Over the weekend, I stumbled across a C-Span clip of Maureen Fiedler and Bill Callahan testifying before Congress about the U.S. embargo against Nicaragua and humanitarian aid shipments.
You can watch (or skim) the entire hearing on C-Span here. A clip of Bill and Maureen’s testimony is can be viewed by clicking on the image below.
A little bit of context: In 1985 the United States launched an embargo against Nicaragua as part of its broader effort to destroy the Sandinista revolution. The Quixote Center began humanitarian aid shipments to Nicaragua in 1983 (following the CIA bombing of the Nicaraguan port at Corinto) and continued to ship to Nicaragua despite the embargo. For this, the Quixote Center was investigated by U.S. Customs in 1986. Though hassled, the shipments were never halted, as they met the humanitarian exceptions written into the embargo order.
It was also in 1985 that Congress agreed to fund the Contras, after years of denying this request. The FY1986 appropriation was $30 million and contained some restrictions on CIA and Department of Defense support for the opposition in Nicaragua. In 1987 appropriations expanded to $100 million, and though some funds were designated for “humanitarian aid” to the Contras, military assistance was approved.
The response from the Quixote Center was to launch the “Quest for Peace.” The Quest for Peace was a campaign to track the amount of humanitarian aid delivered to the people of Nicaragua. The goal was to outspend the U.S. government, or more to the point, to demonstrate that grassroots support for the people of Nicaragua within the United States was greater than the U.S. government’s determination to destroy the Sandinista government. Hence the closing of Bill’s testimony, “We are building a policy of peace and friendship between the people of Nicaragua and the United States.”
At the time this testimony was taking place, the campaign was at its peak. Bill, who tracked assistance from the Quixote Center and other grassroots organizations as the coordinator of the “National Tally” was just back from one of his many trips to Nicaragua when he testified. That year, Bill was able to document $100 million in humanitarian assistance raised for the people of Nicaragua, matching funds appropriated by Congress for the Contras in FY1987.
While all of this seems ancient history, the United States government is once again leveling sanctions against Nicaragua in an effort to remove a Sandinista government. Though the scale of the current U.S. effort is small compared to the 1980s, and the contexts are quite different, it is nevertheless useful to remind ourselves of the sense of entitlement the United States government feels in shaping political outcomes in Central America – an entitlement it has exercised for decades with deadly results. At the Quixote Center we continue to oppose all sanctions and other forms of U.S. intervention in Nicaragua. It is the one consistent feature of our work for last 38 years.
On Monday, November 16, Hurricane Iota struck Nicaragua about 15 miles from where Hurricane Eta made landfall 13 days prior.
As with Eta, the government mobilized the army and police forces to evacuate people from the coast prior to Iota – tens of thousands of people. This no doubt saved many lives. However, wind and rain took its toll, as rivers overflowed and hillsides collapsed. Four people died in a mudslide in the Los Roques sector of the municipality of El Tuma-La Dalia. Another six people died in flooding in Carazo and Wiwili. Alliance for Global Justice’s NicaNotes has more detail here. In total, the government reports 21 deaths from Hurricane Iota.
Among the clear immediate and longer term effects of the storms is food insecurity. Crop loss in areas around the country is enormous. For example, the Humboldt Center estimates:
In the municipalities of Bilwi, Prinzapolka and the Mining Triangle, there were average losses of 90% in the crops of rice, beans, musaceae (bananas and plantains) and tubers, among others.
In the departments of Matagalpa, Madriz, Nueva Segovia and Estelí: Major losses are reported for beans, rice, vegetables, citrus fruits, tobacco and coffee. In the production of basic grains, losses are estimated between 60% and 90%; a 20% loss in coffee production.
In the municipality of San Juan del Sur in Rivas, the estimate is that 100% of corn, beans and rice crops were lost due to floods and strong gusts of winds.
Preliminary estimates from Nicaragua’s government are that “the total cost of damages from Hurricanes Eta and Iota could amount to USD $400 million, approximately 3% to 4% of national GDP. Assessments from Hurricane Eta alone indicated USD $178m worth of damage to homes, public services, infrastructure, businesses, agriculture, fishing and more, and Iota had a greater radius and intensity. Treasury Minister, Iván Acosta, said that the government’s priority now is protecting the lives and wellbeing of the citizens, but a full evaluation will be carried out as soon as possible.”
