Personally, Politically

NarcisoBy 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

“That moment, when I saw his arm sticking out from under the sheet covered in goosebumps as he slept, I felt something. And that was just the beginning.” Manuela says, as she regales me with the story of her 35 year long relationship with her husband Narciso.

The lighthearted love story became serious quickly, however, when paramilitaries shoot Narciso in the face  for political organizing. Manuela was overwhelmed “by the amount of blood…I was too afraid to go to the neighbours for help, so I was all alone for hours until help came. Then, I held his hand in the ambulance.”

Narciso survived and the couple fled their town, finally ending up as caretakers for the Sembrandopaz farm. Two months ago, they went back to their town for the very first time in years. They were afraid, but as Manuel expressed with wonder, “We could not even eat all of the food that people had cooked for us, as the news spread to all our neighbours that we had come back!”  Narciso took a break from all the eating to visit the father of his suspected would be assassin and, in a carefully orchestrated move that followed the teaching of his local congregation to love your enemies, he embraced him and offered forgiveness.

While neither Manuela nor Narciso feel comfortable moving back, their actions reflect the gradual changes that are taking place in their environment, as justified mistrust mixes with the hope that things can different. The courage to return and the possibility of coexistence serve to create spaces where a different future may be possible.

papyasBack in Bogota, I was invited to attend the release of a new marketing strategy for an evangelical radio station. Sometimes they rebroadcast our program, so my presence was a way to maintain relationships. General rule: the more elaborate the centerpieces on the tables, the higher the need for caution. The moment I saw the red roses arranged on top of white rocks and carefully placed glossy green leaves, all inside giant stemmed fishbowls, I became wary. As pastor after church leader boldly proclaimed the need for people to join their promotional tour to Israel, I could barely choke down my cold empañadas and lukewarm orange juice.

“For life, the family, and values,” pronounced congressman Marco Fidel Ramirez, as he  bounced back and forth, fist pumping the air as he exhorted God to bless the evangelizing message of the radio station and all those who uphold Christian values. The only mention of any sort of contextual reality was a boast about the reach of the station, even to those kidnapped.

For me, the event was a reflection of fundamentalist thought, perhaps a source of moral certainty in the midst of constantly changing context, but with rather damaging results, as their positions align, influence, and are influenced by right-wing political realities. The result: peace talks are proclaimed to be demonic in other spaces and morality is defined by the presence of vending machines for condoms.Tree

Sometimes, I think my entire life is a journey to try to make sense out of the nonsensical, to connect the dots between macro and micro. Yet, the personal is political. What might be seen as individual decisions or actions, are always connected to a much larger reality and context, that both influences and informs actions. Seeing connections allows for a more intimate understanding of reality and also of agency, recognizing the ways change from the top and the bottom meet. There is space for both despair and for hope, along with compassion, because individual actions never occur in a vacuum, whether done in the name of religion or not.

I am so grateful that I know the stories of people like Manuela, Narciso and others throughout the campo and the city, that my experiences in high powered meeting are not the only realities of Colombia I encounter in my job on daily basis. There are many factors competing for the future of Colombia. Perhaps Manuela had no idea when she fell in love with a goose-bump covered arm, but her tenacity and hope are choices that also hold the power to change the world.

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Weekly Roundup, March 20th

Photo: Anna Vogt

Photo: Anna Vogt

EXCLUSIVE: Investing in a secure, stable Central America (Joe Biden)

A great deal of work lies ahead.  We have requested $1 billion for Central America in 2016 because Central America cannot do it alone. If the United States is not present, these reforms will falter. But the combination of Central American political will and international support can be transformative, especially since the three governments have committed to match or exceed international assistance to their countries. We intend to focus our assistance in three areas. 

New Marine Task Force to Use New Platform in Central America Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-South (SPMAGTF South), a unit comprising about 250 Marines to be headquartered at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, will answer a range of needs ranging from partner nation training to humanitarian assistance and counter-drug missions. It’s set to become active in June.

Identifying Mexico’s many dead along US the border

As the sun set over the desert, painting the sky in vivid shades of crimson, Schroeder’s colleague Maryada Vallet expressed their organisation’s collective frustration. “The number of human remains that we find here every year is as if a Boeing aircraft had to crash in our desert every single year since the last 10 years. And we still can’t figure out that this is a humanitarian crisis and not a law enforcement issue?”

Survivor tells of mass disa­ppearance in Mexico

Garcia said he urges Americans to join in their non-violent movement by staging peaceful protests of their own, launching letter-writing campaigns and using social media. Given Garcia’s distrust of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, he said he would ask President Barack Obama to reconsider America’s policies with Mexico,” to avoid becoming an accomplice in the crime we have in our country.”

They Use Bullets Because They Don’t Like the Truth:” New Violence Against Journalists and Community Radio in Guatemala

On January 20, the indigenous radio station Snuq Jolom Konob, which means the Mind of the People in the local Q’anjob’al language, in the Guatemalan department of Huehuetenango was closed and their staff threated after supporters of the municipal mayor blocked staff from entering the station. The 50 supporters had demanded that the reporters hand over their keys, and surrender the stations equipment – the reporters refused.

Nicaraguan indigenous group fears Chinese canal will be a death sentence

Rama leader Becky McCray says the $50-billion Chinese canal could be a deathblow for the culture of her people, who for centuries have scratched out a living as fishermen on Nicaragua’s southern Caribbean coast.

General in El Salvador Killings in ’80s Can Be Deported, Court Rules

In a decision setting a significant human rights precedent, an immigration appeals court has ruled that a former defense minister of El Salvador, a close ally of Washington during the civil war there in the 1980s, can be deported from the United States because he participated in or concealed torture and murder by his troops.

Colombia: is the end in sight to the world’s longest war?

