Churches connect across borders to accompany refugees

Cali delegation in Quito

Giving a presentation on the Refugee Project to the delegation from Cali.

David Sulewski and Tibrine da Fonesca work with MCC in Quito, Ecuador, coordinating the Refugee Project, a ministry of the Mennonite Church in Quito to refugees, the majority of whom are fleeing from the armed conflict in Colombia. This post was originally published on their personal blog.

In late January we hosted a delegation of pastors from the Mennonite Brethren churches in Cali, Colombia. The visit is a first step in an ongoing exchange “to build a bridge between the churches in Cali and Quito,” as one pastor expressed. The focus of the delegation’s visit was to see how the Mennonite Church in Quito ministers to refugees the vast majority of whom are coming from Colombia.

Cali has suffered from the violence of armed conflict and displacement for decades. Colombia’s third largest city, Cali remains today a principal destination for internally displaced persons (IDPs) throughout the southwest region of the country. IDPs are concentrated in extremely impoverished urban areas on Cali’s margins, have limited access to services and are exposed to fragile security conditions. Illegal armed groups also present in Cali contribute to the ongoing urban violence and displacement.

The Mennonite Brethren churches in Cali feel directly the impact of the ongoing flux of IDPs. Over the years their own church members have been victims of violence and forced displacement. One pastor recalled the excessively violent 90s, unable to wash her memory of the images of dead bodies across the street from the seminary: “The FARC, the State and the paramilitaries fight among themselves with bullets and bombs and the churches and communities are the ones caught in the middle.”

Last year I visited my friend Godswill who was working for the Mennonite Central Committee in Cali at the time and stayed at his apartment on the edge of a barrio rife with poverty and violence. Sitting on the stoop at night I noticed that every fifteen minutes the same man on a bicycle rode down the street blowing repeatedly on a whistle. “He’s a community watchman,” my friend explained, “blowing his whistle signals that all is clear. If you don’t see him in 15 minutes, then you know there’s a problem.” The next morning, Godswill pointed out to me an abandoned house on his street corner once occupied by armed actors and drug traffickers in the 90s before police raided it. Never renovated or re-occupied, it stands as a silent monument to Cali’s more violent past as well as a reminder of the violence that persists today.

We jumped on a microbus bound for downtown. Within minutes we were standing on a street corner in the city center, a vibrant urban landscape bustling with pedestrian traffic and commerce, a vision before my eyes so far removed from the reality of Cali’s periphery.

That late afternoon, back in the barrio, as my friend and I were walking back to his place I saw that everyone was out, sitting in lawn chairs or leaning against parked cars watching a soccer game on TV sets that neighbors dragged outside and set up on their patios. As we strolled by, a family as unknown to us as we were to them welcomed us warmly with the wave of a hand to join them. At that magical hour when the setting sun paints the world orange and the day’s heat begins to dissipate, I joined the chorus of impassioned shouts of joy and frustration at the players on the TV and was overwhelmed by that warm feeling of falling in love with Colombia.


Downing a platter of pork with fellow MCCers Godswill (L) and Phealy (R) in Cali.

When I told the pastors this story they laughed, saying, “That’s Godswill, always making sure that his visitors see las dos caras de la ciudad—the two sides of the city.” We, too, showed the pastors the two sides of Quito, taking them on a home visit to a newly arrived refugee family living in a dilapidated building in the world-famous historic center just one street removed from La Ronda, a touristy street lined with artisanal boutiques, restaurants and discotheques.

Standing in the damp, cramped apartment, the family recounted their story of having suffered internal displacement within Colombia twice before going to Cali. Continuing to receive death threats, they fled for the third time and crossed the border into Ecuador. Hearing the refugees’ stories of persecution and flight was not new to the pastors, but learning the sheer number of Colombian refugees in Ecuador surprised them. “I expected fifty-percent of the refugees in Ecuador to be Colombian, not ninety-eight percent,” one pastor marveled as he shook his head.

Given Cali’s proximity to the border with Ecuador we frequently meet refugees from Cali. Just a few months ago we even received a refugee family that had participated in one of the Mennonite Brethren churches in Cali.

Like many others, the pastors anticipate an uptick in violence and displacement after the possible signing of the peace accords between the Colombian government and the FARC. The pastor shared that as a church they are discerning how “to keep the church doors open, preserving the space as a sanctuary of peace and transforming the mentality of the various churches to understand that they have a responsibility to respond to the violence.”

For as long as the conflict has been going on the Mennonite Brethren churches in Cali have been working for peace. They run mediation programs in schools to cultivate a culture of peace and dialogue among the youth and they work with churches of other denominations to help them formulate a vision of working for peace, justice and reconciliation.

Reflecting on how they can continue to minister to IDPs in Cali, the pastors expressed wanting to deepen their understanding of the reality of Colombian refugees in Ecuador in order to provide better information and counseling to victims of conflict weighing the difficult choice of seeking refuge in Ecuador.

This meeting between churches in Cali that work for peace amidst a conflict from which so many Colombians flee and the church in Quito that receives and welcomes those very refugees underscores the need to create cross-border connections to accompany more holistically victims from the moment of persecution, through their flight and to settling in a new country.


At lunch with the Cali delegation

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Weekly News Roundup, Febuary 5



Tolu, Colombia. Anna Vogt

The News Roundup is a regular feature of the blog where we select a number of news articles from various sources around the web, with the goal of providing an overview of the weekly conversation about the countries where MCC works in the region. Quotes in italics are drawn directly from sources and do not necessarily reflect the position of MCC.

Introducing Latin America’s Top 5 “Corruption Busters”

From Brazil to Guatemala and beyond, a new generation of prosecutors, judges and activists is making extraordinary progress. These brave, highly skilled “corruption busters” are prosecuting offenders and sending them to jail in unprecedented numbers – no matter how powerful they are. If this crackdown continues, it will go down as one of the most important changes to Latin America in the 21st century. It will strengthen democracies. It will make the business world more transparent, and more open to new players. And it will help reduce poverty and inequality, as the billions of dollars lost to graft every year are redirected toward the neediest. Here at Americas Quarterly, we’ve decided to celebrate five distinguished leaders behind this trend. They are: Sérgio Moro, the Brazilian judge overseeing the probe at Petrobras; Iván Velásquez and Thelma Aldana, the Colombian prosecutor and Guatemalan attorney general whose joint investigation led to the imprisonment of a Guatemalan president; José Ugaz, the Peruvian prosecutor and global chair of Transparency International; and Viridiana Rios, a Mexican activist and academic whom we chose as a symbol of the younger generation of Latin Americans agitating for change on social media.

Have January raids deterred migrants from illegally crossing the border?

The raids, which were launched Jan. 2, resulted in 121 people being taken into custody, primarily in Georgia, North Carolina and Texas. Advocates for immigrants, however, challenged the notion that the decline in border apprehensions can be attributed to the raids. “The time it takes a refugee to travel from Central America to the United States precludes making any connection between the raids and the number of people who have arrived since the raids,” said Jonathan Ryan, executive director of the San Antonio-based Raices immigrant legal advocacy group. Illegal crossings on the southern border traditionally decrease during the winter, and apprehensions also dropped between December 2014 and January 2015, though not as dramatically as this time. Overall, recent illegal crossings by children and families are soaring compared with a year ago.

