Weekly Round-Up, Febuary 27

Medellin, Colombia Photo: Anna Vogt

Medellin, Colombia Photo: Anna Vogt

Senate Democrats balk at $1-billion aid plan for Central America

Senate Democrats on Tuesday unexpectedly challenged the Obama administration’s plan to pour $1 billion into Central America to try to slow the flow of unaccompanied minors and others who enter the United States illegally. In two hearings on the State Department budget, Democrats as well as Republicans warned that previous administrations have spent billions in the region without substantially reducing its violence or easing its poverty.

Crime and the state: Latin America’s season of scandal

Almost every country in the region bears its distinctive mark of criminal activity, whether involving drugs, protection, corruption or money-laundering, and its particular understandings and accommodations, high and low, between crime and players in political life. But it is an open question as to why now, in countries supposedly transformed or revitalised, or merely repackaged for media consumption, certain crimes or scandals are mustering an indignant popular response rarely seen before. Nor can it escape notice that the crimes in question do not point in any straightforward way to an order from a president, minister or general, or any of the other more traditional sources of state-sponsored murder in Latin America.

From Nicaragua to the Arab Spring, sowing seeds of a counterrevolution

The counterrevolution’s hallmarks are an unapologetic ideological attack on democratic capitalism; the revival of “traditional” moral values allegedly threatened by the decadent, conniving West; assertiveness about national interests, real and invented; and, perhaps most important, flexibility about methods. Illiberal states, parties and politicians have learned to exploit democratic institutions — elections, media and free markets — in order to undermine them.

Mexico’s Disappeared

The disappearance of the 43 students became the highest profile example of the country’s entrenched corruption in recent years, something that – until now – the government was able to ignore. Fault Lines travels to Mexico to examine the scope of the unchecked criminal activity, investigate the case of the disappeared students, and meet families of those that have gone missing across the country as they try to find out what happened to their loved ones.

OPINION: Can the Violence in Honduras Be Stopped?

Looking at San Pedro Sula, it is clear that a dramatic change in political will would be needed for any initiative of this kind to be successful. International donors should not support a militarized security strategy, which would intensify abuses and fail to provide sustainable citizen security. Funding for well-designed, community-based violence prevention programs could be helpful, but only if there is a government willing to reform the police, push for justice, and invest in the education, jobs, violence prevention, health, child protection, and community development programs needed to protect its poorest citizens.

Controversy runs deep in Nicaragua’s canal plan

Amid all the angry rhetoric, one question remains: Can Nicaragua build a canal that benefits ordinary people, mitigates the project’s environmental impact and serves international trade?

Let’s take a look at some of the key controversies.

UN Cholera Plan for Haiti Must Choose Justice Over Charity

SPECIAL MENTION: This piece was written by Katherine and Ted Oswald, MCC policy anyalists in Haiti. The UN has an obligation to support Haiti in the cholera elimination effort;overwhelming evidence shows that the UN introduced cholera to Haiti in 2010. The disease, not seen in Haiti in over one hundred years, was brought by peacekeepers stationed on a UN base that leaked untreated human waste into Haiti’s largest river system. The river was and is still relied upon by Haitians as a primary source of water for drinking, bathing and farming. As noted by Dr. Louise Ivers with Partners in Health, “the United Nations has a moral, if not legal, obligation to help solve a crisis it inadvertently helped start.”

Thousands march in Haiti over Dominican racism

“Despite our diversity, despite our differences, we are a country, we exist and we deserve respect,” said Roman Catholic Monsignor Pierre-André Dumas, who helped planned the march. “We are neighbors, sharing the same island. The question of racism and barbarism need to be finished with on this island.”

Report Illustrates Dynamics of Colombia’s Domestic Drug Trade

A recent analysis on the relationship between local drug markets and violence and crime in Colombia illustrates the dynamics driving the domestic drug trade, and provides recommendations for comprehensive government interventions designed to result in long-lasting security improvements.

Is Bolivia going to frack ‘Mother Earth’?

Some Bolivians are immensely concerned. A collective of organisations and individuals calling itself the “Antifracking Movement in Bolivia” has emerged, and last October the Fundacion Solon in La Paz issued a “Declaration against Fracking in Bolivia”, describing it as a “highly risky and contaminating” technique using huge amounts of water and highly toxic chemicals with devastating health impacts

In this corner: Bolivia’s strong-armed fighting ‘cholitas’

For recreation in the sprawling city, a group of women began to create a circle of luchadoras inspired by Mexico’s famous lucha libre. Each Sunday, the women descend on a complex in El Alto and put on a theatrical spectacle, wrestling and taking hard punches, pulling hair, and leaping through the air, all while dressed in colored petticoats and shawls. The women have also become a band of sisters, operating through an association they formed in 2011 that would hold everyone accountable–not just the promoters–for ensuring each person received fair treatment and compensation.

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The World Bank Declines to Hear Haitians’ Complaint over Troubling Mining Practices

Haiti Feb 23

View of landscape in Haiti’s northeastern department. (Photo credit: Ted Oswald)

By Katherine and Ted Oswald, Policy Analysts and Advocacy Coordinators, MCC Haiti. This article was originally posted on their personal blog

This week the World Bank Inspection Panel announced that it would not hear a complaint filed by six Haitian civil society organizations who are concerned about plans for mining in at least five of Haiti’s central and northern departments.

The World Bank, since 2013, has been involved in helping the Haitian Government rewrite a 1976 mining law that would, in effect, make mining a more attractive investment for the American and Canadian companies that have been exploring Haiti’s soil for the past several years.

