SPU to Ayoztinapa: Fitting in where I Don’t Belong


A personal reflection on the disapperance of the 43 Mexican students by Katie Geluso, a Salter currently serving in Mexico City. This post was adapted from her personal blog

In late September, the mayor of Iguala’s wife was about to take the stage for a campaign speech. At the same time, 100 university student teachers from Ayotzinapa were on their way to protest her candidacy for her husband’s title.  When the couple heard of their impending arrival, they ordered for the students to be “taught a lesson.”  Police officers shot at the bus full of students.  Some students were tortured so badly they were only recognizable by the clothes they were wearing. Another 43 disappeared all together.

Now, a month and a half later, the mayor and his wife have been arrested, some of the bodies have been recovered from plastic bags in a river, and it is known that the police handed over the students to a drug cartel, Guerreros Unidos.

The citizens of Mexico are rightly outraged and grieved over this entire ordeal. Chilpancingo, the capital of the state of Guerrero (where Ayotzinapa and Iguala are) has been the cite of violent protests and attacks on government buildings and there have been several marches to the presidential palace in Mexico City as well as all over the country.

Since my arrival in August I’ve witnessed a few marches in D.F. I can’t help but get choked up as I read powerful statements on cardstock and unified voices of university students chanting loudly for justice and peace. It’s quite the experience to watch thousands of people unite in person to grieve transgressions and demand justice from the government.

I cried as I watched hundreds of college students lay down on the street for a “die in” as they counted to 43, to represent the 43 missing students. Counting to 43 takes an awful lot of time. 43 missing students is an awful lot of pain for families, friends, and an entire country. Keep in mind: this is on top of 22,000 other “missing” people under the current and previous president.

A friend from home has been trying to read up on the situation from Seattle. She asked me on Monday, “What’s going on from a local’s view?” I couldn’t tell her. I’m not a local, nor can I speak for them.

It’s been my experience that living in a culture where you have a loose grasp of the language feels like there’s a thin curtain between you and everyone else. I think I understand a coworker when they give me instructions for an assignment, but maybe I missed a key phrase and they’re really telling me something completely different. When anyone talks for more than 30 seconds or so, I get totally lost. So in work meetings, at conferences, or when someone is explaining something to me without checking in on my comprehension, I have no idea what’s going on right in front of me. When paired with not knowing much about a country’s history, especially when it comes to politics, I have a hard time grasping the events in Iguala and the heartache of Mexicans, which goes much deeper than this one incidence.

When reflecting on my inability to connect and grieve with my Mexican friends, I was reminded of my reaction to the shooting this spring at my alma mater, Seattle Pacific University. I wrote about my reaction to the tragic event on my blog, which you can read here.

After the event at SPU, I had a desire to feel connected to my friends who had not yet graduated, my professors, and even the students I didn’t know.  SPU, a place that meant so much to me a year previously, felt incredibly distant and close at the same time. I wanted to feel my community’s pain and walk alongside them, but I did not share their experience.

Nothing in my power could help me understand their hurt, their fear, their anger.  I didn’t belong – It wasn’t my pain.

I’m struggling the same way in Mexico.  How do I comprehend and connect with the pain of a people whose history of political violence I know so little about?  How ignorant would I be to assume I might be able to understand their outrage and utter despair?  My coworkers and host family care deeply about seeking peace and justice. They’re hurting right next to me, but I feel so far away, hidden behind my curtain of language and cultural illiteracy. I don’t belong – this isn’t my pain.

I was hoping that writing this would sort my thoughts and end in a nice conclusion.  It succeeded in helping me connect my SPU story to Ayoztinapa, but I guess the latter goal will be a work-in-progress.

What have been your struggles and successes with accompaniment and fitting in where you don’t belong?

For more context and analysis about what is currently taking place:

Mexico reels, and the U.S. looks away

To understand the historical significance — and the moral and political gravity — of what is occurring, think of 9/11, of Sandy Hook, of the day JFK was assassinated. Mexico is a nation in shock — horrified, pained, bewildered.

