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:

Huffington Post:


Yahoo Noticias en Español:


Southern Border Çommunities Coalition:

Tucson Sentinel:


El Universal:

El Debate:

Primera Hora:

Nogales International:


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

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Weekly Roundup: September 26th

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taming the Beast: Mexican Authorities Block An Infamous Route North

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

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

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

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

Honduras Leader Rails Against Ineffective Drug War

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

Haiti To Hold Delayed Vote By Early Next Year

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

Farmers Protest Planned $50 Million Canal In Nicaragua

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

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

Justice And The Creation Of A Mafia State In Guatemala

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

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

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

Colombia Publishes Parts Of Draft Peace Agreement

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

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

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

Slices of Life in Various Parts of Guatemala

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

Hoping against hope: Peace Day

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

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

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

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

Community members from Mampujan receiving their reparation checks.

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

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

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

April 2014 103

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Drought, food security and migration in Central America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the department of Choluteca, southern Honduras, MCC works with CODESO, a social commission of the Brethren in Christ church. Year after year, this area is hit by repeatedly inconsistent weather patterns ranging from drought to flooding; climate change has meant that these inconsistencies are becoming more and more extreme. CODESO has been working hard to promote more long term food security strategies, including an alternative planting technique called “Conservation Agriculture.” While many communities in the area lost their crops this year, families practicing 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

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

MCC responds to child migrant crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading…

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

Understanding the Child Migrant Surge

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

Oh Mother, Did You Just Leave Your Children?

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

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

Action Alert: Conscientious Objector Detained in Colombia

jhonatan english 2From Justapaz, partner of MCC Colombia:

(Para leer en español)

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

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

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Thank you for your support and solidarity.


JUSTAPAZ, Organization of the Mennonite Church of Colombia

Peace Commission of the Evangelical Council of Colombia


Example Email


CC:,,,,  (Include your country’s embassy in, USA:


Juan Carlos Mejía Gutiérrez

Director de Reclutamiento y Control de Reservas


Warm greetings.

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

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

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

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

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

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


[Your Name]


Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Impunity and forgiveness


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

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

El Universal

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

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

Getting ready for a meeting in Mampujan Viejo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Understanding the child migrant surge


US/Mexico Border. Wikimedia Commons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shifter takes no pleasure in being proved right.

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

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

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

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

More resources:

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

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

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

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

Weekly Roundup August 15th

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

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

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

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

Canada’s Controversial Engagement In Honduras

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

La Bestia: Mexico Prevents Migrants From Climbing On Train

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

Has Colombia’s Time Come?

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

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

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

Rain Returns Too Late For Many Struggling Farmers

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

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

Influx Of Migrant Children Slows

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

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

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

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