The Trump administration’s recent announcement that it would recognize National Assembly President Juan Guaidó as the “interim president” of Venezuela raises the stakes in already out of control crisis and increases fears of potential U.S. military intervention to back what can only be seen as an attempted coup against Venezuela’s elected president.  It is clear to all serious observers of the situation in Venezuela that the Trump Administration is working closely with the right-wing opposition to find extralegal, non-electoral means to forcibly remove President Maduro from office.

The Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America (CRLN) as always stands in solidarity with the oppressed masses, the poor, the working class, the marginalized communities in all of Latin America.  And as always, we oppose efforts to impose a future on the people of Latin America by their economically, politically and militarily powerful neighbor to the North.  It is a bedrock principle of our organization, as it has been for over 30 years, to oppose U.S. imperialism in all its forms.  We do so again at this moment calling on the U.S. government to do the following:

 

  1. End all threats of and preparations for military intervention in Venezuela
  2. Cut ties with and support for (financial and political) the right-wing opposition currently attempting to thwart the democratic process in Venezuela
  3. End all sanctions against Venezuela
  4. Ensure humanitarian aid and protection for Venezuelan refugees

 

US efforts to undermine the Venezuelan regime over the last 20 years have brought needless hardship and deprivation to the Venezuelan people.  It is time to stop.

 

That said, as people of faith we cannot turn a blind eye to the immense suffering of the Venezuelan people under the current administration of Nicolás Maduro.  We cannot ignore the violations of human rights (both political and economic) and the Venezuelan nation’s slide into authoritarianism.  In all our shared faith traditions, whether Christian, Jewish or Muslim, we are called to recognize the inherent dignity and worth of every human being, to see the image of God in every man and woman.  In this spirit we cannot ignore the brutal reality of extreme, deepening poverty, desperation and state violence that has become the norm for the vast majority of Venezuelans in the last several years.  The current government’s inability to address the economic and political crisis that has led to mass starvation and mass migration has created a situation that is unsustainable.  The Maduro government has met these challenges with violence and repression rather than solutions.  As a result, the gains made by the Bolivarian Revolution nearly two decades ago are rapidly eroding.  Conditions for the most vulnerable in Venezuela are now as bad if not worse than they were before the Revolution.

 

We are all too familiar with how migration is the most glaring symptom of a broken system.  We see it today in Central America.  We are also seeing it in Venezuela.  1.5 to 3 million Venezuelans have fled their country and are living in desperate, appalling conditions in neighboring nations.  It must be noted that the vast majority of these recent Venezuelan refugees are the poor and malnourished, not the elite of Venezuelan society, not the self-imposed “exiles” of the early days of the Bolivarian Revolution.  It is these masses who suffer most as the old elites attempt to reassert their power through an attempted coup, and the new elites who amassed power and wealth through manipulation of the bureaucracies born of the revolution use state violence to maintain their control.  It is these same masses who are already victims of U.S. interference in the politics of Venezuela and will die by the thousands, perhaps tens of thousands if the U.S. resorts to military force to restore its hegemony.

 

Solutions to the current crisis can only come from the Venezuelan working class and poor whose creativity and resilience launched a revolution that gave hope to millions, not only in Venezuela but across Latin America.  Only from these marginalized sectors can a path to a future beyond the poverty and violence that now engulfs their nation be defined.  We here at CRLN we will continue to listen to the voices of these people.  We will continue to look for genuine representatives of the Venezuelan masses with whom we can ally ourselves and make common cause.  In the meantime, we must call out both the Trump Administration and the government of Nicolás Maduro for denying the dignity and worth of every Venezuelan.

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CRLN Executive Director, Claudia Lucero, was invited to attend the United Nations Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration conferences as a representative of NGOs present for consultation about immigration matters. She was present at the Intergovernmental Conference to Adopt the Global Conference on December 10-11 in Marrakech, Morocco.

