Weekly Roundup: September 26th

Part of photo essay "The Rich Textures and Colors of Daily Life in Guatemala" by Nicole Crowder of the Washington Post. Click image to view gallery.

Part of photo essay “The Rich Textures and Colors of Daily Life in Guatemala” by Nicole Crowder of the Washington Post. Click image to view gallery.

Washington Snubs Bolivia On Drug Policy Reform, Again
Once again, Washington officials are claiming that Bolivia is not meeting its obligations under international narcotics agreements, despite this:

Bolivia has achieved demonstrable successes without—and perhaps because of—a complete lack of support from the United States: the Drug Enforcement Administration left in 2009 and all U.S. aid for drug control efforts ended in 2013.

Bearing in mind that U.S. drug policy in the Andes has always emphasised “supply-side” reduction like coca crop eradication, the decision is of course a political one. It reflects U.S. frustration that Bolivia isn’t bending to Washington’s will. Interestingly, most Bolivian-made cocaine ends up in Europe and Brazil—not the United States.

The Migrant Crisis Seems To Be Over. What Happened?
The number of child migrants arriving at the U.S. border has dropped to slightly below normal levels. But this is not automatically good news. Is it because more migrants are getting intercepted in Mexico? Or the harsh treatment migrant children have received in the U.S.? This excellent article examines some possible explanations:

Is this decline real? Back in May, when apprehensions first started to drop, many analysts pointed out that children are typically less likely to travel through Mexico into the US during the heat of summer. That suggested the numbers might pick up again in the fall.

But the fact that, as of August, fewer children are arriving this year than arrived at the same time last year indicates that this isn’t just a seasonal slowdown. It really looks like the flow of children into the country has slowed down to nearly manageable levels for the time being.

Taming the Beast: Mexican Authorities Block An Infamous Route North

“LA BESTIA” (“The Beast”) still trundles along the length of Mexico, from Guatemala to the United States. But the infamous freight train has fewer people perched on its roof and clinging to its sides. Since last month the Mexican authorities have been cracking down on Central American migrants clambering on board; their ranks have dwindled from hundreds to dozens on each journey.

For Miners, Increased Risk On A Mountain At The Heart Of Bolivia’s Identity
A fascinating New York Times article and video on mining Bolivia’s famous Cerro Rico:

The silver in this mountain helped finance the Spanish empire. It created vast fortunes for some and misery for many more. It fueled the early growth of European capitalism, setting the stage for the modern era.

But now, after centuries of hauling out its riches, miners working near the peak have clawed away so much of the interior of the mountain that it is caving in from the top down.

Honduras Leader Rails Against Ineffective Drug War

The president of Honduras blamed the flight of migrant children to the U.S. on a drug war his country didn’t start and demanded the world pay as much attention to displaced Central American families as it does to those terrorized by wars elsewhere.

Haiti To Hold Delayed Vote By Early Next Year

Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe said Tuesday that his country will hold long-overdue elections no later than early next year if several opposition lawmakers don’t stand in the way of the vote before their mandates expire in January.

Farmers Protest Planned $50 Million Canal In Nicaragua

Hundreds of farmers on Tuesday demonstrated against a new $50 billion waterway aimed at rivaling the Panama Canal, irate at plans to expropriate the land they work.

“We do not want the canal to be built. Nobody should come in here and take over our land,” said Ronald Enríquez at a march in the southern town of Potosí, where participants scuffled with police.

Justice And The Creation Of A Mafia State In Guatemala

Officially, both processes are controlled by what is known as a “postulation commission,” a committee of 34 people that selects the candidates from a long list of applicants, before Congress makes the final selections. Unofficially, it is a free-for-all with various political, economic and criminal interests trying to control who gets to join that commission, so they can better wield power over the court system.

The Winding Road From Camps To Villages
MCC Washington’s Charissa Zehr:

We walked down dusty pathways among a patchwork of ramshackle structures covered by tarps to a humble church building. Our group of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) advocacy staff was in the middle of Accra, an encampment where thousands of Haitians displaced by the Port-au-Prince earthquake almost five years ago still struggle to build a community and home.

Colombia Publishes Parts Of Draft Peace Agreement

Colombia’s government and main rebel movement are releasing parts of a draft peace agreement to deflect criticism that the country’s democratic institutions are being redrawn behind their countrymen’s backs.

The 65 pages of documents published Wednesday come from three of the six agenda items on which the two sides have already reached agreement: agrarian reform, political participation for demobilized rebels, and how to jointly combat illicit drugs.

[PHOTOS] The Rich Texture Of Daily Life In Guatemala – Washington Post

Slices of Life in Various Parts of Guatemala

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hoping against hope: Peace Day

Jhonatan, a conscientious objector in Colombia, was released from jail this week. Photo credit: Christian Peacemaker Teams Colombia.

Jhonatan, a conscientious objector in Colombia, was released from jail this week. Photo credit: Christian Peacemaker Teams Colombia.

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.

Over the last few years, I have grown cynical. I hear promises and assume they will be broken. I go to meetings and marches and remain unmoved. I have little faith that big change will take place.

Community members from Mampujan receiving their reparation checks.

It is easy, in the day-to-day slog of imprisonments, impunity, broken promises and violence, to forget about hope. Jorge is still in jail while paramilitaries are being released. Aboriginal women continue to be missing and murdered. Reparations promises are broken. Armed conflict continues.

