Category Archives: Value of A Human Life

Pastoral Letter of Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua May 24, 2020

In a context of a rapidly spreading virus, made worse by lack of clear statistics and direction from the government, the Catholic Bishops issued this pastoral letter.

Message May 24, 2020

Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua

Message from the Bishops of Nicaragua to all the People of God and people of good will

[original Spanish].

A reality that challenges us

The COVID-19 pandemic came to the world without anyone expecting it, even more, without anyone being prepared to confront it.

Also, the pandemic came to our beloved Nicaragua, an impoverished country with the aggravating circumstance of a social and political crisis.

We note that all of our faithful people are aware of the fragility and vulnerability in which the health care system finds itself, the speed at which the infection is spreading, the truth about the number of those infected and deaths caused by the virus. With our people we are suffering their uncertainty, grief and death. The grief and impotence lead to desperation, families who are mourning their dead without saying good-by, the fear and insecurity that the population is suffering in light of the silence of the State, and the disinformation about the progress of the epidemic, the fear or impossibility of visiting hospitals, suffering diseases in the silence of their homes, the manipulation of consciences, coercion and political opportunism in the management of the pandemic.

We reiterate our prayers for all the sick, those who have passed away and the families affected by the virus.

We are happy and grateful for the effort of the doctors and nurses of our country, and we encourage them to be faithful to their vocation and mission.

The contagion of COVID-19 in Nicaragua coincides with the liturgical seasons: Lent and Easter, privileged times of grace and blessing, that for the common good of our faithful and the entire country we have celebrated in empty churches, masses without the presence of faithful but – we give thanks to God – strengthening the faith of many Catholic families as domestic churches, celebrating in the intimacy of the home the passion of the Lord and his glorious resurrection.

OUR RESPONSE:

  1. Let us take care of life.

In the face of this global, national and family tragedy that threatens our lives, what is our response? What can we do? We are afraid of losing our own lives and the lives of those we love, but, life is a gift of God, it is in his hands, like we also are also in his hands, as all of humanity is in the hands of their Creator.

Nothing is more important than life, “life is above all else”, the problems that come after the pandemic are many, the challenges very big, and just remaining alive and united will we be able to face them; many of us have maintained social distancing, and we have done it out of responsibility and love; we should continue doing so, when contamination is local and the risk of contagion is greater; the most important thing now is protecting life, and that each one does what is necessary and possible to preserve and protect the lives of others, those who are stronger, generous and compassionate carrying those who are weaker; those who have wealth, may they multiply their works of mercy to share with those who do not have anything, may they take diligent care to protect men and women who are working in enterprises of production and institutions of administration and services; that all of us without exception prioritize the care of life, life above the economy, life above ideological and political interests, we repeat, life above all else. This implies the urgency of strengthening citizen solidarity. Taking care of one another and caring for others, following all the measures of precaution, prevention and mitigation.

We exhort the rulers and all sectors of the country to open themselves to alliances and consensus to seek and find alternatives and joint solutions that would prevent us from a larger human catastrophe.

  1. Faith

During the storm, the beating of the waves threatened to sink the boat, Jesus was asleep in the stern which is the first part to go under in a shipwreck, sleeping in the most dangerous place and the storm did not disturb his sleep, because Jesus slept trusting in the hands of his Father. His disciples were afraid and shouted to him, in addition to their fear they had doubts, were men of little faith (cf Mt 8: 23-27). For us the time has come to shout, Lord, save us because we are going to drown! And of recognizing our little faith. We implore the Holy Spirit to give us the strength of faith, Christ has power, but do we have faith? More than once Jesus said to those who were tormented that “let it be done according to your faith” (Mt 9:29); “your faith has saved you” (Mt 15:28) “I did not find as much faith even in Israel” (Lk 7:1-10); let us be strong in faith and let us not doubt the love of God for us and, given that we are weak, let us implore the Lord to increase our faith (Mk 9:24).

Jesus loves us, “the greatest value of life is love.” In the face of this situation, we turn our eyes again to Jesus, we Christians should have present a response motivated by our faith. Faith implies hope. Faith without hope turns lukewarm and dies, it will not be any more than a sterile knowledge. We human beings, we are such fragile people that crises undermine our emotions and thoughts, that is why faith and hope must take their place in the face of threats, in this way we also are careful about our actions.

  1. Hope

In this crisis and throughout our lives Jesus comes to encounter us, He, conqueror of death, leaves the empty tomb and comes to the encounter with his disciples, “let us open the doors of our hearts wide open” (St John Paul II) so that Jesus might enter, live in us and we live in Him (cf Jn 14:20).

