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Corruption in Honduras’ Police Force and the Promise of Reform

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Asociación para una Sociedad mas Justa (ASJ)

Katerina Parsons currently serves as a SALTer doing research and communications with the Asociación para una Sociedad mas Justa (ASJ), an MCC partner in Honduras. 

“We already have the hitmen, right?” one Honduran police officer said to another, unaware that the security camera in the room was recording him and that, years later, these words would come back to haunt him.

Yeah, we have them, the second officer responded, “we have four with vehicles.” The officers in the room began to discuss the daily habits of their target – the anti-drug czar, who had been outspoken about corruption in the National Police force. “Aristides González always walks alone, he passes by here every day.”

“Hey,” another officer asked, “has the boss sent us the money?”

According to a leaked video transcript published this April by a Honduran newspaper, leaders of Honduras’ national police force gathered together in 2009 to plan the murder of Aristides González, paid by a known drug trafficker.

It wasn’t an isolated incident. Police officers have been implicated for years in corruption, kidnappings, and murders – notably of anti-drug official Alfredo Landaverde in 2011 – but it wasn’t until the transcript, and an internal investigation with photos and names published by the New York Times, that the extent of corruption came to light.

Leaders in the National Police, it became obvious, had known about the killings for years, and intentionally buried evidence such as the video transcript (the video is missing and likely destroyed). In a country with one of the highest homicide rates in the world, this corruption was disastrous. Citizens feared to report crimes because they knew police could be in league with the criminals. But in the outrage after the publication of the reports, things are beginning to change.

Just a few days after hearing the revelations, the Honduran Congress had passed an emergency declaration to “purge and transform” the police force, calling for a three-member Commission to oversee the removal of corrupt officers. The President immediately signed it into law, and appointed the members – Vilma Morales, a former president of the Supreme Court, Alberto Solórzano, a pastor and president of the Honduran Fellowship of Evangelical churches, and Omar Rivera, who through the Association for a More Just Society and the coalition Alliance for Peace and Justice, has been among the loudest voices calling for police reform.

The Association for a More Just Society, where Rivera is the director of advocacy, is a Christian organization and an MCC partner, whose mission is to make government laws and systems work, especially for the poor and marginalized. Since 2012, the organization has decried corruption in the police, and advocated for reforms in laws about the hiring, training, and management of officers. They have also long called for a removal of corrupt officers.

This “purge” was not a new concept. Between 2012 and 2016, Honduras had tried three different times to clean up the force, spending over $10 million, and firing only a handful of low-ranking officers. Fear of officers’ connections to politicians or organized crime meant the most corrupt were left untouched.

The three-member commission, called the “Special Commission for the Purging and Transformation of the National Police”, immediately took a different approach, starting from the Police Generals – the highest-ranking officers – and working their way down.

Within a few days, they had reviewed the files of the Generals, consulted human resources and the Judiciary, and made their decision – they would recommend the suspension or firing of five of the nine officers.

Over the next few weeks, the Commission continued with their close scrutiny, in 50 days reviewing the top 272 officers in the force and removing 106 of them. This work, naturally, earned them enemies. One commissioner’s family was trailed for miles in an unmarked vehicle; another woke to a death threat slipped underneath his door.

The Alliance for Peace and Justice convened a press conference to respond to these threats. If they thought that this would stop us, they were wrong, Rivera said. Representatives from the US embassy and the European Union offered their support as well.

comision especial

The Commission’s work removing corrupt officers from the police work is historic, and has huge implications for the future of Honduras’ police. With careful reviews and steady monitoring, there is hope that the police force will become trustworthy, and can at last deliver the public security that Hondurans so need.

But the Commission’s work is dangerous and requires national and international support. Powerful people such as those who called for and executed the assassination of Aristides González are continuing to act. In the face of these threats, the Association for a More Just Society’s US sister organization, AJS-US, is rolling out a prayer and advocacy campaign asking for protection and support for the Commission.

Honduras has spent years with sky-high homicide, corruption, and impunity rates. But the trends are beginning to turn. Corruption perceptions have dropped, homicides have been reduced for the third year in a row, and Honduras is no longer the most violent country in the world. Bold initiatives such as the police purging process offer hope for a different future, one where citizens trust the police, where criminals face justice, and where all can live in peace.

Posted in By country, Honduras, Urban Peacebuilding | Leave a comment

Adiós Guerra (A Special Weekly Round-Up)

Anna Vogt is the regional advocacy and context analyst. This article was originally posted on her personal blog.  

My walk to work this morning was normal. I passed the same dog walkers and shoeshine man as any other day. When I arrived, however, the office was giddy with excitement. Today was the day, long advocated and worked towards: a bilateral ceasefire, ending the active armed conflict between the government and the FARC, after over fifty years of war.

With hundreds of other Colombians, balloons, flags and music, we danced as we watched Santos and Timochenko sign the agreement together on a big screen on the street. I almost cried several times, not just because of the importance of the moment, but because of who I was with. For the last three years I have been at Justapaz, my colleagues have eaten, slept and breathed peace. Every meeting, statement and event has been aimed towards a silencing of arms. When I moved to Bogota, I had no idea that almost exactly three years later, we would be hugging people on the street, in part because of work that takes place from my office. I am honoured and proud to be included in this celebration of crazy hope.

Later on in the office, we shared our feelings about the day in a small continuation of celebration. Jenny talked about meetings for Pan y Paz fifteen years ago, where together with the Mennonite Church, the group decided that every September 21, the International Day of Non-Violence and Ceasefire, people from churches around the country would gather to pass out bread and demand peace with justice. At the time, the idea that two warring parties would sit down and dialogue with each other seemed impossible. Jenny cried as she shared about the hope of today: it is possible to believe in non-violence even when no one else does.

My walk home this evening was normal. I passed the same dogs that I see every evening and the same hippies slack-lining between trees. I hugged my purse close to myself, just in case. Despite the cease-fire, everything feels the same as it did this morning. Yet I know that this is a chance for real change that will hopefully be lived out in ordinary lives.

As Angelica expressed in the office, she is looking forward to never documenting another human rights violation committed by the FARC. Juan, our lawyer, talked about growing up in the 1990s and being able to recite from memory the noon news: first some dead people because of the armed conflict, then some dead people because of common crime, then sports, then nonsense. He is hopeful to see different news and work within a legal system that promotes peace, not war.