The hidden environmental factors behind the spread of Zika and other devastating diseases

So what can we do? Yale’s Durland Fish argues that we have to pay much more attention to how large projects involving forests, dams, wetlands and more change the ecology of diseases by changing the habitats of their vectors. And that we need to think about diseases from a much more ecological standpoint in general. “You should be able to understand how these simple man-made aquatic habitats, how do they produce mosquitoes, what are the biological processes involved, in turning a mosquito egg into an adult mosquito,” he says of Aedes aegypti. “And we don’t understand that process.” Fish says the medical world tends to pursue cures such as vaccines, rather than ecological understanding that can lead to better prevention. When it comes to Zika virus, says Fish, “You have to do something about the mosquitoes, and that’s strictly an environmental problem, there’s no medical applications to that. And focusing on that as an environmental issue is going to have the greatest impact on protecting people.”


Latin America is facing an epidemic: women across the region are incarcerated at alarming rates for non-violent, low-level drug offenses. This doesn’t have to be a reality. A working group of human rights experts, legal specialists, and government officials throughout Latin America has published a policy roadmap for the region to reduce the unjust levels of women’s incarceration for drug offenses.  The report, released by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), Dejusticia and the Inter-American Commission of Women of the Organization of American States, calls for a wide array of reforms to address the human cost of current drug policies in the Americas. “Women, Drug Policies, and Incarceration: A Guide to Policy Reform in Latin America and the Caribbean” recommends that governments pursue the decriminalization of drug consumption and the use of alternatives to incarceration—particularly for pregnant women and women with dependents—as well as education and training programs that can lead to meaningful employment.


Beneath Mexico lies the grim toll of the country’s brutal drug war. In recent years Mexican authorities have uncovered 201 so-called fosas clandestinas or “clandestine graves,” containing 662 decaying bodies and piled bones of mostly unidentified victims of what appears to be violence related to the drug war and human-trafficking networks. The following map, based on a data set provided by the Mexican government under a freedom of information request, attempts to visualize the spread of drug war violence by locating unmarked graves where human remains have been found in recent years. The data, although official, is most likely incomplete. Some media reports and watchdog organizations suggest there are far more unmarked grave sites and corpses than the government is admitting to.

A new Cuban revolution and the stark divide between rich and poor

And who will their priorities be? Ms. Rubeira, the expert on race in Cuba, rubbed knotted fingers at her temples when we talked about the transition. “It worries us, the descendants of Africans, the passing of the historic generation,” she said. “Because, although the problem is not solved, Fidel always tried to find a solution, and Raul followed his steps as president. But Fidel is …” Here she trailed off out of delicacy, for no one here refers directly to the aging Mr. Castro’s eventual passing. “And Raul will step down – so what’s going to happen with the [new] leadership, who don’t have these ideas?” Already, Ms. Nunez, the sociologist, says, her sense is that the commitment to equality is not as strong today as it was a couple of years ago. The state must lead, with policy that recognizes the existing differences. “If you treat everyone equally, you’ll reproduce inequalities,” she said. “Policy must focus on historically disadvantaged groups, and account for geographic differences.” One crucial factor, she added, is credit: The government must act quickly to extend a program of loans to Cubans who do not have relatives abroad sending cash and gifts.

Liberated Haiti: Thirty Years After Duvalier

International actors, particularly the United States, the United Nations and the Organization of American States, who had buttressed Martelly with strong and unwavering support and, as such, are viewed by most in Haiti as co-conspirators in his failures, now have an opportunity to place their support behind those Haitians who have remained steadfast in their desire to lead their country away from its difficult past towards that truly liberated future. Hopefully, those important international actors will join Haitians in rising to that occasion.

Correcting Plan Colombia: 5 ways the US can support lasting peace in Colombia

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos will meet with US President Barack Obama to promote the peace process and mark the 15th anniversary of Plan Colombia, a US assistance package that was accompanied by grave human rights abuses on the ground since it started in 2000. Their meeting provides an excellent opportunity for the US government to learn from the mistakes of Plan Colombia, and ensure that future aid and diplomacy truly contributes to a lasting peace. This should start with an honest assessment of Plan Colombia. Rather than holding the aid package up as a complete success story, Presidents Santos and Obama need to recognize the many failures of Plan Colombia, which are illustrated well by WOLA’s new interactive presentation on its legacy and the Latin America Working Group Education Fund (LAWGEF) infographic on the human rights impact of the aid. Fortunately, the coming years will give the United States a chance to improve on these failures. Now that the country is nearing an end to its armed conflict, there are concrete steps the US government can take to resolve the challenges facing Colombia.

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Weekly News Roundup, January 29


Antigua, Guatemala. Anna Vogt

The News Roundup is a regular feature of the blog where we select a number of news articles from various sources around the web, with the goal of providing an overview of the weekly conversation about the countries where MCC works in the region. Quotes in italics are drawn directly from sources and do not necessarily reflect the position of MCC.

Zika isn’t a global health threat like Ebola. It needs a targeted response

I am not suggesting that we should ignore Zika or shouldn’t seek to protect unborn babies from potential harm. As a pregnant woman myself, I have the utmost sympathy for the affected women struggling with the impact of this disease on their children. However, we need to ensure the focus of the global community remains on sustainable measures to control mosquito borne infections, rather than knee-jerk security responses. Zika is a disease of poverty, similar to other neglected tropical diseases such as chikungunya and dengue. The burden falls disproportionately upon poor populations living near open water sources which attract mosquitoes, and who do not have the resources to protect themselves individually though bite prevention methods.

Mexico: Child labour and the perils of a lost education

According to the National Statistics Institute, 2.5 million children are working in Mexico. A 2013 World Bank report says 870,000 working children are below the age of 13.

One of the ways Mexico has tried to keep children in class and not at work is through the Prospera, or Prosper, programme. Launched in 1997, it offers what’s called in NGO lingo “conditional cash transfers”. The Mexican government gave $500m last year to 6.1 million families, according to data provided by Prospera. The payments are an incentive for parents to keep their children in school and, in exchange, the families have to meet certain requirements and attend workshops such as sex education and family planning.

Central America’s Gangs are More Dangerous Than Ever

While gang violence was an important driver in the 2014 immigration crisis, that influx was also fed by deceptive reports in Central America that the children could receive US citizenship. In response, the governments of the Northern Triangle countries, in conjunction with the United States, launched a campaign to correct the misinformation. More importantly, Mexico agreed to dramatically step up its southern border enforcement efforts to halt the immigrants before they reached the United States. The flow slowed to a trickle for most of 2015, before accelerating again in the past four months. Now the convergence of gang violence and growing territorial control — coupled with rampant corruption and lack of any faith in the existing political structures — is overwhelming those fragile firewalls. While the budget Congress passed in December surprisingly gave the Obama administration $750 million of the $1 billion requested in aid for Central America, 75 percent of aid was conditioned on the regional governments reining in corruption, strengthening the rule of law and judicial structures, and ending rampant impunity. Given the complexities of the possible disbursements and the unlikeliness of the conditions being met, money will likely not begin to flow for at least a year and then only in trickles.

