Weekly Roundup April 11

Screen shot 2014-04-11 at 1.06.34 PMNPR Borderland
This new NPR website follows migrants along the U.S./Mexico border and presents their stories with beautiful images, graphics and raw storytelling. These stories will expand your understanding of migrants and the border, starting with Saraa Zewedi Yilma, an Ethiopian assylum seeker who traversed 12 countries to get to the United States. Next, a series of colorful maps show how the border arrived at its current location, whereas Mexico used to include what is now the Western United States. In total, there are 12 dynamic sections that you need to see.

El Salvador groups accuse Pacific Rim of ‘assault on democratic governance’
From the Guardian:

A multinational mining company has been accused of launching “a direct assault on democratic governance” by suing El Salvador for more than US$300m (£179m) in compensation, after the tiny Central American country refused to allow it to dig for gold amid growing opposition to the exploitation of its mineral wealth.

More than 300 NGOs, trade unions and civil society groups have signed a strongly worded letter accusing the Canada-based company Pacific Rim of using a little-known international tribunal to “subvert a democratic nationwide debate over mining and environmental health”.

Haiti’s homeless earthquake victims drop significantly, but worry continues
The number of Haitians living in camps has dropped 91 percent since the January 2010 earthquake, according to the International Organization for Migration. But:

there are some worrying trends despite the 91 percent drop: families unable to pay rent are returning to the camps, while other camps are showing little to no prospect of ever being emptied, the Geneva-based humanitarian group said in its latest report.

“The phenomenon of new families moving into camps and families splitting and occupying more tents constitutes a worrying trend observed in 68 [camp] sites,” the report said.

Reversing the trend and emptying out the remaining camps require a strong commitment from the Haitian government to come up with solutions, the report said.

+ The ugly truth behind Guatemala’s fast-growing, super-efficient palm oil industry
Globally, the palm oil industry is booming, and Guatemala has become one of the world’s major suppliers. However:

The problem with the rise of Guatemala’s palm oil industry is it benefits only a tiny portion of the Guatemalan populous—just eight families control all of the country’s processing plants and produce some 98% of the country’s palm oil,according to a 2012 study. And it comes at a huge human cost.

Healthy cities in Latin America: Investing in mobility for all
Latin America is urbanizing quickly. At the World Economic Forum on Latin America, experts discussed the infrastucture needed to make health cities:

Bogotá is an interesting example because of the changes it has experienced over the past two decades. It has the world’s first large-scale BRT system and a 400km network of cycle lanes, as a succession of mayors in the late 1990s and early 2000s sought to ease the city’s transport woes. But another strong example is Medellin, also in Colombia. In 2013, Medellin was voted as city of the year by the Urban Land Institute.

+ Injured Central American migrants granted passage to Mexico City
Many Central Americans migrate to the United States by first crossing through Mexico on a freight train nicknamed La Bestia. It’s a perilous journey that involves threats from criminals, migrations officials, and falls from the moving train. A group of Honduran migrants who lost limbs under La Bestia petitioned the Mexican government for safe passage to Mexico City. On Saturday, permission was granted:

The men had entered Mexico illegally through Guatemala in late March. They had been asking the Mexican government to let them travel to Mexico City with letters that would instruct immigration officials not to deport them during that journey.

The men, all of whom have lost legs, arms or fingers, have made headlines in Mexico with their demand that President Enrique Peña Nieto meet with them, and consider their request that the Mexican government grant all U.S.-bound Central American migrants unimpeded passage through Mexico.

+ Neglected islanders resist plan for Haiti tourism revival
Without prior consulation from the government, 14,000 residents of the island Ile-à-Vache off the coast of Haiti are being forced to move without compensation to make way for a $250 million tourist resort. 

Like many islanders he said he isn’t against the tourism project as long as there is fair compensation. The government says that will be worked out by the state tax office, and would depend on what the land is used for now and whether residents were up-to-date with property taxes, likely to be an issue for many who live a hand-to-mouth existence.

“They tell us tourism will be good for the island, but then they tell us to go elsewhere. If they like our beach they will take it,” said Ilene Martier, a 37-year-old fisherman.

Colombia’s victims of conflict a “priority” for the state
So far, 360,000 Colombians have been compensated, according to the Unit for Attention and Reparation of Victims, out of 6 million registered victims. But the state says it is committed to meeting their needs.

“I don’t think the idea of holding peace talks would have had any traction if the Victims’ Law hadn’t been passed first,” she adds.

According to Ms Gaviria, the Victims’s Law and the creation of the Victims’ Unit was a “down payment on peace”, demonstrating the government’s commitment to the victims of the armed conflict.

And from the LACA Advocacy blog:

+ New Intersections issue on the theory and practice of advocacy in Latin America and around the world

+ Coverage of the MCC Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia, which took place last weekend. And more here.