On December 19,2018, the U.N. General Assembly endorsed the Compact through a vote. 152 nations voted in favor of the resolution to endorse it, while the United States, Israel, Hungary, Czech Republic and Poland voted against it. 12 countries abstained from the vote.

Although not legally binding, the Compact is the outcome of a long negotiation process. The U.N. hopes it will provide a strong platform for international cooperation on migration, drawing on best practices and international law. In order to be effective, countries will need to implement this historic agreement and, hopefully, codify its provisions into their own national laws.

Once again, the U.S. has refused to cooperate with a groundbreaking international agreement that could improve the lives of migrants at its borders.

You can read the whole document by clicking on the link below:

https://www.un.org/pga/72/wp-content/uploads/sites/51/2018/07/180713_Agreed-Outcome_Global-Compact-for-Migration.pdf

For statements made by representatives of the various countries in attendance, click on the link below:

https://www.un.org/press/en/2018/ga12113.doc.htm

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The US has a long record of intervening in El Salvador’s affairs, from taking the side of dictators in civil conflicts to attempting to influence elections after the Peace Accords were signed and democracy was restored in the 1990’s,  US government representatives have frequently threatened to cut off US aid or remittances sent home by Salvadorans living in the US unless they voted for the right-wing ARENA party.  Currently, President Trump’s frequent threats to cut aid to El Salvador are being used by the right-wing media in El Salvador as part of a smear campaign against the current administration in El Salvador (FMLN party) and as a way to intimidate voters in the February 3 Presidential elections.

Representatives Grijalva (D-AZ), Beyer (D-VA) and Serrano (D-NY) are circulating a Congressional  sign-on letter, calling on the Trump Administration to refrain from positioning themselves in any sort of partisan manner or making any statements to influence the decision of Salvadoran voters ahead of the elections. Please call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121, ask to be connected to your U.S. Representative’s office, ask to speak to the Foreign Policy staff member, and tell them why your Representative should sign onto this letter. If the Foreign Policy Staff member is not available, ask to be connected to their voice mail and leave a message or ask for their email and send your message to them in writing.

If you do not know the name of your representative, click here to find out.

Here is a sample script:

“Hi, my name is ________ and I am a constituent of Rep. _______. Representatives Grijalva, Beyer, and Serrano are circulating a Congressional sign-on letter calling on the Trump Administration to respect the democratic process in El Salvador in their upcoming February 3rd elections. Unfortunately, there has been a history in past elections of Republican Administrations making threats to cut off aid, deport Salvadorans from the U.S., or not allow Salvadorans living here to send money to family members in El Salvador if Salvadorans support candidates who are left of center and don’t vote for right-wing candidates.  Because many Salvadorans depend on money they receive from relatives in the U.S. for basic necessities, these public statements are frightening and can sway people’s votes. The U.S. should not interfere in another sovereign nation’s elections in this way.

We need Rep. ______ to sign onto this letter to let the Salvadoran people know that the U.S. will respect their democratic process. The deadline for signing on is this Friday, January 25. You can call Marilyn.Zepeda@mail.house.gov to sign on.”

To be most effective, follow up your phone call with an email and ask the Foreign Policy staff to let you know when your Representative makes a decision about signing on. Please copy shunter-smith@crln.org so CRLN can track the effectiveness of our network.

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Late yesterday afternoon, we received notice from Witness for Peace that Sen. Ed Markey (MA) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL) began circulating a sign-on “Dear Colleague” letter in the U.S. Congress to President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo, urging them to investigate and condemn recent threats against human rights defenders, journalists and international human rights observers in Honduras. So far, Representatives Johnson (GA), Kaptur (OH), Holmes Norton (DC), Ellison (MN), Espaillat (NY), McGovern (MA), Jayapal (WA), Khanna (CA), Lee (CA), Gutiérrez (IL-4), and  Pocan (WI-2) have joined Sen. Markey and Rep. Schakowsky on this letter.

