What is a Peace Prize?


Anna Vogt is the MCC LACA Advocacy and Policy Analyst. This post was originally published on Anna’s personal blog.

On November 18th, the Women Weavers of Dreams and Flavours of Peace of Mampuján won the National Peace Prize. But what is a peace prize?

A peace prize is a piece of paper with handwritten words on it. It can be held to to the light by a ten year girl or carried around in a giant white folder.  It wouldn’t be hard for it to catch on fire or get eaten by the tiny insects that live on the Caribbean coast. It comes with a lot of money that may be used to build an office to hold the sewing machines and stacks of fabric stored in plastic tupperware.


A peace prize is exciting. When Juana looked ready to faint from nerves before the presentation, I realized how important this event was for my strong friend. Seeing my neighbours on stage, as women and Afro-Colombians, with the entire country recognizing and celebrating their history and work is an amazing thing. As the announcer burst into tears as she said their names and the audience went wild, it was clear how the warmth and caring of these women had touched so many people from outside of their community, from the magistrate who ruled on their case to members of the United Nations. I cry when I think about one of my closer friends in the group, a woman who is living in a difficult family situation with little to no support for her community work, and the beauty of her country giving her a standing ovation.


A peace prize is an opportunity to ponder what it means to be from Mampujan, for the next generation. Doris and Elisa, both ten, asked me the questions they had been asked by reporters: what is the responsibility of Mampujan now that they had won the peace prize? When I turned the question back to them, they responded with the need to continue to model peace as an example for other communities. Mayo, an eighteen year old young women glowed as she shared her dream of completing her social work studies and staying in the community to work with youth. Especially as young women and girls, the examples of their mothers and aunts is a powerful lesson that they too can be leaders and changemakers.

A peace prize is depoliticizing. Choosing to award the prize to a group of six women instead of the community of a whole means that a larger process of advocacy and struggle for state attention can be ignored by a discourse that is solely about personal healing and reconciliation. Mampujan´s decision to take part in the first ever Justice and Peace process and carry on through years of chaos and administrative disorganization is an important contribution to peace in Colombia that also deserves recognition and a national conversation about transitional justice processes. Exactly four years ago this month, we walked to Cartagena to demand reparations; for the community as a whole, those steps were also liberating, healing, and political.


A peace prize is a moment to ask questions about trauma, forgiveness and reconciliation. When I told the receptionist at work about my evening, she googled Mampujan to see what all the fuss was about and found this video. As she watched, she kept pausing to tell me things I had never heard before about her childhood in Santander, at the time controlled by guerilla fighters. She shared moments of sheer terror: of seeing armed men through the slats in the wooden walls of her home and dashing to hide under the bed; stories of massacres in a nearby town; and of the fear she still feels today whenever she goes home to visit. Watching women who had gone through a similar experience of armed conflict and found healing meant that perhaps a life lived with fear did not have to be forever.


A peace prize is complicated. What does peace even mean when a retired general who started the consolidation plan in the Montes de Maria, basically bombing the territory into submission, is awarded a peace leadership prize at the same event that women from the Montes de Maria are celebrated for nonviolence and reconciliation after a displacement that was supported by the military in the area?


A peace prize is an awkward conversation in an elegant living room. At the very anti-climatic after party, we hopped into private cars and went to the colonial home of an artist friend. As we sat in easy chairs and ate take out chicken off china plates, the artist and a university professor explained over the heads of the exhausted women, with a contribution every now and again from Juana, about what it means for the women to win the prize, without ever once asking them. The winners seemed to fade into the background as their accomplishments were lauded without their participation.


A peace prize is a reminder. There are countless communities across the country that are dedicated to social justice and peacebuilding. Reconciliation movements in the Alta Montaña. Alternative crops in Choco. Education programs in Cali. Indigenous peace communities in Cauca. Campesinos across the country that continue to plant crops, play baseball and bathe in their creeks with pride. The list of grassroots movements seems endless; each initiative is worthy of national level recognition. A peace prize awarded to rural women is a chance to remember and celebrate the possibilities and power of change from the bottom up.

PicMonkey Collage

A peace prize is a moment of wonder. Yes, it is complicated, like most parts of life in Colombian. I am, however, filled with pride and wonder at the very fact that four years and two months ago, I moved to Mampujan with no idea about what lay ahead. Last night, I hugged Gledis, Juana, Alexandra and Ana  at an event that I never imagined would weave its way into my story here in Colombia. What else is possible? A peace prize may be a simple piece of paper, but it is so much more in the lives of each one of us, in very different ways.

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Showing Haiti on Its Own Terms

Haiti on its own terms

A young girl dressed in her Sunday best rides on her mother’s mule. Her home is in the mountains in the background.  PHOTOGRAPH BY PHILOMÈNE JOSEPH, 20

‘Haitians are tired of seeing stories in foreign papers about how helpless we are,” said Junior St. Vil, my translator and a travel consultant who has also embarked on a law degree. “There is so much beauty here, so much power.”  

A recently published article in the National Geographic Magazine by Alexandra Fuller attempts to do just that, to show the beauty and power of Haiti and of Haitians, providing a space for them to use their own words and images. Haitian student photographers, ranging in age from 14 to mid 30s gathered together to show Haiti as it is rarely seen from outside, but rather from their perspective of the country as “a place of pride and possibility.”

While we encourage you to read the entire article, we want to highlight some of the photos and a few of the voices you will find there. Hopefully, it will show us not only the beauty and power of an often misrepresented place, but also encourage us to ask questions about how we portray other countries and people.

This article is not only about the beauty, however, but also the colonial structures that have made life difficult for Haitians and their continual resistance; many of these structures continue to be supported by the United States.

