Take Action to Restore School Lunch in Haiti

Educators in Haiti are scrambling to feed their students after a shocking and surprise announcement from Port au Prince. Just weeks before school terms began last September the government announced that only national schools would be eligible to receive food aid for student lunches. The announcement reversed a long policy of providing school lunch assistance to all students, including those in parochial and private schools.

Haiti’s government relies on international Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to supply and deliver the food for student lunches. These organizations, led by the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP), have fallen in line with the policy change without regard for the thousands of children who will now go hungry each day.

Since the announcement, WFP officials have refused to meet with local leaders and educators, including our partners at the Green Schools Network, an association of 65 schools in the rural region surrounding Gros-Morne. The Network is made up of public, private, and parochial schools with a shared commitment to ecological restoration. Earlier this year we received an urgent request from our partners for grassroots action here in the United States.

Administrators at the Green Schools now say that parents of children in parochial and private schools feel as though they have no recourse. For many children, their school lunch is the only consistent meal of the day, and they rely on the calories from that meal to carry them through lean times. There have been discussions among many parents about how they might go about protesting the discriminatory policy, but local leaders have discouraged this course of action because they fear that the protests could pit parochial and private school families against national school families.

All accredited schools in the United States are able to participate in the federal school lunches program and receive subsidies to feed their students, regardless of religious affiliation. This ensures that children across the country have access to free or reduced price lunches each day. This was also the case in Haiti until the policy change before this school year.

The World Food Programme exercises great discretion in the distribution of food aid. A decision by WFP offi cials could reverse this new discriminatory policy, but so far they have lacked the necessary resolve and have refused to meet with local leaders. Now, we are asking for your help in restoring equality by lobbying the responsible World Food Programme official directly.

Cedric Charpentier is the WFP representative in Gonaives, an urban hub near Gros-Morne. His office has the authority to restore school lunch assistance to all schools. Please send him an e-mail urging him to meet with local leaders and the administrators of the Green Schools Network. You can click here to send a form email via our website.

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A Visit with Noam

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On April 10, I met with Noam Chomsky for 1/2 hour at MIT in Boston. Starting in the 1980s, I knew that he had been following the Quixote Center for many years, with special interest in our work in Nicaragua. Before going to Boston for the Catholic Organizations for Renewal meeting, I decided to ask for a meeting with Noam. Although most requests of this kind are refused, and considering the short timeframe, Noam’s response was “I want to meet her.”

Our meeting was warm and refreshingly candid. I shared with him our “Homes of Hope” plan for a sustainable home building program in Nicaragua and our latest QC Chronicles and annual report. I pointed out, with special pride, the offshoots of the Center over the last 40 years. He asked if we were still in touch with the groups, likely asking if the separations were amicable or turbulent. My answer was, yes, we are still in touch, if the organizations still exist. He was also curious to know if we were still in touch with members of the Sandinista government. Answer: “No.”

Noam has been to Nicaragua a number of times. I shared with him the pain the Center experienced following Bill Callahan’s final months and his death, along with the pride I now feel that the Center is back on its feet with strong, vibrant programs in Nicaragua and Haiti.

His assistant, Bev, after a ten minute extension of our allotted time, marched into the office with a bowl of soup for Noam’s lunch, insisting that the meeting was over. “Ok, Ok, it’s time for me to go – right now…” A photo, hugs, and warm handshakes, and I was gone.

Bev walked me to the elevator with her dog who goes to work with her. Noam is lucky to have her. She’s smart and smart-assed, funny, tough and a softie.

When I returned to DC and sent my bread and butter letter, Noam wrote back, “It was a real pleasure to have a chance to talk.  Can’t tell you how much I’ve admired the work of the Center over the years.”

Enough said.

-Dolly Pomerleau

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A Green Spring

The Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center is a sea of green right now. That’s because the technicians have successfully planted and nurtured a new crop of young trees for distribution to local farmers, the Green Schools Network, and the model forest on Tet Mon. The trees in these images are scheduled for planting between June and August of this year, when the supply of water should be most consistent.