Call the Capitol Switchboard (202-224-3121) today and ask to be connected to the office of your member of Congress. Demand safety for people who are doing important human rights work or reporting on matters of public interest.

The danger is serious. Journalists, as well as the director of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA, have received threats and been attacked in Honduras. Foreigners documenting human rights abuses have been deported, and smear campaigns have targeted people critical of the Honduran government, even extending to Witness for Peace delegations. Some of these threats and attacks have come from members of Honduran state security forces, which the U.S. funds.

Rep. Schakowsky and Sen. Markey’s letter calls on the Trump administration to:

-communicate concern to the Government of Honduras and request that it investigate these attacks, determine if state security forces were involved, and bring the perpetrators to justice.

-direct the State Department to 1) provide Congress with a detailed assessment of the efficacy of current Honduran government efforts to protect freedom of expression, and 2) reassess its certification of human rights conditions in Honduras.

-immediately investigate threats against U.S. citizens, report the findings of the investigation to Congress, and include in the report what actions the administration has taken in response.

Call your members of Congress (both Senators and your House Representative) NOW to ask them to take action to help protect journalists, human rights defenders and international observers.

Sample call script:

“My name is ________ and I’m a constituent calling from _________. I’m calling to ask Senator/Representative _____ to sign the Markey/SchakowskyDear Colleague” letter calling for immediate action to address an alarming recent pattern of threats against journalists, human rights defenders, and international human rights observers working in Honduras. The letter is just circulating for two days and is crucial to the protection of people doing the vitally important work of documenting and relating the human rights situation in Honduras to the U.S. and broader international community.

Has Senator/Representative _______ seen this letter? Can I count on him/her to sign on? Please call me at (_your phone number_) to let me know if you have seen the letter, and if Senator/Representative _____ will sign it.”  To sign on to the letter contact Aaron Weinberg with Rep. Schakowsky (Aaron.Weinberg@mail.house.gov) or Satrajit (Jitu) Sardar with Sen. Markey (Satrajit_Sardar@markey.senate.gov).

 

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Around 100 people gathered in the courtyard of the 4th Presbyterian Church on Tuesday night to sing, pray, and get equipped for action to keep families together by defunding ICE, restoring Temporary Protected Status, and supporting individual detention and deportation cases. As the sky grew darker, ArtWorks projected images on the side of the church building of an immigrant family that was separated in Detroit. We lifted up the more local case of a young woman, whose mother and brothers are seeking asylum and are sponsored by Lake Street Church in Evanston, while she remains detained in Texas and threatened with deportation.

Chris Inserra and singers she gathered led us in energetic group singing, Rev. Vicky Curtiss (4th Presbyterian Church) led us in prayer, Rev. Marilyn Pagan-Banks read inspirational poetry that reminded us of our power. Many leaders of faith communities and organizations –Rabbi Brant Rosen (Congregation Tzedek), Rev. Sara Wohlleb (Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants), Amy Shannon (Alianza Americas), Claudia Lucero (CRLN), Julian Lazalde (National Immigrant Justice Center) spoke eloquently about the cruelties of our immigration enforcement system and the way we mistreat asylum seekers, the need to cut ICE’s budget and to stop the expansion of private for-profit prisons, the need to prevent another round of family separations by finding a way for people whose Temporary Protected Status was revoked to stay in the U.S.

Here are some photos from the event:

 

 

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45 bikers rode the Lakefront Bike Path on Sunday, September 30, and collectively raised over $20,000 in pledges! The proceeds will be divided among a number of projects: scholarships for students in Guatemala and El Salvador, trainings for health promoters in Colombia, legal aid and training for campesinos in Honduras fighting for land rights, and community organizing funds for tenants rights in Chicago. Co-sponsors Autonomous Tenants Union, Chicago-Cinquera Sister Cities, Chicago-Guatemala Partnership, Concern America, and La Voz de los de Abajo organized teams of bike riders, along with CRLN, to seek funding for these projects.