Jaramillo issues a stark warning that “this is our last chance. This is the last generation of Farc that is both military and political, the last of Farc as a university-educated political movement with Marxist politics we disagree with, but they are at least politics. The generation coming up behind them know only jungle and war.”

Humanitarian law violations in Colombia up 41% last year: Red Cross

According to the humanitarian organization, 814 alleged breaches of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) were reported in 2014, an increase of 258 from 2013. In light of their increased figures, The Red Cross stressed that alleged progress in ongoing peace negotiations between the Colombian government and rebel group FARC has so far failed to positively impact the general population.

Bolivia: A Country That Dared to Exist

Bolivia’s road toward decolonization is a rocky and contested one. But, as Felix Cardenas argues below, in a bleak world full of capitalist tyrants, bloody wars and racist exploitation, Bolivia’s Process of Change continues to shine as an alternative to the dominant global order.

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Weekly Roundup, March 13

Photo: Anna Vogt

Photo: Anna Vogt

Urban Violence and the Future of Security in LatAm

It is also worth considering there were other factors that likely played a significant role in Colombia’s drop in urban violence, asides from innovative securiy strategies pushed by the Colombian government — such as the 2013 truce between rival criminal groups the Urabeños and the Oficina de Envigado in Medellin. Nevertheless, other countries in Latin America would be wise to closely study how Colombia reduced homicides in what were once some of the most violent cities in the world. As urban areas comprise an ever-larger portion of the region’s population, the future of citizen security in Latin America may well be determined by what happens in its cities.

Ayotzinapa’s Survivors Will Not Stay Silent

That gives them the motivation to continue to push for lasting change in Mexico, a country where echoes of dirty wars reverberate in its countless disappearances and mass graves. In Iguala, 14 people were murdered in one week in late February alone. “This struggle is not only about Ayotzinapa, but the entire country and the entire world,” says Cruz. “Really, it’s not only about the 43 people who disappeared, but the probably thousands around the country.”

Government neglect drives Mexico’s poppy farmers into drug trade

As for the rural Guerrero communities with a long history of poppy cultivation, Mazzitelli said the U.N. is holding serious talks with the Mexican government about alternative development. “There must be a guarantee of transformation by which, yes, the farmer gets less money but he gets security. He gets schooling for his kids. He gets a pharmacy. He gets a road through which he can market his crop,” Mazzitelli said. “It’s not about bringing more police. It’s not about eradicating poppy fields. It’s about creating finally the conditions for sustainable development.”

The UN’s Top Recommendations for Ending Torture in Mexico

At the end of a report that describes “disturbing” levels of impunity around torture cases in Mexico, the United Nations offers dozens of recommendations to combat the problem, the majority of which have to do with confronting ongoing, severe dysfunction in the justice system.

Just Like Old Times in Central America

If the vicious, anti-democratic record of Hernández’s regime is so clearly documented, then why is the Obama administration celebrating the regime and looking the other way at its militarization and human rights abuses? The White House, it appears, is aggressively locking in support for the current Honduran government in order to solidify and expand the U.S. military presence in Central America, while serving transnational corporate interests in the region.

Women lead struggle against mining and machismo in Guatemala

On March 2, 2012, Yolanda Oquelí was driving her car between San Jose del Golfo and another community nearby when she observed the mining firm’s trucks turning down the road. She made a quick decision, and pulled her car in front of the trucks and blocked their access to the site. It was in this moment that the barricade they called “La Puya,” named after the thorns of the bushes in the hills around the mine, was born. Since 2012, the community has maintained a 24-hour presence at the entrance of the mine. Every day between 16 and 20 community members take turns at the barricade.

Meet The 15-Year-Old From Rural Guatemala Who Addressed The U.N.

And Let Girls Lead lived up to its name. It gave Emelin and her friend Elba a chance to make a difference in their community. Through a Let Girls Lead initiative, the two teenagers met Juany Garcia Perez, who worked with the group and another nonprofit focused on girls’ leadership. Juany became their mentor, teaching them about self-esteem, human rights, community organizing, and public speaking. And they used these skills to make an impression on their village. They were interviewed in the newspaper; television and radio covered their campaign. And ultimately the mayor did pay attention to them. Although they thought it would take longer, it was only seven months from the initial knock on the door to the mayor’s signing legislation to fund education and health care efforts for girls in 2012.

Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero to Be Beatified May 23

The slain Salvadoran archbishop, who was an outspoken advocate for the poor, was murdered March 24, 1980, as he celebrated Mass in a hospital in San Salvador amid the country’s civil war. Romero’s sainthood cause began in 1993, but the process was stalled decades as a result of misunderstandings and preconceptions, due to his political advocacy and apparent links to Liberation Theology.

Kidney Disease Epidemic among Nicaragua Sugarcane Workers

A new study led by School of Public Health researchers suggesting that heat stress or other occupational factors may be playing a role in the high rates of chronic kidney disease disproportionately affecting young, male agricultural workers in northwestern Nicaragua is a step toward identifying the factors responsible. The researchers found that sugarcane workers in the region have experienced a decline in kidney function during the harvest, with field-workers at greatest risk. The study was published online in January in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health.

Some hope for Haiti

In spite of the world’s multiple crisis, the international community needs to continue supporting Haiti in its long term; sustainable recovery, ensuring enhanced resilience to financial, political and environmental shocks. This is crucial if we want to secure so many hard won social and economic gains. For Haiti, January 12 marked the painful fifth anniversary since the devastating earthquake. But, while the wounds are still there, the page is turning – we are moving beyond the humanitarian stage and onto a hard but promising path towards long-term sustainable development.

Colombia to temporarily halt bombing of FARC rebels

The development is seen as a major stride in Colombia’s peace process aimed at ending Latin America’s longest-running civil war pitting FARC, or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, against the army.