Haiti own terms

Douze caught the early morning action on the beach in Jacmel as fishermen hauled in their nets. “I love how our fishermen work,” he says, “with a lot of determination to catch fish in order to feed their families.” PHOTOGRAPH BY WILKY DOUZE, 19

“We haven’t learned how to shut the door to the mechanics who want to come and fix us,” Nixon Boumba, a Haitian human rights activist, told me. “They change the parts, but they don’t fix the car. And of course, things got worse after the earthquake. People were so desperate for relief. They put out their hands for help.”

“The government has created a big hole, and then it does nothing to stop that hole being filled by those who come to extract every last drop of energy, initiative, and wealth from us,” Nixon Boumba told me. “We can’t keep giving  ourselves away. We must continue to stand up for ourselves, for our land, for the wealth beneath our feet.”  

The article also features the Haitian Mining Justice Collective, an MCC partner working for justice in the extractive industry.

The value of the gold and other minerals—copper, silver, iridium—under Haiti’s ground isn’t known, but exploratory drilling suggests that they may be worth $20 billion. “Recolonization comes in two forms,” Boumba warned. “Either the foreign entities use your space to invade your markets with their own products, or they simply steal what you have. But there are a group of us prepared to fight the extractive habit.”  He told me about Samuel Nesner, a young farmer and activist in the country’s remote northwest who volunteers in his spare time to help farmers better understand their rights and the language of those who would remove minerals from their land.

Haiti on own terms

A girl runs past the Maison Boucard, a historic home in this once wealthy city where fortunes were made in the coffee trade. PHOTOGRAPH BY DARRY ENDY DULCINÉ, 16

“He reminds me that it is all about education and empowerment,” Nesner said. “Historically mining has negatively impacted the environment, poisoning water and soil. The problem is, if you are an uneducated, illiterate peasant, how can you argue with someone with an engineering degree, someone in political power, someone from the World Bank?”

Vixamar smiled. “Please tell the U.S. government to stop bothering our country and give us a chance to take destiny in our own hands. That will contribute to peace in the world.”

Vixamar’s solution seemed unlikely and at the same time an understandable response to a history that experience would suggest is programmed to repeat itself. Nesner agreed, but he had an answer. “If ordinary Haitian people have a say on whether and how Haitian mineral wealth is extracted, that may finally change the pattern.” He appeared undisturbed by the overwhelming odds against his endeavors. “Haitians are rooted in resistance.”

Read the full article here.

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Weekly News Roundup, Nov 20


Graduation ceremony in Pichilin, Colombia. Anna Vogt

Fragmentation and the Changing Face of LatAm Organized Crime

The shifts analyzed by this work have profound analytical and practical implications. The differences between groups (international or local, enterprise groups or contractor, territorial or trafficking) are becoming more diffuse, with multiple gray zones in which the “levels” and “tiers” are commingled. From the policy perspective, this dynamic is causing confusion and it is not clear within the State who should respond and under what strategy. In this context, the spotlight must move from the international and national dimension to specific territories: villages, cities, and neighborhoods where different dynamics and actors converge to obtain profits from legal and illegal activities, employing threats and violence as needed. The recognition of this transition is a first step to rethink the security challenges in Latin America and the necessity to find new frameworks to respond to a dynamic threat.

Mexicans returning home outnumber those immigrating to US, study shows

More Mexicans are leaving the United States than migrating into the country, marking a reversal of one of the most significant immigration trends in US history.A study published on Thursday by the Pew Research Center said a desire to reunite families is the primary reason Mexicans go home. A sluggish US recovery from the Great Recession also contributed. Meanwhile, tougher border enforcement has deterred some Mexicans from coming to the United States.

Mexico detentions of migrants up 73% in crackdown on southern border

Mexico detained 73% more migrants since the announcement of an operation to shore up security on its southern border, according to a study released on Wednesday by human rights and migrants’ advocates groups. The study found that about 168,000 migrants were detained in Mexico from July 2014 to June of this year, up from some 97,000 during the previous 12-month period. It was based on government data, case documentation from migrants’ shelters, interviews with authorities, migrants and advocates and other sources.

Head of Guatemala’s CICIG Reflects on Past Victories, Challenges Ahead

It’s diverse but it has to find ways to participate. Naturally it won’t be the whole of society, because society is not just one group. There are sectors, interests and contradictions within society, but we can surely talk of general objectives, objectives that are shared among larger segments of society, and take advantage of this as a chance to rebuild the social fabric that is barely visible here in Guatemala. There are small aspects of everyday life around which the population, the municipalities, could organize… It’s a process, of course, but it’s a process that reflects the need for citizens to show an interest in state issues, for the public to participate in political issues like public administration. In our countries we are used to issues just getting decided, but this concept is one that allows our countries to reach where they are now.

Honduras: Canadian investor in court over seizing Garifuna land

In 2007, Garifuna from the Rio Negro community were removed from Trujillo Bay after Jorgensen allegedly snapped up tracts of land illegally purchased through local agents, according to OFRANEH, the Fraternal Black Organization of Honduras. The ‘porn king’ later obtained land belonging to the communities of Gualaulupe, Santa Fe, and San Antonio. One of Honduras’ chief tourism investors, Jorgensen and his company ‘Banana Coast’ have ploughed millions of dollars into the development of a cruise ship dock and an ocean-front commercial centre. Another one of Jorgensen’s companies, Life Vision Developments, has more than 1500 acres of residential and commercial real estate under development which it is selling to retirees and vacationers seeking a piece of paradise.

NGOs call for end to human rights abuses in the Latin American palm oil sector

A coalition of NGOs – including Friends of the Earth-United States, Rainforest Action Network, ActionAid USA and the Guatemala Human Rights Commission – have warned traders about human rights violations occurring in the Mesoamerican palm oil sector. In a letter sent to global commodity brokers, including Bunge, IOI, Cargill and ADM, the NGOs called for plans to be put in place to halt human right abuses and environmental damage caused by palm oil supply chains.

