Daily Dispatch 7/24/2019

Take Action: Hunger strikers in ICE custody seek release

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Daily Dispatch

July 24, 2019


Four men, originally from India, who have been in detention for over a year are in the 16th day of a hunger strike, demanding their release. The men are held at the El Paso Processing Center. Another five men from India launched a hunger strike at the Otero Processing Center, which is now in its 8th day. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials are seeking a court order to have the men forcefully fed. Some background:

Four asylum seekers from India who began a hunger strike on July 9 at the Otero County Processing Center (OCPC), are now at the El Paso Service Processing Center (EPSPC) and were told that today the facility will be seeking court orders for involuntary IV and force feeding. These asylum seekers have been held for over a year in a facility that the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General recognizes is problematic due to punitive use of solitary, verbally hostile staff, poor medical services, and lack of sanitation. These men had their hearing in a part of the country that is effectively an asylum free zone, they faced an immigration judge that is known as one of the worst of the region, one that even facility staff claim “everyone is afraid of.”

Verbally berated with ethnic slurs, denied any possibility for release, and not allowed sufficient time to prepare evidence for their cases, these men faced unreasonable obstacles throughout the process. After languishing a year or more in detention with no end in sight, these men were left with no other options to call attention to their prolonged detention and unfair immigration proceedings, and to obtain their freedom.

Four other asylum seekers from India, and one other man from India facing deportation, have begun another hunger strike at OCPC. Now refusing food for seven days, the four asylum seekers began their hunger strike on Tuesday July 16 to raise awareness about their struggle and to insist on their freedom. These men are victims of the same problems: several have been held for over a year, have been berated by staff who used foul language and demeaning ethnic slurs, and they had to pursue their cases in an “asylum free zone” in front of  some of the most skeptical immigration judges in the country. No longer willing to remain in what the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights identifies as “torture like” conditions and with no other option to secure their freedom, these men began a hunger strike to seek their freedom.

While ICE frequently asserts in public statements that it “does not retaliate in any way against hunger strikers” there are reports that two ICE officers threatened the hunger striking asylum seekers. ICE officers told the men that if they don’t eat “they will go to jail for five years” and that in jail they will be held with criminals, beaten, and raped repeatedly. ICE officers also told the men that they were recording their phone calls and that if they spoke about the hunger strike to family members or outside groups, ICE would arrest those family members and allies in the public and put them in jail. The men were told that if they did not eat they would be subjected to involuntary force feeding.

CREDO has launched a petition supporting their release. You can sign that here.

National Lawyers Guild Release Report on Border

The National Lawyers Guild released a report on human rights violations at the border yesterday. The report is based on interviews conducted as part of an NLG International Committee delegation that visited the border area in March. You can read and/or download the full report here. From the executive summary of key findings:

  1. President Trump applies a racist perspective to U.S. immigration policy and has ramped up barriers to migration to create a humanitarian crisis at the border;
  2. The barriers to asylum, including the so-called “metering” system and the “Remain in Mexico” policy, misleadingly named, “Migrant Protection Protocols” (MPP), are illegal and exposes asylum-seekers to life-threatening conditions;
  3. The governments of the United States and Mexico are neglecting their respective obligations under domestic and international law to respect the human rights of asylum-seekers;
  4. Anti-immigrant sentiment in Mexico has resulted in harassment and violence towards migrants in Tijuana by Mexican authorities and residents;
  5. Vulnerable populations, such as unaccompanied children and LGBTQ+ individuals, are especially at risk, and are not being afforded the rights to which they are entitled under international law; and
  6. The U.S. and Mexican governments have criminalized migrants and those who are aiding them or documenting their plight, using illegal surveillance and other tactics.

The Center for American Progress issues immigration platform

The Center for American Progress released a platform for immigration reform set against a historical overview of immigration policy. The report attempts to find a middle ground between two dominant constructs that, it is argued, are insufficient: The U.S. as a nation of immigrants, and the U.S. as a nation of laws. Setting their proposals against this backdrop, CAP argues for a more humane immigration system that incorporates limited, though in their few, necessary enforcement measures. You can read the full report here. An excerpt from the introduction follows:

This report sets out a framework for immigration policymaking that brings together the two visions of America, with the goal of building a fair, humane, and well-functioning immigration system in which the rule of law is restored. Additionally, it makes the case for why immigration proponents can and should reclaim the rule of law narrative frame from immigration restrictionists who frequently misappropriate the term to drive law and order policies that demonize immigrant communities and communities of color and only worsen the dysfunctionality and cruelty of the current system.

The report begins by laying out what the rule of law is, how it has been distorted by opponents of immigration, and the degree to which the current immigration system makes a mockery of American history and ideals—of an America that is both a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. The report then outlines the emergence over a period of years of the extralegal immigration system that exists today. Next, it illustrates that under this broken system, immigration policy has fluctuated between two poles: on the one hand, relying increasingly upon administrative discretion alone to save the system from itself, and on the other, relying on maximum enforcement of “the laws on the books without apology,” as former U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Acting Director Thomas Homan said.

