Friday, March 26, 2010

Exploring the Roots of Migration in Mexico

by Craig Hennecke

As legislation for health care reform was debated and passed in Washington, an equally pressing topic was waiting on the front lawn of the Capitol for consideration. On Sunday, March, 21st, 200, 000 people gathered to urge the administration to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform. President Obama addressed the crowd via video message pledging to work together with Senators who have "developed a framework that includes common sense, effective strategies to protect our borders and enforce the law while offering a path to citizenship for hardworking people who register, pay taxes, pay a fine, and agree to play by the rules."

Miguel Angel Vasquez de la Rosa of EDUCA focuses on the root causes of migration in Mexico.

One issue the President and lawmakers continually neglect to mention when discussing immigration reform is the impact that current trade policies the United States has with Mexico have effected immigration. In February, I traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico, as a part of delegation with Witness For Peace, to study the roots of migration. We spent 10 days meeting with local members of organizations who focus on addressing migration issues. We met with activists who work to empower & educate indigenous citizens of their rights to water and food sovereignty. We learned from farmers who are working to restore the land and develop sustainable practices, while promoting the preservation of native seeds. These meetings, as well as hours of discussion each day, revealed the strong connection between policies developed for and as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the gradual decline of communities and economic opportunities for individuals in Mexico, which in large part lead to migration to the United States.

When NAFTA was signed into law in 1994, there was much talk of the shared prosperity and benefits for all three nations. The United States and Canada were going to experience an economic boom while Mexico was going to be lifted on to a level playing field; no longer participating as a developing nation. Bill Clinton gave a speech in September, 1993 in which he said "It means that there will be an even more rapid closing of the gap between our two wage rates. And as the benefits of economic growth are spread in Mexico to working people, what will happen? They'll have more disposable income to buy more American products, and there will be less illegal immigration because more Mexicans will be able to support their children by staying home. This is a very important thing."

For Mexico, none of this came close to happening. The reality was a tri-government-sanctioned exploitation of resources and corporate plundering of both human and natural resources that have decimated much of the economy and many small communities in Mexico. Increased job loss, a minimum wage far below the cost of living, and an unjust import/export relationship to the US, made it impossible for many Mexicans to survive in their communities. These effects of what is called "free trade" have a strong correlation to the increase of migration to the United States following NAFTA's creation.

Food and Farmers

The removal of tariffs on agricultural imports created an influx of cheap and genetically modified grain into Mexico. While U.S. agribusiness continues to receive subsidies from the government, the only subsidies small farmers in Mexico receive is via unpaid family labor and remittances sent home by those who migrated to the United States to find work.

Today it is cheaper to purchase imported corn from the US than to produce and sell within Mexico. This destruction of small-scale corn production not only decimates communities economically, but also destroys tradition and culture as it threatens age-old practices that have worked for centuries in Mesoamerica.

Tortillas, which are the daily bread of Mexico, saw a price increase of more than 500% between 1993 and 2000. Currently over 40% of Mexico's food is imported. During a cost of living exercise in Oaxaca City, our delegation examined the prices of everyday food items. The miminum daily wage in Mexico is about $7 a day. For a rural worker earning minimum wage, to pay for a single chicken it would take 10 hours of work. In the US, it would be the equivalent to paying over $70-- for one chicken. The Hemispheric Social Alliance reports that since NAFTA was created, the average cost of food in Mexico has increased by 357% while the purchasing power of wages has decreased by 50%. As larger cities in Mexico offer hopes for higher wages, smaller towns suffer from migration. This obviously is not a system that can support its people. When a farmer can work an hour in the US and make the equivalent of a day's pay in Mexico, the delusion presented by lawmakers when selling NAFTA to the public becomes evident.


As employment dries up in many communities in Mexico, so do the communities themselves. Ghost towns are a by-product of these trade policies, where families have no choice but to abandon their land and either move to larger cities in Mexico or continue further to the United States in hopes of making a decent wage. With over 1.5 million rural jobs lost in 12 years, a reported 388 municipalities have become ghost towns due to migration problems.

