Impunity and forgiveness


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

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

El Universal

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

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

Getting ready for a meeting in Mampujan Viejo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Understanding the child migrant surge


US/Mexico Border. Wikimedia Commons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shifter takes no pleasure in being proved right.

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

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

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

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

More resources:

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

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

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

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Weekly Roundup August 15th

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

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

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

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

Canada’s Controversial Engagement In Honduras

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

La Bestia: Mexico Prevents Migrants From Climbing On Train

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

Has Colombia’s Time Come?

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

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

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

Rain Returns Too Late For Many Struggling Farmers

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

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

Influx Of Migrant Children Slows

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

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

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

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Oh mother, did you just leave your children?

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  • Send a letter to your members of Congress and to President Obama urging them to ensure that the U.S. government response to Central American migrants coming across our border is compassionate and humane and that any funds directed to Central America governments be focused on finding solutions to address the root causes of migration.
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Weekly Roundup August 8th

Drought in Central America. Photo by Diana Ulloa.

Drought in Central America. Photo by Diana Ulloa.

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

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

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

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

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

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

+ Drought Hits Central America’s Crops, Cattle

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

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

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

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

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

Liberals And Libres In Honduras: Powerless

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

Bolivia’s Quinoa Politics 

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

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

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

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

Honduras Homicide Rate Drops In 2014

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

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

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

 + How Chiquita Bananas Undermine The Global War On Terror

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

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

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

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

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

Bolivia Expects 163 Megawatts Of Renewable Power Within 10 Years

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

And from the LACA Blog Advocacy this week:

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

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

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

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Peace on the Hill – Above and Beyond Peace Accords

Chris Hershberger Esh:

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

Originally posted on PeaceSigns:

czehr_photoBy Charissa Zehr

For years the process of forging peace accords in Colombia seemed elusive. An armed conflict between government forces, guerrilla & paramilitary groups has long beleaguered the Colombian people. In 50 years of conflict, thousands have been killed, kidnapped and impacted by horrific acts of violence. Many more have been displaced from their homes, creating the largest population of internally displaced people in the world at a staggering 5.5 million people.

But since 2012 there has been some forward progress. The government and the largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), have been in peace negotiations in Havana since September 2012. Now, after more than 22 rounds of peace talks, people are cautiously optimistic about the peace process.

Tentative agreement has been reached on several key points, but challenges continue. Remaining agenda items include the challenging issues of addressing the needs and reparations for victims…

View original 385 more words

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Ocos Despierta: a community in the shadow of agribusiness


On the southern coast of Guatemala, BANASA and Grupo HAME have disrupted the lives of campesino Ocos communities in order to grow palm oil and bananas for export. They cut down forests, diverted a major river, built seventeen dams and polluted the surrounding land in order to grow and irrigate their crops.

In the dry season, all of the river’s water goes to the agribusiness, but when heavy rains come, the surrounding communities and fields are flooded. One particular flood a few years ago destroyed a million dollars worth of crops, devastating 700 families.

“Before we had much more water,” explained on resident, “we planted, we had our harvest, rice, everything grew. But the companies came and began moving the river, and during the rainy season, they started dumping the water on us, since the water was no longer useful to them.”

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


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Weekly Roundup August 1st


Guatemalan Court Rules in Favor of Indigenous People Over Goldcorp Mining in Sipacapa

The court says the Guatemalan government must respect the right to information and consultation with the local population before granting any kind of mining permits, according to international conventions. As a consequence the mining permit named ”Los Chocoyos” is illegal, and should be withdrawn.

Latin America’s Military is Making a Comeback

It was a momentous day for Latin America: On March 11, 1990, Augusto Pinochet, the region’s last military dictator, finally handed power to an elected civilian president.Since then, democracy has put down roots in the Americas to such an extent that few expect a repeat of the bloody coups that frequently punctuated the region’s history.But now, across Latin America, the military is flexing its muscles once again and taking on more central roles in society, including in ways that experts warn are posing subtler risks to constitutional rule.

In Colombia’s Troubled Coffee Lands, A Revolution of Quality and Resilience 

Many farmer cooperatives in the region are confronting and managing through issues like coffee leaf rust disease on their own terms and are leading a veritable revolution in crop quality – a high-end revival of Colombia’s distinct coffee appellations. These investments are yielding increased farmer incomes from a stable of new buyers interested in premium-quality specialty coffees, thus providing alternative income streams liberating many from the nefarious grip of guns, guerrillas, and the drug economy. What’s more, these community-based coffee enterprises are gaining the power and voice they need to support the fight against environmental destruction and land loss due to extractive industries (e.g., oil and gas, gold, silver, and copper) that lead to wide-scale land erosion, pollution run-off, ecosystem destruction, and community displacement.

