Weekly news roundup July 25th

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To Stem the Child Migrant Crisis, First Stop Poverty and Violence
Oscar Arias, former Costa Rican president and Nobel Peace Prize Winner, thoughtfully examines the root causes behind the child migrant crisis in Central America:

The root cause of this crisis is not U.S. immigration law or the policies of one U.S. president. The root cause is the violence and poverty that make these children’s lives at home intolerable. The root cause dates to the parents and grandparents of the young people fleeing their countries today — our region’s “lost generation,” those who were children and teenagers in the 1980s.

U.S. Considering Refugee Status for Hondurans
Yes please:

Hoping to stem the recent surge of migrants at the Southwest border, the Obama administration is considering whether to allow hundreds of minors and young adults from Honduras into the United States without making the dangerous trek through Mexico, according to a draft of the proposal.

Global Climate Change in Rural Colombia Is About More Than Just The Climate

The agrarian crisis associated with the effects of climate change cannot be seen as a self-contained problem whose roots lie somewhere at the global level. Many rural men and women in the Global South experience the environmental stress of climate change as a new challenge connected with longstanding local agrarian struggles against injustice, inequality, and exclusion. The effects of global climate change in the countryside, therefore, are to be understood in connection with multi-scalar political and economic processes that also impinge upon the vulnerability of rural families and their means of survival.

The place of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) in the development of this looming global food crisiscan be alarming, as small farmers produce nearly 70% of the food we consume in the region.

Haiti: Tourism Development on Île-à-Vache Island – Reconstruction or Another Disaster?
A controversial project in Haiti threatens to displace thousands in order to create a high-end resort destination:

Largely, the island community is not opposed to tourism. They are in favor of development which is respectful of their needs, which does not exploit nor threaten to take away their land; a project in which their participation is central and integral. However, they strongly oppose the current iteration of the project which is systematically violating their rights. 

Is the International Community Ready for Post-Conflict Colombia?
The Washington Office on Latin America explores this crucial question:

We sought views on preparations for a scenario we view as likely: the signing of a peace accord between Colombia’s government and the FARC guerrilla group, perhaps as soon as mid-2015. If the two sides reach an accord, the international community will have a large role to play, supporting many post-conflict (or at least “post-accord”) activities.

In perhaps a year, donor countries, UN agencies, and multilateral bodies will be compelled to shift gears, increasing and reorienting their aid packages. Are they ready to do that? Is the Colombian government helping them to prepare? What will the most urgent needs be?

Bolivia Legalizes Child Labor and Child Labor Might Decline
Many people are very concerned about Bolivia’s new law that legalizes child labor for kids ten and older. This Forbes article argues that this concern may be misguided. I’m not sure whether they’re right, but it’s an interesting perspective to consider:

It’s possible that economic circumstances are so dire that the children simply have to work: or at least some portion of them do, in order for the family to continue to survive.

In such circumstances making child labour illegal leads to lower wages for those children who are working. Obviously: illegal labour always gets paid less than legal given the risks of fines as a result of using the illegal labour. As a result, if child labour is made illegal then families need to send more of their children out to work, or for longer hours, in order to be able to continue to survive.

U.S. Court Tosses Out Case Against Chiquita Over Colombia Killings

A divided U.S. appeals court on Thursday threw out claims that Chiquita Brands International was complicit in the deaths thousands of Colombians during years of civil war.

Judges at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that federal courts have no jurisdiction over the Colombian claims. The lawsuits – brought by relatives of an estimated 4,000 deceased people – accused U.S.-based Chiquita of assisting in the killings by paying $1.7 million to a violent, right-wing paramilitary group known as the AUC, the Spanish acronym for United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia.

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Weekly Roundup July 18th

Guatemalan’s Aren’t Fleeing Gangs

This excellent article by Saul Elbein is the most insightful piece I’ve read on the Central American migrant crisis. The model of power in Guatemala is (and has been) violent and outside the legal system, from elite business families, to cartels, to gangs, and even private security forces (which describes to Honduras and El Salvador too). Gangs thrive in this violent chaos, but they are a symptom, not a cause:

So is it any surprise that after the war, on the streetswhere people grasped for the scraps that were left, where children grew up with no chance at wealth and less at respectpirate organizations like the MS-13 grew? 

