La Purísima: A Nicaraguan Celebration

Alter by Nicaraguan community in New Orleans

This week, Nicaraguans celebrate La Purísima, a novena—or nine-day prayer—in honor of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, the country’s patron saint. The actual celebrations resemble a cross between Christmas, Halloween, and Carnival.

Today, December 7, is known as La Gritería, or “the shouting,” which is as raucous as it sounds. “¿Quién causa tanta alegría?” or “What causes so much joy?” people shout in the streets, with the refrain being “la Concepción de María” or “the Conception of Mary!” Between December 7th and 8th, firecrackers explode in the streets at all hours.

Alter to the Immaculate Conception in Managua

Traditions vary by city, but typically Nicaraguans construct an altar in their homes and host friends, family, and neighbors. Children go from altar to altar singing folk songs and asking, “¿Quién causa tanta alegría?” The homeowners repeat the refrain and hand out small gifts, usually food such as drinks and candy. The best treat of all—equivalent to receiving a king-size candy bar while trick-or-treating—is a nacatamal , a large tamale stuffed with an entire meal of pork, rice, potatoes, and more, that is wrapped and steamed in plantain leaves.

Leon celebrates with “La Gigantona,” a giant puppet that dances through the streets accompanied by drums and horns. Adapted from a Spanish tradition, La Gigantona pokes fun at the original Spanish colonizers. In Granada, locals place their altars on the street, instead of in their homes. La Purísima is also observed by the Nicaraguan diaspora, from Miami to Los Angeles, as a way to reconnect with their heritage.

At its heart, the celebration of La Purísima is about connecting with family, friends, and the wider community. It encourages immense generosity towards complete strangers in a way that has become difficult during the pandemic, but perseveres nonetheless.

Children in Managua stand in anticipation of treats

Due to the pandemic, carolers must gather by the gate instead of inside the home

 

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Sanctions and Sanctimony: The RENACER Act and the futility of US policy in Nicaragua

Two weeks ago, the US House of Representatives passed the RENACER Act by a large margin with the hope, one assumes, of putting pressure on the people of Nicaragua to rethink voting for Daniel Ortega. That election took place on November 15, and Ortega won anyway – though, predictably, with opposition figures decrying the numbers. 

The entire election process in Nicaragua has been under scrutiny by the United States, European Union and multilateral bodies for over a year now. As far as the United States goes, it has routinely called for “free and fair” elections, all while the US State Department puts the whole foot of the US government on the scale in an effort to tip the outcome of the same election. Meanwhile, the United States’ firm commitment to achieving a stable non-Sandinista electoral coalition in Nicaragua is now celebrating 30 years of failure*. In typical US style, it is marking the occasion not with reflection, but by doubling down on that failure with more sanctions.

To be clear, US hypocrisy is not a reason why anyone in Nicaragua should accept the violation of human rights. So, It is certainly worth pointing out that 15 candidates for next week’s national and local elections in Honduras have been murdered since October, while an opposition presidential candidate was just arrested for money laundering. Also worth noting that President Bukele in El Salvador has jailed many of his foes, is in the process of pushing through a new law to scrutinize non-governmental organizations, and is even engineering a path to re-election, despite a constitutional limit of one term. All these moves have been met with silence (Honduras) or muted critique (El Salvador) by US policy makers – certainly no talk of wide-spread sanction. Of course, for people in Nicaragua who are critical of Ortega and see opportunities to voice those criticisms narrowing, the fact that folk in Honduras and El Salvador may be worse off is not much consolation. 

Nevertheless, as evidenced by this divergent treatment, we know, everyone knows, that the United States government is not really promoting democracy in Nicaragua. I’m not sure the State Department actually knows what it is doing – but nothing it has done has helped opponents of Ortega one bit. The opposition is more fragmented today than it was before April of 2018, and that is at least in part the result of US ham-handed “civil society” engagement, conducted alongside a very public commitment to remove the FSLN from power – ostensibly through elections, but who knows what the next step will be now that the electoral route is closed. 