Jobs that have been created through NAFTA are in large part through "maquilas," factories near the border, which often have massive wage and labor violations. Issues raised over these factories include discrimination against pregnant women, environmental concerns over factory output, lower than minimum wages and shifts longer than usually permitted. As corporations fight to save every dollar, the conditions set forth through NAFTA permit these egregious exploitations. Through the legal design of NAFTA, local and state regulations and tariffs are disregarded if they compromise the potential of capital growth for corporations in the region. If a regulation is in place which does present a threat to profit, and is not removed, a corporation can then sue the Mexican government for losses under the rules of NAFTA. Any laws in Mexico which protect employees, the environment, or the natural resources of an area, are immediately compromised by these overriding standards.


The struggle of supporting a family in Mexico has become much more difficult since the conception of NAFTA. Mexican citizens seeking to find work and better wages come to the US in order to support the communities left behind. The increase in migration to the United States since 1994 has almost doubled.

Often in the media an image is propagated of Mexican people arriving in the US in order to steal jobs and live for free, this is far from reality. From my understanding, it is a very difficult choice to leave one's own family, one's land, and one's community, in hopes of making enough money to send back to Mexico to support them. Often it is the intention of immigrants to work for a few years then to return back to the community and again live with their family. This is becoming more difficult as jobs continue to decline in Mexico and returning is dangerous with the increase in drug related gang violence on the border.


As the issue of comprehensive immigration reform reaches the public forum once again, the impact of NAFTA, CAFTA, the FTAA, and other developing trade policies cannot go unmentioned in these discussions. It is critical to reform these policies in order to create equitable employment opportunity for the citizens of Mexico and those throughout Latin America. While the immigration debate unfolds there is actual sensible legislation introduced in the House to address some of these problems. The TRADE Act is a bill currently proposed which would address many of the fault of our current trade policies as well as allow new standards for future agreements. Outside of the United States, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) ahs been created, which is an agreement formed by Bolivia, Cuban and Venezuela aimed at countering US and corporate influence in Latin America. There are now eight countries supporting this agreement.

Of course NAFTA didn't start migration to the United States. A history of land conflicts, political exclusion, and oppression of the people have always led citizens of Latin America towards the U.S. in search of stability and economic relief. But if we are to addres comprehensive immigration reform in this country, common sense tells us that ignoring our trade policies would be a dubious way to begin the discussion.

Afternoon light illuminates a wall in Oaxaca City.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Megaprojects Threaten Local Communities

by Tony Macias, Mexico International Team

“We know that our life is here in the earth, in the water,” declared a speaker at a recent national conference for the defense of rivers in Paso de la Reina, Oaxaca. “Here, we take care of our river,” asserted another orator. These simple words are a powerful call to action against a proposed massive hydroelectric project on the Rio Verde that would provoke major environmental damages and the displacement of thousands.

The town of Paso de la Reina sits on the western shore of Rio Verde, its fields of corn, lime groves, and pastureland crowding the narrow and verdant river valley. Members of the roughly 1,000-person town use the river for swimming and bathing, fishing, and irrigation. Its waters are available year round, and are a source of gravel and sand for the construction of local buildings. Known as the “mother of our waters”, the river has important spiritual and cultural value for the Chatino Indigenous people living nearby.

Slated for a site upriver from the town center, this hydroelectric dam would create a wall over 500 feet tall and a 7 ½ square-mile artificial lake, flooding nearly 5,000 acres of prime forest and agricultural land. The billion-dollar project would expropriate land from 9 local communities and drastically affect access to fresh water for over 114,000 people in the area . People from Paso de la Reina stand to lose all they have.

The construction of a dam on Rio Verde would permanently alter this landscape, displacing thousands of local residents from their traditional homes

The construction of a dam on Rio Verde would permanently alter this landscape and displace thousands of local residents from their traditional homes. Photo by Tony Macias

Oaxacan officials state that the purpose of the dam is to generate electricity and to serve as a source of irrigation for the Oaxacan coast. Municipal authorities predict that the construction of the dam would generate at least 10,000 jobs and would boost the tourism corridor along the coast thus benefiting the economic development of the region.

While these same officials reiterate time and time again that the project would not displace or take land from the people, Paso de La Reina residents aren’t buying it. They fear that after a few years without abundant water, the local agricultural economy will collapse, driving them to abandon their once fertile fields and migrate to nearby cities or even the U.S. in search of work. They don’t believe the government’s promises of cheaper electricity or jobs.