Crisis in Mexico: The Protests for the Missing Forty-Three

Father Solalinde believes that the movement that emerges from the tragedy of Ayotzinapa will discredit the traditional parties and bring about a regeneration of civil society, with new leaders. Others predict—and this does not necessarily contradict Solalinde’s view—that the outraged protesters in Guerrero and other states will soon fill the streets of Mexico City to demand real change. Others have been focussing on a clause in the Mexican Constitution that may offer a legal way to force the President to step down, clearing the way for new elections. Indeed, there are elections in Mexico next June. Five hundred seats of the lower house of the Federal Congress will be up for grabs, which means that there is opportunity for change in Mexico, both through civil disobedience and through the ballot box. On Sunday, a young protester from the Ayotzinapa Normal School told a newspaper reporter, “This is just beginning.” He may be right.

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Weekly Roundup November 14

Foto 1 Fuente Anna Vogt

In Guatemala, indigenous communities prevail against Monsanto

Late in the afternoon of September 4, after nearly 10 days of protests by a coalition of labor, indigenous rights groups and farmers, the indigenous peoples and campesinosof Guatemala won are rare victory. Under the pressure of massive mobilizations, the Guatemala legislature repealed Decree 19-2014, commonly referred to as the “Monsanto Law,” which would have given the transnational chemical and seed producer a foot hold into the country’s seed market.

The Disappeared

So, what has happened to the thousands of people who have gone missing during the course of the country’s drug war? And what is the government doing to end the crisis?Fault Lines travels to Mexico to investigate one of the worst humanitarian crises of disappearances in Latin America and its impact on families searching for their loved ones, for answers, and for a justice that never seems to arrive.

Mexico protesters torch state assembly

Anger has intensified in Mexico since Attorney General Jesus Murillo said last week that evidence suggests 43 missing trainee teachers were murdered by gangsters, incinerated in a bonfire at a garbage dump and their ashes thrown in a river.

Peru now has a ‘licence to kill’ environmental protesters

The controversial law was highlighted by the FLD in a report published this month titled “Environmental Rights Defenders at Risk in Peru.” What that report makes clear is that if you’re Peruvian and you publicly express concern about the environmental and social impacts of mining operations you can expect the following: death threats, rape threats, physical and electronic surveillance, smears and stigmatization by national mainstream media, police acting as “private security” for mining companies, confiscation or theft of equipment, “excessive use of force by police” during protests, arrest, or detention, and prosecution on charges of “rebellion, terrorism, violence, usurpation, trespassing, disobedience or resistance to an official order, obstructing public officers, abduction, outrage to national symbols, criminal damage, causing injury, coercion, disturbance or other public order offences.”

Honduras seeks billions from U.S. to curb child migration

Honduras President Juan Hernandez wants the United States to invest billions of dollars to help curb the flow of illegal migrants from Central America, and said it will take much longer to stem the crisis without Washington’s help. “If we have to do it alone, it will take us more time. But if we can do it together, it can be quicker and better for everyone.” 

Blood for Gold: The Human Cost of Canada’s ‘Free Trade’ With Honduras

In the rural municipality of La Unión, Copán, in western Honduras, communities are being gradually displaced by Toronto-based Aura Minerals’ San Andres gold mine. Earlier this year the army was sent in to quell protests related to the relocation of the local cemetery in Azacualpa, a village in La Unión. This is part of the human cost of an expanding mining industry in Honduras.

For Central America’s migrant women, life can change in a second

According to Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission, approximately 200,000 migrant women from Central America like Brizuela attempt to enter the U.S. each year. The reasons for their journeys are many; but making the decision to migrate, embarking on the trek, and the experience of arriving or being deported all have an enormous impact on the lives of these women.

El Salvador takes steps to tackle scourge of femicide

UN Women says femicide is a growing phenomenon across Latin America. Half of the countries worldwide with very high femicide rates are in Latin America and the Caribbean, including Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Jamaica, according to a 2012 report by the Small Arms Survey. To tackle the violence, Costa Rica in 2007 became the first country in Latin America to pass a law which defines and punishes femicide as a specific crime. Seven other countries in the region have followed, most recently El Salvador where a law on femicide came into effect in 2012.