Publicly, at least, the next step is enhanced sanctions. On Tuesday, November 9, Biden signed the RENACER Act into law as an official response to the elections in Nicaragua (to which point it is important to note, the RENACER Act was introduced in March of 2021, and was thus NOT constructed as a response to the elections, but as an effort to sway them).

So, what is in the RENACER Act?

The RENACER Act:

Presents the “sense of the Congress” that Nicaragua’s status under the Central American Free Trade Agreement shall be reviewed by the Biden administration. Threatening the removal of Nicaragua from CAFTA has been discussed by a handful of members of Congress – this bill pushes the initiative further. 

Amends the NICA Act to require extensive reporting and oversight on the part of the Treasury for any loans given under the humanitarian exception written into the NICA Act’s mandate to oppose new loans from the World Bank and Interamerican Development Bank. This is a response to new lending in the wake of the hurricanes that struck NIcaragua last November;

Expands targeted sanctions, e.g. sanctions against individuals which can involve freezing assets held in the United States, blocking travel and/or even invalidating international contracts. This section largely reiterates what is in the NICA Act already, but it goes further in actually providing specific suggestions for sanctions (I quote directly from the act as it is instructive): 

“officials in the government of President Daniel Ortega;

“family members of President Daniel Ortega;

“members of the National Nicaraguan Police;

“members of the Nicaraguan Armed Forces;

“members of the Supreme Electoral Council of Nicaragua;

“party members and elected officials from the Sandinista National Liberation Front and their family members;

“individuals or entities affiliated with businesses engaged in corrupt financial transactions with officials in the government of President Daniel Ortega, his party, or his family; and

“individuals identified in the report required by section 8 as involved in significant acts of public corruption in Nicaragua” [referenced below]; 

 

Adds Nicaragua to a list of countries subject to sanctions over corruption;

Mandates a “classified” report on corruption involving Ortega, his family, and members of the government. (Why classified?);

Mandates another classified report on the activities of the Russian Federation in Nicaragua;

Mandates a report on Nicaragua’s purchases of military equipment and foriegn support for intelligence services.

And, another report on human rights violations in rural areas;

And yet, another report concerning restrictions on press freedom.

 

Sanctioning the families of Sandinista party members is particularly revealing. Sanctioning members of the Sandinista party, for simply being party members, and their families, has nothing at all to do with promoting democracy. Presumably people will have to also demonstrably engage in corruption to be sanctioned. But if that is the case, why identify categories of people based solely on political affiliation for investigation?  Are Constitutional Liberal Party legislative representatives immune to such sanction? It is hard to read this as anything other than an attempt to intimidate Sandinista party members.

Further, the RENACER Act extends multilateral sanctions by doubling down on the NICA Act’s proposed limits on the World Bank and IDB funding. Though William Robinson and others have tried to minimize this impact, the NICA Act did lead to a suspension of assistance from the World Bank, which did not extend any new lending to Nicaragua in 2019 and most of 2020. It also led to a serious reduction in lending from the Interamerican Development Bank, even during the worst months of the COVID-19 crisis last summer – with only one program funded in August of 2020. Lending was haltingly renewed following the hurricanes in November of 2020, but multilateral program funding in Nicaragua still lags behind other Central American governments. The RENACER Act won’t immediately change any of this. Nevertheless, the US government is determined to make new, if limited humanitarian spending harder to deliver.

The one feature of the RENACER Act that could have a huge impact is the threat to Nicaragua’s participation in CAFTA. Nicaragua has done better than other countries under CAFTA’s rules. The much feared impact on rural communities from agricultural dumping from the US was moderated by Nicaraguan government support to rural communities, which was extended through opening credit access, housing and infrastructure expansion.  Nicaragua now imports less food than it did in 2006. Meanwhile, the Sandinista government encouraged foreign investment in multiple sectors and expanded free trade zone operations. The result was that Nicaragua led Central America in economic growth for many years prior to 2018, but also became more dependent on the United States as a trade partner – more so since Venezuela’s economic collapse (thanks to US sanctions) has effectively closed off that market. 

 

It is not clear that the US has the legal standing to unilaterally expel Nicaragua from CAFTA. Certainly doing so will set up a fight in the shadowy trade dispute courts that govern the world’s economy, where investor rights supersede sovereign considerations. The mandated review is thus probably more of a bluff than a serious policy proposal. That said, threatening to expel Nicaragua could scare investors away, and given the fragility of the economy in recovery, that could do damage. Time will tell. 