They also know the bitter experience of other displaced communities who were compensated with less desirable land far away without even basic services such as electricity and sewage systems. The now-completed El Cajón Dam in the Mexican State of Nayarit forced hundreds of local residents to move to sub-standard housing that is already decaying just 3 years after its construction. Oaxacan communities displaced by the Cerro de Oro dam are still waiting for over 10 billion pesos that the Mexican government owes them in resettlement costs.

Megaprojects in focus

This proposed dam is part of a larger scheme, the Mesoamerican Integration and Development Project (MIDP- formerly Plan Puebla-Panama), designed to strengthen regional integration and to unite the region through infrastructure and energy. The MIDP proposes nearly 100 large-scale projects from southern Mexico to Colombia.

Part of the free market, free trade economic model promoted by the U.S., MIDP projects are designed to lure foreign investment. According to Gustavo Castro of Otros Mundos, a Chiapas, Mexico- based nonprofit, free trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA facilitated foreign investment as a part of wider privatization efforts in these developing countries, but “these investments are not viable without the infrastructure that MIDP provides.”

As of May 2007 over $8 billion have already been invested in these megaprojects. Developing countries finance about one-third of these costs, with another one-third coming from international financial institutions like the World Bank, and the rest from private donors and undisclosed sources. Megaprojects direct huge sums of international loan money away from social programs and small-scale production and directly into infrastructure that most benefits foreign investment. They are usually implemented without consulting local communities and often ignore legal claims made by communal land holders.

More chilling, project defenders have resorted to criminal and violent tactics such as bribes, threats, home destruction and forced removal in efforts to keep projects going. In Guererro and Chiapas, community activists working against megaprojects have been murdered. An engineer with the Federal Electricity Commission put a price on the head of one local activist during the construction of El Cajon dam in Nayarit . Families have been forcibly removed from their homes in Guerrero, Jalisco, and Veracruz. In other states Mexican military have participated in forced removals of communities for these projects.

With the War on Drugs and Terror as a pretext, the Mexican government has used military and federal police as well as paramilitary forces to criminalize social protest. In a telling statement, Mexican president Felipe Calderon likened “out of control” unions to the country’s out-of-control drug cartels, saying both are "roadblocks to institutional order and market-based growth". As more and more communities organize in response to megaprojects , fears grow that violence and repression will be used to ensure that these projects move forward.

Resistance in Paso de la Reina

Local residents who oppose the construction of a dam on the Rio Verde constructed a road block to keep out officials who would move the dam project forward

Road block by local residents to keep out officials who would move the dam project forward. Photo by Tony Macias

However, these chilling precedents have not deterred Paso de la Reina residents from protesting the destruction of their community. In 2007, local communities and organizations founded COPUDEVER to resist the dam project. Three communities, including Paso de la Reina, have voted a resounding “no” to the dam project. As of February 2010, local leaders set up road-blocks to deny state government representatives and Federal Electricity Commission members access to the area.

But Paso de la Reina residents aren’t up against only the Mexican government in their struggle to stop the dam project. They will have to confront International Financial Institutions that play an important role in financing these megaprojects. As one of the major lenders to these institutions, the United States government has tremendous influence over what these institutions fund; the U.S. has used this power to promote the free-trade model in international development loans these institutions provide.

The World Bank and other institutions like the Inter-American Development Bank continue to make loans to Mexico and other Latin American countries to support large infrastructure projects without much oversight. Massive social protest globally has increased public awareness about the problems associated with these projects, so these institutions increasingly work in secret, refusing to divulge details about the projects they fund.

Sign up for Witness for Peace e-mail action alerts to receive updates on this dam and other projects financed by international financial institutions in Latin America.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Facing the Free Trade Storm: CAFTA and Nicaraguan Families

Claudia Chamorro awaits an uncertain futureClaudia Chamorro, a licensed social worker, lost her long-standing job with a local NGO 8 months ago. She lives in Managua with her parents, three siblings and four children. Claudia’s two other sisters and a brother migrated to San Francisco, in search of work in what her sister deems “the land of opportunities, where if people don’t study, it’s simply because they don’t want to.” For years, these siblings have sent back $50 or $100 monthly from the U.S., which the family relies on heavily to meet their basic needs.