Yet, the last three years have been filled with possibility. I was there when the first group of Mampujaneros received their reparations. I was there when diverse communities in the Alta Montaña came together in a reconciliation movement to demand their rights. Even from prison, Jorge is able to inspire hope and solidarity through his letters.  The first group of victims who participated in the negotiations process shared how the experience had created a sense of possibility that the conflict could end and Colombia could be different. The World Cup created a new sense of unity around the country.

The mothers and grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo have been demanding the return of their disappeared children since the beginning of the Argentine Dirty War in 1973. Ever since I wrote in a research paper about them, I have admired their courage. It was a delight and an honour to meet one of these women last April during a Days of Prayer and Action activity. It was an even greater joy to read that one of her companions in the lucha was reunited with her grandson after 36 years of searching.

April 2014 103

What I am learning is that hope is unexpected but always awaited.

The moment  I found out that  conscientious objector Jhonatan had been arrested, my heart sank. Based on Jorge’s case, I had little hope that he would ever get out. In between the frantic elaboration of action alerts and hagtags (#liberenaJhonatan), I did not actually believe anything would work.

And you responded and I watched in awe as solidarity grew. Over 300 people, the majority who had never heard of Jhonatan before last week, sent in letters. Strangers tweeted messages of encouragement. Thousands of people saw and shared his story on social media.

Then, in a precedent setting order, the Constitutional Court ruled on his behalf, demanding the army free him from obligatory military service and respect his rights of belief and of conscience. New legal strategies were put into motion.  A day later, as the Justapaz team sat in a emergency planning meeting, Jhonatan’s mother called to tell us that he was being let go. A few moments later, he was outside, hugging her.

Although the military court proceedings against him remain open, I choose hope. I have seen the impossible become possible because ordinary people have had enough hope to make change happen. From Jhonatan choosing to say no to violence, to communities coming together, to women marching every Thursday for 41 years, to one of you sending a letter: all of these are acts based on a belief that change is possible, in hope against hope.

This Sunday is the International Day of Peace, a day many Colombians mark with the celebration of Pan y Paz (Bread and Peace), as a reminder that without economic justice there can be no peace. Jenny Neme, the director of Justapaz, has seen many moments when hope seems impossible.Yet, in words taken from her editorial in our radio program on Wed, she shares “Pan y Paz does not take place this year simply because there is a negation process moving forward between the government and the Farc. Rather, it is because for years, many people in this country have had a clear desire for peace, for justice, for equality. When we understand peace through a lens of nonviolence, neither armed struggles nor military action are valid.  For a long time, churches have been offering the message that it is conceivable to have a different Colombia, where peace is embodied and living in dignity is possible…The persistence of Jhonatan and his family are a great testimony for the many people who also, in line with their convictions, refuse to contribute to war. It is a strong testimony for peace in this country. We do not need more youth formed for war, but for peace.”

Let us join with Colombians to celebrate, work, and yes, hope for peace this Sunday and all year long.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Drought, food security and migration in Central America

The carcass of a cow during Nicaragua's intense dry season. Photo by Neil Palmer (CIAT), Creative Commons License

The carcass of a cow during Nicaragua’s intense dry season. Photo by Neil Palmer (CIAT), Creative Commons.

By Elizabeth Scambler, MCC Latin America’s Disaster Management Coordinator, based in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. 

Central America is seeing one of the worst droughts in decades. Images in the media are filled with stunted corn crops, parched land, and starving cattle. The El Niño affect has meant that rains came late and insufficiently.

In some communities in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, the first planting season of corn and beans was lost entirely. In a region where subsistence farmers depend on their harvest for both their family’s food and for income, this means that many families don’t have enough to eat until they can produce the next harvest. When famers lose one harvest, they often also lose the seed they would normally save to plant in the next growing season. We also have already seen the price of basic grains rise exponentially as the region is having to import beans from countries such as Ethiopia. Some are anticipating that Central America will require the highest levels of humanitarian assistance since Hurricane Mitch in 1998 in order to avoid a full on food crisis.

I work as MCC’s disaster management coordinator in the region. As much as MCC’s program is working at addressing the root causes of poverty and supporting long term development initiatives, I am often supporting our partners in short-term humanitarian assistance projects. Given the very short-term nature of supporting communities with food, I often have mixed feelings about it. However, I have come to see food assistance as another valuable tool in the empowerment of communities; when paired with our partners’ long term vision for greater food security, it can provide a safety net to bridge a short term need and help families avoid more drastic responses such as migration, another phenomenon affecting Central America.

For the community of Pitahaya in Guatemala, this is the third year they have experienced drought. Since last year, MCC together with our partner, COSECHA Guatemala, and a group of women from the community, we have been supporting families with corn, beans, oil, and MCC canned meat as well as seed inputs. Because of the rains not coming as usual, the seeds MCC provided earlier this year unfortunately failed to produce a harvest. As such, families are relying heavily on the food rations; without this safety net, the food consumption of these families would be even more reduced. Throughout this process, we have also seen a group of women became further empowered to lead their community through difficult times; they even scaled up a kitchen garden initiative to encourage families to supplement their diet with fresh herbs and vegetables.

