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This blog was first published on December 18, 2013 on Fellowship of Reconciliation's blog . You can read the original here.
Looking at Paraguay through Colombian eyes
Sitting under a tree in humid 90-degree weather and surrounded by a sea of soy fields in Tucautí Poty, I couldn’t help but think how familiar and yet unknown this place was to me. There is something unique in this landlocked country, in the heart of South America, where peasant and indigenous people’s main language is Guaraní, and Spanish speakers like myself need interpretation. Where the Cold War military dictatorship lasted several decades longer than in other countries in the region: General Alfredo Stroessner’s sanguinary rule lasted from 1954 until 1989.
Yet I found communities and groups very similar to those of my birth country of Colombia, fighting inequality, struggling for a piece of land to grow the crops they have grown for centuries; communities organized and committed to nonviolence. As in Colombia, groups are facing repression in a highly militarized territory. Yet, I was still shocked to see how overt the repression is in Paraguay and how spaces for nonviolence are closing.
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The November 24, 2013 elections in Honduras and their aftermath are a critical moment for the direction of the country. In June 2009 a coup overthrew the elected president, Liberal Party member Manuel Zelaya. In this month´s election, Zelaya´s wife Xiomara Castro de Zelaya under the new Libre party banner ran against the National Party´s Juan Orlando Hernandez, the traditional Liberal Party, a new Anti-Corruption Party and several others.
The Supreme Electoral Council declared the National Party’s Juan Orlando Hernandez the winner, followed by Libre, with the Liberals, and the Anti-Corruption Party also receiving a significant share of votes. The newer parties’ significant vote count has altered the traditional two-party (National, Liberal) Honduran political scene.
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Kelsey Alford-Jones is the Director of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA
“Justice is a right for victims and contributes to rule of law in our country. We believe that for a true peace to exist in Guatemala there must first be justice,” said Guatemalan Judge Yassmin Barrios. She declared General Efraín Ríos Montt guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity on Friday May 10, a day that will be etched forever in Guatemala’s collective memory.
Ríos Montt was convicted of masterminding and overseeing the massacre of 1,771 Ixil Mayans in the department of El Quiché, as well as the forced displacement of 29,000 people, and 1,485 acts of sexual violence and acts of torture during the early 1980s. He was sentenced to 80 years in prison and was ordered into police custody. His director of military intelligence, José Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, was absolved of both crimes...
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As President Obama prepares to sit down for meetings with President Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico and other fellow elected leaders from the Americas at the Summit of the Central American Integration System (SICA) in Costa Rica, over 145 civil society organizations from 10 countries throughout the Americas, including the Latin America Working Group, sent a letter
to their respective presidents urging them to address their concerns regarding the dire human rights crisis in the region.
Citing an increase in violence and human rights violations, the letter calls for a shift away from the failed militarized security policies which have exacerbated violence and human rights concerns in the region towards policies that address the root causes of violence.
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On Monday, March 18, 2013 the Latin America Working Group Education Fund together with the Washington Office on Latin America, the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, the US Office on Colombia, and the Guatemala Human Rights Commission hosted a panel event entitled “Until We Find Them: The Disappeared in Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru” to discuss the situation of forced disappearances in each country.
Wilson de los Reyes Aragón has been the Director of Impunity Watch in Guatemala since 2007. He is a Colombian lawyer, as well as a university lecturer and consultant on human rights advocacy and litigation. He spoke about the situation of forced disappearances in Guatemala, which are officially acknowledged to have occurred during the conflict era prior to the 1996 peace accords, but which continue today, now largely unacknowledged by the necessary authorities.The following is his statement, edited only for readability purposes.
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What do Miguel Marin of Nicaragua and Marcel Garçon of Haiti have in common? They may be from different countries, cultures, and languages, but both are leaders in their respective communities working to promote local, sustainable, and more just agricultural practices.