There is much work left to be done, including the signing of the final peace accords and the creation of structures of social justice and trust. As we may our way back to the office, wearing DiPaz t-shirts proclaiming the need for truth, reparations and justice, a woman selling chips on the street scoffed at us. What hope of peace is there if Santos is freely giving the country away to the FARC?  This sentiment is shared by many and freely propelled by the extreme right. There are other active armed groups in Colombia and insecurity will continue.

peace-dayToday, however, is a day for celebration and remembrance.  The promise of fewer young people killing other young people in the jungle fills us with joy. Tomorrow will bring new challenges, meetings and emails as my Colombian colleagues figure out how they work and advocate within this new phase. Today, we remember that change is possible and say yes to peace, for today and for tomorrow.  I think of the people and communities I have come to love across the country and hope and pray that peace will create both great and small changes as they continue to live their lives in a different Colombia.

 

In the spirit of the weekly round-up, here are some links for more information:

Colombia’s peace deals in depth: End of Conflict

The government will create 23 undisclosed transitory areas for demobilization ZVTN and eight camps throughout Colombia. These areas are about as big as the existing borders of the “vereda” or township where the guerrillas will come together. Within the veredas, the legal carrying of firearms will temporarily be suspended for the maximum of six months the guerrillas’ legal situation should be resolved and the ZVTN be lifted. During the six-month period, a safety cordon of approximately one kilometer will be created around these ZVTN to prevent any type of armed action possibly committed against demobilized guerrillas or the local population. Within this safety cordon, public and ex-guerrilla security will be overseen by the international observers and the FARC. No members of the security forces or the FARC will be allowed inside the safety cordon. One day after the signing of a peace agreement, the government will give out concrete instructions to the military that will allow the mass displacement of FARC members to the ZVTN. Five days after the peace deal, the commanders of the so-called “Tactical Units” of the FARC will move to these designated areas and begin the coordination of the mass demobilization of troops with the local civilian authorities.

3 things you should know about the new Colombia peace agreement with its rebels

Finally, the government itself will have to move into territories where the rule of law is weak and insecurity is high. Some of these regions have been essentially governed by the FARC. In others, both the FARC and the paramilitaries captured institutions to steer benefits their way.  Paramilitaries even managed to elect a substantial proportion of the congress.  State-building is difficult and messy, and the government will have to ramp up its presence in areas it abandoned in the past. As with demobilization and reparations, the Colombian government has already started its effort, with mixed results. The tasks should be easier without the FARC to contend with. Despite the challenges, this is the most promising step the parties have arrived at since the war began. Let’s hope that the next few months lead to an enduring agreement.

Rural Colombians hope ‘pretty promises’ can bring peace back to paradise

In a rebel outpost in the mountains of the Magdalena Medio region, commander Alberto Camacho is preparing his troops to arm themselves with political arguments rather than AK-47s, even though he admits mixed emotions at doing so himself. “It’s going to be really hard,” says Camacho, commander of the Farc’s Magdalena Medio Block, who joined the rebel group 37 years ago when he was just 12 years old. “It implies a whole different life for us, a different regime,” he says. “We have been living in boots for so long, but this will be a new stage for us.” Already the routine for guerrillas has changed. “Before we would get up in the morning and head to the trenches,” says Camacho. “Today we get up and go to meetings, study the peace accords,” he says. Camacho says the guerrillas’ commitment to ending the war has been made evident with the unilateral ceasefire the Farc declared in July 2015. Since then the level of violence in the country has dropped to unprecedented lows, with just 10 offensive actions by the Farc in the past 11 months, in which one civilian and three soldiers have been killed, according to the Bogotá-based Conflict Analysis Resource Centre….But the accord announced on Thursday will require the guerrillas to do more than leave aside their weapons. Ending all hostilities includes putting a stop to widespread extortion demanded by the Farc of everyone from large business and mining concerns to bus drivers and small shop owners.

Colombia and Farc rebels sign historic ceasefire deal to end 50-year conflict

The message on Thursday is that the conflict is over. But while the National Liberation Army, a smaller and weaker guerrilla group that has been around nearly as long as the Farc, has announced separate peace talks with the government, they have yet to get under way. The government has demanded that the group renounce kidnapping – its main source of financing – before formal negotiations can begin, which the ELN has rejected as a precondition. “The ELN is missing out on the moment and it is going to be a problem for society and a problem for the Farc and for the ELN itself,” Sánchez said. Paradoxically, Sánchez warned that the end of the conflict with the Farc could bring more social upheaval in the country. “After spending half a century accustomed to the sound of bullets, now we will have to get used to the sound of social mobilization in the streets,” he said, noting that social movements have largely been repressed by the nature of the armed conflict.

 

Posted in Advocacy, Colombia, roundup | 2 Comments

Weekly News Roundup: June 17, 2016

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Anna Vogt

The News Roundup is a regular feature of the blog where we select a number of news articles from various sources around the web, with the goal of providing an overview of the weekly conversation about the countries where MCC works in the region. Quotes in italics are drawn directly from sources and do not necessarily reflect the position of MCC.

How to make Latin America’s most violent cities safer

There are many factors in what makes a city dangerous, but some stand out. At the top of the list is income inequality – Latin America is home to 10 of the 15 most unequal countries on the planet. There is a strong correlation between social and economic inequality and the incidence of lethal violence. Other factors include high rates of youth unemployment, chronically weak security and justice institutions, and high levels of unregulated urbanisation. However, the news is not all bad. There are promising examples from some governments – especially when led by municipal authorities – of efforts to turn things around. The most exciting activities are bubbling up in cities. This is to be expected: mayors often have more intimate contact with constituents, greater discretion to undertake prevention and visible priorities (and repercussions if they don’t meet them).

Migration as Reparations

The roots of this deportation regime must be eradicated and replaced. But this will not occur by asking the federal government to be more “humanitarian” in carrying out its regime of immigrant and territorial exclusion. It will only come about by demanding—and fighting for—a very different world, in which the U.S. government does not undermine the very conditions that make life viable for the majority in migrant-sending countries. This would be a world in which the U.S. state does not block those fleeing the ravages Washington has helped to produce from seeking a better life in U.S. territorial confines—if not for reasons of common humanity, then, at the very least, as compensation for the conditions it created. Until we make this happen, we can be sure that another “surge” will always be on the horizon.

Southern exposure: The costly border plan Mexico won’t discuss

In 2015, Mexican authorities arrested more than 170,000 Central Americans who were trying to traverse the country illegally – more than double the number stopped two years before. That spike in detentions was one outcome of Frontera Sur – the relatively benign one. The second was much darker, and entirely predictable, Mr. Lorente and other advocates for migrants say, leaving them with no patience for the idea that the plan was intended to make migrants safer. “It’s caused the routes to disperse a lot: Before, there were two very clear routes, either here or Tabasco, and now there are many routes, and migrants are much more likely to suffer violence at the hands of authorities and of organized crime,” Mr. Lorente said. He doesn’t dispute that the journey was dangerous before – that migrants were kidnapped, extorted, raped and assaulted. But now there are vastly more opportunities for criminals to prey on migrants, while the travellers are afraid to come far enough into the open to access the slender network of services that exist to support them.