In Nicaragua the effects of the drought are talked about constantly. Crops have failed, cattle are starving, and the price of beans gone up by 130%. Many Anabaptist churches in the region are located in rural farming communities and are reaching out to MCC for support. Together with the Anabaptist emergency commission (CAE), MCC will be providing seed as well as MCC canned meat to families who lost their crops. Throughout the process, the CAE will be mobilizing Anabaptist churches in four departments of Nicaragua to reach out in solidarity to their communities.

In the department of Choluteca, southern Honduras, MCC works with CODESO, a social commission of the Brethren in Christ church. Year after year, this area is hit by repeatedly inconsistent weather patterns ranging from drought to flooding; climate change has meant that these inconsistencies are becoming more and more extreme. CODESO has been working hard to promote more long term food security strategies, including an alternative planting technique called “Conservation Agriculture.” While many communities in the area lost their crops this year, families practicing Conversation Agriculture did not! Despite this encouraging ray of hope, there are still many people who did lose their crops and are without food; CODESO has requested assistance to support the most vulnerable families in the communities where they work.

Current food insecurity is not a stand alone phenomenon in Central America. El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala are seeing a migration crisis where even children are making the dangerous journey overland to the USA as they flee high levels of violence and economic insecurity. While at a surface level the current issues seem divided between rural and urban areas, I am afraid that we will begin to see the food crisis, the situation of violence and related migration, become more and more intertwined. While the issues are complex and the needs are great, I am encouraged that MCC’s partners are working at so many different angles of the issues with both immediate and long term responses.

Here are a few resources:
Drought Puts Spotlight on Central American Climate Change Woes
Central America Battles Impact of Drought and Coffee Rust – World Food Programme
Will Climate Change Hasten Central American Migration to the U.S.? - Fusion
Food Security Outlook – September 2014
Central America Food Security Alert

Posted in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Migration, Nicaragua | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

MCC responds to child migrant crisis

In Guatemala, MCC is providing comforters, blankets, hygiene kits and funding to a home run by Missionaries of Saint Charles Scalabrinians, which provides temporary shelter to migrants such as Nanci Adair Galiano Lemus, 13, and, in the background, Yordani Galguera Vasquez, 28. Photo by Saulo Padilla, MCC.

In Guatemala, MCC is providing comforters, blankets, hygiene kits and funding to a home run by Missionaries of Saint Charles Scalabrinians, which provides temporary shelter to migrants such as Nanci Adair Galiano Lemus, 13, and, in the background, Yordani Galguera Vasquez, 28. Photo by Saulo Padilla, MCC.

Since June many Mennonite Central Committee workers and constituents in Central America, Mexico, the United States and Canada have been concerned about the significant number of unaccompanied minors from Central America coming to the United States.

Yesterday, MCC publicly announced their response to this crisis, which includes various projects in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Texas and Arizona:

In a year when the flow of Central American families to the U.S. border has made headlines, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is responding broadly – meeting basic needs for those deported or detained, increasing awareness about the realities of migration and, in the U.S., urging compassion for families fleeing violence in their home countries.

“This is continuing our invitation to welcome the stranger, to open our hearts – and to see the image of God in all who are coming and to receive them,” said Saulo Padilla, MCC U.S. immigration education coordinator.

Continue reading…

And in case you missed it, here is some of the LACA Advocacy Blog’s earlier coverage of the situation:

Understanding the Child Migrant Surge

The truth is, this crisis has been developing for decades. The problems will not be solved by quicker deportations from the United States or further militarization of the police in the region. Simple approaches generally do not solve complex, deeply rooted problems.

Oh Mother, Did You Just Leave Your Children?

Growing up in Honduras, I remember hearing to my mother bring up the idea of migrating to work in the United States whenever she felt desperate and unable to pay the bills, following the example of her sisters. My mother, a Nicaraguan woman, started working at the age of 12 to support her family and dropped out of school by 7th grade.

Posted in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Migration, Nicaragua, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Action Alert: Conscientious Objector Detained in Colombia

jhonatan english 2From Justapaz, partner of MCC Colombia:

(Para leer en español)

On behalf of Colombian conscientious objector Jhonatan Vargas, student and youth leader of the Central Four Square Church of Barrancabermeja, Santander, detained September 4, 2014.

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:3, NIV)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We ask for your solidarity and action on behalf of conscientious objector Jhonatan David Vargas Becerra. On September 4, 2014, he was detained by the National Police in the city of Barrancabermeja, Santander.

Jhonatan was recruited by the National Army against his will on March 16, 2013, and was transferred to the 28th Battalion ASCP Bochica in Puerto Carreño, Vichada. Jhonatan has always expressed that that his religious convictions do not allow him to engage in violence or belong to armed groups, and he has, therefore, refused to perform obligatory military service.

On June 14, 2013, Jhonatan, along with other young men in the battalion, received a few days of home leave to visit their families. Jhonatan decided that not returning to the battalion was the only option that allowed him his right to conscientious objection.

For over a year, Jhonatan has put forward legal petitions to try to guarantee of his right to conscientious objection and the Colombian Constitution Court has selected his case for revision. Despite this, on August 29, 2014, military authorities informed Jhonatan that he was considered to be AWOL and that they had begun military criminal proceeding against him.

On September 4, 2014 at about 8:30pm, when leaving the University of Santander where he studies engineering, Jhonatan and other youth were stopped at a checkpoint. When the police examined their identity documents, they found an outstanding arrest warrant for Jhonatan. He was detained and brought to the police station of Las Granjas in Barrancabermeja. The following day, he was transferred to the Batallion Nueva Granada and will have to appear before the military judge handling his case.


