Author Archive

Justice for Berta

On March 2, 2016, internationally recognized Indigenous and Honduran social movement leader Berta Caceres was murdered following an intense struggle against the Agua Zarca Dam in Honduras. Berta was the General Coordinator of the Indigenous Lenca organization COPINH and national Honduran social movement leader against the 2009 SOA-graduate led coup in Honduras and the resulting US-backed and financed repressive regimes. She received constant death threats, surveillance, and repression. Despite all the threats, Berta refused to be silent. Demand justice for her death today!

Please take a few moments to send an email to your representative, as well as representatives at the Honduran Embassy, encouraging them to sign onto Representative Ellison and Johnson’s letter to Secretary of State Kerry and Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew. The letter calls for the U.S. to urge the Honduran government to sign an agreement with the Inter-American Human Rights Commission to provide for an independent group of experts to investigate the murder, to cancel the Agua Zarca Dam concession, and to provide other human rights leaders with protection. The letter further calls for an end to US aid to the Honduran security forces and the review of U.S. support for loans to mega-projects.

To learn more about Berta Cáceres, you can read this article. She was a brave advocate for social and environmental justice, and was one of the 2015 winners of the Goldman Environmental Prize. We encourage all our supporters to sign on to the petition in her memory and to protect other activists working in the dangerous environment of Honduras. Thank you for your solidarity and support.
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The Immigration Debate

Much of the election season to date has revolved around the questions of immigration reform and border security, yet little time has been given to the devastation that is now tearing through Mexico and the northern region of Central America. To address this pandemic of violence will require multiple government agencies, grassroots movements, and leadership in the White House and Congress. Why then, are we on the cusp Super Tuesday without hearing a single comprehensive plan?
 
Mexico has been living in a state akin to civil war for a decade. The violence began when, at the bidding of a United States administration, the Mexican government declared war on the cartels which had already divided the country into fiefdoms. At that time, the cartels were operating on what they knew was and would continue to be a multi-billion dollar profit model where they delivered drugs from the south to eager consumers in the shadows of the north.
 
 
In the process they accumulated wealth and weaponry more akin to micro-states than to organized crime. Millions of dollars flowed south from the United States, sums that make long-standing remittance flows seem paltry by comparison. The penetration of the cartels into the Mexican state apparatus was unprecedented. The Zetas cartel is in fact staffed primarily by ex-military officers who have chosen lucrative careers in brutality over their previous national service.
 
 
The cartels were ready for war.
 
 
So many people died in Mexico in the years following that declaration of war that the people began to doubt their ability to defeat the cartels. The brutality with which innocents and combatants alike were dispatched created a culture of fear that permeates Mexican life to this day. There is an understanding that the police can offer no protection for those who cross the cartels. In many cases, the cartels and the police force overlap, with money winning loyalty when decision time comes.
 
 
In the fog of war, the cartels grew stronger. They struck deals with international banks to launder money, they bought politicians and police officers at record rates, and they expanded their reach to almost every corner of the country. Would-be drug traffickers found the country smaller than before and moved south to participate in the lucrative supply chain that was moving overland from the Caribbean when the United States clamped down on marine-route drug smugglers.
 
 
Along the way they found ready-made allies in the maras (street gangs) that had come to dominate criminal life in Central America. Mara Salvatrucha is still perhaps the best known gang in the region, but there are many, many others. What these gangs lacked in experience they made up for with gusto and a willingness to engage in brutality, a mirror of the more established cartels to the north. They met with states unprepared for their rapid rise and a population cowed by insecurity and past trauma.
 
 
The now infamous Golden Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) emerged as one of the most dangerous regions on earth. Production centers in South America found the countries of Central America easy prey. The region faces some of the highest poverty rates in the hemisphere, and there are long histories throughout the isthmus of extrajudicial killings, organized crime, and government involvement in criminal enterprise, often with the implicit blessing of administrations in Washington.
 