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Daily Dispatch 6/10/2019

Mexico and the United States reach a deal

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Daily Dispatch

June 10, 2019


With the Trump threat of tariffs on products from Mexico looming, the governments of the United States and Mexico issued a joint memorandum on migration through Mexico on Friday. The details of the agreement, as spelled out in a State Department communique, are vague. But the agreement revolves around four key points:

Firstly, Mexico agreed to step up enforcement through expanded use of the National Guard to police the border with Guatemala and interdict migrants within Mexico. Other news reports put the number of guardsmen being mobilized at 6,000.

Secondly, the United States will expand its current “Migrant Protection Protocols” across the entire border with Mexico – meaning that people crossing the border to seek asylum in the United States will be returned to Mexico to await adjudication of their asylum claim. The State Department statement includes this Orwellian passage:

In response, Mexico will authorize the entrance of all of those individuals for humanitarian reasons, in compliance with its international obligations, while they await the adjudication of their asylum claims. Mexico will also offer jobs, healthcare and education according to its principles.

The United States has its own international obligations to accept people seeking asylum and is offshoring this responsibility to Mexico, which is committing to offer work permits and provide health care and education to asylum seekers.

Thirdly, the agreement will be monitored and further steps taken if needed after a 90-day review.

Finally, announced, but not “negotiated,” Mexico and the United States will continue to work with countries in Central America on issues of economic development and security (really?). Mexico has already launched its own Comprehensive Development Plan to coordinate with countries of Central America – meanwhile, Trump is trying to cut development assistance.

Of course, the devil is in the details. And those are not yet available. Trump indicated, via Twitter, that the deal would have to go before Mexico’s legislature suggesting it is a much more specific agreement than the announced outline would indicate. We’ll have to wait and see.

And, of course, being Trump this point came with a further threat: If Mexico’s congress does not pass the agreement, tariffs will be reinstated (not that they ever went into effect).

TAKE ACTION: As part of Mexico’s renewed crackdown on immigration, two human rights defenders, Cristóbal Sánchez and Irineo Mujica , were arrested last week in Mexico. Take action to get them released. Details here.

24 immigrants have died in detention since Trump took office

NBC and other news outlets ran a story over the last few days about the number of immigrants who have died in ICE custody since Trump took office. The number is 24. The story has been used to discuss the horrendous conditions that immigrants are being held in – as indicated by yet another DHS Office of Inspector General report that documents a lack of access to health care, spoiled food, and a host of other violations.

None of the companies contracted to provide these “services” have lost a contract yet.

While NBC’s story notes that the highest number of deaths in detention was in 2004 (32 in one year), none have mentioned that in Obama’s last year 12 people died in detention – more than in 2017 and the same number as 2018. Which is to say, detention conditions and deaths in the context of those conditions have been a problem for a very, very long time. Trump’s expanded use of detention (52,000 people are being held on average each day) is making a bad situation much worse.

Not included in this number are the five children who have died over the last year. They were not held in ICE facilities – child detention typically takes place through the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

#Shutitdown

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12 Families Receive Homes in San Marcos, Nicaragua

Members of housing cooperative in San Marcos with Institute staff

The following report is abridged from the Institute of John XXIII/Assocation Roncali’s report on completing the first phase of housing in San Marcos, Nicaragua. The Quixote Center’s Homes of Hope program was the principal funder of this housing initiative. We thank all of you who have supported the project thus far!

On Saturday, May 4, twelve families who are members of the Cooperativa Fuentes de Agua Viva (COVIAMFAV) of San Marcos were able to move into their new homes. “This is a miracle,” said Pastor Anibal Chavarria, president of COVIAMFAM. 

The cooperative was created in January 2014 and in 2015 was able to purchase land for up to 20 houses. Once in possession of the land, they searched tirelessly for financing, but were unable to find a bank willing to work with them. Several people resigned in frustration.

In January 2018 the Institute of John XXIII (Association Roncalli) began working with the members of the cooperative through mutual relationships developed years before with another housing cooperative:¨One day Don Nicolás (a director with the Institute of John XXIII) arrived in San Marcos to get to know the project. We are very grateful to him. The hand of God has always been with us, thanks to God, the Institute of John XXIII and their partners¨ Pastor Anibal Chavarria concluded.

The construction process with COVIAMFAV has been difficult. The terrain is very hilly so several improvements had to be carried out before starting the construction of the houses including creating terraces for the homes.

Kenneth García is an engineer working with the Institute and oversees all of the construction sites. Mr. García explained that he had to design a new model home that would meet the requirements of families. The result was the Sapphire model of 57m2, an austere and more economical model than the 42m2 model that was originally created for this project.

New homes in San Marcos

Terracing the land also required the construction of retaining walls. “The processes of construction of retention walls, in many cases was more expensive than the construction of houses,” explained Mr. García. 