Dominicans of Haitian descent turned into ‘ghost citizens’, says Amnesty

The Dominican Republic has violated the human rights of tens of thousands of people by stripping several generations of citizenship, according to a scathing new report by Amnesty International. The report details decades of discriminatory practices codified into laws that have turned Haitians and their DR-born children into “ghost citizens”. These stateless people lack identity papers for work, healthcare, schooling or the right to live in either nation on the island. “With the stroke of a pen, authorities in the Dominican Republic have effectively wiped four generations of Dominicans off the map,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty’s Americas director.

Blood gold: From conflict zones in Colombia to jewelry stores in the US

Like the mayor, most people in Cauca say they will welcome an agreement. They know there is only one alternative to negotiations: more war. But they are doubtful that they will see true peace, just violence with a different face. They fear that the demobilization of the FARC will trigger another resource war for gold and drugs like the one in Bajo Cauca after the AUC disbanded. And it is a fear that is well-founded, says Cepeda, the senator, especially in Cauca, where there are powerful interests with a stake in mining.  “I am completely convinced that Colombia is not going to have a tranquil transition to peace,” he says. “If there is an agreement, it will be about taking apart these territories.”

The Importance of Land for Women Confronting Patriarchy and Climate Change

The community of María Auxiliadora is an example that arises out of women’s experiences and looks to create the conditions which, as a minimum, are necessary to confront both violence against women and climate change, in a structural way. For women to have access to land, for women’s lives to matter, along with pursuing sustainable practices such as allotments, compost toilets, preserving vegetables …to paraphrase Vandana Shiva: “The most revolutionary act in current times is to grow your own food.”

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When Justice Looks Like Paperwork



Courtesy Association for a More Just Society

Katerina Parsons, a Michigan native, graduated from Calvin College and now is working at the Association for a More Just Society in Tegucigalpa, Honduras through MCC’s SALT program. At AJS, she is able to see firsthand how brave Christians are using good research, information, and record-keeping to make Honduras’ society more just. This post was originally published on Katerina’s personal blog.

It’s the end of the month, so I’m going over my budget and making sure everything is accounted for. Every purchase I’ve made all month is meticulously recorded, receipts are duly labeled, photographed, and filed in a manila folder. It’s tedious work. My spreadsheet rarely comes out right. I don’t like doing this.

My friends, family, and church donated generously through Mennonite Central Committee so that I could work here at the Association for a More Just Society, and through MCC all my expenses are paid – rent, food, transportation – as long as they’re all properly documented in my Excel sheet. Sometimes I wonder, when I enter my daily fifty-cent bus fare, whether this is all a little bit much.

But there is a reason for this sort of attentiveness, however time-consuming. In fact, I’m becoming convinced that these are the details that matter about an organization, that these records and audits and due process, as unsexy as they might seem, are actively bringing about justice.

“Transparency” and “accountability” are the mantras here in an organization that spends most of its time making sure that the government works as it’s supposed to.  It’s an uphill battle. No one thinks that they’re a crook, especially not people who have been unchallenged their whole lives. No one thinks they need the sort of accountability that exhaustive documentation provides.

Certainly a few corrupt people exploit regulatory gaps to steal millions of dollars or threaten others’ lives. But most people’s corruption looks a lot more tame. It’s clocking in twenty minutes before you actually start to work. It’s failing to get a signature. It’s signing off on something you didn’t actually do, because you’ll get to it eventually.

It’s not that any of those minor infractions breaks a system, but the culture it creates, the balance of risks and rewards it shifts, starts to strain a system to its breaking point.

The Association for a More Just Society (AJS) is Transparency International’s local chapter here, and last year signed a landmark agreement with the Honduran government that charged them, as civil society, with monitoring the transparency and anti-corruption efforts of major government ministries.

That’s how I found myself from the first day elbows deep in the Honduran Education System’s Purchasing and Contracts protocols. I translated graphs of compliance percentages and documentation delivered and began to realize why people say that the Devil’s in the details.

You can’t talk about justice on a big scale without talking about justice on a small scale. You can’t talk about education reform without making sure that it’s recorded whether your teachers actually show up to teach their classes.


Courtesy Association for a More Just Society

Take health – Honduras is one of the poorest countries in Central America, and approximately 70% of its population depend on publicly-funded hospitals for all their medical care. Yet too often they’re sent home without desperately-needed medicine to treat illnesses from heart disease to schizophrenia because the hospitals don’t have the necessary medicines in stock. When I visited the hospital, doctors talked about buying extra sutures with their own money for the times when the dispensary ran out mid-surgery.

There are two ways to respond to this system that isn’t working as it should. One could create supplemental medical brigades, donate medicines from abroad and send foreign doctors, form health nonprofits or give low-interests loans to purchase medicines on the private market. Or one could go to the source, the Ministry of Health itself, and start to ask questions about why it isn’t working like it should.

Transformemos Honduras, a program of AJS, did the latter, sending request after request for the sort of official documentation that would help them see how medicine purchasing was being managed. Though Honduran law says the information should be delivered within ten days, they waited six months, during which time these justice fighters probably didn’t feel very much like heroes.

When what documentation there was began to come together, it told a bleak story. The Ministry of Health wasn’t analyzing the market to see how much medicines should cost, and it wasn’t following the purchase contract process in the way the law laid out. That meant it was paying double, triple, even seven times as much for medicines as it should. What’s worse, the companies themselves were involved in writing the purchase orders, telling the Ministry of Health what medicines it should purchase instead of the other way around.

The already-strained Ministry of Health was overpaying for medicines that weren’t even necessarily the ones that were needed. Even worse, some of these medicines were never delivered, while others were delivered in unacceptable quality – after audits started, auditors found some medicines infected with bacteria, while others were delivered with only four of their 11 essential ingredients.