Miguel and Marcel formed the panel “An Ecology of Liberation: Communities Practicing Sustainable Agriculture Right Now,” sponsored by the Quixote Center and part of the Latin America and Caribbean track coordinated by the Latin America Working Group at Ecumenical Advocacy Days 2013. The eleventh annual conference, held April 5-8, 2013, gathered over 700 members and supporters of the ecumenical Christian community from around the U.S. and world. This year’s theme of food justice sparked dialogue on ending hunger, improving nutrition, creating fair and sustainable food systems, and conserving the environment. The conference culminated in a day of lobbying on Capitol Hill for a full, multi-year reauthorization of a farm bill that would support hunger assistance, local food, and conservation programs in the U.S. and abroad. In their panel, Miguel and Marcel provided examples of invaluable local farming initiatives that benefit from such international support to get started in places where hunger is a daily battle.
Miguel Marin is the president of Fedicamp (Federación para el Desarrollo Integral para Campesinos y Campesinas), an organization of about 285 families in 18 campesino communities in northern Nicaragua. In an area suffering the effects of climate change and where families are accustomed to surviving primarily on beans and corn, Fedicamp´s goals are food sustainability, food security, and better nutrition. As Miguel said, for these communities, “There is no food in Nicaragua. There is a need to produce food.” Fedicamp trains community leaders, who will train others, in soil and water conservation, reforestation, water retention, family gardens, crop diversification, permaculture, and forming local seed banks. They teach the use of local non-genetically modified (non-GMO) seeds and natural fertilizers, not because organic food is trendy, but because it is less costly and more sustainable for campesinos who cannot afford to buy seeds and fertilizer every year. Colorful family gardens and forest plots in place of formerly damaged soil evidence Fedicamp’s results of the last five years.
Marcel Garçon works as a community organizer for sustainable agriculture in Gros Morne, Haiti. Rural Haiti has suffered deforestation, climate destruction, and complete political marginalization. As Marcel said, “In Haiti, food is a luxury.” Campesinos grow the food that is sold to the cities and are left with nothing to eat. Meanwhile, as he put it, the government does not consider the problems of the campesinos to be its own. In community groups, the 2000 members of Marcel´s organization present a local organic alternative approach to agriculture, protect and reforest the environment, and raise small livestock. By growing courtyard gardens women have been able to grow food for their family and sell the surplus. The organization has planted 60,000 trees per year, with the goal of reaching 100,000 per year. Since farming relies on an unpredictable climate, the group has created goat and chicken programs to provide families with backup economic insurance.
As EAD participants reflected on U.S. and world hunger and the harm committed by corporate agribusiness policies, Miguel and Marcel’s leadership and strides toward justice in their communities provided seeds of hope for better practices in the future.
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José “Pepe” Palacios, a leading LGBT activist from Honduras, recently visited the United States at the invitation of the Honduras Solidarity Network and the Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America (CRLN). Pepe is a founding member of the Diversity Movement in Resistance (MDR), created in the wake of the June 2009 coup d’état in Honduras that replaced the democratically elected government. He is also a program officer at the Swedish aid agency Diakonia. At events in Washington, DC that the Latin America Working Group helped arrange, Pepe spoke about the violence the LGBT community has faced after the coup and what they are doing to organize for change...
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President Obama's words as he discussed principles for immigration reform struck a deep chord. Some of us at the Latin America Working Group office decided to reflect on our families' paths to the United States.
Here's what he said:
When we talk about that in the abstract, it’s easy sometimes for the discussion to take on a feeling of “us” versus “them.” And when that happens, a lot of folks forget that most of “us” used to be “them.” We forget that.
It’s really important for us to remember our history. Unless you’re one of the first Americans, a Native American, you came from someplace else. Somebody brought you...
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Our partners at the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA posted this blog about a historic ruling for justice in Guatemala on January 28, 2013. Here's their blog:
A Guatemalan judge affirmed there was sufficient evidence against Generals Ríos Montt and Rodríguez Sánchez to proceed with the case against them. The first hearing will be held on Thursday, January 31.
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Last year I visited Bajo Aguán, a land torn by a terrible land conflict. You can see in this video many of the vivid realities I saw on that trip: the immense, silent, hundreds of miles of African palm plantations, used for biofuel, which wealthy landowners are seeking to expand, setting the stage for the struggle over land; the brutal and overwhelming presence of police and soldiers, with anti-riot gear and guns, up against poor peasants; the testimony of a young man who was doused with gasoline by security forces and threatened with being burned alive; the heartless and violent evictions of communities; the determination and bravery of campesino women and men who take over farms they claim as agrarian reform land, and the cooperative ways in which they eke out a living—until the next eviction or assassination.