Weekly Roundup, July 17

Colombian Church by Anna Vogt

Colombian Church by Anna Vogt

Faith in Action in the Rio Grande Valley

Neither of their options, whether they’re sent to a detention center, run as a federal prison, or released with a GPS-monitoring ankle bracelet, is humane. Their only reason for entering this country is being compelled to emigrate from their own country to another because of the violence in their homeland and fearing for the life of their children. 

Popular Protests Are Spreading Across Central America, and Washington Is Getting Nervous

Washington’s response to all of this is the Plan for the Alliance for Prosperity, showcased in a NYT op-ed by Joe Biden that held up Plan Colombia as the model. It’s really just the next stage in the “security corridor” the United States is building, running from Colombia through Central America to Mexico: a perfect machine of perpetual war. We might chuckle at the libertarian dream of starting year zero in Honduras, but, really, what the Obama administration is implementing is different only in scale: all of Central America as opposed to a few start-up cities.

El Chapo embodies all of America’s misguided anxieties about Mexico

So as Americans obsess about containing Chapo, the man, that focus is also a misplaced anxiety about containing the border, containing drugs and containing the movement of people when we should be focusing on reforming our own dangerous policies and attitudes. This single story of Mexico, designed to resonate with our anxieties, is more dangerous than anything that might actually cross our southern border. And the story of Mexico and America is more complex than a single bogeyman.

El Chapo Escape Illustrates Mexico’s Prison Problem

Under Peña Nieto, prison incidents have doubled and escape attempts are on the rise. Five federal penitentiaries have been witness to jailbreaks in the past three years with Joaquín Guzmán’s being the 12th. Joaquin Guzman became the third prisoner to successfully escape from a federal prison since Enrique Peña Nieto took office in December 2012 as jailbreaks have increased under the new administration.

Failure to Protect Witnesses Fuels Impunity in Honduras

The inability to protect witnesses can not only scupper individual cases, it also contributes to a broader culture of impunity by discouraging potential witnesses, or those who would like to file police reports, from coming forward. This situation is exacerbated by low confidence levels in security and justice institutions due to corruption and links to organized crime. While much media and government attention focuses on police reform in Honduras, the lack of witness protection highlights the need for a more integrated approach. No matter how clean and effective the police are, if arrests do not lead to prosecutions and convictions the country’s dire track record on impunity, and its security crisis are likely to continue.

Raising An Iron Fist Against El Salvador’s Gangs

The use of the military to fight crime in a country where the civilian population bore the brunt of the war’s atrocities is extreme. But, so too, is the extent of the violence, which, again, has helped fuel a massive migration to the United States. That’s why despite the cautionary example of history, some beleaguered citizens are calling for strong-arm tactics to quell the gang violence.

Revealed: USAID funded group supporting Haitian president in 2010

The U.S. Agency for International Development gave nearly $100,000 to a Haitian political movement with close ties to President Michel Martelly in the country’s 2010 elections,documents obtained by Al Jazeera show. The money was allocated shortly after Washington helped overturn the election results to thrust Martelly into power.

Will Colombia’s peace talks aid environmental issues?

“Conflict does not simply impact the lives of the combatants, but also the lives of the populations, the communities, and also the territories that people depend on to live. Yet environmental damages are not addressed in Havana nor or they considered to be war crimes.” During years of conflict, violence has forced millions of Colombians to flee. Multinational corporations, mining companies and large scale agribusinesses move in to use the land left behind. The often resulting environmental damage also impacts local communities and populations, revealing an institutional disconnect in the relationship with the land.

Colombian City’s New Face and Violent Underbelly Collide

But many residents say they believe the violence is meant to drive them from areas coveted as port facilities or waterfront tourist attractions. The port here has attracted large investments from Colombian and international companies. A new terminal to export oil is being built. A new container port is under construction. There is a new industrial park and a new container and trucking terminal. The total amount invested adds up to billions of dollars.

Pope Asks Forgiveness for Church’s Crimes Against Bolivia’s Indigenous

Pope Francis apologized Thursday for the sins, offenses and crimes committed by the Catholic Church against indigenous peoples during the colonial-era conquest of the Americas, delivering a powerful mea culpa on the part of the church in the climactic highlight of his South American pilgrimage.

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Weekly Round-Up, July 10

Montes de Maria by Anna Vogt

Montes de Maria by Anna Vogt


This past week, immigration attorneys have cited an incident at Dilley that they say is yet another sign that the feds need to end the practice of jailing immigrant families. According to attorneys with theAmerican Immigration Lawyers Association, some 250 children held in Dilley this weekend were mistakenly given full adult doses of the Hepatitis A vaccine. Crystal Williams, AILA executive director, claims volunteer attorneys at Dilley have noted a disturbing pattern of inadequate healthcare for women and children held at the detention center. Williams called the latest incident “beyond appalling,” but said it’s indicative of the conditions in which these families are held.

Military Helps Cut Honduras Murder Rate, but Abuses Spike

Former President Porfirio Lobo rolled out the military in 2012 to fight drug gangs and his successor Juan Hernandez upped the offensive, pledging to “put a soldier on every corner”. While that may help Honduras shake off its reputation as the world’s deadliest country, a litany of murder, rape and torture accusations by some victims and human rights groups against the military is haunting a country struggling to find its feet after a 2009 coup that sparked a surge in violence.


The Hillary Clinton emails released last week include some telling exchanges about the June 2009 military coup that toppled democratically elected Honduran president Manuel Zelaya, a leftist who was seen as a threat by the Honduran establishment and U.S. business interests. At a time when the State Department strategized over how best to keep Zelaya out of power while not explicitly endorsing the coup, Clintonsuggested using longtime Clinton confidant Lanny Davis as a back-channel to Roberto Micheletti, the interim president installed after the coup.

An end to impunity in Guatemala?

The United States and the international community should join in solidarity with those Guatemalans who are demanding effective citizenship. While the international community has to be careful about encouraging Perez’s resignation (or intervening any more than they already are in Guatemala), it should support CICIG and the Public Prosecutor’s Office’s investigation into any connection Perez might have had to these and other frauds, as well as illegal efforts to shield the president from prosecution. They are doing disservice to the rule of law if they are simply deferring a decision on Perez until he leaves office in January.