St Paul encourages us with these words: “Because in hope we were saved; but the hope that is seen is not hope; because who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we cannot see, with patience we await it. And, likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; because we do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Rom 8:24-26). Do not give in to the night: remember that the first enemy to defeat is not outside of you: it is within. Therefore, do not give way to bitter, dark thoughts. “Trust in God and trust also in me” (Jn 14:1) – Jesus says – God does not disappoint: if he has placed hope in our hearts, he does not want to destroy it with ongoing frustrations. Everything is born to flower in an eternal spring. God also made us to bloom” (Pope Francis).

“Do not listen to the voice of the person who spreads hate and division. Do not listen to those voices. Human beings, as different as they may be from one another, have been created to live together. Love people, Jesus gave us a light that shines in the darkness: defend it, protect it. This light is the greatest wealth entrusted to your life. And above all, dream! Do not be afraid to dream. Dream! Dream about a world that cannot yet be seen, but that certainly will come. Live, love, dream, believe. And, with the grace of God, never lose hope” (Pope Francis).

  1. Follow the path of love.

The pandemic will end, “because everything has its time under the sun.” Once the crisis is overcome, it will be up to us to ask ourselves, what lessons have we learned? What meaning will God continue to have for my life? What will be my attitudes toward others from now on?

We are called to have an attitude of conversion about our way of thinking, living, and acting, in accordance with the Good News of Jesus Christ, being docile to his teachings under the action of the Holy Spirit who was bestowed on us from our baptism. “Love one another” that commandment of the path of salvation, expressing that love in works, in actions of social and labor justice, in larger investments to strengthen health care systems, in the construction of an economy where the common good of humanity prevails above all else.

Certainly poverty is increasing, unemployment is worsening the economy of families, we need to take on this challenge as a society, the needed changes must happen, and technical, economic, scientific etc. solutions are not enough. Political speeches empty of responsibility and content do not work to solve the problem, it is important to recover the direction of human life, give it back its dignity, its sanctity, from its conception to its natural extinction; it is necessary to follow the path of love.

  1. Life of prayer

“When the sadness and bitterness of life try to crush our gratitude and praise to God, the contemplation of the marvels of his creation ignite, again, in the heart the gift of prayer, which is the principal force of hope. And hope is what shows us that life, even with its trials and difficulties, is full of a grace that makes it worthy of being lived, protected and defended” (Pope Francis).

This crisis strains all of us, demands of us more effort, the task may seem overwhelming, nevertheless, “nothing is impossible for God” (Lk 1:37). Stress causes fatigue, anxiety and irritability, even anger, it reduces the time for rest and drains energy, “the flesh is weak”, and let us strengthen the spirit persevering in prayer (cf Mt 26:41). The humble and trusting prayer: “My God have mercy on me” (cf. Lk 18:9-14), will give us back the joy of salvation” (cf. Psalm 50), and our voices will proclaim his praises, prayer will give us peace and strength to turn the stress into the energy that we need to resolve this situation.

We implore Mary Help of Christians, that “Woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, crowned with twelve stars on her head” (Rev 12:1), she is “the one that appears as the dawn, fair as the full moon, bright as the sun, majestic as the stars in procession” (SS 10:6), Mary Help of the Christians will crush the head of the serpent, and will cover us with light “like a mantle, stretching out the heavens like a curtain” (Psalm 104:2).

Issued in the Office of the Episcopal Conference on the 24th day of May 2020, the feast of Mary Help of Christians.

I certify,

[Signature]                   [SEAL of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua]

+Mons. Juan Abelardo Mata Guevara

Bishop of the Diocese of Estelí

Secretary General

Susana Marley: “In the Caribbean they do not prescribe jail, just lead”

It is unusual for a media outlet on the Pacific side of the country to publish a long interview of a community leader from the Atlantic Coast. Her experience on the Coast places in a larger perspective the largely student led uprising of April 2018, as well as recent news stories of attacks on indigenous communities.

Susana Marley: “In the Caribbean they do not prescribe jail, just lead”

By Ana Cruz, in La Prensa, February 22, 2020

[original article in Spanish]

The Miskita leader is recognized in the North Caribbean as “Mama Grande” because of her closeness to the communities of the Río Coco and her hard work of denouncing human rights violations.

Susana Marley Cunningham, sociologist and teacher by profession, has dedicated nearly two decades of her 62 years of age to defending and denouncing violations of the rights of the Mískita communities of the Northern Caribbean of Nicaragua. She was born in Waspam and began her humanitarian work after Hurricane Mitch in communities bordering the Río Coco, through the Civil Foundation for the Unity and Reconstruction of the Atlantic Coast (FURCA).

The work of Marley has left a mark on the Mískita population. The children who she once taught and defended call her “Mama Grande”. But she has not just won affection. Threats as well. In August 2019 she had to leave her native Northern Caribbean to a more urban area of the Pacific for her safety.

In this interview, Marley denounces the increase of violence in the Caribbean, the advance of invasions, the hunger that the communities are experiencing, the fear of the children to go to school, the corruption of communal governments, and the lack of respect for their forms of organization and elections.