Liliet López, another Institute engineer, who was in charge of the supervision of the work during the four months, stressed that the biggest obstacle was the topography of the land and the need to create varying levels for each lot. Engineer Lopez pointed out that with this project four contractors were employed, who had several squads of workers, for a total of 50 people employed during construction. Members of the cooperative also helped work on the project.

“We had 50 workers working from Monday to Saturday and days of mutual aid by members of the cooperative on Sundays”.

Of the 12 members who received their housing, 11 are women who struggle daily to get ahead with their family. Silvia Dávila, member who received her house, with tears in her eyes expressed her gratitude to the Institute of John XXIII (Roncalli Association) for believing in the cooperative and giving them the opportunity to have a decent home. “One of the things we learned in this project was patience and working together. We had the land, but not the money for housing. Thanks to the association our children will have their space. Most of us are women, heads of family. I longed to have my house, and today is the day they give us the key, the beginning was difficult, but God is just.”

“I am very grateful we have persevered” were the words of Martha Lucía Galeano, 38 years old, a member of the cooperative, who received her house and who has a bakery as a means of subsistence. “When I arrived, I listened to the desire to have a home and in this cooperative we were given space as working women”.

Another member who received her home was 39-year-old Jeaneth Bonilla. She expressed the happiness of receiving her home. “I come to thank God for this blessing and all those involved in this project, the cooperative and the Roncalli Association that helped us make this dream come true,” said Mrs. Jeaneth. 

On behalf of the Institute of John XXIII, Roncalli Association, the director Edwin Novoa, also expressed his satisfaction at the completion of these 12 homes. “All this work is the product of faith, will and relationships. It has been a collective work, which has required the will of public authorities and families. But we are still missing eight homes and we have the commitment to build them, this is just beginning .”

Edwin also encouraged the members to support the board of the cooperative and encouraged them to plant trees to give the soil consistency. Likewise, he recognized the engineers, construction masters and local authorities for all the support and effort.

Edwin Novoa hands keys to member of cooperative.

For the development of this project, the support of the mayor’s office of San Marcos was indispensable. Mayor Linda Tellez acknowledged the accompaniment provided by the Institute of John XXIII to the cooperative and thanked Pastor Aníbal for making the mayor participate in this project.

The celebration of the delivery of the homes concluded with the handing over of the keys to their home to the 12 members who were very happy.

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Homes of Hope Update

In 2014, the Quixote Center launched the “Homes of Hope” initiative in partnership with the Institute of John XXIII in Nicaragua. Since that time, we have delivered over $1 million to capitalize housing projects in Nicaragua and the campaign has raised nearly $1.6 million overall. 

The program is delivered through two inter-related initiatives managed by the Institute of John XXIII: The Community Housing Program and the Family Housing Program.

The Community Housing Program works with low-income families. Families are organized into housing cooperatives, typically with construction on larger plots of land serving multiple families. Quixote Center funds are used to cover construction costs. Repayment is based on concessional rates, and the money flows into a revolving loan fund that is used to cover costs of future housing projects.

To date 41 houses have been completed as part of the Community Housing Program: (20 in Leon, 21 in Sebeco) with another 12 nearly complete in San Marcos. Work on an additional 19 homes is underway and there are already plans for more in the pipeline.

The Family Housing Program works with middle-income families, a group often left out of local credit markets. This portion of the program is coordinated with a private bank (Banpro). Quixote Center contributions are used to secure mortgages: at least 20% of the value of homes is deposited with the bank. Banpro pays the full value of the housing construction, including indirect costs and administration up-front. As security for the mortgages is freed up with repayment, it also flows into the revolving loan fund.

To date, 53 houses have been built as part of the Family Housing Program. In 2018, however, this portion of the program has been in stasis, as banks in Nicaragua have ceased all mortgage lending, as a result of the economic crisis.

In March, we visited current construction sites in San Marcos, San Dionisio, and Terrabona.

San Marcos

The Community Housing Program in San Marcos (Department of Carazo) is organized with the Cooperative “Fuentes de Agua Viva.” With support from the municipality, the cooperative secured 1 manzana (1.7 acres) of land which will eventually include 20 houses. The first phase of construction for 12 houses is nearly complete.

View of Housing Site, San Marco

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

San Dionisio

The Community Housing Program in San Dionisio (Department of Matagalpa) is being coordinated with the mayor’s office. The municipality was able to secure a large plot of land with support through the national government’s land initiative. The site will eventually hold 40 houses but the first phase includes plans for 12 homes. At the time of our visit, the entry to the property had been complete, with a communal space to house celebrations and a regular market for local producers. The rest of the site has yet to be cleared. In meeting with the mayor’s office, Institute staff discussed the path of the road through the property, and reached agreement on a modest re-routing. Clearing activities for the rest of the property will begin soon.

