Roger’s note: El Salvador has what may be the most repressive abortion laws in the Western world. There are cases of young women jailed for years because of a miscarriage. It is barbaric. And no one is more responsible for such barbarism than the Catholic Church. When I read that abortion is a sin, that there are campaigns to totally eradicate abortion in the struggle for good over evil, it takes me back to the Dark Ages. Such attitudes and laws reflect inhuman religious ideology in the service of patriarchy. It has been said jokingly, but I believe it literally, if men could have babies then abortion would be a sacrament.
The movement to decriminalize abortion in El Salvador described in the article below, if successful, would only eliminate the most Draconian elements of the anti-abortion legislation (abortion in the case of rape, for example); but there still would be a long way to go to reach the ideal of abortion being solely a matter between a woman and her physician.
“Is it the will of a compassionate God to mandate that young girls who have been raped carry to term resulting pregnancies?” asked theologian María Lopez Vigil at a talk organized by advocates.
In 1997, the legislature in El Salvador was considering a vote to criminalize abortion under all circumstances. Morena Herrera, a feminist activist, “was facing the legislature, alone, trying to defend and justify why they should not change the law,” recalled Mariana Moisa, communications director at the Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto.
“They were transmitting live, and they shut off her microphone,” Moisa recalled.
The Salvadoran Legislative Assembly went on to ban abortion in all circumstances. In addition to making abortion illegal no matter what, this unjust law has been misapplied in cases of obstetric emergencies or miscarriages—leading to the imprisonment of dozens of women in the country because of pregnancy complications. Now, however, the legislature is considering a bill from Vice President of the Legislative Assembly Lorena Peña that would decriminalize abortion in cases of rape or human trafficking, fetal non-viability, or to preserve the pregnant person’s health or life. It would also legalize abortion when the pregnancy results from rape or statutory rape of a minor, with the consent of the minor’s parent or guardian. Although it would not necessarily shield women from prosecution when the law is misapplied, it effectively returns the law to its pre-1997 state.
On February 27, the legislature’s Committee on Legislation and Constitutional Points, where the bill is being heard, convened a first-ever public hearing on abortion in response to the unexpected number of requests they received to present testimony. Twelve out of the seventeen organizations and individuals who testified spoke in support of decriminalization, including nationally and internationally recognized professionals in public health and law, representatives from two progressive Protestant churches, and a variety of activists.
Marcela Zamora, a well-known Salvadoran filmmaker, shared her recently published essay, “I Aborted,” a rare public statement in El Salvador. She recounted how more than ten years earlier, while living in a country that allowed abortion, she experienced a pregnancy with complications that threatened her life. Although she was able to obtain an abortion, she questioned what would have happened to her if she had been in El Salvador at that time.
Moisa said she was struck by the contrast with the tenor of the hearing in 1997. “This time, in 2017, they invited us to the legislature, and our voices were heard. They made clear that the discussion would be based on scientific and legal information. Morena was there again, [this time] with a whole panorama of diverse voices who stood up alongside her to express their support for a possible reform,” she remembered.
This change didn’t come out of nowhere. Activists on the ground have been working for two decades to engage allies and elected officials on this issue—and in the last few months, that momentum has ramped up on a number of fronts.
Abortion as a Health Issue
Those speaking out in favor of the bill are, for the most part, concentrating on the exceptions to the ban it enshrines into law.
At a January forum organized by the Alliance for the Life and Health of Women—a coalition in which the Agrupación is a key player—members of the medical profession provided the medical and scientific justifications for the proposed change to the law.
Gynecologist Guillermo Ortiz, currently a senior adviser for Ipas and formerly chief of obstetrics at the Women’s Hospital in El Salvador, said that physicians who support the proposal for reform “are in favor of saving lives. But there are conditions that make [abortion] necessary, and we are talking about those situations so that exceptions can exist within the law.”
As part of that convening of medical experts, seven nationally and internationally recognized OB-GYNs signed off on a memo to the Committee on Legislation and Constitutional Points. The memo, viewed by Rewire, says the society must “generate legal instruments that guarantee protection for [patients’] lives,” in at least the four cases defined in the proposed reform.
The memo cited the Ethics Committee of the International Federation of Gynecologists and Obstetricians: “There exists a broad consensus … that abortion is ethically justifiable when it is carried out for medical reasons to protect the life and health” of the pregnant person.
“It is fundamental to remember that the global experience shows that the frequency of abortion does not depend on legislation and that the rates of abortion do not increase with more liberal legislation,” the memo continued. “To the contrary, they can diminish, if at the same time other measures are adopted,” such as information and free access to highly effective contraception.
In a February 21 symposium on health and bioethics organized by the ministry, El Salvador Minister of Health Dr. Violeta Menjivar responded, “As the Ministry of Health, we consider it appropriate that the legislature and society together participate in a reflection and deliberation on the harm the absolute prohibition on abortion causes to the health of Salvadoran women.”
She supported the move to reform the law, noting that the United Nations had made a request in January 2015 that El Salvador repeal its broad criminalization of abortion under all circumstances.
At the February 27 hearing, Sofia Villalta, a nationally recognized gynecologist with more than 40 years of professional experience, testified on the causes of unwanted pregnancies and emphasized the underlying role of the “subordination of women to masculine power.” She cited a study within the Salvadoran society of gynecologists which showed that 80 percent of them want to return to the prior legislation allowing abortion.
The Consequences of Criminalization
At the February 21 forum organized by the Ministry of Health, Dr. Virginia Rodriguez of the National Committee on Bioethics in El Salvador posed the question, “If a woman has rights from conception, at what point does she lose her rights? When do the rights of the fetus in development take priority over her rights to life?”
Rodriguez was referencing a February 15 decision from the El Salvador Supreme Court, when it ruled on a 2007 case involving conflicting laws over when life begins and when the State must protect that life.
Although the Court agreed that the the El Salvador Constitution declares life as beginning at “conception,” it said “it is necessary to weigh each case.” It also stated that the idea of fetal rights does not “claim a duty of absolute and unconditional protection of life in gestation.”
Alberto Romero of the Agrupación Ciudadana and the Movement for Secular Culture wrote in a booklet published by the Salvadoran Foundation for the Study of the Application of Law, FESPAD, that the Court’s decision “permits a resolution of the vacuum that exists in the current legislation, which does not establish legal mechanisms to resolve the collision of rights that takes place between the [fetus] and the woman who is pregnant.”
On the day of the hearing, the nine-member National Committee on Bioethics in El Salvador—which also includes Morena Herrera and Margarita Rivas of the Agrupación—published a paid ad in La Prensa Gráfica, noting the ways in which existing law infringes on the rights of pregnant people and women in general.
The law has also, the committee said, generated legal conflicts whereby physicians’ responsibilities to protect doctor-patient confidentiality conflict with their mandates under the anti-abortion laws. Overall, the ad said, the broad criminalization of abortion violates the rights of pregnant people by treating their constitutional rights as equal to or subordinate to those of the fetus.
“The Alliance knew it was important to address religious concerns in a society as deeply religious as El Salvador, where almost 99 percent of the population professes a belief in God and about 91 percent belong to a religion,” said Romero, who researches secularism and social issues in El Salvador.