 

In the end, while the “international left” debates what Nicaraguans should be doing, we remain focused on what US Americans should be doing about the very real democracy deficit in the United States – the one that leads the US government to act with impunity all around the globe as it seeks to pick winners and losers in elections from Haiti to the Ukraine – and, yes in Nicaragua. The US government does not always get the outcome it wants – but it never stops trying.   

 

*Just to note that while it is true that US pressure and financing did lead to the formation and eventual electoral victories of non-Sandinista coalitions in 1990, 1996 and 2001, all of those coalitions collapsed shortly after taking office. They governed little, but oversaw the deconstruction of most public institutions and the impoverishment of the majority of Nicaraguans. Seems that opposition to the FSLN is not really sufficient as a governing strategy. A lesson lost on US policy makers, as well as most of the opposition organizations they fund.

 

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Nicaragua: Updates on Homes for Hope

15 years ago, we launched “Homes of Home,” our campaign to provide affordable housing to impoverished Nicaraguans since reconstruction efforts following Hurricane Mitch. In 2015, we partnered with the Roncalli Association to make housing more accessible for middle to low-income families. 

Juan Omar Quant Lee in front his family’s new home in Ticuantepe, Managua

Over the last five years, 144 homes have been built under the Homes of Hope initiative in the communities of Sebaco, San Marcos, San Dionisio, and Terrabona, as well as in Managua. We construct high-quality homes that can resist future natural disasters, such as earthquakes and hurricanes. The Roncalli Association also installs soil and storm drainage improvements to prevent flooding, clean drinking water, and electricity. 

There are two main components of this housing strategy: the Community Housing Program, and the Family Housing program. Quixote Center funds cover construction costs, families repay the loan at a concessional rate, and the money flows into a revolving loan fund that will cover the costs of future housing.

Ileana Amparo Mendoza, owner of a Zafiro model house

The Family Housing initiative provides loan guarantees for middle-income families through a special agreement with BANPRO. This serves those who are often excluded from the national financial system.

The Community Housing program works primarily with low-income families and involves families directly in the home-building process. Families within a housing cooperative contribute to the construction of homes under the supervision of Institute staff. This lowers the cost of construction and thus repayment rates. It also provides training for those participating.

Shirlen Ruiz Dávila’s Old Home vs New Home

Through the Community Housing Program, 75 low-income housing units have been built with Quixote Center funds. From these 75 households, 271 people have benefited directly (137 men and 134 women). This has also indirectly benefited at least 446 people, namely the 153 construction workers who were hired for an average of 3 months for each project.

To read more about Homes for Home and the families that have benefited, click HERE to visit our Story Map

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Nicaragua election explainer

Nicaragua election explainer

On Sunday, November 7, Nicaraguans will vote for the president and vice-president of the country, as well as for the National Assembly and for Nicaragua’s representatives to the Central American Parliament. There has been a great deal of controversy about these elections circulating in the US and European media. One result is that the United States Congress just passed a new sanctions bill against Nicaragua (the RENACER Act) on Wednesday, November 3 in response to some of this controversy. (See here for more detail). I’m not getting into the controversy in this post – just a simple explainer about who is running.

Who is running? How does it work?

Under the election reform law published in June of 2021 (see page 3876), the Nicaraguan president is elected by a simple plurality – the candidate with the highest number of valid votes becomes president. When Parties put forward their candidates for president and vice-president, they must conform to the principle of gender equity (one of the candidates must be a woman, one a man). As you can see, in this election cycle the presidential candidates are all men, and the vice-presidential candidates are women.

The parties and their candidates for president/vice president are:

Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC)

President; Walter Edén Espinoza Fernández.