Over the coming months we will be focused on providing support for emergency response and longer-term reconstruction assistance. We will also be asking people to speak out on areas of U.S. policy that can have an impact in Nicaragua and other countries in Central America. This is what we are focused on now:
Funding: The Quixote Center will be coordinating emergency response with our long time partner, the Institute of John XXIII. Over the next few weeks our focus is on the purchase of food and hygiene kits and delivery of these items to the coast.
FOOD PACKAGE CONTENT – US $ 34.00
Rice 5 KG
Beans 5 KG
Oil 2 Ltr.
Sugar 2.5 KG
Oats 4 Bag of 1 Lbr.
Maseca 2 Bags of 1 Lbr.
Maggi Soup 4 Bags
Spaghetti 4 Bags
PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT – US $ 20.00
Advocacy: The U.S. government must immediately halt all deportations to Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. The only country where there has been a halt in deportations is Honduras, and only because the airport in San Pedro Sula is literally under water.
Representative Nydia Valezquez (D-NY) has introduced legislation to extend Temporary Protected Status to Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. The Hurricane Eta Relief Act of 2020 would suspend most deportations to these three countries – though clearly this faces an uphill battle with the current Senate and President. You can call the Congressional switchboard and ask your member of the House to support this legislation: 202- 224-3121.
Nicaragua was struck with a category 4 hurricane on Tuesday this week. Hurricane Eta formed and quickly strengthened in the Caribbean last week and into the weekend. It came to shore as a very strong, slow moving storm near Bilwi on the northern Atlantic coast, and cut across the northern part of the country, swelling rivers and dropping rain all around.
As of Wednesday there were two reported deaths, both gold miners who perished in a mudslide west of Bilwi. Nan McCurdy with the Nicaragua Network reported on Wednesday, that “The torrential downpours on November 4 have caused the flooding of some neighborhoods in Jinotega, San José de Bocay and Wiwilí where 27 people were evacuated by the army. The strong currents of the Wamblán River dragged down the suspension bridge.” Further flooding and mudslides are always possible as the rain continues to fall, but it does seem as though Nicaragua has seen the worst effects, and has come through okay. That said, there has been significant damage to homes along the Atlantic coast and interior flooding with the result that some folks will be displaced for a time.
National emergency response systems put in place since Hurricane Mitch struck in 1998 were mobilized before the storm. On Tuesday, Erika Takeo with the Friends of the ATC wrote about precautions being taken: “Within the framework of prevention and mitigation of damages, more than 80 tons of food and basic elements were sent to the shelters (about 20 thousand people have been evacuated) that have been installed in safe areas of the city of Bilwi. Also, more than 1,500 troops of the Nicaraguan Army rescue unit were mobilized to the areas with red alert, and a provisional hospital with medical equipment from the Ministry of Health has been installed to attend to emergencies.”
We spoke with folk at Institute of John XXIII on Wednesday. As the rain was still falling, it was too early to know the full impact of the storm and, therefore, what emergency, or longer term responses might be needed. We will continue to be in touch. For now, we proceed mostly with relief that the people of Nicaragua seem to have come through the storm as well as could be expected.
Honduras and Guatemala have been more severely impacted. In Honduras at least 13 people have died in flooding, and many more in Guatemala, as 25 people were killed in a single mudslide near San Cristobal Verapaz.
We will have more information on impacts in Honduras and Guatemala early next week. At this point any funds we raise for Honduras and Guatemala will go to the Franciscan Network on Migration, which coordinates the work of shelters in Central America and Mexico.
The famed Nicaraguan poet, priest and revolutionary Ernesto Cardenal died on March 1, 2020 at the age of 95. Over the years, many of the Quixote Center staff and our partners had met him. Even though he was a public figure, he was also known to be a man of the people, approachable and warm.
His poetry expressed the complexities of his relationship to his Nicaraguan homeland, the natural world, and the United States. His life showed much of the same complexity. After graduating from the UNAM in Mexico, he continued his studies at Columbia University and returned to the United States to study under Thomas Merton in his Trappist community. From Cardenal’s early collection, Gethsemani, KY, we find a poem, which I have translated below, that gives a glimpse into how he understood the contemplative life in relationship to the realities of consumer society:
In the night lit up by words:
PALMOLIVE CHRYSLER COLGATE CHESTERFIELD
that flicker on and off on and off,
the red green blue lights of hotels and of bars
and of movie theaters, the Trappists go up to the choir loft
and light the fluorescent lamps
and open their great psalters and antiphonaries
among millions of radios and televisions.