Global study: Honduras making progress against corruption

On January 27, the most recognized international organization focused on fighting corruption, Transparency International, released a report that shows Honduras’ corruption perception score improving for the second straight year. The most recent results of Transparency International’s (TI) Corruption Perceptions Index lands Honduras in 112th place among 168 countries in the study. This positions Honduras 14 slots higher than in last year’s study, where it was in 126th place. This improvement is very welcomed news for AJS, which also serves as the Honduran chapter of Transparency International. For AJS, it’s encouraging to see another validation that progress is continuing in the struggle against corruption.

El Salvador, UN Agree to Anti-Impunity Program

This emphasis on combating corruption is linked in part to the Central American migrant crisis that has overwhelmed the US immigration system in recent years. The US Congress recently earmarked $750 million for aid programs that will attempt to address rampant gang violence and poverty, which has ravaged the Northern Triangle and driven millions from their homes. But US officials are fearful this money could go to waste unless corruption is addressed. Indeed, 75 percent of the aid money is conditioned on Northern Triangle governments reducing the level of corruption and impunity while improving rule of law standards. Still, this anti-corruption push may not amount to much without more support from the region’s governments. The UN and USAID programs in El Salvador are by design much weaker than the CICIG, while similar concerns have been raised about the anti-impunity body that was recently launched in Honduras. This means government officials will continue to be responsible for investigating and prosecuting cases of graft, something for which neither El Salvador nor Honduras has a strong track record.   

New Year, New Administration, and New Trials Against Former Guatemalan Military Officials

On January 6, 2016, the Guatemalan Public Ministry made an unprecedented announcement: they had arrested 18 high-ranking former military officials. The officials were charged with leading a campaign of forced disappearances and massacres from 1981 to 1988, during the height of Guatemala’s internal armed conflict. The announcement, made one week before the inauguration of the new Guatemalan President, Jimmy Morales, placed pressure on the incoming administration even before it had officially begun. Morales’s party, the National Convergence Front (FCN-Nation), has close, well-documented ties to the military, including to some of the officers charged. Most importantly, current FCN-Nation Congressional Deputy and retired coronel, Edgar Justino Ovalle Maldonado, Morales’ right-hand man, is implicated in the case, but is currently protected by congressional immunity due of his election to Congress in September 2015. As part of the case, the Guatemalan Public Ministry has initiated impeachment proceedings against him. If the impeachment is successful, Ovalle Maldonado faces potential prosecution for war crimes alongside the other retired officials.

With Haiti Elections Cancelled, Negotiations Begin for What Comes Next

“If I have any advice to give to the international community,” Seitenfus continued, “it is to listen to Haitian actors. Without a Haitian solution to the Haitian crisis, there is no salvation.” Any deal must first a foremost provide for a credible and fair election, one that can restore Haitian’s trust in their political system. In the October elections, only a quarter of registered voters participated, a sign of the deep distrust in an electoral system seen as dominated by the international community, unaccountable politicians and their elite backers.

Latin American states ready to oversee Colombia peace

Colombia’s regional neighbors are willing to send representatives for a UN mission to monitor the end of the country’s half-century conflict under a hoped-for peace deal with FARC rebels, leaders said Wednesday. Leaders at a summit of the Latin American and Caribbean regional bloc CELAC said the mission to oversee an accord between the Colombian government and the Marxist guerrillas would be made up entirely of officials from CELAC countries.

Evo Morales celebrates 10 years as Bolivia’s ‘indigenous socialist’ president

The economic situation in Bolivia has also improved from a low base thanks to a rapid expansion of gas exploitation, mining and soy production. Between 2006 and 2014, Bolivia notched up an average growth of 5.1%, one of the highest in the Americas. Key industries have been nationalised and their revenues channeled into welfare programs and infrastructure projects, such as the cable car systems that have transformed the lives of many living on the periphery of this spectacular Andean city, which sits at 3,650m altitude. Despite opening up the country to massive mineral exploration, particularly by Chinese companies, Morales claims he is focussed on securing a balance between development and environmental protection.

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Biking Coast to Coast for Education in Honduras

coast to coast

Photos courtesy Transformemos Honduras and Costa a Costa:

Katerina Parsons, a Michigan native, graduated from Calvin College and now is working at the Association for a More Just Society in Tegucigalpa, Honduras through MCC’s SALT program. At AJS, she is able to see firsthand how brave Christians are using good research, information, and record-keeping to make Honduras’ society more just.

Orar. Soñar. Trabajar. Pray. Dream. Work.

– motto of Transformemos Honduras

“Six years ago, we had a crazy idea,” says Kurt Ver Beek, vice president of the Association for a More Just Society (ASJ, by its Spanish initials). It’s true, the goal of a cross-country bike race to raise awareness about corruption in public education was ambitious, even a little crazy, but no less so than the idea to reform the education system in the first place. Crazy ideas – converted into system-changing realities – are the cornerstone of ASJ’s work.

ASJ, through the coalition “Transformemos Honduras” (Let’s Transform Honduras), began working in the public health sector and the public education sector in 2009. When Transformemos Honduras started working with education, there were fewer than 120 days of class per year (students met just 88 days in 2009), teachers showed up to class sporadically, or not at all, and Honduras’ test scores ranked dead last in Latin America, a place they had kept since 2000.

Transformemos Honduras got to work recording days in class and teachers in classrooms, bringing their shocking findings before the government, the media, and the Honduran public. Parents and community members became active volunteers, the Minister of Education was fired, and education in Honduras began to change. After just five years, days in class had jumped from an average of 120 to 200, teachers skipping class dropped from 26% to 1%, and test scores jumped from last place in Latin America to 10th out of 15th.

The other crazy idea, the cross-country bike ride called “Coast to Coast”, continued to grow as well. The logistics of the race are daunting: 437 kilometers, eight cities in seven days, over 150 cyclists, and 35 volunteers including police escorts, bus drivers, and coordinators of everything from lodging to snacks. But that hasn’t kept it from becoming an important advocacy tool and a beloved tradition, drawing attendees from all regions in Honduras and from countries around the world.

IMG_0781 (1)

A winning student. Photo courtesy Transformemos Honduras and Costa a Costa:

At each of the eight cities they pass through, the cyclists stop for an event in the city center to honor five public school students for academic excellence. The children smile shyly as mayors place medals over their heads, and even wider as prizes of bicycles and tablets are revealed.

Transformemos Honduras leaders like Carlos Hernandez, ASJ’s president, speak about taking action against corruption in the education system. Parents cry; teachers and principles beam. Public officials speak about hope.

“There’s a lot more to be done,” says Carlos Hernandez, “But we also need to recognize how far we have come.”


Carlos Hernandez, president of ASJ, stands with Oscar Chicas, World Vision’s national director for Honduras. Photos courtesy Transformemos Honduras and Costa a Costa:

Coast to Coast is a perfect demonstration of Transformemos Honduras’s ability to bring people together. Private business donate money and prizes, city governments offer spaces– bikers are students and mechanics and doctors, nonprofit workers and international visitors.

In a country where bad news is the norm, the week-long race speaks to hope for a better future. Bikers cross landscapes of incredible beauty, almost as beautiful as children with big dreams and the parents, teachers, and public administrators whose passions for education are making those dreams possible. Cyclists push themselves to their limits and past them. Friendships develop across cultures as all push together towards the same goal – better education for Honduran children.