ALSO: Colombia Saved Coffee By Fighting A Devastating Fungus

Guatemala: Opposition To Mining, The New Threat To National Security 
Spanish version here)

The San Rafael Las Flores mine conflict created something more than a State of Siege in response to residents’ opposition to the exploitation of their lands. It was the starting point for the Government’s trial of a new, secretly launched security strategy that terms movements opposing extraction as threats to national security.

Central American Children’s Testimony Humanizes Debate Around Unaccompanied Minors

Three children, who were once unaccompanied minors from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, testified to the violence they experienced which hastened their journeys to the U.S.One of the children, who spoke emotionally of her experience, was 12-year-old Mayeli Hernandez.  During her testimony  she explained that she had been treated better by the human smugglers who brought her to the country than by U.S. immigration authorities.

U.S. Policies Exacerbate Migrant Crisis in Guatemala

Guatemalan President Pérez Molina suggested that the U.S. should divert one tenth of the $20 billion that it has spent on securing the U.S.-Mexico border to invest instead in security in Central America.Unfortunately, this proposal, like Obama’s request to Congress for emergency funds, ignores how U.S. policies are contributing to the very violence and insecurity that many of the children are fleeing. As the case of Guatemala makes clear, there is an urgent need to stop and evaluate U.S. drug, security and economic policies to see how they fit into the root causes of this crisis.

Congress Passes Landmark Bill For Aid Transparency In Haiti

With bipartisan support, U.S. Congress passed a bill that will require more reporting for better oversight and transparency in the post-earthquake reconstruction efforts. It is now on the President’s desk, waiting to be signed into law.

Colombia Passes Peru As the Region’s Fastest-Growing Big Economy

AS he prepared to begin a second term as Colombia’s president on August 7th, the first name that Juan Manuel Santos inked in for his cabinet was Mauricio Cardenas, who keeps his job as finance minister. That was no surprise: helped by an investment boom, the country’s economy grew by 6.4% in the first quarter compared with the same period last year. Mr Cardenas says the second quarter was strong, too. The government will be raising its growth forecast for this year from 4.7%.

The Dominican Republic and Haiti: A Shared View from the Diaspora

In a landmark ruling, the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Court last September stripped an estimated 210,000 individuals—most of whom are Dominicans born to Haitian sugar cane workers—of their citizenship, effectively leaving them stateless. The ensuing outcry from the international community has included Junot Díaz and Edwidge Danticat—two of the best-known contemporary authors from the island of Hispaniola. Friends for over 20 years, Danticat (from Haiti) and Díaz (from the D.R.) have been relentless in their condemnation of the ruling.

Latin America Needs Presidential Term Limits

Critics of this trend say that incumbents have an even greater advantage over opponents than they have in, say, the United States. Only twice since 1990 have candidates who were sitting presidents lost elections in Latin America. But the recent success of incumbents owes much to their good fortune in presiding over a golden decade of commodity-fuelled economic growth, and in their distribution of some of this windfall to the poor. Now that economic growth has slowed, presidents have become less popular.

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Weekly news roundup July 25th


To Stem the Child Migrant Crisis, First Stop Poverty and Violence
Oscar Arias, former Costa Rican president and Nobel Peace Prize Winner, thoughtfully examines the root causes behind the child migrant crisis in Central America:

The root cause of this crisis is not U.S. immigration law or the policies of one U.S. president. The root cause is the violence and poverty that make these children’s lives at home intolerable. The root cause dates to the parents and grandparents of the young people fleeing their countries today — our region’s “lost generation,” those who were children and teenagers in the 1980s.

U.S. Considering Refugee Status for Hondurans
Yes please:

Hoping to stem the recent surge of migrants at the Southwest border, the Obama administration is considering whether to allow hundreds of minors and young adults from Honduras into the United States without making the dangerous trek through Mexico, according to a draft of the proposal.

Global Climate Change in Rural Colombia Is About More Than Just The Climate

The agrarian crisis associated with the effects of climate change cannot be seen as a self-contained problem whose roots lie somewhere at the global level. Many rural men and women in the Global South experience the environmental stress of climate change as a new challenge connected with longstanding local agrarian struggles against injustice, inequality, and exclusion. The effects of global climate change in the countryside, therefore, are to be understood in connection with multi-scalar political and economic processes that also impinge upon the vulnerability of rural families and their means of survival.

The place of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) in the development of this looming global food crisiscan be alarming, as small farmers produce nearly 70% of the food we consume in the region.

Haiti: Tourism Development on Île-à-Vache Island – Reconstruction or Another Disaster?
A controversial project in Haiti threatens to displace thousands in order to create a high-end resort destination:

Largely, the island community is not opposed to tourism. They are in favor of development which is respectful of their needs, which does not exploit nor threaten to take away their land; a project in which their participation is central and integral. However, they strongly oppose the current iteration of the project which is systematically violating their rights. 

