Weekly Roundup, April 24

Dominoes, a popular pastime on Colombia´s Carribean Coast Photo: Anna Vogt

Dominoes, a popular pastime on Colombia´s Caribbean Coast Photo: Anna Vogt

No surge in kids crossing U.S.-Mexico border this summer, immigration official predicts

There won’t be nearly as many immigrant children who cross the border on their own this summer as there were last year, top officials say. Daniel Ragsdale, deputy director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said authorities expect far fewer migrant children and families than the influx last year that gained worldwide attention and left Border Patrol agents unable to process so many people.

A triumphant voice: Eduardo Galeano (1940-2015)

Galeano was instrumental, a key figure among a number of giant Latin American thinkers who transformed the historiography of their region, and with their region, the world, by becoming the creative voice of an alternative historiography, a mode of subaltern thinking and writing before a number of Bengali historians made the term globally popular. 

Border militarization destroys what it protects

In addition, new roads, towers, lights, sensors and the incursion of thousands of Border Patrol vehicles and aircraft into remote, sensitive areas have damaged natural, cultural and historic resources in the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borderlands. This infrastructure and associated operations also cause widespread harm to endangered species, such as the northern jaguar, and irreplaceable landscapes, such as the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area.

Mexico’s Government Is Brushing Off Report of Another State Massacre of Unarmed Civilians

At least 16 reportedly unarmed civilians were killed during a day-long standoff with federal police on January 6 in Apatzingán, Michoacán. The city is one of many considered a battleground between armed criminal and vigilante groups in Michoacán’s “Tierra Caliente” region. The National Security Commission confirmed that it received a video “in which it is possible to infer presumed acts of use of excessive force and abuse of authority” in the case.

Mexican girl forcibly sent to US returns home

The near one-week ordeal for the 14-year-old ended after a DNA test proved that it was a case of mistaken identity and that the woman from Houston Dorotea Garcia was not her real mother. Alondra’s parents placed blame on the Mexican judge who refused to accept the pile of documents they presented as proof of Alondra’s identity, from baptismal records and a copy of her birth certificate to family photographs.

PHOTO-ESSAY: Caravan of the Mutilated

The men belong to the Associación de Migrantes Retornados con Discapacidad (AMIREDIS), an organization for migrants who lost limbs riding the cargo trains collectively known as La Bestia through Mexico. Their goal was to reach the United States and to speak with President Obama. “We want to see Obama so he can know the nightmare that immigrants face,” says José Luís Hernandez Cruz, the organization’s president. “Ask him to help generate jobs in Honduras so we can stop migrating.” As unlikely as that meeting seemed at the beginning of their trip, it appears to be even less possible now. Two of the men agreed to deportation, and pressure is on to deport the rest. The White House declined to comment for this story.

As gang violence surges, El Salvador fears bloody war

“The government has not given up on prevention and rehabilitation, (but) it is fighting the gangs with intensifying repression, which has unleashed an escalation of violence,” he told AFP. The killings underscore the breakdown in a truce the gangs declared in March 2012, which was brokered by the Catholic Church with behind-the-scenes help from then president Mauricio Funes.

Honduran indigenous rights campaigner wins Goldman prize

She said the award would strengthen the group’s campaigns. “It is an opportunity to give higher visibility to the violence of plunder, to the conflict, and also to the denunciations and resistance,” she said in an email response to questions by the Guardian. “It is an honour, and an acknowledgement of the enormous sacrifice and commitment made by Copinh and its planetary contributions.“ The prize coincides with a new report that identifies Honduras as the most dangerous country in the world for environmental and land activists, particularly those from indigenous groups.

HBO ‘Vice’ Series Slams Aid Efforts in Haiti

Despite billions of dollars and earnest promises, living conditions for many Haitians remain deplorable five years after the devastating earthquake there. A central culprit is a broken U.S. foreign-aid system, with no easy fixes. That is the grim takeaway from an investigation conducted by the news program Vice, titled “The Haitian Money Pit,” to air Friday on HBO.

More than 2,000 Candidates Enter Race For Haiti Political Seats

President Michel Martelly has ruled Haiti by decree since Parliament dissolved Jan. 12 when the terms of every member of the Chamber of Deputies, and a third of the Senate expired. The Senate had already been operating with only 20 of its 30 seats occupied because of previously missed elections, and lost its quorum after Jan. 12. The elections have been delayed by factors such as political feuding and lack of funding. Every mayoral post in the country is up for grabs, as are neighborhood leadership positions.

As Colombia Nears Peace Accord, The Question of U.S. Culpability Looms

In the end, Vega concludes that “the interference of the United States in the social conflict has been constant and direct from the late 1940’s and this has been expressed both in military aid and the promotion of policies of counter-insurgency.” He concludes that the U.S. prevented peaceful solutions to structural causes of the social conflict from succeeding in Colombia, and that the result was the prolongation and intensification of the conflict, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocents and the displacement of six million people.