[Read: Haitian Groups Wary of “Attractive” Mining Law]

The Haitian Government has been divided over plans for mining activity. In early 2013, after hearing that 15% of Haitian land was already under contract with foreign mining companies without their proper approval, the Haitian parliament placed a moratorium on all mining.

It was at this time the executive recommended revamping the old law with the help of the World Bank, in order to help prospects for mining to move forward. Indeed, the current administration is looking to mining as one of the essential industries in helping Haiti “build back better.”

Sampling over the past five years have revealed that Haiti has gold worth up to $20 billion, which doesn’t include other valuable minerals such as copper and silver.

Yet local communities and the six civil society groups that make up the Justice in Mining Collective (Koleftif Jistis Min) are concerned about the new law and the way they see things proceeding.

Thus far, the new law has been drafted in consultation with mining experts, World Bank staff, and the Haitian government. Civil society has been notably absent, or rather, uninvited to the decision-making table. On one occasion, a few members of civil society were invited to a mining forum at one of Port-au-Prince’s fanciest hotels, but were not afforded an opportunity to speak.

It is feared that, in Haiti’s current political crisis where President Martelly is ruling “by decree,” the draft mining law could be passed by executive order, without even parliamentary approval.

Haiti Feb 23 2

Patrico in Haiti’s northern department. Many communities have reported mining companies coming uninvited onto their land to dig for soil samples over the past several years. In most cases the communities don’t clearly understand what it is the companies are doing there. (Photo credit: Ted Oswald)

[Read: As Haiti’s Parliament Dissolves, Oversight in Billions in Gold Mining Could Be Axed]

In January, the Justice in Mining Collective, with the help of the Accountability Counsel and NYU Global Justice Clinic filed a complaint to the Inspections Panel of the World Bank, over the high risk of environmental and social impacts of mining as well as the lack of information and participation available to communities over mining plans.

One particularly troubling clause in the new draft law allows for a ten-year confidentiality period for all documents pertaining to ongoing mining in Haiti.

Despite these concerns, which could affect tens of thousands of individuals in Haiti’s northern departments, the World Bank denied hearing the complaint filed by the Justice in Mining Collective on technical grounds.

[Read Press Release: World Bank Refuses to Consider Haitian Communities’ Complaint about New Mining Law]

Haiti Feb 23 3

The Pueblo Viejo gold mine in neighboring Dominican Republic is one of the ten largest in the world and is an example of open pit mining. It is part of the same Massif du Nord Metallogenic Belt as Haiti. (Photo credit: Pulitzer Center)

According to the Panel, the transparency and public involvement typically required of World Bank-sponsored projects does not apply to projects funded by the “Bank-Executed Trust Fund,” such as the rewriting of Haiti’s mining law, though the Panel admits that it ought to and recommends that reform take place in the World Bank system.

The Panel also conceded that there are significant risks associated with mining, and acknowledged the legitimacy of the Collective’s concerns.

Though the Bank is a key actor in the rewriting of the law and regularly touts the importance of public involvement and local participation, it is acting in this case as yet another exclusionary force that bars Haitian voices in matters that concern their own livelihoods. The Bank must realize that in Haiti’s current context, where the government is generally closed off to local opinion, local populations have no audience with decision-makers.

As international backers of the new mining law and investors in the industry, the World Bank must heed Haitians’ concerns over mining.

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Weekly Round-Up, February 20

Rural Colombia, Photo: Anna Vogt

Rural Colombia, Photo: Anna Vogt

Washington’s Prying Eyes

As the U.S. government maintains its uneasy silence about the kidnapping and probable murder of 43 students in Ayotzinapa, Mexico—or, for that matter, about the estimated 100 thousand Mexicans killed since the recommitment to the drug war in 2006—it is worth remembering that the United States maintains the largest and most elaborate international surveillance network in the world. Which, then, is the more troubling interpretation of events: that U.S. State Department and National Security Agency (NSA) officials know who is responsible for these horrific crimes but are choosing not to say, or that despite untold billions of dollars of investment in spy programs like PRISM and Boundless Informant, Washington still has no clue?

Denying Protections to Migrant Children is Not ‘Humanitarian’

Current law states that unlike migrant children from other countries, Mexican kids are not automatically transferred over by border officials to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) where they would be screened for their protection needs, given shelter, and placed with a family member or sponsor while they await their immigration hearing. Unless Mexican children can prove to a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer—which include Border Patrol as well as Office of Field Operation agents—that they are at risk of falling victim to persecution or trafficking, they are sent straight back across the border, without a chance to tell their story before an immigration judge.

Mexican drug cartels recruit thousands of students in Texas to traffic drugs and arms

The Mexican drug cartels have managed to recruit thousands of youngsters, in primary, secondary and preparatory schools in Texas, to form gangs under their control, in order to strengthen the flow of narcotic drugs to all of the United States. This is clear from a National Gang Report from 2014, released by the Department of Public Safety for the State. In Texas there are about 100,000 Gang members and in El Paso approximately 5,600, distributed among 307 criminal organisations, according to information.

Environment of fear affects electoral coverage in Guatemala

Morazán’s case is one of the many recent threats and attacks that Guatemalan journalists have faced at the onset of the country’s electoral campaign ahead of  general elections this coming September. Similarly, Juan Luis Font, director of the weekly magazineContrapoder, and Pedro Trujillo, Prensa Libre columnist, were threatened after criticizing Manuel Baldizón, the Libertad Democrática Renovada (Renewed Democratic Liberty) party pre-candidate.

Guatemala’s indigenous peoples change strategy to seek more political representation

Guatemala’s indigenous peoples are organizing in a new political party to shift from traditional resistance to actually reaching seats of power. The symbol of the initiative – called the Convergencia por la Revolución Democrática (Convergence for Democratic Revolution, or CRD) – is a multi-colored Mayan star that alludes to their exclusion, extreme poverty and ongoing violations of basic human rights.