When did the situation of insecurity for the indigenous, Mískitos and Afro-descendants begin to get worse?

The situation of violence and human rights violations I have felt personally since all those actions in the year of the 80s began, with the famous Red Christmas, when our people were taken away or murdered in the forest. I was at the point of dying during that so called Red Christmas, they put me in a line, thanks to God that He used one of those soldiers, I saved myself only because one of them made himself pass as if he were my husband and got me out of there.

Who started that wave of violence in the 80s?

The Sandinista Army and Police. We began to live in an environment of a lot of terror, insecurity and fear. You could not go into the countryside alone, so, since the 1980s the defense of life has gotten worse. Life and human rights are not respected. They have treated us as if we were animals that should be hunted,  so they could exploit the land, the minerals, the resources of our territories.

What consequences did the protests of April 2018 have on the Caribbean of Nicaragua?

Our resistance has been historic, and we always denounced that they were killing us, so, after the situation that erupted in April 2018, people began to understand that the same thing that they were doing to us, they were using against the youth, who were unarmed, defenseless and they killed them and they continue killing them. In the Caribbean they do not prescribe jailing, there it is only lead [bullets] , but the situation is pretty similar. It is a terrible, lamentable situation, that has separated families.

In these last weeks, several acts of violence have been registered against indigenous families. What is the current situation of the communities?

December and January are the months for the preparation of the land to harvest rice and beans, but they have not planted this year, because of the violence and the invasion. Famine will be a reality now in our communities. We are experiencing a humanitarian crisis. Classes started and the children go with fear. They are watchful of the forest because now it is not known when someone armed will come out of the forest. The children are psychologically affected in the face of the insecurity, because it is not just what happened this past February 16th, where a girl was wounded. So, in the face of this situation, we think that we are experiencing a serious situation of insecurity, there is no economic stability, there is a lot of poverty and latent lack of respect for our rights.

How did that attack on February 16th happen, where they wounded a minor in the cheek?

That Sunday, around 5:00pm, in the community of Santa Clara, close to a place where there is a creek of the Santa Clara river, the people went to bathe, and while coming a girl resulted wounded. We could not see who were shooting, and it was difficult to be able to get transportation to leave the community. The ambulance was requested at 5:00 pm, and it did not arrive until 11:00pm. It seems that they (the paramilitaries or settlers) were watching those who were bathing, they were stalking them, and at least they did not shoot the girl in the head, but in the cheek. It is not fair that the children also are victims of this type of human rights violations. Minors also suffer this persecution.

How far has the invasion of settlers advanced?

Too far. I want to confide in you that if something happens to me, I hold these murderers responsible, because we are just denouncing this, and we do not have weapons of war. The situation is very bad, and in every testimony we hear, that fear is noticeable, that insecurity. A little while ago a peasant from the community of Santa Clara, who had to leave that territory, commented to me that between the Wangki Twi Tasba Raya and the Li Auhbra territory, that is on the shores of the Río Coco- in between these two – is the Mocó mountain, where there are dozens of settlers or paramilitaries who created a community which is called Araguas. They have large extensions of pastureland and homes, so the advance of the invasion is nearly countless.

What consequences does this invasion of settlers have on the communities?

The encroachment that these people make in our lands has caused the displacement of our people to the Honduran side. Our people are displaced, even people from the community of Santa Clara, located in our Wangki Twi Tasba Raya territory, they migrated from the countryside to the city, and others have been displaced toward Waspam, because they can no longer plant. The leaders of Santa Clara and other communities bordering on the Wangki Twi Tasba Raya territory have had to suffer the deaths of their leaders, so, hunger and insecurity are prompting the forced displacement of our community members.

What is happening with justice in the case of the murders of the leaders?

The murders have been left unpunished. Every time this type of situation happens, we have wanted to denounce it, but we do not have that support, or that contact to denounce each one of these situations of the violation of our human rights. What we are demanding is that the laws that protect us be respected, like Law 28, the Autonomy Law, but these people are organized and willing to continue causing damage.

Some of the communities that you have mentioned are beneficiaries of precautionary measures granted by the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights. Do you think that the State is observing those measures?

No. The State is not protecting these communities. The State should fully comply, but it is not doing so. Recently, the community of Santa Clara – one of those protected by precautionary measures – received threats from settlers or paramilitaries who told them that they have 200 men, and they will go burn the houses, and they are going to kill them, and we have seen how the threats are being carried out.

How has the Army of Nicaragua behaved with the Mískito Indigenous peoples?

There is no protection, because in years past which have had atrocious murders of peasants and indigenous close to their posts, they did not do anything. They know about it, and are direct accomplices in this type of violations, and they fill their mouths with words saying that they are protecting, but in practice they do not do any enforcement at all.

Do you feel unprotected?