“For many people, both legislators and citizens in general, it’s difficult to reconcile [many religions’] mandate against abortion with the rational arguments for permitting it. It’s important to present a variety of interpretations that do not condemn and criminalize abortion,” he said.
Advocates noted that different religions take varied stances on abortion. “The Anglican Church here in El Salvador talks about abortion not being a theological issue, but a pastoral one of accompaniment of women,” said Alejandra Burgos, a member of the Agrupación and a progressive feminist theologian.
Indeed, during the February 27 hearing, Martin Barahona of the Anglican Church in El Salvador explained that “in this case the Anglican bishops consider that the only people who have the right to decide are the women who are pregnant.”
“Even Pope Francis, who maintains that abortion is a sin, mandates priests to have compassion and accompany women,” Burgos pointed out.
“It’s necessary in this society to provide alternatives to people who are living with these contradictions; to show that a religious believer can also support the right [to] interrupt a pregnancy,” she concluded.
In one talk, María Lopez Vigil, a Cuban-Nicaraguan theologian, author, and editor of the progressive Nicaraguan magazine Envio, proposed looking at abortion in a broader perspective, considering the realities of the country.
“Consider the commandment ‘do not kill’ with situational ethics. There is nothing more abortive than poverty,” she said.
In arguing for a compassionate, merciful view of God, she asked the audience of more than 300—many of whom had not attended Alliance events in the past—if it was “the will of a compassionate God that women suffer and die for ‘not having enough faith’ when they experience obstetric emergencies? Is it the will of a compassionate God to mandate that young girls who have been raped carry to term resulting pregnancies?”
She challenged structural injustices and spoke of “abortive societies,” in which countries obligate pregnant girls and adolescents to give birth, but after the birth do nothing to help them support and raise their children. That, she said, is a “structural sin.”
Responses to the campaign for decriminalization are diverse.
After the various hearings and forums, Legislative Representative Juan Valiente of the right-wing ARENA party spoke on a TV talk show supporting debate on the reform, going against his party’s stance.
In addition, he tweeted, “I’m against abortion, but I recognize that there is a collision of rights and it’s important to investigate and debate. I’m not afraid.” And to another constituent opposed to decriminalization, he posted, “I prefer to lose your vote than my conscience.”
Even with these sea changes in some public opinions and attitudes, there is still strong religious opposition.
A group of Catholic churches initiated “40 days of prayer” leading up to Easter Sunday with the goal of “ending abortion in the world and in the country” in a war “between good and bad.” Regarding the Ministry of Health position, prayer campaign leader Karla de Lacayo told La Prensa Gráfica, “it’s a lie” that women’s lives are at risk.
“With [medical] advances now, there is no way the woman is going to die. And, if it’s true, if the child dies in the process, then that’s what God wanted,” de Lacayo said.
In the legislature itself, there remains the fact that supporters of the reform must form coalitions in order to get the majority vote necessary to first pass the measure out of committee, and then win a majority of votes in the full body. Neither the right-wing ARENA party nor the left-leaning FMLN has a numerical majority in the committee or the full legislature.
Supporters hope for a positive resolution in the next few weeks, before the next election cycle gets underway. At that point, they say, chances of any substantive vote on any matter disappear.
As Sara Garcia, coordinator for the Agrupación, told Rewire, “This is a historic moment. International organizations such as the UN are speaking out. More and more social movements are making pronouncements. Professional medical organizations and the universities declare their support.”
“The government can’t keep ignoring the realities of women in this country,” she said.
Roger’s note: The “radical” pope drew a crowd of a million in Guayaquil, that is nearly 10% of Ecuador’s population. Following this article on the persecution of women in El Salvador I have posted a critique of the hypocritical plea to end poverty at the same time as defending the Church’s misogynist ideology. My take on the RC Church, this anonymous quote: “if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.”
For Immediate Release
July 6, 2015
Washington DC – Four activists will stand trial on July 7, 2015 at 9:30 am in front of Judge Susan Holmes-Winfield (Case# 2015CMD005708) on the charge of unlawful entry, which carries a maximum sentence of 6 months in prison. The four were arrested on April 24, 2015 at the Embassy of El Salvador where they staged a sit-in to call attention to a group of Salvadoran women currently serving extreme 30-year prison sentences for having had miscarriages. Protesters included Father Roy Bourgeois, founder of Latin America solidarity organization School of the Americas Watch; Ed Kinane, of Syracuse, NY, retired educator and nonviolent peace activist; John Honeck, a counselor and activist from Hamlin, NY; and Paki Wieland, of Northampton, MA, longtime peace and justice activist and member of the Raging Grannies. The group delivered a letter to the embassy to express their solidarity and to seek the release of the 17 women. Julienne Oldfield of Syracuse, NY, and Palma Ryan of Cliff Island, ME, also participated in the sit-in.
“The 17,” as they are now known in the global movement advocating their release, are 17 women in El Salvador serving decades in prison for having had miscarriages. A country with deeply conservative abortion laws, El Salvador has convicted these 17 and charged as many as five more. According to Amnesty International, the charges are for aggravated homicide and receiving illegal abortions, though there is little to no evidence as to the causes of their miscarriages. Cristina Quintanilla, sentenced to 30 years after she had a miscarriage, was released in 2014 by a court, which commuted her sentence to three years, amounting to time served. Carmen Guadalupe Vásquez Aldana made international headlines earlier this year as one of the 17 to be released. (El Salvador and ‘Las 17’, New York Times).
Mirian, Martiza, Marina, Salvadora, Ena,Teodora, Guadalupe, Mariana, Mirna, Cinthia, Verónica, Alba, Johana, Evelyn, Teresa, and María make up the remainder of The 17. Many are mothers of young children, and all have many more years to serve under their current sentences.
“This is a grave injustice. Where there is injustice, silence is complicity,” said Father Roy Bourgeois. “For that reason, we were at the Salvadoran Embassy in Washington, DC, to express our solidarity with these women.” The group invited the embassy staff to join the call for the release of the 15 women who remain incarcerated.
The extreme abortion laws in El Salvador were passed under the ultra-right wing Arena government in 1997. Embassy staff were concerned about the issues raised and informed protesters that the Supreme Court has the authority to review these cases.
Some of the protesters were part of a recent US Human Rights Delegation to El Salvador that visited five of the women in prison who are serving 30-year sentences for having a miscarriage. They have 22 more years to go before they are released.
Pope Francis this week embarked on a seven-day “homecoming” tour of Latin America in his unstoppable quest to defend the planet and the poor.
The continent—the most unequal region in the world, and the Argentine pontiff’s home turf—will likely provide fertile ground for more of his legendary sermons on poverty and inequality. After addressing a crowd of a million in Guayaquil, Ecuador, on Monday, Francis is scheduled to attend a meeting of grass-roots political activists and visit one of the continent’s largest prisons, in Bolivia, as well as a slum and a children’s hospital in Paraguay.
While he advocates for South America’s impoverished and disenfranchised, its prisoners, its indigenous peoples and its children, one group is unlikely to feature in Francis’ apparently radical agenda: its women.
Despite his efforts to champion his constituency—the world’s poor, of which the vast majority are women—the pope tends to overlook the feminized nature of poverty and inequality.