From the tropical beaches of Tela to the bustling urban center of San Pedro Sula, from the breathtaking Lago Yojoa to the capital city of Tegucigalpa, cyclists celebrate the good work of Transformemos Honduras and challenge people across Honduras to join in continuing it. By the time they reached the port city of San Lorenzo in the south, where the air smells like fish and sea salt and the sun burns hot enough to leave tan lines around hats and sunglasses, everyone is exhausted, but inspired – ready to get to work.


Photos courtesy Transformemos Honduras and Costa a Costa:

“Sometimes as Christians, all we do is pray that things will change,” Carlos Hernandez told the audience in Siguatepeque as skinny boys leaned against BMX bikes waiting for their turn to show off their tricks. “We have to do more than that. We have to dream that things can actually be better. And then we have to work.”

And people listened, from newspaper reporters to city commissioners, from the fastest biker to the tiny second-grader who is one of the best students in her city.

“Education is not just the work of these students here, and not just of their teachers, their principals, or even their parents,” Hernandez continued. “Education is the work of every one of us here, because that is how we are going to transform Honduras.”


Photos courtesy Transformemos Honduras and Costa a Costa:


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Weekly News Roundup: Jan 22

March 2015 070

Mongui, Colombia. Anna Vogt

Latin America: Beyond the stereotypes (video)

Drugs, corruption and violence often mar any news coming from Latin America. While no one can deny there is a huge problem with inequality and violence, the region is also home to a diverse mix of sophisticated cultures, progressive social change, hundreds of languages, and more than a dozen Nobel Laureates. In this week’s Reality Check, Mehdi Hasan highlights Latin America beyond the stereotypes.

World Bank urges Latin America not to leave young people behind

The 18 million young people out of school and work across Latin America could play a vital role in driving the region’s economic growth and reducing crime, inequality and migration, a new report claims. Despite Latin America’s strong economic performance over recent years and several successful anti-poverty initiatives, the World Bank study finds that the number of ninis – a contraction of the Spanish “ni estudia ni trabaja” (neither working nor studying) – has increased. One in five 15- to 24-year-olds in Latin America are ninis. Although two-thirds are women, the overall rise has been fuelled by a 46% increase in male ninis between 1992 and 2010…. Rogers warned that stigmatising ninis is socially and economically counterproductive as they have a key part to play at a time when the proportion of children and older people, relative to Latin America’s working-age population, is set to reach historical lows. “We’re missing a chance, potentially, for the region to grow very fast,” he said. “That’s going to be missed if a lot of these youths are not productively in the labour force – and there’s the scarring effect, which means even 15 or 20 years from now, these ninis will be less productive and less likely to be in the labour force.”

Report Critiques US Efforts to Halt Arms Trafficking to Mexico

Arms trafficking specialist Robert Muggah of the Igarapé Institutedescribed the report as “a wake-up call.” “It underlines that the US not only has a problem with enforcing the laws on the books, but that its gun regulation legislation is in serious need of improvement,” Muggah wrote in an email to InSight Crime. “The evidence is clear: legally purchased US firearms and ammunition are sustaining cartel, gang and everyday criminal violence in Mexico.” Indeed, there is significant evidence pointing to that conclusion. The GAO report notes that about 70 percent of the firearms seized by Mexican authorities and submitted for tracing came from the United States.were traced back to the United States. Most of these weapons were purchased legally in border states like Arizona, California, and Texas before being trafficked illegally to Mexico.  Additionally, a recent data analysis by the research organization Mexico Evalúa indicates that more than half of murders in Mexico are now committed with firearms. A number of other academic studies have linked the upward trend in gun homicides in Mexico to the 2004 expiration of a US ban on assault weapons.

Honduras president announces international body to tackle corruption

Honduras’s president, Juan Orlando Hernández, has announced the launch of a new international anti-corruption body to tackle criminal networks within the country’s political and judicial systems, in an attempt to appease anger over impunity and graft. The Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (Maccih) will have powers to independently investigate politicians, judges and members of the security forces. Organised crime’s infiltration of weak and corrupt state institutions has helped make Honduras one of the poorest and most violent countries in the region. Maccih will be led by the former Peruvian prime minister Juan Jiménez and is backed by the Organisation of American States (OAS), with an initial mandate of four years.

Former comedian Morales sworn in as Guatemala president

Jimmy Morales used his inaugural address on Thursday evening to promise more transparency in the country’s political system but cautioned that it would take time for change to come. “A new Guatemala is possible, and it’s worth the struggle. Of course things could be better, but I want you to bear in mind things don’t change overnight … we’re passing from the darkness of corruption to the dawn of transparency,” Morales said… Al Jazeera’s David Mercer, reporting from Guatemala City, said the biggest obstacle Morales faced was passing his proposals through a deeply divided congress. “With his party having less than 10 percent of the seats, and with Congress already highly fragmented, experts predict that it will be incredibly difficult for him to push through any significant reforms.” 

Indigenous and Afro-Caribbeans say Nicaragua coercing them on canal

Leaders of Nicaragua’s indigenous and Afro-Caribbean communities say government officials are pressuring them to sign a document consenting to the proposed $50 billion Nicaragua Canal passing through their autonomous territory. Dr. María Luisa Acosta, an attorney for the Center for Legal Assistance to Indigenous Peoples (CALPI) who has represented indigenous communities in Nicaragua for the past two decades, said she received a call from Rama-Kriol leaders Rupert Allen Clair Duncan and Santiago Thomas on Saturday. “They said the government is pressuring them to sign papers and to give up the territory, and they don’t want to,” said Acosta. “But they feel a lot of pressure and they have told them in many ways, ‘We don’t want this. We need a lawyer. We need to know more and we cannot do this this way. We need somebody independent to oversee this process.’ And [the government representatives] just said, ‘Don’t worry — just sign.’” “It’s a lot of psychological pressure,” she added.

Haiti Senate calls for a halt to Sunday presidential runoff

While Moïse this week called for Haitians to head to the polls to consolidate democracy, Celestin is calling for a boycott. He calls the vote a “masquerade” and an “affront to democracy” and said he will not participate. Back-to-back demonstrations this week resulted in protesters torching vehicles, erecting burning barricades and damaging vehicles. At least three voting centers were also partially burned in the northern part of the country. “An election under these conditions will take us to misery and a spiral of violence,” said Sen. Pierre Ricard, a member of the Pitit Dessalines platform who represents the Southeast Department and introduced the resolution. “We don’t know where this violence inside the country will take the country.” But not everyone shares those views. Some diplomats say that Haitians want to head to the polls, and it’s time to close the electoral process, which began on Aug. 9 with the violence and fraud-marred legislative first round.

On earthquake anniversary, Haiti prepares for another potential disaster

In the past two years, the Haitian government drafted a new mining law with the support of the World Bank.  As analyzed in a report published by Oxfam last year, the proposed new law falls short of adequately protecting the rights of affected communities and the environment.    Moreover, there has been no public debate about the content of the law.  The mining law should be redrafted with the participation of civil society and other relevant stakeholders and establish strong protections for the rights of affected communities, including their right to give or withhold their consent to mining operations.  A new law should also be consistent with the Haitian constitution and  establish requirements for the public disclosure of mining contracts, revenue payments, and environmental and social baseline and monitoring data. International donors, and the U.S. government in particular, have a key role to play in ensuring a favorable outcome from mining in Haiti. Responsible management of the mining sector should be made a priority issue for U.S. policy towards Haiti.