America’s Second Chance in Guatemala

Second chances rarely happen. Yet the United States is being offered one now. By publicly aligning itself with the diverse coalition of Guatemalan citizens seeking immediate democratic reforms, the United States has an opportunity to bolster a democracy that Guatemalans deserve and lay the foundation for a constructive relationship with an emerging Guatemalan political class. In helping regenerate a Guatemalan democratic spring, this time the United States can unequivocally stand on the right side of history.

Nicaraguan police clash with protesters in capital

Opponents of Ortega have long said he has bent the rules to win continuous re-election, pointing to a ruling by the Sandinista-controlled Supreme Court in 2009 to overturn a ban on consecutive terms. They want a change in the Central American country’s electoral body to provide for a more transparent vote. Armando Herrera of the Liberal Independent Party accused Ortega of muting civilian democratic voice in the country, dubbing the president a “dictator”.

Haiti appeals for international help as OAS prepares to visit Hispaniola

Accusing the Dominican Republic of dumping undocumented Haitians at the border “like dogs,” Haiti’s foreign minister Wednesday called on the international community to break its silence on the mushrooming migration crisis to help both nations find “a more humane treatment or approach.” Foreign Minister Lener Renauld also asked the Dominican Republic to return to the negotiating table so that the two nations could figure out how best to receive potentially tens of thousands of Haitians living illegally in the Dominican Republic and now subject to deportations under tougher rules recently imposed by the country that shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.

How The Dominican Republic Is Trying To Remove Its Immigrant Population

More than 25,000 people left the country voluntarily by the end of last month, according to government officials. The Dominican Republican government claimed that it would provide free ground and air transportation to the Haitian border for individuals who weren’t enrolled in the PNRE. But Phillips saw Haitians paying up to $60 USD to be transported on cargo trucks. Though these were people who chose voluntary return, Phillips stated that “they cited threats and other pressures on them to exit the DR, sometimes originating from DR police and militia.”Haitian officials who spoke with Phillips also “confirmed” that they “had heard stories of people being threatened with beatings, imprisonment or having their homes burned down if they didn’t leave.”

FARC Declares Unilateral Ceasefire Beginning July 20th

This week, it became apparent that the peace talks had entered a tipping point.  Polls show a growing public impatience with the peace talks and accumulating support for a military solution.   (See last week’s polls here.)  Yesterday another poll indicated that 75 percent of those surveyed did not think that there would be a peace deal with the FARC.  (See results here.”) The crisis in public support comes at a time when the negotiators are tackling the difficult issues relating to transitional justice.  Colombian government negotiators acknowledged that the process had entered what Sergio Jaramillo, High Commissioner for Peace, called “the most difficult moment of the process.”

The US Shouldn’t Export Colombia’s Drug War ‘Success’

By the Colombian government’s count, its security forces may have killed at least 4, 475 civilians. More than 5,000 state agents have been implicated. According to the United States government, the Colombian military continued to kill civilians through 2014. Yet, documents from the US Department of State and Department of Defense show the United States expanded funding this year for a program that pays the Andean nation to export its drug war and human rights “know-how” to new territories, despite the grave human rights concerns this fairly invisible strategy presents.

Pope praises Bolivia’s efforts to help the poor

Bolivia’s leftist President Evo Morales was at El Alto’s airport to welcome the pontiff, who praised Bolivia for taking “important steps” to include the poor and marginalised in the political and economic life of the country. Morales hugged the pope as he descended from the Boliviana de Aviacion plane on Wednesday and hung a pouch around his neck, woven of alpaca with indigenous trimmings.

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Peace is not achieved by saying “We want peace,” but by working for it

Amy Eanes lives and works in Istmina, Choco as part of the MCC Seed program. This blog was first posted on the Seed Blog

IMG_2332-web editLeer en Español 

Peace building in the context of the armed conflict, government neglect, and poverty is an enormous and multifaceted challenge, but in my role as a Seeder with the Mennonite Brethren Churches of Chocó, I interact with many who are diligently laboring to that end, often far from the spotlight. I sat down with Arosa Palacio, a member of the Jerusalem Mennonite Brethren Church in Istmina, Chocó, to talk about her life and experiences as a person who has been displaced by the armed conflict and has worked for justice in her community.

Originally from Chocó, Arosa and her family were living in another part of Colombia when intense violence forced them to flee their home and return to the department in the mid-1990s. “Chocó was our refuge of peace,” she says, adding that illegal armed groups had not yet arrived. Protecting their children and removing them from a violent context was their top priority. Upon arriving in Istmina, Arosa and her family sustained themselves through mining and agriculture, traveling down the San Juan River to work in various communities.


Three years after their displacement, she joined a group of displaced persons that had begun organizing, led by a local teacher. Under Law 387 of 1997, displaced persons were recognized and guaranteed assistance and protection in their process of resettlement. But, as Arosa explains, when the people went to claim their status at the level of local government, “they didn’t want to respond or accept the responsibility because they saw us as beggars. They rejected any formal declarations if the people arrived dirty or without shoes, but if you arrived well-groomed, they asked how you could really be displaced if you were clean.” As a result, the group organized trainings on human rights and a trip to Bogotá to meet with government entities to advocate for their situation as victims who had not received legal recognition.

The group’s advocacy efforts enabled them to gain official status as displaced persons but did not achieve the financial reparations that were their right. “They didn’t collaborate with us, economically,” she says, “but with recognition of our status.”

With backing by the Catholic diocese, the association of displaced persons started an agricultural initiative of raising fish, pigs, and chickens. Though it did provide employment for many people during its time, the initiative ultimately proved to be unsustainable. Arosa continued to work with the organization’s leadership and was later selected as its vice president. “They liked my way of working in respect and solidarity with the people,” she says.


Despite decades of work with the association, roadblocks remain: “I don’t have answers to respond to the needs of the communities…. I’m watching how things are going, but I also see that the government isn’t responding and isn’t fulfilling its responsibilities. The same people who wrote the law are violating it. We have been victims of violence, and now we are victims of the government.”

Acknowledging the power of prayer and the hope that she has for God to intervene in their situation, she states, “Peace is not achieved by saying “We want peace,” but by working for it.” Just as Jesus preached and fed the multitudes, so too the work of the church should preoccupy itself with both spiritual and physical needs. “Jesus, with the little that he had, fed the five thousand and had baskets of leftovers. The disciples who were with Jesus, when they saw the hunger of the people, told Jesus to send them away, but Jesus, guided by the Holy Spirit, was able to meet their physical needs. This is the Christian life,” she says, “to see reality through the eyes of Jesus.”