FARC-Colombia Talks Advance in Havana

The path that is being crafted now in Havana will shape the future of peace and reconciliation in Colombia. It will determine the way the legacies of war will be addressed, the future options of any ex-combatants and militants who choose to lay down their arms, and the willingness of the international community to back the peace accords. In the meantime, Colombia is setting new precedents for peace processes around the globe.

Haiti’s fight for gay rights

Haiti’s LGBT community, which has long existed in relative secrecy, has faced greater criticism since the deadly earthquake that struck the island nation in 2010. From the pulpit and on the radio, evangelists, some inspired by American sponsors and mentors, have blamed the earthquake on the sins of the country’s gay population. Gay Haitians living in tent camps after the disaster reported “corrective” rape and increased harassment as a result of the greater exposure of displacement and flimsy shelters.


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Haiti doesn’t need another occupation

The name Haiti conjures images of earthquake damage, people struggling to survive or memories of a service trip to help build houses or bring medical care. Most do not associate it with military occupation.

zehr-hershbergerHaitians know better. They remember a tumultuous history as an enslaved colony and infant nation undermined by repeated attempts at recolonization and foreign occupation. In the last century, Haiti has endured three military occupations: two by the U.S. (1915-34 and 1990-94) and the most recent under the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, known by its French acronym, MINUSTAH.

MINUSTAH has been in Haiti since 2004, invited by Haiti’s transitional government to quell violence after a coup against former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The U.N. Security Council decides annually whether to renew MINUSTAH’s mandate, and each year it has done so with broad support from the international community, many citing civil unrest.

Mennonite Central Committee’s civil society partners in Haiti share a different view, saying MINUSTAH should leave immediately.

Camille Chal­mers, director of the Haitian Advocacy Platform for Alternative Development, said all other U.N. peacekeeping missions exist because of an armed conflict resulting in an enforceable peace treaty. Not so for Haiti.

Pierre Esperance, director of the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights, said Haiti is “not at war. We can live without [MINUSTAH].” The U.N. Stabilization Mission has only served to destabilize Haiti. MINUSTAH troops and associated actors have been implicated or involved with killing innocent people, sexual abuse, abandoning children and, most notoriously, importing cholera.

The 2010 cholera epidemic began when MINUSTAH negligently introduced waste water from Nepalese troops infected by cholera in their home country into Haiti’s main water source. The U.N. continues to deny responsibility for the contamination, which has claimed the lives of 8,584 people and infected 706,291 others. As earthquake reconstruction funds in Haiti diminish, the annual budget for MINUSTAH in 2014-15 is set at $500 million, an amount that could pay for nearly a quarter of the U.N.’s fledgling $2.2 billion Cholera Elimination Plan.

Not only is MINUSTAH’s occupation unnecessary, it is an egregious waste. MCC’s partner organizations point out that machine gun-toting troops and roving armed vehicles run counter to Haiti’s true needs: the construction of durable and decentralized housing, community-based economic development, and water and sanitation infrastructure improvements. MCC collaborates on these projects with Haitian partners. According to the Platform for Human Rights Organizers in Haiti, MCC is the only international organization that completely supports their exact position on MINUSTAH presence — a complete and immediate withdrawal.

Our Anabaptist faith calls us to oppose military intervention and to work for a peaceful and just resolution. As the U.N. Security Council considers MINUSTAH’s mandate again this month, our advocacy offices are working and praying for such a resolution.

Charissa Zehr and Vanessa Hershberger work at the MCC U.S. Washington Office and the MCC United Nations Office, respectively. Article written with contributions from Jenn Wiebe of MCC Canada’s Ottawa Office and Ted Oswald of MCC Haiti.

Originally Published in Mennonite World Review on October 27, 2014.

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Weekly Roundup: Nov 7

Rural Community in Colombia Photo: Anna Vogt

Rural Community in Colombia Photo: Anna Vogt

Paramilitary killing spree was Colombia ‘state policy’: Judge

A Bogota court ruled on Friday that a series of massacres, homicides and forced displacement operations carried out by paramilitaries in the north and northeast of Colombia in the late 1990s was “state policy.”