Peace Talks with FARC Leap Forward: UN/CELAC Invited to Assist

Yesterday, the peace delegations of the Government of Colombia and the FARC-EP, meeting in Havana for their 46th cycle of talks, took another major leap toward ending Colombia’s internal armed conflict.  In a  joint communiqué, the parties announced that they were asking the United Nations, with support from the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), to support the creation of a mechanism to verify and implement a bilateral, definitive ceasefire and cessation of hostilities, and to oversee the setting aside of weapons.  The UN brings to the task considerable global experience in such matters, and CELAC will provide engagement that will underscore regional political support for the process.

Disappearance Of Bolivia’s 2nd-Largest Lake Has Displaced Hundreds, If Not Thousands

Lake Poopo was officially declared evaporated last month. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people have lost their livelihoods and gone. High on Bolivia’s semi-arid Andean plains at 3,700 meters (more than 12,000 feet) and long subject to climatic whims, the shallow saline lake has essentially dried up before only to rebound to twice the area of Los Angeles.But recovery may no longer be possible, scientists say. “This is a picture of the future of climate change,” says Dirk Hoffman, a German glaciologist who studies how rising temperatures from the burning of fossil fuels has accelerated glacial melting in Bolivia.

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The Poor and the Rich


Photo: Lindsey Frye

Lindsey Frye is a member of Laurel Street Mennonite Church in Lancaster, PA. She is currently living in Chiapas, Mexico with her husband Chris, and daughters Ramona and Ruthie. She has a Master of Arts from Bethany Theological Seminary, and is working as an Ecumenism Promoter for an MCC partner organization, The Institute for Intercultural Studies. This blog was originally posted on her personal blog. 

A few months ago, I had a conversation in the countryside that keeps coming back to me. The president of the community garden group that I work with was showing me around his land. He said, “we need money buy three things; coffee, sugar and soap. The rest is all here, we grow it. We’re more independent than city folks, because they have to depend on what we bring in from the countryside. Here, we grow whatever we want.” His thoughts continue to challenge me, flipping upside down the more popular belief that the “poor campesinos” are the ones needing saving. I was telling this story to someone in Mexico City, and he pushed back by saying, “Of course he has to say that, he has no choice, so he’s making the best of his situation.”

These thoughts swirled in my head as we visited a friend in Tenejapa, a small indigenous village, and a brother in the family asked me, “How do you see things? Are we poor here? Are you rich in America?” I went with my gut reaction, telling him I think there are different kinds of wealth and poverty. There are more material resources in the U.S. but there are fewer social connections. There is more work in the U.S. but we also suffer from working too hard. It depends what kind of wealth and poverty you want to deal with. He went on to talk about friends who had crossed the boarder and came back with stories of cheap cars, getting paid overtime, and all the food that gets wasted.

This was one of the more difficult conversations I’ve had since coming here, even though in some ways, it was so simple. On one hand, I am the only one in the conversation who gets to choose freely what kind of wealth and poverty I want in my life. Everyone else has to risk their lives just for the chance (and it is very much a chance) to earn more, to opt for material wealth. On the other hand, this family has something we in the U.S. lost over 200 years ago. If I’d had more time with him, I could have told him the story I heard a few months ago. The story of the Dakota people in Minnesota. There is actual government documentation stating that the way the U.S. government would take over their land was to give them loans; they brought guns and jewellery and spices. Then, once the amount owed was too great to conceive of paying back, the army came and displaced thousands of people. (listen to the full story here: There were many eery parallels between this story and what his happening right now in Southern Mexico. Only here, it is not too late for indigenous people who are fighting to keep their collective lands.

Recently, I heard two different people from the U.S. on the same day who don’t even know each other (one I’ve known for years, one I had just met here) mention the same dream for their lives. They want to own land with a group of people. Land that can mostly make them self-sufficient, with some private home space and some community space. They might do something to make a little cash on the side, but mostly they would work the land.

The scenario they were envisioning looks a lot like the space I was sitting in when I had the conversation in Tenejapa. One side of the hill was filled with chickens and fruit trees (one sister-in-law loves chickens, Alberto loves fruit trees). The other side was filled with flowers, the passion of the other sister-in-law. Small houses were plopped in the middle of each expansive space.

Will we at some point in the U.S. return to this dream that was once ours? In the meantime, I am doing what I can to listen to and to hold sacred space for the dreams of those around me, both near and far away.


Farming community in Guatemala Photo: Anna Vogt

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Weekly News Roundup Jan 15: Deportations and US Policy


Migration is a human right. Brittany Vogt

U.S. decries rising violence in Central America but will continue deportations

The United States is growing increasingly concerned about rising violence in Central America even as it launches a large-scale effort to round up Central American families and deport them to their home countries. Twice in recent days, senior U.S. officials, including President Barack Obama during his State of the Union address Tuesday, have listed Central America as an area of concern for the coming year, and on Monday, the U.S. suspended the Peace Corps program in El Salvador, citing security concerns. But the U.S. Department of Homeland Security insists it will continue to conduct immigration raids aimed at Central Americans.

US to expand refugee admissions for Central Americans fleeing violence

The US is to expand its refugee programme to help thousands of people fleeing violence in Central America avoid a perilous journey often exploited by human smugglers, secretary of state John Kerry has announced.The office of the UN high commissioner for refugees will now conduct initial screenings to test whether people from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala may qualify as refugees eligible to move to the US legally. The move came after a backlash from Democrats in Congress who urged Barack Obama to halt the deportations of families who have fled drug-fuelled violence, corruption and institutional breakdown in the three countries and entered the US without documentation.

This Is Fear: ICE Raids on Parents and Children

So, this current detain and deport initiative won’t stop the immigration we are largely responsible for, but it will make healthy profits for those banking on it. And it kills immigrants’ and their children’s attempts to become part of local communities. In my town, immigrant parents aren’t walking their kids to the school bus stop, shutters are drawn, life feels on hold. These raids don’t just impact immigrants who have sought refuge in the U.S. in the last year or two. They terrorize families across the country, ensuring that they can never really “arrive.” Even if they have been here for decades, even if kids and spouses are citizens, even if they want nothing more than to settle in and build a life.

Central Americans Picked Up in Raids Get Deportation Pause

The California Democrat said Congress must ensure the families are advised of their rights and provided counsel and that comprehensive immigration reform is the only way to solve the problem of increased illegal immigration. The request for a stay of the families’ deportation was made through the CARA project, which include CLINIC, AILA, American Immigration Council and Refugee and the Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services. Lawyers are meeting with additional families. The Department of Homeland Security targeted migrant families, many of them women and children who had arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2014 when the U.S. saw a spike in migrants from Central America and Mexico. Many were detained after their arrival but the federal government was forced by a court to release them, an order that the Obama administration is appealing.

Central American immigrants scramble for options to deportation by U.S.

Immigration lawyers say a deportation order is not an arrest order and people do not have to open the door to immigration agents. “You have rights,” Mejia said as her 12-year-old son handed the woman fliers about an upcoming legal clinic. Hundreds of families in Chicago could meet the criteria for deportation since the Department of Homeland Security said it was targeting adults and children apprehended at the border and who were allowed into the country but who have now been issued final deportation orders, said Lawrence Benito, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, an advocacy group.