With FARC somewhat off the hook, ELN embraces for increase in military attacks

Colombia’s military forces will increase military attacks on the ELN, the country’s second largest rebel group, after President Juan Manuel Santos ordered a month-long suspension of attacks upon the FARC.

Bolivia Celebrates National Day of Coca Leaf Chewing

Bolivia will observe the National Day of coca-leaf chewing on Thursday as part of a domestic and international campaign to restore the traditional useof the coca leaf.  “The Bolivian government managed to decriminalize the traditional use of the coca leaf, but only within Bolivian territory and not in other countries,” the Vice Minister of Coca and Integral Development Gumercindo Pucho Mamani stated.

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Placelessness: The Underlying Cause of Central American Youth Migration

Photo: Anna Vogt

Photo: Anna Vogt

Tobias Roberts is an MCC service worker in Nebaj, Guatemala 

Versión en Español

Much has been written during the past year regarding the “phenomenon” of Central American youth migrating to the United States.  Various essays, analysis, and opinion articles stem from all sides of the political spectrum, but tend to agree on some vague, overarching causes of this migration. Poverty, violence, lack of employment and the allure of the “American Dream” are four recurring causes that are often cited as factors driving Central American youth away from their home communities in search of a better life in North America.  Political commentators may disagree on what causes this violence or poverty or lack of employment, but it would be difficult to argue against the centrality of these four, predominant, and almost universally accepted causes of migration.

These four causes are so widely accepted that the US government is willing to commit a billion dollars to the “Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity.” This plan which will work with the governments of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras arose from the dramatic increase in child migration from Central America during last year and is to be focused on four main components: boosting the productive sector in order to create economic opportunities, developing opportunities for human capital, improving public safety, and creating access to justice.  Despite the fact that many critics see this plan as simply another excuse for US interference in the affairs of Central America and riddled with clauses pushing for the opening of the economy to improve business conditions for foreign investment, it is revealing that the plan is justified in the light of the four “causes” of migration listed above.

In December of 2014, Mennonite Central Committee, an organization working with Central American youth in the areas of development and peace building, brought together 30 youth from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to discuss why so many young people from their countries were deciding to migrate. After three days of intense discussions, the issues of inner-city violence, poverty, lack of employment and the allure of the American Dream were mentioned by youth participating in the debates as the reasons that so many of the youth in their communities were leaving.

But underneath these persistently repeated “causes” of migration, there seemed to be something deeper being touched upon by the youth.  These explanations for migration were not, perhaps, causes in themselves, but rather symptoms of an underlying and more elemental and fundamental source.

During one of the debates, Feliciana Herrera, a young woman from Nebaj, Guatemala, mentioned that “so many of the youth from my village are choosing to migrate because they feel alienated and estranged from the life of the community.”  Alienation and estrangement are two explicit indicators of a society that has become dis-placed, and this sentiment of “placelessness” was continually referenced during the three days of debates.

To move beyond the almost simplistic definition of the four main, agreed-upon “causes” of migration, we will try to analyze these “causes” as symptoms of a more rooted cause; that of an increasingly “place-less” society that young people must find ways to survive in.

It was intriguing to witness how so many of the young people in the debate mentioned family issues as a major reason that so many youth migrated.  Too often, it is easy to simply consider the structural causes of migration while overlooking the very real fact that many youth choose to migrate due to personal issues within the family.

Gender-based violence, male chauvinism and broken families were three concerns brought up during the debate, while very few of the youth explicitly mentioned poverty as a direct cause affecting migration.  According to Salvador Hernandez, a young woman from Morazán, El Salvador, “Of course, poverty is a problem that leads to migration, especially when there is a father who spends all of the family´s money on alcohol and mistreats his wife and children.”  Marisela Lopez, from Nebaj, Guatemala added that, “many young women in my community are forced to migrate because after having a relationship with some guy, they´re considered to be ´used´ and no longer worth creating a family with.”

These testimonies illustrate how family life which ideally would be a place of intimate belonging has failed to live up to that ideal. This disintegration of family life is further fueled by members who migrate due to unhealthy family situations thus leaving the family unit A teenager might have his mother living in California, his father in New York, an older brother in Miami while living with his grandmother who is growing increasingly incapable of caring for her grandchildren.  In situations such as this, it is easy to see how Central American youth can feel estranged, disconnected and dis-placed from the intimacy of family.

The inner city violence of Central America is well documented as many agree that the “Northern Triangle” of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras is the most dangerous and crime-ridden region of the world. Though there are many facets to this violence, juvenile gangs are an undeniable contributor.

The vast majority of crimes committed by juvenile gangs are against small, family-run businesses within the territory where the gangs operate.  Extortion is a common practice and those who don´t pay the gangs are often killed or forced to flee their homes.   This type of violence exposes the breakdown of any sort of community life in urban neighborhoods.  These communities cease to be places characterized by trust and neighborliness and instead become places of hostility and fear where people rush home from work to lock themselves behind razor wire fences and barred windows.

Facing this community context, many youth feel increasingly divorced from any sense of belonging to their home communities.  Luis Reyes, a young man from Metapan, El Salvador, shared that “if I were to be extorted by a gang, there is no doubt that I would leave my community the first chance I had.”  The precariousness of life in urban communities of Central America is increasingly dis-placed as young people are forced into mobility as a survival response to insecurity and violence.

The Central American business elite love to extol their prowess for creating jobs for young people.  Advertisements and propaganda continually reference the supposed thousands of jobs created by the private sector in Central America.  The problem, indubitably, is that most of these jobs are badly paid, unstable, and devoid of any sense of ownership or active participation for the working youth.  A sense of ownership and participation in the productive work that one engages in is indispensable in order to feel a sense of belonging and affinity for that work.