Will the International Criminal Court Investigate Mexico’s ‘Drug War’?

The violence of Mexico‘s so-called “war on drugs” has caught the attention of the international community, with calls for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to turn its attention to the country. If they’re successful, high-level government officials — or even leaders of drug trafficking organizations — may be prosecuted in the Hague. But it’s a difficult road ahead.

El Salvador’s Barrio 18, MS13 Learn to Farm

The vocational training program for incarcerated gang members is an encouraging sign for a country that has been overrun by gang violence. The inauguration of the prison farm is the latest in a series of initiatives taken by the Salvadoran government to find alternatives to the Mano Dura (Iron Fist) security strategies, which have only served to worsen the country’s gang problem. In September, President Salvador Sanchez Ceren announced the creation of a National Council for Citizen Security that will include members of the public and private sectors in creating an action plan to reduce crime and violence. 

Evo Morales: A Bolivian idol

On Talk to Al Jazeera, President Evo Morales gives an insight into his personal life and discusses his controversial decision to legalise child labour, his expulsion of the US ambassador, the issue of drug trafficking – and whether he plans to step down when this term is over.

The Guatemalan children who sued the state

“That the judges stated that there were violations is of course a result, but the goal right now is that these teachings reach more Guatemalans,” said José Castillo, Program Coordinator at Nuevo Día, which took the cases to court. “We are facing a government whose public policies don’t respond to Guatemala’s reality. This process, what it wants to do is tell the State to modify its policies. This is the only way to stop poverty and malnutrition.”

Facing deadly conditions, there’s no Hollywood ending for Latin America’s miners

In the end, awareness among global consumers of the source and side effects of metal extraction may be key in prompting diversification of economies and improvements in the sector. As audiences worldwide witness Chile’s “Los 33” immortalized on the big screen, they might spare a thought for those, picking the insides of the earth clean for the copper in their smartphones, who never make it out alive.

Crisis in Mexico: The Disappearance of the Forty-Three

Mexico’s struggle against political corruption and rampant organized-crime violence it breeds can’t be co-opted by any one ideology or party or movement. The popular hashtag slogan “We are all Ayotzinapa” really does have to mean all of us, both in Mexico and outside it. The civic movement that has begun must be sustained. Perhaps when the Mexican congress has finally been cleansed as legislatures were in Colombia and Italy, where sustained civic pressure led to sweeping dismissals and criminal prosecutions of corrupt legislators—why should it possible for those countries and not for Mexico?—Mexico, with a fresh start, can renew its passionate and necessary ideological arguments with the possibility of translating those discussions into honestly administered policies and reforms.

Canada Accused of Failing to Prevent Overseas Mining Abuses

The Canadian government is failing either to investigate or to hold the country’s massive extractives sector accountable for rights abuses committed in Latin American countries, according to petitioners who testified here Tuesday before an international tribunal. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) also heard concerns that the Canadian government is not making the country’s legal system available to victims of these abuses.

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Mass and peaceful march in remembrance of José Antonio’s death and demand for justice

By Sandra Kienitz, the Northern Program Coordinator for MCC Mexico

6. March downtown

All photos by Sandra Kienitz, MCC Mexico

Two years after his death, José Antonio Elena Rodriguez’s life was celebrated with a mass at the Paróquia la Puríssima in Nogales, Mexico. Co-celebrated at 4:00 pm by Father Sean (Kino Border Initiative, USA) and Padre Mauricio (Puríssima, Mexico) the message to family, friends and supporters was of prayer for the perpetrators, being transformed by the experience and reacting in non-violence, and not giving up hope that justice will come.

Present were supporters like the Samaritans, No Más Muertes, Kino Border Initiative, Martín Eduardo Moreno Ramos (the representative of the Sonoran Comision Estatal de Derechos Humanos), and many other organizations and individuals, including Mennonite Central Committee Mexico.

16. Mural JAAround 5:15 pm a group of 300 people of all ages marched in silence to the U.S. Port of Entry Deconcini carrying coffins with the names of victims killed by Border Patrol, holding up signs asking for justice and pictures of people killed along the border wall.