 
People who live in these countries and in large swaths of Mexico have no guarantee of safety. Young boys in poor neighborhoods are recruited, trained, and used as weapons against rival gangs and government forces. Young girls face threats of rape for being noticed. There is no force between these innocent civilians and the drug traffickers and criminals who see them as potential recruits, a source of income, or merely targets of opportunity. They are the poor and the middle classes. They are people who have only recently emerged from the upheaval of revolution and counter revolution. Having survived their own history they face this new and seemingly uncontrollable threat to their very existence.
 
 
Men and women desperate for an escape pay exorbitant fees to people smugglers called coyotes to carry them north undetected. They board a train called simply The Beast, or they crowd into trailers, or they walk or ride in the back seats of cars. It is a harrowing journey at best. Those without the resources to go entrust their children to the coyotes and send them on a long and dangerous journey. Many are abducted for ransom, rape, or slavery. That parents risk these hazards is evidence of the absolute powerlessness they feel at home.
 
 
In August 2012 I played a small part in coordinating the Caravan for Peace, a road trip of some 120 Mexican people across the United States. They were led by the renowned poet Javier Sicilia, and all have had their lives dismantled in some way by the drug war. I had the opportunity to listen to mothers grieving children, young people grieving friends, and survivors grieving a lost innocence. Sadly, little has changed in the years since those courageous people made that journey.
 
 
This does not have to be. These are human problems caused by decisions that were made without a full understanding of the consequences. The demand for heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and cannabis here in the United States funds the institutional disintegration of our neighbors. Our free trade policies drive down wages in the region and erode the voice of the electorate. Powerful politicians manipulate the drug trade, poverty, and newfound wealth streams to maintain their power. All of it is happening just to the south of the United States, and all of it is inextricably tied to United States policies.
 
 
Threats of mass deportation and a wall are absurd. We deserve a serious discussion of how the candidates plan to address this thorny issue on day one of a presidency. Platitudes and vague mentions are not enough. Immigration reform is only a piece of this immense puzzle. I hope that the upcoming contests in states with significant Latino populations will be enough to convince the candidates that this is an issue worth their time and energy if they hope to win.
 
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What’s next for Haiti?

nmunoeun063kbmv5lq6bPresident Michel Martelly took office in 2011 after a seriously flawed election process made worse by the lingering earthquake crisis. His term has been marked largely by a series of failures to follow through on elections. Last year, the terms of most representatives of parliament expired, and no local or municipal elections had been held to determine their replacements. This drew international attention, and Martelly promised to hold elections during 2015 for new representatives and his replacement. The first round of those elections was held in October 2015, but those elections were marred by irregularities, ultimately resulting in the opposition candidate refusing to participate in the second round of elections which was delayed, delayed and finally cancelled last week.

Now, Martelly is legally obligated to step down on February 7th and no replacement has been elected. Hope of legitimately electing a replacement in the next week is absurd, but alternate solutions are faint. This past weekend, representatives from the Organization of American States were in Haiti to review possible options for moving forward. One viable option would be to create an interim government to hold power and organize elections. However, three members of the nine member electoral council have just resigned, making even the possibility of a vote on the options proposed by the OAS a challenge.

Meanwhile, communities are continuing to struggle with caring for their basic needs in this poorest country in the hemisphere. As we have highlighted in previous blog posts, foreign NGOs and business interests in Haiti are having an undue influence in the country as they struggle to establish a legitimate democracy. The role of these outside players is a real concern, particularly as they have brought Haiti from a self-sufficient nation to one that is dependent on foreign aid. The events of the next couple days and weeks will have a big impact on Haiti’s future and we will be watching to see what’s next.

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Reflections on the Pope’s Visit

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This week, DC and much of the US was buzzing with the presence of Pope Francis, tuning in to his speeches to the Congress and the UN General Assembly. This Pope has become the most popular in years, provoking dialogue among both Catholics and non-Catholics. His common sense and humane approach to many social issues that have allowed many to feel included again in the church.

Many here in Washington, DC noted that following his speech to a joint session of Congress, the Pope turned down many high profile invitations to lunch in order to join 300 homeless people being served by Catholic Charities. He spoke of Jesus being born without a home, and how St. Joseph must have struggled during this time. These struggles remain relevant today, and the Pope admonished that there is “no justification, whatsoever, for lack of housing.” This calling is important in many cities across the US, and also highlights the need for our work in Nicaragua building homes through our Homes of Hope program.

Aside from discussing the challenge of homeless, the Pope’s message to our political leaders was heartening. He reminded us that our shared goal is to make our country a better home for all citizens, saying:

“the challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States. The complexity, the gravity and the urgency of these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience”

We hope that all our leaders will be inspired to collaborate toward our shared goal of creating a better nation for all, to understand that we are stronger when we value the least among us as our equal.

 

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Growing for the Future

 
Goat Summit - milking demonstration

Goat Summit – milking demonstration

In the fall of 2014 we had two important conferences which spearheaded activities for 2015.  Both followed the same participatory model. First was the goat summit:  on the first day we had 12-15 staff and leaders who planned out four stations covering goat food, goat parks, goat wellness, and milking goats. On the next two days about 40 people participated and rotated among the four stations and drew up action plans.

 
The second conference was on the heath of the soil and included A) adding carbon and compost from SOIL (made from human waste), double digging, cultivating worms for their castings, along with other soil conservation techniques.
 
Participants in a training at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center

Participants in a training at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center

During the first half of 2015, there have been trainings for the four Caritas technicians on an average once a week at Grepin and there have been numerous formations “in Place”  out in the countryside where people live. There are at least 10 groups of ten families who after training received a female goat.  There is one improved male goat for each group of families.  This model of dispersed training allows us to have a much wider impact and reach many families who would not be able to travel to Grepin.  The same is true about the soil conservation which was the Caritas campaign.  More than 150 people have benefited directly and another 100 indirectly.

The other movement which has happened is that the parish Caritas agricultural program has moved from the small room in the rectory to the Fr. Jean Marie Vincent Formation center.  The technicians receive weekly formation and participate in workshops with the agronomists out in the country side.
 
Students receiving training in the nursery

Students receiving training in the nursery

On May 1, 2015 over five hundred students from Jean XXIII primary and high school participated in a training session on reforestation at the Center and on Tet Mon – the Jean Marie Vincent Forest. The training of students is some of the most important work we do. The children enjoy working in the nursery, planting trees and caring for the seedlings. This knowledge will have long lasting benefits for their communities.

 
srpatThank you to Sister Pat Dillon, RJM for this informative report on the work in Haiti! You are all doing amazing work there!

 

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New Trees in Haiti

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Look at those papayas!

2015 has been a productive year for our partners in Haiti as they plant trees throughout the region of Gros Morne. In addition to planting in the model forest on Tet Mon, our partners distribute trees to families and schools for dispersed planting, improving the overall health of the soil. For the last several years, we have been encouraging the planting of fruit trees which have multiple benefits: shade and decreased soil erosion as well as increased access to nutrition from fruit and a source of income for families who sell excess fruit.

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A Father Gerard papaya tree

In January 2015, we visited our partners at Hands Together where Father Gerard has been cultivating papaya trees. We were all amazed at not only the size but the quantity of papayas growing on one tree.  Their agronomist said it was a combination of soil, watering and the seeds.  Marcel Garcon, director of the Peasant Movement of Gros Morne, picked the ripest papaya in the hope of harvesting seeds as well as fruit.  From those seeds we were able to grow 257 papaya saplings, 200 of which have been distributed to date.  This is an important part of the vocation of the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center-to acquire new or special varieties of crops, propagate them and work with farmers on what methods have proved successful to other farmer growing the same crops. Staff keep track of who is growing trial trees, fruits and vegetables so that adjustments can be made for future sharing success.

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Papaya seedlings ready to plant

The rains normally come in March, but this year there was no rain until July which delayed planting. However, now that the rains have prepared the soil for planting, we have distributed the papayas as well as 2000 mango trees.  The Peasant Movement of Gros Morne has been encouraging members to plant mangos, which are the main cash crop of our area, because our mango trees are aging and so many have been lost. The baby papayas will be planted in the school yard–probably by the composting toilet.  Papayas need nitrogen which is found in urine.  Perhaps by Jan. 2016, these trees will be providing food for the students’ lunches.  When the papayas are green, they are cooked as a vegtable and put over rice or cornmeal.  When they ripen more to an orange color, they are eaten as a fruit. These trees will be a great asset to the students at our partner schools, as well as their families.

Our nurseries have also been producing Pine, Oak and Cedar trees to be planted in the forest and through distributed planting at homes and other sites. Through our training and education programs we are teaching residents about different types of trees, and encouraging use of these varieties as firewood so fruit trees can be spared. The pine, oak and cedar grow faster and are better suited for firewood. Our nurseries are full so we are praying for the rain to continue so we can distribute all the seedlings we have.

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Sister Pat Dillon in Gros Morne, Haiti

Thanks to Sr. Pat Dillon for her contribution to this post.

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Our Common Home

pope&ban ki moonThis week, the pope’s encyclical on the challenge of climate change was leaked by the media. While the final version will be formally shared on June 18, the content of the draft is certainly indicative of the Pope’s tone in addressing this global issue. He acknowledges that most of climate change is caused by man’s actions, and calls on all people, regardless of religion, to share the responsibility of caring for the earth, “our common home“.

What is especially encouraging from this plea is the links Pope Francis draws between the economic culture of over-consumption and its impact on the poor. By framing this in both an economic and social justice context, the need to resolve this issue takes on greater significance. The document even specifically discourages the carbon credit model of offsetting greenhouse gas emissions, as it unfairly advantages wealthier nations and does not lead to an overall reduction in emissions.

The Vatican has said that the release of the encyclical was timed to have maximum impact on upcoming visits by the Pope to address the US Congress and the UN. Since the document clearly scolds climate change deniers, it will be interesting to see how American representatives who are both Catholic and vocal climate change deniers, respond to this position. When the Pope addresses congress later this year, we can certainly expect him to raise these issues. Your move, John Boehner.

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Stronger Together

One of the great strengths of the progressive movements in the 1960s was their willingness to collaborate and work towards a shared goal. It was no coincidence that the civil rights movement celebrated many wins, alongside progress in the women’s rights and gay rights movements. The victories gained by all these groups actually resulted in the neo-liberal pushback that sparked in the late 1970s and continues to the present.

However, there is some awareness rising that in order to push forward progressive movements, we need to collaborate. Over the past several years, the deaths of unarmed men of color at the hands of police has resulted in the Black Lives Matter movement. The rise of social media and the attention given to the repeated deaths of individuals in contact with police has sparked a national conversation about racism in not only the police forces, but also our country in general. Most importantly for the structural shift needed to actually address this issue effectively, is the discussion around the overwhelming inequality that divides the haves and the have nots which is at the root of these community tensions.

Issues such as a living wage are being raised, as are practices and policies within the criminal justice system. Serious dialogue about the “war on drugs” and its impact on poor communities have resulted in reforms for decriminalization of marijuana. Part of the success of that campaign has been framing the issue not as a drug question, but as a criminal justice – and even an economic – question.

The recent success of campaigns to raise the minimum wage have gained a lot of traction, and they are doing well to collaborate with other movements. Over the Quixote Center’s long history, we have often collaborated with partners. We attribute a lot of our success to these collaborations and the understanding that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

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Take Action to Restore School Lunch in Haiti

Educators in Haiti are scrambling to feed their students after a shocking and surprise announcement from Port au Prince. Just weeks before school terms began last September the government announced that only national schools would be eligible to receive food aid for student lunches. The announcement reversed a long policy of providing school lunch assistance to all students, including those in parochial and private schools.

Haiti’s government relies on international Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to supply and deliver the food for student lunches. These organizations, led by the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP), have fallen in line with the policy change without regard for the thousands of children who will now go hungry each day.

Since the announcement, WFP officials have refused to meet with local leaders and educators, including our partners at the Green Schools Network, an association of 65 schools in the rural region surrounding Gros-Morne. The Network is made up of public, private, and parochial schools with a shared commitment to ecological restoration. Earlier this year we received an urgent request from our partners for grassroots action here in the United States.

Administrators at the Green Schools now say that parents of children in parochial and private schools feel as though they have no recourse. For many children, their school lunch is the only consistent meal of the day, and they rely on the calories from that meal to carry them through lean times. There have been discussions among many parents about how they might go about protesting the discriminatory policy, but local leaders have discouraged this course of action because they fear that the protests could pit parochial and private school families against national school families.

All accredited schools in the United States are able to participate in the federal school lunches program and receive subsidies to feed their students, regardless of religious affiliation. This ensures that children across the country have access to free or reduced price lunches each day. This was also the case in Haiti until the policy change before this school year.

The World Food Programme exercises great discretion in the distribution of food aid. A decision by WFP offi cials could reverse this new discriminatory policy, but so far they have lacked the necessary resolve and have refused to meet with local leaders. Now, we are asking for your help in restoring equality by lobbying the responsible World Food Programme official directly.

Cedric Charpentier is the WFP representative in Gonaives, an urban hub near Gros-Morne. His office has the authority to restore school lunch assistance to all schools. Please send him an e-mail urging him to meet with local leaders and the administrators of the Green Schools Network. You can click here to send a form email via our website.

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The Meaning of Religious Freedom

The roots of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (1993) were a surprisingly bipartisan effort to offer protection for Native American religious traditions in particular. The purpose of that act was to prevent government from burdening individuals ability to practice their religion even if that burden resulted from a generally applicable rule. It laid out exemptions to ensure that if indeed a burden was inevitable to guarantee a “compelling government issue” (generally core constitutional rights) then that burden was the least restrictive way to implement the required law. Indiana, Arkansas and other states that passed similar laws in recent weeks have in most cases expanded the law in legally significant ways.

One the most significant differences was in language that grants religious beliefs to private corporations and LLCs. This is a growing trend, as witnessed in the Hobby Lobby decision by the Supreme Court in 2014, which allowed the company to refuse coverage for contraception for its employees based on the religious beliefs of its owners. The growing legal propensity to grant rights traditionally reserved for individuals to corporations and private companies seems to be the culmination of neoliberal economic policies. Opponents of these policies are pushing back against these trends and their voices are gaining traction as the impact of decisions like Citizens United is being felt.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) who introduced the federal RFRA bill with former Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) in 1993 has spoken out against the Indiana law saying it does not resemble the “intent or application” of the federal RFRA. The portion of the bill that has gotten the most press is of course those businesses who object to being a part of same-sex marriages. The distinction here, as in the Hobby Lobby case, is in how the religious beliefs of some are imposed on others. The original law gave no power to individuals to refuse service to others who did not share their beliefs.

The Quixote Center joins other progressive faith based organizations in encouraging Indiana Governor Pence to reform the law to ensure it is not allowed to be used in an oppressive or discriminatory manner. Governor Hutchinson of Arkansas has refused to sign the bill he was scheduled to sign last week, encouraging legislators to frame the law closer to the federal version. We hope to see the same in Indiana.

 

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Contact Us

  • Quixote Center
    7307 Baltimore Ave.
    Ste 214
    College Park, MD 20740
  • Office: 301-699-0042
    Email: info@quixote.org

Direction to office:

For driving: From Baltimore Ave (Route 1) towards University of Maryland, turn right onto Hartwick Rd. Turn immediate right in the office complex.

Look for building 7307. We are located on the 2nd floor.

For public transportation: We are located near the College Park metro station (green line)