Homegrown Solutions to Central America’s Narco Nightmare

A growing number of governments across the Americas are endorsing drug policies that address both demand and supply. Besides stepping up criminal justice measures that target transnational organized crime through new enforcement and sentencing strategies, they have started doubling down on harm reduction. In Colombia, Mexico and Uruguay, for example, experiments with regulating drugs and with expanding public health approaches to address addiction are underway. Slowly, but unmistakably, the hardline mano dura strategies that have wrought so much havoc are making way for softer — and smarter — approaches. For Central American nations to exploit the shift, however, they will need to undertake a massive overhaul of their justice and health care systems — which in turn will require substantial investment. If U.S. officials genuinely care about significantly reducing the drug trade in Latin America — and in Central America in particular — they would do well to introduce measures to get it under control. Supporting deep reform can produce better results over the long term than a war without end.

Nicaragua court throws out leadership of opposition party

Nicaragua’s Supreme Court threw out the current leader of the country’s main opposition party on Thursday and reinstated a former leader who had sued for control of the Independent Liberal Party. Current leader Eduardo Montealegre had been building a coalition to compete against President Daniel Ortega, who is running for his third consecutive term. Montealegre came second in the 2006 presidential race. But the court ruled that former party vice president Pedro Reyes Vallejos is the legal representative of the party, based on a suit Reyes Vallejos filed about five years ago. The ruling invalidates the nominations of the Independent Liberal Party’s candidates for the Nov. 6 elections.“This is a coup against the opposition because Ortega is afraid of us,” said Montealegre. 

Haiti/Dominican Republic: Reckless deportations leaving thousands in limbo

“Where are we going to live?” Migration and statelessness in Haiti and the Dominican Republic reveals the reckless way in which the two governments are handling the deportation, expulsion and “spontaneous” return of tens of thousands of people from the Dominican Republic to Haiti following an 18-month long regularization plan for undocumented foreigners living in the Dominican Republic. “Since arbitrarily stripping thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent of their nationality, Dominican authorities created a human rights crisis that is leaving tens of thousands of people in an absolute and desperate legal limbo,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

Report: Red Cross Spent 25 Percent Of Haiti Donations On Internal Expenses

The American Red Cross spent a quarter of the money people donated after the 2010 Haiti earthquake — or almost $125 million — on its own internal expenses, far more than the charity previously had disclosed, according to a report released today by Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley.  The report also says the charity’s top officials stonewalled congressional investigators and released incomplete information about its Haiti program to the public. It concludes “there are substantial and fundamental concerns about [the Red Cross] as an organization.” The report follows a nearly yearlong investigation by the Iowa Republican and his staff, launched after coverage by NPR and ProPublica of the Red Cross’ Haiti response. The venerated charity raised nearly $500 million after the disaster, more than any other nonprofit — but an ambitious plan to build housing resulted in just six permanent homes, NPR and ProPublica found.

Displacement Rising as Colombia’s Conflict Moves into New Phase

While internal displacement in Colombia has long been linked to the country’s civil conflict, organized crime is playing an increasingly important role in the current dynamic. As the report notes, one of the main factors driving displacement is the struggle between armed groups looking to take control of FARC strongholds ahead of a likely peace deal between the guerrillas and the government…The numerous alliances and confrontations taking place across Colombia provide an insight into the potential instability of the country’s underworld following a peace deal with the guerrillas. As the ongoing displacement illustrates, this period of readjustment is likely to bring new violence. While Colombia may be entering the final days of its civil conflict, the country will likely face new, unpredictable and volatile criminal conflicts in the years to come.

Cluck you: Bolivia rejects Bill Gates’ donation of hens

The Bolivian government has rejected a donation of hens offered by the US billionaire Bill Gates, as officials said the tech magnate needs to study up on the Andean nation’s thriving poultry sector. “How can he think we are living 500 years ago, in the middle of the jungle not knowing how to produce?” the Bolivian development minister, César Cocarico, told journalists. “Respectfully, he should stop talking about Bolivia.” The Microsoft founder and philanthropist recently said he would donate 100,000 hens to countries with high poverty levels, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa but including Bolivia. Bolivia produces 197m chickens annually and has the capacity to export 36m, the local poultry producing association said.

Posted in Advocacy, Bolivia, Colombia, Haiti, Mexico, Migration, Nicaragua, roundup | Leave a comment

South to South: Stories of Haitian Youth Migrating from the Dominican Republic

Ted and Katharine Oswald work with MCC Haiti as Policy Analysts and Advocacy Coordinators. This post is part of our ongoing migration series

Haiti and the Dominican Republic (D.R.) are neighboring countries, sharing the island of Hispaniola. Haitians have historically migrated across the porous border to find economic opportunities, even though the D.R. is a developing nation with a poverty rate of 41 percent. Last year, the D.R. began deporting undocumented Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent under new, controversial immigration laws. Haitian youth — in school or out, living with family or not — have been caught up in these policies’ effects, and their stories capture some of the complexities of politics, family relations, and economic ties that drive migration between countries in the Global South.

Eduardo

Ted Oswald

Eduard*

It only took a few minutes in early April to upend Eduard’s life. At 5am, Eduard, 17, went to get a quick coffee on the streets of Azua, the Dominican town he calls home. Immigration agents spotted him, found him without identification papers, and took him into custody. Kept in a jail overnight, he was transferred to an immigration detention facility near the Elias Piña border crossing. After three days without food, he was released with around 50 men on the Haitian side of the border without any idea where to go or what to do.

Before his deportation, Eduard’s life was not so different from many other youth without legal status in the D.R: he did not exist on paper, except for a forged Dominican birth certificate; he never attended school, and he cannot read. He learned over the years to keep his head down, avoid scrutiny, and work hard. Still, his upbringing was anything but normal. Azua is a mid-sized coastal city, and he was raised by a Dominican couple after his Haitian mother died when he was very young. He never met his father, who he says is dead. Though he believes he has four brothers, he has no idea where to find them.

On the day he was sent to Haiti, the other deportees with financial means were met by contacts or made quick plans to cross back over illegally as soon as possible. Eduard soon stood alone. A waiting motorcycle taxi driver saw him and told him about the Support Group for the Repatriated and Refugees (GARR), a Haitian nonprofit organization that monitors Haiti’s border and supports displaced people. The moto driver helped Eduard get in touch with their local office and he was soon transferred to GARR’s transit center for unaccompanied minors in Lascahobas.