The group stopped by the border pedestrian entrance and chanted under leadership of César Lopez Jiménez (Colectivo Justicia Fronteriza) “We shall not be moved,” named the people killed by Border Patrol and responded “present”, and demanded “justice now.”

The march continued through the downtown streets, where the SUTAN (Sindicato Unico de Trabajadores del Ayuntamento de Nogales) was holding a protest and presented a good moment to share demands. Finally the march arrived at the border wall, where the Mexican group met protesters from the U.S. side led by the sound of drums and dance of members of the Tohono O´Odham tribe.

Araceli, Jose Antonio's mother, marches in memory of her son. Photo by Sandra Kienitz.

Araceli, Jose Antonio’s mother, marches in memory of her son. Photo by Sandra Kienitz.

At the place where José Antonio was shot and killed the participants stopped for a candle light vigil that was filled with chants and slogans for justice, songs about migration and border violence, and poems declaimed by participants, and an artist who talked about the process of making a mural of José Antonio. Several members of the family spoke about their desire for justice and to clean the name of José Antonio, who was first portrayed by the media as stone thrower who deserved what he got. All happened in sight of the same U.S. cameras that registered José Antonio’s death on Calle Internacional.

The family’s attorney (Luis Fernando Parra) who is leading the suit filed in the U.S. court in June 2014 updated the public on the progress made in the case. The request of the family is that justice be made now by releasing the name of the Border Patrol officer who shot José Antonio as well as the video recordings of the night of the shooting. With these Mexico would be able to ask for the extradition of the perpetrator.

7. By the wall


Published articles about the march:

Mundo Hispánico: http://hosted2.ap.org/GAAMH/b22f8bd5593e4837b9e65bbb4c733adf/Article_2014-10-11-AMN-INM%20PATRULLA%20FRONTERIZA-DEMANDA/id-21ea485303164d2dbf83bc6447cd6282

Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/jose-antonio-elena-rodriguez/

InfoNogales: http://infonogales.com/2014/10/10/piden-justicia-a-dos-anos-de-la-muerte-de-jose-antonio-elena-rodriguez/

Yahoo Noticias en Español: https://es-us.noticias.yahoo.com/piden-justicia-dos-os-muerte-joven-024432640.html

AZCentral: http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/arizona/investigations/2014/10/11/arizona-border-shooting-mexican-teen-mom-two-years-later/17088009/

Southern Border Çommunities Coalition: http://soboco.org/family-of-16-year-old-killed-by-border-patrol-continues-fight-for-justice-2-years-later/

Tucson Sentinel: http://www.tucsonsentinel.com/local/report/101014_shooting_anniversary/nogales-marks-two-year-anniversary-teens-fatal-shooting/

Pulso: http://pulsoslp.com.mx/2014/10/11/piden-justicia-para-joven-abatido-en-frontera-de-eeuu/

El Universal: http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/estados/2014/recuerdan-menor-muerto-patrulla-fronteriza-dos-anos-1045203.html

El Debate: http://www.debate.com.mx/eldebate/noticias/default.asp?IdArt=15359953&IdCat=17402

Primera Hora: http://www.primerahora.com.mx/index.php?n=131461

Nogales International: http://www.nogalesinternational.com/opinion/editorial/two-years-few-answers/article_1c9ee7de-5011-11e4-811b-93797ed130c0.html

FOX10Phoenix: http://www.fox10phoenix.com/story/26142050/mother-of-slain-mexican-teen-sues-us-border-patrol

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Weekly Roundup: October 10th

Woman in Granada, Nicaragua. Photo by Elaine Faith, Creative Commons License.

Woman in Granada, Nicaragua. Photo by Elaine Faith, Creative Commons License.

How Will Haiti Reckon With The Duvalier Years?

Instead of a trial, we’ll have a funeral. What will it look like? Who will speak, and what will they say? In a tweet, Haiti’s President, Michel Martelly, made clear the tone he would seek to set: “Despite our quarrels and differences, let us salute the departure of an authentic son of Haiti.” But how we remember Duvalier is much more than a matter of “quarrels and differences”; it is a question of how, decades on, we should remember and confront a haunting and traumatic history of political repression.

