Friday, August 27, 2010

Support Teachers in Honduras

On Thursday, August 5, members of Honduran teacher’s organizations from across the country began filtering into Tegucigalpa to participate in a nation-wide teachers' strike. The teachers left their classrooms in order to pressure Porfirio Lobo’s government to replace an estimated 4 billion lempira (approximately $210 million) that had disappeared from Inpremah (the National Institute for the Payment of Honduran Teachers) and to protest against a proposed law that would privatize the final years of high school in Honduras.

Teachers' strikes are not something new in Honduras. As lawyer Nectalí Rodezno noted, teachers' strikes are a nearly annual occurrence because Inpremah funds (which are intended to provide teachers with a pension after retirement) have been historically mismanaged. What is unprecedented, however, is the brutality being used by Honduran police forces to break up the teacher’s marches.

On Friday, August 20, teachers took to the streets for the fifteenth straight day of marches. As they left their makeshift headquarters at the Universidad Pedagógica, they were surrounded by police in riot gear who began to fire tear gas canisters, beat marchers with clubs, and make arrests. The human rights organization COFADEH reported 18 arrests on August 20, including that of march organizer Luís Sosa. Mr. Sosa was later hospitalized as a result of injuries inflicted by an officer’s club.

In the wake of the repression, teachers have gathered at the campus of the Universidad Pedagógica. There are continued reports of police launching tear gas into the university in attempts to disperse the teachers. Mr. Sosa told Witness for Peace over the phone today that “repression continues to be fierce.”

Please take a moment to send a message to the U.S. embassy in Honduras to express your concern with the violent repression of peaceful protests in Honduras.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

New Report Links U.S. Aid to Human Rights Violations in Colombia

The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) has released a new report on U.S. military assistance to Colombia and its association with human rights abuses in that country.

According to the report, "U.S. military aid flowing to Colombia is having a direct, negative effect on the human rights of Colombians." In particular, the report links U.S. military aid to instances of extrajudicial killings.

Based on the findings, FOR recommends suspending military assistance to Colombia. The report's release is aptly timed: within the next few weeks, the U.S. State Department will evaluate Colombia's attention to human rights. If the State Department decides not to certify Colombia's human rights record, military aid to the country will be sharply reduced. Stay tuned this week for opportunities to call on Hillary Clinton to defend human rights in Colombia.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Partial Victory for Immigrants’ Rights

By Beth Baker-Cristales

The infamous law SB 1070 took effect in Arizona on July 29th with some key provisions of the law blocked by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton in response to arguments by the U.S. Justice Department. For example, provisions requiring police officers to check the immigration status of people they believe are involved in criminal activity as well as the requirement to check the immigration status of individuals being released from jail were blocked. Five other suits have been filed against the law, and the legal battles will likely continue for years.

Passage of the law reflects the xenophobia and anti-immigrant hysteria that is increasingly common in Arizona and other parts of the country. Now legislatures in 17 states are considering legislation similar to Arizona’s SB 1070 and some states and municipalities are implementing mirror policies without passage of legislation.

Although Judge Bolton’s ruling is a key victory for advocates of immigrants’ rights, we have to continue to put pressure on the Obama administration and the Congress to pass meaningful, comprehensive immigration reform. Unfortunately, there has been little public education about the real roots and impacts of immigration in the U.S. In fact, much of the immigration in the past several decades has been fueled by free trade agreements that devastated local economies in Latin America or by U.S. military intervention abroad.

Economists have concluded over and over again that immigrants do not take jobs away from U.S.-born workers and that immigrants contribute much more to the U.S. economy than they consume or utilize in the form of benefits. But in a time of declining standards of living and a faltering economy, blaming immigrants is a convenient and easy tactic for politicians and activists who are unwilling to analyze the real sources of economic decline – corporate greed, government deregulation, and an economy based on consumption and profit rather than human needs and sustainability.

Our economy and our society have much to benefit from immigration reform that allows the full incorporation of immigrations who currently are denied legal permanent residence and citizenship. The keys to achieving comprehensive immigration reform are public education and continued pressure on Congress and President Obama. The past several years have shown that together, activists can make a change in the national political environment. And this election cycle is a perfect time to educate those around you about the issues and to push for reform now – stay tuned for details about Witness for Peace’s fall campaign.

Beth Baker-Cristales is on the board of Witness for Peace – Southwest.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Human Rights Backlog Illustrate Concerns about a Free Trade Agreement between the U.S. and Colombia

By Denny Scott

The Washington Post recently commented on the startling backlog of Colombian human rights cases. Our congressional representatives should take note as they consider whether or not to persue a U.S.-Colombian Free Trade Agreement. While the Colombian government claims success in prosecuting human rights violations there are many thousands of cases that are being ignored or stonewalled. I personally know of one case in which a 21 year old student was shot and killed in 2005 on the campus of the University de Valle in Cali by the military/police as they pursued students who had been protesting the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement being negotiated at the time. Jhonny Silva, a chemistry student, was killed because a birth defect caused him to drag one leg and, as a consequence, he lagged behind the other students as they fled the police. The Colombian constitution prohibits the military from entering university campuses. The police chief and person responsible for the killing are known but the justice system in Colombia continues to obscure and avoid dealing with this case.

I was part of a Witness for Peace delegation to Colombia in November 2009 that met with the father of Jhonny Silva. Despite anonymous threats, the courageous Mr. Silva pushed the case forward and it eventually landed at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C. It languished there for two years and then was referred back to the Cali courts on the promise that it would be prosecuted there. Now, the case has virtually disappeared from the system with the time period for prosecuting it running out.

Mr. Silva said, “I am bitter and indignant that nothing has happened to punish those responsible for assassinating my son. My only hope lies with the international community to send petitions to the Colombian government concerning my son’s case.”

The Silva case illustrates why so many Americans oppose ratification of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. As long as the murders of those who disagree with the government continue and those responsible for murders are not prosecuted the U.S. should not ratify the trade agreement with Colombia. It’s moral issue.

Denny Scott traveled to Colombia with a Witness for Peace delegation in 2009.