Eduard appreciates the transit center where he’s been the last month: it’s a safe place to rest, play, and exercise, though he knows he can’t remain there. He wants to be back in the D.R., back home, and if he could leave tomorrow, he would. But he has no means, and Eduard either misremembers the phone number of the man he lived with or it has changed. He believes his friends and surrogate family know he’s been deported, and he hates that he has no way to let them know his whereabouts, and no way to return to them.

Jasmine

Ted Oswald

Jasmine*

Sixteen-year-old Jasmine is homeless. The one home she hearkens back to is in the D.R., a country where she doesn’t have the legal right to stay.

Jasmine’s upbringing proved unstable. She grew up in a Haitian village along the border until age 10, when a relative took her to Santo Domingo, the capital of the D.R.,  to reunite with her Haitian mother. After a year in the D.R., her father asked that Jasmine be sent back to Haiti to work in her uncle’s home with the expectation the uncle would send her to school. The uncle did not care well for Jasmine, and for the past six years she has moved between homes in Haiti, only completing three years of schooling. She has meanwhile longed to return the D.R. where two of her brothers and a sister still live and work.

When last at her father’s home in Haiti, Jasmine was subject to regular beatings and ridicule. Her brother along with other men from town regularly harassed her. One month ago, a particularly brutal beating at her brother’s hands was enough to push her to run away. With no other plan in mind, she walked to the border in an attempt to cross and somehow reach her family in Santo Domingo. Bleeding from her head and mouth as she went, she brushed off people’s concerns as she walked along, replying simply, “Nothing’s wrong with me.” When she arrived at the border, she couldn’t find a way to reach her brother by phone. As in Eduard’s situation, a motorcycle taxi driver recommended GARR’s transit center for unaccompanied minors. She has remained there the past month, waiting as social workers determine how best to help.

She thinks about her prospects often. “I can’t go to Port-au-Prince because I have no family there to receive me. I won’t join one of those orphanages run by foreigners, because I hear they don’t feed children well.” What she wants most is to be with her brothers in the D.R., and so she waits at the center, hoping for a better tomorrow.

Joli

Ted Oswald

Joli

Seven-year-old Joli was born in Haiti but has lived most of his life in the D.R. His father, Jonny, and his mother were migrants who sought work across the border in the D.R.’s agricultural sector. In mid-2015, Jonny, his wife, and two sons were taken from their home in the middle of the night and deported without any of their belongings. Jonny’s wife was extremely ill at the time, and she died three months after returning to Haiti.

Jonny has since crossed back over to visit their home in the D.R. and searched for crucial documents such as his sons’ Haitian ID papers. He found the home ransacked with every paper and personal belonging of value gone. Now, Jonny needs help from government offices to get Joli documented and enrolled in school in Haiti. Caught between two lives and two cultures, Jonny’s kids have especially suffered in their migration experiences. Without work and unable to pay government processing fees, he and Joli are caught in limbo.

Gerda

Ted Oswald

Gerda*

Gerda is 17. She lived for eight years in La Noria, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Santo Domingo, and returned to Haiti voluntarily in June 2015. People she knew had undergone sudden and sometimes violent deportations, and she decided to avoid a similar uprooting.

She now lives with her aunt in the Haitian border community of Belledere. Adjusting to life has been difficult, especially re-learning Haitian Creole. In the D.R., she attended school and was fluent in Spanish. Now that she is back “home” she would like to attend school in Haiti but lacks the documentation to register.

Caught In Between

These stories capture themes common to migratory experiences the world over: the consequences of heightened immigration enforcement and the strain placed on families divided by borders, the uncertainty deportations create and the economic imperatives that spur return despite the risks. For these children, the legality of crossing back to the D.R. and the politics driving their dislocations are abstract even though the effects are concrete. For Eduard, returning to the D.R. means getting back home and to work, leaving a country that feels foreign even though it is his country of origin. Jasmine wants reunification with undocumented siblings in the D.R. who might protect and shelter her when no one else will. Joli and Gerda are resigned to life in rural Haiti, dependent on others, uncomfortable with the language, and unable to get the education they desire. All four are caught in the in between, forced to come to terms with where they are and grappling with the uncertainty of what will come next.

* Names are changed and faces obscured to protect the children’s identities where a parent or guardian could not provide consent.


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Posted in Advocacy, Haiti, Migration | Leave a comment

Weekly News Roundup, June 10

Port au Prince Street

A street in Haiti’s capital, Port au Prince. Anna Vogt

The News Roundup is a regular feature of the blog where we select a number of news articles from various sources around the web, with the goal of providing an overview of the weekly conversation about the countries where MCC works in the region. Quotes in italics are drawn directly from sources and do not necessarily reflect the position of MCC.

Report Accuses Mexico of Crimes Against Humanity in Drug War

In the years since the Mexican government began an intense military campaign against drug gangs, many stories like Mr. Parral’s have surfaced — accounts of people caught at the intersection of organized crime, security forces and a failing justice system. They are killed at military checkpoints, vanish inside navy facilities or are tortured by federal police officers. Seldom are their cases investigated. A trial and conviction are even more rare. But are these cases just regrettable accidents in the course of a decade-long government battle against drug violence? A new report by the Open Society Justice Initiative, which works on criminal justice reforms around the world, argues that they are not. Instead, the study says, they point to a pattern of indiscriminate force and impunity that is an integral part of the state’s policy.

CICIG: Guatemala Faces Challenge of ‘Structural Corruption’

Velásquez spoke about the charges brought last week against former Guatemalan president Otto Pérez Molina and former Vice President Roxana Baldetti, which accuse the pair of accepting illegal campaign contributions to help them win the 2011 election. Once in office, they allegedly returned the illicit favors by awarding public works contracts to donors. Pérez Molina and Baldetti are currently jailed on corruption charges related to a tax-evasion and bribery scheme known as “La Linea.” Pérez Molina is also accused of accepting bribes from a Spanish company in exchange for steering a major port development contract toward that firm. According to Velásquez, whose organization supported these investigations, the problem of corruption in Guatemala is not limited to Pérez Molina and Baldetti’s Patriot Party. Rather, he said, “it is a corruption that is much more rooted to the point that it could be, hypothetically, that these consolidated structures have remained in the country [and] in the government, and can even reach relationships and understandings with each government, for cyclical corruption.”