Vice President; Mayra Consuelo Arguello Sandoval

Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN) (United Nicaragua Triumphs Alliance)

President: Jose Daniel Ortega Saavedra

Vice President: Rosario Maria Murillo Zambrana

Christian Path Party (CCN)

President: Guillermo Antonio Osorno Molina

Vice President: Violeta Janette Martinez Zapata

Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance Party (ALN)

President: Marcelo de Jesus Montiel Fernández

Vice President: Jennyfer del Carmen Espinoza Blen

Alliance for the Republic Party (APRE)

President: Gerson Gutierrez Gasparin

Vice President: Claudia Maria Romero Cuadra

Independent Liberal Party (PLI)

President: Mauricio Orue Vasquez

Vice President: Zobeyda del Socorro Rodríguez Díaz

The National Assembly Election

There are 92 seats in the National Assembly. Like the president, the assembly is elected to 5 year terms. The seats are divided as follows:

20 seats are National Representatives elected through a system of proportional representations. Seats are assigned based on the percentage of votes cast for the party, e,g, if a party gets 50% of the vote, they get 10 of these seats. Each party submits a list of candidates; every other candidate on the list must be a woman. The seats won are then assigned by going down the list from top to bottom – if a party wins 10 seats, then the first 10 candidates on their list are given the seats.

There are 70 seats that are assigned to department and regional representation. They are assigned as follows:

Department of Boaco (2). 

Department of Carazo (3). 

Department of Chinandega (6). 

Department of Chontales (3 ). 

Department of Estelí  (3).

Department of Granada (3 ).

Department of Jinotega (3 ).

Department of León (6).

Department of Madriz (2).

Department of Managua (19). 

Department of Masaya (4).

Department of Matagalpa (6).

Department of Nueva Segovia (2). 

Department of Río San Juan (1).

Department of Rivas (2).

Autonomous Region of the South Caribbean Coast (2). 

Autonomous Region of the North Caribbean Coast (3).

These seats are assigned in a proportional fashion as well, corresponding to the percentage of the vote each party or party alliance wins in the department or region. 

All of the parties with a presidential candidate have a slate of candidates for the National Assembly. Elections for the Autonomous Regions also include the party YATAMA.

The final two seats in the assembly are reserved for the presidential candidate that comes in second, and the outgoing president (or vice president – if the president is re-elected).  As Ortega and Murrillo are both running again (and likely to win), I am not clear how this seat will be handled. 

Elections for the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN)

Nicaragua’s representatives to the Central American Parliament are determined through a proportional representation system similar to the process for deciding the national level representatives for the National Assembly. 

There are 20 deputies elected to the Central American Parliament from each member country for 5 year terms.

The Central American Parliament is part of the System for the Integration of Central America, and is thus one of a number of institutions that have been built to enhance coordination among countries of Central America. The Parliament itself grew out of regional peace talks during the 1980s, and was launched in 1991.

The Process

Results for the elections will be presented by the Supreme Electoral Council beginning Sunday night. Voting will take place in 13,459 polling stations, with votes then tallied in 3,106 voting centers. Just under 4.5 million people have been registered to vote in the election. 

There will be an international presence during the election, including a delegation of people invited by the government to accompany the process, as well as official election monitors from the European Union.

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From the Archive: Bill and Maureen Testify before Congress (1987)

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. 

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Update on Hurricane Iota

Hurricane Iota makes landfall Image:NASA

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.”  

Current Responses 

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

  • Face masks
  • Liquid soap
  • Mosquito repellent
  • Gloves

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. 

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Hurricane Eta strikes Nicaragua

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.

Flooding in San Pedro Sula

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.

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In Memoriam Ernesto Cardenal

Ernesto Cardenal in León (Nicaragua) 1979. PEDRO VALTIERRA / CUARTOSCURO

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:

PEPSI-COLA

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:

stardust 

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

where no one rules over anyone

…………………………………………………………………………………..

The stars are not above

They are atoms like us

born of stardust

and from this same dust are they

Millions of conscious stars

their sacrifices shining all night long

the explosion of supernovas

teaching us how to die

 

~Rest In Peace, Ernesto

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Daily Dispatch 10/30/2019: Yes, detention is torture

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Daily Dispatch

October 30, 2019

Cover of Freedom for Immigrants latest report

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 is defined in the U.S. legal code this way:

“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.

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Daily Dispatch 7/24/2019

Take Action: Hunger strikers in ICE custody seek release

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InAlienable
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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