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Advocacy Intersections

ImageThe latest issue of Intersections: MCC Theory and Practice Quarterly is fully devoted to discussing advocacy. Nine different writers explore the nuances and dilemmas of advocacy within their context as MCC workers in Latin America, Israel/Palestine and the DR Congo. 

Nathan Howard, the SEED Facilitator in MCC Colombia, sets the tone for the issue in the introduction:

Advocacy is too often reduced to engagement with legislators and other political officials, with a primary focus on those in norther power centers such as Ottawa and, especially, Washington D.C. To be sure, such engagement is an indispensable part of a multifaceted advocacy approach. Yet we need to conceive of advocacy, and approaches to systemic change, in a broader and more complex manner if we are to acknowledge the dispersed nature of power, including the power excercised by communities in the global south as they organize to address local policies and processes that represent barriers to justice and social change. 

This issue of Intersections seeks to present a richer understanding of advocacy. We should not think of advocacy simply in terms of political engagement in the global north, but also in terms of: communities in the global south mobilizing to engage local, regional and national government officials in their contexts; solidarity among communities and organizations from the global south; Indigenous groups learning from each other’s post-colonial struggles; and more. This broadened understanding of advocacy, we suggest, productively challenges assumptions we often implicitly hold that northern states–especially the United States–are history’s primary actors and shifts our focus to the energy and agency within communities in the global south. MCC’s partners across the global south often urge MCC to undertake political advocacy in Canada and the United States. Yet these same partners are also typically immersed in communities that are actively mobilizing at the local level to advocacy for change. 

Check of the full issue here for further insightful analysis and discussion of MCC and advocacy.

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Days of Prayer and Action in Colombia

Photo by Cellia Vasquez

Photo by Cellia Vasquez


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

Every day at five am in the small rural community of Basurú, on Colombia’s Pacific Coast, a group from the local Mennonite church gathers to broadcast the events of the day. Using a microphone connected to megaphones hoisted high above the community on bamboo poles, the technology may be archaic but the messages are not. The only way to reach the community is by boat on the San Juan river; access to local news is a way to keep the community connected and informed of what is going on in the world around them.

And this week, the news reaches far beyond their locality and connects with churches and organizations across the Americas. A special notice reminding the community to pray and be active for peace in Colombia is being transmitted in the days leading up to Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia.

Photo by Cellia Vasquez

Each spring, churches and organizations in Canada, the United States and Colombia join together to remember and work for peace in Colombia. Traditionally, churches spend a Sunday reflecting on Colombia and the global ties that bind us together and then engage in an advocacy action on the Monday, based on the previous day.

This exercise is both confession and exhortation, solidarity and leadership. The theme for 2014, ¡Adelante! Peace with Justice for ALL Colombians, expresses the need to follow the steps of Colombians as they continue to walk the way of change, acting for and demanding peace with justice in every corner of the country.

For those in Canada and the United States, it is an opportunity to grapple with historical and present day realities: Plan Colombia has provided the Colombian government with $6.7 billion in military funding over the last 14 years, compared to the $2.6 billion in development aid over the same timeframe. This money has funded human rights abuses, such as the false positives scandal. Canadian mining companies, who receive financial support from the Canadian government, participate in destabilization and displacement wherever they are located.


Moment for Peace at the Teusaquillo Mennonite Church in the heart of Bogotá is a space where participants, a mix of people in a condition of displacement because of armed conflict and local Bogotá residents, gather every week to reflect on themes relating to their local context and their faith. This week, individuals are gluing footprints decorated with their desires for peace on a map of Colombia. Each footprint represents an actual step forward for active change, in every region.

Communities and individuals engage in peacebuilding actions everyday, including, but not limited to:  peace education, community organizing for change, alternative crop projects, youth working for solutions  to urban violence, political advocacy for changed policies and much more. Although action looks different in the different part of Colombia, there is a common thread of refusing to let their humanity to be destroyed by the pervasive ugliness of war.


Monday, therefore,  is a day for action, a chance to take new steps together. In the United States, this involves signing a letter to President Obama asking for continued support for the peace process currently underway. While there is no specific formulated ask in Canada, the Open for Justice campaign promoting corporate social responsibility is an excellent way to start. In Colombia, churches and social organizations are delivering a letter to presidential candidates asking them to continue to support politics of peace. Our hope, however, is that this is just the beginning of forming a new relationship of mutual support in recognition of the global ties we share.

Will you join the communities of Basurú and Teusaquillo, and Colombians from every distinctive region of their country, in praying and acting for peace?

beautiful resource, containing prayers, reflections and a powerpoint presentation that examines perspectives of peace from around the country is available online for congregational or personal use. Even if your church or organization does not decide to participate, the material is suitable for individual reflection any time of year.

Perhaps community leaders are not broadcasting the need for peace at 5am in your community, but that does not mean you cannot participate, following the unique rhythm of your community.
Foto 1 Fuente Anna Vogt

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¡Adelante! Peace with Justice for ALL Colombians



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

It is that time of year again: Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia (DOPA). From April 4-7 churches, organizations, communities and individuals from the United States, Canada, Colombia and other parts of the world will be praying, acting and standing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Colombia.