Tensions escalate further between Obama, Democrats over deportation raids

Immigrant rights advocates have been outraged by the raids, which are the first large-scale effort to deport families who have fled violence in Central America. The Not1More campaign on Tuesday released a parody website asking for proposals for a “Deporter-in-Chief” wing of the Obama presidential library, including an installation about the raids on Central American families that it said have “led to a wave of panic in immigrant communities across the nation.” The nationwide campaign, first reported by The Washington Post, is a key element of the administration’s response to the wave of Central American migrants fleeing drug and gang-related violence, along with poverty. More than 100,000 families with both adults and children have made the journey across the Southwest border since last year, though this migration has largely been overshadowed by a related surge of unaccompanied minors.

Surge in Central American migrants at US border threatens repeat of 2014 crisis

A surge of undocumented children and families from Central America detained at the US border could trigger a repeat of the 2014 migrant crisis just as the presidential campaign gathers pace. Border agents detained 21,469 people travelling in family groups in the last three months of 2015 – almost triple the number held during the same period in 2014, according to new figures released by Borders and Customs Protection. The vast majority were from the northern triangle of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, where authorities are struggling to cope with drug-fuelled violence, corruption and institutional breakdown. The number of unaccompanied children more than doubled to 17,370, compared with just under 7,987 in the last three months of 2014. The apprehension of 6,782 children in December made it the fifth highest month for child detentions on record.

Episode 675: The Cost Of Crossing (Audio)

For some context consider the changes in recent years: Mexican immigrants have actually been leaving America. Meanwhile, Central American immigration is on the rise. This shift caused alarm when unaccompanied children from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala started showing up at the border seeking shelter. A new wave of people were making their way up through Mexico, trying to cross rivers and deserts to escape nightmarish poverty and gang violence. And many of the people doing this were paying dearly for it. Between 2012 and 2014, as the Central American immigration crisis began to boil, our reporter for this episode, Jasmine Garsd, was there in both Mexico and Central America. One thing that caught her attention was the complex financial ecosystem that arose from human smuggling. As drug cartels tightened their grip on Mexico, it got harder and harder for anyone to cross the border without hiring a professional who would protect them and pay off local gang-imposed tolls.

Action Alert: Stop raids to deport Central American families

Resources to respond to deportation raids targeting Central American families

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Weekly News Roundup, Jan 8

Guatemala City

Guatemala City Centre. Anna Vogt

Migration Is Not a Crime

The forcibly displaced are part of a global trend — by the summer of 2015, more than 60 million people had been forced from their homes as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, or human rights violations, according to the UN refugee agency. More than 700,000 of the displaced were in the Americas. The plight of Central Americans is particularly dire. Although no official figures exist, it is thought that at least 70,000 migrants and refugees have gone missing in Mexico since 2006. And yet, it is a cumbersome task assessing exactly how many have perished, because no one is counting, or identifying the dead, according to Rubén Figueroa of Movimiento Migrante Mesaomericano, the organization behind the mothers’ caravan.

Detainees in ICE raids speak out as lawyers scramble to stop deportations

“I don’t understand why they want to deport me, if I complied with all the requirements. We had our life here. My children were doing well in school. my child was getting the help he needed. I was going to be treated for my condition. Both of my parents and some of my siblings reside in the United States.” Her story echoes another statement seen by the Guardian, in which a different woman detained in Atlanta argued that her efforts to remain in the country have been hampered by ineffective counsel and a lack of explanations and translations of legal proceedings; that she was misled by officials during the raids and was told that she no longer had a right to an attorney.

Organized Crime in the Americas: What to Expect in 2016

We often use the year past as a guide. In 2015, corruption and crime at the highest levels have led to unprecedented judicial action in various countries. But the underworld remains adept at undermining prosecutors. What’s more, the end of old conflicts — as well as the unraveling of a truce — will open new possibilities for transnational organized crime (TOC).  (See 2015 Game Changers below) For 2016, we have listed seven nations where we expect changes to the criminal status quo, or where organized crime is likely to make gains.

How can Latin America meet the demands of an aspirational new generation?

Unemployment in Latin America and the Caribbean increased in 2015 for the first time in five years, from 6.2% to 6.7%, a figure that could rise further over the coming year. It suggests a bleaker outlook for young people; a lack of opportunities that is engulfed in the region’s issues concerning violence and the war on drugs. How can this vicious cycle of insecurity be broken? The assertive Rebeca Grynspan, secretary general of the Ibero-American General Secretariat (SEGIB), says succinctly: “Employment is the problem, and education is the answer. But we need quality education, and at the moment we don’t have that.”

Mexican marijuana farmers see profits tumble as U.S. loosens laws

The loosening of marijuana laws across much of the United States has increased competition from growers north of the border, apparently enough to drive down prices paid to Mexican farmers. Small-scale growers here in the state of Sinaloa, one of the country’s biggest production areas, said that over the last four years the amount they receive per kilogram has fallen from $100 to $30. The price decline appears to have led to reduced marijuana production in Mexico and a drop in trafficking to the U.S., according to officials on both sides of the border and available data.

Guatemala Arrests Former Military Officers in Connection With Massacres

The Guatemalan authorities on Wednesday arrested 18 former military officers on charges related to massacres and disappearances during the 1980s, the bloodiest period of the country’s 36-year civil war. The arrests pose a direct challenge to the president-elect, Jimmy Morales, a political neophyte who ran as the candidate of a party dominated by former officers. Among the men who were arrested was retired Gen. Manuel Benedicto Lucas García, 83, who was the army chief of staff during the dictatorship of his brother, Gen. Romeo Lucas García. A former military intelligence chief, Manuel Antonio Callejas y Callejas, was also detained, as was one of the generals who ousted General Lucas García in a 1982 coup.

Guatemala: Appeal court rules against ‘ecocide’ palm oil plantation

Accused of ‘ecocide’ by local communities and environmentalists, Empresa Reforestada de Palma de Petén (REPSA), a Spanish-owned African palm oil company with extensive plantations in the Petén region of Guatemala, has failed to overturn a court-ordered suspension of works. In September 2015, Judge Karla Hernández of the Petén Environmental Crimes Court demanded the company to cease operations pending an investigation into alleged criminal negligence that has resulted in catastrophic fish die-off in the La Pasión River.Last week, a small group of residents sympathetic to REPSA appealed the decision and lost, marking an important victory for local campaigners and international organizations seeking wider recognition of ‘ecocide’ as an international crime against peace.

Living Within the Boundaries of El Salvador’s Gang ‘War’

It’s not that the Monteblanco MS13 behave uniquely. Such are the border rules of this war. It doesn’t matter of someone is a gang member or not. If you live on one side of a border, that’s your side, whether you’ve chosen it or not. For most of these people, such as our youngster, the gang demarcation is more important than the official demarcation: one can forget their voting district and the consequences will not be anywhere near as severe as if they forget the colony their walking through belongs to an opposing gang. Governments come and go, but gangs have been present for the past two decades.

“The Struggle for Land Justice Knows No Borders”: Corporate Pillaging in Haiti

When corporations arrive in countries like Haiti – where extreme poverty is so prevalent – they cast a spell on the people by promising a brighter future. When people don’t know what the consequences may be, they tend to welcome any proposal for potential progress. However, once the development projects begin, the promises start to break. That’s when people begin to resist. They protest, they try to bring the companies to court, and they go on the radio to denounce what’s going on. That’s what is happening right now in Haiti. We’re working on alternatives and we are leading a concentrated resistance movement against this model of development.