1. Share this information with your organizations, congregations and communities, as well pray for Jhonatan. In social media, use  #freejhonatan and/or #liberenajhonatan.

2. Write an email to the Director of Recruitment and Reserves Control of the National Army, asking that he release Jhonatan and define his military situation by granting him CO status,  and therefore respecting his right to conscientious objection. An example email in Spanish and English is located below.

3. Copy the email to: the Head of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Rights of the National Army, Battalion Nueva Granada, Military Criminal Prosecutor 22, the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, the Prosecutor General’s Office, your country’s Embassy in Colombia, and Justapaz.

Thank you for your support and solidarity.


JUSTAPAZ, Organization of the Mennonite Church of Colombia

Peace Commission of the Evangelical Council of Colombia


Example Email

To: atencionalusuario@reclutamiento.mil.co

CC: ddhhydih@ejercito.mil.co, fiscalia22pm@ejercito.mil.co,fuerzasmilitares@procuraduria.gov.co, magdalena@defensoria.gov.co,justapaz@justapaz.org  (Include your country’s embassy in Colombia-Canada:karine.pleau@international.gc.ca, USA: LenertAJ@state.gov)


Juan Carlos Mejía Gutiérrez

Director de Reclutamiento y Control de Reservas


Warm greetings.

We write you to express our worries for Jhonatan David Vargas Becerra, a student and youth leader of the Central Foursquare Church of Barrancabermeja, Santander, who was detained the evening of Sept 4, 2014.

Jhonatan was recruited by the National Army against his will on March 16, 2013, and was transferred to the 28th Battalion ASCP Bochica in Puerto Carreño, Vichada. Jhonatan has always expressed that that his religious convictions do not allow him to engage in violence or belong to armed groups, and therefore he has refused to perform obligatory military service.

We know that Jhonatan David meets the requirements outlined by the Colombian Constitutional Court in Sentence C-728 of 2009 to invoke the right of conscientious objection to military service. Jhonatan has begun his theological and secular studies, has finished leadership studies and has maintained a clear stance rejecting violence in all of its manifestations. This has been certified by General Pastor Superior Abigail Mlacker and other members of his church. Jhonatan’s family also testify to his deep, fixed and sincere convictions.

For these reasons we want to state our support for Jonathan David Vargas Becerra and his family. We  kindly ask you to:

1.Protect the fundamental right to conscientious objection to military service as established in Sentence C-728 of 2009. That they protect the right to freedom of conscience and religious freedom as established in articles 18 and 19 of the Colombian Constitution

2.Release Jhonatan David Vargas Becerras and grant him C.O. status ending his need for military service and respecting his right to conscientious objection.


[Your Name]


Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Impunity and forgiveness


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.

I was frantically wiping dust off plastic chairs when Juana Alicia called me over to photograph “something historic”. I did not know that Uber Banquez, alias “Juancho Dique” was going to be in Mampujan until he stepped out of the penitentiary van, handcuffed and escorted by police. For first time the community was face to face with the man who had ordered their displacement, the kidnapping of two community members, and the massacre of twelve people in a nearby hamlet.

El Universal

Tensions were high; no one was aware that Juancho Dique would be part of the community’s court order follow-up hearing until the night before it was scheduled to start. The magistrate asked each organization and government department named in the order how they were complying with their responsibilities towards the community (health centre, school, potable water, individual compensation, etc.). Yet everyone remained focused on the man who had created the need for a hearing in the first place and was responsible to give up the wealth gained by his acts of violence to compensate the victims.

As the day drew to a close, Juancho Dique asked for forgiveness. He explained that he did not understand the impacts his orders had until he ate lunch with a Mampujan family who did not even have a bathroom. Many community members responded in kind, expressing their desire to move forward, as Iwrote about previously. It was a beautiful moment and I believe that spirit of not allowing bitterness to rule their lives is part of what has allowed the community to flourish in spite of their past. A social healing process, however, including quilting and community organzing took place years before they were ready to meet their victimizers.

Getting ready for a meeting in Mampujan Viejo

Yet, in the end, neither Juancho Dique nor Diego Vecino, his counterpart in terror, gave in their wealth. Six months later, I was eating dinner when I received the google alert telling me that Mampujan had received their reparations. In the following days, we went to battle as we were informed that, because the Reparations Fund was empty, the community would therefore receive reduced compensation.

We were only able to guarantee compensation for the original amount because of the leader´s personal connections with high ranking members of the Peace Mission of the Organization of the American States, the American Embassy and the magistrates themselves in charge of overseeing their case.

Africa Raiz LibreThe fallout, however, was a change in procedure: no other community named in the Justice and Peace Law would receive Mampujan’s treatment and would rather be lumped into the Victim´s Law administrative process. Reparations and transitional justice were, in the end, too expensive. Mampujan remains historic, as their process will never be replicated.

Over two years later, and eight years after their sentencing, the paramilitary leaders, including Juancho Dique, that massacred, displaced, and committed other atrocities against thousands of Colombia are about to leave. Although the original goal of the Justice and Peace law was a reduced sentence in exchange for demobilization, truth telling, and the turning in of resources obtained through criminal activity, the majority were never sentenced and will simply be released to take over physical leadership of the neo-paramilitary groups they control from jail.