A young Central American girl who works at a department store, a bank, or a maquila rarely has any opportunity to influence the direction of her work.  This sense of powerlessness coupled with abusive managers and bad pay is often a catalyst for migration. According to Abner Godinez, a young man from Guatemala City, “for many youth, if the only (work) option is to be a laborer for some boss, then it makes more sense to do so in a place that pays a little better.”

Lastly, we come to the issue of the allure of the American Dream.  It would be limiting to suppose that Central American youth migrants venture to the United States solely because they were enamored with the unbridled possibilities of the American lifestyle. The enchantment with this apparent abundance and limitlessness is also the result of cultural colonization.

The globalization of western culture has entailed the incursion of a mentality and a paradigm that dis-places “placed” communities.  These communities, oftentimes indigenous and peasant, are painted as backwards, folkloric and ever more obsolete.  Young people are encouraged to adapt to the times and enter into the demands of modern society.  Westernized education institutions are often at the forefront of this dismantling of placed indigenous and peasant cultures.

Gaspar Corio, of Mayan Ixil heritage from Nebaj, Guatemala, shares that “at school we´re taught that as young people we need to do all we can to rise above our parents who are small farmers.  Farming is indignant according to this system of thinking and education is the path to leave behind that lifestyle.”

Cultural colonization through westernized education, mass media, and other sources is partly responsible for the exodus of Central American youth from rural communities. These youth, separated from a placed community and tradition, are forced to survive in the impersonal and competitive monetary economy.  This economy is the epitome of “placelessness” as it demands worker mobility, disengages consumers from the physical sources of their consumption and broadens the gap between producers and consumers as well.  Faced with the demands of this economy, many youth consider migration to be their best opportunity to succeed.

After having analyzed the four accepted “causes” of migration from the perspective of a “placeless” society, the assumed differences between North American and Central American societies begin to grow indistinct. Though poverty in North America may be less cruel than in Central America, the issue of unhealthy familiar relationships plagues youth equally in both places.  On a community level, the issues of juvenile gangs and extortion may be less severe in North America, but communities are increasingly anonymous, un-neighborly areas that don´t inspire any sense of devotion or loyalty to place.

In regards to the job market, the only real difference has to do with the pay.  Young people entering the workforce in North America are encouraged to be itinerant and open to “moving to where the jobs are” just as with Central American youth.  Finally, the mentality that encourages young people to abandon the old in favor of the new is unswervingly nailed into the heads of North American youth as well.  A recent NASDAQ advertisement welcomes youth into the “smarter, brighter, greener, more connected, more responsible, more inspiring, tech-driven, everything-is-knowable, anything-is-possible, no-problem-is-too-big century.” Given that gushing and effusive description of the new century, who wouldn´t be charmed into believing full-heartedly in the marvels of modernity?

Perhaps the causes of the migration phenomenon aren´t exclusive to Central American reality, but rather are simply manifestations of how our global society is structured.  In our common “placelessness,” youth from both North and Central America are forced to stand up against a civilization that delimits a very narrow path to supposed success while abolishing alternatives.

It is time to move beyond the superficial analysis of the conventional and endorsed “causes” of migration (poverty, violence, lack of employment, and the allure of the American dream) in order to embark on the hard work of confronting the “placelessness” that equally affects us all.  Juan Carlos Terraza, another young man from Nebaj, Guatemala, sums it up: “The best way to confront migration is to create communities that work for young people.”  We all need to learn to create communities that grow roots in place and inspire us to stay and live well in that place.

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UN Cholera Plan for Haiti Must Choose Justice Over Charity

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

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

By Katherine and Ted Oswald, Policy Analysts and Advocacy Coordinators, MCC Haiti. Originally posted on the Huffington Post .

In a recent article, Pedro Medrano Rojas, the UN Senior Coordinator for Cholera Response in Haiti, called on the international community to change course on its “historic lack of attention to water and sanitation” in Haiti by increasing support for water and sanitation infrastructure to combat the cholera crisis in Haiti.

This is a welcome call — cholera has killed over 8,824 people in Haiti since it wasintroduced by UN peacekeepers in 2010, and water and sanitation is critical to curbing transmission of the disease. Thirty-eight percent of the Haitian population lacks access to improved drinking water sources and only 24 percent has access to improved sanitation. As Mr. Medrano notes, “[b]y strengthening these infrastructures, we will eliminate cholera and also other waterborne diseases.” Doing so has the potential to save several thousand lives each year.

Yet Mr. Medrano and others’ persistent efforts and laudable goals of eliminating cholera in Haiti have not borne fruit. In 2012, the UN and Haitian Government launched a joint plan to eliminate cholera from Haiti. Two years later, this plan is still only funded at 12.9 percent despite a high-level donors conference hosted by the World Bank in October 2014 and repeated calls to action. Even the UN itself has only pledged 1 percent of the required funds for the plan. Over that same period, it has been able to raise over $2.5 billion to support MINUSTAH, its peacekeeping mission in Haiti, even though the country has not had a recognized war in a century.

Mennonite Central Committee is part of a broad network of Haitian and international organizations advocating that the continued lack of success means a shift in approach is both necessary and urgent. The UN must reframe its appeal for funding from one of charity to a matter of justice.

The UN has an obligation to support Haiti in the cholera elimination effort;overwhelming evidence shows that the UN introduced cholera to Haiti in 2010. The disease, not seen in Haiti in over one hundred years, was brought by peacekeepers stationed on a UN base that leaked untreated human waste into Haiti’s largest river system. The river was and is still relied upon by Haitians as a primary source of water for drinking, bathing and farming. As noted by Dr. Louise Ivers with Partners in Health, “the United Nations has a moral, if not legal, obligation to help solve a crisis it inadvertently helped start.”