1,500 Colombia civilians face charges over war-related crimes

Colombia’s prosecution seeks to charge some 1,500 civilians with conflict-related crimes allegedly committed by guerrilla groups like the FARC, which is currently negotiating peace with the government. The civilians are all suspected of having either ordered or taken part in crimes like homicide, kidnapping, extortion and forced displacement carried out by a row of leftist guerrilla groups during Colombia’s more than 50-year-long armed conflict. Vice-Prosecutor General Jorge Fernando Perdomo said the civilians were incriminated by demobilized guerrillas of the FARC, ELN, EPL, ERG and ERP.

The Citizens’ Network

How can people with the world’s worst internet set up a technological network independent of external corporate or governmental control? Bolivia, with the world’s slowest internet, is working towards full technological sovereignty. This means creating an internet by Bolivians, for Bolivians. They also have hopes of training up generations of programmers and hackers who will turn the Latin American country into a technological producer instead of a consumer…They want to train up generations of Bolivians who can write code and develop software. They are trying to establish a “sovereign cloud”, independent of international corporate and governmental control, that will protect the country’s data and speed up access and connectivity. Although they both use and support mobile internet platforms, they know that erecting more masts won’t solve the basic problem of structural integrity. They want full technological sovereignty and we are catching them as they build the architecture from the bottom up.

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The Butterflies of Buenaventura: Peacebuilding amidst Conflict and Displacement in Colombia and Ecuador

IMG_2645 (1)

David Sulewski, together with his wife Tibrine da Fonesca, works with MCC in Quito, Ecuador, coordinating the Refugee Project, a ministry of the Mennonite Church in Quito to refugees, the majority of whom are fleeing from the armed conflict in Colombia. This post was taken from a guest blog David wrote for UMass Boston’s Peace, Democracy and Development Blog.

Early in my work as coordinator of the Colombian Refugee Project in Quito, Ecuador, I learned about a courageous group of women supporting victims of forced displacement and sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) in Buenaventura, Colombia. They are called Mariposas de Alas Nuevas Construyendo Futuro (Butterflies with New Wings Building a Future). Last year, they won the prestigious Nansen Award from the United Nations for their extraordinary work. When we shared this inspiring story with the refugees, a woman from Buenaventura told us that she knew of them and asked us, “When are they coming to Quito?” I managed to contact them and they accepted our invitation, but invited us to Buenaventura first to witness how they work for peace amidst conflict.

(You can read a three part series David wrote on his visit to meet the Mariposas here: Part One, Part Two, Part Three.)

I wrote a proposal to fund this initiative as a final project for the course Conflict Transformation Across Borders offered through UMass Boston. In the class, I gained invaluable skills in researching and designing the proposal, and received considerable support submitting it to funding agencies. Thanks to generous support from the Mennonite Central Committee, Asylum Access, Catholic Relief Services and the UNHCR, we hosted two Mariposas—Rut and Victoria*—in November to speak about their work and to offer a workshop with refugee women on the prevention and elimination of violence.

In the Refugee Project, we encounter many refugees who have suffered from sexual violence not only when they were persecuted and compelled to flee Colombia, but also during their flight across the border into Ecuador where they continue to face the risk of SGBV. One, a refugee from Buenaventura who came to the Project wondered aloud, “Did I escape from the violence in my home country only to suffer another kind of violence here?”

Recognizing that women on both sides of the Colombia-Ecuador border are finding nonviolent, creative and effective strategies to mitigate violence, we believed that it would be valuable to bring them together. With their profoundly personal experiences living within the Colombian armed conflict, the Mariposas were best suited to facilitate workshops to transfer their knowledge and animate refugee women to continue organizing themselves to respond to SGBV.

Beginning with a public panel discussion with representatives from Ecuadorian institutions at the Facultad Latinamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO), the Mariposas shared their testimonies while panelists offered their perspectives on combating sexual violence in Ecuador. Then they met with staff at the United Nations to talk about identifying and responding to sexual violence and visited a women’s shelter.

At every occasion, they spoke from the heart. For the Mariposas, their identity as women, their painfully personal stories of persecution, their connection to their ancestors, and the strong bonds of solidarity that tie them together are the bedrock on which they build their nonviolent resistance. “It is impossible to forget what has happened to us, but the fear with which we live unites us as women and compels us to continue our struggle—we are the descendants of the cimarronas that could not be enslaved,” Victoria said, ending her sentence on a note of pride.

The fear is real, however, as the Mariposas have no guarantees for their protection when they cross invisible boundaries drawn by illegal armed groups and enter violent barrios to accompany victims of sexual violence. By analyzing the changing dynamics in the barrios, keeping a low profile, and staying in constant contact with one another, they minimize the risk to their lives.

Despite the risks, Rut affirmed, “When a woman is violated, we go immediately to protect this woman, because for us, a neighbor is part of our family.” But, mistrust and fear exist among neighbors because the illegal armed groups live among them. “The first thing that the armed conflict has done to us is divide us,” Rut lamented. And, this is worse for victims of sexual violence for whom stigma and reprisals from their aggressor(s) intimidate them into silence.

“Enough,” Rut said, “Our work is to go into communities to prevent violence and to sensitize women. How do we do it? By getting them to fall in love.” The Mariposas knock on doors, talk over coffee, share their personal stories, and even tell a few jokes to lighten the mood. Slowly, respectfully, they begin to build trust and break through the silence. Whereas the illegal armed groups employ a strategy of violence against women as a form of control, the Mariposas use a strategy of love to build a network of comadres: women knowledgeable of their rights, providing mutual support and protection to resist displacement and struggle for peace and justice.


Of their visit to Quito, one thing is for certain: the Mariposas’ strategy of love easily won over the refugee women. For two intensive days, the Mariposas facilitated a workshop at the Refugee Project with refugee women on the identification and prevention of sexual violence. At the end, the participants shared their intention to take what they learned back to their communities in Ecuador.

Curious, a refugee asked them, “Why do you call yourselves Butterflies with New Wings Building a Future?” “Because of a seven year old girl who had been violated,” Victoria responded. The only way this girl could give words to the unspeakable pain she felt was to utter: “I feel like a butterfly with broken wings.” When the women gathered to form their group they discussed what name to give themselves. The wilted spirit of this young girl weighed heavy on their hearts. One woman proposed the name Butterflies with Broken Wings, but another asked, “How will this little girl fly again if her—and our—wings are broken?” At that moment, they agreed to exchange their broken wings for new ones.

The Mariposas are building a peaceful future because they know that Buenaventura—and all of Colombia—can change. Structures of violence can be undone. For the refugees in Ecuador, the same hope is taking hold. A refugee from Buenaventura who participated in the workshop said, “My dream is to go home some day.”

* Their names have been changed

Cimarronas are the enslaved Africans who escaped the chains of bondage and fled to live free in the mountains.

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Weekly News Roundup, December 18

Honduran Tortillas

Tortilla making in Honduras. Anna Vogt

Can Canada’s new PM stop mining abuses in Latin America?