Yes, they have left us completely unprotected. The precautionary measures are not observed, and all the authorities are accomplices of everything that is happening to us. The threats in the zone are constant, the same with the attacks, and they do not do anything to stop them, so the situation is very tense, and the indigenous and Afro-descendent populations are unprotected. The theft of cattle, kidnapping of women and labor exploitation are a reality in our communities.

This lack of protection has been in all governments, or it is something that has intensified with the regime of Daniel Ortega?

Our struggle and our resistance are historic. It is sad to say, but each government that has come to power in the country looks on our land for the purposes of exploitation. This is what we have observed.

How many attacks are registered in the course of this year?

The threat is ongoing. They (the paramilitaries) leave nailed on the stalks of the trees threats to the communities. The terror is constant. Just this year the kidnapping of two boys fishing from Santa Clara, the attack on the community of Alal, and now this attack on an adolescent girl.

What is the feeling of these communities who are constantly threatened?

There is a lot of tension. The people are terrorized after receiving the threats, but they are organized. The men have been out on guard, but they have informed me that the big problem is that now they cannot peacefully go out to gather the harvest in the fields, they tell me that they are experiencing hunger. Some only maintain themselves with fruit or dry coconut. A lot of people cannot even sleep, the children have no peace in order to study. Since the 1980s to now they continue murdering us, and it continues intensifying, we demand that they quit killing us.

And what is happening with the regional councils? They are also part of the territorial governments that should be looking for policies to protect the indigenous.

Living in the territories one realizes that the person in the Government building belongs to the government, so, they work in strict coordination with the Government, and only do what they are ordered to do. They do not work in favor of the communities.

And the local council members [síndicos], do they have the same reputation or are they watching out for the well-being of the communities?

The communal council members work hand in hand with the communal leaders. The people choose their communal council members and leaders, but the problem is that, parallel to this, the ruling party chooses their council members, so the Regional Council only accredits the council members that they elect, but the ones elected by the communities, generally, are not accredited, like what happened in Kamla last year. Just so as to not accredit the council person elected by the people, they ordered the people beaten, wounded and threatened. The denouncements about these cases were made, but since they themselves are the ones, there is no justice for the community members who were victims of these abuses.

What is the role of a community council member [síndico]? Why does the Government see them as an obstacle and prefers not to accredit them?

The community council member who remains is a representative of the communities, and can coordinate the use of resources, always in consultation with the communities, but they leave the councilperson elected by the communities without voice nor vote, so it is only the one elected by them that is accredited, and presents papers as the highest authority. In the end, the reality is that that council person that they put there, only does what the Government wants and not what the communities need. For example, the large extensions of land that are taken and through which the paramilitaries come in, they are the ones that give them passage so that they can register those properties. This invasion and land takeovers are done by those people themselves, and that is where the community members have to go to demand their lands. The council members that Orteguism puts in place do not have land, but they order the invaders to be placed there. Government officials promote the invasion in the communities.

Is this something seen since the 1980s or is it something that non -Sandinista governments have also promoted?

This (invasion and violence) started more forcefully since 2009, even though in the 1980s there was displacement and massacre against the Mïskito people through the so called Red Christmas. In the 80s the people sought to displace themselves into Honduras because of the persecution, but in the 90s – when they returned because of the change in Government – they even found tigers in the communities, and little by little they raised up their houses. It was in 2003 that they approved Law 445, which included titling, we did not appreciate that later these titles would be used by corrupt politicians of our region as well, so , they provided the title to people who were not members of the community, and they negotiated our lands, in addition to the fact that they allied with the council members and they allied in order to invade our lands little by little.

Concerning the legislative work that some are doing in supposed representation of the Caribbean, do you feel represented by these people who are officials within the Assembly? Are they promoting projects to improve the situation of the indigenous, Mískitos and Afro-descendants?

Years back, like in 2016, the corrupt political representation of the region was expelled from the Assembly for the illegal sale of our indigenous lands, so how is it that he returned once again to the National Assembly? Is it real that they are allies then? We do not feel that they represent us, and with this I am referring to the Yatama party. They cannot provide for the freedom of our territories from invasion, when they are the very ones who have been pointed out as promoting the invasion with the provision of titles to people from outside the community members. If they were part of the problem, they are never going to be part of the solution.

How do you assess the coalition building process that the members of the National Unity and the Civic Alliance are working on?

Look, when this situation happened in the Pacific in April 2018, many young people gave their lives to see a free Nicaragua, and many politicians holed themselves up, and now, for money and to give an opportunity to this murderer, are uniting. You have to be realistic, because these old and corrupt politicians are not an opposition. There is no sincerity, they must be more sincere, so, I think that there is a lot of falsehood in these traditional politicians. We as Mískitos demand that there be transparency, that there be unity, that they in truth defend the rights of indigenous peoples, peasants, youth, students. They have to give an opportunity to the new generations, because the corrupt politicians are advanced in age, let them go rest with their millions, let them leave the path open to the youth so that Nicaragua might be free and democratic again. If we truly love Nicaragua, let us leave Nicaragua in the hands of the youth, so that this [country] might be led in peace.