The story gets even worse – the warehousing government medicines was run by a woman who appeared to use the stash as her personal piggybank, forging medicine orders and selling the excess, mismanaging the disorganized warehouse so that expensive pills were left to spoil while people in hospitals died for lack of drugs.

In 2013, Transformemos Honduras presented their report, which was numbers and percentages and all the little pieces of methodology that sometimes seem unimportant. The effect was electric. The Honduran government immediately removed the director from her position. She, along with other wealthy, powerful people would eventually face consequences — caught in their corruption by a missing trail of paperwork.

It’s not always fun or exciting to sift through hundreds of spreadsheets or file the government forms that will give you access to hundreds more. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it. We need to realize that investment in “unsexy” work like social audits and performance reviews is foundational to creating systems that serve the most vulnerable well, and that transparency and accountability aren’t just buzzwords, they’re building blocks to better systems.

Working at AJS, I’m empowered to be a part of civil society’s oversight of government systems. But transparency and accountability touch my own life as well. It matters that I account for the money I spend, that I’m willing to be as open with my use of others’ funds as I want the government to be with their’s.

So I stare at the expense column in front of me. I write my daily 50 cents under the appropriate column in my expense spreadsheet, hit save, and then hit send. 


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Kumbaya Advocacy, Ya’ll


Anna Vogt is the MCC LACA Advocacy and Policy Analyst. This post was originally published on Anna’s personal blog.

At one point during a discussion on development paradigms at the last MCC Colombia retreat, Terry directed us to divide into two groups, depending on our first instinct when entering a new group of people or situation. In one group were all the people who immediately look for the power structures. Who has control and who does not? In the so called kumbaya group was everyone whose first instinct is to monitor the feelings. Is everybody getting along?

My only hesitation before joining the second group was wondering what everyone else would think. That thought only made my selection more obvious and I quickly joined my fellow kumbaya seekers.

Later, at a different meetings, we were talking about how kumbaya people usually work in positions like Connecting Peoples, leading learning tours and bringing people together, while power people tend towards advocacy.

As any good kumbaya person would, I got a little anxious. What am I doing?


Sure, I may love protests and direct nonviolent action just as much as the next power structure person, but that is mainly because of the energy that comes with trying to boldly make a difference, together. I get worried months before I even think about becoming angry, in contrast to a lot of my power friends. More than anything, I love a feel-good story about reconciliation and believe that seeking points of resonance, through creativity and connection is a great life goal.  Am I passionate enough, angry enough, strategic enough, critical enough, for advocacy?IMG_0058

Whenever he was in a pensive mood, Alex would sit me down and tell me things I needed to know. Topics ranged from the importance of building trust with youth to the three motorcycle ride rule. I was sitting in one of their uncomfortable blue chairs a few months before I left Mampujan as Alex began to ruminate on relationships, specifically between community leaders and organizational leaders. Just over a year before our conversation, the government had threatened to reduce Mampujan´s reparations from the amount laid out in their court order to the amount provided in the broader Victim´s Law. A reparations fund, set up to hold the surrendered wealth of the paramilitaries was empty, because thevictimizers had not actually turned in their riches.

The community was furious. No one had even informed them; I was the first one to find out as my google alert set to Mampujan started filling my inbox with news of their supposed reparations.

“Instead of going out and burning tires,” Alex reminded me, sitting forward. “We called our friends.”


Over the last seven years, Mampujan has made a remarkable number of friends in high places. Leaders have participated in court hearings, in festivals, in conferences, and in thousands of meetings. I was there when a high powered US Embassy attorney asked for second helpings of lunch in Juana´s house and when the director of USAID Latin America landed his helicopter in a field behind Mampujan Viejo and took off again with gifts of homemade jam.

Everytime someone called them to ask for their presence, the answer was always yes. I once begged Juana to say no, to something, for her own sanity, yet the only person she refused to listen to was me.  “You don’t understand, Anna,” she replied. “These are our opportunities and if we don’t take hold of them today, they will not exist in the future.”


Her strategy paid off when the leaders called then-current head of the MAPP-OEA (Support Mission to the Peace Process of the Organization of American States), a Mexican who was visibly moved by the community in every meeting he attended. He called his contacts in the Congress. Another friend invited the leaders to Bogota, where they joined the MAPP-OEA in quickly arranged, closed-door meetings. After a flurry of activity and worry, the state announced that it had made a mistake. Reparations would continue, on schedule and with the original amounts.

“You see,” said Alex as he finished reminiscing, “That is how we do things around here. We could be angry all the time, storm out of meetings to make a point, or refuse to talk to anybody. But we don’t. Instead, we invite people into our homes, make them feel comfortable, and tell them our stories, to show them that we are also human. Once they see that, we have allies for life. This is friendship advocacy.”

Chickens make me feel good.

I like to call it kumbaya advocacy. Of course, it involved strategy and critical thinking. I also don’t believe that people need to grovel to get what they deserve, but rather that the community leaders remembered that the people they were dealing with where just that, people. Like anyone, with power or not, they had feelings and would make different decisions depending on how comfortable they felt in a situation.

There are countless stories like this one. Another moment that has stuck with me was a phone conversation while I was doing a research internship on Indigenous education in Canada. I ended up talking about the formation of the International Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples with a member of the Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization. Everyday, delegates from Indigenous groups and various states would tensely argue the different points of the declaration, with every comment on the record. In the evening, Quakers would invite people to their home near the UN buildings in Geneva. It became a space of safety, mediation and encounter between people with very different opinions, to discuss ideas and conclusions, off the record. The public debate in the UN was important, but the private meetings, over dinner and in an atmosphere of trust, enabled the finalization of the Declaration.

When I think about looking for moments of resonance, of that connection between human beings where change can take place, it doesn’t seem quite as far fetched. I have much to learn from all the various ways of engaging in advocacy, but that does not negate my own preferences nor the power of relationships.

Let’s all work together. I mean, as long as y’all feel comfortable with that.

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Weekly News Roundup, November 13

Chocolate farmers in Choco, Colombia. Anna Vogt

Chocolate farmers in Choco, Colombia. Anna Vogt

From 1968 to the missing 43 – why Mexico’s dead and disappeared refuse to go away

“That’s true, this place matters,” says Villafuerte, whose father was at Tlatelolco, and was briefly jailed for his part in the protest. It’s a subject he wouldn’t talk about with his daughter about for years afterwards. Now, the images of the massacre are on display for families to visit together. Nevertheless, Villafuerte wants more for her country. “There have been changes since 1968,” she says. “I’ve studied the history and I’ve heard what happened from my parents. But when things like Ayotzinapa happen, I wonder how much has really changed. I feel like we still can’t tick off the list of what’s required for a democracy: justice, press freedom … We still don’t have that.”

Afro-Mexicans Are Pushing For Legal Recognition in Mexico’s National Constitution

Recently, member’s of Mexico Negro – an Afro-Mexican advocacy organization – launched a national movement to officially recognize Mexico’s Afro-descendants on the national census. The proposed bill would create a census category for Afro-Mexicans, which would help ensure that Mexico’s African descendants receive important access to social and economic resources. “We are joining senators and deputies to be recognized in the Federal Constitution and the missing federal states, so that the Mexican state pays off its historical debt with Afro-Mexicans,” explained, Sergio Peńaloza Perez, the leader of Black-Mexico. The bill also plans to be launched later this month in Oaxaca, Mexico at the 16th annual meeting of Black peoples taking place on November 13-14th.

Haiti to hear challenges in presidential elections results

Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C., said Haiti is facing a crisis of confidence. The 915,675 accreditation passes that were handed out to political-party monitors and observers, he said, make it hard to see where the elections, which had about 1.5 million ballots cast, “are credible.” “We don’t know how many of the votes are fraudulent,” he said. “There are several relevant conclusions. Among them, the U.S. and its allies really don’t care about either the credibility or the fairness of an election process as long as they get the results that they want. That was demonstrated overwhelmingly in 2010 and now you see it again.”

Guatemala bans child marriage but ‘cultural shift’ required, advocates say

Guatemala has raised the minimum age for marriage to 18, but women’s rights campaigners said enforcing the new law would be a challenge in a country where nearly one-third of girls are currently married by that age. The law, approved by Congress earlier this month by 87 votes to 15, raised the minimum marriage age from 14 for girls and 16 for boys, but said 16-year-old girls would still be able to marry with a judge’s permission under some circumstances.

Honduras Indians’ land being seized by drug gangs and settlers, UN official says

Indians on Honduras’s Caribbean coast are suffering invasions of their lands by squatters, loggers, palm-oil planters and drug traffickers, a UN official said on Tuesday. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, said drug traffickers cut down trees to carve airstrips from the jungle, recruited Indian youths into the trade and bought up land to launder money. Honduran Miskitos and other groups are demanding the government help them protect their territory in the swampy, heavily forested region.

The Nicaraguan Teen Teaching Young Girls Their Reproductive Rights

Despite the abhorrent state of women’s rights in Nicaragua, young women like Calero are continuing their fight at the forefront of countless strong movements, such as Born to Fly. “Thanks to feminism, and [the] courageous women who gave their lives in the fight for gender equality,” she says, “today I understand that as a woman I have a right to political participation, to work, to study, to decide on my body and my life, to build my identity independently and without impositions from any man or formal institutions that dominated society in the past—like the church—or who still dominate today, like the state.”

Electoral Results, Justice Accords Considered (Colombia)

The Colombian government and the FARC-EP headed back to the peace table in Havana last week and are scheduled to complete their 43rd round of talks on November 13.  It has been a busy month for politics in Colombia, with a longer than usual pause between cycles to accommodate the country’s October 25 municipal and regional elections. At the polls, peace and the post-Accord agendas played a relatively minor role in determining the voters’ preferences for mayors, council people, and governors.  Political analyst Alejo Vargas underscored the complexity of the results, in which personalities seemed to triumph over party politics.  In the cases of the mayors of Colombia’s major cities, he noted that “the tendency in nearly every case was to not identify candidates with a particular political force, but to underscore their management skills or their previous experience.”  Minister of Defense Luis Carlos Villegas, for his part, called the elections a “mandate” for “a balanced Colombia, without the extremes,” that should ultimately strengthen the peace talks.

Responses to Justice Accord (continued)

For now, the recent agreements have struck what political analyst Laura Gil called a “coup against skepticism,” and the expectations for peace are mounting quickly.  It is important all the same to keep in mind that what is being negotiated is the end of the conflict and to adjust expectations accordingly. That said, a successful peace accord will not produce immediate change and change will not happen automatically.  A sustainable peace will depend on the actions of the citizenry to help keep political will strong and consistent.  For this to happen, there is an ongoing need to educate the public about the peace process, what to expect, and the citizenry’s responsibilities for peace-building.  The clock is ticking however and there is little time to waste.

Bolivia Purchases Radars to Combat Cocaine Air Bridge

Morales has reason for optimism. Radar equipment has previously been credited with drastically reducing drug flights in Colombia, and more recently in Honduras. Moreover, the lack of radars has consistently been identified as one of Bolivia‘s key vulnerabilities in the fight against transnational drug trafficking. If the Andean nation manages to gain control over its airspace it could potentially reverse its growing role in South America’sresurgent cocaine air bridge. Radars should also enable Bolivia to better enforce other already-existing measures intended to reduce drug flights. Bolivia approved a plane intercept and shoot-down law in April 2014, but security forces have reportedly been unable to implement it due to lack of aerial monitoring equipment.