Are Women the Key to Peace in Colombia?

But perhaps the most critical factor for the viability of the coming peace is the inclusion of women in the conversation. Around the world, when armed groups lay down their weapons, women are rarely part of the equation. In Colombia, where an estimated 30 to 40 percent of FARC members are female, this would be a crucial mistake. As the parties negotiate, they must consider the perspectives of female FARC combatants — as well as women from communities where former fighters will resettle. In studying 174 countries, Harvard researchers found that the single best predictor of a state’s peacefulness is not its level of wealth or democracy, nor its ethnoreligious identity; it’s how well its women are treated.

Violentology: An Interview with Photojournalist Stephen Ferry

Stephen Ferry is an American photographer who has captured dangerous and tragic scenes of the Colombian armed conflict for twelve years. Ferry published a collection of his and his Colombian colleagues’ photos in a book titled “Violentology: A Manual of the Colombian Conflict.” Latin America News Dispatch interviewed Ferry at the International Center for Photography in New York about what he found most difficult to capture in the middle of a war, who the main protagonists are in his pictures and how photography contributes to Colombia’s peace process between the government and FARC rebels.

Cholitas paceñas: Bolivia’s indigenous women flaunt their ethnic pride

Bolivia is still one of Latin America’s poorest countries, but its economy has grown rapidly in recent years on the back of high mineral and gas prices, and the government’s pragmatic economic policies. That growth has helped a commercial boom in La Paz and the neighbouring city of El Alto, where Aymara merchants – many of them women – play important and lucrative role.

Bolivia resists global pressure to do away with coca crop

In order “to restore the dignity of the coca leaf”, the Bolivian government launched an international campaign in 2006 to depenalise coca and have it taken off the list of narcotics drawn up by the Vienna convention in 1961. Bolivia has not yet succeeded in convincing the UN, but in 2013 it did obtain a specific clause authorising chewing of coca leaves on its territory. “Bolivia is the only country in the world with a clause of this sort,” says De Leo. Coca cultivation, using traditional methods, is currently allowed on 12,000 hectares.

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Border Crossing in Guatemala

Sarah DeGraff is the Service Learning and Program Coordinator for MCC Guatemala and El Salvador. This blog was originally posted on her personal blog, A Place at the Table

These lovely streams provide a source of running water for the community to use in their homes.

These lovely streams provide a source of running water for the community to use in their homes.

The journey to La Vega de Volcan was two days in duration – an eight hour drive from Guatemala City into the northwestern mountains to the town of Sibinal, where we spent the night, then a 20 minute pickup truck ride out of Sibinal, followed by a four hour hike over the steep hill that separates Sibinal from the small village of La Vega.

Walking down into the verdant valley in which the village is nestled, with trickling streams running through the center amidst boulder-strewn grazing fields, white lilies growing on the banks, I imagine I felt awe and wonder to almost the same degree as those who gain access to Machu Pichu by way of the longer, four-day route, but with one difference: instead of viewing ancient tribal ruins of the dead Inca, these people were the living, breathing remnants of an ancient Maya society.

By no means do I intend to trivialize or romanticize the Maya culture or way of life. Daily life for these Mam people is insufferably difficult: this is a subsistence farming community in which families suffer malnutrition, starvation, few opportunities for economic advancement beyond sending family members to the US or Canada illegally to send back remittances, racism and injustices on the part of the Guatemalan government and latino culture, and lack of education and medical treatment.

The next two days focused on learning about two topics: immigration as it relates to the community, and the various farming projects carried out by our partners. I write two, but truly they are inherently intertwined.

One of our partner staff shared the story of his journey from this tiny village on the border near Chiapas, Mexico, to the US.

“We’re not immigrating because we want the American dream,” he said of himself and his fellow community members, “we’re going because we’re forced to go.” What is the driving force behind illegal immigration here? Hunger. Not just hunger, but starvation and lack of resources to the point of death. Desperation. Currently, 95% of families in La Vega have at least one member in the US who sends back remittances so they can purchase medicine when their children are sick and get a ride on the bus into Sibinal so they can actually make that purchase; to send their kids to school; to have enough to eat each day.

8km to the Mexican border.

8km to the Mexican border.

This isn’t a sustainable solution, however, and can even fly in the face of Mam culture, which dictates that there should be a use for everything one owns. A house with unused rooms, for example, (like our guest bedrooms in North America), or extra clothing that isn’t worn often, is considered negative to a person’s overall health and wellbeing. The point is to have enough, not too little and not too much, in order to live well and be whole as a person, as a family, and as a community.