Transparency International strongly condemns threats against Honduran anti-corruption activists

Civil society representatives taking part in the police reform initiative, including Transparency International’s national chapter in Honduras the Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa, have been faced with numerous threats and attempts of intimidation since the commission was established less than two months ago. The commissioners were profiled; their families followed by pick-up trucks without license plates; their homes watched and investigated; and an anonymous threat was placed at the entrance of a house. “The government must take responsibility to ensure the protection of everyone involved in the police reform initiative and investigate who is behind the threats. We have seen too many brave activists murdered in Honduras in the past, including the high-profile case of Berta Cáceres three months ago. This must never happen again. Ensuring the safety of civil society activists is paramount,” said José Ugaz, Chair of Transparency International.

El Salvador’s new attorney general is the point man in the war against gangs

The government of President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, a former leftist guerrilla commander in the civil war, has doubled down on an aggressive strategy against the dominant street gangs. It will fall to Meléndez, who was 49 when he was sworn in in January, to decide whether to prosecute police and soldiers if they commit human rights abuses, as well as to pursue cases against public officials accused of corruption. Since starting the job, Meléndez has announced charges against off-duty police officers allegedly involved in extrajudicial killings, but he has also gone after civilians who he says broke the law in negotiating a 2012 gang truce, a move that critics have described as a political witch hunt. In a recent interview in his office, Meléndez stressed that no one is above the law, but he also warned that his office was underequipped and needed to be free of political interference. He said the office’s $43 million budget should be raised to at least $70 million, to hire more prosecutors, modernize equipment and add to a depleted fleet of vehicles. He also follows an attorney general, Luis Martínez, who faced corruption allegations and calls from U.S. lawmakers for his removal.

El Güegüense: strategies for eruption in Nicaragua

Amidst all of this uncertainty the opposition factions have but one option – to forge ahead with their various campaigns, blind to the future in so many ways.  Only one thing they can truly influence, and fortunately, on that subject they are absolutely united.  When asked about what might make the difference in November, all point to the very same thing: turnout.  Certainly, the formidable FSLN machine goes into hyper drive during election season.  But that means their opponents can be certain that practically every single extra vote that they get out, to the disgruntled, the skeptics, will be a vote against Ortega.  And one can only steal so many votes.  “The idea is that Ortega needs legitimacy … more than ever,” explains Dr Pedro Belli.  “All his buddies are gone.  And through votes, not through bullets.”  

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An Advocacy Learning Tour

 Katharine Oswald is a policy analyst and advocacy coordinator with MCC Haiti. This post was originally published on the MCC Haiti blog. 

Last week, MCC Haiti hosted its third Advocacy Learning Tour in recent history. What is an Advocacy Learning Tour? It is an opportunity for representatives from MCC’s advocacy offices (in Ottawa, New York, Washington DC) and the regional policy analyst to deepen their knowledge of Haitian culture and the political landscape.

This year, participants enjoyed the beauty of Haiti’s countryside and met with local experts on issues ranging from food sovereignty, migration crises at the border, reforestation, and Haiti’s ongoing electoral process. Here is a photographic tour of our week:

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Downtown Port-au-Prince. Anna Vogt.

We took a brief tour of downtown Port-au-Prince on our first afternoon together. This was a perfect treat after we had spent a few hours learning about Haitian history and recent social movements in Haiti from the educator Nixon Boumba. The streets of Haiti are popping with color, as evidenced by the public bus above, and the downtown plaza of Champ Mars boasts several statues and monuments to Haiti’s heroes. The towering grey structure above was built by former President Aristide to commemorate Haiti’s bicentennial in 2004. Interestingly, the torch on top of the monument was never lit.

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Meeting with CODDEMIR and Pedro of Centro Bono in Malpasse. Ted Oswald.

A Saturday trip took us to Haiti’s nearest border crossing with the Dominican Republic, Malpasse, where we met with two civil society groups who are engaged in monitoring the ongoing migration crisis between the two countries. CODDEMIR (left and fourth from right) partnered with MCC to distribute material aid to a camp along the border. Pedro Cano (center) of Centro Bono monitors Dominican migration policy and educates migrants on their fundamental rights. Over lunch, our group learned how we can effectively advocate for Dominicans and Haitian migrants who are suffering from unjust immigration policies.

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Community tree nursery in Kristan. Anna Vogt.

No learning tour is complete without paying a visit to MCC’s countryside office in Dezam, where we have partnered with local communities for thirty years to implement a multi-faceted reforestation program. Our group was greeted with songs and then led to the outskirts of Dezam where we witnessed the success of one of many MCC-supported tree nurseries. The tree saplings above are just a handful of 35,000 saplings at this one nursery site. This month, nursery committee members will distribute all 35,000 trees in one morning, so that community members can replant them in their own gardens, improving their family’s income and food security for the future.

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Buillon. Anna Vogt.

Every cross-cultural experience comes with new flavors and aromas. One highlight of a learning tour is the immersion in Haitian cuisine. Over the week we sampled Haitian meatballs, fried chicken with carrots and string beans, fresh fish, Haiti’s famous squash soup, and pikliz. Fresh lime, papaya, grapefruit, and mango juices greeted us at lunchtimes. Above is the typical dinner dish buillon made by Lucilia, the cook at our Dezam office. Made with dumplings, potatoes, boiled plantains, optional beef, bell peppers and spices, it’s a great way to unwind and top off a fulfilling day.

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Kabay. Anna Vogt.

On a misty morning we hiked to the farming community of Kabay, where MCC has worked with 160 farmers to distribute seeds and develop personal gardens, bringing much needed life to this drought-affected area. Sixty-seven farmers came together for their regular meeting and for peanut seed distribution. We spent part of our week discussing the USDA’s recent decision to ship 500 metric tons of peanuts to Haiti for school feeding programs. National and international groups have since expressed concern about this shipment undermining Haiti’s local peanut market. Seeing firsthand how this news unsettled the farmers in Kabay, who rely on peanuts as one of their most valuable crops, gave us fresh ideas on how we could advocate further on behalf of Haitian farmers.

Advocacy Learning Tour participants will reflect more on their time in Haiti through the upcoming Haiti Is series.

 

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Weekly News Roundup, May 20

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Bogota street art. Anna Vogt

The News Roundup is a regular feature of the blog where we select a number of news articles from various sources around the web, with the goal of providing an overview of the weekly conversation about the countries where MCC works in the region. Quotes in italics are drawn directly from sources and do not necessarily reflect the position of MCC.