In addition to accompanying displaced persons in her community, participating actively in the Mennonite Brethren Church, and her role as a mother and grandmother, over the past twenty years Arosa has served as foster mother to approximately fifty children who have arrived at her door in a state of malnutrition and neglect. Just as Jesus was empowered by the Holy Spirit to feed the multitude, her passion to meet the needs of the people in her community and work towards justice is real and breathing despite the years of struggle and injustice.

Please pray for the Mennonite Brethren Churches in Chocó, their regional projects, and the women and men who work for peace in the midst of such difficult circumstances.

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The Butterflies of Buenaventura (Part 4): No Peace Without Women

Photo by Natalio Pino

Photo by Natalio Pino

Photo by Natalio Pino

David Sulewski, together with his wife Tibrine da Fonesca, works with MCC in Quito, Ecuador, coordinating the Refugee Project, a ministry of the Mennonite Church in Quito to refugees, the majority of whom are fleeing from the armed conflict in Colombia. This post was taken from their personal blog, Gathering Peace and is the fourth in a series.

Part One, Part Two, Part Three

Imagine the daily stress and fear of living in a neighborhood occupied by warring armed groups. You want nothing to do with them; you keep to yourself, going about your business. Imagine one day a group of armed men knock on your door, demanding that you give them something to eat. You know that the other group will most likely find out and accuse you of supporting the enemy. But, in this moment, the men standing at your door are threatening you and your family if you do not feed them. Imagine.

This was the very dilemma that a young woman in Buenaventura had to face, and she paid heavily for the choice she was coerced into making. She gave food to one group one day and the next she was shot in the back by another. Though she survived, she is paralyzed from the waist down.

On my last day in Buenaventura I went with Mari to visit this young woman who lives in a small community along the highway on the outskirts of Buenaventura. We sat with her and her husband, as their children played on the hard packed dirt floor inside their wooden shack.

With the highway expansion project underway, the encroaching road runs just a few feet from peoples’ homes.  A residen told me that it feels like an earthquake is shaking her home every time a truck drives by. Photo by David Sulewski

With the highway expansion project underway, the encroaching road runs just a few feet from peoples’ homes. A resident said that it feels like an earthquake is shaking her home every time a truck drives by. Photo by David Sulewski

Mari exudes a charisma that puts people at ease and easily earns their confidence. She listened empathetically, engaging the family with direct questions to fully understand their situation. She spoke encouraging words and then asked: Do you want to try to bring to justice the man who shot you?

As we left, Mari told her that the next step will be to share her situation at the upcoming case review meeting. Twice a month the Mariposas meet with government and non-governmental agencies to discuss cases and strengthen the legal, medical and humanitarian response to the crisis of violence. They also document cases of gender-based sexual violence to raise the visibility of this severely underreported crime.

Heading back into the city, Mari dropped me off at the entrance of a barrio where Rut, another Mariposa, was waiting for me. Mari informed me that this was one of the most dangerous barrios in Buenaventura. Here, the presence of the armed groups is strong and police have discovered casas de pique and unmarked, mass graves.

Rut and I jumped on the back of taxi motorcycles and sped down the dirt road, kicking up rocks and dust as we turned corners. We arrived at her house where she waved me in and sat me down at the table to eat a steaming bowl of fish soup with a heaping plate of coconut rice she had prepared.

“I, too, am a victim of the conflict,” She shared. Even now, as an outspoken Mariposa, she continues to receive threats. “They persecute me because I am like a stone in their path.” Looking around her home, resting her gaze on the photographs of her beautiful children hung on the cool cement walls, she said, “This is my home. I sacrificed so much to build it. I will never leave here.”

After lunch, we walked across the street to the community center (which she had built when she was president of the barrio) to lead a workshop for teenagers. For an hour she commanded the teenagers’ attention, leading them in community building and public speaking activities before facilitating a discussion about the Colombian laws that protect victims’ rights.

Photo by David Sulewski

Photo by David Sulewski

When the workshop was over Rut took me for a walk around her barrio. Indisputably a recognized and respected pillar of the community, she stopped to greet everyone we passed along the way. Further along, the road led to the barrio’s border at the forest’s edge. Waving her hand in the direction of the dense woods, she said, “Over there is the site of a massacre.” Just on the other side of the road, children played soccer on a dirt patch.  Despite the armed groups living in her barrio, Rut is committed to her community.  “This is my home,” she asserts, tapping her foot on the ground, “I won’t leave this place.” Like many of her fellow residents, Rut has already been forced from her home once in her life when she fled the violence in the neighboring region of Chocó back in the 1990s.

We looped back to her house to join up with a group of Mariposas to walk the rest of the way together out of the barrio to the main road where La Tremenda Revoltosa was preparing for their last demonstration. In the group I met Ana, Rut’s successor as president of the barrio.

Along the way, Ana called out to people sitting on their stoops, inviting them to join the rally. She stopped to introduce me to a young woman standing in the doorway. As we shook hands I noticed she had a tattoo of teardrops under her eye. “Come on, join us,” Ana encouraged her. “Maybe”, she replied flatly before stepping back inside. Once we were out of earshot, Ana leaned in to tell me, “Here, we respect everyone.” Respect is a good strategy for protection in a violent barrio, but it can also allow for an opening to a conversation that invites a decision to walk an alternative, peaceful path.

Emerging from the barrio we regrouped with La Tremenda Revoltosa for another festive, musical march for peace in Buenaventura. The march went down the main road and then looped back to the very entrance to the barrio where Mari had dropped me off only a few hours earlier that afternoon. As it began to grow dark, the rally concluded and La Tremenda Revoltosa piled back onto to their bus to head home. TheMariposas then began flagging down taxis for everyone else to get home. Sticking around here at night was not safe, someone told me. There, on the side of the road in the gathering dark, I said goodbye to the Mariposas, thanking them for their incredible hospitality.