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The most interesting place in Colombia

Para leer en español 

Amy Eanes just finished two years of living and working in Istmina, Choco as part of the MCC Seed program.  She currently works in Bogota, Colombia with MCC in PMER, delegations and advocacy.  This post was originally published on the Seed Blog

When they first told me that I was going to live in Chocó, I cried. All I had heard about Chocó seemed exotic and dangerous – jungle, rain, armed groups, remote communities, mining, mercury contamination. I couldn’t imagine myself living there and thriving.

I was wrong.AE-IMG_0747

I didn’t know that I was going to live in the most interesting place in Colombia. I didn’t know that I would eat delicious food – salty smoked rib stew, fresh sour guava juice, fried fish, and amazing rice. I didn’t know that I would travel by river, surrounded by lush jungle, the breeze in my face. I didn’t know that I would buzz around in three-wheeled tuk-tuks. I didn’t know that when I would open the tap, out of my sink would run rainwater caught off the roof of my house.

I didn’t know that I would be surrounded by some of the kindest people, many of whom have colorful personalities. I didn’t know that I would meet so many people who have lived difficult circumstances – displacement, violence, loss of family and friends – and who continue on living with resilience and vibrancy, who have faced terror and fear and chosen love and life. I didn’t know that I would be interacting with inspirational figures who day to day make mistakes, get sick and feel frustrated. I didn’t know that they would love me, hug me and constantly tell me how fat I’m getting just after scolding me for not eating more rice and plantains.

I didn’t know that although I was entering a territory where there are armed groups, the ultimate power lies in accompaniment and trust, in listening to the people, in faith in God. I didn’t know that I would grow to feel safe here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI didn’t know that I would observe firsthand the effects of my country’s policies in Colombia. I didn’t know that I would see how my tax dollars are linked to the violation of human rights, and that I would get to know those persons whose rights we are violating. I didn’t know that I would witness how my country’s economic and political decisions damage the livelihoods of small-scale farmers by indiscriminately spraying glyphosate over large tracts of rural areas, contaminating water sources and withering food crops. I didn’t know that I would feel so powerless and frustrated by the larger structures in which I participate, intentionally or unintentionally, consciously or unconsciously.

AE-IMG_9399I didn’t know that I would start to feel Chocoana. I didn’t know that living here would eventually feel normal. I didn’t know that I would get used to three-hour church services. I didn’t know that I would be transformed by the experience of having lived in this place – that I would perceive the world from another side of the coin and observe life alongside those oppressed by the systems that I benefit from.

So much that I didn’t know, and so much that I still don’t. Now as I am preparing to leave, I find myself again in tears. Partly as a result of saying goodbye to the place that has been my home for two years; partly as a result of recognizing that my time here, this stage of life and work and transformation, is coming to a close. I don’t know how to properly thank everyone, but I know this: I am profoundly grateful for my two years in Chocó, for my Seed facilitators and fellow Seeders, for the ways Chocó has changed me, and above all, to the churches and people in Chocó who have made it meaningful.

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Everyday Migration: Patrick

Patrick in the kitchen at Casa de los Amigos, where he used to prepare meals and enjoy time with other migrants and refugees as they adjusted to life in Mexico City.  Nina Linton

Patrick in the kitchen at Casa de los Amigos, where he used to prepare meals and enjoy time with other migrants and refugees as they adjusted to life in Mexico City. Nina Linton.

The Casa de los Amigos, A.C. is a Center for Peace and International Understanding founded by the Quaker community of Mexico City in 1956 and a MCC Mexico partner. The Casa is a non-profit peace organization, a community center, the meetinghouse for Mexico City Friends, a social justice-oriented guest house, and a home. The Migration Program is based in the Casa’s unique hospitality and their rich multicultural community. Combining direct service, education, and collaboration, the Casa works to support migrants, refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrant crime and trafficking victims in Mexico City by offering temporary emergency housing and accompaniment.

Love might be the universal language, but here at Casa de los Amigos, in Mexico City, it’s often sports, and especially soccer, that help us first begin to bond. At the breakfast table, guests share stories of their favorite teams, they talk about Mexico’s soccer legacy and reminisce about World Cups past. In the evenings, volunteers, guests and neighbors head over to the Monument to the Revolution down the street to start pick-up soccer games.

This year we hosted a young refugee who found that soccer was a great way to build community in his new home.

Patrick, thirty-two years old, came to Mexico City from Cameroon searching for safety and stability. He arrived at Casa de los Amigos channeled by a partner organization that was helping him apply for asylum. Despite Patrick’s limited Spanish, he became friends with his roommates from El Salvador who were also fleeing their country of origin due to violence. Patrick was committed to finding his way in Mexico City. He worked with Casa staff and volunteers to understand how to get around the city and use the Metro and participated in our weekly community dinners.

Spanish classes. Casa de los Amigos.

Spanish classes. Casa de los Amigos.

He immediately joined the Casa’s daily Spanish classes for migrants and refugees and then never missed a day. At one of our celebrations with the other Spanish learners from all around the world, he taught us a popular Cameroonian song and dance, exemplifying a spirit of celebration despite difficult circumstances. As often happens, he also connected with the other students and formed a group of French-speaking friends who gave him tips on how to get by in the city. They also introduced him to a local Cameroonian soccer team. He never missed a game.

As Patrick became more comfortable in our community, he shared that he was a victim of torture in his home country because of his sexual orientation. Discrimination in Mexico is also a problem, but Mexico City’s center has traditionally been a positive place for foreigners and the LGBTQ community.


Spanish classes. Casa de los Amigos.

Each day, we saw Patrick becoming more comfortable in his new life. We saw him smile more.

After two months at the Casa, he found a room to rent thanks to a friend’s recommendation. After he moved out, he would get up early during the week to go Mexico’s National University, where he had received a scholarship to take intermediate-level intensive Spanish classes. Now in the evenings he works as a doorman at local bar. And since he works late on the weekends and lives far away, we’ve worked out an arrangement so he can stay at the Casa two days a week. And of course, Sundays are soccer days. He says that his team is the best and none of the Mexican teams can beat him. Patrick hasn’t let anything beat him yet.

Casa de los Amigos

Casa de los Amigos


Although people arrive from many different places, last year we saw a significant increase in the number of asylum-seekers in Mexico from Central America, mostly due to the increased violence in Honduras and El Salvador. The UNHCR (the United National Refugee Agency) has expanded their work on Mexico’s southern border which will hopefully result in better identifying refugees, a chronic problem in Mexico, as refugees travel alongside economic migrants and often are unaware of their right to seek asylum.

In Mexico City, we see a landscape that is becoming increasingly difficult for migrants and refugees, such as Patrick. Mexico’s Ley de Migración has made it harder for migrants to get legal documents and also harder for employers to employ foreigners. Local government offices in charge of supporting Mexico City’s more progressive and pro-migrant laws find themselves with smaller budgets and less political will to implement changes. COMAR, the federal government agency in charge of recognizing and supporting refugees and asylum-seekers also complains of a small budget while many migrants and refugees complain of inadequate treatment by this agency. The non-profit community works hard to fill the large gap left by the government and has continued to focus on strengthening networks within the city to especially help those interested in staying in Mexico and starting a life here.

Mexico’s Plan Frontera Sur, announced in July of 2014, has also heavily influenced the migration situation in Mexico. The Plan has resulted in the militarization of Mexico’s southern border, an exponential increase in the number of detentions and deportations of migrants in the country and a successful strategy to limit migrants’ use of the traditional routes (including the cargo train) to make their way north. As a result, partner organizations have been outspoken about the greater risks these migrants are now facing due to the fact that they must travel on more dangerous routes without the support of the network of migrant shelters, leaving them open to kidnapping, robbery, extortion, rape and murder.

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Weekly News Roundup, November 6

Street art in Bogota, Colombia. Anna Vogt

Street art in Bogota, Colombia. Anna Vogt

Poverty remains on the up across Latin America, Cepal report reveals

During a summit in Lima on Monday, the commission aims to increase measures to combat inequality, steadily rising over the past few years. Despite many Latin American countries profiting from an economic boom in the early 2000s, poverty is once again on the up across the region. While it is estimated 66 million people lived in extreme poverty in 2012, this figure rose to 71 million last year.

Red Tape Slows U.S. Help for Children Fleeing Central America

President Obama vowed a year ago to give Central American children fleeing violence a new, legal way into the United States by allowing them to apply for refugee status while in their own countries instead of accepting help from smugglers or resorting to a dangerous trek across Mexico. But not a single child has entered the United States through the Central American Minors program since its establishment in December, in large part because of a slow-moving American bureaucracy that has infuriated advocates for the young children and their families.

How one of the most obese countries on earth took on the soda giants

The battle continues. At the end of October, the lower house of Mexico’s congress, the chamber of deputies, passed an amendment that would have halved the tax for beverages with less sugar. But the political climate has now shifted; after the vote, all the parties scrambled to deny responsibility for watering down the tax – “The industry did it,” said one PRI deputy – and the senate quickly overturned the amendment. Calvillo, meanwhile, is campaigning to go further. In interviews and press conferences he talks about doubling the soda tax and removing the VAT on bottled water; a soda would then be twice the price of a same-size water. And he’s campaigning to go wider. “This is not just a battle for the perceptions of Mexicans,” he said. “The governments of Colombia, Ecuador, other Latin American countries, South Africa, India – they’re all looking at a soda tax. The world’s attention is on Mexico.”

Guatemala’s Civil Hangover

Many Guatemalans simply stayed home on election day. In the end, more eligible Guatemalans didn’t vote at all than voted for Jimmy Morales. Only 55% voted. Abstention rates— whether motivated by apathy, or to protest a system perceived as illegitimate, or because many registered voters are living in the U.S. where no absentee ballots are available— were even higher than usual. Despite rumors that the blank-vote and no-vote movements originated as a plot by Baldizón, and criticisms that such a strategy was no way forward, the push continued strong up until the day of the runoff election. “Tu dignidad no se vota” signs calling for people to cast blank ballots are still tacked up on walls all around Guatemala City. The phrase means, roughly, “Don’t vote away your dignity.”

Jimmy Morales, the New Face of Guatemala’s Military Old Guard

Morales had campaigned as an outsider candidate, the antithesis of a career politician. His campaign slogan, “not corrupt or a thief,” looked to ease voters’ minds following the revelation of a massive corruption scandal within the administration of ex-general Otto Pérez Molina. But unbeknownst to many Guatemalans, their new president’s backers represent the same forces that carried out some of the worst crimes of the country’s 36-year-long internal armed conflict. 

US has blood on hands for encouraging Honduras coup, says journalist (audio)

Journalist Fred Alvarado says the U.S. has the blood of Honduran journalists on its hands for encouraging a coup that brought a corrupt government against a democratically elected government. He looks back on the 2009 Honduran coup, and its impact today.

Honduras: the most deadly place for journalists in the Americas

The report, published on Monday, listed the deaths of 150 journalists in Latin America and the Caribbean from 2010 to its publication date. IACHR said that these murders were “allegedly for reasons related to the exercise of freedom of expression, because they informed, discussed or commented on events and situations that were happening in their community.” Though Mexico claimed the most lives at 55, it has more than 15 times the population of Honduras, where 28 journalists were killed. This means that journalists in Honduras were killed at a rate eight times higher than in Mexico.