Mexico Election Scandals Spotlight Importance of Local Corruption

Whether the current turmoil in Tamaulipas is a political smear campaign or real criminal ties, the involvement of organized crime in local-level politics is a very real concern. There are many examples in Latin America that illustrate the trend, and a number of reasons organized crime goes to the effort to corrupt the lower rungs on the political ladder. One of the most important attractions of corrupting local government is that it affords criminal groups a measure of territorial control. Dominating areas without the collusion of local authorities can require high levels of violence or sticking to ungoverned spaces where state forces are irrelevant. This is especially true for trafficking organizations, which can more easily carve out drug corridors if local authorities are on board.

Portrait of a people smuggler (video, photos and text)

When he is not on one of the three or four trips he takes to the border each year, he spends his time looking for those who might have the $6,000 to $7,000 required for his services. That is not easy in a country where the minimum wage is about $330 a month. Many rely on relatives already in the US to help them come up with the huge sum, while selling all they have in Honduras to get the rest together. The fee covers a package deal – the smuggler, like many others, offers three shots from Honduras to cross the US border. Migrants who do not make it in their allotted number of attempts often have nothing to return to. “Those people end up in the street, because even if you want to, you can’t keep taking them. The money they pay you is just enough for the three attempts.” It is getting ever more difficult to make it – and not just because of the gangs. After alarm in the US over the growing number of child migrants reaching the border in 2014, Mexico put in action “Plan Frontera Sur” – a programme, part funded by the US, to prevent Central Americans passing through. It has worked. Roving checkpoints and a constant watch on the cargo train used by migrants have led to a 70 percent rise in deportations.

Appraising Violence in Honduras: How Much is ‘Gang-Related’?

Determining what motivates the gangs to violence is difficult in the best of circumstances. In Honduras, it is made more difficult because of unreliable data, the limited number of judicial cases, and holes in government intelligence. Using the best available data on the most reliable proxy — homicides — as well as qualitative research, one can only theorize about the extent of violence and how it relates to gang activity in the country. The notion of which gang is more violent is also subject to widespread speculation and hearsay. The general perception is that the Barrio 18 is more violent than the MS13. Proxies, however, show no difference between the two gangs in terms of violence in their neighborhoods. For a report on gangs in Honduras, for example, InSight Crime examined homicide statistics for Tegucigalpa over a five-year period between 2008 and 2013, and compared them to areas where the two gangs are believed to be predominant. However, we found little correlation was found between the number of homicides and which gang controlled a particular area. Barrio 18 areas had more total homicides, but in both Barrio 18 and MS13areas, there was an average of 11 homicides per area over that five-year period.

Human rights body makes rare bid to halt Salvadorian woman’s deportation

The deportation of a woman and her 12-year-old daughter from the US to El Salvador should be halted because their lives are at risk, a human rights monitoring body has said in an unusual intervention. “After analyzing the legal arguments and facts,” the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights found that the mother and daughter “are facing a situation of seriousness and urgency, since their lives and personal integrity would be at risk if they were deported”. The mother, who asked that her name not be published out of fear of retaliation in her home country, claims she fled to the United States in March after she endured multiple gang rapes by members of a gang called “Mara 18”, who also killed her brother-in-law and threatened to attack her daughter. But she says has not been able to explain her ordeal to US authorities, who have since rejected her request for asylum.

In beautiful, beleaguered Nicaragua, a democracy lies dormant (Part 1)

But simmering discontent has been spilling on to the street, in the form of a weekly “Wednesday Protest” series, and demonstrators were hopeful that Ortega might recognize an easy opportunity to appease his critics.  Instead, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) proposed and elected two of its own activists, both ex-members of the government, one the sister of a high ranking Sandinista in Managua’s city hall. Such audacity is characteristic of the caudillo (the term for Latin America’s strongman demagogues), Daniel Ortega.  The management style employed by the former comandante and his wife, Rosario Murillo, is more akin to that of a family business than a nation state.  Observers and opponents have long grown accustomed to nonsensical turnarounds and impenetrable governance.  Some decisions, such as the weekly deployment of over a hundred heavily armed police in Managua to cordon off the CSE building from that small group of protesters, are drenched in 1980s paranoia, and might almost warrant pity.  Others, like one to declare Cardinal Obando y Bravo (previously branded “the arch-enemy” by Ortega’s revolutionary government) a national hero, are practically laughable.  But though it is only sporadically revealed, there also exists a much more sinister nature to this power couple’s rule.

Moving Closer to Justice for the Victims of Cholera in Haiti

As a result of these efforts, governments appear to be taking a new interest in the issue. At the UN Security Council in New York and Human Rights Council in Geneva, several governments made public statements in support of reparations for cholera victims. For example, Malaysia urged the UN to consider remedies and compensation for victims. Importantly, the Haitian Ambassador in Geneva welcomed a recommendation by the UN’s human rights expert in Haiti that the UN promptly establish a commission to provide reparations to victims of cholera. These statements by UN member states have in turn spurred several candidates for the next Secretary-General to speak in favor of justice. As Secretary-General Ban’s term comes to an end this year, renewed UN leadership may bring new opportunities for justice.

The Beginning of the End of Colombia’s War: Agreement on Minors Reached in Havana

This past Sunday, May 15, the parties in Havana announced further agreements that signal the imminent end of the war.  In Joint Communiqué #70, the parties announced a plan for separating minors from the battlefield and reintegrating all minors under age 15 currently in FARC camps into civil society.  (Read the joint communiqué here.)  The agreement represents a “crucial advance” and a “final stop” in the process of ending the war, noted Humberto de la Calle, the government’s lead negotiator. (Read de la Calle’s statement here.)  Under this agreement, a road map and protocol will be established for the progressive separation , from armed life of every minor in the FARC rank-and-file, beginning with those under 15 years of age. (See Q&A here.)

Firm economics help Bolivia buck commodities downturn

Under Mr Morales, GDP has almost tripled and more than 2.6m people joined the middle class, according to Bolivia’s social and economic policy analysis unit (UDAPE). Annual household consumption expenditure per person rocketed from $930 in 2006 to $2,027 in 2014. Last year, the finance ministry announced that restaurant and supermarket takings had grown 718 per cent from 2005 to 2014. Mr Morales used state hydrocarbon revenues to fund “gas to cash” bonds, conditional transfer schemes benefiting pensioners, expectant mothers, schoolchildren and families. This revenue transfer boosted social welfare spending by 45 per cent from 2005-12, contributing to a halving of poverty rates between 2006 and 2013, according to the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme). So for the first time since the Spanish conquistadores arrived, Bolivia’s Aymara and Quechua indigenous populations are enjoying the benefits of the country’s resource wealth. This makes any reversion to the bitterly polarised politics of earlier years less likely in 2019 when Mr Morales’s term ends, should he or his ruling Movement Towards Socialism party fail to name a left-leaning successor.