Thanks to all who biked, pledged to bikers, designed the t-shirts, volunteered at the event, or brought food for the fiesta!

Here are some photos of from the event:

    

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(From the director of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA, Sept. 5, 2018)

Dear Friends,

Guatemala is at risk of a coup, and it looks like once again with the support of the U.S. government.

The threat of an auto-coup has been in the air since President Jimmy Morales convoked a press conference on August 31 to announce he would not renew the mandate of the United Nations sponsored International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG).  He stood amidst dozens of fatigue clad military officers and CICIG’s offices were surrounded with military jeeps.

 

The next day U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted, “Our relationship with Guatemala is important. We greatly appreciate Guatemala’s efforts in counter-narcotics and security,” widely perceived as a show of support for Morales.

 

On September 3, the National Immigration Directorate announced that CICIG’s commissioner, Ivan Velasquez, would not be allowed to reenter Guatemala, in defiance of a May Constitutional Court ruling that the Migration Directorate could not bar Velasquez’s entry. On September 4, the Secretary General of the United Nations announced that the UN would continue to recognize Ivan Velasquez as the Commissioner of CICIG, conducting his functions from outside of Guatemala.  A few hours ago, a group of representatives in the Guatemalan Congress that have been promoting the creation of a new constitution released a communication asserting that the Constitutional Court has repeatedly exceeded its constitutional mandate.  As the Executive and the Judiciary defy the Constitutional Court, a technical coup or auto coup may be in progress.

 

The United States Department of State must clearly communicate that the US firmly stands with the Guatemalan Constitutional Court against any attempt to undermine its independence. The Constitutional Court may well be called on to decide the fate of CICIG and its commissioner Ivan Velasquez.  CICIG has been the most successful effort to end impunity and clean up the justice system in the region.

 

Please, call – (202) 224-3121- or write your Representative and Senators to ask that they demand that the State Department affirm its commitment to the rule of law in Guatemala, particularly to safeguarding the ongoing independence of the Constitutional Court.  You can also contact their district office to find out which staff people would follow issues in Guatemala and develop ongoing correspondence with them.

 

Evoking memories of military coups, Jimmy Morales announced he intends to end CICIG’s mandate
amidst dozens of fatigue clad military officers in what looked like the threat of an auto coup.

 

On August 10, CICIG and the Public Ministry presented an impeachment request against Jimmy Morales for not reporting over $1 million cash that was given to voting table monitors from Morales party on the day of the national election.  On August 23, the Guatemala Supreme Court found that the impeachment of Morales could proceed, and on August 28 the congressional commission overseeing the impeachment was formed by lottery.

The top concern now is securing the safety and ongoing independence of the Guatemalan Constitutional Court.   Many questions have been raised about the legality both of President Morales’ communication to the United Nations while he is under impeachment and of the bar on Ivan Velasquez’s entry to Guatemala.  Both of these questions will eventually be decided by the Constitutional Court.

There is currently tremendous pressure on the Constitutional Court. President Morales’ administration is essentially threatening an auto-coup, through images and military deployments.  This has been in the air since Friday when military surrounded not only the CICIG installations but also offices of leading human rights organizations, and President Morales gave his press conference amidst approximately 50 fatigue clad military officers, conjuring up memories of the press conferences in the 1970s and 1980s that announced new military juntas had grab control of government. It is a message received loud and clear even without stating anything directly.

 

On Monday the Guatemalan Constitutional Court ruled that the operations of the San Rafael gold mine will remain suspended until a consultation of the indigenous communities affected by the operation had been completed.  This was a highly charged decision that challenged the interests of the economically powerful sector aligned with President Morales.   In May the State Department urged the Constitutional Court to re-open of the San Rafael mine, prioritizing the economic interests of one US mining company over rule of law and the economic well-being of an entire region. That confrontation is still fresh in the public conscience in Guatemala.


