Building Friendships, Changing Policy
by Paul Weichselbaum
Solidarity with Honduras!
Stand in solidarity with the people of Honduras at a critical stage in their struggle for justice and democracy. Gather first-hand reports and return with testimony to help change the US policy that is bolstering this brutal regime. Contact Regional Organizer Vera Leone at (706) 405-1273 or email@example.com.
During its 18 year history the Caribbean/Latin America Coalition (CLAC), as successor to Syracuse Covenant Sanctuary, has maintained its commitment to economic and social justice, nonviolence, and human rights. Through several US presidents, CLAC has done so through witness in many ways in poor, struggling hamlets and hotly contested elections; in delegations cumulatively involving dozens of Central New Yorkers (and by bringing a handful of Colombians and Salvadorans here); through prison witness to close the infamous School of the Americas; by providing tons of material aid; and, especially through the Peace Newsletter, by informing Central New Yorkers about projects, prisoners, and the hidden stories of vulnerable yet resilient communities throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
It’s not hard to identify the sources of CLAC’s persistence in tasks that are neither special, pleading, nor, unfortunately, well-known. The struggles – las luchas – of small-scale farmers in El Salvador and Colombia are neither exotic nor unconnected to the United States of America. Building a sister community relationship, Central New Yorkers wanted to make increasingly personal connections to the people of La Estancia in Morazán Province in El Salvador. We knew US policy towards El Salvador from Carter to Reagan to Bush Sr. had enabled the long bloodbath against the Salvadoran civilian population.
|Jhon Campo is a member of the Small Farmers Movement of Cajibío, Colombia, which CLAC members first visited in 2003. Photo: Paul Weichselbaum.|
In the 1980s as Sanctuary and in the 1990s and beyond as CLAC, we connected with individual people and communities in Haiti, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Chiapas, and Cuba. We were recognizing and responding to the US' dysfunctional, destructive, and hypocritical military and diplomatic policies and actions that favored the powerful, undermined progressive and popular change, and spread and intensified poverty.
In the mid-1990s Central New York became a hotbed in the campaign to close the US Army’s School of the Americas. We felt the personal impact of the slaughter of the Jesuits, their housekeeper, and her daughter at the University of Central America in San Salvador in 1989 by SOA graduates. This atrocity was multiplied by the witness of so many other survivors of SOA-taught counterinsurgency (i.e. terrorist) techniques throughout Latin America. To date over a dozen Central New Yorkers have been incarcerated in Federal prisons for “crossing the line” at the SOA (now WHINSEC) in Fort Benning, GA.
In 2003 in Colombia, members of the Cajibío Small Farmers Movement (Movimiento Campesino de Cajibío) deepened CLAC’s understanding of perhaps the most violent conflict in Latin America in the last 60 years, a conflict that the Clinton Administration exacerbated with Plan Colombia. That Plan provides billions of dollars of military aid and features defoliation reminiscent of the failed war in Viet Nam. The Plan is both a boondoggle and a misguided but quite deliberate militarization, impoverishing a whole society.
CLAC’s political and moral compass points towards supporting the aspirations of ordinary people throughout the region. CLAC’s argument is not with Republicans or Democrats in particular, nor only with Bush I and Bush II. The Clinton Administration, with disastrous results, pushed Plan Colombia. As lamentable, Clinton negotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and got it ratified, practically eliminating small-scale, self-sufficient agriculture in Mexico, and thereby unleashing a whirlwind of negative effects.
The Central America Free Trade Agreement, negotiated under Bush II, is similarly problematic, and will directly affect our Salvadoran sister community, La Estancia. Former Representative James Walsh was effectively the deciding vote in favor of CAFTA. So far under President Obama the Colombia FTA has been tabled, it is to be hoped permanently. But will Rep. Maffei be a swing vote if the Colombia FTA is revived? In the meantime, President Obama continues the misbegotten Colombia policy (see Ursula Rozum's article) and notes also his weak response to last year’s Honduran coup. La lucha, sin duda, continua.
The relationships with Cajibío, Estancia, the Pastors for Peace Caravan (to Cuba), and other change-making people and communities in the Caribbean and Latin America motivate CLAC’s persistent and evolving efforts. People from North and South meet at the juncture of their shared humanity, their openness to each other’s experience, and their willingness to stay with each other not just for a week’s delegation but for years and on into decades.