Like the rest of the world -and the Vatican – Latin America is built on gender inequality. Important progress has been made in the region over recent decades, and the percentage of its overall population living in poverty had decreased significantly. But the feminization of poverty (an increase in the levels of poverty among women or female-headed households relative to the levels of men or male-headed households) increased from 109 percent in 1994 to almost 117 percent in 2013, according to the United Nations.
Women’s labor participation in the region remains more than a quarter less than that of men, at 52.9 percent, compared with 79.6 percent, as recorded in 2010 statistics. And while the wage gap has shrunk, women still earn a staggering 68 percent less than their male colleagues. South American women are also twice as likely as men to be unpaid workers.
As a public figure who frequently invokes “dignity” in appealing to the hearts and minds of his followers, the Catholic leader would do well to address the results of a recent poll in which Latin Americans were found to be the least likely in the world in 2012 and 2013 to describe women in their countries as treated with respect and dignity. A median of 35 percent of adults across 22 Latin American countries said their women are treated this way—about half the percentages in any other region of the world.
Of the little research that exists, the statistics on violence against women in Latin America are gruesome. A recent U.N. report published in the Economist found that a woman is assaulted every 15 seconds in São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city. It states that in Colombia, “attacks in which acid is thrown at women’s faces, disfiguring them, nearly quadrupled between 2011 and 2012.” Moreover, of the 25 countries in the world that are high or very high in the U.N.’s ranking for femicides (killings of women that seem to be related to their sex), more than half are in the region.
Research shows that when women have access to contraception and are educated to make responsible choices, their income, employment and education levels rise, as do their children’s. As women’s choices expand, they have fewer unassisted labors and backstreet abortions, meaning maternal mortality is reduced, and, depending on the type of contraception used, life-limiting sexually transmitted diseases are contained.
But because the Vatican considers women second-class citizens, it goes without saying that the pope will not mention abortion or contraception during his South American tour.
Figures show that of the 4.4 million abortions performed in Latin America in 2008, 95 percent were unsafe, and about 1 million women are hospitalized annually for treatment of complications from such procedures. In this context, it should be noted that the pope has described the abortion-rights movement as a “culture of death” and has opposed Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s efforts to distribute free contraceptives.
Francis has shown himself capable of influencing policy (he was most recently hailed as instrumental in restoring diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba), but as Jemima Thackray writes in The Telegraph, “the Catholic Church’s growth is coming from non-European countries where the so-called ‘liberal’ issues of sexual equality are considered less important.”
As much as he has advocated “rethinking the outdated criteria which continue to rule the world,” Francis has repeatedly embraced the traditional Catholic view that a woman’s role is in the home. Extolling the role of women specifically as mothers by declaring “the presence of women in a domestic setting” as crucial to “the very transmission of the faith,” Francis has said, “I think, for example, of the special concern which women show to others, which finds a particular, even if not exclusive, expression in motherhood.” Although women may have lives outside the home, Francis has urged us not to “forget the irreplaceable role of the woman in a family.”
Given the pope’s outspoken views, we’ve been hoping he’d get around to addressing gender inequality eventually. But lest we forget, the Vatican is—and always will be—a patriarchal institution based on sexual hierarchy. Asked on two occasions about the possibility of admitting women to the ranks of the clergy, Francis has given a firm no. “That door,” he said in 2013, “is closed.” As Thackray explains, “this is not about having a Western liberal agenda for equality for its own sake, but about acknowledging that in allowing women into positions of influence in the church, this would raise their general status, reducing their vulnerability and poverty. Perhaps,” she continues, “it would also help shake up some of the closed male-dominated systems which have caused some of the other worst abuses by the Catholic Church.”
It would be no violation of doctrine to recognize women as equally and intrinsically valuable, regardless of their familial role or fertility. Until the pope’s vision of equality includes this, it’s incomplete.
A version of this article originally appeared in Truthdig.
Roísín Davis, originally from Northern Ireland, is a journalist with a background in social research and community work. She is an assistant editor at Truthdig. She now lives in Los Angeles.
Roger’s note: Free trade agreements between North American industrialized nations and third world Latin American nations are inherently unequal and designed to promote and protect mega-corporate interests. Specifically, they enshrine in law the right to capital investment regardless of damaging effects to workers and to the environment. Corporate and military interests on both sides of the “partnership” use their clout over (ownership of?) the respective governments to enter into these legally binding agreements. The NAFTA agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico has had the effect of destroying small corn farming in Mexico,which is in part responsible for the massive migration of Mexicans to the U.S. Cf. my 2003 article in the L.A. Times: http://articles.latimes.com/2003/nov/20/opinion/oe-hollander20
Complete with a giant inflatable fat cat, protesters rally outside the World Bank in support of El Salvador’s right to ban toxic mining along its principal watershed. (Photo: Ron Carver / Institute for Policy Studies)
For miners, investors, and artisans, few things are more precious than gold. But for human life itself, nothing is more precious than water.
Just ask the people of El Salvador.
Nearly 30 years ago, the Wisconsin-based Commerce Group Corp purchased a gold mine near the San Sebastian River in El Salvador and contaminated the water. Now, according to Lita Trejo, a native Salvadoran and school worker in Washington, DC, the once clear river is orange. The people who drink from the arsenic-polluted river, she says, are suffering from kidney failure and other diseases.
On September 15, Trejo and more than 200 protestors—including Salvadoran immigrants, Catholic priests, trade unionists, and environmentalists—gathered in front of the World Bank to support El Salvador’s right to keep its largest river from suffering the same fate as the San Sebastian River. The event was co-sponsored by a raft of organizations, including the Institute for Policy Studies, Oxfam America, the AFL-CIO, the Teamsters, Friends of the Earth, the Sierra Club, and the Council of Canadians, among others. Over the past few weeks, similar protests have taken place in El Salvador, Canada, and Australia.
Mining for gold is not nearly so neat and clean as the harmless panning many Americans learned about as kids. Speakers pointed out that gold mining firms use the toxic chemical cyanide to separate gold from the surrounding rock, which then leaches into the water and the soil. And they use large quantities of water in the mining process—a major problem for El Salvador in particular, which has been described as “the most water-stressed country in Central America.” Confronted by a massive anti-mining movement in the country, three successive Salvadoran administrations have refused to approve new gold mining operations.
That’s where the story should end. But it’s far from over.
An Australian-Canadian mining company, OceanaGold, is suing the Salvadoran government for refusing to grant it a gold-mining permit to its subsidiary, Pacific Rim. Manuel Pérez-Rocha, a researcher at the Institute for Policy Studies, explained the situation: “Oceana Gold is demanding more than $300 million from El Salvador. They are saying, ‘If you do not let us operate in your country the way we want, you must pay us for the profits that you prevented us from making.’”
That sounds absurd, but it’s true: The company is claiming that under the Central American Free Trade Agreement, it has the right to sue the Salvadoran government for passing a law that threatens its bottom line.
El Salvador is now defending its decision to prevent Oceana Gold/Pacific Rim from operating the “El Dorado” mine near the Lempa River before the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes, a little-known World Bank-based tribunal.
