Friday, November 21, 2014

Pan-American Post on Guatemala happenings

The Pan-American Post has two updates from Guatemala in yesterday's news roundup.
Despite concerns over corruption and civil society groups’ objections to recent judicial nominations in Guatemala, the country’s Constitutional Court upheld the appointments in a 3-2 ruling yesterday afternoon. Prensa Libre reports that the new Supreme Court and appellate court judges -- who were reportedly chosen as a result of backroom deal between the ruling Patriot Party (PP) and the opposition Renewed Democratic Liberty Party (LIDER) -- will assume their offices in five days’ time. In an interview with El Periodico, human rights advocate Helen Mack of the Fundacion Myrna Mack told the paper that the decision represents proof of the lack of judicial independence in the country. As a next step, Mack endorsed a proposal by the UN-backed Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) to hold a series of technical conferences to put together an agenda for justice reform.
Steve Inskeep of NPR’s Morning Edition has a brief interview with former Guatemalan Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz, who describes some of the risks she faced in her job. Out of concern for her safety, Paz y Paz claims that she traveled with a seven-member security detail in Guatemala. Asked about why she has moved to the U.S. after leaving office, the ex-prosecutor said her family “needed to be away for a little bit.”
Following the overturning of the Efrain Rios Montt genocide and crimes against humanity convictions, I held open the slight possibility that the technical ruling could be a step forward for Guatemala's courts. 

One did not just want Rios Montt found guilty simply because we "knew" he was guilty. We wanted him found guilty on those charges if the evidence supported that conclusion. We wanted the trial to be conducted fairly even though that option was not made available to those massacred. And we wanted the trial itself to contribute to the strengthening of the rule of law in Guatemala. 

Unfortunately, the legal reasoning behind the overturning of the conviction was flimsy. The prosecutor was pushed out early and the selection process for her replacement was questionable. And now after the Guatemalan people and the entire world have seen the the questionable selections of Supreme and Appellate court judges, whatever wishful thinking one might have clung to has now disappeared. 2014 has been a rough year for the rule of law in Guatemala.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Education for Justice: Torture

Here I am discussing the annual theme that my Education for Justice program at the University of Scranton selected to highlight this year. You'll have to forgive me but I didn't get much heads up on what they wanted me to discuss as I was actually there to speak briefly about my research on Central America.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

To help Central America, send smarter aid, not just more aid

Go read what my friend, and friend of Central America, Mauricio Vivero has to say with regards To help Central America, send smarter aid, not just more aid.
The plan announced last week by the presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras is a promising start toward addressing the issues causing so many people to flee those countries.  
Announced alongside Vice President Joe Biden and Inter-American Development Bank President Moreno, the plan focuses on development and job opportunities for youth, providing security through prevention and better law enforcement, and improving governance. But it’s going to take more than rhetoric to attack the problems driving migration. The governments of Central America and their private sectors, the United States government and U.S. philanthropic community, and other international donors are going to have to provide resources to turn the rhetoric into reality. 
Mauricio is the CEO of Seattle International Foundation. You can read SEAIF's recent report on foundation funding to Latin America here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Coffee vs. Gangs in Honduras

I am cited in the article by Rob Crilly (@robcrilly) on Coffee vs. Gangs in Honduras.
For David, it was the 18th Street Gang who came calling. He started out like so many others, acting as a lookout in his neighborhood, keeping a wary eye out for strangers, other gangs, the police or anything else that caught his attention.
“They get you when you are innocent,” he said. “Then they give you a fashionable watch, a cellphone, some money, clothes. When you are done, you’re 25 years old and at a rank you couldn’t even imagine.”
Go check out the article and read more about Coffee vs. Gangs from Kenco.

Congrats to Tim and his El Salvador Blog

Tim's El Salvador Blog celebrated its ten-year anniversary yesterday.
It's appropriate that I am in El Salvador as I begin writing this post.   I realize that a great many of the topics which have filled the pages of this blog have been present in the past 10 days I spent in the country. 
I participated in events commemorating the 25th anniversary of the massacre of the 6 Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter.   It's one of many anniversaries of massacres I have blogged about, and all of those persons who gave the orders for those massacres have never faced any form of judgment.   Impunity is a word I have used often in this blog.
Another ongoing blog theme is migration. I casually talked yesterday in English with men who had been deported from the US after living there for many years.  I heard the stories of the center where El Salvador processes children deported from Mexico.   I passed by many "remittance houses" built with money coming from the US and elsewhere.
Thank you Tim for helping us all understand El Salvador a little better and for inspiring me to start blogging as well.

Here's to the next ten years.

Monday, November 17, 2014

It wasn't just Ellacuria and the Jesuits who were targeted that night in El Salvador

Following a number of posts on the 25th anniversary of the martyrs in El Salvador, I planned to write a post today reminding people that it wasn't just Ignacio Ellacuria and the other Jesuits at the Central American University who were targeted in November 1989.