San Pedro Sula, Honduras: Nearly a War Zone

To try and target the problems driving this violence, the Honduran government, along with Guatemala and El Salvador, has released its Alliance for Prosperity plan, designed to increase infrastructure and entice foreign investment. The Obama administration just announced it would ask Congress for $1 billion for Central America to help fund the initiative, but details about security strategy are scarce. It remains to be seen exactly how this money will be spent. Looking at San Pedro Sula, a dramatic change in political will would be needed for any initiative of this nature to be successful. Funding could be helpful but only if there is a government willing to reform its police, push for justice and invest in education, jobs programs, violence prevention, health, child protection services, and community development needed to protect its poorer citizens.

Why El Salvador gang ceasefire is bad news for police

For Father Antonio Rodriguez, a priest who for 15 years ran a rehabilitation programme for former gang members, the uncompromising stance is a depressing re-run of the failed policies of the past when rampant violence continued even as jails were filled with tattoo-covered gang members. “Nobody is offering anything new, any real policies on trying to tackle the underlying causes of crime in this country,” he said. “We are just hearing the failed old ’iron fist’ approach of previous governments. I don’t know what Giuliani will recommend, but any lessons from New York are not going to work here. El Salvador is a different place with different problems.”

Nicaraguans demand action over illness killing thousands of sugar cane workers

“I was healthy when I started working for the company and sick when they got rid of me,” said Walter, who asked for his surname to be withheld to protect his relatives, 13 of whom work in sugar cane. “Every family here has lost someone, the work is making us sick, but there are no alternatives,” he said. “We are all dying from it, it’s a total epidemic.”

At least 20 dead in Haiti Carnival accident

The accident occurred as thousands of people filled the streets of downtown Port-au-Prince for the raucous annual celebration. Video from the scene showed sparks coursing from the wire after a singer from the Haitian hip-hop group Barikad Crew was jolted by the overhead power line as the float passed beneath it. The cable appeared to have shocked several others as well.

Colombia’s ex-child soldiers face their tormentors amid peace efforts

“These recruited minors never wanted to be part of this war. They were totally tricked. For this, I ask for forgiveness,” said Villa, who was let out of prison for several hours to deliver his apology to Carlos and six other ex-child combatants, in the presence of government officials at the offices of the Organisation of American States in Bogota.

Álvaro Uribe Addresses WOLA’s 5 Questions on the Colombian Peace Process

Washington has shown consistent bipartisan support to President Santos’s peace process. While WOLA hopes that this bipartisan support will continue, we also welcome visits from critics of the process and believe that critics, like Álvaro Uribe, deserve a hearing. The concerns of critical sectors of Colombia’s democracy must be taken into account, to the greatest extent possible, to guarantee a broader front of support for an eventual accord and its implementation. A post-conflict Colombia should resolve its political differences through dialogue and respect for human rights, not violence.

Decolonizing Bolivia’s History of Indigenous Resistance

The walls of the Vice Ministry’s offices were decorated with portraits of indigenous rebels Túpac Katari and Bartolina Sisa who fought against the colonial Spanish in 1781. I sat down to talk with Elisa Vega Sillo, the current Director of the Depatriarchalization Unit in the Vice Ministry of Decolonization, a former leader in the Bartolina Sisa indigenous campesina women’s movement, and a member of the Kallawaya indigenous nation. In the interview. Elisa spoke about the unique work of the Vice Ministry of Decolonization, the role of historical memory in the country’s radical politics, and the importance of decolonizing Bolivia’s history of indigenous resistance.

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After 25 years, tide begins to turn for conscientious objectors in Colombia

Photo: Mario Cardozo de ACOOC

Photo: Mario Cardozo de ACOOC

Versión en Español

“Pray, pray fervently that God will bring his favour, and that my case will become a door that many young people can walk through as well,” Colombian Reinaldo Aguirre pleaded to the church throughout his three years of administrative limbo.  A conscientious objector to Colombia’s obligatory military service, the young man from the outskirts of Bogota had decided that as a Christian he could not kill.

Reinaldo declared himself as an objector at his local military base, where he was told that the base was not equipped to deal with his claim. Without his military passbook, which serves as proof of service or exemption, it was impossible for Reinaldo to get a job or to graduate from university. Everyday, he faced the risk of being arbitrarily detained by the Colombia Army. After Reinaldo had made over seven requests for CO status, without response over a period of three years, he decided to take his case to the Court.

The 20 year old, who attends a Pentecostal church, learnt about conscientious objection through a series workshops with the Mennonite Church. Reinaldo maintains that “from the Christian tradition, we oppose military or armed service because it is incompatible with the teachings and examples of Jesus Christ. Those of us who have accepted the Lordship of Jesus Christ in our lives owe him absolute loyalty, not to a nation, nor a state, nor government, but to the Son of God who teaches us to love our enemies, to do good to those who mistreat us, and to pray for those who wish to do us harm.”

At the end of January 2015, the door opened for Reinaldo. In an historical ruling, the Colombian Constitutional Court ordered the military to issue Reinaldo’s passbook within 48 hours, arguing that his rights to work, education and worship were violated by the lack of response to application for CO status.

“This court ruling also contains new and important elements for conscientious objectors,” reflects Jenny Neme, director of Justapaz, on the historical decision. “The Court orders the army to direct those in charge of recruitment to process requests for conscientious objection and to not deny exemption requests. It also establishes a strict timeline for the army to resolve said applications. “

Throughout every step of Reinaldo’s journey, Justapaz was there, providing legal advice and letting the young man know that he was not alone. This accompaniment is now second nature for the organization. According to Jack Suderman, secretary of the Mennonite World Conference Peace Commission, “This (court ruling) is the fruit of 26 years of sustained, budgeted, planned, dogged, tenacious institutional commitment on behalf of the Colombian Mennonite Church and its institutions.”