I want to believe that I am capable of unconditional love; that I have the power to reach out and forgive, no matter how horrible the atrocity. But life is not that easy, is it? And when someone has deeply hurt those I love and are able to continue with impunity, I am forced to see my darker side. I was surprised by my instant anger when I read the news and saw Mampujan’s perpetrators named to be released. Every day this week I have forced myself to remember my mantra to follow the community’s lead, even when in situations of complete injustice, forgiveness seems impossible.

IMG_9145If I feel this angry, and am not even a victim of conflict, how must those communities that have never been acknowledged or taken part in a trauma healing process be feeling? I recognize, even when I do not agree, that impunity is often part of transitional justice, but that impunity must be managed in a way that allows communities to move forward and guarantees non repetition, especially when demobilized fighters return home.

If we ever want this conflict to actually end, we have to be able to live together without hate and with justice: holistic restorative justice is needed for closure. Whether or not Juancho Dique’s apology was true, when he stood in front of us, he was just an ordinary person and we were the community together. And that is a start, but only a start.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Understanding the child migrant surge


US/Mexico Border. Wikimedia Commons.

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

Starting in late June, U.S. and international media became fixated on the surge of unaccompanied minors showing up at the United States border, coming primarily from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala (“The Northern Triangle”).

The extensive media coverage brought needed attention to the root causes that push people to migrate, which previously had been sorely lacking from the immigration discussion in the United States. When Central American migrants continued to come despite the horrific realities of the journey through Mexico and then across the militarized border of the United States, one had to ask: What conditions back home made this journey their best option? There has been far more discussion on the push factors of migration this summer than I’ve seen in years of immigration debate in the United States.

Those of us working on these issues, however, recognize the shortcomings of this media blitz. For one, the issues of violence and instability did not just appear this summer. These three countries have had crisis-levels of violence for years now.

Further, the split-second attention span of the media meant this story’s time in the limelight would be limited. As the numbers of incoming children began to slow down and other crises emerged around the world, the media’s attention to the child migrant crisis has began to dwindle.

Google Trends data on the number of news searches for "Unaccompanied Minors" since May. The graph looks the same for "Migrant Crisis" and "Child Migrant" searches.

Google Trends data on the number of news searches for “Unaccompanied Minors” since May. The graph looks the same for “Migrant Crisis” and “Child Migrant” searches.

Nevertheless, I am grateful for the attention this issue has received, even if it is short-lived. The issue has produced some excellent analysis of the region’s historical and current context. So before this media moment is completely gone, I’ve prepared a summary of what we’ve learned so far, and highlighted some of the most intelligent coverage.

Starting with the latest news, what is causing the number of incoming migrants to drop? The Obama administration attributes it partially to their media blitz in Central America, where they attempted to dispel myths about the United States welcoming child migrants. They also credited the expedited process of deportation. Other factors may also be at play:

Scorching summer temperatures are one explanation: According to trends based on Customs and Border Patrol statistics, migration numbers generally peak around the spring months of February, March and April, while falling during the summer because of the lethal effects of extreme heat along the southwest border.

And while the number of Central American migrants entering the U.S. has declined, the figures are still high.

Nobody, however, has suggested that the conditions in El Salvador, Honduras or Guatemala have improved, even slightly. The violence and instability behind this crisis have remained constant–the crisis didn’t just start this year, and it certainly didn’t end this month.

One clarification: this is not about the drug war or the cartels. Yes, the cartels have moved their operations into Central America after the United States shut down the Caribbean smuggling routes. These cartels can be awful of course, but they are primarily focused on moving their product.

It is the gangs, not cartels that have terrorized communities throughout the Northern Triangle. They are not the same thing. 


Oscar Martinez wrote an excellent piece for The New Republic on El Salvador’s gang crisis:

Many of the Central Americans now coming into the United States never wanted to leave their country. For them, the proper verb is not migrar, but huirto flee.

Those gangs, however, didn’t originate in El Salvador:

Both of Central America’s major gangs were founded decades ago in California, by Latin American migrants who banded together in order to defend themselves from gangs already ruling there. By the mid-’90s, the U.S. government had decided it was a good idea to deport thousands of gang members each year, many of whom had committed small crimes. The gangs grew quickly and are still spreading. The United States seemed to have forgotten the golden rule of migration. Forgotten that migration works like a boomerang. There are cliques of MS-13, such the Sailors Locos Salvatrucha, that formed in El Salvador but whose members are now migrating to Washington, D.C.

While the gangs may carry out much of the violence, however, Saul Elbein argues they are still not the root cause driving Guatemalans to flee. Rather, it is the lack of law and order, where violence is power and impunity is rampant. From elite business families to cartels, gangs, and private security forces, those with firearms fill the power void (which describes Honduras and El Salvador too). Gangs thrive in this violent chaos, but they are a symptom, not a cause:

That lone guard explains something powerful about the way that Guatemala works, and what those migrants are fleeinga world in which you can only achieve safety through force; and you can’t count on the government for anything.

But what’s up with Nicaragua? Nicaragua, the poorest country in Central America, has a minuscule homicide rate (11.3 per 100,000) compared to Honduras (90.4), El Salvador (41.2) and Guatemala (39.9). Jill Replogle explores this phenomenon: 

But unlike its neighbors, Nicaragua has a relatively low crime rate, an absence of transnational gangs and a generally trusted police force that focuses on crime prevention, according to a KPBS examination of historical documents, economic information, and interviews with U.S. and Central American academics, journalists and residents.