In 2012 the Colombian Government and the largest guerilla group, the FARC entered into peace talks, seeking to bring an end to 50 years of internal armed conflict in the country.

It is now 2014, and the talks continue, with several agreements being reached at the negotiating table. As the process carries on, we continue to pray for the negotiators and the country as a whole and advocate for policies that reflect peace and justice. But we also pray for and support peace at the community level, standing in solidarity with the hope that genuine peace and justice will become a reality on the ground and in the lives of all Colombians and not just peace on paper.

How can we support? Here are two great resources for worship, pray and action:

  • Worship and Prayer: http://washingtonmemo.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/dopaworship2014.pdf
  • Action: http://washingtonmemo.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/actionpacket2014.pdf
  • Remember Colombia and the current context in your church services and stand in solidarity, standing behind policies and actions that support peace, development and reconstruction, and against policies that may lead to further conflict (knowing where your funding is going)
  • Learn more about the current situation in Colombia and the potential role of your government as well as the ways in which they can promote peace at the national and community level
  • Call on your government, whether you are Colombian or from another country to take actions to support peace and justice: write letters, speak out, educate and act.

Just peace does not arrive overnight or with the signing of an agreement. It takes years of hard work at the ground level. During DOPA 2014, and throughout the months and years afterwards, we especially think of the work being done for peace and justice by churches, organizations and individuals across the country, in various contexts and situations.

Movements for Peace and Justice on the Atlantic Coast

This year please join us in praying for and supporting the communities of the Montes de Maria region on Colombia’s Atlantic Coast. This region was hit very hard by a string of massacres and hundreds of thousands of forced displacements in the late 1990s and early 2000s and many communities are still struggling to recuperate. Today, community leaders in the region (many of whom have strong connectionns to local churches) continue to face threats, violence and intimidation for their involvement in non-violent movements calling on the government to fulfill their promises of post-conflict reconstruction and land restitution. Let us support these communities and individuals in their work and stand with them as they stay strong in their convictions to pursue peace and justice through non-violent actions.

Choco: Building Peace through Food Security:

We also remember the communities along the San Juan River in Chocó on Colombia’s Pacific Coast. A region rich in natural resources but also prominent in illegal coca production, communities are often caught in the middle of multiple armed groups. In response to this violence the social wing of the local Mennonite Brethren churches developed an agricultural project, helping families and communities find alternatives to coca, thereby escaping the threats that come with it, and sustaining their families through food production.

Today the region continues to be volatile and the project has faced several acute challenges, including a recent fumigation of rice and fruit crops as part of the government’s attempt to eradicate nearby coca crops. Much of the funding for such actions has come from the US government under Plan Colombia, a multibillion dollar aid program over 10 years which directed approximately 70% of the funds to military aid. Let us support the communities and churches to remain strong and let’s stand with them as they continue their courageous work to bring peace and food security within their communities.

Looking to the Future: Urban Centres

Finally, let us remember in prayer the churches and organizations in urban centres, working alongside children, youth and and families, often in unpredictable situations. In the marginalized areas of Cali and Medellin, Baranquilla, Bogota and Soacha, gangs and illegal armed groups often seem like the only survival option for children and youth. In these areas many churches and social organizations are reaching, out to those at risk: showing love, encouraging them in their abilities, teaching them principles of love, peace, and justice, and believing that these youth are Colombia’s future. Let us pray for and support the many projects that seek to transform communities by transforming the children and youth through the power of prayer and service and the people working within such projects.

There is much hope in the courage of those working for peace and justice- let us pray and support such efforts and let us move forward (or Adelante in Spanish), for peace with justice for ALL Colombians.

US Military Spending in Colombia and the Region:

Carlsen, Laura, “Latin America Gains Momentum against U.S. Backed War on Drugs” Huffington Post, October, 2013.

Dyer, Chelsey, “50 Years of US Intervention in Colombia” Colombia Reports, October 2013.

Latin American Working Group: Letter signed by 62 members of U.S. Congress on new approaches to aid in Colombia, focusing on land restoration and not military aid, April 2013.

Latin American Working Group, “Time to Listen: Trends in U.S. Security Assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean,” September 2013

Sears, Rebekah and Adrienne Wiebe, “Colombian Anti-Narcotics Police Destroy Crops in Church MCC Project” MCC Latin American and the Caribbean Advocacy blog.

Vogt, Anna. “Letter from a Colombian Jail,” MCC Latin American and the Caribbean Advocacy blog.

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Violence and a bag of chips

Products by Dinant, a corporation with a shameful human rights record in Honduras.


By Elizabeth Scambler, MCC Disaster Management Coordinator, Mesoamerica & Caribbean

Since before I moved to Honduras almost 2 years ago, I had heard about conflicts in the Bajo Aguan, a fertile region in the north. Little did I know that my snacking habits were so closely connected.