“It is necessary, however, to continue on in the defense of these rights.” says Jenny, expressing Justapaz’s continued commitment to conscientious objection, “The very fact that the army is responsible to resolve requests for conscientious objection must be revised. Ethically, a military body cannot approve or disapprove the decision of a person, who by conscience, does not hold to military logic.  We must continue insisting that the Congress of the Republic legislate these rights and eliminate all barriers for its recognition. Finally, the Colombian state must revise the pertinence of its military structure within a country that is nearing a post-conflict stage. “

As for Reinaldo, he is hopeful. “I want to give thanks to God for this joyful court ruling, not only for me, but for the many young men in Colombia who believe in peace and are committed to conscientious objection. This is a door that is opening for many. We are going to walk through, and are already walking through.”

Article by Anna Vogt, Originally published by Mennonite World Conference 

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Weekly Round-Up Feb 13

Overlooking Bogota Photo: Anna Vogt

Overlooking Bogota Photo: Anna Vogt

Study: Migrant minors’ rights systematically violated in CentAm, U.S., Mexico

The study notes a lack of attention to the causes of migration, including violence, social exclusion and poverty, and the priority accorded to immigration control measures in lieu of the children’s interests, the absence of reintegration programs for repatriated kids and the lack of regional agreements and policies based on human rights and development.

The Case for Aid to Central America

It will take far more than $1 billion in American aid to accomplish those goals. But an infusion of aid would give the United States more leverage in pressing Central American leaders to take initial steps, some of which would come at a political cost domestically. It also would most likely lead to stronger cooperation on other critical transnational problems like drug trafficking, criminal networks and climate change. Having greater influence in the region, which continues to reel from the repercussions of American military interventions in the 1980s, would be sensible at a time when Russia and China are making significant economic inroads in Latin America.

Obama’s Central American Rescue Plan Will Only Make Life There Worse

“Obviously the neoliberal program was not structured to reduce poverty, or to generate employment, or so that there would be no migrants,” Guatemalan researcher Luis Solano wrote in an email interview. “But the public discourse was that of the famous ‘trickle down policy,’ a trickle down that never arrived except to the handful who benefited.” Far from providing new opportunities for regular people in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, the measures proposed in the Alliance for Prosperity are likely to worsen the social and economic realities for the region’s poor majority. This is likely to lead Central Americansadults and children aliketo continue to seek out survival by heading north.

Mexico deports record numbers of women and children in US-driven effort

Record numbers of women and children fleeing violence and poverty in Central America were deported by Mexican authorities last year, as part of US-driven operations to stem the flow of migrants reaching the American border. More than 24,000 women were deported from Mexico in 2014 – double the number sent home in 2013. The upsurge in child detentions was even sharper – climbing 230% to just over 23,000, Mexican interior ministry figures reveal.

Honduras: A Government Failing to Protect its People 

In December 2014 the Latin America Working Group Education Fund (LAWGEF) and Center for International Policy (CIP) traveled to Honduras to investigate how the country is responding to the needs of its citizens. What we found was a security apparatus and criminal justice system in desperate need of reform and a population with little faith in its government. Issues of violence, impunity, and corruption that have plagued the country for years are intensifying.

Man lynched in Dominican Republic as tensions run high

The death of the man came just hours after a group of Dominicans in Santiago, the country’s second-largest city, publicly burned the Haitian flag. Elsewhere, human rights groups have reported that a man was recently denied access to a public bus because he “looked Haitian”. Anti-Haitian sentiment has been on the rise in the Dominican Republic since a 2013 court ruling, which denied children of Haitian migrants their citizenship retroactive to 1930, leaving tens of thousands of Dominican-born people of Haitian descent stateless and at risk of being deported.

Haitians demand lower fuel prices in mass protests

At least 6,000 protesters have marched through Haiti’s capital to demand lower fuel prices and the ouster of President Michel Martelly. The protest in Port-au-Prince on Saturday remained peaceful overall although police briefly threw tear gas and dispersed a crowd that had burned rubbish and tyres in the street to block traffic.

Farc invites Miss Universe to assist in negotiation of peace deal with Colombia

Whoever wears the Miss Universe crown can expect to be invited to star-studded cocktail parties, balls, charity events and galas. The newly crowned Miss Universe, however, has been given a different kind of invitation. Leftist Farc rebels, from Pauline Vega’s native Colombia, want her to visit them in Havana, where they are trying to negotiate a peace deal with the Colombian government.

Historic Commission releases report on causes of Colombia conflict

A commission of 12 Colombian historians presented their account on the origins, causes, aggravators and consequences of Colombia’s 50-year long armed conflict on Tuesday. The document lies the foundation for determining responsibility for the nearly 7 million victims.


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Weekly Round-Up February 6

Do Justice

Do Justice

Joe Biden: A Plan for Central America

The region has seen this sort of transformation before. In 1999, we initiated Plan Colombia to combat drug trafficking, grinding poverty and institutional corruption — combined with a vicious insurgency — that threatened to turn Colombia into a failed state. Fifteen years later, Colombia is a nation transformed. As one of the architects of Plan Colombia in the United States Senate, I saw that the key ingredient was political will on the ground. Colombia benefited from leaders who had the courage to make significant changes regarding security, governance and human rights. Elites agreed to pay higher taxes. The Colombian government cleaned up its courts, vetted its police force and reformed its rules of commerce to open up its economy. The United States invested $9 billion over the course of Plan Colombia, with $700 million the first year. But our figures show that Colombia outspent us four to one.