As several protesters pointed out, El Salvador’s decision is grounded in its need to protect its limited water supply. More than 90 percent of the surface water supply in El Salvador is already contaminated, and more than 50 percent of the country’s 6.3 million people depend on the Lempa River watershed for their water.
Francisco Ramirez, a Salvadoran who grew up in Cabañas, the region where the El Dorado mine would operate, spoke from experience about this reality. “If you look at the contaminated rivers in El Salvador, there are no fish left in the water. Not even toads, which are usually resistant to certain levels of contamination, can survive. We do not want that contamination to spread,” Ramirez proclaimed.
Ana Machado, a Salvadoran member of the immigrant rights group Casa de Maryland, another co-sponsor of the event, added: “The Lempa River is the main drinking source and an important source of livelihood for a majority of people in my country, including my family. They fish there. They clean their clothes there. If the company contaminates the river, Salvadoran life as we know it will end.”
Another Salvadorian immigrant and organizer with Casa de Virginia, Lindolfo Carballo, linked this lawsuit to larger struggles over sovereignty and immigrant rights. “This country created institutions to legally rob its Southern neighbor,” he said, referring to the “free-trade” provisions that permit corporations to sue governments over public safety regulations they don’t like. “And after they rob us of our natural resources, after they contaminate our water and land, they tell us that we are undocumented, that we are ‘illegals,’ and that we have no right to be in this country. They have no right to throw us out of the United States if they are robbing us of the resources we need to survive in our own country,” he alleged.
John Cavanagh, Director of the Institute for Policy Studies, explained the goal of the protest: “We are saying to OceanaGold: ‘Drop the suit. Go home.’ To the World Bank, we say: ‘Evict this unjust tribunal. It deepens poverty and stomps on democracy and basic rights.’” Cavanagh pledged to continue pressing the company to back down, promising that protesters would return to the World Bank in larger numbers when the tribunal makes its ruling in 2015.
A CubaNews translation.
Edited by Walter Lippmann.
Since 1948, the Palestinians have been condemned to live in never-ending humiliation. They can’t even breathe without permission. They have lost their homeland, their lands, their water, their freedom, everything, even the right to elect their own government.
When they vote for whom they shouldn’t, they are punished. Gaza is being punished. It became a dead-end mousetrap since Hamas won the 2006 elections fairly. Something similar had happened in 1932, when the Communist Party won the elections in El Salvador: the people atoned for their misbehavior with a bloodbath and lived under military dictatorships from then on. Democracy is a luxury deserved by just a few. The homemade rockets that the Hamas combatants cornered in Gaza shoot with sloppy aim at formerly-Palestinian lands currently under Israeli rule are born out of helplessness.
And desperation, the kind that borders on suicidal madness, is the mother of the threats that deny Israel’s right to exist with ineffective cries while a very effective genocidal war has long denied Palestine’s right to life.
Very little is left of Palestine.
Step by step, Israel is wiping it off the map.
The settlers invade, followed by soldiers who retrace the borders.
Bullets shot in self-defense consecrate the plundering.
No aggression fails to claim it’s purposes are defensive.
Hitler invaded Poland to prevent Poland from invading Germany.
Bush invaded Iraq to prevent Iraq from invading the world.
With each of its defensive wars, Israel swallows another piece of Palestine, and the feast goes on.
Roger’s note: what the mainstream media in its news and analyses universally fail to note is that the root cause of the migration from Central America lies in the actions and policies of the U.S. government over the years that have supported repressive business oriented governments controlled by oligarchic elites. In particular the Obama/Hillary Clinton policies in support of the military coup in Honduras have resulted in Honduras being perhaps the most violent country on the face of the globe. The lucrative drug trade and the attendant violence is a symptom of US directed imperial military supported corporatism, and not the fundamental cause of the massive migration. As for the costs of implementing a humanitarian policy of dealing with children refugees, a fraction of the dollars spent on the illegal wars in the Middle East, North Africa and Afghanistan would be sufficient. That the U.S. government at the direction of a president who is both heartless and gutless, is sending Honduran mothers and their children back to the most violent city in the world, that while in custody these mothers and children are treated like animals, is beyond disgusting. That the commonly held perceived solution is increased border security and deportation is not only an example of tunnel vision, but a head in the sand approach to a problem that the US government has created, and along with corporate media and both political parties, refuses to acknowledge. Imperialism and xenophobia go hand in hand.
Reuters | By Gabriel Stargardter
Posted: 07/14/2014 9:09 pm EDT
SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras, July 14 (Reuters) – The United States deported a group of Honduran children as young as 1-1/2 years old on Monday in the first flight since President Barack Obama pledged to speed up the process of sending back undocumented immigrant minors from Central America.
Fleeing violence and poverty, record numbers of children from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have crossed into the United States over the past year, testing U.S. border facilities and sparking intense debate about how to solve the problem.
Monday’s charter flight from New Mexico to San Pedro Sula, the city with the highest murder rate in the world, returned 17 Honduran women, as well as 12 girls and nine boys, aged between 18 months and 15 years, the Honduran government said.
Looking happy, the deported children exited the airport on an overcast and sweltering afternoon. One by one, they filed into a bus, playing with balloons they had been given.
Nubia, a 6-year-old girl among the deportees, said she left Honduras a month ago for a journey that ended when she and her mother were caught on the Mexico-Texas border two weeks later.
“Horrible, cold and tiring,” was how Nubia remembered the trip that was meant to unite the pair with her three uncles already living in the United States.
Instead, her mother Dalia paid $7,000 in vain to a coyote, or guide, to smuggle them both across the border.
Once caught, U.S. officials treated them like “animals”, holding them in rooms with as many as 50 people, where some mothers had to sleep standing up holding children, Dalia said.
During the eight months ended June 15, some 52,000 children were detained at the U.S. border with Mexico, most of them from Central America. That was double the previous year’s tally and tens of thousands more are believed to have slipped through.
So chaotic are the circumstances of the exodus that some of the children are not even correctly reunited with their parents, said Valdette Willeman, director of the Center for Attention for Returned Migrants in Honduras.
“Many of the mothers are sometimes not even the real mothers of the children,” she said.
Monday’s flight departed as Obama faces increasing pressure to address the surge of unaccompanied minors.
Immigrant advocates urge him to address the humanitarian needs of the migrants. At the same time, Republicans in Congress have blamed the crisis on Obama’s immigration policies and have called on him to secure the border.
Obama’s administration has stressed that Central American children who cross the border illegally will be sent home, and last week said it would speed up the deportation process.
Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have suffered from gang violence and incursions from Mexican drug cartels using the region as a staging post for their trafficking operations.
Honduran President Juan Hernandez, in an interview published on Monday, blamed U.S. drug policy for sparking violence and ramping up migration to the United States. His wife urged the United States to do more to help.
“The countries consuming drugs need to support (us) and take joint responsibility because if there wasn’t demand, there wouldn’t be production and we wouldn’t be living like we are,” Ana Garcia de Hernandez said as she awaited the children.
Obama’s administration has projected that without government action, more than 150,000 unaccompanied children under the age of 18 could flee the three Central American nations next year.
