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Trinity Junior Fights Violence in Argentina

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Trinity junior Caitlyn Yates visits salt mines in northern Argentina to learn how big businesses exploit local residents trying to make a living.

Anthropology major sees benefits of protests to end violence perpetrated by Latin American drug cartels, police

by Susie P. Gonzalez

Caitlyn and Adolfo Perez EsquivelWhat Trinity University junior Caitlyn Yates learned in the poorest neighborhoods of Argentina speaks volumes about life anywhere – people do not want to endure the threat of drug violence and police brutality.

The solution, she discovered, is to protest, not merely to lobby, but to join forces with neighbors and fight for a safer life. Yates learned that lesson while visiting what the natives call "the slums" of Rosario, Argentina, during the fall semester.

The Lampasas, Texas, native who is majoring in anthropology with minors in Spanish and political science hopes that what she gained from her experiences can serve as a model for other violence-torn Latin American countries such as Bolivia or Paraguay.

Yates lived in an indigenous community, attended an empowering women's conference, and thrived in a program exploring human rights and social movement. At semester's end, she presented a paper in Spanish titled "The Growth of Drug Violence in Rosario: Disciplined Violence and Argentina's Cultural Capacity to Potentially Eradicate this System." In late February, she will present the paper in English during the 7th annual Human Development Conference at the University of Notre Dame.

Graffiti on wall in Spanish

"A lot can be done with the power of people," Yates said. "I saw that occur during my five months there."

She learned about the program, operated by the SIT (School for International Training) Study Abroad office in Brattleboro, Vermont, from anthropology professor Richard Reed and consulted her anthropology adviser, Alfred Montoya, during her stay in Argentina. She also attended classes at the University of Buenos Aires.

But Yates said her course work at Trinity – especially the anthropology classes taught by Montoya – prepared her for the classes and field work that focused on human rights and drug trafficking. "I don't know if I would have had any of these interests if I hadn't come here."

To be safe, she never went alone into Argentina's poor neighborhoods to meet women who created a community coalition and teachers who produced an alternate education system.

The opening ceremony of the Encuentro Nacional de Mujeres

"There is always a park where people gather all day long," Yates said. "I would see trucks (with police) circling, keeping groups of people within that area. I noticed how incredibly close everyone was. The women told me, ‘If there's going to be violence, if there's going to be police brutality, if there's going to be drug violence, it's our job to get rid of it.'"

While she was there, Yates learned of a case in which police killed three boys. She attended protests and marches, which garnered a lot of press coverage, and she is relieved to report that the police were convicted. Her research paper tracks a decline in violence and attributes some of the improvement to the fact that Argentina has a history of social mobilization.

When asked if she found her passion, Yates said, "I think I did."

Susie P. Gonzalez, director of public and media relations in the Office of University Communications, can be reached at susie.gonzalez [at] trinity.edu.