Personal plane

Susana Marley, known as “Mama Grande”, was born May 24, 1957 in the community Cabo Gracias a Dios in Waspam, Northern Caribbean.

She graduated as a teacher in 1970 from the Teacher School in Waspam, but a large part of her childhood she lived in the community of Santa Martha, located close to the Wawa River.

The Mískita leader is also a sociologist. She finished her studies in 1997 in the Central American University (UCA).

She is the daughter of Eduardo Marley (deceased), known in Waspam as a Moravian pastor and one of the first teachers in that municipality, and Benicia Cunningham, 95 years of age, popular for being one of the first midwives of her community.

“Mama Grande” had five children, but she had none of them in a hospital. Her births were assisted solely and exclusively by her mother.

In 1981 during the so called Red Christmas, she was at the point of dying, but she states that her beauty and the favor of God saved her.

 

Well Said

From time to time I have reproduced the writings of others at this blog site, because they have stated ideas so powerfully.  I have elected to do it again, given the words written by Kathleen at the Center for Development in Central America  (CDCA).  Kathleen has been quoted here before because what is in her heart is so well said in her words.  The following is excerpted from the CDCA May 2019 newsletter.

My mother has said over and over that one of the two things Jesus wished he had never said was, “The poor you will have with you always.”  Why?

Because so many Christians use that phrase to justify pouring money into church buildings and doing nothing for the poor.  But what if we re-examined that phrase, and instead of looking at it as meaning an impossible goal of eradicating poverty, look at that phrase as an indictment of the rich?

It is true that, “There is enough in the world for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed,” a quote from Frank Buchman.

Staying with my daughter in the Northeast, it is easy to let the poor slip my mind.  As she recuperate from surgery, my daughter is watching mindless television so she can crochet and heal.  One of her shows is “Top Chef.”  I have found it addictive but also, when I remember the poor in Nicaragua, nauseating.

In Nicaragua with climate change and with the socio-political crisis there, people are looking more and more at hunger.  It is easy to forget that as the Top Chef judges say to a contestant that the prime rib was not plated to please the eye.

It is easy for the wealthy or the intellectual class in Nicaragua to create and foment a crisis when their children will be fed and given medical care or even schooling if a new government comes in and discontinues social programs.

It is easy to forget that people are sweating and bearing unbelievable heat when there is cool air at a touch.  When you have food to eat and can jump in an air-conditioned car, it is easy not to feel the urgency that climate change should be our top priority (when diesel prices had dropped, one opposition leader said that the Nicaraguan government was doing the people a disservice by investing in renewable energy!).

A Brazilian priest, Frei Betto, helps those of us who would say we choose to stand with the poor by telling us that, “The head thinks where the feet stand.”

He says that, “It is impossible to be a leftist without dirtying one’s shoes in the soil where the people live, struggle, suffer, enjoy and celebrate their beliefs and victories.  To engage in theory without practice is to play the game of the right.”

Many tell us that our opinion of what is happening in Nicaragua is just wrong, and maybe it is; but Fr. Betto also says, “Choose the risk of making mistakes with the poor over the pretension of being right without them.”

And so, we risk the mistakes….

Thank you, Kathleen….

 

 

Words of Eloquence and Meaning

For the past several weeks I have struggled to come up with the right means of expression to describe how I feel about circumstances in Nicaragua.  In the shadow of killings and abductions and fear, Nicaragua would seem to be quite unlike the country in which Winds of Peace has worked over the past 35 years.  Pictures of massive protests in the places I know, photos of masked shooters in the neighborhoods where I’ve been, blood in the streets where I’ve walked: these are surreal images that choke the words I should say.  I have not traveled to Nicaragua since February, and I feel as though I’ve been away even longer.

The development continues, nonetheless.  Loans are being made:  last week, two women’s cooperatives received small, initial funding for local agriculture.  Grants are being given: despite the vastly reduced attendance in schools over recent months, elementary-age reading initiatives are being redirected through community sites and churches  Repayments are being made: even where full repayment might be delayed, partners are reworking payment plans to honor their obligations as best they can.  There may be few causes of great joy within the current turmoil of Nicaragua, but there are hopeful moments.

Of course, what matters in this crisis time is not the impact upon a small U.S. foundation; Winds of Peace is just fine.  Of importance is the real-life upheaval being lived out daily by Nicaraguans who struggled for daily survival long before the first protests were launched, and who now find themselves threatened with even greater hardships than before.  Most North Americans would have a difficult time fully comprehending Nicaraguan poverty prior to April 18 of this year.  We have even less likelihood of  understanding their realities given the way things are today.  And my words are simply insufficient to the cause.