They are the lamps of the prudent virgins awaiting
their husband in the US night!
From Kentucky, he moved to Antioquía, Colombia for seminary studies before settling on the island of Mancarrón, the Solentiname island in Lake Nicaragua, where he founded a radical intentional community that welcomed locals and international figures alike to reflect upon the nature of the Gospels as understood in lived experience. He developed a political and social consciousness quite at odds with that of the Catholic hierarchy and increasingly aligned with Sandinista leaders during the insurrection. As Cardenal described the development of the community’s collective conscience through the 1960s and 1970s:
These commentaries on the Gospel were radicalizing us, me and others in the community. Little by little, we found ourselves identifying with the movement in Nicaragua until a moment arrived in which we were practically assimilated to it. Some of the youths already wanted to leave the community to become guerrillas. It took a lot of effort for me to hold them back and a message sent to us by the legendary guerrilla Comandante Marcos was a great aid. He said that we had to maintain the community in Solentiname because it had social, political, military, tactical, and strategic importance for the revolution.
The consequences of that tactical and strategic importance were great. Several members of the community – Cardenal not included – participated in the failed uprising of October 13, 1977, with the goal to take control of a military base in nearby San Carlos. The reprisal was swift, with an aerial bombardment that decimated the island community of Solentiname and scattered the population.
Even as Cardenal won many awards for his poetry, he was ostracized within the Church – particularly the Vatican – for his support of the Sandinista Revolution and his role as Nicaragua’s Minister of Culture from 1979-1987. He was famously rebuked by John Paul II on his 1983 visit to Nicaragua, who, wagging his finger at Cardenal, scolded him for his role in the government. His priestly ministries were suspended by Rome from 1984 until 2019, when Pope Francis lifted that suspension.
Due to a combination of budgetary problems during the Contra War and what might be described as artistic differences with Rosario Murillo, Cardenal’s Ministry of Culture was closed in 1987. While he expressed a lifelong commitment to the Revolution, Cardenal left the Sandinista party in 1994 and publicly criticized its leaders.
Although he was openly critical of the Sandinista party, his stature is such that the President and Vice President decreed three days of national mourning. As might have been anticipated in the current polarized environment, there have been media reports that the funeral services on March 4 were disrupted by Sandinista “turbas” [mobs]. But this claim is backed up with only a few brief videos supplemented with the claim that reporters were robbed.
According to his wishes, Cardenal will be cremated and the ashes deposited in the Solentiname archipelago that was so dear to him. His archives, however, are stored at the University of Texas at Austin.
In early 2018, Cardenal released a poem titled “Así en la tierra como en el cielo” [“On earth as it is in heaven”], reflecting on faith, mortality and the natural world. To capture the scale of his legacy I end this reflection with my translations of a few passages from this much longer poem:
Billions of galaxies with billions of stars
(there are more than one thousand million galaxies)
our galaxy of trillions of stars
barely one among millions of galaxies
a star gas
and a galaxy gas
I open the window and gaze
at the stars from which we come
it seems that the universe had a purpose
in which we find ourselves
the universe conscious of itself:
that can in the night
gaze at the stars
We are lavish because of the Sun
always bathing in light and food
light that is food
because plants eat light
a chemical reaction called photosynthesis
chlorophyll: light from the Sun and water from the Earth
by which plants are green
the variety of shapes and sizes of leaves
one over another fighting for the Sun
and the light made sandwich and made wine
“I am the light,” said Jesus
light and food
the universe is not only for man
and the Good News is for all of creation
the whole world with cries of childbirth
its mystery that surrounds us all
and is almost entirely empty space
God/Love is not an unmoved mover
but rather change and evolution
the future that calls us
and the resurrection our future
all together in the center of the cosmos
there are many rooms there said Jesus
the Only planet in the solar system
with lights in the night
And we are God’s dream
God dreams of us
wants us in a different world
without the sins of inequality
the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer
The United States government regularly engages in behavior that constitutes torture of people it holds within its mammoth carceral infrastructure of prisons and detention centers. There is a reluctance to identify the maltreatment of people imprisoned as torture, either because in popular understanding torture only involves extreme physical pain, or, sadly perhaps more to the point, no matter what the treatment is there is general sense among those on the “outside” that the people incarcerated deserve it.
In immigration detention facilities torture is practiced daily.
“Torture” means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control.
Important aspects of this definition are “intention” and that the person engaging in the conduct is acting under the “color of law.”