Presidential Elections in Haiti: The Most Votes Money Can Buy

At least a half-dozen leading presidential candidates have come out before results are even announced to denounce widespread fraud in favor of the government’s candidate, Jovenèl Moïse. The allegations have been wide ranging: replacement of ballot boxes with fakes distributed by ambulances, mass ballot box stuffing, and burning of ballots for opposition candidates. Little proof has been provided to back up these claims. But the most blatant example was there for everyone to see on election day, and was in fact anticipated by electoral officials and international observers.

From narco to negotiator, will Colombia’s FARC be the key in reducing illicit crop cultivation?

“U.S. government has said that the FARC are one of the largest drug trafficking organizations in the world, in other words, when we are discussing drug trafficking and cocaine, we need to include the FARC in the top 10, perhaps even the top five global groups involved in the trade.” Brown commented during an interview with daily El Tiempo.  “I hope that if the U.S. government supports the efforts made by Colombian government we are going to need to update past politics and both governments will need to have the same objective: we want to reduce and eliminate the cultivation and production of illicit drugs, produced in Colombia and consumed in the U.S. We have the same objective, the only thing left to discuss is tactics, we have the same strategy, the question is what will be the best tactic for completing this operation.”

Our Brand is Crisis Parody Website reveals how depicted 2002 election campaign resulted a year later in 68 Bolivian deaths

The movie doesn’t show that the real-life client of Greenberg, Carville and Shrum, Sánchez de Lozada a year after his election in October 2003 ordered the army into the city of El Alto where they brutally repressed protests leading to 68 deaths and 400 injured. Sánchez de Lozada then fled to the US together with former Defense Minister Carlos Sánchez Berzain. Despite detailed investigations by the Bolivian Attorney General that confirmed their roles in the massacre and two formal requests by the Bolivian Government for extradition, the US State Department has yet to respond positively.

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Simple Living, with Cheese

Sept 2013 007

Anna Vogt is the MCC LACA Advocacy and Policy Analyst. This post was originally published on Anna’s personal blog.  

My apartment has been filled with blessed silence the last few days. On Monday night, I lit candles, slowly ate dark chocolate, drank a glass of white wine and read a book, all while listening to piano music. I felt more relaxed than I had in weeks.

Ely is gone.

For three weeks, my roommate and I hosted Ely, a young woman from the community of Libertad on the Caribbean coast. She was in Bogota for the very first time to attend theatre workshops. Ely is dynamic and creative, full of energy and life. I am glad that I had the opportunity to get to know her, learn about her life, and provide her a space in this crazy city.


I am also an introvert. Ely is not. Cultural concepts of being alone and needing space are also very different between the coast and Canada. I have lived on the coast- I understand that a life lived alone is not seen as normal. Even in Bogota, lines are always shorter than they appears because accompaniment, whether to the bank or the grocery store, is the norm.

Every time I sought solitude, to read a book or just be by myself, I felt guilty for leaving Ely alone, with nobody to listen to her stories or simply sit with her. I did not want to be rude, but I also found it exhausting to hear every detail of her day, for hours. (As an aside, this is why I will never be a parent).

When I am truly honest with myself, the experience was not simply a challenge because of cultural differences, but also lifestyle. When I moved to Bogota from the coast, I used to wander from room to room, in awe of living in a place with more than two tiny rooms. It was a miracle every time water came out of the taps. And then I could drink it!

Listening to Ely shriek in the bathroom about the hot water in the shower reminded me how different my life is now. When she mentioned cooking over an open fire, I cringed a little as I showed her how to turn on our beautiful gas stove. When Ely burst into incredulous laughter over the coffee grinder, the kettle and the French press, all to create a single cup of coffee that she finds much too bitter, I realized how far away from simple living I have come.


I once played a personality  board game with some family members. Each person took turns reading out loud from cards describing different personality traits; everyone else voted on which trait best described the reader. I was kind of surprised, but then not really, when everyone unanimously voted me as the hedonist of the group. That is, I like the so called good things in life: delicious food with complex flavours, beautiful art, clothes, good books, rich conversations, coffee in bed. These all form part of my definition of a well lived life, so much so that I worry about being pretentious.

Is it any wonder that over time living in Bogota, simple living seems to have disappeared from my life? When I lived on the coast, treats like dark chocolate and ice cream were seldom and I used them as rewards for cohabiting with mice. I haven’t stopped rewarding myself since. I have not, however, seen a mouse in over two years and the wonder of  things like a grocery store with imported cheese, flush toilets and free Friday night movies have become routine.

It is easy, though, to get caught up in a legalistic set of simple living rules that do not reflect a complicated reality.

After all, is it a bad thing if I can create delicious food everyday within my budget? Or should I be eating more Colombian, because I live here and a family of four Colombians can also eat on my food budget? Cheap food is a whole other issue- cheese may be on sale sometimes, but what about that free trade agreement? Does being a vegetarian most of the time cancel out my environmental footprint when I have extra long hot showers?  I bought my coffee grinder at a thrift store and my mini food processor (the new love of my life) with points at the grocery store; does that nullify their existence in my house?

What is essential to living a good life?  For Ely, people, especially her family and community are the most important. The rest are just things. Yet ownership of things demonstrates global structures and economic privilege. Poverty is not romantic. Ely’s sister, for example, now lives in Bogota alone, so that she can earn enough money to send back to her two year old son in Libertad.


Personally, my essentials include a space of refuge where I can be creative and comfortable. I like being able to be an introvert. I do think, however, that it is very easy for me to get caught up in my ideal comfort zone that I forget the structures in place enabling that zone.

When I overlook that, I then forget to open myself and what I have up to others, even when it makes me uncomfortable. Community is important, whether I am an introvert or not. Ely might not like my coffee, but the act of sharing it with her is still a good thing, even if it doesn’t undo privilege.

I’m still trying to figure out the rest (alone, with candles).

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