Against the grain

If that happens, the marginal producers likely to be pushed out of business by the glut are the original ones: poor Andean farmers. They grow quinoa because little else thrives on their steep, barren plots. Their new competitors, tilling better soil with modern farming equipment, manage yields that are up to eight times higher. An ox takes six days to plough land a tractor can handle in two hours, explains Mr Livingstone-Wallace. “With their current methods, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to compete on price,” he says. The “Fairtrade” price of quinoa (which is meant to correspond to the minimum required to give farmers a decent standard of living) is around $2.60 a kilo; the current market rate is less than $2, suggesting that Andean growers are already struggling. The idea that the Andes might cease to be the world’s main source of quinoa is not far-fetched. The potato, after all, originated there, but now 15 other countries, including Bangladesh and Belarus, produce more potatoes than Peru does.

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Choosing to Stay: Vocational Opportunities for Migrants

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Rafael (plaid) and Javier, two program participants, work on the electrical panel of an air conditioning unit in a Refrigeration Training Course provided by CASM. Emily Bowman.

 

Emily Bowman is the Connecting Peoples Coordinator in Honduras. This post draws on sources from MCC Honduras and CASM Reports as part of the ongoing MCC LACA Series on migration

Note: All names are pseudonyms to protect the identity of the participants.

In April 2015, Alexa left Honduras. She was 15 and pregnant. Driven by a fear of rejection by her community and the promise of steady work in a supermarket outside of Honduras, she got on a bus with a friend and headed north. It didn’t turn out the way she had imagined. She found herself in a nightmare: sold into a human trafficking market and ending up in a brothel in Belize. After two months there, she was rescued by an undercover detective in a police raid. She was in custody for her protection for a time and then transported back to Honduras.

Hector always wanted to be a teacher. He was raised in a loving home, one of the youngest of 11 children. When he entered high school, gang members took control over his neighbourhood and demanded that his older brothers join. The brothers refused and the whole family was forced to flee to another neighbourhood. Death threats followed them. Hector continued to go to the same high school but he feared the gangsters would recognize him and take him instead of one of his brothers.

The day after he was followed home he never went back to school again. Work and opportunities were scarce. Two of his brothers migrated to the United States. When another one of the brothers was brutally murdered, the family hired a coyote to bring Hector and another brother to the US. Their journey was intercepted by migration officials, who detained them in Mexico and deported them back to Honduras.

 

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Alexa, Jairo and Luis working out some equations for their mechanics class. Emily Bowman.

Migrants cite many reasons for leaving. These include: family reunification (children looking for their parents living in the United States); extreme poverty; violence; insecurity; organized crime; lack of social opportunities; and sexual abuse and sexual trafficking, among many others.

2014 marked record numbers of unaccompanied migrant minors arriving to the US border. The International Conference of Infancy and Family reports 47,014 from Central America, up from 21,537 in 2013. Though the numbers of those apprehended on the US-Mexico border have fallen off in subsequent years, mostly due to crackdowns on migration in Mexico, the number of busloads of deported migrant dropped off in the centre of San Pedro Sula has not abated. About 16,000 returned unaccompanied minors arrived in 2015. In Honduras, the Sula Valley region accounts for 63% of all deported children. 81% of these children are from one municipality: San Pedro Sula.

What happens when the buses are emptied at the border or in receiving centres? Where do they go? What do they do? Many migrants are traumatized by what happened on the journey or by the reasons that they left home in the first place. Most see no option but to try to migrate again.

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Jairo selects a gear in the Industrial Mechanics course with CASM. Emily Bowman.

Given this context, MCC supports the Mennonite Social Action Commission (CASM), an organization that assists young returned migrants. MCC and CASM created a pilot project with the goal of providing vocational training for 100 young people over the course of one year, allowing them to improve their socioeconomic situation and thereby reduce their interest in migrating again. The project began in April 2015 and in now in its second year.

The participants, from the Sula Valley and between the ages of 15 and 25, receive training in electricity, mechanical engineering, refrigeration, cell phone repair, industrial operating, cooking or cosmetology. CASM also organizes job fairs, conducts home visits, provides psychological accompaniment, gives complementary workshops on job interviewing skills, marketing and other employment skills, as well as facilitating volunteer opportunities so the young people can give back to their communities. They hope that young people will leave the program with a job offer from a company or empowered with entrepreneurial skills to start their own business.

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Sara works on her model, Micaela, while her instructor, Valery, of the Cosmetology course, observes. Emily Bowman.

For many, it is an uphill battle. They face pressure to search for work and start earning right away to support their families or struggle with a challenging academic workload. Many participants enter with elementary school education levels. Some abandon the program to re-migrate or due to security concerns. But for those who stay, the program can completely change their life. It not only provides job training, but community and hope.

When Hector arrived back in Honduras he took hold of the opportunity. He was able to move to a safer area and received support from CASM. He decided to attend trainings to be a kitchen assistant because he liked to cook and thought that it may be one of the courses that could most easily provide work afterwards. He is still in training and says that once he finishes, he hopes to find work and continue his studies or maybe start his own business. He would like to graduate university and pursue a career. With the skills he has acquired he feels that he can better provide for the security of his family. He says “I want my life to be a story of overcoming odds and having success”.

As for Alexa, she was approached by CASM upon her return to Honduras and quickly enrolled in the training for mechanical engineering. Refusing to be stereotyped, she has risen to the top of the mainly male class, spending much of her time in the classroom helping fellow students to understand the concepts. She says “the program has been my support system and it is a great benefit to those who want a better life but haven´t been able to achieve it yet.” CAMS provided psychological care and accompaniment through the process. As she looks ahead, she says “now I can see in the future having my own workshop, a home and a family here in Honduras. And that´s exciting. That gives me hope.”

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Karmen works with some wires in an air-conditioning unit in the course on Refrigeration. Emily Bowman.

CASM’s project is expanding and includes advocacy efforts. In early 2016, CASM developed 3 public radio and TV spots targeting political decision-makers, civil society and the general population. The goal was to generate awareness regarding the issues surrounding migration and plant prevention strategies. They were first aired on the most widely known radio stations of the city in February 2016, featuring some of the participants, including Hector, as voice-overs.

If young people are are fleeing violence, however, is this project relevant? It is important to understand that violence in Honduras occurs on many levels. As MCC partner Association for a More Just Society (ASJ) puts it, violence ranges from domestic and soccer-fan levels, to gang violence, to governmental level violence and narcotraffickers, up to transnational levels. It is complicated. And with an impunity rate estimated at 96% by ASJ, there is very little reason to not use violence as a force to get what you want.