The proposed actions will test Obama’s ability to negotiate effectively with Republican lawmakers who have blocked much of his agenda ahead of a November election when they hope to capture the U.S. Senate from his Democratic Party. (Additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia in San Pedro Sula and Julia Edwards in Washington; Writing by Dave Graham; Editing by Dan Grebler and Lisa Shumaker)
Roger’s note: this is good news, but it has to be taken with a grain of salt. The reason that we celebrate left or left leaning governments is that it is an indication of popular sentiment. But experience tells us that not only in Latin America but in Europe and elsewhere, self proclaimed leftist, populist and socialist political parties once in power more often than not fall prey to neo-Liberal economic policies, not to mention alliances with US, Russian or Chinese imperial adventures. Unfortunately, the exceptions are few. Nonetheless the victorious left parties in El Salvador and Costa Rica deserve our support unless or until they change colors. The author of this article in her/his enthusiasm, forgets about right wing US allied governments in Mexico, Panama, Honduras and Colombia.
Paraguay could be only country from the Rio Grande to Patagonia ‘where a firmly right-wing leader remains in power’
– Common Dreams staff
Supporters hold a poster of Salvador Sanchez Ceren, January 25, 2014 (Reuters/Ulises Rodriguez)
Celebrations broke out among left wing supporters across two Central American countries this weekend as elections in Costa Rica and El Salvador showed right wing candidates are increasingly loosing ground, Agence France-Presse reports.
“Left-leaning candidates dominated presidential elections in Central America on Sunday, with polls showing El Salvador’s Salvador Sanchez Ceren and Costa Rica’s Luis Guillermo Solis poised to claim victory in their respective runoffs,” according to AFP. Those elections will take place in the coming weeks.
Ceren, former guerrilla leader of the Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN), won 48.9% of votes in the first round of a run-off election.
In what was considered a more surprising result, Solis, a former history professor, also finished with a strong lead in the first round of voting in Costa Rica.
As AFP reports:
Ceren and Solis are just the latest candidates to ride a wave of centre-left sympathy in Latin America, where right-wing parties are struggling to attract voters. […]
If the former academic wins Costa Rica’s runoff on April 6, Paraguay will be the only country between the Rio Grande to Patagonia where a firmly right-wing leader remains in power.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
In light of the recent case of Beatriz, a 22-year-old Salvadoran woman and mother of a toddler, who, while suffering from lupus and kidney failure and carrying an anencephalic fetus, was denied the right to an abortion, it is relevant to discuss the restrictive abortion laws in Latin America and some of the reasons behind them.
Latin America is home to five of the seven countries in the world in which abortion is banned in all instances, even when the life of the woman is at risk: Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic, with the Vatican City and Malta outside the region. Legal abortion upon request during the first trimester is only available in Cuba (as of 1965), Mexico City (as of 2007), and Uruguay (as of 2012). In the rest of the continent, abortion is criminalized in most circumstances, with few exceptions, the most common of which are when the life or health of the woman is at risk, rape, incest and/or fetus malformations. However, even in these cases the legal and practical hurdles a woman has to face to have an abortion are such that many times these exceptions are not available, or by the time they are authorized it is too late. The consequences of such criminalization are well known: high maternal mortality and morbidity rates due to unsafe back alley abortions that affect poor and young women disproportionately.
The current laws ruling abortion in the region have been inherited from colonial powers. They are a legacy of the Spanish and Portuguese empires. While European women have already gotten rid of these laws many decades ago, Latin American women still have to deal with them. Why is this so?
As both scholars and activists know by now, women’s rights, like other human rights, are only respected if a movement organizes around them and puts pressure on the state to change unfair laws and policies. While feminist movements swept Europe and North America during the 1960s and 70s, Latin American countries were busy fighting dictatorships and civil wars. It is not that women did not organize, but rather they did so to oppose the brutal regimes and to address the needs of poor populations hit by the recurrent economic crises. Reproductive rights just had to wait. When democracy finally arrived in the region—in the 1980s in South American and the 1990s in Central America—feminist movements gradually began to push for reproductive rights. For example, the September 28th Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion was launched in 1990 in the context of the Fifth Latin American and Caribbean Feminist meeting held in San Bernardo, Argentina. Since then, most countries in the region have seen mobilizations and protests around this date. However, by the time the movements began to focus on reproductive rights, the global context had changed and the conservative right had also set up a strong opposition to any change to the status quo.
The strongholds of the opposition to decriminalization lie in two places: first, the Catholic Church, and second, the ascendance of the religious right in the United States. The Catholic Church has historically been a strong political actor in Latin America, ever since its large role in the conquest and colonization of the continent by the Spanish and Portuguese crowns in the 16th and 17th centuries. The church’s influence among both political and economic elites is still a reality in the whole region with only a variation of degree among the different countries. However, the church’s strong opposition to abortion has not been constant. While the church has always condemned abortion, it used to be considered a misdemeanor and not a murder of an innocent human life, as in the current discourse. In addition, it was not until the late 1800s that the church considered that life started at conception. Until 1869, a fetus was thought to receive its soul from 40 to 80 days after conception, abortion being a sin only after the ensoulment had taken place.
Even in the beginning of the 20th century, when many Latin American countries passed their current legislation that allowed legal abortion under certain circumstances, the Catholic Church did not pose a strong opposition to these reforms. As Mala Htun explains in her research on South American abortion laws, at the time abortion reforms were passed by a nucleus of male politicians, doctors, and jurists. In addition, these reforms legalized abortion only in very limited circumstances and required the authorization of a doctor and/or a judge, and therefore represented no real threat to the dominant discourse of abortion being morally wrong. The church only began organizing against abortion decriminalization when feminist movements came together to claim the autonomy of women’s bodies threatening this consensus.
When John Paul II became Pope in 1978, moral issues such as abortion were given a priority in the church’s mission as never before. Having lived through the Soviet conquest of his home country, Poland, and experienced the repression of Catholicism and the legalization of abortion there, the Pope felt very strongly about these issues. Once many of the European Catholic countries achieved the legalization of abortion in the 1970s and 80s, Latin America, being the largest Catholic region in the world, became the battleground in which abortion policy would be fought and decided.
Together with this shift within the Catholic Church, a second stronghold of the opposition has come from the United States. Long past the days of Roe v. Wade, since the 1980s the increasing influence of the religious right within the Republican Party has implied that U.S. reproductive rights policies have been increasingly anti-abortion when this party was in office. How has this affected Latin America? Both directly, by banning federal funding for international NGOs involved with providing, advising, or even advocating for abortion decriminalization (known as the Mexico City Policy or the Global Gag Rule), and also indirectly, through the legitimacy and strength given to anti-abortion discourses, particularly during the George W. Bush administration.
Latin American politicians have not been indifferent to these trends and have thus sought the support of the Catholic Church and/or U.S. Republicans and anti-abortion groups to strengthen their chances of winning office. Unfortunately, in this context the future of Beatriz and many other poor and young women in the region remains politically uncertain.