What we’re seeing in Guatemala is not quite, in other words, a crime wave. It’s simply the way things have been there for a long time, pushed to the next level. If you are a civilian there, beneath the labelssoldier; gangster; policeman; army; cartelis but one underlying reality: men with guns who do what they want and take what they want. Your options are to buy your own security and gunmen; to join a gang yourself; or to leave. 

+ Why Aren’t Children Fleeing to the U.S. from Nicaragua?

Nicaragua has low rates of violent crime, gang membership, and fewer family connections to the United States than the Northern Triangle.

If U.S. policy was the main reason why there is a sudden surge of UAC, it should also pull UAC from Nicaragua. This suggests that other factors like the high levels of violence and strong family connections are the main reasons why UAC from the Northern Triangle are coming and why Nicaraguan UAC are absent.

How the Drug Trade Thrives on Free Trade in Mexico

The irony of touting market-based reforms as a means of sweeping the drug trade under the rug is that the cartels themselves have become some of the most ruthlessly effective multinational capitalist enterprises in Mexico. The cartels are beginning to diversify, making money not just from drugs and other criminal activities like kidnapping and human trafficking but increasingly from control over industries like mining, logging and shipping.

+ Inside the Turbulent Guatemalan Movement Against Canadian Mining

The lawsuit filed against Vancouver-based Tahoe Resources in BC’s Supreme Court has shone a light on the Guatemalans who have been speaking out against a Canadian mining company for years. 

Nicaragua Apparel Makers See Bleak Future from Trans Pacific Partnership 

Like elsewhere in Central America, Nicaragua is fretting that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will bring huge losses to its apparel sector, which accounts for 10% of GDP.

This is because Vietnam, already the biggest garment supplier and a formidable competitor, could enter the 12-nation free-trade bloc without a yarn forward rule of origin. If this happens as part of negotiations to strike a landmark agreement, Chinese yarn and fabric suppliers could flood Vietnam and the US through triangulation manoeuvring. 

Bolivia: Lessons from MAS

The MAS’s regional diversity is one of its greatest strengths.  As an organizational actor, it looks and operates differently in different contexts depending on how the political space is structured. 

+ Mexico Passing Brazil as Latin America’s Top Car Producer

Mexico is poised to overtake Brazil as the top Latin American automobile producer for the first time in more than a decade as surging exports to the U.S. spur factory openings and record output.

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ACTION ALERT: Urge Congress and the President to treat migrants from Central American with compassion

Chris Hershberger Esh:

Please check out this important action alert from MCC Washington if you live in the United States. Children fleeing violence in Central America must be treated humanely.

Originally posted on MCC Washington Memo:

Two steps to respond to the humanitarian crisis faced by Central American children crossing our border:

1. Send a letter to your members of Congress and to President Obama urging them to ensure that the U.S. government response to Central American migrants coming across our border is compassionate and humane.

2. Call in to the Interfaith Immigration webinar on Monday, July 14th at 4:00 PM EDT to learn more.

Click here for more information.

(Featured image photo credit: http://immigrationlawgeorgia.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/child-detained.jpg)

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Uprooted: Migration in Mexico and Central America

In May, MCC Mexico helped host a group of eight young adults from across Canada. They started on the U.S./Mexico border, then travelled to Mexico City, and finally visited the Mexico/Guatemala border. Rachel Bergen wrote an article on this leaning tour for Canadian Mennonite’s Young Voices site:

The American dream is just that for many—a dream. For Latin Americans facing violence in their home communities, the journey to make that dream a reality can be a nightmare.

The Uprooted learning tour, a collaborative effort between Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Alberta and Saskatchewan brought eight young adults to Arizona and Mexico. Participants were hosted by MCC Mexico and West Coast to learn about migration issues.

Continue reading…

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Weekly news roundup June 27th

Why So Many Migrant Kids Are Coming to the U.S. Alone

A PBS NewsHour in-depth report on the factors driving the child migrant crisis from Central America.

Last year, 11-year-old Nodwin survived a journey that has killed many adults. He traveled from Honduras to the U.S. border over land almost entirely by himself. He almost drowned crossing the Rio Grande River near Texas in an inflatable raft.