As evening turned to night, I felt indignant at the darkness—and at the violence and fear that operate under its cover. Yet, what prevailed within me was the joyful spirit of hope and resistance that I witnessed animating the Mariposas. I thought, for these butterflies with new wings building a future, what does Buenaventura’s future look like? And, on a national scale, what can Colombia learn from the lessons of Buenaventura’s past, from its present state of violence and from the courageous example of the Mariposas?

After more than half a century of violence, the conflict in Colombia—one of the world’s longest civil wars—may come to an end in a matter of months. Yet, if the peace accords are signed, will they hold? Will there be peace in Colombia? Will the root causes of conflict in a so-called post-conflict era be addressed? Will drug traffickers continue to recruit ex-combatants, just as demobilized paramilitaries back in 2003 went on to form the very illegal armed groups terrorizing Buenaventura today?

A recent study demonstrates empirically that the best bellwether of a nation’s peacefulness is how well its women are treated. The higher the rates of domestic abuse, gender-based violence and femicide—crimes that often get dismissed as private affairs—the greater a nation’s insecurity.

The Mariposas are on the right track for building a peaceful future. By creating a network of solidarity, drawing needed attention to gender-based sexual violence and speaking out against the silence of impunity and indifference, the Mariposas are getting at the very root causes of violence, such as patriarchy, gender inequality, racism and sexism, to stop the violence against women and children.

Buenaventura’s peaceful future depends on the Mariposas just as Colombia’s peace hinges on women, on how well they are treated and how strong their presence and voices are in all sectors of society.

Photo by David Sulewski

Photo by David Sulewski

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Weekly Round-Up, June 26

Putumayo River, Colombia. AnnaVogt

Putumayo River, Colombia. AnnaVogt

Mexico takes lead to stem migrant wave, deports more Central Americans than the United States

Between October and April, Mexico apprehended 92,889 Central Americans. In the same time period, the United States detained 70,226 “other than Mexican” migrants, the vast majority from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. That was a huge reversal from the same period a year earlier, when the wave of migrants and unaccompanied minors from Central America was building. From October 2013 to April 2014, the United States apprehended 159,103 “other than Mexicans,” three times the 49,893 Central Americans detained by Mexico.

Surge of Detainees in Mexico Suggests Violence Still Fueling Child Migration

On June 21, Mexico‘s National Immigration Institute (INM) announced authorities have detained 11,893 minors from Central America during the first five months of 2015, a 49 percent increase from the number of child detainees during the same period in 2014. The INM said the majority of the children stopped by Mexican authorities are from Central America’s Northern Triangle countries (El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala).

Why Honduras’s Judiciary Is Its Most Dangerous Branch

The administration should oversee how the money is allotted. It should earmark funds so that they are spent on measures that might prevent a Honduran congressional majority from stacking the court with its own members again. And it should push for the enactment of a sensible presidential term limit — one that will be resistant to political manipulation — to fill the void left by the court. In the absence of any term limit, Honduran democracy stands vulnerable to the threat posed by would-be authoritarians.

America’s Second Chance in Guatemala

Second chances rarely happen. Yet the United States is being offered one now. By publicly aligning itself with the diverse coalition of Guatemalan citizens seeking immediate democratic reforms, the United States has an opportunity to bolster a democracy that Guatemalans deserve and lay the foundation for a constructive relationship with an emerging Guatemalan political class. In helping regenerate a Guatemalan democratic spring, this time the United States can unequivocally stand on the right side of history.

El Salvador’s skyrocketing violence is being met by youth who risk their lives to treat victims

Gang violence is skyrocketing in El Salvador. May finished with more than 600 murders, more than any previous month since the country’s civil war that ended in the early 1990s. Young people are often the victims, but the members of the The Rescue Command are on the front lines in a different way. The volunteers sit lined up in the half open courtyard, watching some old movies on a TV screen. Some others have already decided to rest in a small room packed with bunk beds. In the office just next to them, the ones in charge for tonight keep control of the radio and listen for alarms. The ambulances are ready, but so far it’s been a quiet night.

Report: Few El Salvador Homicides Involve Gang Members

Given the government’s inability to address El Salvador‘s ongoing security crisis, officials may see some advantage in writing off the murders as gang-on-gang violence, with the implication that average civilians are left out of the fray. However, not only is this a highly questionable assertion, the justice system can’t deprioritize murder cases simply because the victims were known gang members. Although police have said they are “at war” with street gangs, they are still required to fully investigate all murders, and failing to do so in the case of dead gang members could lead to an increased sense of lawlessness in an already volatile situation.

Is Nicaragua giving FARC leaders citizenship as shield against US and ICC charges?

The FARC has long financed its war against the Colombian state with drug trafficking and many of its leaders are wanted by the US. One leader, “Simon Trinidad,” was convicted to 60 years in a US prison after he was extradited over pending drug charges, but later sentenced on different charges. A deal between the FARC and Nicaragua would provide the rebel leadership with a safe haven in case a peace deal with the government does not provide enough protection against them being extradited to the US or being prosecuted by the ICC.

A Haitian border town struggles with new rules in the Dominican Republic

In the days before the June 17 deadline for undocumented migrants to register for residency permits — if they could prove they had lived in the Dominican Republic before 2011 — many predicted police roundups and waves of deportations. So far, what has happened instead are voluntary departures by more than 12,000 Haitians who fear that such a crackdown could turn violent.

Black Bodies in Motion and in Pain

As many Haitian migrants and immigrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent now either go into hiding or leave the Dominican Republic out of fear, we are witnessing, once again, a sea of black bodies in motion, in transit, and in danger. And as Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and the larger community of Charleston, South Carolina, prepare to bury their dead, we will once again be seeing black bodies in pain. And we will be expected to be exceptionally graceful mourners. We will be expected to stifle our rage. And we will keep asking ourselves, When will this end? When will it stop?

Colombia acts on massacres – punishing whistleblower and promoting officers

The Colombian military has received billions of dollars in American aid, training and equipment, making it one of the top 10 recipients of US assistance worldwide. US law, however, prohibits aid to foreign military units that violate human rights with impunity. Human Rights Watch called on the US government to suspend the part of military aid to Colombia subject to human rights conditions. “The safeguard mechanisms have evidently failed,” said Vivanco.