Conflict over land tenure between campesino organizations and palm oil and snack food giant Corporación Dinant has fueled a series of human rights abuses including forced evictions, inappropriate use of private and public security forces, torture, killings and abductions. Since 2009, over 100 people have been killed. Threats and murders of journalists, lawyers, and other human rights defenders related to the conflict have gone uninvestigated and unpunished.

Others have written in depth about the conflict; here are a few articles and reports with more details:

Human Rights Watch Report, “There are no investigations here”

Human Rights Watch: Honduras: Unidad especial investigará crímenes en el Bajo Aguán

New York Times: In Honduras, Land Struggles Highlight Post-Coup Polarization

Book: Grabbing Power: The New Struggles for Land, Food and Democracy in Northern Honduras

I admit that I fail to fully understand the details of the conflict. I haven’t visited the area nor do I know anyone closely involved. However, recently I realized that my lack of intimate understanding, personal connection and geographic distance does not remove me from being a part of the crisis.

It turns out that my favorite brand of plantain chips are made by Corporacion Dinant. Likewise, all the cooking oil and packaged tomato products I was buying are also on the list. I discovered that every time I go to the grocery store, or buy something from apulperia (corner store) I am funding a corporation implicit in militarism and human rights violations.

The most available brands of cooking oil, tomato paste, bleach, and ketchup, among others, are produced by Corporacion Dinant.

Since then, I have attempted to find alternatives to the Dinant products I previously consumed. I do not pretend that my small boycott will make a difference. I recognize that real change requires more voices and more robust action, but it is a start. My $20 a month directed to other products certainly cannot compare to a $30 million loan from the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) to Dinant. A recent World Bank ombudsman report from January 2014 shows that the IFC failed to do due diligence regarding the human rights and environmental risks of their loan. This is a serious lapse. However, how easily I criticize these international institutions, but should I not also be required to do due diligence to where I put my money? Despite the difference in scale of our contributions, we are both implicit in funding these crimes.

As my fellow Canadian David Suzuki said, “Each time we make a purchase, we become part of that system that exploits people and ecosystems.” This a reminder that I do not live in isolation; every action of mine is connected to others somewhere else. While I cannot do everything (and I note my own hypocrisy in that I am not informed about everything I consume), I am intentionally moving towards growing what I can, purchasing from local farmers, and avoiding packaged foods. In this case, I am also making an effort to avoid all products produced by the Dinant company, which is protagonistic in a documented, bloody conflict.

Dinant products include:

-Chips: Ranchitas, Yummies, Zambos
-Mazola Oil and margarine
-XIXI candies
-All “Issima” products (Sofrito, ketchups, beans, tomato paste, soups, spaghetti, canned vegetables, etc)
-Zixx bleach
-Schilo’s hot sauce
Posted in Honduras, Rural Justice | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Weekly News Roundup: March 21

+ A new study debunks eight falsehoods spread by the Pacific Rim Company / OceanaGold in El Salvador.

Communities in the surrounding department of Cabañas – and most Salvadorans – do not want mining in their country. As the smallest and most densely populated country in Latin America with already stressed water supplies, Salvadorans are unwilling to face the risks that industrial metal mining represents. OceanaGold’s open-pit gold and copper project in the Philippines illustrates the costs of mining that Salvadorans do not want to bear. The company’s lawsuit aims to undermine public debate and to contain democratic public policy-making.

+ The Chicago Tribune reports on the impact peace talks would have in Colombia. Some farmers are worried:

“We pray for an end to the violence, but not at any cost,” 61-year-old Escue says as he hunches over the bright green coca scrub in Toribio, a rebel stronghold that processes the leaves into cocaine. “They want us to switch to crops that won’t bring enough money to feed a family; we can’t do that.”

+ Also in Colombia, President Santos removes Bogota’s mayor despite international court’s call to suspend order:

Mr Petro was ousted by Colombia’s inspector-general in December, and banned from holding public office for 15 years, over the alleged mismanagement of the rubbish collection service in the capital.

He appealed against the decision, saying it was politically motivated.

+ Haiti’s ongoing drought causes “extreme emergency:”

A drought is causing an extreme emergency in northeast Haiti, wiping out sorely needed crops and livestock, an official said Tuesday.

Pierre Gary Mathieu of the government’s National Coordination of Food Security told The Associated Press that the eight-month-long drought in the region has caused the loss of two harvest seasons. It will take the area six months to recover.

+ While Bolivia faces extreme flooding:

More than 58,000 families have been affected over the past month, according to official counts, with 56 people reported dead. Limited reporting from isolated communities could mean the actual number is significantly higher. A lack of potable water, the destruction of crops and livestock, and the threat of mosquito-born disease all pose long-term risks.

“That’s a major problem,” Mathieu said.