+ Dominican Republic Passes Citizenship Bill
After a DR Court ruling revoked the citizenship of thousands of second- and third-generation Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic, a new bill has reinstates citizenship for children of immigrants born in the D.R.

President Danilo Medina had urged lawmakers to pass the bill swiftly to create “a country without exclusion and without discrimination”.

The new law will create different categories for people depending on whether they have documents proving they were born in the Dominican Republic.

+ Widespread Childhood Malnutrition is a Paradox in Agriculturally Rich Guatemala

Another PBS NewsHour video report. Examines Guatemala’s skyhigh rates of malnutrition amidst huge quantities of fruits and vegetables grown for export.

In the Americas, the situation is most dire in Guatemala, where roughly 50 percent of the children are so malnourished they’re stunted, physically and developmentally, for life.

Now, for the first time in decades, that country’s leaders have a coordinated program to bring those numbers down.

+ Honduran Indigenous Groups Caught in Crosshairs of Global Drug Trade

From Al Jazeera:

When the outsiders came offering food and cash for manual work, the village leader in La Mosquitia, a remote corner of northeastern Honduras at first thought his community was being asked to clear rain forest for cattle ranching.

But when the men returned, he said, they cut down trees and blasted out roots to clear two clandestine strips for drug flights.

A Victory for Latin America’s Middle Class at World Cup

From the New York Times:

And the arrival in Brazil this year of more than 200,000 Spanish-speaking fans from large nations like Mexico and Colombia and smaller ones like Costa Rica and Uruguay exemplifies one of Latin America’s most profound shifts since the start of the century: the rise of the middle class.

As the United States grapples with growing inequality and poverty rates that remain higher than in the 1970s, Latin America’s middle class has grown 60.3 percent since 2003, according to the Inter-American Development Bank. During that period, the population living in poverty declined by 34 percent. Altogether, the World Bank puts the middle class at about 30 percent of Latin America’s population.

Bolivia Charts Its Own Path on Coca Production
The U.N. reported that coca cultivation in Bolivia has fallen by a remarkable 26 percent in the past three years. Oh, and that’s no thanks to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, who was kicked out by the Bolivian government three years ago…

The nationwide decrease, to an area of only 23,00 hectares, or 12 miles, is widely regarded as a laudable achievement, but overlooked is the fact that Bolivia’s success has come on its own terms – not Washington’s – and with vital cooperation from many of the country’s small coca farmers.

“Bolivia reduced the crop through eradication efforts, but also with the participation of coca growers and farmers,”Antonino de Leo, U.N. Office for Drugs and Crime’s representative in Bolivia, told IPS.

How Cartels are Behind the Border Kid Crisis

Excellent analysis by the Daily Beast:

Central American migrants are naturally more vulnerable to cartel manipulation and violence on the journey north than native Mexicans. But the cartels may actually be responsible for the recent influx of Central Americans attempting to cross the Southwest border and, specifically, the surge in unaccompanied minors coming from the region.

+ Mapping the Hometowns of Central America’s Child Migrants, 2014

migrant kids hometowns

+ Crossing Mexico’s Southern Border

From the LACA Blog earlier this week, Miriam Harder, and MCC worker in Chiapas examines migrant situation on Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala:

I have never been to the northern border of Mexico, but I could not help but be struck by what must be a dramatic contrast.  Here, in front of me, instead of a large wall, was an area of significant raft traffic: people, eggs, soft drinks, ‘Japanese’ peanuts, toothpaste, etc. loading onto rafts on one side of the river and unloading on the other side—all this within clear sight of the bridge and controlled port of entry between Mexico and Guatemala.

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Crossing Mexico’s Southern Border

Rafts used to cross Rio Suchiate, the river that divides Mexico and Guatemala. Photo by Miriam Harder.

Rafts used to cross Rio Suchiate, the river that divides Mexico and Guatemala. Photo by Miriam Harder.

Miriam Harder is the regional coordinator of MCC Latin America’s work in conservation agriculture and is seconded to Otros Mundos, a local organization in Chiapas.  She lives three hours from Mexico’s southern border in San Cristóbal de Las Casas.

