools, raising awareness and lobbying governments. She also works with groups visiting the Térraba community, showing them the cultural and historical richness of the people and how government projects and institutions like hydroelectric dams and schools have been inconsiderate to the tribe.   

Interview and translation by Andrew Wheeler

April 2013

 To me, peace means happiness. Not a one-sided happiness for one, two, or even a host of people, but a mutual happiness across all peoples.

Such happiness can only be born from a relationship of respect between people from all sides of an issue.

If people do not respect one another, how can any lasting peace be possible? To push that further, how can peace of any kind be possible?

Peace is more than a lack of violence. It is more than détente. Peace is the security in knowing that your way of life is respected by others and won’t be infringed for purely selfish desires.

Without that mutual relationship of respect, at least one side will always be working toward its own goals with little regard to others, creating tension and negative emotions—that isn’t peace.  There is an undertone of disrespect in such a society that is often accompanied by disdain. That is the kind of society that supports the worst kind of violence; the violence that manifests itself in unfair institutions that subjugate whole groups of people.

To resolve conflicts that arise from such systems, the roots of them need to be identified and recognized—oftentimes they are based at the very heart of a culture. In my efforts to highlight issues of social injustice, I have participated in nonviolent action campaigns, surviving the cries and stones of hatred to highlight issues of social injustice so that policy can be changed and our way of life be respected.

In my profession, I am constantly lobbying for this respect; respect is cardinal. To earn respect, however, one needs to be known. One needs to make her or his voice heard. It is through my job that I have learned that.

In my life, I have worked with websites (www.rutadelasavez.es.tl as an example) and led tours to promote our tribe in the consciousness of the national and global community. I have helped to lead student and parent nonviolent movements against racism. I have worked to preserve native, Térraba lands, protecting the rights of my brothers, sisters and family via lobbying efforts. I have helped to create propositions and data that accurately represent our side of national affairs to present to the Costa Rican government, U.S. government and big business firms so that they may take us into consideration when handling issues that will shape our future, as we have not had the right to govern our own land the way we would like to.

One of my main hopes in regards to our power over our land is the creation of autonomy for the Térraba tribe as a people so that we can have a stronger voice over what happens within and around our community.

The goal of someone studying peace should be to look for conflicts, even if they are not obvious at surface level, and find their source, thinking of nonviolent ways to root out the conflicts and promote respect, happiness and peace.