In recent months, however, these remittances have all but disappeared. Both her brother and sister received sharp cuts in their working hours at a restaurant in the Bay Area and were unable to send anything for seven months until, finally, $50 arrived in January. Unable to find work and without the much-needed remittances, Claudia is finding herself considering the worst option imaginable to her: making the trip to the U.S. herself.

In the midst of this economic crisis, Claudia and many others like her are stashing away fifty cents here, a dollar there, to purchase a chance at survival – a refrigerator on wheels, a set of juggling balls, or a bus ticket to Costa Rica. As more jobs are lost each month in the deflated global economy and foreign-owned textile factories or maquilas steadily close, countless people have but two options. They can turn to the informal market, selling cold homemade juices from a mobile refrigerator or juggling in the streets, or they can leave their country in search of work in the stronger economies of Costa Rica, Spain, or the U.S. In spite of increasing stories about the difficulties of migrating abroad, more and more Nicaraguans are considering migration their only hope for sustaining their families and their homes.

Meanwhile, those migrants already working abroad, including Claudia’s three siblings, have felt the blow of the economic crisis with unique force. Many living in the U.S. or nearby Costa Rica have either lost their jobs or experienced a serious cut in hours and/or wages. For their families back home in Nicaragua, this loss is tremendous. In 2008, money sent home by migrants made up approximately 13% of Nicaragua’s GDP, a total of $818 million. As these remittances dwindle or disappear, migrants’ families often lose their main source of income.

But the financial impact isn’t the only setback. Migration comes at a great cost to families who, after years of separation, often experience a deterioration of the family unit – a structure central to Nicaraguan life. As Claudia said, “Our family has completely deteriorated. We haven't all been together in 24 years. At one time, we were siblings who knew each other face-to face. Now, we are siblings who know each other only by internet.”

Claudia's family and the difficult choices they face illustrate the vast interconnectedness of the Nicaraguan and the U.S. economies. Within the economic structure imposed by DR-CAFTA (Dominican Republic -Central American Free Trade Agreement), the U.S. economy functions as the heart pumping blood through Nicaragua’s veins. When the U.S. heartbeat slows or stops, the repercussions are felt acutely in Nicaragua. Decreased demand in the U.S. for key Nicaragua exports causes increasing unemployment in Nicaragua, where many find work in free trade zones or export-based agriculture. The economic slow-down in the U.S. also means fewer jobs for migrants living abroad, and therefore a gradual loss of another vital lifeline – the precious remittances sent from afar.

Such heavy dependence on remittances points to an inherently unsustainable economic model, propagated by DR-CAFTA, wherein a country relies on the stability of a foreign market for survival. Furthermore, research shows that in Nicaragua remittances are spent primarily on meeting basic needs. Little is “caught” by the Nicaragua economy and invested in ways that contribute to long-term growth, stability, and relative sustainability. Remittances are only a temporary fix in the struggle against cyclical poverty, punctuated by a dependency on a foreign market.

Since there is little to no protection in free trade agreements such as DR- CAFTA to mitigate the disastrous impact of these agreements on the poor, Nicaraguans feel each financial blow with a new freshness, seeing fewer and fewer options for survival. For many, picking up a juggling ball or mounting a bus to San José remain the only options in sight.

Take Action

o Pressure your Representatives and Senators to co-sponsor the TRADE Act, a bill that will ensure fair and just trade agreements that meet the goals of broad-based, people-centered development and poverty reduction.

o Contact your WFP Regional Organizer to connect with local migrant communities, immigrant rights organizations and campaigns to stop human rights violations towards migrants en route or already working in the U.S.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

"Don't Close Your Eyes": Honduran Journalist César Silva Speaks Out

Cesar Omar Silva Rosales in exile

by Galen Cohee Baynes, Nicaragua International Team

César Omar Silva Rosales - a journalist, filmmaker and member of the Honduran resistance movement - was arrested and tortured by Honduran authorities last December after compiling and distributing a video that demonstrated the repressive tactics used by the police and military against protestors in the wake of the June 28, 2009 coup. Three of his colleagues, including film editor Rénan Fajardo and gay right’s activist and film distributor Walter Tróchez, were assassinated in the weeks after the documentary’s release. Reports of targeted kidnappings and assassinations by Honduran security forces have been frequent since the controversial, U.S.-supported November elections that brought Porfirio Lobo to power.