White House Proposes Plan to Address Causes of Children Fleeing Central America 

The administration’s plan, as laid out by the Office of the Vice President, attempts to address these root causes of migration. Specifically, it aims to help Northern Triangle countries by addressing the security, good governance, and economic needs of the region. Some of proposed activities include supporting improved access to education, improved access to affordable and reliable electricity, trade capacity building, police reform, attacking organized crime, and strengthening rule-of-law institutions that administer justice in order to protect human rights within the region.

A New Beginning for the United States in Central America?

According to the White House, $400 million of the money requested will be for programs to promote trade, reduce poverty and improve customs and border integration. $300 million will be for security assistance and anti-crime activities (including the continuation of programs conducted under the umbrella of the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). Approximately $250 million will be for institution building and reform programs.

The Drug War: Towards a ‘Plan Central America’

U.S. anti-drug policies have not been able to impede production of drugs in Colombia, or other parts of South America. They have not been able to stop drugs smuggled through Mexico, and they have not been able to stop the historic high number of illicit drugs that enter the United States today. Nonetheless, U.S. policymakers are attempting to replicate the same failed strategy, as they turn to Central America, sandwiched between Colombia and Mexico, in an attempt to cut off the traffickers before they ever reach Mexico and the U.S. border.

The Obama Administration Turns Its Gaze South of the Border

The request also includes $142 million to help Mexico strengthen its porous southern border. “They really focus on three particular issues,” said Larry Nowels, a consultant with the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition. “Improving education and workforce training; improving governance through civil service reform and tackling corruption; and enhancing security.”

Mexico’s street art tells stories of grief, anger and resistance

Although Martínez and Vega’s Lapiztola collective – a pun on the Spanish words for pencil and pistol – was born on the streets of their home town, its work has spread far beyond Oaxaca and the upheavals of 2006. In recent years, Lapiztola has used artworks to highlight everything from the cult of the drug lords and the use of genetically modified corn to the plight of Central American migrants and the enduring grief of the mothers who have waited decades to bury the bodies of their disappeared children.

Pope Francis Just Showed He’s Not Afraid to Part With the American Right

Many fault Catholic prelates for getting too involved in politics. But it’s important to note that when the Church engages in politics, it isn’t to pursue a political end, but rather to defend the dignity and the well being of God’s people. So Francis’s decision to honor Romero confirms what so many Catholics know to be true: to defend the poor is to defend the faith. Francis himself has made this clear: “We have to state, without mincing words, that there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor.”

Immigration Rules in Bahamas Sweep Up Haitians

The tough new policy echoes similar stances around the region, where new citizenship policies and anti-immigration measures have overwhelmingly affected Haitians, who are fleeing the hemisphere’s poorest country and are the most likely group to migrate illegally in great numbers. The top court in the Dominican Republic ruled in 2013 that the children of illegal immigrants, even if they are born in the country, did not have the right to citizenship.

The last lap in Colombia

It is in the FARC’s interest, too, that the peace agreement be proofed against future revision by Colombian or international courts. And it must be accepted by Colombians in the referendum that Mr Santos has promised. In other words, it cannot involve complete impunity for war crimes. Some of the FARC’s leaders, who have been sentenced (in absentia) for crimes against humanity, must go to jail after new trials. They might be prepared to accept punishment to give their followers security and protection from prosecution. But they resist the humiliation of their movement that their collective incarceration would imply. Mr Santos’s task is to persuade the FARC to choose pragmatism over pride.

Bolivia Leads UN Efforts on Debt Restructuring

The ad hoc committee expressed an urgent need to implement more transparent and democratic mechanisms in the process of sovereign debt restructuring. “There seems to be a broad recognition among member states and experts, that the absence of a multilateral legal framework for sovereign debt restructuring to complement existing mechanisms, such as contractual clauses, is one of the major gaps in the international financial architecture and that this should be addressed,” it said in a statement. 

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Mining Resistance: Lessons from Guatemala and Mexico


Barite mine near Nebaj Photo Anna Vogt

Tobias Roberts is an MCC service worker in Nebaj, Guatemala 

(Versión en Español)

Grassroots advocacy work in Central America isn´t usually a job that yields many astounding success stories.  More often, it is sadly comparable to the despairing effort of a 5 foot 2 inch, 100 pound weakling ninth grader who incessantly practices his jump shot on a winter day while dreaming of one day playing in the NBA though forlornly realizing that his dream will probably never come true. That metaphor may or may not be auto-biographical.

In Guatemala, accompanying the Mayan indigenous population in their persistent struggle to maintain control over their ancestral territories, resources and traditional ways of life is frustrating, to say the least.  Despite jurisprudence anchored in national and international law that supposedly recognizes, respects, and defends the rights of the majority Mayan population, the Guatemalan government, the oligarchy it serves, and the interests of transnational corporations consistently trump the rights and wellbeing of the Mayan people.  When Mayan communities dare to determinedly defend their rights and territories, government sponsored bloodshed is oftentimes more common than negotiation or dialogue.

Due to this rather depressing reality, it´s important to highlight the occasional successful advocacy work, though it may be few and far between.  Thus, we share this brief account of the resistance of the Mayan Ixil people not to blow our own horn, but rather to offer forth the hope that advocacy work isn´t completely futile.

Since the 1970´s, the Mayan Ixil communities of Nebaj, Guatemala have resisted the exploitation of a barite mine located in a communal forest in the northern part of their ancestral territory.  Barite is a mineral used primarily for the drilling of oil wells. With the ascent of the fracking industry, barite is in high demand.  In 2001, the government of Guatemala issued forth an extraction license for the barite mine.  As is the case with all mining permits in Guatemala, the local community was never consulted or even informed of the proposed mine.