Decision on sea access will shape Bolivia’s economic future

The economic upside is the most obvious benefit, but just as significant would be the nationalist support that could, and already has emerged, said Sinclair Thomson, an associate professor of history at New York University who specializes in Bolivian history and politics. “At stake is a principle of national sovereignty which is historically very deeply rooted in the country, with significant legal, political, and cultural implications, and one that unifies Bolivians over and above their sharp regional, class and ethnic divisions,” he said.

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Press Release: UN Panel Says Peacekeeper Immunity Cannot Equal Impunity- Yet Report Fails to Address Haiti Cholera

Nepalese troops arrive to provide security for a food distribution at a police station. Port Au Prince, Haiti. Photo by Ben Depp.1/20/2010.

Nepalese troops arrive to provide security for a food distribution at a police station. Port Au Prince, Haiti. Photo by Ben Depp.1/20/2010.

UN Panel Says Peacekeeper Immunity Cannot Equal Impunity

Report Fails to Address Haiti Cholera, While Chair Separately Calls for Compensation

(New York, June 22, 2015) — On Monday, June 22, a High-Level Independent Panel appointed to review and propose reforms in UN peacekeeping publicly released its final report. The report calls for overhauls in the peacekeeping system, noting that it suffers from “chronic challenges.” Despite the mounting accountability crisis facing UN peacekeeping and prior assurances by the Panel Chair that it would issue recommendations to respond to the UN’s accountability failures in Haiti, the panel did not propose reforms that address continued UN impunity for cholera in Haiti.

“The UN’s lack of accountability for cholera in Haiti represents one of the greatest credibility crises facing UN peacekeeping today. The Panel’s failure to even mention it in its 111-page report is an inexcusable continuation of the UN’s policy of silence on cholera,” said Kathrine Garrison, Program Associate, Mennonite Central Committee.

The Panel did issue extensive recommendations for enhancing accountability for sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA). While the Panel emphasized that “immunity must not mean impunity,” it did not extend that principle to harms suffered by individuals outside of the SEA context, despite the well-documented deficiencies in its civil claims system.

The Panel’s lack of recommendations on impunity in other contexts is particularly notable in light of prior commitments to address the issue. At a November 20, 2014, press conference, Panel Chair and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate José Ramos-Horta called the question of UN accountability for cholera in Haiti “absolutely legitimate.” Ramos-Horta told the media that the issue would be taken into consideration in the Panel’s discussions and recommendations, stating, “Human beings, human lives were lost…We cannot just gloss over [it].” Yet the final report makes no mention of the issue.

On June 16, Ramos-Horta notably told the press that peacekeepers were responsible for the introduction of cholera to Haiti. Ramos-Horta then drew an analogy with a case in Timor Leste in which a Brazilian peacekeeper caused the death of a child, and the family was duly offered an apology and compensation. “This is how we expect people working under the UN flag to behave,” Ramos-Horta stated.

Ramos-Horta also emphasized the need for the international community to come together and address the issue of remedies for the victims of cholera in Haiti.

“The Panel’s silence on the cholera situation in its final report is striking in this context, since the cholera case entails ongoing, systemic failures of the type the Panel was commissioned to examine,” said Meg Satterthwaite, Director of the Global Justice Clinic at New York University School of Law[1], which advocates for international organization accountability in Haiti.

The UN’s responsibility for the cholera epidemic has brought to light severe deficiencies in the UN’s accountability system that reach far beyond Haiti. In 2012, researchers at Yale University found that the UN has signed 32 binding treaties agreeing to establish claims commissions to provide a fair hearing for victims of peacekeeping abuses, yet no such commission has ever been created.

“The problem of UN impunity is not limited to sexual abuse. Civilians who are injured by UN peacekeepers have nowhere to turn for justice. They can’t file claims with the commissions because the UN won’t establish them, and when victims turn to the courts, the UN asserts immunity,” explained Joseph Champagne, Chair of the National Haitian-American Elected Officials Network (NHAEON).

The Panel’s report does call on the UN to carry out periodic environmental impact assessments of peace operations.

“Reducing the risk of future harms from peacekeeping is commendable,” said Brian Concannon Jr., Esq., Executive Director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti and lawyer for the cholera victims of cholera. “But it does nothing for the families of the over 9,000 people already killed or for the 720,000 sickened by UN cholera, and it will not stop the cholera from attacking thousands more each year.”

The High-Level Panel was appointed in October 2014 to undertake a comprehensive review of all aspects of peacekeeping, including an examination of the impact its operations have on civilians and the infringement of human rights. It is the first independent review of peacekeeping in fifteen years.

Numerous civil society groups have urged the Panel to address accountability for cholera in its report on several occasions over the past seven months. A submission provided to the panel, which spells out the deficiencies in the UN’s accountability system, is available here.

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Kermshlise Picard, Communications Coordinator, Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti; media@ijdh.org, 617-652-0876.

[1] This communication does not purport to represent the institutional views, if any, of NYU.

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The Butterflies of Buenaventura (Part 3): A Rising Tide of Tremendous Troublemakers

Photo by Natalio Pino

Photo by Natalio Pino

David Sulewski, together with his wife Tibrine da Fonesca, works with MCC in Quito, Ecuador, coordinating the Refugee Project, a ministry of the Mennonite Church in Quito to refugees, the majority of whom are fleeing from the armed conflict in Colombia. This post was taken from their personal blog, Gathering Peace and is the third in a series.

Part One, Part Two

On a sultry Saturday afternoon in March, in the month that commemorates the International Day of Women (the 8th) and the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (the 21st), the Mariposas converged on a plaza in downtown Buenaventura for a peaceful march through the streets to raise awareness about sexual violence against women and children.

To passersby they handed out flyers that read: “A life free of violence against women and children is possible.”  Cars slowed to watch the gathering as the Mariposas waved their signs.  With the volume on their megaphones turned all the way up, they chanted, “Women have rights; we are with you.”

At that moment, a Bohemian bus painted with a mosaic of funky colors pulled up and out streamed a troupe of women outfitted with drums, trumpets and trombones. To enthusiastic cheers and applause, La Tremenda Revoltosa Batucada Feminista—The Tremendous Unruly Feminist Batucada —had arrived!

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La Tremenda Revoltosa is a recently formed, Bogotá-based, all-women musical ensemble that plays Afro-Brazilian percussion in opposition to machismo, heterosexism, racism, neo-capitalism, and all the effects of these dominating systems on the land, on the people, and on the very bodies of the women of Colombia, especially on Afro-Colombian and Indigenous women.