So I invite readers to shift their attentions to the “Nica Update” entries at this site.  They are frequent updates on the status of the confrontation and the contain the observations and experiences of men and women caught up in current struggle.  They are words of passion.  They are expressions of the most deeply-held beliefs of Nicaraguan people yearning once again for peace and equity.  They are the fluent articulations of a people’s soul, in a time of deep distress.

Over the din of bullets and bulldozers, emerge words of eloquence and meaning….

 

Boys Will Be Boys

We didn’t know their names.  We hadn’t seen their faces.  We really didn’t know much of anything about them, except that there were twelve soccer players altogether, accompanied by their coach.  They had crawled up into the inner reaches of a cave, exploring with the excitement and energy that 12-year old boys seem to have, when outside rains created rising waters inside the cave, submerging the very passages that the boys had used hours before.  They became trapped.

We all know the story by now, as it became a topic of international attention.  News sources from around the world featured daily updates about the fate of the boys; indeed, nine days elapsed before rescuers even discovered the boys still alive, but each and every day we received updates about rescuers’ progress.  It was no less than a miracle that the team survived so long underground.  And then we waited and watched as rescue teams- made up of Thai, U.S. and other international support- completed the meticulous planning and execution of the rescue itself.  In the end, there was a universal sigh of relief from all corners of the globe that these young lives had been saved.  Maybe the world needed a unified success in something, anything, at this time of extreme nationalism and name-calling.

The international interest and support puzzles me.  I readily understand the empathy and emotional attachment that we feel: imagining one’s own children in such dire circumstances is a nightmare that most parents have, and to which even non-parents can relate.  The anguish and outrage expressed in the U.S. on behalf of children separated from their parents at the border with Mexico demonstrated our ability to activate on behalf of kids.  But the capture of the entire international conscience over the fate of 12 boys astounds me.  There have been and continue to be almost daily events which threaten the lives of children, in many cases far more than a dozen young lives, and for which we show almost casual interest at best.  Sometimes the young lives are lost, and the world takes little note.  Middle East violence has destroyed young lives as a matter of policy.  Syrian war has made no distinctions between use of nerve gas on adults or children.  In Nicaragua, young people are being killed or “disappeared” each day during the current political turmoil, and the world barely knows of it.  What made the Thai soccer team so different for us?

Was it the uniforms?  Was there something about the context of a boys’ athletic team?  Perhaps the difference was due to the nature of the threat: not imposed by politics or other man-made conventions, but rather from Nature herself.  Maybe it’s easier to root for people confronting the forces of natural calamity than to be forced to choose sides in a conflict.  Someone suggested to me that we have a limited capacity for empathy in crises, and that we are more capable of emotion for smaller numbers of victims: we can handle our fears and grief for 12, but it’s much more difficult for, say, 1,000.  For whatever the reason, we seem to pick and choose the victims who we will care about.  It baffles me.  And I feel badly for those other victims who wait for the caress of human accompaniment, prayers and support, even when it never comes.

My reflections over this brought to mind a scene from the movie, “Schindler’s List,” where Schindler is in despair over Jews he could not ultimately help away from Nazi danger, despite his urgent desire to save them:

“I could have got more out.  I could have got more.  I don’t know.  If I’d just…  I could have got more….  If I’d made more money.  I threw away so much money.  You have no idea.  If I’d just….

I didn’t do enough!  This car.  Someone would have bought this car.  Why did I keep the car?  Ten people right there.  Ten people.  Ten more people.  This pin.  Two people.  This is gold.  Two more people.  He would have given me two for it, at least one.  One more person.  I could have gotten one more person… and I didn’t.  And I… didn’t.” 

Sometimes conscience is too slow, or too selective, and becomes numbed by the happy drama of boys being boys….

 

 

 

Deja Vu

Conditions in the country we serve, Nicaragua, continue to hearken back to a generation ago, when the administration in power faced enormous protests and demands for a new government.  The confrontations continue today, just as they did all those years ago,  leading to violence and deaths, denials, accusations, reprisals and lots of pain.  It’s tough to watch in a country of such charm and character.

Two recent documents, written by The University of Central America and the Episcopal Church, provide both a news update as well as perspectives about how at least part of the population places its support.  The following is a statement provided by the UCA following a Wednesday night demonstration:

The University of Central America (UCA) reports that this Wednesday, May 30, at around 4:30 PM, there was an attack by the “shock troops” against the defenseless population participating in a civic march that had the UCA as its final destination.

The attacks took place in the vicinity of the gate closest to the National University of Engineering (UNI). In support of the people, the UCA security guards opened the gates so that the protesters could take refuge in the campus. Fleeing the attacks, more than 5,000 people managed to enter, while many fled in other directions. Countless injured people were treated by volunteers immediately on campus and ambulances took all of the injured to medical centers.