After bouncing between different companies, the barite mine license eventually fell into the hands of Jorge Luis Avalos, a Mexican born, Guatemalan businessman with enormous ties to the mining and chemical industries of Guatemala.  Avalos began exploitation of the mine in 2005, but when a local water spring mysteriously went dry, local communities expelled the mining venture.

Recently, Avalos tried to sell the mining license to Double Crown Resources, a North-American based mining company.  Due to the extremely bad track record of multinational mining corporations in Central America (Goldcorp, for example), local communities began to worry.   When the news went public, MCC along with other national and international NGO´s supported the Mayan Ixil communities call to annul the license and due to this national and international media pressure, Avalos cancelled the agreement with Double Crown.

MCC Mexico supports Otros Mundos, a Mexican NGO that, among other things has supported the community of Chicomuselo, Chiapas in their resistance to another barite mine operated by Blackfire Exploration, a Canadian based mining company.  The communities of Chicomuselo, after years of resistance, were able to expel the Canadian company from their municipality after Mariano Abarca, a prominent anti-mining community organizer was assassinated by people with ties to the mining company and the local government.  In September of 2014, MCC helped to organize a visit of Mayan Ixil ancestral authorities to the communities in Chicomuselo, Chiapas.

During the two day visit, José Luis Abarca, son of the martyred Mariano, and other community leaders shared their experiences related to the business of barite mining and the long process of resistance.  A visit to the old mine site confirmed the ecological destruction that mining unavoidably causes.  During the last night of the visit, José Luis lamented that “resisting big mining companies oftentimes brings with it the death of those of us who defend our rights and our land.  In our case, it was my father who was killed.  In your communities, you have to ask yourselves who is going to be killed for the cause of the land and the community.”  The Mayan Ixil ancestral authorities returned to their communities determined to continue defending their communal land, their communities, and their rights.

In November of 2014, Mayan Ixil leaders were able to bring Jorge Luis Avalos, owner of the mining license, to Nebaj for negotiations.  Avalos arrived determined to convince the communities of the “benefits” that barite mining would bring to the local community.  His power point presentation elaborated upon the job opportunities that the mine would create and the lack of environmental impact that the mine would have.  During one point in the presentation, Avalos mentioned the mine in Chicomuselo.

When he stated that “there is another barite mine in Chicomuselo, Mexico that offered great advantages to the local population”, a round of skeptical laughter filled the room.  Lu Pa´l, member of the Indigenous authorities of the Mayan Ixil people interrupted Avalos and reproachfully asked: “How can you say that the mine in Chicomuselo was good for the people there?  We´ve been to Chicomuselo and have seen the mine and its effects.  The only thing it brought to the community was death, and that we will not accept.”

At that point in the negotiation, Avalos realized that he was not going to be successful in convincing the communities of the supposed benefits of barite mining.  Various members of the Ixil authorities thanked Avalos for coming but insisted that the community was vehemently opposed to the barite mine and would not tolerate the presence of any uninvited mining company.  Avalos dejectedly accepted (for now) the decision of the Ixil communities and promised that he and his mining company would respect the community´s decision and not proceed with plans for the barite mine.

This supposed “success” story is far from finished.  Avalos still has the mining license which is official until 2021 and it would be foolish to believe that he or another company that he might try to sell the license to will simply disregard the promising profitability of a huge source of a high demand mineral.  Nonetheless, a victory is a victory and should be celebrated and shared.  The advocacy work of using the international media to draw attention to under the table business deals and connecting communities facing similar struggles and sharing the same resistance were in this case successful.

We hope that MCC and other international organizations will continue in the long and tedious work of supporting communities throughout Central America and the world in the defense of their lands, their communities and their rights.

Posted in Guatemala, Mexico | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Action Alert: Mass Deportation in the Dominican Republic

Haitian immigrant workers taking a rest in a Dominican Republic field. Photo credit: Juan Eduardo Donoso, Creative Commons license

Haitian immigrant workers taking a rest in a Dominican Republic field. Photo credit: Juan Eduardo Donoso, Creative Commons license

Amnesty International released this Urgent Action on 29 January concerning a mass deportation in the Dominican Republic.

“On 27 January, 51 people, including 30 Dominican-born children, some of their mothers and 14 other adults were deported without due process to Haiti from the Dominican Republic. More mass deportations of Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitian migrants are feared.

“Following a ruling issued by the Dominican Constitutional Court in 2013 that rendered tens of thousands of people of foreign descent stateless, the mothers intended to enroll their children in a naturalization scheme established by the Dominican government in May 2014 to regularize the situation of Dominican children of irregular migrants. The 14 other Haitian migrants sought to enroll in the National Regularization Plan for Foreigners with Irregular Migration Status, established in 2013 for undocumented migrants living in the Dominican Republic.

Around 20 kilometers before reaching San Juan de la Maguana, where the nearest offices that process enrolment for both naturalization and regularization processes are located, the mini-buses were stopped at a military checkpoint. The military officers denied the group access to the city for being “undocumented migrants”. Following negotiations with the religious officials, they were asked to obtain a pass at the office of the Migration Directorate in Elias Piña near the Haitian-Dominican border. Once they arrived at the Migration Directorate office, they were detained and accused of being illegal wanderers.

The authorities ordered their immediate deportation to Haiti without giving them the opportunity to have their cases individually examined, and therefore be able to challenge the legality of their detention or appeal the decision.”