Shifting the conversation from charity to justice would force the UN to do what people, businesses and governments throughout the world do all the time — reorganize their priorities to make sure that they comply with their legal obligations. In Haiti, this would put an end to the cholera epidemic. It would also make important strides towards rebuilding the UN’s credibility with the Haitian people and put needed pressure on Member States to fund the cholera elimination plan.

Numerous public officials, including UN human rights experts and members of the U.S. Congress, have stressed that UN accountability is essential to a lasting solution to the cholera epidemic in Haiti. As researchers at Yale Law School and School of Public Health pointed out, “remedies are not simply charitable approaches to a humanitarian crisis; they are what the UN must do to fulfill its contractual, legal and moral duties.” This past December, 77 members of Congress sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urging him to act immediately in respecting cholera victims’ right to a remedy, noting that “[e]ach day that passes is a tragedy not only for the cholera victims but for the UN itself.”

These voices underscore how critical it is to frame this crisis as a matter of justice — with fundamental human rights at issue — and not as a matter of charity. Securing water and sanitation infrastructure for Haiti is ultimately about fulfilling obligations and respecting human rights, areas where the UN can, and should, be demonstrating leadership.

Follow MCC Haiti Advocacy on Twitter and on Facebook for updates and information.

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Weekly Round-Up, Febuary 27

Medellin, Colombia Photo: Anna Vogt

Medellin, Colombia Photo: Anna Vogt

Senate Democrats balk at $1-billion aid plan for Central America

Senate Democrats on Tuesday unexpectedly challenged the Obama administration’s plan to pour $1 billion into Central America to try to slow the flow of unaccompanied minors and others who enter the United States illegally. In two hearings on the State Department budget, Democrats as well as Republicans warned that previous administrations have spent billions in the region without substantially reducing its violence or easing its poverty.

Crime and the state: Latin America’s season of scandal

Almost every country in the region bears its distinctive mark of criminal activity, whether involving drugs, protection, corruption or money-laundering, and its particular understandings and accommodations, high and low, between crime and players in political life. But it is an open question as to why now, in countries supposedly transformed or revitalised, or merely repackaged for media consumption, certain crimes or scandals are mustering an indignant popular response rarely seen before. Nor can it escape notice that the crimes in question do not point in any straightforward way to an order from a president, minister or general, or any of the other more traditional sources of state-sponsored murder in Latin America.

From Nicaragua to the Arab Spring, sowing seeds of a counterrevolution

The counterrevolution’s hallmarks are an unapologetic ideological attack on democratic capitalism; the revival of “traditional” moral values allegedly threatened by the decadent, conniving West; assertiveness about national interests, real and invented; and, perhaps most important, flexibility about methods. Illiberal states, parties and politicians have learned to exploit democratic institutions — elections, media and free markets — in order to undermine them.

Mexico’s Disappeared

The disappearance of the 43 students became the highest profile example of the country’s entrenched corruption in recent years, something that – until now – the government was able to ignore. Fault Lines travels to Mexico to examine the scope of the unchecked criminal activity, investigate the case of the disappeared students, and meet families of those that have gone missing across the country as they try to find out what happened to their loved ones.

OPINION: Can the Violence in Honduras Be Stopped?

Looking at San Pedro Sula, it is clear that a dramatic change in political will would be needed for any initiative of this kind to be successful. International donors should not support a militarized security strategy, which would intensify abuses and fail to provide sustainable citizen security. Funding for well-designed, community-based violence prevention programs could be helpful, but only if there is a government willing to reform the police, push for justice, and invest in the education, jobs, violence prevention, health, child protection, and community development programs needed to protect its poorest citizens.

Controversy runs deep in Nicaragua’s canal plan

Amid all the angry rhetoric, one question remains: Can Nicaragua build a canal that benefits ordinary people, mitigates the project’s environmental impact and serves international trade?

Let’s take a look at some of the key controversies.

UN Cholera Plan for Haiti Must Choose Justice Over Charity

SPECIAL MENTION: This piece was written by Katherine and Ted Oswald, MCC policy anyalists in Haiti. The UN has an obligation to support Haiti in the cholera elimination effort;overwhelming evidence shows that the UN introduced cholera to Haiti in 2010. The disease, not seen in Haiti in over one hundred years, was brought by peacekeepers stationed on a UN base that leaked untreated human waste into Haiti’s largest river system. The river was and is still relied upon by Haitians as a primary source of water for drinking, bathing and farming. As noted by Dr. Louise Ivers with Partners in Health, “the United Nations has a moral, if not legal, obligation to help solve a crisis it inadvertently helped start.”

Thousands march in Haiti over Dominican racism

“Despite our diversity, despite our differences, we are a country, we exist and we deserve respect,” said Roman Catholic Monsignor Pierre-André Dumas, who helped planned the march. “We are neighbors, sharing the same island. The question of racism and barbarism need to be finished with on this island.”

Report Illustrates Dynamics of Colombia’s Domestic Drug Trade

A recent analysis on the relationship between local drug markets and violence and crime in Colombia illustrates the dynamics driving the domestic drug trade, and provides recommendations for comprehensive government interventions designed to result in long-lasting security improvements.

Is Bolivia going to frack ‘Mother Earth’?

Some Bolivians are immensely concerned. A collective of organisations and individuals calling itself the “Antifracking Movement in Bolivia” has emerged, and last October the Fundacion Solon in La Paz issued a “Declaration against Fracking in Bolivia”, describing it as a “highly risky and contaminating” technique using huge amounts of water and highly toxic chemicals with devastating health impacts

In this corner: Bolivia’s strong-armed fighting ‘cholitas’

For recreation in the sprawling city, a group of women began to create a circle of luchadoras inspired by Mexico’s famous lucha libre. Each Sunday, the women descend on a complex in El Alto and put on a theatrical spectacle, wrestling and taking hard punches, pulling hair, and leaping through the air, all while dressed in colored petticoats and shawls. The women have also become a band of sisters, operating through an association they formed in 2011 that would hold everyone accountable–not just the promoters–for ensuring each person received fair treatment and compensation.