When the FMLN launched its second final offensive on November 11th, the Army High Command appears to have had a list of several individuals who they sought to liquidate in the midst of the violence. The list included leaders of the civilian opposition who had relatively recently returned to the country to participate in the 1988 and 1989 elections as well as other religious who had been working to end the violence in the country.

Last night, Tim republished the Subversive Cross which he initially posted on November 16, 2009.
On November 16, 1989, that same fateful day in El Salvador when the Jesuits were murdered, Lutheran Bishop Medardo Gomez was also targeted by the military. For Bishop Gomez and his Lutheran church were also voices who denounced the injustice they saw in Salvadoran society. They were deemed to be subversives by the government for siding with the poor and doing such radical things as operating a refugee camp for families fleeing the armed conflict, or for teaching the poor that they were entitled to equal human rights with the rich and powerful.
You know the government's view of your church when it sets up a machine gun post directly across the street from your church, your church named Resurrection Church – the church of Easter, and the machine gun is always aimed at the front door of the church. 
Go over to Tim's page to read the entire post.

The other intended victims of the army in mid-November, including Bishop Gomez, took refuge in Embassies scattered throughout the capital. As a result, they survived. The Salvadoran Jesuits thought that they were safe on the campus as the army had already searched the UCA and had it surrounded.

So while it is important that we remember the work of the Jesuits and why they died, it is also important to remember that they were not the only ones who were targeted that week. The Salvadoran High Command was prepared to wipe out nearly all civilian opposition figures that they deemed a threat.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

I am glad...that they have murdered priests in this country [El Salvador]

Reenactment of the Jesuit murders (1997)
With the release of a recent Pew Research Center Survey confirming the decrease in the number of Catholics in Latin America, Tim Padgett connects the findings to the murders of the Jesuits in El Salvador.
What links the 1989 El Salvador atrocity and this week’s Pew report is the ongoing debate over liberation theology – the idea that the church should focus its efforts on social justice and aiding the poor. The utter lack of social justice in El Salvador was the cause of the civil war; the Jesuit priests’ promotion of liberation theology, and its reputation as veiled Marxism, prompted the army to murder them.
And since then, I believe, the Catholic church’s failure to prioritize at least the basic tenets of what those Jesuits were championing seems a big reason so many Latin Americans are no longer Catholics.
I don't doubt that the Catholic Church's perceived retreat from social activism and a preferential option for the poor had something to do with the decrease in the number of Latin Americans identifying themselves as Catholics.

However, at least in Central America, the decrease in the share of the Catholic population is also a consequence of U.S. and its allies' counterinsurgency policy. Dozens of priests and religious women were murdered in Guatemala and El Salvador. There were also thousands of lay ministers killed because of their faith. The state repression in the late 1970s and 1980s made it dangerous to be outwardly Catholic.

The December 1981 massacre at El Mozote in El Salvador was unusual because of both its size and because the population was Evangelical Protestant. It was an example of a massacre more typical of Catholic communities. We are also talking about an environment in which "Be a Patriot, Kill a Priest" chilled relations.

The U.S. not only supported armed forces that were killing Catholics. Following the repression of the Catholic Church, U.S. taxpayers and Evangelicals sent millions of dollars to the region in order to take advantage of the repression, support the growth of the "apolitical" Evangelical faith, and eat away at the support of Catholics who were stoking the flames of the insurgency. Remember, these were the same people who would say that U.S. nuns deserved to be raped and murdered by the because they might have run a roadblock and gotten into a shootout with the Salvadoran National Guard (Secretary of State Haig and the Pistol Packing Nuns).