MCC Haiti urges you to respond to Amnesty’s call to write messages to Dominican officials in Spanish or your own language to José Ramón Fadul, Minister of Interior and Police (info@mip.gob.do); Lic. Jose Ricardo Taveras, Director of Migration (info@migracion.gov.do); Andrés Navarro García, Minister of Foreign Affairs (relexteriores@mirex.gob.do) A sample of what to include in your message is below. All letters must be sent by March 11.

To learn more about the recent history of legal discrimination against Dominicans of Haitian descent read The Dominican Republic’s discrimination against Haitians (Washington Post.) and this previous LACA blog post Standing with Haitian-Dominicans against statelessness.

Sample letter:

Dear Ministers and Director,

I write today in response to the 27 January 2015 expulsion of 51 people, including 30 Dominican-born individuals, from the Dominican Republic without due process.

I write, urging you to:

-allow these children and their families to enroll in the appropriate naturalization and regularization schemes;

-not to use naturalization and regularization procedures to detect alleged undocumented migrants and to stop all deportations of similar measures against applicants in the naturalization and regularization schemes;

-fulfil the Dominican Republic’s obligations under international law, which prohibit arbitrary and collective expulsions, and to ensure that all those facing removal from the Dominican Republic have their cases individually examined in a fair and transparent procedure, where they can challenge the authorities’ decisions and have their case reviewed.

Please consider these requests and redress this situation and the circumstances that precipitated it as soon as possible.

In sincere hope of policies that affirm the dignity of every human being,

(Your name and country)

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

Weekly Round-Up, January 30

Women weaving in a Guatemalan valley. Photo: Anna Vogt

Women weaving in a Guatemalan valley. Photo: Anna Vogt

US drafts new assistance plan for Central America

Addressing problems of security and poverty will both “help Central America and protect U.S. national security,” Roberta Jacobson, assistant secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs said in her appeal before Congress in November. Jacobson said the State Department predicts it could take $5 billion over five years to fully implement its strategy. The $300 million proposed in November was double the funds available for Central America for 2014.

No safe haven: Immigrant victims of sexual violence receive little support in US

But reaching the U.S. does not guarantee migrant women safety and protection from abuse. Rather than safe sanctuary, migrant women often find that they are still at risk of being raped, abused and exploited. Threatened by employers, immigration and detention workers and members of their own communities, undocumented women are at particularly high risk, as fears of deportation often prevent them from reporting rape and assaults.

Report: US trade and migration policies feed crisis in Honduras

The report concludes: “Failed trade and migration policies continue to exacerbate Honduras’ problems. The U.S. government criminalizes migrant children and their families, while pursuing trade deals that simultaneously displace subsistence farmers and lower wages and standards across other sectors, and eliminate good jobs, intensifying the economic conditions that drive migration. This dynamic is enhanced in countries like Honduras, where the government’s own policies leave workers and families vulnerable to abuse.”

Deported children face deadly new dangers on return to Honduras

The victims are typically aged between 13 and 17, sent back home after being detained by immigration authorities for entering the country without authorization. But a report released last year by UNHCR, entitled “Children on the Run,” found that a significant number of minors from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras entering the US irregularly might be in need of international protection.

The Power of the Spectacle: Evo Morales’ Inauguration in Tiwanaku, Bolivia

But the politics of decolonization in Bolivia are never simple, and the spectacle represented more than these contradictions. This complexity was on fully display in Tiwanaku, where indigenous movement leaders walled off beyond the main event complained that the Argentines with blond dreadlocks yelling “Olé, Olé, Olé, Olé, Evo, Evo” were blocking their view while “Hallelujah” played on the loudspeakers at the same time that Andean priests blessed a Middle Eastern dignitary shaking hands with the president right after Evo said “there’s no first world… or third world… only one world” while a local worker cleaned out the dozens of porta-potties.

Constitutional Court upholds Right to Conscientious Objection in Colombia

In order that the acts which led to this ruling do not continue to occur in the future, the Court orders  the National Office of Recruitment to resolve applications for conscientious objection within 15 days, to not deny such applications by arguing that there is no existing law, to publish a booklet that notifies youth at the time of registration their grounds for exemption, deferral, and their right to conscientious objection, and to end the practices of arbitrary detention, such as “batidas.”

U.S. Ambassador to Colombia: U.S. Aid to Colombia could change with peace accord

In a January 25 interview with El Tiempo, the United States Ambassador to Colombia, Kevin Whitaker, said the administration would request funds for post-conflict initiatives in the event of a peace accord between the FARC rebels and Colombian government. While Colombia continues to be the top recipient of U.S. military aid in the region, this assistance has been declining since 2010. Here is a summary of some key points on security from the interview.

Mexico’s Recurring Nightmare

The suspected involvement of police and other public servants in the disappearance of student activists at Iguala awakened Mexicans, and the world, to the continuing horrors and corrupting nature of the drug war in a way that migrant massacres far larger in number never have. Indeed, thousands of similar cases—if smaller in number—have failed to produce the kind of outrage seen after the forty-three vanished in September. In a tragic but ironic twist to the Iguala story, investigators digging for evidence in that case have uncovered the remains of at least thirty-nine other individuals whose killings were not related to the Iguala disappearances. Mexico is only now beginning to understand the scale of the violence that has plagued the country over the last decade.

Is Haiti Backsliding Into Dictatorship?

After three years of fighting and delayed elections, the president and opposition members of the Senate blew the final deadline despite at least 10 months of warning, leaving President Michel Martelly ruling without any checks and balances. The opposition, meanwhile, continues its favorite tactic: sending thousands of angry protesters into the streets.