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The Meaning of Religious Freedom

The roots of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (1993) were a surprisingly bipartisan effort to offer protection for Native American religious traditions in particular. The purpose of that act was to prevent government from burdening individuals ability to practice their religion even if that burden resulted from a generally applicable rule. It laid out exemptions to ensure that if indeed a burden was inevitable to guarantee a “compelling government issue” (generally core constitutional rights) then that burden was the least restrictive way to implement the required law. Indiana, Arkansas and other states that passed similar laws in recent weeks have in most cases expanded the law in legally significant ways.

One the most significant differences was in language that grants religious beliefs to private corporations and LLCs. This is a growing trend, as witnessed in the Hobby Lobby decision by the Supreme Court in 2014, which allowed the company to refuse coverage for contraception for its employees based on the religious beliefs of its owners. The growing legal propensity to grant rights traditionally reserved for individuals to corporations and private companies seems to be the culmination of neoliberal economic policies. Opponents of these policies are pushing back against these trends and their voices are gaining traction as the impact of decisions like Citizens United is being felt.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) who introduced the federal RFRA bill with former Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) in 1993 has spoken out against the Indiana law saying it does not resemble the “intent or application” of the federal RFRA. The portion of the bill that has gotten the most press is of course those businesses who object to being a part of same-sex marriages. The distinction here, as in the Hobby Lobby case, is in how the religious beliefs of some are imposed on others. The original law gave no power to individuals to refuse service to others who did not share their beliefs.

The Quixote Center joins other progressive faith based organizations in encouraging Indiana Governor Pence to reform the law to ensure it is not allowed to be used in an oppressive or discriminatory manner. Governor Hutchinson of Arkansas has refused to sign the bill he was scheduled to sign last week, encouraging legislators to frame the law closer to the federal version. We hope to see the same in Indiana.

 

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A Letter to President Obama

The following is a letter to President Obama written by Noam Chomsky, Eva Golinger, and Miguel Tinker-Salas, and endorsed by the Quixote Center among other organizations and prominent individuals.

Dear Mr. President:

We, the undersigned individuals and organizations, met your December 17, 2014 joint announcement with President Raul Castro of steps to normalize relations with Cuba with cautious optimism. For decades the US has been isolated in its policy on Cuba, both from the rest of the hemisphere and the rest of the world. For the 23rd year in a row, the UN General Assembly voted last October (188-2) to condemn the US embargo of Cuba.

The UN called on the US to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and regulations which violate the sovereignty of other States, the legitimate interests of entities or persons under their jurisdiction, and the freedom of trade and navigation.

We were pleased that the US was finally taking steps to come into compliance with international law. Yet our optimism turned to renewed concern the following day, December 18, when you signed a sanctions bill against Venezuela which appears to perpetuate the same failed policy toward Venezuela that you had just rejected toward Cuba. You hardened that policy on March 9 when you issued an executive order declaring a national emergency with respect to the “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by the situation in Venezuela.” This action also verified that the US is stepping up its support for regime change in Caracas.

What is US hemispheric policy given this belligerent stance toward Venezuelan democracy? That is the question being asked by the world media and particularly by the sovereign States and multinational institutions of Latin America and the Caribbean. The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), which represents every country in South America, said your executive order constitutes a “threat of interference” against Venezuela’s sovereignty and calls on you to revoke the order. While politics in Venezuela is polarized and economic disruption caused primarily by the falling price of oil have caused long lines and falling poll numbers for President Nicolas Maduro, we see nothing that could conceivably be described as an “extraordinary threat” to the US or even to Venezuela’s closest neighbors. We note that Colombia, the US’s closest ally in South America and even the Venezuelan opposition have rejected US sanctions.

Compared to Mexico and Honduras where state violence is endemic and the rule of law tenuous at best, Venezuela is not at all outside the norm among nations. Venezuela is not at war with any nation, does not have military bases outside its borders, and is helping to mediate an end to the war in Colombia; it is a champion of peace in the region. To call it a national security threat to the US diminishes the credibility of your administration in the eyes of the world.