César Silva was able to flee Honduras and go into hiding in Nicaragua after his kidnapping and torture. In the following excerpts from an interview conducted by WFP with César he discusses his exile, his documentary, and his expectations for Mr. Lobo’s government.

You are currently living here in Nicaragua in exile. Why did you flee Honduras?

César Silva:
I had to leave Honduras after I was kidnapped on the 29th of December. I was held almost thirty hours,and subjected to interrogations, to beatings. I was tortured. Then they let me go – maybe accidentally, maybe because there weren’t orders to hold me…This was after they had killed many of my friends and colleagues, so I did not think that I was going to survive. But they let me go around noon on the 30th of December. I spent that night and the following night in Honduras, and then I escaped to Nicaragua on January 1.

I feel that I escaped within twenty-four hours of when I was going to be assassinated. They let me go, but they were still planning to kill me. They were going to make it look as if it had been a common crime, as if I had been assaulted and then murdered. That was their I had to leave Honduras immediately.

You leave your country and abandon absolutely everything - your family, everything that you have done. These are difficult conditions. Even when you arrive in a country where people speak the same language and have the same customs, you arrive without a cent, without anything…But I have the benefit of being alive, and with [my wife and child] also alive. There is no price you can put on that. So, I am happy to be alive, even in these difficult conditions.

WFP: You made a documentary capturing some of the repression that took place in the wake of the coup. Why did you make the video?

C.S.: I think that I achieved my goals in making the video, and it is because I achieved those goals that I had to leave Honduras. What happens after the coup? Most of the Honduran media outlets are controlled by the same owner, who was behind the coup d’etat…There was a period of time where we were completely muted and left without means of communication. It was only what they [the coup perpetrators] were saying that one could hear or read…

So, what did we do? We began from day one to film videos and produce short news alerts - about five minutes long, made in a very rudimentary style. We had a computer and an editing program. We spliced the audio and video and that was it. But we had to get the information out to people. Some of the organizers said, “Let’s make DVDs so that more people can see these videos.” So we burned discs, reproduced and distributed them…I decided that I was going to make a documentary, compiling the footage that we had taken. I call the documentary, “Honduras Repressed.” The documentary shows beatings and repression, so that people could get an idea of what the reality in Honduras was.

WFP: How was the video received within Honduras?

C.S.: Well, the police got word of the video and got their hands on a copy. In the end they wound up arresting me. They murdered my editor, they murdered a young man who helped to collect some of the footage, and they executed a young man who helped to distribute the DVDs…

The existence of the video made the authorities nervous because the leaders of the resistance would get people together in the neighborhoods - sometimes over one hundred people - and would show the video… People took in the video with a lot of enthusiasm because they had been lacking information…And this is what scared the authorities.

WFP: Now that Porfirio Lobo has taken over the presidency, do you think there is any chance that you will see justice in the cases of your colleagues?

C.S.: To start, the government of Porfirio Lobo Soza is a continuation of the coup d’etat…He never spoke out to say that any of this [the coup] was wrong. He is just another supporter of the coup. He has been in agreement all along. But he kept his mouth shut because he knew that he was going to win the presidency.

In terms of the cases of the young men that were killed…[and] as to whether or not the people that are responsible for these crimes, who work within Pepe Lobo’s government, will be punished – I don’t think so. The Minister of Security under Lobo is Oscar Álvarez…During the campaign period he said that, if it had been up to him, he would have “dragged that criminal [Manuel Zelaya] out of the Brazilian embassy by his hair.” Since the day that he (Álvarez) came into office…he (has sent) out patrols to the different neighborhoods and they arrest people without warrants. Or they get a warrant and then enter into all of the houses in a neighborhood. And, apart from arresting criminals, they also arrest people that are not linked at all to crime…What does that mean?... The repression will continue, and the population is well aware of this.

WFP: What actions can concerned U.S. citizens continue to take to stand in solidarity with the people of Honduras in the midst of this repression?

The way that people abroad can continue to support us is, first, by not closing their eyes. This is of utmost importance. Do not believe that [the crisis] is now over. Do not believe that, now that there is a new government, our problems have ended. No. The problems continue …Look for ways to continue publishing – in every blog where Honduras is mentioned – information about what is really happening. That, for us, would be a victory. Because we have relied on that press - the independent press…If you all close your eyes, that will be like a huge wall collapsing on us, and we will lose everything.