They had come to join forces with the Mariposas and to musically accompany their fearless cry for justice, for a stop to structural violence, femicide and ethnocide, and for a Buenaventura—indeed, a country—where all can live free of every form of violence.

Everyone stood in breathless anticipation as the ensemble got into formation. Motionless, with their instruments poised, the women fixed their eyes on their director as she counted down. On three their music shattered the silence—not just the physical silence, but also the silence of impunity, the silence that terror imposes on others.

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Everyone danced to the rhythm of the drums, moving their bodies in elegant, free expression. Animated by the higher power of music, the rally departed from the plaza and began moving down the street, stopping traffic as onlookers came out to watch—and even join in. The women of La Tremenda Revoltosa raised their voices in song:

La tambora haré sonar por la dignidad, de este pueblo que no quiere más feminicidios

Aquí vamos cantando, 

aquí vamos bailando, contra el machismo, el racismo también,

¡no lo olvide usted!

The drum will sound for dignity, for this people that does not want any more femicides

Here, we will sing, 

here, we will dance against machismo, and racism, too

Don’t you forget it!

To conclude the rally, they marched to the seaside park. The tide was high along the sea wall. La Tremenda Revoltosa formed a drum circle and the Mariposas danced in the center as the sun began to set, yielding to the new moon rising.

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As night fell, the Mariposas invited me to join them for a Lunada on the grounds of a nearby seminary. Beneath the soft glow of the new moon, these descendants of Cimarronas—enslaved Africans who escaped the chains of their bondage and fled to live free in the mountains—gathered to remember their heritage and to keep alive their ancestral practices that strengthen their identity as Afro-Colombians. Sitting on the earth around a fire, we invoked the names of women in our lives, living and passed, who gave us life and wisdom. Then, we blessed and shared a meal. The women recited poetry and told stories well into the night, relaxing happily in one anothers’ company before facing a new day filled with all its struggles and joys.

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Weekly Round-up: June 19, Special Focus on Haiti

Haitians face police while waiting outside the Ministry of Interior and Police to register in Santo Domingo, June 16, 2015. © 2015 Reuters

Haitians face police while waiting outside the Ministry of Interior and Police to register in Santo Domingo, June 16, 2015. © 2015 Reuters

The Dominican Republic (D.R.) is poised to begin the controversial deportation of hundreds of thousands of Haitian migrant workers and, potentially, Dominicans of Haitian descent who have been stripped of their citizenship. The impending crisis ushers from decades of tense relations between Dominicans and their Haitian neighbors to the east, and many observers believe international standards are being trampled in the process.

Dominicans of Haitian Descent Are Stateless: End the Crisis Now!

A controversial order of the D.R. Constitutional Court in September 2013 retroactively stripped citizenship from hundreds of thousands of Dominicans who are of Haitian parentage. In May 2014, the Dominican Congress adopted a law that created two categories of people: those who at some point were registered in the Dominican civil registry (group A), and those whose birth in the D.R. was never declared (group B). The law provided for a period of permanent residency with the possibility of naturalization, but only 5% of individuals from Group B were able to register before a February 2015 deadline and benefit from the program.

Haitian Workers Facing Deportation by Dominican Neighbors

In addition to Dominicans of Haitian descent, an estimated 524,000 foreign-born migrant workers, most of whom are Haitian, live in the D.R. They are also affected by the Dominican Government’s increased immigration enforcement. The government created the National Plan of Regularization of Foreigners (PNRE) that would allow for the legal residency of certain migrant workers with the registration deadline set for June 17, 2015. Human rights groups had hoped the government would delay the registration deadline for the many who experienced difficulty in assembling the necessary documents and clearing bureaucratic hurdles to register. This delay did not occur.

Dominicans of Haitian descent fear mass deportation as deadline looms

For non-citizen migrant workers to benefit from the Dominican regularization plan, they needed to establish their identity and prove they arrived in the D.R. before October 2011. To date, 250,000 migrant workers have started the application process for residency. Migrant workers who successfully registered are being granted a 45-day grace period in which their applications will be verified. While the government has promised there will not be mass deportations, many observers are skeptical. Recent Haitian immigrants to the D.R. were vulnerable to deportation prior to the July 17 deadline and approximately 40,000 were deported in the first quarter of 2015. .

Haiti’s Government Unsure How Many Haitians Will Leave Dominican Republic (Audio)

Haitian and Dominican civil society organizations have been active in advocacy efforts toward their respective governments. One of the lead organizations on the Haitian side is the Support Group for Returnees and Refugees (GARR), and they have been active in planning to meet deportees at the border and provide reintegration assistance.

Haiti Braces for waves of deportees from the Dominican Republic

While much attention is fixed on the Dominican government’s preparations for deportations, less has been given to the Haitian government’s role in this potential crisis. Efforts to provide the legal documentation needed by Haitian nationals to regularize their status in the D.R. have been slow, and the Haitian government has struggled to build and staff facilities to meet deportees at two of the four official border crossings the countries share.

To hear the stories of those affected follow #HaitianLivesMatter or Amnesty International’s Twitter campaign #UncertainFate.

We encourage you to advocate. Several petitions are in circulation:

Amnesty International USA Action Alert:

Send an email to Dominican President S.E. Danilo Sanchez

‘We the People’ Petition to the Obama Administration (for U.S. Residents):

Sign the petition entitled “Pressure the government of the Dominican Republic to stop its planned “cleaning” of 250,000 black Dominicans”

A Haitian man sought legal residency in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, after the government set a Wednesday deadline for worker registration. Credit: Tatiana Fernandez/Associated Press (from NYTimes article, above)

A Haitian man sought legal residency in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, after the government set a Wednesday deadline for worker registration. Credit: Tatiana Fernandez/Associated Press (from NYTimes article, above)

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In Times of War and in Times of ‘Peace': The Role of the U.S. Embassy in the Current Political Turmoil of Guatemala

Guatemala streets. Photo: Anna Vogt

Guatemala streets. Photo: Anna Vogt

By Tobias Roberts, MCC Guatemala. This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on June 1, 2015.