To those who know the dynamics in democratic Venezuela, this US policy stance is dangerous and provocative. To set the record straight, the Venezuelan government is democratically elected. Presidents Chavez and Maduro were both elected in what former President Jimmy Carter declared to be the best election process in the world. (The Carter Center monitors and reports on elections worldwide.) Your executive declaration, however, is likely to be taken as a green light to the most hard line and anti-democratic forces in the country to continue to commit anti-government violence.

We call on you, President Obama, to rescind your executive order naming Venezuela a US national security threat. We call on you to stop interfering through funding and reckless public statements in Venezuela’s own democratic processes. And most of all, we encourage you to show to our Latin American neighbors that the US can relate to them in peace and with respect for their sovereignty.

Sincerely,

Noam Chomsky, MIT

Eva Golinger, Human Rights lawyer and author

Miguel Tinker-Salas, Ph.D., Pomona College*

 

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President Obama's Cynical Declaration

Last week President Obama declared Venezuela a threat to United States national security, going so far as to characterize the country (operating under a duly elected President and legislature) a national emergency. He did so with the full knowledge that the statement is untrue. Rather, the declaration was made to satisfy United States legal requirements for issuing sanctions against individual Venezuelan leaders. What does this behavior say about the state of affairs in Washington as regards Venezuela? Nothing good.

We at the Quixote Center affirm our opposition to the Obama administration’s efforts to isolate and destabilize the elected government of Venezuela. We do this with the full knowledge that Venezuela is experiencing a dramatic political battle in the wake of President Chavez’s death two years ago. His successor, Nicolas Maduro, has faced off with an increasingly energized opposition since assuming office, with both sides appearing to engage in violence in the streets.

Our condemnation of President Obama’s actions is based on our long-held position in support of maintaining democratically elected governments, even those considered embattled. By issuing sanctions against the Venezuelan government, the Obama administration harms regional progress and security, and provides an easy bogeyman for Venezuelan politicians who may seek a distraction from home-grown problems.

President Maduro has repeatedly accused the United States of supporting efforts to organize a coup in Venezuela. The Obama administration has repeatedly denied support for coup plots as ridiculous, but history tells us that these concerns are valid and ought to be brought out into the light for a true examination. If the United States is providing financial or moral support for an illegal change of administration, this support must end immediately because it would be both illegal and harmful to global security and cooperation.

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President Obama’s Cynical Declaration

Last week President Obama declared Venezuela a threat to United States national security, going so far as to characterize the country (operating under a duly elected President and legislature) a national emergency. He did so with the full knowledge that the statement is untrue. Rather, the declaration was made to satisfy United States legal requirements for issuing sanctions against individual Venezuelan leaders. What does this behavior say about the state of affairs in Washington as regards Venezuela? Nothing good.

We at the Quixote Center affirm our opposition to the Obama administration’s efforts to isolate and destabilize the elected government of Venezuela. We do this with the full knowledge that Venezuela is experiencing a dramatic political battle in the wake of President Chavez’s death two years ago. His successor, Nicolas Maduro, has faced off with an increasingly energized opposition since assuming office, with both sides appearing to engage in violence in the streets.

Our condemnation of President Obama’s actions is based on our long-held position in support of maintaining democratically elected governments, even those considered embattled. By issuing sanctions against the Venezuelan government, the Obama administration harms regional progress and security, and provides an easy bogeyman for Venezuelan politicians who may seek a distraction from home-grown problems.

President Maduro has repeatedly accused the United States of supporting efforts to organize a coup in Venezuela. The Obama administration has repeatedly denied support for coup plots as ridiculous, but history tells us that these concerns are valid and ought to be brought out into the light for a true examination. If the United States is providing financial or moral support for an illegal change of administration, this support must end immediately because it would be both illegal and harmful to global security and cooperation.