Market in San Dionisio

Future site of San Dionisio housing units

Terrabona

In Terrabona (Department of Matagalpa), the municipality has offered participation in the housing initiative to teachers as a benefit for their work. The Institute is coordinating construction of 7 homes for this program. During our time in Terrabona, the Institute began discussions with the mayor’s office about an additional site for a Community Housing Program that will hold 26 houses. As in San Dionisio, the property in Terabono was purchased by the mayor’s office with support from the national government. The mayor’s office is offering the land for sale at concessionary rates to families without permanent housing; repaid funds will then go to purchase additional land for future housing.

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Annual Report 2018

The Quixote Center’s Annual Report for 2018 is now available. If you like the work we are doing, please consider a tax-deductible contribution. You can designate funds to a specific program, or put it toward general funds that support all of our work. 

 

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A New Round of Dialogue Launches in Nicaragua

Representatives of the Nicaraguan government begin meetings with business leaders and other members of the opposition Civic Alliance starting today. Church leaders are present to witness the discussions, but unlike the dialogue attempted last year – where church leaders were “moderators” –  they have no formal role this time.

Last year’s rounds of dialogue were very public affairs, with plenaries held before cameras and smaller working sessions held in private. The new talks are being held completely in private; indeed the location of the talks has not been released. A small group, working together outside the temptation of live camera feeds, may be more likely to reach an agreement. On the other hand, there is also a danger that an agreement reached by this smaller gathering won’t be accepted by the myriad groups cut out of the talks.

Context for Discussions

Since the fighting ended in July, a sustainable peace has been hard to achieve. In July, the government passed an anti-terrorism law which has since been used as the basis for the arrest of hundreds of people involved in demonstrations last year. While there was certainly violence from opposition groups – a point largely ignored outside of Nicaragua – the scale of arrests seems out of proportion to those crimes. In some cases, the sentences handed out have been questionable*, far in excess of the constitutionally mandated maximum 30-year sentence, giving the whole process the feel of show trials meant to bolster Ortega’s authority rather than as an effort to achieve justice. That said, there were crimes committed and families clamoring for justice. Not all of the arrests can be dismissed as political posturing. Even so, the process to date has not inspired confidence and is being used outside of Nicaragua to legitimate further sanctions.

Meanwhile the economy has come undone. Nicaragua entered 2018 with economic growth projected at 4-5%. By the end of the year, the economy had actually shrunk; 150,000 jobs were lost (even more in the informal economy), and banks had sharply reduced new lending, creating the potential for a protracted recession. The immediate cause for this is the political crisis. Blockades erected during demonstrations stopped almost all commerce for the months of May to July. Tourism, which had become a major source of foreign exchange and represented 6% of GDP in 2017, collapsed. Over 800,000 reservations into Nicaragua were cancelled in 2018, leading to a 54% decline in revenue and widespread job loss. Foreign direct investment (FDI) took a huge hit as a result of the crisis. FDI fell to $10.7 million in the second quarter of 2018, its lowest level in years. By comparison, FDI in the second quarter of the previous year was $113 million. Capital flight passed the $1 billion mark in August, creating a liquidity crisis for banks. The Central Bank intervened with sales to banks from foreign reserves for a time, but the Central Bank was facing its own liquidity crisis given the falloff in international transactions. By the end of 2018, foreign exchange holdings had fallen to their lowest level in a decade.

On top of the broader economic problems, the threat of sanctions is freezing out investment and raising the costs of borrowing to the government. Nicaragua had already been hit by the secondary effects of new U.S. sanctions against Venezuela announced in August of 2017. Venezuela’s oil company PdVSA holds a 51% stake in Albanisa, a private holding company that uses a portion of proceeds from subsidized oil sales to invest in variety of energy projects. Under threat of sanctions, Albanisa was forced to transfer all of its funds from private banks in Nicaragua to the Banco Corporativo (Bancorp), which is also an Albanisa company. The U.S. congress passed the NICA Act in December, an immediate result of which was that U.S. banks began withdrawing services from Nicaragua for fear of being caught up in sanctions. The long-terms impact of the NICA Act could be devastating. If the U.S. were to veto any new agreement with the International Monetary Fund (as called for in the NICA Act), the ability of the government to borrow funds would be severely hampered.

What’s on the table

As the sides meet today, they will be hammering out an agenda and delineating the process for discussions. The government is clearly looking for a path out of the economic crisis, or at least an agreement that would forestall implementation of further sanctions from the U.S. and avoid sanctions threatened by the European Union. It is doubtful that a formal agreement on new tax policies and social security reform would even be on the table at this point. But positioning for those coming debates will certainly be an undercurrent in the discussions.

The Civic Alliance is coming with demands (as reported in El Nuevo Diario): Release of political prisoners and the restoration of freedoms, rights and guarantees, established by the Political Constitution, as well as electoral reforms that guarantee fair, free and transparent elections; and Justice for the people of Nicaragua. Not on this list is the specific demand for early elections. This may still be a part of the discussion, of course, but there is some light here. The government has committed, on paper at least, to introducing electoral reforms and has met some opposition demands on local election policy already. Last night the government prepared to release 120-150 prisoners to conditions of house arrest. This is far from the freedom being demanded, but might garner the government some small amount of goodwill on this point. As of this afternoon, the government has already begun to follow through and a partial list of those under house arrest has been made public. 