After 8:30 PM, volunteers and drivers from the UCA had managed to evacuate the majority of the refugees to different parts of the capital and, at the time of publication of this message, continue in this process. Despite the shooting, the refugees did not want to stay on campus because of threats received about attacks on the university.

The UCA, which stands on the side of the people in their struggle for justice, denounces this new criminal attack and demands from the authorities the immediate cessation of the repression that uses shock troops to assassinate with impunity, protected by the current misrule.

We urge human rights organizations, national and foreign, to take note of this situation that seriously affects the lives of citizens and to use mechanisms for the protection of human rights such as the Inter-American Human Rights System and the United Nations.

We urge the international community to stand in solidarity with the people of Nicaragua and to apply mechanisms which can help resolve this crisis, which has reached the level of a massacre against a defenseless population.”

The document quoted below was generated by the Bishops Conference of the Episcopal Church in Nicaragua:

PRESS RELEASE

To the People of God and men and women of good will:

  1. We the Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua have experienced with profound pain the violent events carried out last night by armed groups allied with the government against the civilian population. We energetically condemn all these violent acts against the exercise of peaceful free demonstrations and we absolutely reject this organized and systemic aggression against the people, which has left dozens of wounded and some people dead.
  2. We cannot continue allowig this inhumane violence “that destroys the lives of the innocent, that teaches to kill and equally disrupts the lives of those who kill, that leaves behind a trail of resentment and hate, and makes more difficult the just solution of the very problems that caused it” (Centesimus Annus, 52).
  3. We the Bishops of the Episcopal Conference condemn these acts of repression on the part of groups close to the government, and we want to leave clear that the National Dialogue cannot be renewed as long as the people of Nicaragua continue being denied the right to freely demonstrate and continue being repressed and murdered.
  4. At this moment in which the history of our country continues being stained with blood, we cry out to Jesus Crucified, who on resurrecting from the dead conquered evil and death with the strength of his infinite love. “Oh, Cross of Christ, we teach that the dawn of the sun is stronger than the darkness of night. Oh Cross of Christ, we teach that the apparent victory of evil fades in the face of the empty tomb and in the face of the certainty of the Resurrection and the love of God, which nothing can defeat or darken or weaken” (Pope Francis, Holy Friday 2016). That Mary, the grieving Virgin, whose heart was pierced by a sword in the face of the pain of her Son on the Cross (Lk 2:35), consoles so many Nicaraguan mothers who suffer over the murder of their sons and watch over all our people with maternal love.

Issued in the city of Managua on the thirty first day of the month of May of the the two thousand eighteenth year of the Lord.

 Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua

This communique was signed by the ten bishops of the conference.

(For those interested in tracking developments in Nicaragua, one source is La Prensa.  The daily newspaper provides very current coverage of events in Nicaragua, as well as perspective on events elsewhere in the world.)

For those who know and love Nicaragua and the people there, this is a painful and sad time.  It’s made even more so by how little the U.S. news media writes about it.  Their lack of attention does not diminish the anguish and tragedy of what is occurring in the land of our neighbor to the south….

                                                   

 

 

 

My Name Is Char-les

Mark and I had a particularly interesting dinner last month in El Cua.  I mean, our dinners are usually pretty interesting moments in the day, whether because of the agenda we have just experienced, the menu of a small restaurant we have found, conversation about upcoming meetings  for the following day or just in telling each other life stories.  There’s always plenty to observe and discuss in these dinner moments and I truly enjoy them.  (Not to mention the food, which is usually very basic and very good.)  But this night featured a guest, a boy by the name of Char-les.                                                                           

Let’s be clear about one thing right away: the name is Char-les, not Charles, because he does not like the nickname Charlie.  By pronouncing his name with two syllables, there is less chance that one might make the mistake of calling him Charlie.  Acquaintance with another young boy by the name of Charlie- a peer who is apparently not a favorite of our dinner guest- has rendered the nickname lost forever from the monikers Char-les may adopt over his lifetime.

Aside from the same smiles afforded every young person we might encounter during the day, we had issued no invitation or gesture to encourage his attendance.   He simply drifted over to our table and began to talk.  Maybe it was the unusual presence of two gringos in the small cafe.  Perhaps it was the allure of my broad-brimmed hat (sombrero grande) which suggested a cowboy’s presence.  More likely, it was the pure curiosity of a little boy who, it turns out,  was full of questions and observations about almost everything.

Char-les wanted to know everything we could possibly disclose over the course of a meal, and some things that we could not.  Names?  Home country?  Where is that?  Where is China?  Where are you going?  Why are you here?  Do you know about whales?  Where is your hotel?  Do you have kids?

