Country Highlights: Somalia & South Sudan

Part VI of a series on TPS

Missed the last blog?

The Trump Administration is proving ruthless in their mission to limit immigration to the United States. Within the last two months, the Department of Homeland Security has ended TPS for two out of the 10 TPS-designated countries. However, there is a glimmer of hope for the remaining countries; DHS extended TPS for Sudan in September, showing some leniency and willingness to continue the program.

Between Somalia and South Sudan, 320 individuals are in the U.S. under the protection of TPS due to civil war and extreme violence in both countries. Though there are few TPS recipients from Somalia and South Sudan, compared to other TPS designated countries, we must remember they had a long and likely treacherous journey to reach the United States, and the number of recipients is no measure of their relative importance or the gravity of the conditions they left behind.


South Sudan

South Sudan received a freedom in the world score of 5/100 from Freedom House due to a lack of political rights, an inoperative government, an absence of civil liberties, and ineffective rule of law. South Sudan gained independence in 2011, and it has been at civil war since 2013, after President Salva Kiir (a Dinka) fired Vice President Riek Machar (a Nuer), deepening the division between the ethnic groups.

Violence was centered in Juba, the capital, but has since spread throughout the country. The UN and the African Union have reported government forces and armed ethnic militias directly targeting civilians, for murder, rape and torture. As of 2016, 1.9 million South Sudanese were internally displaced; there were 1.5 million refugees in neighboring countries; death toll estimates were in the tens of thousands; and ethnic cleansing was underway in parts of the country.



This year Somalia received a 5/100 freedom in the world score from Freedom House due to grave human rights abuses, a lack of a free or stable government, and judiciary rife with impunity, among other things. The country is divided between three major actors: the internationally-supported national government, the separatist government, and al-Shabaab – all of which are fighting for legitimacy, power, and territory. This infighting has resulted in the loss of thousands of civilian lives, internally displaced persons, and loss of infrastructure.

According to reports from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, as of 2016, 1.1 million Somalis were internally displaced; an additional 1.1 million Somalis refugees were in other countries; and over 50,000 civilians had been killed. Al-Shabaab routinely carries out guerilla-style assaults, public beheadings, bombings, and targeted attacks against civilians and civilian structures, such as schools and hotels. Al-Shabaab is not the only group responsible for violence against civilians. Reports from the UN confirm that both the Somali Federal Government (SFG) and the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) are responsible for human rights and international law violations, including rape and indiscriminately killing citizens.

It is feared that the return of Somalis and South Sudanese from abroad will further exacerbate the crisis in both countries. The sheer amount of violence alone has made the return of citizens from abroad impossible. Coupled with the lack of economic opportunity and sustainable infrastructure, the return of South Sudanese and Somalis migrants appears unfathomable.

Please continue to call and write your legislators to fight for the renewal of TPS and to support the SECURE Act, which would create a pathway to permanent residency for TPS holders.


Up Next:

Country Highlights: Yemen and Syria – coming December 15th

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Country Highlights: Central America

Part V of a series on TPS

Missed the last blog?

On November 6th the Department of Homeland Security announced the end of TPS for Nicaraguan migrants. Following this news, 2,550 Nicaraguans were given notice to prepare for deportation in 12 months. Hondurans were given some respite; the Department of Homeland Security announced an extension of six months for TPS holders in order to further assess the living conditions in Honduras. Salvadorans will likely hear in January if they have been granted an extension for TPS.

Taken together, 252,000 TPS recipients from Honduras and El Salvador have lived in the United States for over two decades. With the current administration debating their TPS renewal, thousands nervously await their fate in an uneasy limbo.

Both El Salvador and Honduras began receiving TPS after Hurricane Mitch caused widespread destruction in 1998. The countries continue to receive TPS due to rampant violence.

The U.S. Department of State issued a travel warning in January for Honduras stating, “With one of the highest murder rates in the world and criminals operating with a high degree of impunity, U.S. citizens are reminded to remain alert at all times when traveling in Honduras”. A similar warning for El Salvador was issued in February declaring, “El Salvador has one of the highest homicide levels in the world and crimes such as extortion, assault and robbery are common”.

We must question, if the U.S. government acknowledges the extreme violence in these countries, then why do they want to deport thousands of people to return to these dangerous conditions?

TPS was designed to protect people from living amidst extreme violence.