As the repression continues in Honduras, we must not close our eyes! Watch César Silva’s documentary, courtesy of the Quixote Center, and forward it to your friends and family. Check out the Witness for Peace video, Shot in the Back, filmed the weekend of the November elections and spread the word. Contact the U.S. State Department to express your concern about the horrific human rights situation in Honduras.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

U.S. Military Bases and Colombia's Displacement Crisis

Marino Cordoba and his family a long way from home

by Jess Hunter-Bowman, WFP Associate Director

Snow and ice crunched under Marino Cordoba’s feet as he walked home last week. He pulled his collar tight to his neck to keep out the frigid air. He is a long way from his native tropical jungles of Colombia. Marino’s journey from the rainforest of Chocó to the mountains of Bogotá and finally to the snow-covered streets of Washington, D.C. is one of pain, loss and ultimately renewal.

On a December morning over a decade ago, Marino’s hometown of Rio Sucio was ravaged in a joint attack by the U.S.-backed Colombian military and right-wing paramilitary death squads. Even today no one truly knows how many innocent civilians were kidnapped, tortured and killed in the assault. Analysts believe the attack came in response to Marino’s and others’ efforts to access constitutional land rights for marginalized Afro-Colombian communities.

Escaping Death in Colombia

Marino and his family escaped with their lives, but only by hiding in the jungle for days before fleeing their would-be killers, making their way first to the provincial capital of Quibdó before finally settling in Colombia’s capital, Bogotá. “I thought, ‘What am I going to do?’” Marino says as he recalls those first days after fleeing. “Will I make it? Will they catch me and kill me?”

Ever the community organizer, in Bogotá Marino founded AFRODES to support other displaced Afro-Colombians, bringing attention to the killing, kidnapping, and displacement of Afro-Colombian communities.

Gunmen soon tracked Marino down and he was forced to escape to the United States to save his life. “I really didn’t want to leave Colombia,” Marino says. “My family was in Colombia. But my life was at risk and I had no other option but to leave.”

Colombia's Crisis and a U.S. Military Response

Sadly, Marino’s horrific story of loss due to Colombia’s war is not unique. Colombia’s humanitarian crisis is second only to Sudan’s worldwide. Since 1985, over 4.3 million people have been internally displaced in Colombia. Hundreds of thousands more have fled as refugees to neighboring countries.

Soon after Marino and his family fled their native Rio Sucio, policymakers in Washington and Bogotá began to argue that, with Colombia’s drug trade and armed conflict spiraling out of control, only billions in U.S. military assistance and U.S. troops on the ground could save the country.

Nearly $6 billion in military aid since 2000 have secured oil pipelines, government buildings and even improved security in some cities and towns. Yet millions of Colombia’s community organizers, farmers and Afro-Colombians dispute claims that military gains against the guerrillas have translated into improved lives for them. In fact, the U.S.-backed Colombian military has reportedly killed an estimated 2,000 innocent civilians just during President Alvaro Uribe’s time in office. Meanwhile in 2008, over 380,000 people were forced to flee their homes due to Colombia’s war, more than double the number displaced when Marino and his family fled Rio Sucio.

Expanded U.S. Military Presence in Colombia

Yet despite this alarming situation, rather than heed the calls of people like Marino to de-escalate military aid to the brutal Colombian military, the Obama Administration recently signed a 10-year deal with Colombia allowing U.S. troops to operate out of seven Colombian military bases to fight what the U.S. Air Force called “narcotics funded terrorist insurgencies” and “anti-U.S. governments” in the region.

In part, the U.S. bases in Colombia will replace the U.S.’s Forward Operating Location in Manta, Ecuador. When a 10-year lease expired on the Manta base last year, Ecuador asked the U.S. military to leave the country.

While some were hopeful President Obama would reverse the U.S. disastrous course in Colombia, this deal is a strong indication otherwise. Major aspects of Plan Colombia that were once subject to annual congressional approval are now seemingly locked in for another decade. The U.S. military can now carry out joint operations with the hemisphere’s worst human rights violators; engage in lethal counterinsurgency training; and provide real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities with little to no congressional oversight.