That being said, the current projects in the community include diversifying crops in small gardens using permaculture techniques and teaching participants why a diet of variety is important for nutrition and how to prepare foods with these new additions. Traditional foods include corn, beans, and squash, but even if one has these in abundance, one can still easily become malnourished.

The project includes training in animal husbandry and trout farming as well. With a total of 25 participant families, the trout project has in the last two years been able to raise its own fingerlings by fertilizing trout eggs by hand from mature, healthy trout specifically selected for this purpose. The trout they sell weighs between five and seven pounds and is sold in markets as far as five hours away.

The garden of a participant family using permaculture techniques learned through the program. Here they have planted radishes, cilantro, and Maya medicinal herbs.

The garden of a participant family using permaculture techniques learned through the program. Here they have planted radishes, cilantro, and Maya medicinal herbs.

On our last day in La Vega we woke up at 4:30 AM and piled into the back of an old pickup truck for a grueling hour up a road so bumpy and rutted it was hardly worthy of the name, to the trail head of the second tallest volcano in Central America – Tacaná. The volcano is dormant and is 4,092 meters above sea level (13,425 ft).

When we made it to the top of the volcano, the fog was still with us, and we had crossed in and out of Mexico several times.  The irony of crossing between borders unhindered and without a passport was not exactly subtle.

It is hard to sum up all of these experiences while I am still learning from them. Living in the capital, I live a life relatively isolated from our partners and from subsistence farming communities. Entering into daily life with them is difficult and eye-opening, and both professionally and personally, doing this helps to remind me why I am here in Guatemala; that the sometimes mundane work I do at the office really does play a part in coming alongside others in order to learn their stories and work with them to affect positive, sustainable change. I remain humbled by these exchanges of knowledge, experiences, and stories and hope to continue to learn from them as I form relationships with the people in these communities.

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Weekly Round-Up, April 17

Colombians march in memory of victims of armed conflict. Photo: Anna Vogt

Colombians march in memory of victims of armed conflict. Photo: Anna Vogt


One of our deepest concerns about the Alliance for Prosperity Plan is that it perpetuates the same economic policies that have already resulted in skyrocketing inequality,” said Kelsey Alford-Jones, Executive Director of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission in Washington, DC. “We are especially alarmed by the proposed construction of large-scale infrastructure projects and the expansion of extractive industries, which have caused a lot of forced displacement throughout the region and is often associated with violence against communities that organize to defend their lands and livelihoods.”

Plan Colombia is not a model to be replicated

The reality is that Plan Colombia was implemented in a drastically different environment than what the Northern Triangle countries face today. MCC partners in Colombia have told us about the negative effects of Plan Colombia in their churches and communities. They agree that this type of intervention is nothing they would wish on their Central American neighbors. It’s not a pretty picture…but we made a picture to help explain it: A Plan for Central America

Continuing the Crackdown on Kids

Tucked into the administration’s 2016 budget request the plan has been christened “Biden’s Billion” for its major promoter and the amount he expects U.S. taxpayers to put up to support it. It divides aid into three “lines of action”: security, economic development, and governance. Yet in every one of these areas, the response repeats errors of the past. Rather than focusing on a response to the humanitarian crisis of child refugees, it serves as a vehicle for deepening the drug war and “free-trade” agendas that have contributed to the crisis.

The ‘invisible’ victims of Edomex, Mexico’s most dangerous place to be female

A staggering 1,258 girls and women were reported disappeared in Edomex in 2011 and 2012 – of whom 53% were aged between 10 and 17, according to figures obtained by the National Citizens Observatory on Femicides. Over the same period, 448 women were murdered in the state. Many of their mutilated bodies were left displayed in public places like roads, parks and shopping centres – an act which criminologists and feminist scholars say is associated with gender hate crimes.

Nearly 20 years after peace pact, Guatemala’s women relive violence

According to María Machicado Terán, the representative of U.N. women in Guatemala, “80% of men believe that women need permission to leave the house, and 70% of women surveyed agreed.” This prevailing culture of machismo and an institutionalized acceptance of brutality against women leads to high rates of violence. Rights groups say machismo not only condones violence, it places the blame on the victim.

China Doesn’t Want To Finance Nicaragua’s Canal, Panama Canal Authority Says

Nicaragua has long been planning a canal that would be wider, deeper and longer than Panama’s, ready to handle a new generation of container ships and make the country the epicenter of maritime transit in the region. But the plans have faced fierce resistance from environmentalists, local landowners and other Nicaraguans who doubt that the estimated $50 billion price tag will ultimately benefit the country. The government’s no-bid contract to build and maintain the canal, given to little-known Chinese telecommunications billionaire Wang Jing, also has stoked suspicions that the Chinese government may be quietly funding the project. (“Get out, Chinese” has been a common refrain at protests against the project.)