+ NPR reports on “Why Cholers Persists in Haiti Despite an Abundance of Aid”:

After the 2010 earthquake, foreign aid flooded into Haiti. And a major concern was getting clean water and temporary toilets into the country. But nothing has been done to solve Haiti’s water and sanitation problems permanently, Katz says.

“There were very, very short-term, Band-Aid type solutions,” he says. “For instance, the bladders of water provided to the displacement camps and the porta-potties being installed in big, visible places. They weren’t long-term, durable solutions.”

And sanitation problems are what kicked off the cholera outbreak in the first place.

+ The Washington Post covers Guatemalan trail of ex-guerrilla who is a allegedly responsible for 1988 massacre that killed 22 Guatemalans:

“We lost everything, the animals, the house. We were left with no one,” the 76-year-old said in a low voice, afraid of being overhead by neighbors she says were allied with the guerrillas and may have participated in the massacre.

Despite lingering fears 25 years later, Machic said she’ll testify in a trial that began Thursday, the first against an ex-guerrilla charged with taking part in a massacre during Guatemala’s conflict.

+ On this blog, Chris Hershberger-Esh reported on an gathering of MCC leaders in the United States and Mexico who met in Nogales to discuss a peace-building initiative along the border:

There are massive structural forces that create the push and pull of migration, and violent policies that try to mitigate that flow. All that is visible here in Nogales. But we also saw little glimmers of hope from individuals and organizations that are building peace in these border communities by planting gardens, educating children and adults, caring for migrants, and organizing workers in maquilas (low-wage factories).

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Constructing peace across a violent border

Photo credit: Chris Hershberger-Esh

Photo credit: Chris Hershberger-Esh

By Chris Hershberger-Esh, MCC’s Context Analyst for Latin America and the Caribbean, based in Mexico City. 

Fifty tired-looking migrants, mostly men, formed a circle around the crowded dining hall where the Kino Initiative runs a soup kitchen in Nogales, Mexico. A woman with a teaching-background began counting off the participants into two teams and explained the game. Each team had to pass a tennis ball around the circle to all of their teammates in the fastest time possible. Whoever got the ball around first scored a goal.

At first they played along, but only a few people seemed really into it. But after a few rounds, basically every adult in the room was cheering loudly for their teammates, smiling and/or laughing. The place was full of energy.

For these men, many of who had already been through hell—deportation, days in the hostile desert, or a long dangerous trek across Mexico—this was rare a moment where they could relax, and even laugh. I sat in the back, amazed at the transformation I just witnessed, along with a handful of other MCC leaders who were visiting that day.

Nogales, Mexico is a city of over 200,000 that is set apart from Nogales, Arizona by an intimidating metal wall to keep migrants out of the United States.  If you walk far enough into the desert, however, the wall eventually ends, so many migrants come through Nogales on their way north. Nogales is also where many deported migrants are dropped off by U.S. Border Patrol, usually late a night.

There are massive structural forces that create the push and pull of migration, and violent policies that try to mitigate that flow. All that is visible here in Nogales. But we also saw little glimmers of hope from individuals and organizations that are building peace in these border communities by planting gardens, educating children and adults, caring for migrants, and organizing workers in maquilas (low-wage factories).

Leaders from MCC programs in Mexico and the United States convened here in Nogales earlier this month to discuss collaboration along the U.S./Mexico border.  The participants representing a half dozen MCC and partner offices on both sides of the border came together under the belief that migration is an issue that must be addressed multilaterally.

The meeting was hosted by Hogar de Paz y Esperanza (HEPAC), an MCC Mexico partner that works with women and children in Nogales by providing meals, education and alternative micro-economic projects, among other work. With a small but committed staff, they have made a significant impact on the community.

MCC originally convened the Borderlands Peacebuilding Initiative three years ago to begin this work, but a number of new faces have appeared at the table since then. In addition to HEPAC, attendees came from MCC Mexico, MCC Latin America, MCC West Coast, MCC US, and Shalom Mennonite in Tucson Arizona.

The attendees visited a women’s migrate shelter in Nogales, where they heard stories from three women, two of whom had recently been deported and one who was about to make her first attempt. One of the women had children and a husband living in Arizona that she was trying to rejoin. Another had children in Honduras that she needed income to support.

On the way to the migrant shelter, the participants visited the spot where 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriquez was shot eight-times and killed on Mexican soil by the U.S. Border Patrol. The BP alleges he was throwing rocks, but even that detail is disputed. On April 10th, HEPAC will hold an annual vigil in his memory.

The initiative is discussing early plans to expand an advocacy campaign on this issue, to ask the Border Patrol to give a public apology and change their internal policies, so similar events don’t happen again (and to prevent other less serious—but more frequent—abuses of migrants).  This project is not about demonizing individual agents, but addressing the institutional violence from the agency as a whole.