We begin today with new scrutiny Republican candidate Mitt Romney is facing about his record at the private equity firm Bain Capital. The latest controversy surrounding Bain concerns how Romney helped found the company with investments from Central American elites linked to death squads in El Salvador. After initially struggling to find investors, Romney traveled to Miami in 1983 to win pledges of $9 million, 40% of Bain’s start up money. Some investors had extensive ties to the death squads responsible for the vast majority of the tens of thousands of deaths in El Salvador beginning during the 1980’s. The investors include the Salaverria family, whose former U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, Robert White, has previously accused of directly funding the Salvadorian paramilitaries. In his memoir, former Bain executive Harry Strachan writes, “Romney pushed aside his own misgivings about the investors to accept their backing.” Strachan writes, “These Latin American friends have loyally rolled over investments in succeeding funds, actively participated in Bain Capital’s May investor meetings and are still today one of the largest investor groups in Bain Capital.” For more, we’re joined by Ryan Grim, Bureau Chief for The Huffington Post . He’s connecting the dots in the latest story headlined, “Mitt Romney Started Bain Capital With Money From Families Tied To Death Squads”. Ryan, welcome to Democracy Now! If you could carefully laid out the story, and set the stage in El Salvador in the early 1980’s, what was happening there, the carnage.
RYAN GRIM: Sure. In 1980, there was land reform instituted by the El Salvadoran government that started to parcel up some of the farms, some of the coffee plantations, and the other land holdings of the elite, and they also nationalized the international coffee trade, so they did not nationalize the industry, but just the foreign export of it. So, the oligarchs responded with a vicious and a brutal campaign that included death squads and in the first year or two, killed something like 35,000 people. Over a decade, killed about 70,000 people. The U.N. has since calculated about 85% of the killing was done by these right-wing death squads, so this is not one of those dirty wars where both sides were equally culpable. The leader of this movement, Roberto D’Aubuisson was very public about his support of death squads and that death squads were an important part of what they were doing. He would actually say that the purpose of the death squads was ultimately to diminish violence, because if you could go into a village and go into a couple houses and kill everyone in there, then it would send a message to the rest of the village that they shouldn’t join the village, and therefore there would be less of an uprising and the death squads would not have to kill everyone. That was the kind of macabre logic that lasted for slightly more than a decade in El Salvador.
AMY GOODMAN: One of the most well known victims of the death squads of the military of El Salvador is Archbishop Oscar Romero, known as the voice of the voiceless. He was a prominent advocate for the poor, a leading critic of U.S.-backed Salvadoran military government. He was killed by members of a U.S.-backed death squad while delivering mass at a hospital chapel. I want to play an excerpt from the film “Romero,” which stars Raúl Juliá who played Archbishop Romero.
RAUL JULIA: I would like to make an appeal in a special way to the men in the Army. Brothers, each one of you is one of us. We are the same people. The farmers and peasants that you kill are your own brothers and sisters. When you hear the words of a man telling you to kill, think, instead, in the words of God, thou shalt not kill. No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God. In his name, and in the name of our tormented people who have suffered so much and whose limits cry out to heaven, I implore you, I beg you, I order you, stop the repression.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s a clip from the film “Romero” of Raúl Juliá who played Salvadoran Oscar Romero. Oscar Romero was gunned down March 24, 1980. Ryan Grim, talk about how he died and the connection to your story.
RYAN GRIM: He was assassinated the day after the clip you played, shot through the heart while delivering mass. We since know, conclusively, that his assassination was ordered by Roberto D’Aubuisson. D’Aubuisson, 18 months later would found the ARENA party which was, basically, at the time, a vehicle for these death squads. ARENA is still around. It has become more of a conventional Latin American right-wing party, but for its first several years, it was, quite simply, the political organization which was managing the death squads. So, Mitt Romney, in this context, knew very well what was happening in El Salvador. The U.S. Ambassador [Robert] White, who you mentioned —
AMY GOODMAN: Robert White.
RYAN GRIM: Robert White, had publicly accused six Salvadorans living in Miami of financing, two of them Salaverrias. When it was suggested to him by Harry Strachan that he go down to Miami to raise money from the exiles there, he actually said to Strachan, make sure that these people are not connected to right-wing death squads. It’s very clear he knew the context and he knew what was going on at the time, but he was having a seriously hard time raising capital for his new enterprise, Bain Capital, and his boss, Bill Bain, told him that he couldn’t use any of the investors or clients of Bain and Co., which was the very successful consulting firm, because if Bain Capital failed, he didn’t want it to take everything else down with it. It’s been reported in a number of places that he failed to raise capital from traditional sources in the U.S. So, given that, he flew to Miami and, in mid 1984, he went directly to a bank and met with a number of these families who were involved with death squads and accepted, what at the time, was a huge amount of money that amounted to 40% of the outside capital that he was able to raise for that initial fund. As Harry Strachan said, they continued to roll over their investments and certainly are worth tens of millions of dollars in Bain Capital now. Just reading from your piece, Ryan Grim, when Romney returned to Miami in 2007 to launch another venture that needed funding, his first presidential campaign, Romney said, “I owe a great deal to Americans of Latin American descent… When I was starting my business, I came to Miami to find partners that would believe in me and that would finance my enterprise. My partners were Ricardo Poma, Miguel Dueñas, Pancho Soler, Frank Kardonski, and Diego Ribadeneira.” Can you talk about these men, like Poma, and their relationship to the death squads in El Salvador?
RYAN GRIM: The Poma family was one of the top families in El Salvador. They were very tightly intertwined with ARENA. The Salaverrias, which we mentioned earlier, two of them were specifically named by White as specifically financing death squads. The De Solas are another family that originally invested in Bain. We know that at least four members of the De Sola family invested in Bain. We only know the names of two of them. There’s one man named Orlando de Sola who the Romney campaign, and nobody else, denies, was a leader of the death squad movement. There’s no question about that. What the Romney campaign has relied on is that they say that Orlando de Solo was a black sheep of the De Sola family. The fact that he was running death squads should not besmirch the four De Sola investors, even though they won’t tell us who two of those four were. However, what we found was that one of the two named De Sola investors — his name is Francisco de Sola — was connected in 1990 to the assassination of two left-wing activists.
There was a meeting held in Guatemala that Chris Dodd, the former senator from Connecticut, moderated. He was trying to strike a peace deal between ARENA and the FMLN. And shortly after that meeting two of the activists who had met with him were assassinated. The Guatemalan government, citing its intelligence sources, concluded that the assassinations were committed by Orlando de Sola, Roberto D’Aubuisson and Fransicso de Sola. Now, Francisco de Sola is still alive and his assistant confirmed to us that he was one of those three people who was accused of these murders. Now, he denied it at the time and denies it today, but just the fact that the Guatemalan intelligence services would lump him together with Orlando de Sola and Roberto D’Abuisson, just known as the basically two leaders of the death squad movement at the time, dramatically undermines the notion that the people involved with Bain are somehow deeply disconnected or that there’s some bright line between the people involved in Bain and the people who are funding and operating the death squads.
AMY GOODMAN: Ryan Grim, Mitt Romney’s response to your investigation and to these allegations?
