Renato Espinoza

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Renato Espinoza, died 2007, was active in Austin Texas, and in his native Chile.

Coming to Texas

Renato Espinoza came to Texas in 1963 through an exchange program administered by the University of Texas International Office. (Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett, Dave McNeely, Ricardo Romo, Carol Keeton Rylander, Lowell Lebermann, Dave Oliphant, John Wheat, Sara Speights, and former Observer editor Kaye Northcott were among the Texans who traveled to Chile as part of the program. Alice Embree was a participant in the last exchange in 1967.)

Funded by the U.S. State Department, the program was buffeted by political change in both Chile and the United States. The Chileans were student leaders in parties of the left and right. They asked Texans questions about Vietnam and civil rights and got answers that weren’t always welcomed by the State Department or UT administrators.

Renato returned to Texas with wife Loreto in 1965 and earned a doctorate in psychology from UT. The Espinozas returned to Chile shortly after President Salvador Allende’s election, eager to be part of the change promised by the Popular Unity government. It was a time of hope for many Chileans, until the military coup. Renato was arrested in northern Chile while working in the administration of a nationalized copper mine. Through good fortune and the persistent efforts of family, he was released. Most of those arrested with him were executed.

With the help of friends in Texas, Renato was offered a job, and the Espinozas and their two young daughters returned to Texas. Renato and Loreto found a supportive community in Austin’s Latin American Policy Alternatives Group. In September 1976, the brutality of the Chilean dictatorship exploded on the streets of Washington, D.C., when Orlando Letelier and his colleague, Ronni Moffit, were assassinated by a car bomb. Letelier was the Chilean ambassador to the United States under Allende and an effective voice against the coup. Working out of the Institute of Policy Studies, Letelier persuaded many governments to curtail investment in Chile. His success made him a target of General Pinochet’s regime.[1]

Austin Committee for Human Rights in Chile

Shortly after the assassinations, Alice Embree formed the Austin Committee for Human Rights in Chile. Letelier had promoted this committee network on his visit to Austin shortly before he was killed. The Austin committee brought attention to the abuses of the Chilean dictatorship and sponsored educational and cultural events for over a decade. Through this solidarity work, Embree came to know Renato Espinoza well.

Their first major event was a September 1977 showing of a documentary, “The Battle of Chile.” It had been smuggled from the country. They had paid a deposit to the Paramount Theatre, but at $2.50 a ticket they had to pack the place to pay the rest of what they owed. The committee distributed posters, passed out leaflets, sold tickets, issued press releases, wrote guest viewpoints, and filled the Paramount to standing room only. Renato was tireless, an organizer who never shied away from tedious work. We sponsored a number of other successful events-bringing internationally renowned musical groups Inti-Illimani and Quilapayun to Austin venues ranging from Armadillo World Headquarters and Liberty Lunch to Hogg Auditorium, and hosting theatrical presentations and speakers-one of whom, Josao Miguel Insulza, now heads the Organization of American States.

Renato enlisted an artist, Carlos Lowry, who had grown up in Chile, to design posters and leaflets. Carlos moved from Dallas and became the Chile committee artist. Embree was a printer at Red River Women’s Press, where the posters were screened and the leaflets printed. Many silk-screened posters later, Carlos and I married. Renato took credit for the match.[2]

Influence

If the Espinozas had only been political organizers, their impact on Austin would have been large. But they were so much more. They were gracious hosts to many gatherings at their lovely South Austin home. They reached out to Latin Americans, Brown Berets, feminists, and a diverse progressive community, and regarded solidarity work as a two-way street.

As a psychologist, his publications at the Southwest Educational Development Lab enriched the lives of children and parents. After he left the lab, he earned a master’s in public health from the UT Health Science Center and became director of the Center for Minority Health Initiatives at the state Department of Health.[3]

Visiting Chile

After 17 years of dictatorship, democracy returned to Chile. Renato and Loreto had become U.S. citizens with adult daughters here, but they visited Chile frequently. In Austin, they gave time and resources generously, volunteering at Brackenridge Hospital, delivering meals for Meals on Wheels, and recording textbooks in English and Spanish for the Austin School for the Blind. Renato translated legal documents and court transcripts, worked for the Political Asylum Project of Austin, and volunteered at Casa Marianella in Austin.”[4]

New American Movement

In 1981, Doug Kellner, Nancy Collins, Jim Simonds, Alice Embree, Carlos Lowry, Frances Barton, Lynn Lorette, Mike Klineman, Mariann Wizard, Brady Coleman, Chris Cunningham, Tony Ingliss, Ian Ingliss, Renato Espinoza, Loretto Espinoza, Al Watkins, Phillip Russell, Walter Dressler, Bob Russell, Ray Reece, Rita Starpattern, Ann Clark, Betsy Timm, Dick Leveridge, Larry Waterhouse, Ken Carpenter, Sue Messerole, Dave Mahler, Susie Ramsey, Ed Cervenka and Paul Gottlieb of the Austin, TX Chapter of the New American Movement congratulated NAM,

Congratulations campadres! - from deep in the heart of Texas.[5]

References