Thursday, October 30, 2014

Chile's "Children of Silence"

From CNN
There could be hundreds, even thousands of cases of babies who were either stolen from their biological parents or given away during the dreaded dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet in the 1970s and 1980s, according to multiple interviews with Chilean authorities, people with knowledge of the issue and parents still looking for their children.
The disappearances occurred in the upper classes of Chilean society, where children of unmarried women were given up or taken to protect a family's reputation and honor. And they occurred in the lower classes, where children were simply stolen and sold.
Through the years, the missing became known as the "Children of Silence."
Sounds like the tip of the iceberg. And, really, did it have to be a Catholic priest?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Civil war era trials go forward in Guatemala

On September 11, 1990, anthropologist Myrna Mack was stabbed to death in Guatemala City. Less than one year later, Miguel Mérida was murdered. At the time, Mérida was leading the investigation into Mack's assassination.
Mack was stabbed to death in the historical center of the city four days after a group of Mayan community representatives presented a report that documented the displacement of thousands of indigenous Guatemalans as a result of ongoing military repression at the time.
Months earlier, Mack had published a study called “¿Dónde está el futuro?” (“Where is the future?”), based on her anthropological fieldwork of the brutal consequences for indigenous communities of the state’s military campaign. In 1993, military specialist Noel de Jesús Bateta was convicted of committing the actual murder.
Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez recently told journalists that three member of the former National Police, Julio David López, José Miguel González Grijalva and Alberto Barrios Rabanales, will stand trial on charges including conspiracy to commit Mérida's murder. Prosecutors allege the he was killed to disrupt the investigation in Mack's murder. The men who allegedly killed Mack pleaded guilty but were later released on a reversal. One died and the other has since disappeared.

In other legal developments,
Guatemala’s Court for High-Risk Crimes ruled that charges would be brought against two members of the Army for sexual slavery and domestic slavery against q’eqchís women in the military outpost of Sepur Zarco, and other serious crimes perpetrated in the framework of the government counterinsurgency policies during the armed conflict.
At the public hearing, Judge Miguel Angel Galvez ruled that there is sufficient evidence to open a trial against Colonel Esteelmer Reyes Girón, former chief of the Sepur Zarco military outpost, and Heriberto Valdéz Asij, former military commissioner in the region.
Reyes will be tried for the crimes against humanity of sexual violence and sexual slavery, domestic slavery, and the assassination of Dominga Coc and her two young daughters on the base. Valdez will face charges for the crimes against humanity of sexual violence and forced disappearance.
The reversal of the Rios Montt trial was clearly a setback for the cause of justice in Guatemala. So has the recent election of judges and related scandals. Those events make the recent announcements that trials will go forward in the Mack and Sepur Zarco case all the more remarkable.

The Battle of the Invisibles - Puebla, Mexico and California

On Tuesday, the University of Scranton's Latin American Studies Program welcomed filmmaker Manuel de Alba to campus to screen his award winning film, The Battle of the Invisibles.
The Battle of the Invisibles: Undocumented Workers vs Supermarkets” is a 60-minute documentary film that focuses on the janitorial labor force from Puebla, Mexico and the exploitation of their labor by major U.S. supermarkets. It also tells the story of how thousands of workers from a rural town in Mexico became employed by California's grocery stores and engaged in a five-year struggle against labor abuses by powerful supermarket chains including Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons.
After years of having been taken advantage of while working as janitors in California, over 2,000 people, many from Puebla, Mexico, joined in a class action lawsuit against the supermarket chains that exploited them. They had suffered lost wages for not being paid the minimum wage, not receiving breaks or vacation days, and were forced to work with toxic chemicals without the proper clothing, gloves, or masks. In the end the supermarkets agreed to an out-of-court settlement of $22 million with the janitors.

It was a very good film that addresses several important issues in immigration and labor exploitation, One of the more interesting targets of the film were the Puebla power brokers who made an economic killing facilitating the travel of their neighbors, often family members, to California and their subsequent exploitation by the supermarket chains.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

National Children's Alliance at the University of Scranton

As some of you know, I am the coordinator of the University of Scranton's Education for Justice office. We are a group that encourages faculty to incorporate justice-related themes into the courses and provide some financial assistance for programming.

Last night we welcomed Denise Richards to campus. Denise is the director of government affairs for the National Children's Alliance (NCA), the national association and accrediting body for Children's Advocacy Centers (CAC). It was a great opportunity for our students, many of them engaged in service opportunities and committed to helping others as part of their post-graduation plans, to hear from someone who was able to turn her passion and faith into a very effective advocacy career. We had a good turnout, especially among counseling and human services majors and the Scranton community. Unfortunately, I can't say that the political science representation was at their level.