The group also discussed involving MCC Guatemala in future work on the Guatemala/Mexico border. Migrants coming from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador must first cross at that border before making the long, dangerous trek to the U.S. border. With MCC Mexico workers in the South, Central and Northern regions of Mexico, the new Country Representatives are exploring ways to support Central American migrants on their journey through Mexico.

Together, the Borderlands Peacebuilding Initiative hopes to expand work in education, advocacy, direct services and mutual collaboration. Each of the MCC offices represented are working in migration issues in some form on their own, but are moving forward together in the belief that our efforts will be stronger together.

Four years after the initiative was first thought of, it seems poised to take the work to the next level. With a many new participants around the table, there was a renewed sense of energy and hope, despite the tremendous obstacles.

As we returned to our offices in Mexico City, Tucson, Chihuahua, Goshen, Fresno and Nogales, we each brought with us long lists of next steps. Within the border region we hope to grow this initiative and expand MCC’s cross-border support of education, just policy and support for migrants.

The view of Nogales from HEPAC. Photo credit: Chris Hershberger-Esh

The view of Nogales from HEPAC. Photo credit: Chris Hershberger-Esh

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Weekly regional round-up

Image by Heraldry, Creative Commons

Here are some interesting news, reports, blogs and analysis from around Latin America and the Caribbean this week:

Adam Isaacson, a senior analyst from the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) took a trip to the Mexico/Guatemala border and covers the journey on this excellent blog, including photos, videos and analysis:

We’ve been pointing out that, as U.S. Border Patrol statistics confirm, we are witnessing a huge exodus from Central America. The number of Guatemalan, Salvadoran, and especially Honduran citizens trying to get to the United States has shot upward in the past three years or so.

The almost totally porous border zone near Tenosique, Tabasco is one of the early stages of that exodus. Tenosique lies at the beginning of one of the tracks for the trains that migrants ride northward, usually perched precariously on top. Having already traveled through Guatemala’s sparsely populated Petén region, they cross this notional border and walk 35 miles along the main road to Tenosique and the trains. We saw dozens of them during two hours of driving.

The Economist reports on the Colombian government’s attempt to control public backlash against mining:

The government has been under pressure to take action since environmentalists photographed an incident last year in which more than 500 tonnes of coal were dumped into the Bay of Santa Marta to stop a barge from sinking (pictured). Last month six employees at the port were charged, and face possible jail sentences. Drummond has been fined $3.6m and told to clean up the mess.

The case is an illustration of how the government, having welcomed foreign miners, is now having to contend with public disquiet over both pollution and the way the country’s mineral wealth is shared.

A new report came out this week entitled “NAFTA: 20 Years of Costs to Communities and the Environment.” It is worth a read:

These are not unfortunate side-effects but the inevitable result of a model of trade that is designed to protect the interests of corporations instead of the interests of communities and the environment.

Final results released were Thursday of El Salvador’s presidential election:

They confirm that Salvador Sánchez Ceren of the ruling left-wing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) won the narrowest of victories over Norman Quijano of the right-wing National Republican Alliance (Arena), with 50.11% to 49.89%. That’s a difference of just 6,364 votes, in an election with about 3m ballots cast.

Such a microscopic margin was always likely to be troublesome. Tensions, however, have been exacerbated by the seething mistrust that lingers between both parties 22 years after the end of the civil war in 1992.

The latest LatinPulse podcast provides quality analysis of elections and governments in Latin America. While some countries are moving to the left (El Salvador, Costa Rica), others like Honduras and Guatemala have elected right-wing governments to take a strong stand against rampant violence. Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega recently changed the constitution to allow him to run for re-election a third time, edging towards a one-party system. And much more:

Juan Pablo Pérez Sáinz, writing for the AULA Blog, explores a fascinating theory of what could be driving Central America’s violence epidemic in “Social Exclusion and Societal Violence: The Household Dimension”:

Ongoing research in Central America increasingly points to citizens’ exclusion from basic markets, especially the workforce that receives certain social guarantees, as the cause of societal violence in the region.  Their lack of access to the labor, capital, land and other markets, in which almost all income is generated, leads to an extreme disempowerment – a primary exclusion – that reverberates through citizens’ lives.

The stand-off between protesters and the government in Venezuela continues to spiral downward, reports the NY Times:

These two deaths, among more than 20 that the government says are linked to over a month of protests, are emblematic of a spiral of violence that people on both sides of this country’s bitter political divide seem increasingly willing to accept.

“We don’t want dialogue if there are dead students,” said Christy Hernández, 21, a protester who saw Mr. Tinoco fall and went to find a car to take him to the hospital. She said demonstrators, many of whom want President Nicolás Maduro out of office, would keep up the pressure on the government despite the cost. “We already lit the fuse,” she said. “It’s now or never, and we’ve decided it should be now.”

And Latin America’s first pope has had quite a year. Shane Claiborne reflects here:

The most remarkable thing about the Pope is that what he is doing should not be remarkable.  He is simply doing what Popes and Christians should do – care for the poor, critique inequity, interrupt injustice, surprise the world with grace, include the excluded and challenge the entitled.