“Are you going to the other side? I’ll take you for 5 quetzales ($0.65US).”

I was walking with a fellow MCCer towards the Rio Suchiate, the river that divides Guatemala and Mexico, in Tecun Uman, the southernmost official border crossing.

“No we just want to look at the river.”

I have never been to the northern border of Mexico, but I could not help but be struck by what must be a dramatic contrast.  Here, in front of me, instead of a large wall, was an area of significant raft traffic: people, eggs, soft drinks, ‘Japanese’ peanuts, toothpaste, etc. loading onto rafts on one side of the river and unloading on the other side—all this within clear sight of the bridge and controlled port of entry between Mexico and Guatemala.

Who are these people crossing on the rafts?  Some are importing or exporting products, at a relatively small scale, to the other side of the border to avoid paying import taxes.  Some are headed over to work on the other side or to do their shopping.  Guatemalans are able to be in Mexico, but many have not applied for the official permission nor have official ID, so are not able to pass through official crossings.

The border is porous and relative.  There are only about 9 official crossing points along the 871 km Mexico/Guatemala border and a lot of uncontrolled mountainous or jungle territory.  As with the northern border, the current political delineation has only been in its current location since 1882.  Prior to this, Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico, was part of Guatemala.  The Mayan territory, commonly associated with Guatemala, extends into Chiapas and the Yucatan Peninsula.

Photo by John VanderHeide

Photo by John VanderHeide

Significant numbers of Guatemalans come to Chiapas to work as domestic and agricultural labourers (corn, sugar cane, coffee, fruit).  Despite officially having labour rights, it is very common to work longer hours with little job security or health insurance.  At the same time Chiapas has historically been an important sending state of migrants to the United States, specifically due to its low minimum wage.   Currently the minimum wage is 64 pesos (less than $5US) for a day’s work in Chiapas. Technically, Guatemala’s minimum wage is slightly higher, but in reality, many Guatemalan workers are paid a fraction of the minimum wage, with indigenous workers and women often paid even less. Additionally, working conditions are much worse in Guatemala due to the lack of government supervision of business practices.

While the vast majority of movement across the border at Tecun Uman/Ciudad Hidalgo is circular, this also marks the point at which Central Americans can no longer travel freely.  Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua have an agreement that any citizen of these four countries can travel with their ID in any of the other three countries.  Central Americans may enter into Mexico relatively freely on their journey north in hopes of employment, reunification with family or seeking asylum (increasingly more common for Hondurans), but a bit further into Mexico, they begin to encounter check points and the danger of coming into contact with migration officials, military, police, organized crime and inhospitable Mexican civilians.

Until 2005, this was the busiest border crossing, as La Bestia (the freight trains traveling north through Mexico), started in Tapachula, a short distance in from the border.  After Hurricane Stan wiped out bridges and tracks, the train’s starting point moved to Arriaga.  A couple hours by bus on this heavily controlled section of highway (and obviously much longer on foot for migrants seeking to avoid checkpoints) made this route less desirable.  Significant traffic is now happening further north through the lowland jungle regions of Guatemala and Chiapas towards Palenque, where another train begins.  There are recent rumours, however, of a regular train starting again in Tapachula.

As on Mexico’s northern border, there are numerous organizations working along this border supporting migrants, including migrant shelters run by various Catholic orders, the International Organization for Migration, and other civil society organizations. Up until now, Mennonite Central Committee has had little formal work with migration on the Mexico/Guatemala border, but that seems to be changing.  Last month, representatives and workers from MCC Mexico and MCC Guatemala visited this border region and began talks of a coordinated strategy to support and protect migrants. With increasing work on the U.S./Mexico border, various partners working with migrants in Mexico City, and MCC programs in Guatemala and throughout Central America, building a formal link across this southern border seems like a crucial next step.

 

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Weekly roundup June 20th

550px-Latin_America_(orthographic_projection).svgElections and Peace in Colombia
While news this week about Colombia has been dominated by World Cup coverage, it’s also been a huge week in politics, with President Santos receiving a second term in a tight election with huge implications for the peace talks:

The campaign offered—as never before—starkly opposing visions of how to end Colombia’s 50-year conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—FARC):  through direct peace negotiations with the FARC on a tightly-constructed agenda, or exclusively through military action aimed at the FARC’s defeat or surrender.