From the New York Times in 1986
The [Protestant evangelical] movement has also become closely identified with the battle against the country's Marxist-led guerrillas. While its leaders in the past invoked purely spiritual reasons for their mission, now some say openly that their ''crusade'' is part of the fight against Soviet encroachment in Latin America.
The dramatic growth of the sects here and elsewhere in Latin America is a result of an intense multimillion-dollar evangelical campaign by American-based churches and religious agencies. Their impact and anti-Communist focus appear especially strong in war-torn El Salvador. Preachers often refer to the leftist insurgents in theological terms, calling them ''sinners,'' ''forces of darkness'' and ''allies of Satan.'' U.S. Links Tightened
Because most of the sects here still receive considerable financing and guidance from their North American headquarters, their activities have further tightened the links between the United States and this small nation, which already depends overwhelmingly on American military and economic aid. American money has helped set up new temples, schools, clinics and radio stations.
Moreover, the movement's growth has widened the arena in which political conflicts are fought out under religious banners. The age-old mix of religion and politics in this region had centered largely on Catholic factions and disputing leftist, liberal and conservative views.
Now, like the new Catholic theologians on the left, the revivalist newcomers of the right use the Gospel as a vehicle to promote their political views.
Here is one of the Protestant organizations discussed in the article as well
The California-based Campus Crusade for Christ, an agency specializing in recruiting and training, channels converts to churches of the Pentecostal movement, which makes up three-fourths of the Protestants here. Its leaders say they regard their mission as both religious and ideological.
''Our main objective is to influence the university,'' said Manuel Martinez, an executive at the Campus Crusade for Christ. ''All mass movements and revolutions begin there. The conflict we have in El Salvador today began in the universities.''
But in 1980, one of El Salvador's more turbulent years, Campus Crusade mounted a nationwide drive called ''The Spiritual Battle for El Salvador.'' As a pivot, it used an American-made film called ''Jesus,'' which, according to the drive's organizers, has been shown in more than l00 towns and villages to 250,000 people.
Why do I say that the spread of Protestantism was part of counterinsurgency policy?
Increasingly, preachers appear in remote refugee camps and villages where the short-handed Catholic clergy do not reach. In l985, in a move apparently initiated by Washington, the local office of the United States Agency for International Development signed its first cooperation agreement here with a Protestant group to distribute food to refugees.
There are also signs that the Protestants are receiving encouragement from the armed forces. ''We now preach in the barracks and the jails,'' said Edgardo Montano, a preacher with the Assemblies of God. ''Before, only the priests could go there.''
In Chalatenango Province recently, soldiers first helped out on a Protestant housing project, then the zone commander himself attended the inauguration. Asked whether this might identify the project with the army and leave it a target of the guerrillas operating nearby, the project director, the Rev. Edward Ward, said: ''The army has had a murderous image for so long. It also deserves some good publicity.''
Here is a long excerpt from a 1987 Christian Science Monitor article
Being an evangelical provided a form of safety. ``If one is an evangelical, he won't have problems with the military. If he is a Catholic he may have problems,'' says a high-ranking Catholic Church official. Many Catholic priests and lay people have been killed by the military or right-wing death squads in Central America because they were considered subversive.
While sectors of the Catholic Church in Central America urge social change and a more equitable distribution of resources in the region's highly unequal societies, the politically conservative evangelical sects preach personal salvation. Many have a millennial message - that the end of the world is at hand and the faithful must prepare themselves for Jesus' second coming.
Because of the evangelicals' strong anticommunist stance and their rejection of efforts at social change, the US-backed governments of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras have found the sects useful. In Guatemala, for example, evangelicals were recruited to head the Army-run civil defense patrols, especially during the rule of born-again Christian Gen. Efrain Rios Montt (1982-83).
In El Salvador, US-based evangelical churches are assisting US Agency for International Development (AID) programs in relief and refugee work. AID invited one US-based evangelical group, World Relief, to run projects that the Catholic Church, mainstream Protestant churches, and other independent relief organizations refused to associate with, because these groups said the projects were part of the Army's counterinsurgency effort.
Many Catholic liberals in Latin America suspect the US is orchestrating a region-wide campaign to promote the sects in an attempt to undermine the more socially-involved Catholic Church.
US policymakers were disturbed by the Catholic Church's shift away from its traditional support for US-backed military governments following Vatican II and the 1968 bishops' meeting in Medellin, Colombia, which committed the church to promoting a ``preferential option for the poor.'' At the end of a Latin America fact-finding trip for Richard Nixon in 1969, Nelson Rockefeller wrote: ``The Catholic Church has ceased to be a reliable ally for the US and the guarantor of social stability in the continent.''
In 1980, President-elect Reagan's Latin America strategists noted the necessity of countering liberation theology in the Sante Fe document, which outlined how to combat Latin America's leftist challenge.
Catholics also say the church's weaknesses have aided the sects. Foremost is the small number of priests. There are only 350, half foreign, in El Salvador, a country of 5 million. In contrast, the largest sect, the Assemblies of God, has over 800 pastors ministering to approximately 200,000 people. One reason for the discrepancy is that a priest's training takes seven years, while some evangelical pastors are virtually self-ordained. Another reason is the highly disciplined life required of a Catholic priest.
``In some rural areas, the priest visits only once a month,'' notes one diplomat. ``In the US, if you had a drinking problem or a problem with your wife you'd go to a social worker or a psychiatrist. Here people don't go to psychiatrists. They want to talk to a priest, but the priest isn't there.''
Observers say the emotionally cathartic evangelical services provide a release for those traumatized by the violence. ``But,'' says a nongovernment political analyst, ``it also absolves you of all social responsibility. You're only responsible for yourself and your personal salvation. It leads to political apathy.''
While the evangelical sects claim to be apolitical, critics charge that this apolitical stance, merged with their strong anticommunism, make the sects a strong bulwark of the status quo.
Wealthy Salvadoreans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans are joining evangelical sects. The Assemblies of God just opened their first church in San Salvador's exclusive Escalon district in the former mansion of one of the country's wealthiest families. The California-based group, Full Gospel Businessmen, holds Saturday prayer breakfasts in the fanciest hotels. Many high military officers often attend.
Mr. Swaggart met and prayed with President Jose Napoleon Duarte, his family, and Cabinet. He also met with some top Army commanders and officers and addressed the military academy. Many officers have recently joined the sects.
One can't help but think about something that Archbishop Oscar Romero said during one of his homilies
I am glad, brothers and sisters, that they have murdered priests in this country, because it would be very sad if, in a country where they are murdering the people so horrifically, there were no priests among the victims. It is a sign that the church has become truly incarnate in the problems of the people.