Nueva Trinidad: 3rd Municipality in El Salvador to Declare Itself a “Mining Free Territory”

This important landmark decision in El Salvador follows several community consultations that have occurred in Central America, such as in the municipality of Santo Domingo in Honduras and the municipality of Mataquescuintla in Guatemala. International observers from Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, joined in this historical democratic process to provide insight and support to the community consultation, as well as to learn about community consultations and its applicability in other national contexts.

Searching for Peace and Justice in Guatemala

The war no longer rages, but conflicts persist. That realization led James Rodriguez, a Mexican-American photographer living in Guatemala, to document the continuing search for justice in a country whose people find peace by leaving the country by any means necessary. “People talk about violence and gangs, but nobody connects it to the war, which they should,” he said. “People think the war ended. But the effects of the war are so current. To me, that has been a massive push factor in the whole immigration issue.”

How the UN caused a massive cholera outbreak in Haiti

The cholera outbreak in Haiti is the UN’s Watergate, except with far fewer consequences for the people responsible and an immeasurably more disastrous real-world impact. And an exchange of letters between three UN special rapporteurs and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon late last year shows that the world body is still shielding itself from scrutiny.

Coca Cola Workers on Hunger Strike

Coca Cola workers affiliated with the Sinaltrainal union are currently gathering in the center of Bogotá to protest unjust working conditions and serious human rights violations. The protest occurs shortly after the four year anniversary of the Labor Action Plan, a document intended to better labor rights in the country but that has not been upheld. Unionists across different sectors of the Colombian workforce continue to risk their lives as they demand justice. The original article in Spanish can be found here.

Killing of 10 Soldiers Deals a Setback to Colombian Peace Talks with FARC Rebels

Earlier on Wednesday, a military official said that the soldiers were attacked with grenades, gunfire and explosive devices. He said one FARC fighter was killed. It was the first large-scale skirmish since the FARC declared a unilateral cease-fire in December. “More than anything, this has an impact on public opinion — many people don’t understand how you can keep negotiating — and a major political impact,” said Ariel Avila of the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation.


The results in regional and local elections held on March 29th came as a shock. Opposition candidates for mayor won in eight out of Bolivia’s ten largest cities, up from five at the last vote in 2010. The MAS won four of the gubernatorial races in the nine autonomous administrative departments (like states), down from seven last time. In two where nobody won a majority, run-off votes are to be held on May 3rd. The vote count in a third awaits an official ruling on a run-off. In those states splintered anti-government forces have an opportunity to unite behind a single candidate. The vote was a stinging rebuke to the MAS, and a warning to Mr Morales.

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What the media deems “unworthy”

By Charissa Zehr, orginally posted on the Washington Memo.

In our 24-7 media saturated society, it can be hard to keep up with all that is going on around the world. Harder yet when certain stories are deemed unworthy of media attention.

A recent report on Colombia’s enduring conflict has revealed a staggering number of US military personnel and contractors had sexually abused more than 54 children between 2003 and 2007. Other alleged abuse cases would indicate the actual number is much higher. Exacerbating an already tragic situation is the fact that the rapists were not punished in Colombia or the US because of immunity that American military personnel enjoy under diplomatic agreements between both countries.

As one article from Colombia Reports puts it “The case has caused major indignation among Colombians for years.” So why has it not caused similar indignation in the US? In fact, why is it so difficult to find this reported in any U.S. news sources?

The U.S. military industrial complex has supported the Colombian government with hefty financial contributions for more than a decade. In addition to money, weapons and training for the internal conflict with the FARC rebel group and counter-narcotics activity, the U.S. also sends a lot of troops and contractors to manage their interests.

Photo credit: Anna Vogt/MCC

Sadly, Colombia is not the only place in the world that has dealt with abuse of this nature. In many cases the very people that are tasked with “keeping peace” or to bring stability cause more pain and instability in communities than there may have been previously. It is difficult to get accurate reports on the exact number of cases, as many women and children never feel safe enough to report on the incident.

The lack of interest in these types of reports coupled with absolute impunity for military personnel indicates a broader issue of accountability for foreign actors that carry out operations in other countries. Not only should we call our governments to account for the violence they perpetrate on civilians, but we should also be concerned when no one wants to talk about it. We must demand recourse for the victims of abuse and these victims must continue to be included in the on-going peace negotiations. Even if the United States is not sitting in the hot seat at the negotiating table, all parties in Colombia’s conflict must own up to their actions and answer the calls for truth with reconciliation and reparations.

For more information on how you can advocate to your representatives on these important issues in U.S.-Colombia relations, check out the Advocacy toolkit for Days of Prayer & Action for Colombia!

Update: The US army claims they will investigate child rape allegations in Colombia. Read the full article from Colombia Reports.

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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 Version en Español

“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 be 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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