Honduras faces major corruption and impunity problems within the government and armed forces. During the 2015 presidential election, over 12 opposition candidates and activists were killed, and President Juan Orlando Hernández was linked to a social security embezzlement scheme. The police and army are known to be involved in drug trafficking and extortion. Fewer than 4% of homicides result in conviction, leaving very little hope for protection or justice for Hondurans. Journalists, human rights workers, land activists, and LGBQT persons are at highest risk of violence from gangs and authorities.

The rampant violence in El Salvador is chiefly due to the two of the largest gangs, MS-13 and 18th Street (both exported from Los Angeles). In the 2014 presidential election, the two major political parties, ARENA and FMLN were caught making deals with gang leaders in exchange for votes, highlighting the gangs’ political influence. Gangs have gained control over large portions of the country, and as a result tens of thousands of children have fled north, often unaccompanied, in order to avoid forced gang induction and violence. Police are attempting to crack down on gang-induced violence, causing an increase of lethal armed conflict and an upsurge of gang member and civilian deaths.

Unfortunately, we cannot reverse DHS’s decision to end TPS for Nicaragua, but there is still time and hope for the renewal of TPS for Honduras and El Salvador! Be proactive and call your legislators to urge them to support the renewal of TPS.


Up Next:

Country Highlight: Somalia and South Sudan – coming December 1st

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Reclaiming the Truth: Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Many of us we were taught in elementary school that Christopher Columbus was a brave Italian explorer who first discovered the Americas. We remember him as a hero and for this reason honor him with his own day, Columbus Day. However, this provides a white washed, ethnocentric version of United States’ history. Upon examining the true root of the holiday and the factual history, we discover Columbus Day celebrates, and honors the colonization of the Americas, and the genocide and ethnocide of the indigenous peoples. Columbus encouraged the enslavement and mass murder of indigenous peoples along his voyage and ‘discovery’ of the Americas. To ignore these atrocities by celebrating  Columbus Day, we also have to ignore the violent reality of European colonization, and devalue the indigenous populations within the Americas.

In the United States, states, cities, and universities throughout the nation have taken steps to pay homage to the indigenous peoples impacted by European colonization by celebrating an alternative to Columbus Day called, Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Indigenous Peoples’ Day recognizes that people were in the Americas before the land was ‘discovered ’ by Columbus, and that they were nearly erased from history after his arrival due to the spreading of diseases and violent repression. This movement to reclaim U.S. history with the truth by celebrating alternatives to Columbus Day, began in 1992 in Berkeley, CA in which the title Indigenous Peoples’ Day was coined on the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival. Today, 4 states, 55 cities, and 3 universities celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Supporters of the alternative holiday also intend to draw attention to the fact that indigenous communities continue to be marginalized, discriminated against, and lack access to basic services in the United States.

Various Spanish speaking countries in Latin America have begun to celebrate Día de la Raza (Day of the Race) as an alternative to Columbus Day. Día de la Raza pays tribute to the Hispanic heritage of Latin America, and honors the countries that were brutally conquered by Europe. This celebration is also meant to remember and celebrate the peoples, cultures, and traditions suppressed by European explorers during a continuous and seemingly unending process of colonization that has lasted for centuries. As in the United States, Día de la Raza serves to promulgate the current challenges many indigenous communities continue to face in Hispanic and Latin cultures.

Although there are positive steps and actions being taken to factually rewrite our history, more still needs to be done. There are still 46 states, and numerous cities as well as universities throughout the United States that do not recognize any alternatives to Columbus Day. In doing so, they have chosen to silently accept and promote an ethnocentric version of U.S. history. On this day in particular, please support the recognition of indigenous peoples and their cultures. You can take small steps by not observing Columbus Day as a holiday and/or by sharing the true meaning of Columbus Day with at least one person. Another step you can take (on a larger scale) is to contact your mayor or congressional representatives requesting that your city or state celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day.


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NICA Act: Perpetuating Suffering in Nicaragua

The Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act (NICA Act) is a congressional bill introduced in July 2016. The NICA Act focuses on limiting long term aid to Nicaragua from financial institutions such the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank due to the Nicaraguan government’s restrictions on transparent elections and limitations on political freedoms (i.e. political opposition parties).

The NICA Act (H.R. 5708) was passed in the House in September 2016 and is currently being reviewed in the Senate. The House sponsor for the bill is Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and the Senate sponsor for the bill (S. 3284) is Senator Ted Cruz.

Adverse Impact

Many individuals are in support of the NICA Act without fully understanding the negative impact of this bill if passed. “Nicaragua is the poorest country in Latin America and second poorest in the Western Hemisphere.” (Foundation for Sustainable Development) Financial opportunities are rare to come by in Nicaragua because of the limited amount of job opportunities. On top of that, financial institutions i.e. banks, are extremely limited; throughout the country there are between 10 – 20 banks throughout the country.

The NICA Act is the United States’ solution to punishing the current Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega. Although we do not agree with or condone Daniel Ortega’s approach to politics and human rights overall, the NICA Act is not an appropriate response. The reason being is because the NICA Act will perpetuate poverty within the country.  The NICA Act will also perpetuate the unbalanced relationship between the U.S. and Latin American countries by continuing to view the Latin American region as the “backyard” to the United States in which they can treat the people in this countries however they like.

By making micro loans impossible for the Nicaraguan people to attain with the presence of the NICA Act, the United States will be taking a strong hold approach to systematic change in the Americas. History is repeating itself with this bill because we have seen it before with the Cuban embargo. In an effort to punish the late Fidel Castro by banning trading opportunities to Cuba, the Cuban people suffered severely, not so much Fidel Castro. It actually gave more leverage for Fidel Castro to preach to the Cuban people more animosity towards the United States.

Change the Policies

At The Center we advocate for better U.S.-Latin American foreign policies that uplifts every country in the Americas. Therefore we are against the NICA Act because of the negative effect it will have on the Nicaraguan people and U.S.-Nicaragua relations overall.  We ask that you stand with the Quixote Center as we oppose this bill by contacting your state Congressional representative. Express to your congressman/woman that they have the opportunity to alleviate the suffering of the Nicaraguan people by not enacting the NICA Act.

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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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Speaking Out in the age of Pope Francis

The tone of the conversation about reforming the Catholic Church has shifted dramatically since the Benedict years. Pope Francis has managed to completely change the dynamic of the Church’s relationship with its followers and the broader world community. Many folks who have been working for years to bring social justice issues to the front of the Vatican’s agenda are inspired to hear messages from the Pontiff that affirm their efforts. From his ground breaking “Who am I to judge?” comment last year to his role in the recent move to normalize relations between the United States and Cuba he has shifted the role of the church to a participant in conversation around social issues.

While there has been little evidence of increased church attendance, there have been many reports of increased enthusiasm – even coining the phrase the “Pope Francis Effect” and the social media hashtag #bestpopeever. However, in terms of doctrine, not much has really been changed. The recent report released on the state of American women religious had a vague recommendation from Pope Francis to create more opportunities for a stronger female presence in the church, but no concrete suggestions. Perhaps the largest concrete shift has been the call for the church to welcome gays, divorced and remarried couples and their families.

We welcome and appreciate the change in tone, the focus on social justice and the willingness to discuss modern concerns. However, we at the Quixote Center believe much more remains to be done. We advocate for women’s ordination and a married priesthood. We desire a democratic Church. We pray that the first female Pontiff has already been born. We hope over the course of his tenure as pope, Pope Francis will initiate some of these concrete steps to strengthen his legacy from gifted orator to a true champion of social justice.

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Community Production, Community Benefit: A New Approach

The Peasant Movement of Gros Morne provides essential resources and training to its more than 12,000 members. The training allows peasant farmers to cultivate their land more effectively and intensively. This cultivation is complemented by free seedlings from Quixote Center nurseries throughout the region, aiding our central mission of dispersed reforestation and ecological restoration in Haiti.

We are proud of this work, but not content. We are not content because it is not sufficient to plant trees and train farmers. We must always progress to larger scales and a more holistic scope. These farmers lack access to the marketplace, so they are powerless to sell directly to consumers, relying instead on middlemen who buy low and sell high. During 2015 the Quixote Center and the Peasant Movement of Gros-Morne will partner to form a new kind of marketplace for peasant farmers. We’re going to start with peas, a popular crop in the Gros-Morne region.

We will establish a guaranteed purchase fund for member families to sell their excess at harvest time. The Peasant Movement will then connect directly to local consumers (businesses, non-governmental organizations, orphanages, and medical service facilities) to sell a portion of the harvest. The remainder will be preserved using an innovative storage system and made available for purchase by member families during planting season, when the price of seeds rises dramatically, at less than market value.

This is a new model. We believe it will work because the Peasant Movement of Gros-Morne has developed as a community-based organization with the full trust of its membership.

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Practical Applications in El Regadio

In September I led a delegation to Nicaragua. I knew from the beginning of planning that El Regadio was a ‘must visit’ for our participants. The leaders and activists of El Regadio are some of the most committed and effective in Northern Nicaragua. They are led by Don Augusto, a founding member and the current President of the Federation of Campesinos (FEDICAMP).

Our visit coincided with a day of community training, led by FEDICAMP Promoter Ecka. The morning started with a screening of a documentary on the impact of plastic. Those in attendance were intimately familiar with the problem, because there is an informal dumping place for plastic trash on the edge of town. They discussed alternatives to plastic containers and the global context of consumption, waste, and environmental degradation.

Climate Change soon became the center piece of the conversation. Subsistence farmers in Nicaragua’s northern mountains are experiencing the effects and grappling with the implications in their day to day lives. At one point, an old man in the back of the room raised his hand and addressed the crowd.

“In the United States, they don’t even believe in climate change. The politicians say it isn’t happening. How can our little country make a change when this is the state of mind in the United States?”

The response from Augusto was profound.

“Think about a child in the United States. He wakes up each morning in the air conditioning. He eats food cooked inside a kitchen with climate control. He rides to school in a car with air conditioning and learns in a classroom with air conditioning. When he goes home to his house that keeps the world outside, the temperature is controlled. His entire life is shielded from the climate. Climate Change is not real for him because he does not live it.”

Nicaragua cannot solve climate change, but FEDICAMP is working with those most vulnerable to its effects to find community-based adaptation and mitigation systems. Their efforts make vulnerable communities more resilient in the face of the coming changes.

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Cultivation in the Mountains of Haiti

During the past fifteen years, Marcel Garcon has emerged as a champion for the sustainability ethic in Gros-Morne, Haiti. Year after year he demonstrates his commitment to restoring ecological balance to the region which has been his life-long home. Whenever I travel with him he is greeted by a near-continuous stream of friends among the rural peasant population. All of them know him as a collaborator, as one who has inspired them to continue working this depleted land with the dream of restoring its productivity.

Marcel is an example of why the Quixote Center has been remarkably successful in organizing programs of collaborative development. Our projects in Nicaragua and Haiti are not designed in our Maryland office. They are the result of a deep partnership process, a series of exchanges and critiques that flow both north and south. To achieve that kind of relationship, the Quixote Center commits to long-term partnerships and consciously de-centralizes decision making. The results speak for themselves.

Marcel Garcon now heads a peasant movement that is 12,000 members strong. Those members are some of the most active and effective reforestation advocates, and plant most of the 60,000 trees produced at our Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center each year. During the past three years, the Movement has embarked on a series of new endeavors to restore the ecological balance in and around Gros-Morne. Community nurseries dispersed throughout the countryside now produce an additional 20,000 trees annually. The Movement is experimenting with collective farming of plots to produce high quality food for nearby families while providing a training ground for practical agricultural techniques.

In a country too often maligned or forgotten, Marcel Garcon and the Peasant Movement of Gros-Morne represent an effective alternative. We will continue to walk with them, and to present their success as a source of hope.

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In Doña Maria’s Garden

The following reflection was submitted by Marie Keefe. Thank you, Marie!

Doña Maria is waiting for us at the gate along with other campesinas and a gaggle of kids. It’s day 4 of our trip to Nicaragua to see the work that the Quixote Center supports. We’re in rural Palacaguina, where FEDICAMP has been working with community associations in eco-agriculture to improve the wellbeing of families against a background of harsh terrain, deep drought and a limited diet for families.

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Listening to introductions, it becomes clear that these women are members of the board of their association and very savvy about cultivating their huertos, (small yards) and improving nutrition for their families. They tell us of the techniques for composting, for using indigenous seed, rejecting genetically modified seed, for cultivating with minimal use of water, recycling, changing family meals, even using outdoor earthen ovens that direct smoke away from their casitas and cook with a minimal amount of scavenged wood. The newest improvement is the chicken wire they’ve pooled resources to buy, grateful that it’s keeping the chickens and pigs out of their gardens.

She leads the way into her small backyard which climbs the mountainside. We step into a canopy of green: lemons, avocados, star fruit, papaya and trees we have no English names for: mamones, chaya, calala. Tires are embedded in the hard-packed earth, terracing the vertical, filled with good soil, retaining water, spilling over with onions, garlic, cilantro. Every space is used. Rocks form an upward spiral filled with good earth called a caracol (a snail) with medicinal herbs at the top, lettuce parades down the spiral along with tomatoes and other vegetables. Water trickles down the spiral so not a drop is wasted. The chicken wire fence is home to a wall of beans.

The success of FEDICAMP is visible again and again as we visit the homes of other campesinas who are sharing their knowledge, making do with next to nothing, working to thwart the climate change which has come to their doorstep, learning, always learning and passing it on.

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Contact Us

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

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)