Understanding how the elections became a referendum on the peace process—and on uribismo itself—requires looking less at the candidates themselves than at the alliance, and then bitter parting, of Santos and Uribe.

Also check out this election analysis by MCC Colombia’s Rebekah Sears:

The re-election of Santos leaves many hopeful, especially considering the alternatives. The current peace talks will continue and there is a real hope for peace accords, possibly before the end of the year, bringing an end to 50 years of conflict. But it’s a cautious hope, recognizing what factors are still at play that could jeopardize the generation a stable long-lasting peace.

As Child Migrants Flood to Border, U.S. Presses Latin America to Act
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden travels to Central America today to meet with the presidents of Guatemala and El Salvador, in addition to senior officials from Mexico and Honduras.

Faced with an unprecedented surge of child migrants from Central America that is overwhelming shelters and jails in Texas and Arizona, the United States has begun pushing for stronger regional cooperation to arrest the flow and enable the children’s safe return.

But the pressure goes both ways…

+ Central American Officials to Press Biden on Migrant Rights

Looking ahead to Friday’s talks, El Salvador President Salvador Sanchez Ceren said he would press Biden for a reform that could help reunite existing family members in the U.S. with more recently arrived relatives.

“We’re going to ask the U.S. vice president to consider the need to find legal mechanisms that can achieve an orderly process of family reunification,” Sanchez Ceren told reporters.

“For us, it’s important to insist that a true immigration reform be achieved in the United States,” he added.

The Relationship Between Central American Street Gangs and Migration Patterns
Excellent analysis of the crisis of violence in Central America’s Northern Triangle:

First, gangs or maras, due to their hyper violence and geographic pervasiveness cause individuals to flee from their homes. Second, the governments of these three countries have developed and implemented hardline approaches to ‘combating’ these gangs, which have developed into a vilification of youth involving violent and oppressive tactics that induce internal and external migration. Finally undocumented status in the U.S. may serve as an impetus for gang affiliation.

Mexico’s Astonishing Costs of Fighting Drug Cartels Have Not Reduced Violence

Mexico’s efforts to reduce the alarming levels of violence are having a significant impact on the country’s economy. In 2013, the cost to Mexico of fighting the powerful drug cartels rose to almost $172.7 billion (more than twice Mexico’s foreign debt), according to the Global Peace Index 2014, published this week by the London-based Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP).

WOLA Report: Mexico’s Other Border
A great new report on the Mexico/Guatemala border for the Washington Office on Latin America:

At the porous borderline, the buildup is mainly a halfhearted effort to keep better records of who is crossing. While circulation in the immediate border zone is free, Mexico’s border security tightensalong the road network into the rest of the country and toward the United States. Roads and rivers are heavily policed, but not impermeable. Numerous security agencies with overlapping responsibilities coordinate poorly, suffer from endemic corruption, and manage to stop only a tiny fraction of U.S.-bound drugs.

The Guatemalan State Has Failed Its Obligations to Consult Indigenous Peoples

Guatemala is a plurinational country that 22 Maya nations, Xinka, Garifuna, and Ladino people jointly call home. The efforts to gain access to natural resources—often without the consent of the communities affected—constitute another stage in the long history of dispossession and repression of Maya peoples since colonization.

The Maya peoples’ understanding of Earth stands in conflict with capitalism. To capitalists, Earth is defined as a source of raw materials that can be sold to the highest bidder. Maya people, in contrast, do not place a monetary value on our natural resources. We call Earth “Qtxutx‘Otx,”1 or Mother Earth, because she gives us life, water, air, fire, and nourishment, and she protects us. We are part of her and she of us.

Salvadoran President Rejects Gang Truce, Security Policy Remains Unclear

The June 1 inauguration of Salvador Sánchez Cerén, a former guerrilla combatant, as president of El Salvador was undoubtedly a historic moment for the Central American nation. Yet persistent insecurity and institutional corruption, as well as a languishing truce between the nation’s two major gangs, risks seeing the country descend into a pernicious new era of crime—characterized by increasingly sophisticated organized criminal activity.