We know that immigrant detention is expensive and unnecessary in almost all cases. It serves no useful policy objective, and indeed, is a violation of other policies when practiced against people seeking asylum as is being done on a wide scale today. Detention is practiced by our government, along with other aspects of immigration law, primarily as a deterrent. U.S. officials are very clear about this and have been for a long time. We treat people badly in this country because we think this will discourage others from coming here.
So, as a matter of policy and practice the U.S. government intentionally makes people suffer while in formal custody in order to serve other objectives. This is torture. The maltreatment of people in detention cannot be dismissed as “incidental to lawful sanctions.” While one might argue that feelings of anxiety and depression are natural side effects of incarceration, and thus incidental to a lawful sanction for crossing the border unauthorized, one cannot seriously argue that prolonged use of solitary confinement, placing people in freezing rooms, denial of mental health services, and other health services, poor food quality, and effective denial of contact with family, friends and even counsel, are incidental to lawful sanctions. Indeed, these practices contravene legal obligations for how people are to be treated.
And yet, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs of Border Protection, principally, and to some degree even the Office of Refugee Resettlement, engage in acts of torture. They create an environment of extreme mental hardship. By their own justifications, they do so intentionally.
Congressional leadership refuses to sanction this behavior for fear of being viewed as soft on immigration or supporting “open borders.”
Immigration Detention is Psychological Torture: Strategies for Surviving Our Fight for Freedom
Freedom for Immigrants released a report this week that documents the mental health impacts of incarceration. The report is based on two sources of information. The first is the contact the Freedom for Immigrants (FFI) staff and volunteers have with people who are incarcerated throughout the country. FFI has the largest network of community visitation programs and as a result, organization visitations with tens of thousands of people each year. From this information, and more formal interviews, staff constructed a formal survey that was administered along with in-depth interviews of 40 people in detention, or people formally detained now released.
The report confirms previous findings documenting the mental health impacts of detention. From a summary of findings in the report:
Through in-depth interviews with 40 people impacted by immigration detention including people currently detained, people released, and their families, we learned:
78.6% of surveyed detained individuals expressed missing their loved ones.
32.5% of individuals with spouses, partners, or children reported not being able to have a single visit with their loved ones over the course of their entire time in immigration detention.
Survey participants indicated that the emotional strain of detention was much more intense than the physical strain, with 75% of formerly and detained individuals describing the emotional strain as “extreme” and 17.9% describing it as “significant.”
Currently and formerly detained individuals expressed that the most stressful factors were ones related to isolation, with the greatest stressors being fear of being transferred or deported, barriers to visiting with family and friends, and barriers to making reasonably priced phone calls.
100% of survey participants indicated that they felt stress, while 82.1% of survey participants shared that they experienced depression and 67.8% experienced anxiety.
Headaches or migraines were the most common physiological response to the stressors of detention, with 64.3% of participants suffering from them. This was followed by fatigue with more than one in three (35.7%) individuals experiencing physical and mental exhaustion.
Once released from detention, the struggle continues: 57.7% of participants indicated that they did not receive a discharge plan, and 85.7% did not receive a summary of their medical records or referrals to community-based providers. As a result, 78.6% of formerly detained participants have not seen a mental health professional after their release.
Over 50% of loved ones surveyed described their emotional strain as “extreme” and their symptoms tended to reflect those of their family inside, with stress (88.9%), depression (66.7%), loneliness (66.7%), headaches/migraines (66.7%), anxiety (44.5%), insomnia (44.5%), fatigue (44.5%) and high blood pressure (44.5%) listed as the common ones.
What is different about this report from others – patterns of abuse are very well documented! – is the final section which profiles community health solutions to help people grapple with the aftermath of detention and torture. Community responses include expanding one-on-one communication with people in detention through volunteer hotlines and visitation. Solidarity newsletters, or venues where people can tell their stories. Freedom for Immigrants newsletter is call IMMPrint and can be read here. A final strategy discussed is building mutual support groups of detention survivors. The full report can be read here!
Support HR 2415: Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act
Because of conditions like those discussed above, we are supporting the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act, which we detail more here – but in essence creates an enforceable framework of accountability and oversight, while also phasing out the use of private contractors and other subsidiary detention sites. Please take action today, by asking your member of Congress to co-sponsor.
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:
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;
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;
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;
Anti-immigrant sentiment in Mexico has resulted in harassment and violence towards migrants in Tijuana by Mexican authorities and residents;
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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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