RYAN GRIM: What they did is they sent me a paragraph of an article from the Salt Lake Tribune in 1999 that read, “As was Bain’s policy, they had the families checked out as diligently as possible. They uncovered no unsavory links to drugs or other criminal activity.” That is simply impossible to believe. These families were certainly connected to death squads. Now Romney told the Boston Globe in 1994, something along the lines of, we checked out the individual investors and made sure there were no “obvious signs of criminal activity,” we didn’t check out their in-laws and their cousins. Those are two inconsistent levels of diligence that Romney is claiming to two separate papers. But, if you take the one at the Tribune, which was sent to me by the Romney campaign, that’s simply unbelievable. There’s no possible way that anybody in 1984 could check out these families — which is the term they use, these families — and come away convinced that this money was clean.
AMY GOODMAN: You quote Robert White saying, “The Salaverria family was very well known.” Robert White was the U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador. “The Salaverria family was very well known as backers of D’Abussion these guys big money contributors, they were total backers of D’Abuisson including death squads.” And I wanted to read an excerpt from Greg Grandin’s book, “Empire’s Workshop.” He is a professor of Latin American history at New York University. He writes, “The problem was that the military groups had very little popular support due in large part to the fact that they were ‘preternaturally violent.’ According to Reagan’s own ambassador, Robert White, their solution to the crisis ‘was apocalyptic: the country must be ‘destroyed totally, the economy must be wrecked, unemployment must be massive,’ and a ‘cleansing’ of some ‘3 or 4 or 500,000 people’ must be carried out,” he says. And he his quoting Robert White. Ryan Grim?
RYAN GRIM: I spoke also with the Sergio Bendixen who is a pollster who did a lot of work in the country in the 1980’s for Univision and is now, coincidentally, he became a pollster for Hillary Clinton and he’s now working with the Obama campaign now. He knew D’Abuisson and he knew lot of the people who were involved with these death squads, and he said that, and this is what I have heard from other people who are familiar with him in the exile community, that this is not something they would hide. Like you said, they were persuaded that they were freedom fighters, that they were on the side of justice, and that if it meant that you had to kill tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people, those were evil people who were supported by Castro who wanted to bring about tyranny, etc., etc. So, everything that they were doing was justified by that. Mitt Romney even hinted at that in his 2007 talk to the Miami crowd when he came down to raise money for his campaign. He said, not only did these people invest in me, but they taught me a lot. And what they taught me is that these guerrillas were horrible and they kidnapped one of their brothers and killed him and they tortured Miguel Dueñas he mentions. They kidnapped and tortured Miguel Dueñas. There’s no question that atrocities were certainly committed by both sides, but you can see in that quote that Romney is partly buying into this notion that the violence was justified. And he would not be at all be alone in the Republican Party at that time or the Democratic Party. As you said, these death squads had the backing of the United States government.
AMY GOODMAN: We are talking about, as you said, tens of thousands of people in 1989, the government bestowed the Salvadoran government, bestowed — well, this was in 2009. But, remembering, 20 years ago, the killing of the six Jesuit priests in 1989, and then there was the killing of the four American nuns, all these part of the casualties of, as you said, the Salvadoran military and paramilitary, overwhelmingly doing the killing. Now, interestingly, we started with Oscar Romero’s death March 24, 1980. Killed by the right-wing death squads in Salvador. President Obama visited Honduras visited El Salvador and went to the grave of Archbishop Oscar Romero.
RYAN GRIM: And that was an acknowledgment that what the United States and its allies in El Salvador did in the 1980’s was wrong. It wasn’t exactly, but it was tantamount to an apology for all of the death and destruction that was brought about in the name of anti-communism. Archbishop Romero is now known as one of the great heroes and martyrs of the 20th-century. At the same time that we’re talking about Romney’s Association here, we ought to mention that the current occupant of the White House has — operates drones that kill people on a fairly regular basis. There is, unfortunately, still no shortage of killing around the globe.
AMY GOODMAN: And, interestingly, the question, will the Obama administration will make something of this initial Bain investment capital, and will the Romney administration — will the Romney campaign raise the issue of President Obama and his kill list and the operating of drones that are killing many in Yemen and Pakistan, etc.
RYAN GRIM: It will be interesting to see. If the Obama campaign does do anything with it, I would expect that it would be done in the Latino community to help drive support for Obama there, because as you said, there are thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of refugees who are here today because of the violence from there, and when they find out that the oligarchs that were funding that violence get also helped get Romney’s Bain Capital off the ground, that could influence the way they vote.
AMY GOODMAN: Are these families still donating to Romney’s current presidential campaign as they did to his first effort?
RYAN GRIM: I didn’t find any of them doing so. Romney had a strange use of the phrase we he went to Latin America; he called them Americans of Latin American descent. I don’t know if they have become Americans in the sense of the United States as America. If they haven’t gotten U.S. citizenship, then they can’t donate directly to U.S. presidential campaigns. I searched a few names that we do know, and they did not come up as donors to his presidential campaign. But, as Harry Strachan said, they have become — they continue to be significant investors in Bain Capital. Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, Bain Capital made just absolutely extraordinary returns, something like 88% annual return over two decades, which is just an absolutely astounding amount of money. If you apply that to $9 million initial investment, you get an absolute fortune.
AMY GOODMAN: Ryan Grim, I want to thank you for being with us, Washington Bureau Chief for The Huffington Post for his latest story, “Mitt Romney Started Bain Capital With Money From Families Tied To Death Squads”. We’ll link to it at Democracy Now! This is Democracy Now!. Next up, we’re going to the Syria-Turkish borders. Stay with us.
This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.
(Roger’s note: The role that Obama and his hawkish Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, have played to legitimize the coup inspired regime of Porfirio Lobo in Honduras, renders his visit to the tomb of Archbishop Romero an act of sublime hypocrisy. Be it a Democrat or Republican in the White House, the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex dictate policy in Latin America; a new and improved Monroe Doctrine whereby the only consideration for support or non-support of a government is the degree of its friendliness toward corporate and militarized imperial America).
As part of his visit to El Salvador yesterday, the last stop on a Latin American excursion occurring despite events in Japan and Libya, Barack Obama visited the tomb of Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero, assassinated on March 24, 1980.
Observers have noted that the current bombing of Libya began on the same date as the start of the Iraq war eight years ago. Coincidentally, Obama’s appearance in El Salvador occurs exactly nine years after George W. Bush’s. As the BBC’s Tom Gibb wrote at the time:
“There is a tremendous irony that President George W Bush has chosen to visit El Salvador on the anniversary of the murder of the country’s Archbishop, Oscar Arnulfo Romero, 22 years ago.
A campaigner against the Salvadorean army’s death squad war, Monsignor Romero was shot through the heart while saying Mass, shortly after appealing to the US not to send military aid to El Salvador.
The appeal fell on deaf ears and for the next 12 years, the US became involved in its largest counter-insurgency war against left-wing guerrillas since Vietnam.…
To defeat the rebels, the US equipped and trained an army which kidnapped and disappeared more than 30,000 people, and carried out large-scale massacres of thousands of old people women and children.”