The State Department must make it clear that the United States firmly stands with this Constitutional Court against any attempt to undermine its independence, particularly now as the Constitutional Court may well be called on to decide the fate of CICIG and its commissioner Ivan Velasquez.

 

Please, call – (202) 224-3121- or write your Representative and Senators to ask that they demand that the State Department affirm its commitment to the rule of law in Guatemala, particularly to safeguarding the ongoing independence of the Constitutional Court.  You can also contact their district office to find out which staff people would follow issues in Guatemala and develop ongoing correspondence with them.

You can also contact their district office to find out which staffpeople would follow issues in Guatemala to develop ongoing correspondence.

Many Thanks,

Annie Bird

 

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Activists in El Salvador are currently fighting against the potential privatization of water in their country. Many areas of the country are dependent upon unrestricted access to local wells in order to obtain potable water. If water were to be privatized, many Salvadorans would lose their access to clean drinking water, as the costs of water as a market-based commodity would exceed the means of the majority of Salvadorans.

 

Current government data shows that 90% of the country’s surface water is irreparably polluted, and 1.5 million Salvadorans lack access to potable water. Andrés McKinley, a mining and water specialist at the University of Central America, spoke to the diren nature of the situation: “We are reaching the crisis level of having 1,700 cubic meters of freshwater per capita, while Guatemala and Nicaragua have between 15,000 and 30,000!” Without unrestricted access to clean drinking water, the human rights situation in El Salvador could take a sharp turn for the worse.

 

The leftist political party, Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), has supported environmental organizations and the broader social movement, seeking to protect water as the vital resource that it is and to ensure its equitable distribution through the proposed “General Water Law,” which was originally introduced in 2006. The General Water Law would, among other goals, define and protect water as a human right, as well as ensure universal access for the population and integrate community consultation into national decision-making regarding water usage.

 

The FMLN has coordinated with the National Water Forum to introduce an updated version of the law in 2013 in the Environmental and Climate Change Commission of the Legislative Assembly. With this cooperation, the debate over water regulation pushed forward, with ninety-two articles approved before the discussions were stopped by the opposition, who insisted that the private sector be included in the new regulatory bodies the General Water Law was proposing.

 

The right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party is instead proposing a “Comprehensive Water Law,” which would bring corporate entities into the management of the country’s water system. Since the right-wing’s proposal, protests in rejection of their proposal have been near-constant. Despite these protests, the right-wing parties obtained a supermajority in the legislature following the 2018 elections, and are moving forward quickly in taking steps to pass their bill.

 

Despite the right-wing parties’ efforts, opposition to their bill remains strong, with numerous entities taking public positions against the proposed law. For instance, the Catholic Church has also been outspoken in their support for community partnerships in the regulation and usage of water, and against the privatization of water by large corporations. The Catholic Church and the Jesuit-run University of Central America (UCA)  produced a study on water management in Latin America, which was then delivered to Salvadoran lawmakers as Congress considered the Comprehensive Water Law.

The study, which was drafted in 2017 by Costa Rican specialist Lilian Quezada with support from UCA, shows that most Latin American countries have a state regulatory body that manages water with a focus on the citizens’ common good. UCA chancellor Andreu Oliva added that the report will allow members of Congress’ Environment and Climate Change Commission to get a “better overview of the importance of water being managed by public entities, as opposed to the private sector.”

 

San Salvador Archbishop José Luis Escobar Alas said that the Salvadoran Catholic Church will continue to defend the rights of the country’s poor, demanding a “fair, efficient and equal water law.”

 

The bishops of El Salvador have also taken a stand in urging lawmakers to oppose any plans for privatizing water, saying the poor could not afford to pay the cost of a vital necessity. In a statement issued in June and titled, “We will not allow the poor to die of thirst,” the Salvadoran bishops’ conference cited Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’,” which states, “Access to potable and secure water is a basic, fundamental and universal human right because it determines the survival of people and therefore is a condition for the exercising of all other rights.”

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