As for Guatemala and Escobal, Solano told the Guardian he hopes that Canada, mining companies and interested members of the public understand what is happening around the mine, and they don’t just listen “to the mining company or the economic groups working for it doing lobbying and communications work.” “They portray it as a development project, when the communities say the opposite,” Solano says. “They should recognise that there have been community consultations in which the majority have said that they don’t want the mine. That local communities have a position should be acknowledged, and their decision respected.”

Latin America needs to improve inequality among workers according to UN report

The United Nations Program for Development (UNDP) highlighted in their annual Human Development Index, that Latin America and the Caribbean should adopt “a more focused work approach” and a space to reduce inequality. The annual report, presented in Uruguay on Monday, was entitled “Work for Human Development”. The report stressed the differences in the workplace in terms of gender or exclusion due to race or sexual orientation and proposes a threefold plan of action to maximize benefits and reduce the risks of increasing gaps.

Texas keeps National Guard at Mexico border amid surge in minors crossing

Republican Texas governor Greg Abbott on Tuesday extended the deployment of National Guard troops at the Mexico border due to a spike in the number of unaccompanied minors entering the country. The order comes in the wake of US Border Patrol figures that show more than 10,000 unaccompanied children crossed into the US in October and November. That is double the number of crossings in the same two months last year. The uptick has already prompted Border Patrol to open two shelters in Texas and one in California. “Texas will not sit idle in the face of this challenge,” Abbott said. “We will not be victimized as a state by a federal government’s apathetic response to border security.”

Raising fears of new crisis, unaccompanied children crossing US border in greater numbers again

Unaccompanied minors are crossing the U.S. Southwest border in growing numbers again, sparking concerns that the new influx of children could eventually approach the levels that last year prompted the Obama administration to declare a humanitarian crisis. In October and November, more than 10,500 children crossed the U.S.-Mexico border by themselves, the vast majority from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, according to U.S. government data analyzed by the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank. That’s a 106 percent increase over the same period last year, reflecting a steady increase that began in March.

Forced to Flee Dominican Republic for Haiti, Migrants Land in Limbo

The plight along the border is reminiscent, on a smaller scale, of the devastating 2010 earthquake, which claimed the lives of 100,000 to 316,000 Haitians and summoned a wave of billions of dollars in aid. Even today, more than 60,000 displaced people still reside in tent cities around the country. Only this time, the upheaval is man-made, the result of the policies of the Dominican Republic and the seeming indifference of the Haitian government. The authorities in Haiti do not even formally recognize that the camps exist.

Haiti’s Dec. 27 presidential runoff still on schedule

With less than two weeks before the vote, Haiti remains embroiled in a post-electoral crisis with no acceptable solution in sight. Allegations of ballot tampering, fraudulent tabulations and widespread procedural breakdowns have fanned a widening chorus of doubt about the credibility of the Oct. 25 first round. Calling the results a “ridiculous farce,” Célestin is demanding an independent verification of the vote in order to go on. His request for transparency has been joined by other opposition presidential candidates, local election observers, human rights organizations, powerful religious leaders and the one lone CEP member who didn’t sign off on the initial results.

Banana workers in Guatemala face new threats as Del Monte menaces to move the production

Worrying reports, however, are coming from the Pacific South of the country, a sort of ‘black hole’ for trade unionism. The whole area appears to be controlled by paramilitary groups who have been violently repressing any attempt to organise workers. “There are 40,000 banana workers in the South who don’t have unions and continue to receive pays way under the minimum wage,” said Ramirez. Because of what SITRABI has achieved in the North, fruit companies are  now threatening to close the farms and move the production to the South, where workers are not unionised and bananas are cheaper. “A box of bananas costs $7 in the North and $5 in the South,” continued Ramirez. “Cheap bananas are convenient for the companies but terrible for the workers as they undermine the Izabal industry, where almost all production comes from unionised labour”.

El Salvador: where women are thrown into jail for losing a baby

Muñoz says that of the 17 cases of women imprisoned for miscarriages, only two have been released. Most of the rest are serving sentences of up to 40 years. Another six women are awaiting sentences. One woman – who had wished to be known by her first name, Manuela – died in prison. She was the mother of two children when she was rushed to hospital after a stillbirth. The authorities presumed she was guilty of killing her baby because the child had been conceived out of wedlock. They sentenced her to 30 years in prison. After being convicted in 2008, Manuela was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer – which can cause miscarriages – and died two years later. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights later ruled that she suffered an injustice, but the state has yet to respond or provide compensation to her two teenage children.

Honduras: The Need to Differentiate among the Gangs

Honduras street gangs – often inaccurately lumped into a single category – are a complex, deep-rooted social and criminal phenomenon that is driving violence and migration in record numbers. InSight Crime, after investigating them for most of 2015, found that the catch-all term “maras” is at once ominous and ill-defined. The two largest gangs – the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and Barrio 18 – have similar criminal revenue streams, but different approaches to obtaining those proceeds. Recognizing these differences is an important part of undermining their power and influence.

Nicaragua, the world’s unlikely champion of gender equality

Nicaragua, one of the world’s poorest countries, has made the most progress in narrowing its gender gap over the past 10 years, according to a World Economic Forum report released Nov. 19. The group’s “gender gap index” for the country rose to 78% in 2015 from 66% in 2006, as women there scored big gains in health, education and political representation. The measure for total equality is 100%. But that doesn’t mean Nicaraguan women are doing great. In fact, when compared with their counterparts around the world, they are doing pretty poorly.

A Day of Miracle and Wonder in the Colombian Peace Talks

The 45th cycle of peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC-EP that began last Thursday (Dec. 10) ended on Tuesday, December 15th with a press conference in the Salón de Protocolo of El Laguito, the private high-security residence in Havana where the talks are being held. The mood was simultaneously festive and somber, as the government and FARC-EP delegations made public their long-awaited joint agreement on victims. This was the fourth comprehensive accord to be reached on the six-point agenda that the Colombian government and the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC-EP) laid out in the framework agreement in August 2012.  Two final points on the agenda will be picked up in January after the holiday season. These include the terms for a bilateral ceasefire, the setting aside of weapons, and ending the conflict.  The final item on the mechanisms and procedures for endorsement, verification and monitoring of the agreements reached has yet to be discussed at the peace tables.

Colombia’s Peace Process Just Took a New Big Step Forward

The deal is believed by both parties to represent a point of no return in the talks. However, any final peace deal must be approved by the public in a plebiscite which, given widespread animosity towards the guerrillas, is by no means a foregone conclusion. The day’s announcement received blanket coverage in the Colombian media, with a number of outlets calling it a “historic day for victims.” The mood on social media was largely positive following the announcement though a minority criticized the government’s perceived leniency towards the FARC. President Santos, who has staked his political career on these peace talks, took to Twitter to praise the accord. “We have never before been this close to a definitive agreement,” he posted.

Bolivia seizes 20 tons of cocaine and destroyed 11,025 hectares of coca in 2015

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Bolivia (UNODC) recognized the Government for its efforts to eradicate coca cultivation in recent years.Their representative in the country, Antonino De Leo, said that a major factor that enabled this rationalization is dialogue and consensus with social organizations and local authorities in the tasks of reducing surplus coca crops. In Bolivia, the coca leaf is protected by the Constitution promulgated by president Morales in 2009 for its cultural, religious and medicinal uses. In his speech, the president said that his country shows with real data that it can confront drug trafficking with results.

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