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The World Bank Declines to Hear Haitians’ Complaint over Troubling Mining Practices

Haiti Feb 23

View of landscape in Haiti’s northeastern department. (Photo credit: Ted Oswald)

By Katherine and Ted Oswald, Policy Analysts and Advocacy Coordinators, MCC Haiti. This article was originally posted on their personal blog

This week the World Bank Inspection Panel announced that it would not hear a complaint filed by six Haitian civil society organizations who are concerned about plans for mining in at least five of Haiti’s central and northern departments.

The World Bank, since 2013, has been involved in helping the Haitian Government rewrite a 1976 mining law that would, in effect, make mining a more attractive investment for the American and Canadian companies that have been exploring Haiti’s soil for the past several years.

[Read: Haitian Groups Wary of “Attractive” Mining Law]

The Haitian Government has been divided over plans for mining activity. In early 2013, after hearing that 15% of Haitian land was already under contract with foreign mining companies without their proper approval, the Haitian parliament placed a moratorium on all mining.

It was at this time the executive recommended revamping the old law with the help of the World Bank, in order to help prospects for mining to move forward. Indeed, the current administration is looking to mining as one of the essential industries in helping Haiti “build back better.”

Sampling over the past five years have revealed that Haiti has gold worth up to $20 billion, which doesn’t include other valuable minerals such as copper and silver.

Yet local communities and the six civil society groups that make up the Justice in Mining Collective (Koleftif Jistis Min) are concerned about the new law and the way they see things proceeding.

Thus far, the new law has been drafted in consultation with mining experts, World Bank staff, and the Haitian government. Civil society has been notably absent, or rather, uninvited to the decision-making table. On one occasion, a few members of civil society were invited to a mining forum at one of Port-au-Prince’s fanciest hotels, but were not afforded an opportunity to speak.

It is feared that, in Haiti’s current political crisis where President Martelly is ruling “by decree,” the draft mining law could be passed by executive order, without even parliamentary approval.

Haiti Feb 23 2

Patrico in Haiti’s northern department. Many communities have reported mining companies coming uninvited onto their land to dig for soil samples over the past several years. In most cases the communities don’t clearly understand what it is the companies are doing there. (Photo credit: Ted Oswald)

[Read: As Haiti’s Parliament Dissolves, Oversight in Billions in Gold Mining Could Be Axed]

In January, the Justice in Mining Collective, with the help of the Accountability Counsel and NYU Global Justice Clinic filed a complaint to the Inspections Panel of the World Bank, over the high risk of environmental and social impacts of mining as well as the lack of information and participation available to communities over mining plans.

One particularly troubling clause in the new draft law allows for a ten-year confidentiality period for all documents pertaining to ongoing mining in Haiti.

Despite these concerns, which could affect tens of thousands of individuals in Haiti’s northern departments, the World Bank denied hearing the complaint filed by the Justice in Mining Collective on technical grounds.

[Read Press Release: World Bank Refuses to Consider Haitian Communities’ Complaint about New Mining Law]

Haiti Feb 23 3

The Pueblo Viejo gold mine in neighboring Dominican Republic is one of the ten largest in the world and is an example of open pit mining. It is part of the same Massif du Nord Metallogenic Belt as Haiti. (Photo credit: Pulitzer Center)

According to the Panel, the transparency and public involvement typically required of World Bank-sponsored projects does not apply to projects funded by the “Bank-Executed Trust Fund,” such as the rewriting of Haiti’s mining law, though the Panel admits that it ought to and recommends that reform take place in the World Bank system.

The Panel also conceded that there are significant risks associated with mining, and acknowledged the legitimacy of the Collective’s concerns.

Though the Bank is a key actor in the rewriting of the law and regularly touts the importance of public involvement and local participation, it is acting in this case as yet another exclusionary force that bars Haitian voices in matters that concern their own livelihoods. The Bank must realize that in Haiti’s current context, where the government is generally closed off to local opinion, local populations have no audience with decision-makers.

As international backers of the new mining law and investors in the industry, the World Bank must heed Haitians’ concerns over mining.

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Weekly Round-Up, February 20

Rural Colombia, Photo: Anna Vogt

Rural Colombia, Photo: Anna Vogt

Washington’s Prying Eyes

As the U.S. government maintains its uneasy silence about the kidnapping and probable murder of 43 students in Ayotzinapa, Mexico—or, for that matter, about the estimated 100 thousand Mexicans killed since the recommitment to the drug war in 2006—it is worth remembering that the United States maintains the largest and most elaborate international surveillance network in the world. Which, then, is the more troubling interpretation of events: that U.S. State Department and National Security Agency (NSA) officials know who is responsible for these horrific crimes but are choosing not to say, or that despite untold billions of dollars of investment in spy programs like PRISM and Boundless Informant, Washington still has no clue?

Denying Protections to Migrant Children is Not ‘Humanitarian’

Current law states that unlike migrant children from other countries, Mexican kids are not automatically transferred over by border officials to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) where they would be screened for their protection needs, given shelter, and placed with a family member or sponsor while they await their immigration hearing. Unless Mexican children can prove to a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer—which include Border Patrol as well as Office of Field Operation agents—that they are at risk of falling victim to persecution or trafficking, they are sent straight back across the border, without a chance to tell their story before an immigration judge.

Mexican drug cartels recruit thousands of students in Texas to traffic drugs and arms

The Mexican drug cartels have managed to recruit thousands of youngsters, in primary, secondary and preparatory schools in Texas, to form gangs under their control, in order to strengthen the flow of narcotic drugs to all of the United States. This is clear from a National Gang Report from 2014, released by the Department of Public Safety for the State. In Texas there are about 100,000 Gang members and in El Paso approximately 5,600, distributed among 307 criminal organisations, according to information.

Environment of fear affects electoral coverage in Guatemala

Morazán’s case is one of the many recent threats and attacks that Guatemalan journalists have faced at the onset of the country’s electoral campaign ahead of  general elections this coming September. Similarly, Juan Luis Font, director of the weekly magazineContrapoder, and Pedro Trujillo, Prensa Libre columnist, were threatened after criticizing Manuel Baldizón, the Libertad Democrática Renovada (Renewed Democratic Liberty) party pre-candidate.

Guatemala’s indigenous peoples change strategy to seek more political representation

Guatemala’s indigenous peoples are organizing in a new political party to shift from traditional resistance to actually reaching seats of power. The symbol of the initiative – called the Convergencia por la Revolución Democrática (Convergence for Democratic Revolution, or CRD) – is a multi-colored Mayan star that alludes to their exclusion, extreme poverty and ongoing violations of basic human rights.

San Pedro Sula, Honduras: Nearly a War Zone

To try and target the problems driving this violence, the Honduran government, along with Guatemala and El Salvador, has released its Alliance for Prosperity plan, designed to increase infrastructure and entice foreign investment. The Obama administration just announced it would ask Congress for $1 billion for Central America to help fund the initiative, but details about security strategy are scarce. It remains to be seen exactly how this money will be spent. Looking at San Pedro Sula, a dramatic change in political will would be needed for any initiative of this nature to be successful. Funding could be helpful but only if there is a government willing to reform its police, push for justice and invest in education, jobs programs, violence prevention, health, child protection services, and community development needed to protect its poorer citizens.

Why El Salvador gang ceasefire is bad news for police

For Father Antonio Rodriguez, a priest who for 15 years ran a rehabilitation programme for former gang members, the uncompromising stance is a depressing re-run of the failed policies of the past when rampant violence continued even as jails were filled with tattoo-covered gang members. “Nobody is offering anything new, any real policies on trying to tackle the underlying causes of crime in this country,” he said. “We are just hearing the failed old ’iron fist’ approach of previous governments. I don’t know what Giuliani will recommend, but any lessons from New York are not going to work here. El Salvador is a different place with different problems.”

Nicaraguans demand action over illness killing thousands of sugar cane workers

“I was healthy when I started working for the company and sick when they got rid of me,” said Walter, who asked for his surname to be withheld to protect his relatives, 13 of whom work in sugar cane. “Every family here has lost someone, the work is making us sick, but there are no alternatives,” he said. “We are all dying from it, it’s a total epidemic.”

At least 20 dead in Haiti Carnival accident

The accident occurred as thousands of people filled the streets of downtown Port-au-Prince for the raucous annual celebration. Video from the scene showed sparks coursing from the wire after a singer from the Haitian hip-hop group Barikad Crew was jolted by the overhead power line as the float passed beneath it. The cable appeared to have shocked several others as well.

Colombia’s ex-child soldiers face their tormentors amid peace efforts

“These recruited minors never wanted to be part of this war. They were totally tricked. For this, I ask for forgiveness,” said Villa, who was let out of prison for several hours to deliver his apology to Carlos and six other ex-child combatants, in the presence of government officials at the offices of the Organisation of American States in Bogota.

Álvaro Uribe Addresses WOLA’s 5 Questions on the Colombian Peace Process

Washington has shown consistent bipartisan support to President Santos’s peace process. While WOLA hopes that this bipartisan support will continue, we also welcome visits from critics of the process and believe that critics, like Álvaro Uribe, deserve a hearing. The concerns of critical sectors of Colombia’s democracy must be taken into account, to the greatest extent possible, to guarantee a broader front of support for an eventual accord and its implementation. A post-conflict Colombia should resolve its political differences through dialogue and respect for human rights, not violence.

Decolonizing Bolivia’s History of Indigenous Resistance

The walls of the Vice Ministry’s offices were decorated with portraits of indigenous rebels Túpac Katari and Bartolina Sisa who fought against the colonial Spanish in 1781. I sat down to talk with Elisa Vega Sillo, the current Director of the Depatriarchalization Unit in the Vice Ministry of Decolonization, a former leader in the Bartolina Sisa indigenous campesina women’s movement, and a member of the Kallawaya indigenous nation. In the interview. Elisa spoke about the unique work of the Vice Ministry of Decolonization, the role of historical memory in the country’s radical politics, and the importance of decolonizing Bolivia’s history of indigenous resistance.

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After 25 years, tide begins to turn for conscientious objectors in Colombia

Photo: Mario Cardozo de ACOOC

Photo: Mario Cardozo de ACOOC

Versión en Español

“Pray, pray fervently that God will bring his favour, and that my case will become a door that many young people can walk through as well,” Colombian Reinaldo Aguirre pleaded to the church throughout his three years of administrative limbo.  A conscientious objector to Colombia’s obligatory military service, the young man from the outskirts of Bogota had decided that as a Christian he could not kill.

Reinaldo declared himself as an objector at his local military base, where he was told that the base was not equipped to deal with his claim. Without his military passbook, which serves as proof of service or exemption, it was impossible for Reinaldo to get a job or to graduate from university. Everyday, he faced the risk of being arbitrarily detained by the Colombia Army. After Reinaldo had made over seven requests for CO status, without response over a period of three years, he decided to take his case to the Court.

The 20 year old, who attends a Pentecostal church, learnt about conscientious objection through a series workshops with the Mennonite Church. Reinaldo maintains that “from the Christian tradition, we oppose military or armed service because it is incompatible with the teachings and examples of Jesus Christ. Those of us who have accepted the Lordship of Jesus Christ in our lives owe him absolute loyalty, not to a nation, nor a state, nor government, but to the Son of God who teaches us to love our enemies, to do good to those who mistreat us, and to pray for those who wish to do us harm.”