Denise spoke about her efforts to keep the federal government committed to funding the nationwide Children's Advocacy Centers. These centers are community-based, public-private partnerships that coordinate child abuse investigations and intervention needs of children who experienced abuse and their families. As as foster parent this past year, I have a much better understanding of how important these centers are and how important Denise work is.

One of the issues that can up during her talk and our conversation during the day was the unaccompanied minors crisis. She is optimistic that Congress is going to move on legislation related to unaccompanied minors in the new year. There is more across the aisle cooperation on children's issues than most others in Congress. When I asked her about the media coverage of Republicans who had wanted to do away with the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, she said that is was a small but vocal group of House members. She did not think that repeal or significant changes to the law would have passed the Senate or President Obama's desk. There was more bite than bark this summer.

Denise's visit was a great opportunity for our student body and wider community to come together to learn more about a very important issue and to continue a conversation as to how we can continue to work together to improve our Scranton community.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Pacific Rim against El Salvador in an international arbitration tribunal

Lauren Carasik has an article in Foreign Affairs on Undermined: The Case Against International Arbitration Tribunals.
A decision in favor of Pacific Rim -- allowing its corporate profits to trump El Salvador’s domestic safeguards -- would set a dangerous precedent about who has the power to dictate the terms of development for emerging economies. Corporations, concerned primarily with maximizing profit, should not be able to subvert the will of sovereign countries, especially those whose poverty requires them to seek outside investment. Compounding the problem, developing countries often submit to bilateral investment treaties and free trade agreements whose terms usually grant jurisdiction to international tribunals.
The dominant development orthodoxy of the past several decades has pressured countries to make concessions to attract foreign capital by implementing neoliberal reform packages, including austerity measures, privatization, and deregulation. In practice, this has often meant gutting labor, health, and environmental standards. Foreign tribunals, which further expand corporate prerogatives while limiting the ability of states to protect their citizens, are another step in the wrong direction.
I'm not that persuaded (read the comments to the Foreign Affairs article as well). I still hope that El Salvador wins or reaches a settlement with Pacific Rim that maintains the de facto ban over mining in the country. I just have a lot of questions over the safety of the operations and mining's potential to reignite social conflict that was the norm a few years ago. Mining doesn't have to go hand in hand with social conflict but in countries with weak rule of law and a history of government and elite exploitation of their people, it sure seems to. Social conflict around mining remains a permanent condition in Honduras and Guatemala whereas tensions seem to have subsided since the de facto ban.

While I have no love for Pacific Rim, the case was brought to an international arbitration tribunal because it was the Salvadoran government that agreed that in order to encourage foreign investment in a country that lacked the rule of law and where the courts were weak, corrupt, and politicized, investors needed greater guarantees than what their courts could provide. Go back to the McDonald's case.

The Salvadoran people and the FMLN generally seem to support the mining ban in general and in the decision not to extend an exploitation permit to Pacific Rim. However, the tribunal will (hopefully) decide the case on the legal merits. I'm hoping that the tribunal rules in favor of the Salvadoran government on the legal merits of the case ("The government countered that Pacific Rim had not complied with the requirements for a permit, including acquiring land titles for the area encompassing its proposed mines, obtaining the appropriate environmental authorizations, and submitting environmental impact assessments and a project feasibility study") rather than the more abstract argument that a ruling in favor of Pacific Rim goes against the will of the Salvadoran people.

A ruling along those lines would appear to do more to strengthen the rule of law in El Salvador than other alternatives at this point.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

El Salvador at-a-glance

Just came across Quique Aviles' poem, Salvador at-a-glance, while visiting Marquette. 
El Salvador at-a-glance
Area: the size of Massachusetts
 Population: Not much left
Language: War, blood, broken English, Spanish
Customs: Survival, dance, birthday parties, funerals
Major exports: Coffee, sugar, city builders, busboys, waiters, poets
You can read the rest of the poem here, including this nugget:
El Salvador’s major cities:
San Salvador
San Miguel
Santa Ana
Los Angeles
San Wachinton, DC

Thursday, October 23, 2014

El Salvador and the University of Central America: Yesterday and Today

I am giving the keynote address tomorrow at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on "El Salvador and the Central American University: Yesterday and Today."  As you might know, the 25th anniversary of the deaths of six Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter will take place on November 16th. All the Jesuit universities in the country are holding a series of events to commemorate the occasion. 

I don't imagine that I would be teaching Latin American politics today had it not been for the work and death of Ignacio Ellacuria, Martin-Baro, Segundo Montes and the other Jesuits in El Salvador. Their martyrdom caused me to focus on El Salvador while their academic and pastoral work led me to ask how do civil wars end and what happens to armed opposition groups, the FMLN in this case, one the war ends. 

I'll probably talk more about the topic over the last month but, for now, I'll just say the UCA remains a model for 21st century Jesuit and Catholic education.