The forces driving the migration crisis are highly complex, but that does not imply they came out of nowhere. Many observers in the region have been expressing grave concern for some time now:

Two years ago, Shifter wrote a prophetic report for the Council on Foreign Relations, another Washington think tank, warning that criminal violence in the region would escalate. He also warned that the longer the U.S. and local governments failed to act, the harder it would be to quell the violence and safeguard hopes for democracy in the region.

Shifter takes no pleasure in being proved right.

This is part of an excellent (and beautifully formatted) series by AZ Central covers everything you need to know: Immigration Surge Rooted in the History of Central America.

The truth is, this crisis has been developing for decades. The problems will not be solved by quicker deportations from the United States or further militarization of the police in the region. Simple approaches generally do not solve complex, deeply rooted problems.

But we’ve seen in Nicaragua that this violence is not caused by poverty, nor is it a curse of post-civil war societies, nor is it solved with heavy-handed policing. Rather, it’s about rebuilding trust and stability in these communities that have been so damaged by decades of destructive policies.

This is possible, but it will take far longer than the duration of the media’s attention span.

More resources:

*** MCC Action alert: Protect children and families fleeing violence ***

MCC Washington’s Resource Page on the Migration Crisis: includes articles, small group studies, worship resources, fact sheets, sign on letters and more.

And if you’re tired of reading, here is a nice 4-minute video that nicely sums it up:

Posted in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Migration, Urban Peacebuilding | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Weekly Roundup August 15th

Image from the Council of Hemispheric Affiars, "Canada's Controversial Engagement in Honduras"

Image from the Council of Hemispheric Affiars, “Canada’s Controversial Engagement in Honduras”

Children Of The Monroe Doctrine: The Militarized Roots Of America’s Border Calamity
Another excellent article examining the connection between U.S. foreign policy and the migrant crisis, this one from AlterNet:

29% of the unaccompanied minors that have surrendered to Border Patrol in 2014 are from Honduras. It should be no surprise that Honduras has for the first time become the number one source of Central American migration when the U.S.-backed Honduran regimes have exacerbated lawlessness, violence, and economic alienation over the last five years. The current wave of children and adults fleeing Central America is, at the very least, partly due to the continuation of the supremacy of Pentagon whim over the basic needs of the poor majority of Central America.

Canada’s Controversial Engagement In Honduras

Since Hurricane Mitch struck Honduras in 1998, Canada has cast an increasingly long shadow over the small Central American country’s economy and policy; a presence that has grown stronger since Honduras’ controversial 2009 coup. The self-proclaimed peacekeepers have since built a stronghold over Honduras via investment in industries and support for the illegitimate government created in the wake of the coup. Canada’s relationship with Honduras is emblematic of its shifting position within the international community, as an imperial presence, establishing and expanding industries in the less developed country at the expense of local citizens and the environment.

La Bestia: Mexico Prevents Migrants From Climbing On Train

Undocumented immigrants making the trip up north have lost access to one of the methods through which they make the journey. Mexico has stepped up efforts to prevent immigrants from riding the train known as “La Bestia.”

Has Colombia’s Time Come?

Prospects for peace in Colombia are looking better than they have in years. If successful, the current peace process would put an end to an internal armed conflict that has lasted half a century. The conflict has taken the lives of some 200,000 Colombians, forcibly displaced 6 million more (granting Colombia the dubious honor of world record holder for the highest number of displaced), and destroyed countless livelihoods. Peace in Colombia would open a new era for growth and prosperity and contribute to regional stability.

In A Land Of Lakes And Volcanoes, Explaining A Complicated Peace
An NPR reporter is travelling in Nicaragua for two weeks, recording his observations and conversations on NPR’s “On the Road” Tumblr page: 

I’m in Managua to find out why Nicaragua — which is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere — has remained so peaceful, despite its neighbors, geopolitics and its poverty. It’s complicated and contradictory and it has to do with its history, its police force and its politics. 

Rain Returns Too Late For Many Struggling Farmers

Rain is gradually returning to Guatemala after an extended drought in the middle of rainy season brought tragedy to some of the poorest regions of the country. But many agricultural workers say it’s too late to save their harvests.

“We usually cultivate maize and beans, but this year we’ve lost everything because of the drought,” said Lázaro Martínez

Influx Of Migrant Children Slows

Nearly 63,000 unaccompanied migrant children have been apprehended at the Southern border since October, but the number of minors caught trying to cross into the United States illegally dropped dramatically in July, the Obama administration said Thursday.

Shuttered Coca-Cola Facility Highlights Mexico’s Broader Security Problems

On July 30 Coca-Cola FEMSA, Latin America’s largest coke bottler shuttered a facility in the Pacific Mexican state of Guerrero, which is home to Acapulco, a city that recorded the country’s highest murder rate in 2013. On August 4assailants stopped and burned four Coca-Cola trucks on roads near the town ofArcelia.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Oh mother, did you just leave your children?