How one Guatemalan woman’s quest for justice inspired a regional anti-violence movement

“In the case of a documentary that deals with human rights issues, getting an audience to see a film can be a question of life or death. I ultimately hope to affect real change in people’s lives by educating audiences about these unsolved and sometimes unreported murders. I hope that audiences will be inspired by Rebeca’s unwavering determination to bring justice to light and will question how they can contribute to diminish violence against women and rework the way they think about gender power dynamics in their own lives,” says Bautista.

El Salvador Gang Leaders Confirm Truce

In a joint statement, the leaders of El Salvador‘s largest gangs — including the MS13 and Barrio 18 — said they had forged a truce on January 17. As a result, they said, El Salvador‘s murder rate dropped from an average of 14 homicides a day to less than five a day over the following week, and included the first homicide-free day of the year (something that was also confirmed by police).

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Creation Care and Faith: Reflections on the People’s Summit

Peru - quick edit-45

Photo: PCUSA/Joe Tobiason

Elizabeth Hostetter works with the Red UMAVIDA and Elizabeth Vincent with the Center for Ecology and the Andean People (CEPA). Both are friend organizations of Mennonite Central Committee Bolivia.

During the second week of December we, the authors, had the opportunity to attend the UN Conference of the Parts (COP) 20 People’s Summit in Lima, Peru. As part of a delegation from one of MCC’s friend organizations in Bolivia, Uniendo Manos por la Vida, part of the Joining Hands Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA) (PCUSA), we participated in a variety of presentations, discussion groups, and demonstrations. The UMAVIDA Network is an organization of NGOs addressing environmental issues ranging from climate change to industrial contamination to food security.

Throughout the activities within the People’s Summit, several important questions were proposed and discussed at length. One of these questions was: “How can faith communities draw from their ethical underpinnings to address our dependence on fossil fuels and their hidden price tag of emissions, accelerating global warming?” During the Summit, many spaces sought to address this question, from workshops such as “Perspectives from the South” to an interreligious vigil, to a meeting with Bill Somplatsky-Jarman, PCUSA Coordinator of Social Witness Ministries and Director of Mission Responsibility Through Investment. All were looking elsewhere for the response that political institutions fail to give to the climate crisis.

Peru - quick edit-41

Photo: PCUSA/Joe Tobiason

Hosted by Peru, the Global South hoped to have its voice heard more loudly at this 20th COP. Yet in spite of considerable effort from a variety of NGOs, together with the UN, to change the political conversation on climate change, even a skim over news reports reveals words such as “disappointing”. Interviewed by Mariah, a  PCUSA youth representative, Dr Nigel Crawhall from the Network of Engaged Buddhists, succinctly stated the issue,

“I have been following the COP since COP 14. I don’t think this mechanism is capable of finding the solution that we need at the time that we need it. Basically this decision should have been taken twenty years ago… It is not the nature of our political system to respond to long term challenges that require a great deal of compassion and understanding… What is important is there is a worldwide shift of thinking and in attitude. In the absence of the political solution, you are seeing much more human solidarity and cooperation…you have the human family mobilizing itself.”

Considering that our political representation is not earnestly addressing the reality of the climate crisis, we cannot underestimate the impact of collaboration within inter-faith communities in the face of accelerated climate change.

Photo: PCUSA/Joe Tobiason

Photo: PCUSA/Joe Tobiason

Faith communities can play a significant role in spreading awareness of the impacts and consequences of climate change through their ability to educate on a large scale and with their biblical responsibility of good stewardship and culture of creation care. Existing Sunday school and college courses address topics from conscientious eating to responsible investments. Our God-given responsibility of good stewardship of the earth invites us as churches and faith-based organizations to incorporate environmentally-friendly practices within our institutions.

The Christian faith has a rich heritage of creation care and simple living. This heritage necessarily lead to the responsibility of controlling our ecological impact with our production of waste and emission of harmful gases. We have an opportunity as a faith-based organization to support this ethic of action within the larger response to global warming and climate change causing disasters across the globe today.

Fellow conference participant, Freddy, from Bolivia, summarized the need of a united front to take a stance against climate change,

“In the different spaces of the COP 20 negotiations, there is a diversity of voices. Of them all, the ones that are deepest are the small gatherings that, like ants, build little alternative systems that demand response to the current situation of environmental crisis.

These voices are weak and sometimes imperceptible but they are amplified when joined with other voices, that march together shouting, ‘Water isn’t sold, it’s defended’, ‘turn off your motor, turn on your conscience’, ‘alert, alert, Pachamama (Mother Earth) is awake’- these are shouts from the soul, that demand justice and will not be silenced by the strident sounds of a development system that is modernist, capitalist and colonial.”

The Church has the ability and the history to empower smaller voices and to lend its own voice to climate justice.

Photo: PCUSA/Joe Tobiason

Photo: PCUSA/Joe Tobiason

It is crucial that as a Church we fulfill our social responsibility to love our neighbors and care for creation. The Church’s action and inaction have a direct impact on those whom we as Christians are biblically mandated to serve. While countries feeling the impacts the most are low-lying poorer countries like Bangladesh (facing the double burden of rising tides and few economic resources to mitigate loss of land), the highlands of Bolivia also feel an impact as changing and drastic weather patterns jeopardize the ability of small growers to provide for their families. Canada and the United States see the consequences of climate change in the extreme weather patterns which have gripped them in these past years. Ultimately we must accept that climate change is an issue that affects everyone regardless of country of origin or social status.

If the Church is going to fulfill its social mandate, we need to start doing now what we should have done 20 years ago: actively advocate against practices that contribute significantly to climate change and diminishing our dependence on heavy carbon dioxide contributors, such as the use of fossil fuels. Alone, the Church cannot turn the tables on climate change. But given the Church’s worldwide influence, it is vital for us to join in the global movement to halt climate change.

Posted in Bolivia | Tagged , , | 2 Comments