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Strategic politics in Colombia: today the real work begins

Juan Manuel Santos won a second term as Colombia's president in Sunday's election

Juan Manuel Santos won a second term as Colombia’s president in Sunday’s election

By Rebekah Sears, Policy Educator and Advocacy Worker for MCC Colombia.

The Colombian Presidential race of 2014 was one of the closest in recent history. In last night’s run-off vote, incumbent Juan Manuel Santos was re-elected with just 51% of the vote, while the Centro Democratico’s hardline candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga picked up about 45% (the rest of the counted votes being protest/spoiled ballots, or en blanco).

It was a close and intense race indeed, filled with wheeling and dealing, propaganda, accusations, alliances, and last minute promises. But today the real work begins.

Today, Colombia has never been closer to a peace agreement that would bring an end to 50 years of armed conflict. Since late 2012 representatives from the government have been in Havana meeting with members of the FARC on a five-point peace agenda. And last week, the government announced that talks will soon begin with another guerrilla group, the ELN.

In many ways this election was centred around the prospects for peace–Santos wanting to continue the current process, while Zuluaga had pressed for a hardline, militant approach. Santos’s victory does ensure that the talks in Havana will continue, but it will take much more than a set of peace accords to bring lasting peace to Colombia.

Here are a couple of issues to watch in Santos’s next 4 years.

First: Keep your promises, Santos.

As an example, let’s look at Santos’s proposal for scraping obligatory military service–one of his last-minute campaign promises–to be fulfilled if Colombia reaches a peace agreement. It was a pleasant surprise and victory for those that work in the area of conscientious objection. And if he actually follows through in good faith it will likely eliminate some of our partners’ work in this area. But that’s the whole point of NGOs, right, to become unnecessary?

Second: Put in place integrated peace and reconciliation strategies designed for the long haul

Progress continues to be made at the table in Havana with tentative agreements on three of the five points (land reform, political participation and illicit drug production and trafficking). Negotiators are currently tackling the issue of victims and reparations, which will be followed by strategies to finally bring an end to the conflict.

These are good developments, but can they ensure a lasting peace?

In several cases in Central America, where internal armed conflicts were brought to an end by peace accords, such agreements did not bring an end to violence or conflict. What often happens is what was more “structured” violence turns into “less structured” violence in urban and rural areas. For this reason, strategies like demobilization, full re-integration and reconciliation are crucial.

Otherwise, we’ll just have the same situation that came about with the demobilization of the Paramilitary groups in the mid-2000s. The top leaders were disarmed and many put in prison, but in many cases, the middle and low ranking members assumed control, and the groups function more or less under the same command structures.

Peace accords would be a start, but only that. Lasting peace with take years of investment in these and other key post-conflict strategies.

Third: Santos cannot ignore the concerns of the campo forever

This comes down to several key issues, but can be summed up in one idea: Santos seems intent on selling off the country and resources to the highest bidder.

When it comes to the land itself, small scale and often landless farmers, or campesinos, are constantly struggling against the growing presence of multi-national and mega mono-crop projects, taking up their land and often destroying their way of life. Plus, with the emergence of free trade agreements, farmers are now required to buy new certified seeds every season, often sold by major multi-national companies, instead to preserving their own naturally.

In August and September 2013, campesinos from all over the country held protests and shut down major highways, calling for government subsidies and investment. A tentative agreement on agrarian reform was reached at the peace talks in Havana just weeks before this strike, but it still took Santos weeks to even acknowledge the national strike and his government has yet to fulfil promises eventually made to campesino groups as evidenced by subsequent protests. Santos seems to be uninterested in genuinely addressing these concerns.

Mining/extractive industries also negatively impact campesinos and the land, but unlike agrarian issues, they are not an agenda item in the current peace negotiations, even though in the last several years, the mining industry has exploded (no pun intended) in Colombia. Also dominated by multi-national companies the government is seeking to criminalize artisanal initiatives in favour of people working for the mega-projects.

Colombia is rich in several extractive materials, like gold and oil, but it is only required that multi-national companies leave 4% of royalties within the country, and it is not required that these royalties stay within the regions where the company is working. In addition, gold is taking over from illicit crops as a funding source for illegal armed groups in many regions, therefore militarizing the commodity and creating more violence and risk in gold-rich areas.