He balanced the inquisition with some facts of his own:  I’m eight years old.  My mom is in a meeting back there (motioning to a back meeting room in the restaurant).  I like football.  I go to the school that is right behind your hotel.  I like to read.  My mom says that I ask a lot of questions.  I have a brother but he has a different dad.  Some day I’m going to go to Mexico.

Between the inquisition and the exposition, Char-les tended to his job for the night: every time a cell phone rang from among the belongings of the meeting participants, he would dash off to find the phone and take it to the proper owner.  It happened three or four times, and on each occasion, Char-les sprang into action, leaving our discussion dangling until his return.  His reaction to the cell phones made it clear that he not only knew every person in attendance at the meeting, but also knew the ringtone of every phone.  The meeting attendees were both amused by and grateful for this service in telecommunication.  Char-les seemed matter-of-fact about  his duty, but more focused on his interrogation.

“I’m very fast.  Do you know about airplanes?  I have never been on an airplane.  What are you eating for dinner?”  The stream of consciousness hardly paused for those intermittent phone calls and, undeterred by such momentary interruptions, Char-les continued to weave his way throughout the entirety of our dinner agenda.  We were fully engaged in discourse with an eight-year-old orator.  “Is Iowa in Mexico?  You are my new friends.”

With that bond being said, Char-les eventually welcomed his mother to our party and introduced his new-found amigos to her.  She hoped that he had not been a bother to us and observed, to no surprise by us, that Char-les had demonstrated this curiosity and outgoing personality for his entire life.  She described his love for learning and inquiry as exhausting and amazing; we could only concur.  Amidst a continuing flurry of his questions, we bid him a good-night and appreciation for his conversation.

I have been around many eight-year-old children, including our own four as they passed through that inquisitive phase.  But I find it hard to recall an eight-year-old with the persistence and aplomb of Char-les.  Mixed in with such admiration, perhaps there was also the sense of promise that such examination and unpretentiousness holds for his years ahead.  In the center of this rural community, in the center of Nicaragua, in the center of the Americas, is a young boy deserving of every opportunity to learn and expand his understanding, his visions. his outlook for the future.  The need is not his alone.  We all have a stake in the critical importance of listening to the voice of Char-les….

 

 

 

Chicken Feed

This Easter has been a sweet deal for candy manufacturers: more than $2 billion was spent on candy alone this season, and the overall spending on all Easter-related purchases figures to be the second-highest in U.S. history.  (I know that I didn’t receive any chocolate bunnies on Easter Sunday, so somebody else has been taking more than their share. ) But it started me thinking about wants and needs and central Easter messages.

That candy cost isn’t exactly chicken feed.  By comparison, the total amount of all U.S. aid to Nicaragua in 2017 was $31.3 million, 15% of all that candy.  I only offer the comparison here for contrast; neither I nor most Nicaraguans would argue for greater aid dependency on the U.S.  But it’s quite a difference in sums when one considers the two categories: resources for basic human living standards in Nica versus Easter candy consumption in the U.S.   Setting aside such notions as national boundaries, something seems inequitable in all of that, no matter to what political or economic perspective one may subscribe.  Let me elaborate.

I spent a week with my colleague Mark in Nicaragua last month, visiting with rural partners, hearing about their struggles with various harvests, understanding the need for late repayments in several cases, and attending a two-day workshop designed to teach information analysis, so that these producers might go about their work on a more data-driven basis.

Our week did not represent some kind of hight-level financial development.  We lunched with them on rice and beans.  We spoke with some, in impromptu huddles, about small loans and the most basic tenets of our partnerships: accompaniment, transparency, functioning bodies of governance, broad-based participation, and collaboration within the coops.  We described the nature of goals and goal-setting.  They asked us about work processes.  We laughed some.  The interactions may have been at their most basic level, but they were important and appreciated.  Basic stuff usually is.

What does any of that have to do with Easter candy sales?  Simply this: the sweet taste in the mouth from a dissolving Peep or jelly bean is both artificial and temporary.  And it can never take away the bad taste in the mouth from the recognition that we spend more on candy than on the very lives of others who are in significant need for their basic survival.  That bad taste comes from recognition that our own lives are made up of moments, moments of priority and precedence, wherein we have the free will to decide how we will spend our time and our money and our spirit.  Those decisions impact the impoverished in profound ways, and as importantly, paint the portrait of who we truly are.   And they do leave a taste in the mouth, one kind or another.

Last month in Nicaragua I heard the observation of a producer who was considering the raising of a few chickens as a supplement to his coffee-growing efforts.  His words of hesitation were like a fist to the gut.  “The corn that my hens eat,” he observed, “could be food for my family.”  He was not speaking about candy corn.

Easter is a season of resurrection and salvation, of new beginnings and new chances.  It is a time of reflection for many about the life and example of Jesus and the basis of those who claim followership of his teaching.  It also gives me pause to think about the price of candy and the value of corn….