The United States government is no stranger to meddling in the politics of Guatemala. In 1954, the CIA almost single-handedly overthrew the reformist government of Jacobo Arbenz. During the 1970s and 80s the U.S. channeled military aid to the Guatemalan government through Israel and trained a good number of army officials that carried out massacres and politics of genocide against the Mayan population.

Bill Clinton, in a 1999 visit to Guatemala, even apologized to Guatemalan citizens for the U.S. role in supporting military violence in the country. “For the United States,”Mr. Clinton said, “it is important that I state clearly that support for military forces and intelligence units which engaged in violence and widespread repression was wrong, and the United States must not repeat that mistake.”

Clinton ended his speech in 1999 saying, “We are determined to remember the past,” said Clinton, “but never repeat it.” Memory is short, however, because today similar occurrences are underway.

During the past month, Guatemala has lived a political earthquake. Cases of enormous corruption in different government ministries have been revealed almost on a daily basis. For the first time in many years, different sectors of the population have united in massive protests around the country demanding the renunciation of government officials, including president Otto Pérez Molina.

In the midst of this situation, the power and influence of the U.S. embassy has been patently clear. The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a UN commission created to promote accountability and strengthen the rule of law while operating under Guatemalan criminal procedures, revealed the first case of government corruption in the Guatemalan tax ministry in April that lit the fuse to the beginning of the protests. For over two weeks, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators demanded the renunciation of Roxanna Baldetti, the vice president whose personal secretary was the head of the corruption scandal. Baldetti and President Otto Pérez, however, refused to respect the popular outcry for Baldetti’s renunciation, until the U.S. Embassy intervened.

On May 7th, officials from the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala together with officials from the CICIG met with Otto Pérez Molina to discuss the situation of political turmoil in Guatemala. On May 8th, Baldetti finally resigned. The question remains: Why did the U.S. Embassy exercise its power to demand Baldetti’s resignation and what strategic interests is the U.S. government after in this current political turmoil?

The government of Otto Pérez and Roxanna Baldetti was never very popular with the United States. Early on in his term, President Otto Pérez drew Washington’s ire by presenting a regional proposal to legalize drugs as a strategy to battle drug-trafficking through Central America. In 2014, the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala urged President Pérez to not nominate Blanca Stalling as judge of the Supreme Court due to her susceptibility to trafficking of influences. Pérez ignored the U.S. Embassy´s admonitions, nominated Stalling, and further debilitated Guatemala’s already very unstable judicial system. Recently, Judge Stalling’s son was implicated in the current corruption scandals.

Furthermore, the corruption in the customs and ports of Guatemala worried Washington. Osama Aranki is Jordanian citizen who was discovered to be involved in the structures of corruption affecting the ports and customs of Guatemala. His links to possible terrorist organizations in the Middle East led Washington to fear that corruption in Guatemala could eventually lead to the illegal importation of weapons from the Middle East to Central America.

These and many other incidents eventually led the U.S. government into pressuring the government of Guatemala into accepting reforms it deemed necessary. The resignation of Vice President Baldetti was only the beginning. Interior Ministro Mauricio Bonilla also recently resigned (most surely due to pressure from the U.S. embassy) and has been replaced by Eunice Mendizabal, a strong ally of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), another influential player of the U.S. Government in Guatemala.

The protest movement against the government of Otto Pérez Molina has clearly divided into two different sectors. On one side of the coin, the Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial and Financial Associations of Guatemala (CACIF) which represents the economic, business elite has partnered with the position of the US Embassy. They joined the popular calls for Baldetti’s resignation but have since focused on pressuring Pérez into calling for the renunciation of certain government ministers and replacing those ministers with those that fit their interests.

The popular movements of university students, peasants, labor unions, indigenous Mayans, and others, however, are calling for a National Constitutional Assembly to re-create a political system that they believe cannot be simply reformed. These sectors obviously represent the majority of the protestors, but receive very little press coverage. Their intent to reconstruct the Guatemalan State is feared both by the U.S. government and by the CACIF, both of whom are seeking to escape from the current political crisis with more power and influence over the institutions of the Guatemalan government.

In January of 2015, Vice President Joe Biden visited Central America to promote the“Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle.” This U.S.-designed plan intends to spend over a billion dollars in the countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador that make up one of the most violent regions in the world. Biden was also a huge proponent for Plan Colombia, a similar plan that the U.S. implemented in Colombia during the last decade.

The Plan for Prosperity, if passed, is to focus its investment in three main areas: promoting security, good governance, and economies open to foreign investment and international trade.

Promoting security means, among other things, more sales of U.S. manufactured weapons to the Guatemalan police and military forces. It would also, presumably, include a wider influence of the U.S. armed forces within Central America. The promotion of good governance would follow from the current actions being taken by the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala where the United States government would have a hand in determining who is to be nominated to positions of judicial power in Central America.

Lastly, the opening of Central American economies is the backbone of the deal. In a January op-ed in The New York TimesBiden states his belief that “Central American economies can grow only by attracting international investment. That requires… protections for investors; courts that can be trusted to adjudicate disputes fairly; protections for intellectual property.”

Since the negotiation of the Central American free trade agreements a decade ago, the United States’ main political interest has been the continued opening and de-regulation of Central American economies. These policies have caused untold disaster for Central American communities, both rural and urban. Even the issue of national sovereignty has come under fire, as international tribunals have ruled against Central American governments fighting against U.S. mining companies claiming a “right” to operate in the country despite popular and governmental refusal.

The current meddling of the U.S. government in the political turmoil of Guatemala of the moment is not coincidental. It is the result of a dogged determination to control the geopolitical sphere of Central America, a determination that dates back hundreds of years. The United States government is not so interested in combating the corruption affecting the Guatemalan government as in assuring control and its continued hegemony over a region that it has historically considered its own.

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The Butterflies of Buenaventura (Part 2): Our project in life is to be happy

David Sulewski, together with his wife Tibrine da Fonesca, works with MCC in Quito, Ecuador, coordinating the Refugee Project, a ministry of the Mennonite Church in Quito to refugees, the majority of whom are fleeing from the armed conflict in Colombia. This post was taken from their personal blog, Gathering Peace and is the second in a series.

 Part 1 

In mid-March I traveled to Buenaventura, Colombia, to visit the Mariposas con Alas Nuevas Construyendo Futuro.