Whatever is decided at the dialogue faces at least two further challenges, a domestic one and an international one.

If the Civic Alliance members are seen as compromising too much to get an agreement, it might well be rejected on the streets. This is particularly true on the questions of prisoners and elections. The hardcore opposition wants Ortega gone, and will demand all prisoners released. The Civic Alliance negotiators are not likely to get either, but they may get a process to review arrests, with some additional people released to house arrest in the intervening period, and they may secure electoral reform that will provide more space for opposition candidates and, possibly, no fourth term for Ortega. Will that be enough?  

Then there is the so-called international community. Throughout the crisis, the U.S. government has been pressing for early elections. National Security Advisor John Bolton recently said that Ortega is on his way out, one way or another. Will this posturing from the sidelines make an agreement impossible to reach? Will the United States accept an agreement even if it does not meet all of their demands?

All of which is to say, I am hopeful that this process is underway again, and even hopeful that an agreement will be reached; but this hope is tempered somewhat knowing that any agreement will face further challenges to be seen as legitimate and to be implemented. Compromise has not been in the air much since last April, but maybe the economic situation, which impacts everyone (if not equally) will force the question. We can only watch from here – and hope Bolton stays out of the way, allowing Nicaraguan negotiators to come to an agreement without putting his thumb on the scale. 

 

 
*This was edited slightly following publication, from “In some cases, the sentences handed out have been laughable…” 
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NICA Act 2.0: It’s back and even worse than before

The Nicaragua Investment Conditionality Act has been floating around congress since 2015. The main idea behind the bill is to direct the U.S. Executive Branch to use its voting power in multilateral lending institutions to block any new loans for Nicaragua until a set of reforms regarding elections and transparency is implemented.

The latest version of the bill passed in the U.S. House of Representatives in October of 2017. A companion bill was then introduced into the Senate by Ted Cruz (R-TX). This Senate version (S. 2265) was similar to the House version, but added provisions for investigation into the activity of “other regimes” in Nicaragua – principally Venezuela and Russia. This version of the NICA Act was sent to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee where it sat with no action until September of this year.

During the last week of September, NICA Act was given new life with a companion bill introduced by Robert Menendez (D-NJ), called the Nicaragua Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Act of 2018 (S. 3233). The new bill was voted out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on September 26, and is heading for a floor debate some time soon. The twist is that Menendez’s original bill was fused with the NICA Act in this latest version, creating a broad set of sanctions that will impact Nicaragua’s access to international financial institutions while also punishing individuals in Nicaragua.

Specifically, the new bill:

  • Directs the Executive to use the influence of the U.S. government to oppose the extension of new loans or agreements with Nicaragua through the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund;
  • Calls for sanctions under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act – which allows the U.S. executive to seize assets of individuals from other countries it deems responsible for human rights abuse or political corruption, and also employ other sanctions;
  • Calls for restricting visas for travel to the United States to individuals in the Nicaraguan government and their associates;
  • Calls for annual reporting on the state of Nicaragua’s democracy;
  • Directs agencies to create a “civil society” engagement strategy – which in the current context largely means expanding support for groups in opposition to the government;
  • Is enacted until 2023, although provisions can be waived if Nicaragua adopts reforms that satisfy U.S. policy-makers.

If passed, the U.S. government will be committing itself to increased intervention that would do serious harm to Nicaragua’s economy – already reeling from a collapse in investment and capital flight. By incorporating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act the bill leaves the path open for the President to go even further than individual sanctions in punishing Nicaragua.

The Nicaragua Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Act of 2018 (S. 3233) is a bad idea. It goes much further than the original NICA Act, which we have opposed from the beginning. It has the potential of doing grave harm to the people of Nicaragua, and seems intent on deepening the polarization in the country at a time when the United States, if it is to do anything, should be limiting its role to encouraging dialogue (without imposing predetermined outcomes on the dialogue – as the U.S. has done thus far). This new bill will simply make it that much harder for groups to come together and reach a political settlement to the ongoing crisis.

You can call your Senators at the Capitol Hill Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Tell them “No to sanctions” in S. 3233, and yes to encouraging a return to dialogue unencumbered by U.S. intervention!

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Lessons from Haiti: Another View on the Nicaraguan Crisis

Since April 18, the solidarity movement has been struggling over how to interpret events in Nicaragua and where to push in terms of advocacy and/or speaking out. As with many people following the situation, I have watched and listened to friends take a harsh line towards one another and with me about articles I have written. While the division in the solidarity movement is not in and of itself new, the tensions have boiled over. The gulf between people over how the situation is understood and should be represented is enormous. There are even calls from some to support U.S. sanctions against the government of Nicaragua, and to expand U.S. pressure on Ortega and the FSLN to step down. My sense is that we must resist this push for U.S. intervention; the potential consequences are dire.

For myself, the ghost hovering over my understanding of what is going in Nicaragua, and more to the point, my fear for the future, is not Venezuela or Syria, but Haiti in 2004. At the time, the solidarity community was deeply divided over Aristide’s rule. His effort to craft an institutionalized party (Fanmi Lavalas) from the Lavalas movement had created divisions within that movement; his embrace of some neo-liberal policy reforms, accusations of corruption, and accusations of political violence employed against opponents resulted in many on the left moving into an oppositional position against Aristide. As with Nicaragua today, much of this division was in response to division within Haiti. Groups like Batay Ouvriye and the Plateforme Haïtienne de Plaidoyer pour un Développement Alternatif (PAPDA), all with deep ties to solidarity groups in the U.S., began denouncing Aristide and even calling for his resignation. This sounds all too familiar.

In late 2003 and early 2004, armed groups began moving from the Dominican Republic into Haiti, burning police stations and public facilities. As these groups approached Port-au-Prince, the business community was organized into the “Democratic Convergence” with other sectors of civil society, and stepped up their long-time opposition and expanded protests. On February 29, 2004 Aristide was forced to leave Haiti. Escorted to an airfield by U.S. special forces, he was put on a plane to the Central African Republic. His claim that he was forced out of office at the point of a gun, was dismissed out of hand. There was no investigation. Many on the left accepted this de facto coup. Convinced of Aristide’s failings, they accepted at face value the claim that he resigned freely. What might come next seemed to worry them not at all.

There was no constitutional transfer of power. With the parliament inactive, the United States, Canada and France essentially handed off leadership to a transitional authority under Gerard Latortue, who had worked previously with the United Nations, and was working as a business consultant and talk radio host in Boca Raton, Florida, when appointed as Prime Minister. The U.S. military was dispatched to “stabilize” the situation, eventually handing over occupation to a United Nations peacekeeping mission in the fall of 2004. Though officially ended last year, a smaller “follow-up” mission continues to be a presence in Haiti 14 years later.

Between Aristide’s removal from power and Preval’s re-election in February of 2006, thousands of people died. The international “community” which had denied access to funding to President Preval during his first term, and later Aristide, opened the the aid floodgates for Latortue. Billions of dollars flowed into the country, which, to this day, are largely unaccounted for. Concessions were granted to corporations for large swathes of Haiti’s resources. It was corruption on scale that dwarfed anything Aristide had been accused of (much less proven), all coupled with political violence on a scale that rivaled (and, by some measures, surpassed) the coup regime of 1991-1994.

The solidarity community in the United States with ties to Haiti was deeply divided – a division that, whatever else was on the table, constantly came back to the question of Aristide’s rule and his future. It is hard to know what might have been achieved otherwise, but ultimately there was no effective voice to push back against the United States’ propping up of Latortue amidst widespread violence and intensified neo-liberalization. People allied in the anti-Aristide camp, would point to violence by armed groups nominally aligned with Lavalas to justify and ignore the broader destruction taking place.

Since April 18 of this year, I have had a strong feeling of deja vu. Obviously there are enormous differences between Haiti and Nicaragua. The FSLN is deeply entrenched in the economic, social and political life of Nicaragua, in a way that Fanmi Lavalas was never able to achieve in Haiti. Nicaragua’s democratic institutions are more deeply embedded, and even if one accepts the worst about Ortega’s machinations, there is a baseline of stability in Nicaragua that Haiti, under constant intervention from the United States, has not been able to achieve.

On the one hand, this means that Nicaragua is able to resist intervention to a greater degree. This is evident whether one accepts the “coup has been defeated” narrative, or the “government remains intransigent” narrative, as both interpretations speak to the resilience of the state in the face of external pressure.

On the other hand, if Ortega is ultimately forced from power, what comes next could be accompanied by even greater bloodshed, given the embeddedness of the FSLN. I am convinced that there is no way Ortega’s resignation, or even early elections, will satisfy the United States and those in the opposition who have aligned with U.S. policy-makers in the long-term. Why? Because the FSLN will remain the largest, most stable party in Nicaragua even without Ortega. Indeed, even if Ortega were to resign, unless the constitution is simply thrown out the window, a Sandinista will replace him, as his replacement would be left to the National Assembly to choose. If early elections are held, the FSLN will very likely win a large portion of seats in the assembly, if not a majority – and possibly the presidency – depending on who runs. None of this will be acceptable to the United States and allied forces in Nicaragua.

What happened in Haiti is also instructive about the future of the FSLN under U.S.-brokered regime change. In the wake of Aristide’s “resignation,” the United States transformed the political arena, defended the pillaging of the economy, and practically destroyed Fanmi Lavalas (ironically by trying to take it over in an absurd effort to clear the way for Marc Bazan – a long-time opponent of Lavalas – to run as the Fanmi Lavalas candidate in 2006). Preval’s return to power at the head of the Lespwa coalition in 2006, despite all of the U.S.’s efforts, would mark the last “free” election in Haiti. In 2010, amidst the aftershocks of the earthquake, the vote was simply discarded. The U.S.-supported candidate, Martelly, was put into a runoff in place of the Lespwa candidate who had actually received more votes in the first round. With this decision made under unrelenting pressure and threats of sanctions from the U.S. government, Martelly would go on to win, amidst widespread abstention. Lavalas was excluded entirely from the election.