A painted metal mural attached to the Mexican side of the US border wall in the city of Heroica Nogales, Sonora. Photo by Jonathan McIntosh, Creative Commons License

A painted metal mural attached to the Mexican side of the US border wall in the city of Heroica Nogales, Sonora. Photo by Jonathan McIntosh, Creative Commons License


By Nancy Sabas, the Connecting Peoples Coordinator for MCC Guatemala/El Salvador, originally from Honduras.

Growing up in Honduras, I remember hearing to my mother bring up the idea of migrating to work in the United States whenever she felt desperate and unable to pay the bills, following the example of her sisters. My mother, a Nicaraguan woman, started working at the age of 12 to support her family and dropped out of school by 7th grade.

Later she moved to Honduras at the age of 18 where she met my dad, a Palestinian businessman without any formal education. He had a very strong personality and was raised under the belief that going to school was a waste of time, especially for women. After a lot of pressure and insisting, my mom was able to negotiate with my dad that my three siblings and I could attend school in one of the lowest institutions in the area.

My mom’s basic education didn’t give her access to a job in Honduras to provide enough to raise four children in a safe environment, so she constantly flirted with the idea of migrating to the United States and finding a job that allowed her to provide us a better education and safer conditions away from my dad.

I remember my seven year-old self, begging on my knees and crying when I saw my mom´s bags by the door, asking her to take me too. She said that she had nothing to offer me, to which I answered that I would not mind living under the bridge (an area of extreme poverty in Tegucigalpa) as long as I was with her. Now that I am 27, I know that I really meant what I said.

She didn’t leave, but I am an exception to the thousands of Central American children whose families have been disintegrated due to the phenomenon of migration.

A few weeks ago, we hosted a group of young participants from a Christian Reformed Church in Michigan in the United States. The tour focused on the issue of migration and the root causes that push people to leave their home countries and start a very dangerous trek to the North.

The route to the United States includes many robberies, victims of human trafficking, kidnappings, killings and tremendous accidents. One of the activities we planned for the group was visiting a migrant shelter in Tapachula, México called “El Buen Pastor.” They attended to migrants and helped them with medical assistance, especially for those who have been victims of attacks by robbers or drug cartels, or who have lost a body part riding the La Bestia, a freight train that Central American migrants ride from southern Mexico to the North.

During our conversation with the staff of the shelter, one of them mentioned the fact that they were waiting to receive a woman and her two year-old baby who just had an accident falling from La Bestia, in which she lost her leg and the baby an arm.

At first I was horrified, then angry. I was angry at the savage and sadistic structure that forces people to flee from their home countries and tear their families apart. They have to take all sorts of risks to have access to the leftovers of a life with dignity in the United States.

It is easy to make rushed statements focusing on the tip of the iceberg without fully understanding the reasons why people are forced to leave their countries and are willing to take this life-threatening trip.

The causes that led the 52,000 children last year to flee mainly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are very complex. In a nutshell, these three countries, now considered the epicenter of gangs, are plagued with corruption, impunity, drug trafficking, urban violence, poverty, lack of employment and a police system that has been linked with organized crime operations.

These three countries also have a very unequal distribution of wealth, falling more under the model of an oligarchy than a true democracy. People often are left with the feeling that there is not a safe place to turn and feel hopeless to start a business initiative that competes with the enormous chains of transnational franchises. On the other hand, many business entrepreneurs become victims of extortions and are unable to pay the high “gang taxes.”

The United States government is directing almost four billion dollars to strengthen border security and immigration enforcement, which will not make an impact on the structural causes. Therefore they are unlikely to prevent Hondurans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans from fleeing their countries, despite enduring more threats and abuses in their trips up North.

I don’t know the specific conditions that led that woman to ride that train with her two year-old baby, and also don’t know the individual stories of why these 52,000 children were heading North. I only know that our voices should be heard to advocate for a more just and compassionate treatment to our brothers and sisters from Central America who arrive in the United States, and for a response within the Central American countries which includes long-term solutions to address the root causes of migration.


  • Send a letter to your members of Congress and to President Obama urging them to ensure that the U.S. government response to Central American migrants coming across our border is compassionate and humane and that any funds directed to Central America governments be focused on finding solutions to address the root causes of migration.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Weekly Roundup August 8th

Drought in Central America. Photo by Diana Ulloa.

Drought in Central America. Photo by Diana Ulloa.

Why Nicaraguan Kids Aren’t Fleeing To The United States
This is the key question for policy makers to consider when trying to solve the migration crisis in Central America’s Northern Triangle: Why aren’t kids fleeing Nicaragua, the second poorest country in Latin America? One likely reason is Nicaragua’s low levels of violence compared to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. And Nicaraguans’ high levels of trust for their police forces could be the key to this relative stability: 

Among the few sounds you’ll hear on muggy nights in Managua’s mostly quiet neighborhoods is the periodic whirr of a referee’s whistle. It belongs to a neighborhood night watchman, often seen riding around on an aging mountain bike, tires sagging.

He blows his whistle to let the neighbors, who have pooled money to pay him, know that he’s out there, and everything is calm.

Most night watchmen in the nation’s capital carry nothing more than a baton, if even that, to deter the bad guys, a stark contrast to Nicaragua’s neighboring countries, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, where shotguns and automatic weapons are the norm.