From Cali I made the bus journey out of the Cauca Valley and over the Western Cordillera mountain range before descending down to the tropical, humid Pacific coast. At each turn in the winding road vistas of dramatic, natural beauty unfolded. Though Buenaventura is located only about eighty miles west of Cali, the trip took four hours. Traffic periodically slowed to a standstill whenever we passed construction workers laboring beneath the sweltering sun to widen the narrow, heavily traveled road or came to a military checkpoint where soldiers were on the lookout for smuggled drugs or guns.

Crossing the bridge that connects the port of Buenaventura with the mainland, I saw rows of tightly packed wooden shacks balancing precariously on stilts over the water. At the port upscale hotels cater to businesspeople and towering cranes load cargo onto massive shipping vessels.

The stark contrast between the sprawling, impoverished barrios and the developed, industrial port gives the impression that the people of Buenaventura are overlooked by economic interests focused less on the wellbeing of the people and more on the transportation of goods in and out of the city. Though 60% of Colombia’s cargo passes through Buenaventura, 60% of the population is unemployed and 80% lives in poverty.

From the bus terminal I jumped into a taxi and headed to the Catholic parish that has been providing the Mariposas with a safe meeting place in the middle of a violent barrio. Along the way, armed soldiers were visible patrolling the streets, a constant reminder of the invisible, yet very much felt, presence of the illegal armed groups.

When I arrived, Mari was waiting for me with a big, warm smile. She guided me upstairs to where two Mariposas were facilitating a workshop with a group of women. They were engaged in an icebreaker in which each woman would stand up, introduce herself and then do a dance move that everyone else would then mimic all at once while repeating that person’s name. I jumped right in, introduced myself and did what barely passed as a moonwalk. Everyone laughed as they slid backward on their feet all around the room shouting, “Mi nombre es David!”

For many of the women, just attending these workshops is an exercise in asserting their autonomy. One woman in the workshop stated firmly, “I don’t ask permission from anyone when I want to come here.”

Often, husbands do disapprove of their wives attending the workshops, accusing them of doing nothing but sitting around and gossiping all day. But, it is precisely through “gossip” (in Spanish, “comadreo”, communication by word of mouth) that the Mariposas build their strong networks of solidarity throughout the city. When they hear through their channels of communication that a woman has been raped, a trusted neighbor in the barrio who is part of the Mariposa network goes to visit and accompany her.

Through accompaniment and participation in the workshops, the women have a safe space to talk and to learn about their rights, otherwise the silent reign of sexual violence continues with impunity. Sexual violence is an open secret; everyone knows it happens, but no one talks about it. Though official figures register 6.8 million victims of the armed conflict nationwide, only a little over 6,000 have reported being sexually assaulted. This underreporting is due to mistrust of authorities, impunity and stigmatization.

In Buenaventura, armed groups violate women and children purely to assert their power. Sexual violence and forced displacement also go hand in hand, as these groups force their victims from their homes in a grab to control more territory. The epidemic of sexual violence, in addition to being a strategy of the armed conflict, is also the consequence of a combination of powerful, entrenched realities: patriarchal culture, structural racism, gender inequality and machismo.

This is the challenging and dangerous context in which the Mariposas live and work. With their profoundly personal experiences living within the armed conflict and direct knowledge of the culture and dynamics of Buenaventura, they are a vital and trusted community of women uniquely positioned to accompany victims of violence, advocate for their rights and prevent further acts of violence.  To date, they have helped over a thousand women.

By building up a community based on the principles of mutual support, accompaniment and sisterhood in which women learn about and exercise their rights the Mariposas believe they can realize their goal of eradicating all forms of violence against women. One concrete tool the Mariposas developed and distribute is an information sheet called the Ruta de Vida y atención en Violencias de Genero – Pathway towards life and attention in cases of gender-based violence. It illustrates all the medical, legal and humanitarian agencies to which victims of gender-based sexual violence have a right to access.

In the workshop, the women got into small groups to discuss what to do in the case of a woman victim of sexual violence whose life was being threatened. They referred to theRuta for guidance. The Ruta is a map, but the Mariposas know well that accessing care and taking the courageous step to denounce one’s assailant is a journey, which is why one woman in my group, after everyone had properly identified the appropriate steps, said, “Let us not forget that every step of the way we are by her side.”

Their vision of a Buenaventura free of all forms of violence against women of all ethnicities, sexual orientation, class and religious identity, also leads them to the streets to engage in public, peaceful demonstrations to draw needed attention to the problems of racism, discrimination and violence.

With the support of a Bogotá-based feminist musical ensemble called La Tremenda Revoltosa Batucada Feminista, the Mariposas had planned a demonstration for the following day in downtown Buenaventura. The march coincided auspiciously with the new moon, when the sea level rises highest, which lent itself for a powerfully symbolic image: a swelling tide of change for Buenaventura.

In preparation, the women drummed up ideas for slogans to chant. One after another, they threw ideas up on the board, such as: Queremos a Buenaventura sin racismo, sin machismo, sin feminicidios, sin homofobia, sin sexismo, en paz y libre—We want a peaceful and free Buenaventura without racism, machismo, femicide, homophobia and sexism.

Then one woman yelled out: No más golpes, ¡¡¡más orgasmos!!!—No more hitting, more orgasms!!! Everyone erupted with laughter. At first I blushed, and then understood that while they were talking about the kind of respect a man shows a woman by never hitting her, they also meant R-E-S-P-E-C-T, the kind Aretha Franklin sings about (if you know what I mean).

At this point in the brainstorming session there was no going back. Everyone began swapping stories about their men not paying them the respect they deserve.  Then the jokes flew, none of which I can repeat here. I soon figured out that they were telling these jokes partly just to watch this gringo turn beet red. By the end my ribs were sore from so much laughter.

Before leaving, Mari showed me their office. Painted on the wall was a brilliantly colorful mural of dancing women with words above reading: Our project in life is to be happy.

The Mariposas say that in some parts of Africa butterflies represent the human soul and the complete cycle of human life. Not unlike a butterfly, the Mariposas are on a journey of radical transformation. Though their reality is marked by injustice and suffering, they work tirelessly, but joyfully, to build a new Buenaventura, turning a seemingly hopeless, violent port into a vibrant, peaceful community where everyone’s rights are respected, where everyone can realize their project of living an abundant, happy life.

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