2015 has been a productive year for our partners in Haiti as they plant trees throughout the region of Gros Morne. In addition to planting in the model forest on Tet Mon, our partners distribute trees to families and schools for dispersed planting, improving the overall health of the soil. For the last several years, we have been encouraging the planting of fruit trees which have multiple benefits: shade and decreased soil erosion as well as increased access to nutrition from fruit and a source of income for families who sell excess fruit.
In January 2015, we visited our partners at Hands Together where Father Gerard has been cultivating papaya trees. We were all amazed at not only the size but the quantity of papayas growing on one tree. Their agronomist said it was a combination of soil, watering and the seeds. Marcel Garcon, director of the Peasant Movement of Gros Morne, picked the ripest papaya in the hope of harvesting seeds as well as fruit. From those seeds we were able to grow 257 papaya saplings, 200 of which have been distributed to date. This is an important part of the vocation of the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center-to acquire new or special varieties of crops, propagate them and work with farmers on what methods have proved successful to other farmer growing the same crops. Staff keep track of who is growing trial trees, fruits and vegetables so that adjustments can be made for future sharing success.
The rains normally come in March, but this year there was no rain until July which delayed planting. However, now that the rains have prepared the soil for planting, we have distributed the papayas as well as 2000 mango trees. The Peasant Movement of Gros Morne has been encouraging members to plant mangos, which are the main cash crop of our area, because our mango trees are aging and so many have been lost. The baby papayas will be planted in the school yard–probably by the composting toilet. Papayas need nitrogen which is found in urine. Perhaps by Jan. 2016, these trees will be providing food for the students’ lunches. When the papayas are green, they are cooked as a vegtable and put over rice or cornmeal. When they ripen more to an orange color, they are eaten as a fruit. These trees will be a great asset to the students at our partner schools, as well as their families.
Our nurseries have also been producing Pine, Oak and Cedar trees to be planted in the forest and through distributed planting at homes and other sites. Through our training and education programs we are teaching residents about different types of trees, and encouraging use of these varieties as firewood so fruit trees can be spared. The pine, oak and cedar grow faster and are better suited for firewood. Our nurseries are full so we are praying for the rain to continue so we can distribute all the seedlings we have.
Thanks to Sr. Pat Dillon for her contribution to this post.
Last year the Quixote Center partnered with the Federation of Campesinos (Fedicamp) to construct irrigation systems for smallholder farmers in northern Nicaragua. Construction and training happened last winter, during the dusty dry season. Farmers were selected from among the communities who are members of the Federation, and focused on those families able to put multiple acres under cultivation, and who agreed to contribute seeds to Fedicamp’s growing network of organic community seed banks.
This year, those farmers were able to plant with confidence, even as the rain becomes less consistent. As global climate change continues, we expect greater variation in the arrival of rains for planting. Last year a prolonged drought nearly caused a famine in Nicaragua. The crisis was only averted through a costly government food import program. The key to success will increasingly be dependent on optimizing what water resources are available.
Each system is connected to a stream, well, or other reliable source of water. In the future, we may be able to construct cisterns for water storage on those farms which do not have access to these resources.
There are two types of systems that have been deployed. Drip irrigation systems are highly efficient and deliver water directly to the roots of the plant. They work well in all soil types and for a wide variety of crops and situations, from small patio gardens to farms and reforestation efforts. Currently, Fedicamp deploys these systems with two hundred liter barrels connected to a system of pipes and valves, powered by electricity. We hope to develop the use of solar PV systems to power these, though this method is currently cost-prohibitive.
Sprinkler systems require a well, and water is drawn through the use of a centrifugal pump. This electric pump pushes the water through a hose or pipe and past a sprinkler. The result is an even watering that effectively simulates the rain. Experience has shown that this type of system is effective for most crop types, and are more effective in densely cultivated areas.
Each of these systems allows families to cultivate their land with confidence, knowing that even if a drought occurs, their food will still grow. It also allows them to achieve greater efficiency of production, requiring less effort for each row of plants. The effects on the community are multiplied as the organic seed banks are made stronger through increased seed reserves and community participation.
This week, the pope’s encyclical on the challenge of climate change was leaked by the media. While the final version will be formally shared on June 18, the content of the draft is certainly indicative of the Pope’s tone in addressing this global issue. He acknowledges that most of climate change is caused by man’s actions, and calls on all people, regardless of religion, to share the responsibility of caring for the earth, “our common home“.
What is especially encouraging from this plea is the links Pope Francis draws between the economic culture of over-consumption and its impact on the poor. By framing this in both an economic and social justice context, the need to resolve this issue takes on greater significance. The document even specifically discourages the carbon credit model of offsetting greenhouse gas emissions, as it unfairly advantages wealthier nations and does not lead to an overall reduction in emissions.
The Vatican has said that the release of the encyclical was timed to have maximum impact on upcoming visits by the Pope to address the US Congress and the UN. Since the document clearly scolds climate change deniers, it will be interesting to see how American representatives who are both Catholic and vocal climate change deniers, respond to this position. When the Pope addresses congress later this year, we can certainly expect him to raise these issues. Your move, John Boehner.
One of the great strengths of the progressive movements in the 1960s was their willingness to collaborate and work towards a shared goal. It was no coincidence that the civil rights movement celebrated many wins, alongside progress in the women’s rights and gay rights movements. The victories gained by all these groups actually resulted in the neo-liberal pushback that sparked in the late 1970s and continues to the present.
However, there is some awareness rising that in order to push forward progressive movements, we need to collaborate. Over the past several years, the deaths of unarmed men of color at the hands of police has resulted in the Black Lives Matter movement. The rise of social media and the attention given to the repeated deaths of individuals in contact with police has sparked a national conversation about racism in not only the police forces, but also our country in general. Most importantly for the structural shift needed to actually address this issue effectively, is the discussion around the overwhelming inequality that divides the haves and the have nots which is at the root of these community tensions.
Issues such as a living wage are being raised, as are practices and policies within the criminal justice system. Serious dialogue about the “war on drugs” and its impact on poor communities have resulted in reforms for decriminalization of marijuana. Part of the success of that campaign has been framing the issue not as a drug question, but as a criminal justice – and even an economic – question.
The recent success of campaigns to raise the minimum wage have gained a lot of traction, and they are doing well to collaborate with other movements. Over the Quixote Center’s long history, we have often collaborated with partners. We attribute a lot of our success to these collaborations and the understanding that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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 USâ€™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.
Noam Chomsky, MIT
Eva Golinger, Human Rights lawyer and author
Miguel Tinker-Salas, Ph.D., Pomona College*