The re-election of Santos leaves many hopeful, especially considering the alternatives. The current peace talks will continue and there is a real hope for peace accords, possibly before the end of the year, bringing an end to 50 years of conflict. But it’s a cautious hope, recognizing what factors are still at play that could jeopardize the generation a stable long-lasting peace.

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Weekly roundup: June 13th

Child Migrants Deepening Challenges
Child migration rates into the United States have exploded, largely from children fleeing violence in Central America and Mexico. Mexico, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama have also seen a surge of unaccompanied minors.

According to U.S. government sources, the number of child migrants reaching the United States has increased 92 percent over the past year.  Some 47,000 have arrived since last October, and a draft document by the Department of Homeland Security speculated the figure could reach 90,000 by the end of the fiscal year.  (Only 5,800 children arrived alone each year 10 years ago.)

And for more on this topic:
Migrant Children Traveling Alone Strain Makeshift Ariz. Shelter

Immigration officials overwhelmed by a flood of women and children from Central America who illegally crossed the border from Mexico are moving hundreds of unaccompanied boys and girls this weekend to a makeshift detention center in Nogales, Ariz.

The move is the latest effort by the Obama administration to cope with the tens of thousands of women and children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras who it says have fled violence and poverty in their countries and have streamed into Texas in recent months.

Mexico Underlines Transformation in Global Climate Change Debate
As United Nations climate talks have gone nowhere, many Latin American countries have passed their own environmental legislation, including Mexico, El Salvador, Bolivia, Costa Rica and Ecuador:

Passage of Mexico’s far-reaching climate law (which was supported, significantly, on a cross-party basis) highlights the progress on climate change now being made globally. Numerous national economies have passed landmark climate and energy-related legislation over the last few years.

Quinoa’s Growing Popularity Sparks Battle Between U.S. Researchers, Bolivian Farmers

Quinoa, the current darling of the health food scene, is a little granule grown in the high plains of the Andes. It so dense with protein and essential amino acids it is called a “super food.” It has become such a rock star the United Nations even dedicated a whole year – 2013 – to it.

Besides being packed with nutrients, it carries an equally weighty and complicated tug of war between interests outside of quinoa producing regions and those of indigenous farmers.

+ Colombia Presidential Elections: What’s At Stake for the Colombia People?

The Colombian presidential election campaign appears to hinge on a significant controversy; Colombians want the war to end with rebel groups. However, “how” each candidate proposes to solve this problem is what will make the difference in the voting booth next Sunday. What method will be favored to end the violence that has existed for over five decades in the country? The new president will be dealing with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia; the extremist rebel group better known as FARC.

And from MCC Colombia’s Anna Vogt:
Colombia Elections Excitement

More worrying is the run-off presidential election on Sunday; this is the first time in the over fifty year conflict that a peace accord looks possible with the FARC and the elections will determine whether the talks will continue, as is the position of current president Juan Manuel Santos, or whether an attempt will again be made to “win” the conflict by military force, as candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga promotes. Flyers fill the streets and the two candidates yell at each other on public television.

Better Late Than Never: Haiti Sets Election Date

Amid anti-government protests calling for the resignation of Haitian President Michel Martelly, Haiti announced on Tuesday that legislative elections will be held on October 26, more than two years behind schedule.

A Troubling Lack of Accountability within U.S. Border Patrol
From an article I published in Third Way Cafe last week:

On April 12th of this year, approximately 40 people gathered around a white metal cross in Nogales, Mexico, close to the U.S. border fence. Eighteen months earlier, a 16-year-old boy named José Antonio Elena Rodriguez was killed by U.S. Border Patrol in that spot, the cross erected in his honor.

+ U.S. Border Agency’s Head of Internal Affairs Removed from Post
This is welcomed news…

The head of internal affairs for U.S. Customs and Border Protection was removed from his post Monday amid criticism that he failed to investigate hundreds of allegations of abuse and use of force by armed border agents, officials said.

