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The South Florida Roundup

Trayvon Martin's legacy, Russia's growing influence, Latin America's abortion rights movement

The death of Trayvon Martin sparked protests across the country. Florida's self defense laws faced national scrutiny, including Stand Your Ground.
David Shankbone
Wikimedia Commons
The death of Trayvon Martin sparked protests across the country. Florida's self defense laws faced national scrutiny, including Stand Your Ground.

Trayvon Martin’s image came to symbolize injustice for a generation. Russia increases its political influence in Latin America. Plus, Latin America's abortion rights movement contrasts against U.S. abortion restrictions.

10 years ago this Saturday, a 17-year-old from Miami Gardens was visiting his dad in Sanford, Florida near Orlando. He walked to a 7-Eleven to get some snacks and was walking home when a neighborhood watchman ignored a 911 operator he called and followed the teen.

Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by the watchman, who would later be found not guilty of murder.

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There were calls to boycott Florida over its Stand Your Ground gun law that was key in the murder trial. Martin’s image as a Black teenager wearing a hooded sweatshirt came to symbolize injustice for a generation.

Keno Walker, a youth organizer with Power U remembers how Martin’s death brought swift and grand change to the landscape of activism. He graduated high school the same year Martin would’ve graduated, and has been involved with the organization since he was 13 years old.

“Our work actually took a shift,” he said. “This is where the movement of having youth organizers, youth education, youth political actions took place.”
Keno Walker, Power U youth organizer

Martin’s killing and his shooter’s acquittal sparked protests and calls for justice that would echo louder and farther years later with the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

The biggest legacy from Martin’s killing is the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement and organization.

Isaiah Smalls, a reporter covering race and culture for the Miami Herald, said that Martin’s parents Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin were at the forefront in the creation of this movement. They did not want their son to be forgotten.

From Trayvon Martin to George Floyd, he said that it feels like it just keeps happening. It’s a larger issue that keeps coming to the forefront of the news cycle that comes from the perceived cheapness of Black lives, he said.

“There’s this love for this continued push for equality, but also there’s this understanding that being Black in America still comes at that risk.”
Isaiah Smalls. Miami Herald reporter

Russian influence throughout Latin America

Russia’s long-feared invasion of Ukraine began Thursday, with an attack from multiple directions.

As Russia forcefully attempts to increase its sphere of influence on that side of the world, it has also been growing its political influence in Latin America.

Earlier this month, Argentine president Alberto Fernández and Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro paid Moscow separate visits. And a top Russian official traveled to Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua to meet with leaders there, promising more military cooperation.

Fernández said that Argentina has to reduce its independence and has to open up to other places, with Russia playing an important role in this case.

Russia’s influence in the region has been steadily growing. It currently has 18 embassies throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

Luis Guillermo Solis, the Interim Director of the Latin American and Caribbean Center at FIU and the former president of Costa Rica, said he’s always had this concern of Russia operating in Latin America for years without constraint.

“They have come and installed even militarily in several countries in the region,” he said. “For decades.”

These countries include Guatemala, Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. Russia has been bolstering and aiding the Nicaraguan Armed Forces.

Russia’s long-time support of the regimes in these countries, along with their delivery of their Sputnik vaccine when the U.S. couldn’t provide one, have helped foster this growth of influence.

Solis believes that those in the Latin diaspora should remain aware of the situation in Ukraine and be prepared.

“This is not something that will go away easily, and the consequences that it can bear upon the immediate area of the crisis but also the regions beyond it have to be measured carefully.”

Growing abortion rights in Colombia and South America

Colombia partially decriminalized abortion — becoming the latest Latin American country to ease restrictions on the procedure.

Colombia’s constitutional court had been hearing a case that challenged the criminalization of abortion in the country and ruled that abortion is effectively decriminalized up to 24 weeks.

Daniela Martins, Director of Strategy and Communications for the Women’s Equality Center, said that this is a landmark ruling with the most flexible abortion legislation in the region.

“It’s very important to understand that this is part of a movement that was sparked in Argentina back in December 2020 when the country legalized abortion,” she said. “It was followed then by a supreme court decision in Mexico … What we see is this domino effect within the region.”

Before the ruling, abortions were allowed only if a woman’s life was in danger, a fetus had malformations or the pregnancy was a result of rape.

Women in Colombia won’t have to provide any justification within that 24-week term. After the 24th week, restrictions on abortion will remain in place.

The easing of abortion restrictions in Colombia, Argentina and Mexico have been called tectonic. This movement is in contrast to the potential shift on abortion rules here in the U-S, including Florida.

Florida and several other states move to tighten rules ahead of a highly anticipated U.S. Supreme Court ruling expected in June that could overturn Roe vs. Wade, which established a constitutional right to abortion.

Florida lawmakers are poised to approve new abortion restrictions. Current Florida law bans abortions after 24 weeks. The bill making its way through the Legislature would reduce that to 15 weeks and has no exemptions for rape or incest.

Martins said that these tightening abortion restrictions will affect those who are the most vulnerable, and it is concerning especially since the U.S. is a beacon for women in Latin America who seek necessary medical procedures.

“What we see in Florida is extremely concerning, but there is also a sense of solidarity that is coming out of Latin America that is trying to send hope to the movement fighting these regressions in the United States.”

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Natu Tweh is WLRN's Morning Edition Producer. He also reports on general news out of South Florida.