Military Bases Lead to Regional Tensions

Yet this deal is not only controversial within Colombia. As the U.S. Air Force itself stated in a May 2009 statement to Congress, these bases in Colombia will be a jumping off point for U.S. military escapades across Latin America to combat “anti-U.S. governments”.

Such revelations have led Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez to put his troops on war alert. The demands of major South American powers, including Brazil and Argentina, for explicit guarantees that the U.S. bases will not be used to attack neighboring countries have fallen on deaf ears in Washington.

Back in bone-chilling Washington, Marino continues his work for peace, justice and Afro-Colombians’ rights. He is working tirelessly to block the U.S. military bases deal. “These U.S. bases in Colombia will worsen the conflict,” reports Marino. “They will not resolve the problems that we have in Colombia. What we need is respect for life in Colombia.”

Friday, March 5, 2010

Song of Loss, Song of Hope

by Melissa Cox, Colombia International Team

I first met Daira Quiñones, a courageous community leader, when I interviewed her for the National Days of Action for Colombia. She shared with me a pain so raw and an insatiable commitment to justice so deep that it permeates every facet of her being. Even in the face of threats against her own life and the brutal murders of the most important people to her, she is not silenced—she continues to speak out against the assaults on humanity. Since hearing her story, I have not been able to get it out of my mind. I hope that you can’t forget it either. Do not let her stand alone.

To hear her story check out her video blog below or read Fleeing the Guns of Big Business.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Lifetime Journey in Seven Days

Long Island community leaders from diverse backgrounds visit Mexico to understand the roots of migrationAs I joined the group of fifteen Long Islanders headed to Oaxaca, Mexico I knew very little of what to expect. The goal of studying and understanding the root causes of migration was an enormous task in and of itself. Doing it within seven days seemed impossible. What I understood however, was the urgency of doing so.

Long Island, regarded as one of the most segregated suburbs in the U.S., has consistently made national headlines in the last decade for heinous acts committed against “undocumented immigrants.” The anti-immigrant sentiment has been fueled by legislators who would rather play on people’s fears than offer viable solutions. It has been magnified by stagnant wages earned by overworked and underpaid blue collar workers who often blame the “illegal” for their current economic conditions. It is amplified by the anger felt towards “day laborers, who stand on corners and don’t pay taxes, yet use up our resources.” This illogical reasoning is intended to somehow justify the misplaced anger, hatred, and bigotry.

The surrounding anti-immigrant sentiment only added to the challenge our racially, professionally, and economically diverse group faced: trying to understand and bring back to Long Island the reasons immigrants come here. Within seven days, we did just that!

Our journey began with a crash course in Mexican history that forged a bond between our struggles and the dire struggle of the Mexican people to survive. We learned about the unequal trade agreement that has prompted forced migration to the U.S. while further impoverishing the citizens of Mexico and the United States. We walked and lived amongst the people of agricultural communities that once thrived, now pushed to the brink of extinction by economic policies. We heard firsthand accounts from individuals who were currently on their journey north, risking their lives not for what has been coined as “the American Dream” (nice car, big house, fancy clothes, and other luxuries), but rather the most meager necessities (the ability to feed and clothe their families, have shelter, etc.). This was the pinnacle of my experience.

One immigrant was asked by one of our group members why he was willing to leave behind his land, family, culture, and language while possibly risking his life. “I would rather die trying to cross that border, than live and see my family starve.” Instantly his words were etched in my mind and heart. His words forced me not only to put myself in his shoes, but to walk in them as well. Suddenly it was clear. I too would risk my life in an effort to feed my family. I too would be willing to sacrifice my freedom, my culture, and my language to clothe them. If given the option, I too would risk my life rather than live and see my family starve. Wouldn’t you?

Our nation has played a critical role in instituting policies that have not only promoted migration, but blatantly forced migration. Our government condones and supports financial institutions that benefit from the misery of poverty felt by millions in Mexico and other nations. We have consistently placed the interest of big business ahead of the common interest.

Yet, the most valuable lesson of all was how to create change. Having returned to Long Island, many of us have begun to host presentations, educating the rest of our communities about our experiences. Some have begun blogging and writing editorials that are finding their way into local papers. Others have set up meeting with Congressional representatives to begin discussing ways to change policy.

Thanks to Witness for Peace, our delegation has become engaged in Acción Permanente Por La Paz…y Justicia!

“If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin."
-Charles Darwin