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Colombian election excitement

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By Anna Vogt, a service worker in MCC Colombia currently working with Justapaz, a Mennonite organization working for justice, peace and non-violent action in Colombia. Originally posted at: thellamadiaries.wordpress.com

Conversations in Bogotá swing between excitement and worry. The World Cup starts today; this is the first time in sixteen years that Colombia will play and soccer jerseys and sticker albums are hot ticket items on the street. We are setting up a television in the office and meetings are carefully planned around game times. Colombia´s first game is on Saturday and all the bets have already been placed.

More worrying is the run-off presidential election on Sunday; this is the first time in the over fifty year conflict that a peace accord looks possible with the FARC and the elections will determine whether the talks will continue, as is the position of current president Juan Manuel Santos, or whether an attempt will again be made to “win” the conflict by military force, as candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga promotes. Flyers fill the streets and the two candidates yell at each other on public television.

Current polls place the election as too close to call and many organizations are rightly worried about a return to policies of outright conflict, including the dirty war tactics that were common during the Uribe years. At the same times, Santo’s economic policies have resulted in the marginalization of the campesino sector and many consider that their country is being sold to multi-national corporations. Human rights abuses have also continued. The majority of the population is so frustrated with a lack of options and public debate that they will not vote in these very important elections.

Yet, this is when citizen actions are the most needed to create lasting change in the midst of polarizing rhetoric.  Jenny Neme, the director of Justapaz, expresses well the challenges and the possibilities that this time period holds for Colombians in her editorial for our radio program.

“The current electoral dynamics have generated much disenchantment among Colombian citizens.  The results of the first round of presidential elections demonstrate a panorama of uncertainty, which will be resolved in the run-off on June 15th. This disenchantment is not only related to the ways in with the electoral campaigns have been developed, with few proposals, a lack of debate, and a dirty war between the candidates most likely to win. It also has to do with the great uncertainty about the future of Colombia and the possibility of a real transformation towards scenarios of peace and reconciliation.

What many consider to be a historic opportunity to end the longstanding armed conflict, a conflict that has become embedded in all our social, economic and political dynamics, is hanging in the balance. It is with great difficulty that, today, any Colombian can say that they understand what it means to live in peace; we are generations that have been obligated to live in a context of war and we have never experienced anything different. But this does not mean that we do not long for peace. For decades, as social movements and ordinary people, we have dreamt and demanded peace.

In the campaign for the run-off election, ongoing since May 25, the controversy, not the debate, between the two candidates has been the theme of peace. On one side is the continuation of the negotiation process between the government and the FARC, which now includes the initiation of the process with the ELN. The countersigning and the implantation will require a high participation of citizens from all the regions, along with the creation of conditions for national reconciliation that vindicates the rights of the victims. One the other side is the invalidation of the actual process between government and FARC and the non-recognition of the advances in the construction of accords. On the contrary, this position considers necessary a return to military strength to combat terrorism.

These two very distinct tendencies have polarized the voters. A high level of skepticism is added to this polarization because of continued politicking, corruption, and cronyism. These factors discourage people from voting; the ideas that these practices will continue is maintained.

Colombia is not living in an easy moment. Despite the high levels of polarization, it is necessary to vote this Sunday.  Perhaps, in contrast with other times, this is a historic moment that can open or close the doors of transformation that can be generated in the near future of our country.

Whoever becomes president, as citizens we cannot allow that peace continues to be a momentary theme, subject to swings in electoral contests, or the will of one ruler. Peace must be established as a state policy that is upheld by all governments in turn. Moreover, our country’s political culture must change. As citizens, we must rethink our political practices, and, through active citizenship, value our actions, such as going to the polls and voting, but also by monitoring candidate’s election promise and making enforceable the reforms and steps needing to move towards our country’s transformation.”

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As Jenny states, whatever happens during the elections, it is Colombians themselves that must and will continue to work for change in their country.  The incredible passion of Colombians for soccer demonstrates the amount of dedication they hold for their country. The energy of all Colombians is needed to ensure that peace becomes a normal and lasting part of everyday life, including politics. The work of Justapaz and other social organizations to change this political culture and imagination will continue on Monday morning, no matter what happens on Sunday. With breaks to watch soccer, of course.

To listen to the entire radio show:

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