Is the International Community Ready for Post-Conflict Colombia?
The Washington Office on Latin America explores this crucial question:

We sought views on preparations for a scenario we view as likely: the signing of a peace accord between Colombia’s government and the FARC guerrilla group, perhaps as soon as mid-2015. If the two sides reach an accord, the international community will have a large role to play, supporting many post-conflict (or at least “post-accord”) activities.

In perhaps a year, donor countries, UN agencies, and multilateral bodies will be compelled to shift gears, increasing and reorienting their aid packages. Are they ready to do that? Is the Colombian government helping them to prepare? What will the most urgent needs be?

Bolivia Legalizes Child Labor and Child Labor Might Decline
Many people are very concerned about Bolivia’s new law that legalizes child labor for kids ten and older. This Forbes article argues that this concern may be misguided. I’m not sure whether they’re right, but it’s an interesting perspective to consider:

It’s possible that economic circumstances are so dire that the children simply have to work: or at least some portion of them do, in order for the family to continue to survive.

In such circumstances making child labour illegal leads to lower wages for those children who are working. Obviously: illegal labour always gets paid less than legal given the risks of fines as a result of using the illegal labour. As a result, if child labour is made illegal then families need to send more of their children out to work, or for longer hours, in order to be able to continue to survive.

U.S. Court Tosses Out Case Against Chiquita Over Colombia Killings

A divided U.S. appeals court on Thursday threw out claims that Chiquita Brands International was complicit in the deaths thousands of Colombians during years of civil war.

Judges at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that federal courts have no jurisdiction over the Colombian claims. The lawsuits – brought by relatives of an estimated 4,000 deceased people – accused U.S.-based Chiquita of assisting in the killings by paying $1.7 million to a violent, right-wing paramilitary group known as the AUC, the Spanish acronym for United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia.

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Weekly Roundup July 18th

Guatemalan’s Aren’t Fleeing Gangs

This excellent article by Saul Elbein is the most insightful piece I’ve read on the Central American migrant crisis. The model of power in Guatemala is (and has been) violent and outside the legal system, from elite business families, to cartels, to gangs, and even private security forces (which describes to Honduras and El Salvador too). Gangs thrive in this violent chaos, but they are a symptom, not a cause:

So is it any surprise that after the war, on the streetswhere people grasped for the scraps that were left, where children grew up with no chance at wealth and less at respectpirate organizations like the MS-13 grew? 

What we’re seeing in Guatemala is not quite, in other words, a crime wave. It’s simply the way things have been there for a long time, pushed to the next level. If you are a civilian there, beneath the labelssoldier; gangster; policeman; army; cartelis but one underlying reality: men with guns who do what they want and take what they want. Your options are to buy your own security and gunmen; to join a gang yourself; or to leave. 

+ Why Aren’t Children Fleeing to the U.S. from Nicaragua?

Nicaragua has low rates of violent crime, gang membership, and fewer family connections to the United States than the Northern Triangle.

If U.S. policy was the main reason why there is a sudden surge of UAC, it should also pull UAC from Nicaragua. This suggests that other factors like the high levels of violence and strong family connections are the main reasons why UAC from the Northern Triangle are coming and why Nicaraguan UAC are absent.

How the Drug Trade Thrives on Free Trade in Mexico

The irony of touting market-based reforms as a means of sweeping the drug trade under the rug is that the cartels themselves have become some of the most ruthlessly effective multinational capitalist enterprises in Mexico. The cartels are beginning to diversify, making money not just from drugs and other criminal activities like kidnapping and human trafficking but increasingly from control over industries like mining, logging and shipping.

+ Inside the Turbulent Guatemalan Movement Against Canadian Mining

The lawsuit filed against Vancouver-based Tahoe Resources in BC’s Supreme Court has shone a light on the Guatemalans who have been speaking out against a Canadian mining company for years. 

Nicaragua Apparel Makers See Bleak Future from Trans Pacific Partnership 

Like elsewhere in Central America, Nicaragua is fretting that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will bring huge losses to its apparel sector, which accounts for 10% of GDP.

This is because Vietnam, already the biggest garment supplier and a formidable competitor, could enter the 12-nation free-trade bloc without a yarn forward rule of origin. If this happens as part of negotiations to strike a landmark agreement, Chinese yarn and fabric suppliers could flood Vietnam and the US through triangulation manoeuvring. 

Bolivia: Lessons from MAS

The MAS’s regional diversity is one of its greatest strengths.  As an organizational actor, it looks and operates differently in different contexts depending on how the political space is structured. 

+ Mexico Passing Brazil as Latin America’s Top Car Producer

Mexico is poised to overtake Brazil as the top Latin American automobile producer for the first time in more than a decade as surging exports to the U.S. spur factory openings and record output.

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