For those of us in the solidarity community, I suggest we take seriously the hard-earned lessons of the Haitian example in 2004. Calling for accountability regarding the violence in Nicaragua, both from state forces and armed groups aligned with the opposition, is important; but I would emphasize that this accountability should come through domestic channels or the multilateral forums that Nicaragua participates in. This week, the government has invited the United Nations, the Vatican and members of the European Human Rights community to help mediate a new, expanded round of national dialogue. This has the potential for achieving an accounting of what has transpired, and creating a path toward resolution and reconciliation.

Continuing to call for Ortega’s removal from power, and inviting further intervention from the United States in the form of sanctions that would only further destabilize and polarize the situation in Nicaragua, seems like a really bad idea. Marco Rubio, who has led the right-wing charge against the FSLN in the Senate, has even spoken of the possibility of war in Nicaragua, and has tried to recast the crisis as a national security issue for the United States. Rubio and his partners in Congress make strange allies for those on the left, and they are certainly not the allies of the majority of people in Nicaragua. Those with such a policy orientation have no track record of bringing democracy to any part of the world. Nor, clearly, is that their intention.

As the violence on the ground in Nicaragua has subsided dramatically over the last two weeks, there is space for a conversation about long-term political solutions. We should welcome and support this opening. But inviting alliances with those on the political right in the United States, which has long sought to dismantle the Sandinista government, is about the worst thing that could be done for Nicaragua.

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Inspirational and Influential Women of the World: Dolly Pomerleau Part III

I first met Dolly in January of 1996. I had just moved to Washington, D.C. and was looking for a job. I had contacted the Quixote Center a few months prior about the possibility of setting up a small project to donate funds to a clinic in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. The clinic served the neighborhood of the Mothers of Heroes and Martyrs, where I stayed in July of 1995 with a Witness for Peace delegation. This had been my first trip to Nicaragua, and the group I was with was eager to help out the community in a meaningful way. Friends directed me to “check out the Quixote Center” to see if they could help. I did. Bill Callahan helped direct some of our funds to the clinic, but a long standing project wasn’t in the works. It was my first experience of what I would come to love about the Quixote Center. The whole celebrating dreams bit is real – laced with enough realism to keep people from wasting time and money. When I came to Washington, D.C., I was reaching out to everyone I had come into contact with doing work in Nicaragua and solidarity with Central America more generally – asking if they needed help. Some of these cold calls would lead to lifelong friendships, with Chuck Kaufman and Kathy Hoyt of the Nicaragua Network, members of the Witness for Peace community (where I actually did get a job!), and, of course, the Quixote Center. I dropped by the Quixote Center that January. Bill was warm and welcoming. Dolly was equally inviting and funny. They took me to lunch and took a lot of time, it seemed to me, with a young guy who knew nothing, but had recently been to Nicaragua. If you’ve spent time with Dolly you know, she asks questions. She takes an interest in people. She can make you feel like you are interesting, like your story matters. Later, when I started working at the Quixote Center, I discovered she was also very honest. Never “brutally” honest, but she had high expectations about the work we did, and especially how we communicated that work to our “constituency.” She was always clear when she thought I (or anyone) could do better. And she was always generous with praise when warranted. On this first meeting, I did not land a job. But I got a few names and a much appreciated explanation for how the D.C. street grid worked. I went on to work for Witness for Peace that year and then I was off to grad school. But I kept running into Bill and Dolly. At Witness for Peace, I was part of organizing a fast on the capitol steps as one of the early SOAWatch actions. I invited Bill and Dolly to lead one of our evening reflections. I later would run into them at street festivals selling artwork and t-shirts for the Nicaraguan Cultural Alliance. Dolly was always cheerful and warm. In the Fall of 2001, I was finishing grad school and completing a semester teaching assignment at the University of Maryland. I found out the Quixote Center was hiring a policy coordinator for the Quest for Peace program and I applied. At the time, I was simply looking for a bridge between grad school and a full-time teaching assignment, but I ended up staying and staying, and then leaving only to return. Since that first meeting in 1996, there has been a gravitational pull of sorts that has kept me in the Center’s orbit and Dolly has been at the center of it. When I first started working at the Quixote Center, I established this rough schema about the relationship between Bill and Dolly and their respective roles. Bill was the charismatic leader. Always with the grand smile, unforgettable laugh, mischievous eyes that could pull you. He was the weaver of dreams, with his writing and his speaking. Dolly was the transactional leader. She was, in brief, the one who made sure things got done. Dolly has charisma to spare, and Bill could certainly finish a project, but their strengths I do believe lined up this way and reinforced each other, and through them, the Center.   For the years I have worked with Dolly she has been both a colleague and a mentor. Even now, I learn from her far more than I return. From my perspective, her greatest strength is her ability to mobilize people. She looks for ways to include others and does not hesitate to ask someone to take on a task. And though she can be a tough critic – a reputation she relishes I think – the result is that the end product is always better. With any other organizer all of this might sound a bit controlling, but Dolly’s genius is her ability to magnify her own expectations while making space for other people’s creativity. Dolly doesn’t want things done her way – she just wants whatever is being planned to actually get done and to be done well. In my time with the Quixote Center Dolly has handed me grant proposals to write, fundraising letters to layout, or the name of a donor to call. She has asked me to write poems and songs and to draw pictures for different programs. She’s been my strongest ally in encouraging me to try new, sometimes wacky tactics and she has also been the first person to say, bluntly, “that won’t work” (though she is willing to be convinced otherwise, provided you bring your best game to the conversation). She, more than anyone else, has taught me about the transactional part of organizing work. And not just me. From the current mayor of New York City, to heads of national organizations, to the current staff at the Quixote Center, Dolly has helped a generation of activists be better at the work they do. It is hard to imagine the Quixote Center without Dolly. Her wealth of experience, her insistence that our work make a difference, but also be interesting, even fun where it can be, and her enormous wit and energy will all be missed. I also fear our staff meetings will be longer now – Dolly had little patience for a lot of talking that seemed to lack direction. We all do, but she would actually stop it! I know that for Dolly retiring from the Quixote Center means passing along the legacy to a new cohort to carry the work forward. I don’t expect she will retire from the work of making this world more justly loving. She’ll continue to put her energies into new projects, enjoy her garden and travel. The Quixote Center will be fine though. She has implanted in all of us her passion for making impossible dreams possible. Dolly is one of the most remarkable people I have ever met. She made me a better organizer and has shown more confidence in me at times than I have felt myself. Mostly, she has been a great friend. I will cherish all of the times I have worked with her at the Quixote Center, and I look forward to future adventures with her.  
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Inspirational and Influential Women of the World: Dolly Pomerleau Part II