Regarding yesterday’s visit by Obama, SOA Watch writes:
“Oscar Romero’s assassins were members of Salvadoran death squads, including two graduates of the School of the Americas. The 1993 United Nations Truth Commission report on El Salvador identified SOA graduate Major Roberto D’Aubuisson as the man who ordered the assassination. While we welcome President Obama’s interest in visiting Archbishop Romero’s tomb, a more fitting tribute to Romero’s legacy would be the closure of the school that trained his murderers. President Obama’s gesture rings hollow in the face of the continued U.S. support for repressive regimes such as Honduras that further U.S. interests and in the face of the continued funding for the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation [current incarnation of the School of the Americas], the U.S. military training facility that has left a trail of blood and suffering throughout the Americas.”
Honduras, which also boasts a concentration of SOA alumni—including General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, perpetrator of the 2009 coup against President Mel Zelaya—just last week witnessed the killing of 59-year-old assistant principal Ilse Velásquez, who was run over after being hit by a tear gas canister fired by the police at a peaceful protest in Tegucigalpa.
Her brother Manfredo Velásquez was disappeared in the 1980s during Honduras’ service as preferred U.S. military base. As Stephen Kinzer writes in The New York Review of Books:
“American military engineers built bases, airstrips, and supply depots at key spots around the country. American troops poured in for saber-rattling maneuvers whose main purpose was to intimidate the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. American intelligence agents trained Hondurans in techniques of surveillance and interrogation. Between 1980 and 1984, United States military aid to Honduras increased from $4 million to $77 million.”
Kinzer goes on to note the thoughts of Honduran SOA trainee General Gustavo Álvarez Martínez on how to properly deal with Marxist subversives, “their sympathizers, and outspoken leaders of labor, peasant, and student organizations”:
“American documents show that General Álvarez, who was chief of the Honduran security police and then the country’s top military commander, favored the simple expedient of murder. Among the special units he created to carry out this policy was Battalion 3-16 (or 316), which has become the most infamous military unit in Honduran history. According to a heavily edited version of a CIA report that was released in 1998, Brigade 3-16 emerged as an independent entity ‘based on recommendations from the “Strategic Military Seminar” between the Honduran and the US military.’* Some of its members were flown to the United States for training by CIA specialists.”
Before I start this poem,
I’d like to ask you to join me in
a moment of silence
in honour of those who died
in the World Trade Centre
and the Pentagon
last September 11th.
I would also like to ask you
a moment of silence
for all of those who have been
harassed, imprisoned, disappeared,
tortured, raped, or killed
in retaliation for those strikes,
for the victims in both
Afghanistan and the U.S.
And if I could just add one more thing…
A full day of silence
for the tens of thousands of Palestinians
who have died at the hands of
U.S.-backed Israeli forces
over decades of occupation.
Six months of silence
for the million and-a-half Iraqi people,
mostly children, who have died of
malnourishment or starvation
as a result of an 11-year U.S. embargo
against the country.
Before I begin this poem:
two months of silence
for the Blacks under Apartheid
in South Africa,
where homeland security
made them aliens
in their own country.
Nine months of silence
for the dead in Hiroshima
and Nagasaki, where death rained
down and peeled back
every layer of concrete, steel, earth and skin
and the survivors went on as if alive.
A year of silence
for the millions of dead
in Vietnam–a people, not a war-
for those who know a thing or two
about the scent of burning fuel,
their relatives’ bones buried in it,
their babies born of it.
A year of silence
for the dead in Cambodia and Laos,
victims of a secret war … ssssshhhhh ….
Say nothing .. we don’t want them to
learn that they are dead.
Two months of silence
for the decades of dead
in Colombia, whose names,
like the corpses they once represented,
have piled up and slipped off
Before I begin this poem,
An hour of silence
for El Salvador …
An afternoon of silence
for Nicaragua …
Two days of silence
for the Guatemaltecos …
None of whom ever knew
a moment of peace
45 seconds of silence
for the 45 dead
at Acteal, Chiapas
25 years of silence
for the hundred million Africans
who found their graves
far deeper in the ocean
than any building could
poke into the sky.
There will be no DNA testing
or dental records
to identify their remains.
And for those who were
strung and swung
from the heights of
in the south, the north,
the east, and the west…
100 years of silence…
For the hundreds of millions of
from this half of right here,
Whose land and lives were stolen,
In postcard-perfect plots
like Pine Ridge,
Sand Creek, Fallen Timbers,
or the Trail of Tears.
Names now reduced
to innocuous magnetic poetry
on the refrigerator
of our consciousness …
So you want a moment of silence?
And we are all left speechless
Our tongues snatched from our mouths
Our eyes stapled shut
A moment of silence
And the poets have all been laid to rest
The drums disintegrating into dust
Before I begin this poem,
You want a moment of silence
You mourn now as if the world will never be
And the rest of us hope to hell it won’t be.
Not like it always has been
Because this is not a 9-1-1 poem
This is a 9/10 poem,
It is a 9/9 poem,
A 9/8 poem,
A 9/7 poem
This is a 1492 poem.
This is a poem about
what causes poems like this
to be written
And if this is a 9/11 poem, then
This is a September 11th poem
for Chile, 1971
This is a September 12th poem
for Steven Biko in South Africa, 1977
This is a September 13th poem
for the brothers at Attica Prison,
New York, 1971.
This is a September 14th poem
for Somalia, 1992.
This is a poem
for every date that falls
to the ground in ashes
This is a poem for the 110 stories
that were never told
The 110 stories that history
chose not to write in textbooks
The 110 stories that CNN, BBC,
The New York Times,
and Newsweek ignored
This is a poem
for interrupting this program.
And still you want
a moment of silence
for your dead?
We could give you
lifetimes of empty:
The unmarked graves
The lost languages
The uprooted trees and histories
The dead stares on the faces
of nameless children
Before I start this poem
We could be silent forever
Or just long enough to hunger,
For the dust to bury us
And you would still ask us
For more of our silence.
If you want a moment of silence
Then stop the oil pumps
Turn off the engines and the televisions
Sink the cruise ships
Crash the stock markets
Unplug the marquee lights,
Delete the instant messages,
Derail the trains, the light rail transit
If you want a moment of silence,
put a brick through
the window of Taco Bell,
And pay the workers for wages lost
Tear down the liquor stores,
The townhouses, the White Houses,
the jailhouses, the Penthouses and
If you want a moment of silence,
Then take it
On Super Bowl Sunday,
The Fourth of July
During Dayton’s 13 hour sale
Or the next time your white guilt
fills the room where my beautiful
people have gathered
You want a moment of silence
Then take it
Before this poem begins.
Here, in the echo of my voice,
In the pause between goosesteps of the
In the space
between bodies in embrace,
Here is your silence.
But take it all
Don’t cut in line.
Let your silence begin
at the beginning of crime.
Tonight we will keep right on singing
For our dead.
EMMANUEL ORTIZ, 11 Sep 2002
Emmanuel Ortiz (born 1974) is a Chicano/Puerto Rican/Irish-American activist and spoken-wordpoet. He has worked with the Minnesota Alliance for the Indigenous Zapatistas (MAIZ) and Estación Libre and as a staff member of the Resource Centre of the Americas. Ortiz has performed his poetry at numerous readings, political rallies, activist conferences, and benefits. His works appeared in The Roots of Terror a reader published by Project South, as well as others. His readings of his poems have appeared on Pacifica Radio’sDemocracy Now!.  His controversial poem, Moment of Silence, circulated the internet a year after September 11th, 2001.