+ Evo Morales Coasts in Bolivia Polls, Despite Some Unexpected Critics

Bolivia is among the fastest-growing economies in Latin America and is enjoying relative prosperity. Morales has proved adept at balancing the demands of the many constituencies that his Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party unites, and he is poised for another election victory partly predicated on increased support in former opposition strongholds. But not everyone is pleased with his government. There are the anticipated long-term dissenters, including parts of the urban middle and upper classes, but there are also less expected voices, including some indigenous organizations, environmentalists and political progressives.

Dispatches From the Field: Return Migration in Mexico

In Mexico City, a very different dynamic is emerging. Walk into the offices of Teletech, one of the growing number of firms in the capital involved in business process outsourcing (BPO), and you will see rows of young people seated at computer workstations dressed in chic capitalino clothes or baggy California hip-hop gear. They handle tech support and social media for a variety of retail and telecommunications clients. About 40 percent of the office’s employees are returned migrants who previously worked in the United States.

Behind the Numbers: Marginalization and Insecurity In Central America

Social inclusion creates social bonds and attitudes conducive to security. In contrast, an environment of insecurity curtails freedoms and choices, and undermines the opportunities and possibilities central to the notion of social inclusion.

In the case of Central America, mutually reinforcing phenomena come together in a turbulent mix.

+ El Salvador Tries To Reign In Crime With Community Policing

The State Department helped the Santa Ana police make a number of reforms, including implementing new data collection strategies, creating programs to keep kids out of crime and introducing community policing techniques.

“Knowing your community, knowing who is there, who is coming, who is going, who is involved in criminal activity,” Rose said. “What changes are going on. What the concerns are of the community. And by doing that [the police] are able to win the trust of the community and they are able to collect that useful data.”

+ Gangs Can’t Stop Colombia’s Butterflies From Rescuing Women In Need

In 2010, they started a group they call “Red Mariposas de Alas Nuevas Construyendo Futuro” — “Butterflies with New Wings Building a Future.” Their goal is to support women who are victims of abuse, educating them about their rights and helping them report sexual crimes to the police.

Now they have been recognized for their activism. In Geneva last week, the Nansen Refugee Award — honoring humanitarian efforts for refugees and displaced people — was presented to the Butterflies. “These women are doing extraordinary work in the most challenging of contexts,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres. “Their bravery goes beyond words.”

43 Students Mysteriously Disappear in Mexico, Prompting Mass Protests

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Mexico on Wednesday, in response to the disappearance — and possible murder of — 43 student teachers from Iguala. Marches were held in 19 of 32 Mexican states, as citizens demanded justice for the missing persons.

+ Nicaragua’s Canal Will Wreak Havoc on Forests and Displace People, NGO Warns

But Danish NGO Forests of the World has accused the Nicaraguan government and HKND of failing to involve indigenous people in the planning process, saying the canal will wreak havoc on forests and force people to move.

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Weekly Roundup: September 26th

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taming the Beast: Mexican Authorities Block An Infamous Route North

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

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

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

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

Honduras Leader Rails Against Ineffective Drug War

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

Haiti To Hold Delayed Vote By Early Next Year

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

Farmers Protest Planned $50 Million Canal In Nicaragua

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

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

Justice And The Creation Of A Mafia State In Guatemala

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

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

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

Colombia Publishes Parts Of Draft Peace Agreement

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

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

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

Slices of Life in Various Parts of Guatemala

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Hoping against hope: Peace Day

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

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

By Anna Vogt, a service worker in MCC Colombia currently working with Justapaz, a Mennonite organization working for justice, peace and non-violent action in Colombia. Originally posted at: thellamadiaries.wordpress.com.

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

Community members from Mampujan receiving their reparation checks.

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

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

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

April 2014 103

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Drought, food security and migration in Central America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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MCC responds to child migrant crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading…

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

Understanding the Child Migrant Surge

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

Oh Mother, Did You Just Leave Your Children?

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

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