Dolly Pomerleau was one of the pioneers who founded the Quixote Center in 1975. She and Bill Callahan launched this justice work with a strong commitment to social justice in both civil society and within the Catholic Church. In both arenas, that justice included changing structures to establish the equality of women and men. Dolly was utterly committed to that and all the other projects and ideals to which the Center committed itself over the years. 

She was a Co-Director of the Center from the start… shaping the vision and helping launch many different projects. From the beginning, she advocated feminist ideals and full gender equality, making sure these values were a part of every aspect of life at the Center. 

And in 1975, she was one of the pioneering women who founded the Women’s Ordination Conference (WOC), the organization that has been a leader in the quest for women’s equality in the Roman Catholic Church for more than 40 years. The Quixote Center has long worked in coalition with WOC.  

Over the years, Dolly worked on a variety of projects at the Quixote Center, including Catholics Speak Out, which emphasized the crying need for gender equality and an expanded role for lay decision-making in the Church.

Photo from The Catholic Connection, October 1976.

She is a strong advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and was one of several women who chained themselves to the front door of the Republican National Committee when that party took the ERA out of its platform. The group was there for a full day in the hot sun, attracting a wide range of onlookers, including Republican women inside the building, many of whom were at their windows, pointedly expressing support for the action with hand signals, flag waving, and the like. 

Dolly is also committed to rectifying injustices of any kind where her actions might make a difference. She protested US attempts to overthrow the Sandinista government of Nicaragua in the 1980’s, helping to establish the Quest for Peace project, which raised hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid for Nicaragua over the years. This meant filling many cargo containers of aid that were shipped to that country regularly and sent to the Center’s partner organization, the Institute of John XXIII in Managua. The Institute then distributed the aid to the neediest parts of Nicaragua.  

Several times, Dolly visited that country and travelled with Ketxu Amezua of the Institute to see the many and impressive projects that were underway as a result of help from the Quixote Center. Her fluency in Spanish was an enormous help in all this work. 

In the United States, Dolly was never shy about protesting US policy in Nicaragua, and one time was arrested in the rotunda of the US Capitol as part of a group that was kneeling to pray for an end to US actions against the Nicaraguan government. 

She also advocated for justice in Haiti when Aristide was the duly elected President, and she helped establish a new project at the Center called Haiti Reborn. 

Her values were broad. When some new staff people at the Quixote Center – Jane Henderson and Shari Silberstein – suggested a project aimed at ending the death penalty, Dolly (and the staff) endorsed it heartily. This project eventually spun off from the Center to become Equal Justice USA. 

And oh yes… Dolly is a native of the state of Maine – northern Maine near the Canadian border. Thus she is tri-lingual: English, French, and Spanish.   

Dolly has been a strong and fearless advocate for justice in both church and civil society. She may be retiring from the Quixote Center, but her words and her spirit will never retire! She will always be there! 

Maureen Fiedler

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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)