New report by the UNHCR “Children on the Run” reveals the huge number of children in the Americas who are forced to flee their homes because of violence:

“Children on the Run” unveils the humanitarian impact of the situation through interviews with more than 400 unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico held in US federal custody.

It shows that the large majority of these children believed they would remain unsafe in their home countries and, as a result, should generally be screened for international protection needs by authorities along the way.

A 17-year-old boy who fled Honduras told the UNHCR interviewers, “My grandmother is the one who told me to leave. She said: ‘If you don’t join, the gang will shoot you. If you do, the rival gang will shoot you, or the cops. But if you leave, no one will shoot you.’”

Seems like common sense, but we’ll take it. The L.A. Times reports that Border Patrol agents are finally ordered to stop shooting at vehicles, rock-throwers:

Border Patrol Chief Michael J. Fisher ordered customs and border agents not to step directly in front of a moving vehicle, or use their body to block it, in order to open fire on the driver. He also barred shooting at vehicles whose occupants are fleeing from agents.

Fisher also ordered agents to seek cover or move away from rock throwers if possible, and not to shoot at them unless the rock or other object “poses an imminent danger of death or serious injury.”

And finally, published here earlier this week, a piece on MCC’s ongoing work to push the United Nations to take responsibility for the Haiti cholera epidemic, by Vanessa Hershberger:

The United Nations has violated the right of the people of Haiti to safe drinking water and sanitation. By neglecting to screen peacekeeping personnel coming from a cholera endemic area, engaging in inadequate waste management on U.N. premises, and refusing to remedy this violation in a timely manner, a major cholera epidemic is now present in Haiti. Because Haiti’s main water source, the Artibonite River, is now contaminated with this deadly waterborne disease, Haitians dependent on this water for their daily activities have been, and continue to be, at a high risk of contracting cholera.


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Demanding justice in Haiti’s cholera epidemic


Wiltord, a man suffering from cholera because of Haiti's epidemic. Photo by Wawa Chege.

Wiltord, a man suffering from cholera because of Haiti’s epidemic. Photo by Wawa Chege.

By Vanessa Hershberger, Program Associate at the MCC United Nations office in New York, with input from Wawa and Kristen Chege, Policy Analysts for MCC Haiti.

With the rainy season looming in Haiti, there is little good news to look forward to since the cholera outbreak of cholera in October of 2010. It was then that the United Nations (U.N.) peacekeeping troops from Nepal inadvertently brought the deadly disease to Haiti, when inadequate waste disposal methods led to a sewage leak into the Artibonite River.  It quickly spread throughout the country in the main water source for thousands of Haitians. To date, over 699,000 people have been infected and at least 8,500 have died from this relatively easy to treat disease. Due to a  severe lack of resources and access to funds, many of those sickened are unable to get the treatment they need. The U.N. has shown their verbal support of the $2.2 billion National Cholera Eradication Plan developed in 2012 for Haiti, which would eradicate cholera and fund sanitation infrastructure, but have made little tangible gains in raising funds for this plan. Disappointingly, the UN has continually denied their role and responsibility in this whole devastating saga, even as a lawsuit is brought against them seeking reparations for the victims and their families.

Some welcoming news came in late February in the form of a report of the Independent Expert on the situation of Human Rights in Haiti, Gustavo Gallón. With some people within the U.N. willing to speak up in support of Haitian compensation including U.N. Human Rights chief Navi Pillay and former Canadian U.N. Ambassador  Stephen Lewis,  Gallón’s statements highlight the inner struggles within the UN system. In his report, he affirms that “the diplomatic difficulties which surround this question should be overcome to guarantee for the Haitian population the end of the epidemic in the shortest time possible as well as full reparation for the damages that were suffered… silence is the worst of all responses” (A/HRC/25/71, par. 77). Those tasked with defending human rights for all around the world understand that access to a mechanism for grievances is a human right and by being silent on the issue, the U.N. continues to deny affected Haitians access to  their fundamental human rights.

As part of our continued efforts to respond to the needs of our Haitian partners, MCC recently submitted a contribution in response to a request by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the human right to clean drinking water and sanitation. In the letter,  we contend that the cholera epidemic, and the circumstances surrounding it, represents a major violation of these two basic human rights by the U.N.  As the symbol of international cooperation, the U.N. should be the first to lead by example, taking responsibility when implicated, and respecting international human rights mechanisms that they themselves have been instrumental in developing.

From the letter (PDF):

In the case of Haiti, the United Nations has violated the right of the people of Haiti to safe drinking water and sanitation. By neglecting to screen peacekeeping personnel coming from a cholera endemic area, engaging in inadequate waste management on U.N. premises, and refusing to remedy this violation in a timely manner, a major cholera epidemic is now present in Haiti. Because Haiti’s main water source, the Artibonite River, is now contaminated with this deadly waterborne disease, Haitians dependent on this water for their daily activities have been, and continue to be, at a high risk of contracting cholera.