At the end of January 2015, the door opened for Reinaldo. In an historical ruling, the Colombian Constitutional Court ordered the military to issue Reinaldo’s passbook within 48 hours, arguing that his rights to work, education and worship were violated by the lack of response to application for CO status.

“This court ruling also contains new and important elements for conscientious objectors,” reflects Jenny Neme, director of Justapaz, on the historical decision. “The Court orders the army to direct those in charge of recruitment to process requests for conscientious objection and to not deny exemption requests. It also establishes a strict timeline for the army to resolve said applications. “

Throughout every step of Reinaldo’s journey, Justapaz was there, providing legal advice and letting the young man know that he was not alone. This accompaniment is now second nature for the organization. According to Jack Suderman, secretary of the Mennonite World Conference Peace Commission, “This (court ruling) is the fruit of 26 years of sustained, budgeted, planned, dogged, tenacious institutional commitment on behalf of the Colombian Mennonite Church and its institutions.”

“It is necessary, however, to continue on in the defense of these rights.” says Jenny, expressing Justapaz’s continued commitment to conscientious objection, “The very fact that the army is responsible to resolve requests for conscientious objection must be revised. Ethically, a military body cannot approve or disapprove the decision of a person, who by conscience, does not hold to military logic.  We must continue insisting that the Congress of the Republic legislate these rights and eliminate all barriers for its recognition. Finally, the Colombian state must revise the pertinence of its military structure within a country that is nearing a post-conflict stage. “

As for Reinaldo, he is hopeful. “I want to give thanks to God for this joyful court ruling, not only for me, but for the many young men in Colombia who believe in peace and are committed to conscientious objection. This is a door that is opening for many. We are going to walk through, and are already walking through.”

Article by Anna Vogt, Originally published by Mennonite World Conference 

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Weekly Round-Up Feb 13

Overlooking Bogota Photo: Anna Vogt

Overlooking Bogota Photo: Anna Vogt

Study: Migrant minors’ rights systematically violated in CentAm, U.S., Mexico

The study notes a lack of attention to the causes of migration, including violence, social exclusion and poverty, and the priority accorded to immigration control measures in lieu of the children’s interests, the absence of reintegration programs for repatriated kids and the lack of regional agreements and policies based on human rights and development.

The Case for Aid to Central America

It will take far more than $1 billion in American aid to accomplish those goals. But an infusion of aid would give the United States more leverage in pressing Central American leaders to take initial steps, some of which would come at a political cost domestically. It also would most likely lead to stronger cooperation on other critical transnational problems like drug trafficking, criminal networks and climate change. Having greater influence in the region, which continues to reel from the repercussions of American military interventions in the 1980s, would be sensible at a time when Russia and China are making significant economic inroads in Latin America.

Obama’s Central American Rescue Plan Will Only Make Life There Worse

“Obviously the neoliberal program was not structured to reduce poverty, or to generate employment, or so that there would be no migrants,” Guatemalan researcher Luis Solano wrote in an email interview. “But the public discourse was that of the famous ‘trickle down policy,’ a trickle down that never arrived except to the handful who benefited.” Far from providing new opportunities for regular people in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, the measures proposed in the Alliance for Prosperity are likely to worsen the social and economic realities for the region’s poor majority. This is likely to lead Central Americansadults and children aliketo continue to seek out survival by heading north.

Mexico deports record numbers of women and children in US-driven effort

Record numbers of women and children fleeing violence and poverty in Central America were deported by Mexican authorities last year, as part of US-driven operations to stem the flow of migrants reaching the American border. More than 24,000 women were deported from Mexico in 2014 – double the number sent home in 2013. The upsurge in child detentions was even sharper – climbing 230% to just over 23,000, Mexican interior ministry figures reveal.

Honduras: A Government Failing to Protect its People 

In December 2014 the Latin America Working Group Education Fund (LAWGEF) and Center for International Policy (CIP) traveled to Honduras to investigate how the country is responding to the needs of its citizens. What we found was a security apparatus and criminal justice system in desperate need of reform and a population with little faith in its government. Issues of violence, impunity, and corruption that have plagued the country for years are intensifying.

Man lynched in Dominican Republic as tensions run high

The death of the man came just hours after a group of Dominicans in Santiago, the country’s second-largest city, publicly burned the Haitian flag. Elsewhere, human rights groups have reported that a man was recently denied access to a public bus because he “looked Haitian”. Anti-Haitian sentiment has been on the rise in the Dominican Republic since a 2013 court ruling, which denied children of Haitian migrants their citizenship retroactive to 1930, leaving tens of thousands of Dominican-born people of Haitian descent stateless and at risk of being deported.

Haitians demand lower fuel prices in mass protests

At least 6,000 protesters have marched through Haiti’s capital to demand lower fuel prices and the ouster of President Michel Martelly. The protest in Port-au-Prince on Saturday remained peaceful overall although police briefly threw tear gas and dispersed a crowd that had burned rubbish and tyres in the street to block traffic.

Farc invites Miss Universe to assist in negotiation of peace deal with Colombia

Whoever wears the Miss Universe crown can expect to be invited to star-studded cocktail parties, balls, charity events and galas. The newly crowned Miss Universe, however, has been given a different kind of invitation. Leftist Farc rebels, from Pauline Vega’s native Colombia, want her to visit them in Havana, where they are trying to negotiate a peace deal with the Colombian government.

Historic Commission releases report on causes of Colombia conflict

A commission of 12 Colombian historians presented their account on the origins, causes, aggravators and consequences of Colombia’s 50-year long armed conflict on Tuesday. The document lies the foundation for determining responsibility for the nearly 7 million victims.

 

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