However, providing young people with alternatives to delinquency so they can make a living and acquire skills to support a family dismantles many of the reasons that create violence in the first place: namely, poverty. Many, when they receive the training and resources find themselves empowered with tools to support their families and communities, or move to a safer community out of harm´s way. They no longer see migration to the North as their only alternative, but also a future by staying in Honduras.

 

 

 

 

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“When he woke up, the monster was still there

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Nancy Sabas is the Connecting Peoples Coordinator for MCC Guatemala/El Salvador. She is from Honduras.

“When he woke up, the monster was still there”[i]: The conflict of Banana and Oil palm companies in La Blanca community

Tell me, given that you are a journalist and I didn´t go to school:
Drying lagoons is equal to development?
Fumigating communities is equal to development?
I didn´t go to school, but I know that that is not development
I am illiterate and I know that that is a violation.”

– Farmer and community member of La Blanca community.

A couple of months ago, I travelled to the community of La Blanca to interview neighbours and leaders of the South Shore Communities in Defense of the Territory along with the Co-Country Representative of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and the MCC Advocacy Analyst for Latin America and the Caribbean to learn more about the issues of monocrops and agro-industry in Guatemala.

I recognized the community immediately; I had seen it in the documentary “Ocos Despierta” produced by the Pastoral of the Earth from the Diocese of San Marcos, which we usually watch with the learning groups when discussing monoculture and agro-industries. The scene that always catches my attention is one with a man in the middle of the Zanjón Pacayá river who denounces the killing of fish, which he claims is caused by contamination from the toxic waste disposed of by the banana and oil palm companies in the area. This scene seemed peculiar for the language used, which not only reflects his concern about community subsistence, but also his love and anguish for a river that he understands as alive and in the process of being killed. This man´s connection with mother nature, as portrayed in that scene,  made me despise a little my own urbanity that has taught me to see nature as a mere resource.

Unfortunately, this poor understanding of nature as a commodity that can be abused and exploited is the legacy of a capitalist logic. Under this logic, the agroindustry of mono-cultures in communities such as La Blanca, Guatemala, is destroying ecosystems under the banner of development.

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Monoculture  is a growing industry. According to data from the National Agricultural Survey of 2014 (ENA), Guatemala’s second most important permanent crop, in terms of production volume, is oil palm. According to the ENA, palm oil production increased by 118% in 2014 compared to 2013. The cultivation of land for African palm, therefore also increased by 33%, compared 2013.[ii] Official data published by the ENA in previous years have shown inconsistencies compared to the data provided by the Union of Producers of Palm in Guatemala (GREMPALMA ) and other researchers, who estimate that the expansion of crops has been even greater.[iii]

Surely this industrial growth must be a reflection of an increase in cash flow. These mega-companies provide unskilled jobs and fund local infrastructure projects. Does this translate into an improvement in the quality of life for community members?

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“In the past we had three crops and now there’s only one,” says Eduardo Juarez, president of the organization of the 12 communities on the South Shore supported by local partner the Diocese of San Marcos, “There are children with skin diseases and respiration problems.” Another member added, “Our river Pacayá gave us fish for our own consumption and to sell.  People from Coatepeque and La Blanca used to come here to fish. In the winter the river regenerated through small ponds. The prairie area, El Tigre, had lizards, turtles and different species of animals. The Monticulo hill became known as the ‘charm’ because of the sounds of cocks crowing and other animals. Now, only the oil palm lives. It is unfortunate that 10 years have passed and nobody is doing anything. The prairie still appears on the map but it does no longer exist. This has affected our right to life and food”

Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva explains in an essay: “ Nature has been subjugated to the market as a mere supplier of industrial raw material and dumping ground for waste and pollution. It is falsely claimed that exploiting the Earth creates economic value and economic growth, and this improves human welfare. While human welfare is invoked to separate humans from the Earth and justify her limitless exploitation, all of humanity does not benefit. In fact most lose. Pitting humans against nature is not merely anthropocentric, it is corporatocentric”.[iv]

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Guatemala has failed to establish appropriate institutions or laws to oversee water use; this failure represents a huge accountability problem when agro industries, hydroelectric and mining companies use an enormous amount of water for their operations. The multinationals present in the community of La Blanca are Grupo HAME and BANASA. The Dole Fruit Company and Chiquita Banana are the main buyers of their banana production. According to local testimonies, the company BANASA and Group HAME had a legal conflict over the water coming from the river, the Ocosito, to perform their operations, leaving the community stuck in the middle.

According to members of La Blanca and independent investigations, companies use an estimated 40,000 gallons of water per minute. In a paper presented by the South Shore Communities in Defense of  the Territory in the IV TLA Public Hearing before the Latin American Water Tribunal, they state:

“The National Banana S.A. (BANASA) has built an irrigation and drainage system that connects the river Ocosito with the Pacaya River, which covers the entire planting and aims to control moisture conditions on the land. This causes two types of impacts to rural communities: (1) in summer / drought farmers suffer water shortage due to water extraction; upstream of the current with very low flow; and (2) in winter time/rainy season the population is affected by severe flooding increase in their crops and houses. In addition, the venting of water from the banana farms to the Pacayá river has caused industrial pollution and the presence of dead fish in it. (…)Multiple extraction authorizations are granted over rivers, generating conflict between companies and also between companies/communities, with the consequent reduction of flows that the communities need. The State has failed to conduct detailed studies of water systems.”[v]

Last year marked the 10th year of the struggle of the 12 communities of the South Shore. 10 years of demanding compensation for damages to communities, restoration of the prairies, closing off the canals and wells, the establishment of a water treatment system,conservation of rivers and the abolition of monocultures. 10 years full of dignity and resistance to a model that does not revere life.

“Confronting them feels like dealing with a monster” a member of the 12 communities of the South Shore reported. But somehow, that “monster” has been unable to silence their voices calling for justice and their right to good living.

To watch the Ocós documentary:

[i] Augusto Monterroso was a well recognized Guatemalan/Honduran writer, known for his one-sentence story:  ¨When he woke up, the Dinasour was still there”.

[ii] Republica de Guatemala: Encuesta Nacional Agropecuaria 2014.

[iii] Memorial de denuncia ante la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (2015) Washington. Mikkelsen, Vagn. (2013). Guatemala: Comercio Exterior, Productividad Agrícola y Seguridad Alimentaria Pg. 10

[iv] Vandana Shiva (2014) Economy Revisited. Will Green be the Colour of Money or Life? Global Research

[v] Resolucion Banano y su impacto en las fuentes de Agua Guatemala (2015) Tribunal Latinoamericano del Agua

 

 

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