Under international human rights law, all humans have the right to access to safe water for “personal and domestic uses, defined as water for drinking, personal sanitation, washing clothes, food preparation, and personal and household hygiene.” If states themselves are to be held to a commitment of ensuring access to safe water and sanitation, it is of vital importance for the United Nations to portray its commitment to defending this right to water, and at a very minimum stand above reproach for breaching the right as outlined in various articles

Continue Reading…

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Another letter from a Colombia jail

Sept 2013 007


By Anna Vogt, who lived in Mampuján, Colombia for two years with MCC’s Seed program. This summer, she moved to Bogotá as an MCC service worker with Justapaz, a Mennonite organization working for justice, peace and non-violent action in Colombia. Originally posted at: thellamadiaries.wordpress.com

When I first heard that Jorge had been arrested, I set up a shrine in my house. It reminded me that although I was not there physically, I could have a tiny piece of the coast in my home as a sign of the life and hope that exists all over Colombia. The altar contained candles, not for death but for the power of life and light that the movement in the Montes de Maria represents, a mango to represent the joy, the abundance and the generosity of the Coast, a picture of the Mampujan march as a sign of courage. There was a also a quilt with the silhouettes of the community to represent the healing power of memory, a book with pictures of a displacement site to show the past and the desire to move forward with dignity, a bottle of perfume to capture the smell of the coast: sweet, floral and exuberant, and a weaving from Guatemala as a sign of the global struggle for justice.

As time went on, the shrine slowly got dismantled. The mango started to go bad, so I ate it. Someone wanted to read the book, so I took it out. The candles burnt down. It became easier and easier to go about my daily life and forget that Jorge (and countless others) do not have that freedom to take for granted.

As human beings, we have an enormous capacity for resilience and resistance; this includes the ability to go on living. Yet I do not want to forget that this Friday Jorge will complete 6 months of being unjustly imprisoned. Instead, I want to remember his courage and example, using his latest letter as another type of shrine to life and a remembrance that hope cannot be jailed.
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Here is some of what he writes from his maximum security prison:

“I must confess that, being in this onerous place, I have felt much affliction, disappointment, and sadness but above all, helplessness to know that in Colombia the innocent are judged while the true delinquents are free to roam about the country, and what is even more outrageous is that the state pays them to do so. But at the same time, I reflect and feel the need to continue struggling. This is a constant effort that requires great sacrifice, such that I must sacrifice freedom, family, health and if it would be necessary, life. But this is not everything: one must be tolerant, wise, filled with patience, but above all with the positive values that allow us to conclude that this struggle is necessary. We take as example the Lord Jesus Christ, who faced trials, temptations, difficulties and even death for one solo fact: LOVE OF HUMANITY. John 3:16.

I want to remind you that my personality does not allow me to change my way of thinking, that my principles are and will be the same and that most importantly I do not lend, rent or sell them. For this reason, I send you calmness because I will leave here strengthened and with more clarity than before about the state in which we live.

The torture that I am living I am taking as a vacation in hell, but I am clear that God only sends to human beings that which they can resist. While I consider myself a man with a bit of resistance I hope of you only the sufficient support so that this process continues to advance because the benefits are for you; as you have been able to realize I have received only prejudices which I have faced with resistance and decision, waiting and trusting as someone said, “After the storm, comes the calm.” This is why I know that after all of this suffering, the triumph will come.

I invite you to continue struggling with great care so that we will finally be able to achieve what we have so greatly desired: progress for our communities.

The time has come to change the history of our communities and to achieve this the decisive support from all of the communities is needed, without thinking of colour or race, with only the objective that our new generation will not live that which we had to live.

I want to as well dedicate part of this writing to all of those people that can be considered to be my enemies. I ask God that he will help you, generously and greatly strengthen your families and help me to forgive you from my heart. Vengeance belongs to God and although you have tortured me and disintegrated my family, I do not hold resentment nor do I consider you my enemies because it is not, nor has it been, within my plans to harm anybody. I ask God to remove from me hatred, revenge and resentment and endow me with with wisdom and tolerance. In my prayers, it is my duty to ask first for those who feel they are my enemies and I wish them the best and that my suffering will turn into happiness for them.

Lastly, I invite all the coordinators, representatives, young people, women, supporting organizations and the community in general to stand their ground. Remember that nothing is impossible, there only exists incapable people. The people that struggle with vigour will have better generations.

To the Christians I ask for your prayers for me and for my enemies, so that the truth will come to light as when the people of Israel worshipped Baal. We ask God to send a signal that justice will always prevail. I have no fear because God knew me before the foundation of the world.

A brother greeting and a big hug.

My hope is to be able to meet with you very soon.

Jorge Luis Montes Hernández

My strength depends on your strength- united we stand!

Valledupar – Cesar

Here is the complete letter.

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