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Oil Prices and Regional Solidarity

Oil prices matter beyond the pump. The recent drop in the price of crude (from $100 to $30 per barrel) has been cause for celebration in oil-consuming countries like the United States. An understandable reaction since it sometimes seems as if our economy is based entirely on this liquified fossil fuel. The impacts beyond the gas tank are, however, more complex and diverse.

The IMF recently warned that Haiti and Nicaragua stand to lose out because of the low oil prices. That’s because both countries (along with seventeen others) receive oil at a steep discount from Venezuela through the regional solidarity bloc PetroCaribe. Through the alliance, Venezuela offsets these discounts with profits from oil sales to other countries. With profit margins thinning and a series of local crises, some internal and some external, Venezuela’s ability to continue the program is now in question.

Like all national and international policies, I find it helpful to look at concrete impacts. In Nicaragua you needn’t look past the local bus stop. The country’s public transportation system is kept affordable because of the subsidized oil imports from Venezuela combined with Nicaraguan policies dictating reduced rates for travel by bus, van, and taxi both in urban centers and between them. These reduced rates allow people from the countryside to reach urban areas and the economic opportunities they contain. They make possible local trade networks for individual producers and small businesses. Without reduced oil from PetroCaribe, it’s quite possible that transportation costs could become prohibitive for those who rely most on public transit. In Haiti, the situation is much the same.

It’s unclear how long Venezuela can maintain these subsidies, but in the meantime continuing sanctions and denouncements from Washington are complicating rather than resolving Venezuela’s own internal conflicts. These conflicts also threaten regional initiatives like PetroCaribe, and in doing so carry the possibility of unsavory outcomes in fragile countries like Haiti and Nicaragua.

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Small Steps Matter

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”

-Lao-Tzu

The Quixote Center has been on the front lines of the social justice movement since 1976 working to improve the lives of communities in the United States and Latin America. The Center finds its strength in the power of many individual supporters. We do not accept government or corporate funding.

The legacy of the Quixote Center is that small steps matter.

  • Every tree planted in Haiti matters. Every acre that is reforested makes a difference on that island.
  • Each home built in Nicaragua makes an enormous difference for one family, and lifts up the whole community.
  • Each farmer who learns more sustainable techniques to improve their crop grows more food for their family and enriches the quality of the soil, which will benefit future generations of farmers.

We are humbled by your ongoing support and all that you have allowed us to do. Together we have planted over one million trees in Haiti, built thousands of homes in Nicaragua and touched the lives of countless families. We know each of you do so much more. You give to your families, neighbours, congregations and schools. In this season of giving, we offer our thanks to you, for all you do and the many ways you give. Happy #GivingTuesday.

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Wishing for a peaceful and just holiday

This week we want to give thanks for all the people we work with at the Quixote Center – here at our offices in Maryland, our partners in Haiti and Nicaragua, and you our supporters across the country who give your time, money and prayers to make this important work happen. We are certainly grateful for all these people and the incredible impact they are having on their communities.

Events this week, however, have been a sobering reminder of all the work that remains to be done in the fight for social justice for all our brothers and sisters. It is a sad reminder that structural violence is so embedded in our culture and systems that it allows some lives to matter more than others. The continued outpouring of grief and rage in Ferguson and other cities is testament to the concrete and daily effects of marginalization of these communities. The frayed trust between police forces and the communities they serve; the unjust sentencing and incarceration of people of color; and growing inequality between the 1% and the rest of the country are all symptoms of an unsustainable system.

So we enter into this holiday of gratitude with a heavy load, and eyes on the road ahead as we continue to fight for social justice. We take comfort in knowing you are on this road with us, with hope that our collective wisdom will guide us to a peaceful and just future. Thank you for your ongoing support of the Quixote Center and your enduring commitment and solidarity. May your holiday be a time to reflect with loved ones on the many blessings we share and an opportunity to ponder and prepare for the journey ahead.

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Contact Us

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

Direction to office:

For driving: From Baltimore Ave (Route 1) towards University of Maryland, turn right onto Hartwick Rd. Turn immediate right in the office complex.

Look for building 7307. We are located on the 2nd floor.

For public transportation: We are located near the College Park metro station (green line)