The Fight To Abstain From Violence In Colombia
Nice article about conscientious objection in Colombia, with a shout out to the work of the Mennonite Church: 

Jefferson was recruited in April to fulfill his obligatory military service. During his recruitment, he expressed his objection to serve based on his religious and moral beliefs of non-violence. He officially declared himself a conscientious objector—meaning the refusal to perform military service—shortly thereafter, upon learning of the nationally and internationally recognized right.
Although conscientious objection gained international attention during WWI as a fundamental right and political exercise to resist war, the practice was introduced in Colombia only as recently as 1989 as part of an effort by the Mennonite Church and the Collective for Conscientious Objection (COC).

+ Drought Hits Central America’s Crops, Cattle

The last raindrop fell three months ago, forcing Carlos Román to take his cattle further and further away to find water and keep them alive in Nicaragua’s northeastern farmlands.

Nicaragua and the rest of Central America have been hit by a major drought that has killed thousands of cattle, dried up crops and forced cities to ration electricity.

In Guatemala City’s Zone 4, An Effort At Urban Renewal

It seemed as though the project had failed, but the entrepreneurs behind it were determined to try again. They renamed it “Cantón Exposición 4° Norte,” expanded its coverage beyond the two initial streets and focused on giving the area more of a community feel, which they believe was lacking from the original idea.

“More people on the street generates a more secure environment, so apartments were built to encourage people to live there and take care of the area,” says Ninotchka Matute, executive director of Fundación Crecer.

Liberals And Libres In Honduras: Powerless

There are few things worse than irrelevance, particularly in politics, and especially so in governance. This is what is facing the Liberal, Libre, and PAC parties in Honduras. Okay, President Juan Orlando Hernández and his National Party effectively own the Executive branch of government. With 48 of the 128 seats in the Congress, and the three main opposition parties — Libre, Liberal, and PAC — splitting most of the remaining seats between them (36, 27, and 13 respectively), the Nationalists also pretty much own the Legislative branch.

Bolivia’s Quinoa Politics 

The question, thus, remains: Can Bolivia take advantage of the quinoa boom while bracing for a potential bust? While it may be difficult, President Morales must confront these hurdles with policies that help the country’s economy develop in a smart and sustainable way. This means encouraging crop diversification and building trade partnerships. If Morales succeeds, we could be on the brink of a Bolivian renaissance.

Are Drugs The Main Root Cause Of The Violence in Central America?
No, says Adam Isacson of WOLA. In this helpful article, he distinguishes between the international cartels who traffic drugs though the region, and the low-level street gangs that create most of the violence:

The groups moving tons of drugs through Central America are certainly violent, but the bloodshed sending most children and families to the U.S. border is mainly the work of street gangs that don’t manage large drug shipments.

The street gangs, or maras, get the most media attention, and are generating more violence. Groups like Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18, along with many smaller structures, are carrying out a large share of the extortion, murder, rape, forced recruitment, and other high-profile crimes against the populations of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The larger groups originated in the United States in the 1980s, particularly among the Central American migrant community in Los Angeles.

Honduras Homicide Rate Drops In 2014

There were 600 fewer homicides in Honduras as compared to the same period last year, President Juan Orlando Hernández announced on Monday. In the first semester of 2014, there were 2,893 murders in the small Central American country, which is home to 8.2 million inhabitants.

Sowing The Future: Food Security In Latin America’s Growing Cities
Almost 80 percent of Latin Americans live in urban areas, which could reach 90 percent by 2050. This massive urbanization requires an equally massive response to ensure food security for Latin Americans: 

To date, Latin America has been at the forefront of adopting regulations and legal instruments that guarantee an individual’s right to food. However, the vast majority of these initiatives have not yet translated into concrete actions or adequate investments, which is why guaranteeing the right to food continues to be a challenge for the region.

 + How Chiquita Bananas Undermine The Global War On Terror

Colombian families whose relatives were massacred by paramilitaries cannot sue the Chiquita Brands fruit company in federal court, the 11th Circuit United States Court of Appeals ruled last week. The victims charged that Chiquita was responsible for the deaths by funding a right-wing paramilitary group.

The ruling was a big victory for the banana giant — and for the rights of American companies to finance international terrorism.

Migrants Stopped At Sea From Haiti And Cuba At 5 Year High

Over 4,300 Haitians have either been stopped at sea or are known to have arrived in Puerto Rico or the U.S. mainland since Oct. 1, while the number of Cubans stands at 2,985, NBC reports, a total of around 850 more than last year.

Coast Guard officials said they are the highest numbers of the last five years.

Bolivia Expects 163 Megawatts Of Renewable Power Within 10 Years

Bolivia’s first wind farm went into operation this year, the 3-megawatt Colpana project that may eventually be expanded to 24 megawatts. The government expects to line up by September a developer to build the next phase of the project and has budgeted $50 million.

And from the LACA Blog Advocacy this week:

Above and Beyond Colombia’s Peace Accords 
Charissa Zehr, a Legislative Associate for International Affairs at the MCC U.S. Washington Office, writes on truth and justice in the Colombia Peace Accords process.

Ocos Despierta: A Community in the Shadow of Agribusiness (Video)
On the southern coast of Guatemala, two agribusinesses have disrupted the lives of campesino Ocos communities in order to grow palm oil and bananas for export. They cut down forests, diverted a major river, built seventeen dams and polluted the surrounding land in order to grow and irrigate their crops.

The Diocesis de San Marcos (a partner of MCC Guatemala) produced an excellent documentary, Ocos Despierta, that tells the story of the Ocos communities since the agribusinesses took over.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment