Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Buffalo student: Injustice in Honduras

"Death Squads Are Back"   
With the recent upsurge of death squads in Honduras all of the national solidarity organizations have taken an active roll in informing us as to why this is happening. LASC has taken the opportunity to participate in delegations to this small Central American country. Arianne Walker, a student at Canisius College went to Honduras this past March on a delegation sponsored by Rights Action, an international solidarity organization. Arianne spent time learning about political and environmental issues. In her own words, Arianne wrote " The trip all around was eye-opening because because I did not know all the injustices such as the forced movement of the Garifuna People (original settlers in Honduras) and the effects of the mining industry is having on indigenous people of Honduras".                                                    

We have also leaned through AP that there is continued funding from the U.S. to the Honduran National Police.The chief of Police,l Juan C. Bonilla has been accused of three extrajudicial killings and 11 disappearances. The Center for Economic Research has asked:" Did the A P Catch State Dept. Officials Lying to Congress About Honduran Death Squads?"  There are serious human rights abuses by the Honduran National Police. These abuses have surged with U.S,increase in supporting militarizing the police force. Documentation of these abuses have increased and unless effective steps are taken they will increase. The military-backed regime in power since the 2009 military coup, remains in control due to its military and economic relations with the U.S. and Canada with world-wide banking institutions supporting this effort.     
LASC continues to communicate with our congresspeople (requested to sign on to "Dear Colleague" letter to investigate the increase in death squads).  We would encourage everyone to contact your congressperson to de-militarize the Honduran National Police (Call Cong. Higgins: 852-3501 or 202-225-3306, Collins--634-2324 or 202-225-5265, Reed: 315-759-5229 or 202-225-3161. Join a delegation with Rights Action. More info:         

Cuban Five deserve to have case reopened

Letter to the Buffalo News, published June 8, 2013
Cuban Five deserve to have case reopened

This week, hundreds of people worldwide have been pouring into Washington to demand justice for the so-called Cuban Five. Their “crime”: They came to Florida to monitor anti-Castro Cuban exiles who, for 40 years, had terrorized their homeland, killing 3,478 Cubans. After gathering the information, Havana presented the evidence to the FBI, expecting Washington to stop the terrorist attacks. But instead of nabbing the real criminals, the five Cubans were arrested and convicted by a Miami court. Lawyers’ requests for an impartial venue were rejected.
In 2009, the lawyers petitioned the Supreme Court to reopen the case. The court rejected the case without explanation. Since then, President Obama has insisted the Cubans had their “due process rights,” a claim that collides against enormous evidence favoring the prisoners. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2005 denounced the court’s proceedings, particularly the prosecutor, for “inflaming the jury’s prejudices,” a “reprehensible” violation of her oath of office. Later, activists discovered that the U.S. government had paid Miami journalists to demonize the defendants before the trial. Amnesty International, in 2011, classified the trial under its section “Unfair Trials.”
Unfortunately, most Americans know little about the injustices inflicted on the Cubans; and the media have ignored them. That’s why hundreds of prominent people worldwide, from lawmakers to religious leaders, have come to Washington to expose the falsehoods keeping the Cubans incarcerated and to demand justice for them.
Edward Cuddy

Friday, 7 June 2013

Report on April LASC humanitarian aid event

In place of an April coffeehouse, on Thursday, April 25th LASC presented the 32nd Annual Father A. Joseph Bissonette Latin America Event, upstairs in the Wick Student Center at Daemen College. This Latin america humanitarian aid event raises funds for many projects that LASC has worked with over the years. We also invite local fair trade and social justice organizations to have free information tables. The speaker this year, on "Building Justice in Latin America", was Sharon Hostetler, Executive Director of Witness For Peace. During the 80-90's this organization lead passive resistance on the borders of Central American countries that were experiencing civil wars. For the past twenty years they have organized  delegations to many countries in Latin America. Sharon's talk also gave a good view of human and indigenous rights in Latin America, and how failed US trade policies have amounted to an economic war against the people of the western hemisphere. Here are links to some of Sharon's reports:  from sharon  info on free trade zones

Political Situation of Palenque/Mexico – 2013

Political Situation of Palenque/Mexico – 2013 (a report from sisters in Chiapas)

I. New President

PRI Party came into office (again) in December 2012.  This is the party that was in dictatorship for over 70 years and now, after 12 years, is back in office.  They say they are “different” than the PRI of the past but, that is not the case as has already been seen with the changes they have made in the structure of government over the past two months.  Some of the things that President Pena Nieto has moved toward and that affect our people in Palenque, especially village communities of indigenous peoples are:

1. Labor Laws have been changed to favor competition in the market place rather than honoring the dignity of work that every human being has a right to.  The new laws are unjust in workers rights, access to employment, benefits, etc.  Big corporations are favored at the cost of slave labor of the unskilled and working class.  This is especially true for miners, those working in refineries, etc.

2. Privatization of education that is making access to education for the poor almost impossible.  The Educational system in the country is sub-standard as it is and does not provide opportunities for real learning to take place.  For example, in Palenque, most village communities have “schools” only up to sixth grade and, even at that, teachers do not show up for class, the education is poor, lack of school books and supplies, no bi-lingual education so that native peoples can learn Spanish, etc.

3. Farming, production of food is at risk.  The government provides free seeds that are genetically altered, free chemicals and pesticides that put Mother Earth at risk in favor of mass production of food that is exported.  The poor do not have access to the fruits of their own labor, their hands.

4. There is an increase in government programs that supposedly help the poor, but what it is doing is creating dependency.  Rather than providing opportunities for people to develop skills, they are given a check.  This does not promote the dignity of the person.

5. The push for Tourism in Palenque is depriving people of their own land in favor of building up luxury hotels/spas, privatizing natural resources (waterfalls, scenic areas, etc.).  Some comment that tourism brings in jobs and we are finding that these type of “jobs” destroy the make up of village communities and families, bringing in false values around money that can alienate people from their identify, values, culture, ancestors, etc.

6. Health Care:  The Government provides insurance (Seguro Popular) that does not guarantee medical attention, access to medication, nor emergency care. In Palenque the people are afraid of the local hospital; they do not trust the government and say that if you go there you do not come out alive.  Native peoples are not always treated and medical negligence is not uncommon.  We helped set up a “Citizens’ Coalition” so that incidents can be reported and we can pressure for attention or improvement of services.

7. Economic concerns: basic minimum salary is still 60 pesos for a day of labor (about five dollars a day) and the cost of basic food staples have increased (tortillas, corn, beans, etc.) In town the cost of electricity, gas, etc. have gone up so much that the basic cost of living is putting pressure on the eruption of violence, gangs, assaults, robberies, etc.

8. Social: fear to organize and protest unjust situations.  Police, federal and state law enforcement is corrupt and do not protect the people.  We need to be a society that is more participative in announcing and denouncing so as to be a better country.

The list could go on and on . . . but these are some of our realities in Palenque and the village communities we serve.  We know it is pretty much true all over the country.

II. Violence in Mexico: Organized Crime

Our past president, Calderon, went after organized crime with a military approach of violence against violence at the cost of 125,000 lives in six years.  It has been a blood bath.  Disappearances are common, increasing suspicion and distrust.   No one is safe because sometimes the Organized Crime kills innocent people in retaliation. The News daily includes images of dead bodies, parts of bodies, heads, etc. that grip our senses. Organized Crime is about Drug Lords/families fighting to control the drug corridor of Mexico to bring drugs from further south and take them to the States.  But this fight has also included the cooperation of politicians, security forces, police, military, etc. Money and the need for money have taken over our country.

Our new President has connections with organized crime and we suspect that a “deal is being cut” where the government will “look the other way” and criminal activities will continue.  Impunity is common on all levels.

III. Immigrants

Not far from us, in Pakal na, a train stops to unload and load cargo.  On top of the trains are anywhere from 50 – 200 people who are trying to find their way north. When the train arrives, they come down in need of water, food, medical attention, and a change of clothes, sleep, and safety.  Organized Crime gangs assault the immigrants. There are deaths, kidnappings, forcing immigrants into gang activities, forced prostitution, etc.

Our Sisters have been called upon to provide medical care, meds and other supplies. We also are asked to come and give them a “spiritual pep-talk” because they are so fearful and discouraged.  We pray, give blessings, rosaries, medals, etc.

Our parish, in collaboration with the Diocese, other parishes and international donations, has now employed two Sisters in full time ministry to the immigrants. They coordinate a daily food programs, medical attention, etc. while establishing a network system at each train stop that can help care for and protect the immigrants. A small parcel of land near the train has been purchased and a small house is being built so that the immigrants can shower, rest, eat . . . in safety.

IV. Signs of Hope

This little update on the situation in Mexico/Palenque would not be complete without sharing some of the signs of hope that have emerged out of this moment in our history. It is about the groups that have emerged out of our darkness:

1. “Peace with Justice and Dignity” (Paz con Justicia y Dignidad).  Javier Sicilia, a well-known peace activist and poet, has organized a Caravan for Peace that includes 13 buses with 700 people.  They travel all over Mexico (even went to Washington, DC) to bring their message of peace.  They are family members of those who have been murdered, disappeared, kidnapped, etc. who share their story of sorrow, suffering, loss and pain. They arrived in Palenque.  We met them with candles one night, welcoming them in solidarity.  It is quite impressive and encouraging how many more groups are arising out of their pain, gathering strength in the country.  Javier Sicilia’s son was murdered. This is what started this movement for Peace.

2. “We Are Number 132” (Somos Numero 132).  This is a movement of University Students that began with peaceful demonstrations during the Presidential Campaign last year.  The PRI party had controlled all news media, favoring their agenda.  Reporters of independent news were killed, missing, for telling the truth about organized crime and government involvement with it.  These students demanded truth and freedom of reporting.  They marched streets, carried out various nonviolent actions.  The government responded with violence and several students were killed, put in jail, etc.  These students have given great Hope to the country, hope for it’s future.

3. This past December 21, 2012 (marking the end of the Mayan calendar and the beginning of a New Era) thousands of Zapatistas marched in silence into four major towns in Chiapas to make their presence known, to let the Government know that they are still “alive and well” and remind the Government that the Peace Agreements made after the Uprising in 1994 have still not been carried out.  It was a rather powerful moment to see them walk down the main street of Palenque in silence.

There are many more reasons for Hope.  One, of course, is what Holy Name Province is providing through the Medical Mission and the support given from all three USA Provinces to the diverse ministries our Sisters are carrying out that give further Hope to the people of Palenque.

Report on LASC Coffeehouse, May 20, 2013

On May 20, the LASC coffeehouse  presentation was "Working to Free the Cuban Five!" with speaker Alici Jrapko, one of the national organizers for "5 days for the Cuban 5" events in Washington DC this year, between May 30 and June 5 of 2013.

Since 2006 Alicia has been the US coordinator of the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5, who are  political prisoners incarcerated since 1998 in the United States. Their plight began when Cuba sent them to America in the 1990's to monitor the terrorist activities of anti-Cuban exile groups in Miami. After gathering the information, Havana presented the evidence to the U.S. government, hoping Washington would stop the illegal attacks. Instead of nabbing the Cuban-American terrorists, Washington arrested the five Cubans for trumped-up charges that they were spying on the United States government and convicted the five Cubans in a rigged Miami federal court, in a region awashed with anti-Castro hostility. Their story is not well known in our country, but thousands of people worldwide, including 10 Nobel Laureates, have been pushing Washington to free them. Rene Gonzalez, one of the Cuban 5 who regained his freedom by renouncing his United States citizenship, after having served his sentence, urged President Barack Obama "to have the courage to pardon them by the powers conferred to him".

Our speaker Alicia was born in Cordoba Argentina, but came to the United States during the dictatorship of the 1970's that was responsible for the deaths of over 30,000 progressives, trade unionists and students there. She has been involved in many different struggles in the US, but her main focus has been the fight against hostile US policy toward Cuba. She has been participated in many of the Pastors for Peace caravans to Chiapas and Cuba, and in 1994 she became a leading organizer for the US/Cuba Friendshipment on the west coast, after making one of the early embargo challenges at the Peace Bridge in Buffalo! Alicia worked on the national campaign to return Elian Gonzalez back to Cuba and was on the committee that interviewed US students applying for scholarship to study medicine at the Latin American School of Medicine in Cuba; and in October 2011 she was the organizer of the US tour of La Colmenita, the national children's theater group of Cuba.

She gave us up-to-date information on the work to free the Cuban 5, especially the planned activities in Washington this year. Along with calling for the freedom of the Cuban 5, the protest at the White House will include demands for ending the travel ban, removing Cuba from the list of countries that promote terrorism, ending the criminal economic blockade of Cuba and closing Guantanamo Prison.

Speakers were to include: Angela Davis; Ignacio Ramonet former editor-in-Chief of Le Monde Diplomatique; Dolores Huerta, co founder of the United Farm Workers (UFW); Fernando Morais, author of "The last soldiers of the cold war"; and Martin Garbus, American lawyer member of the legal team of the Cuban Five. Also participating: Cuban associations from Florida, , the Bolivarian Circle of Miami, the Christian Women Association in Defense of the Family, Jewish Solidarity, and  parliamentarians, jurists and organizers from Latin America and Europe.

Here is a link: