Just Americas: A Blog by LAWG

Expectations of the Colombian Peace Process: A Victim’s Reflection

Lilia Peña Silva, a human rights defender and victims’ rights advocate from Colombia, recently visited the United States for a speaker’s tour coordinated by the Latin America Working Group Education Fund (LAWGEF), the U.S. Office on Colombia (USOC), and the Coordinación Colombia Europa Estados Unidos (CCEEU). Lilia is the founder and president of the Regional Association of Victims of State Crimes in Magdalena Medio (
Asociación Regional de Víctimas de Crímenes de Estado del Magdalena Medio, ASORVIMM), and was chosen by coalition of more than 200 Colombian human rights organizations and social movements for a speaker’s tour that included stops in New York City, Washington DC, Dallas and Austin, TX, and Miami, Fl.

A tireless leader and advocate for human rights and the rights of victims of state violence, Lilia took this opportunity to speak about her experience as a victim and as a leader, as well as about the ongoing peace process. This is what she had to say.

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Closure of Cuba's Consular Services, and Steps Washington Can Take to Avoid This Again

In recent years, the Obama administration has taken many positive steps in re-shaping US-Cuba policy, especially in regards to travel of Americans to the island nation. In recent remarks made by both President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, Cuba policy is something in which the administration continues to search for ways to update and broaden the exchange between Cubans and U.S. citizens – something that the President considers to be the cornerstone of relations and change between the US and Cuba. While the actions and recent statements of the administration have been steps forward in changing US-Cuba relations, there is much more action that the President can take in order to improve outdated Cuba policy – a fact highlighted by the recent debacle regarding the closure of consular services at the Cuban Interests Section (CIS).

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Mandela and the Struggle for Justice for Afro-Colombians

As we remember and celebrate Nelson Mandela around the world, I thought you might like to see this wonderful op-ed by my friend Gustavo Emilio Balanta Castilla, a journalist and crusader for justice for Afro-Colombian communities in Cartagena, Colombia. 

Gustavo takes Nelson Mandela’s words, “A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens but its lowest ones,” and notes that it is impossible to praise Mandela while maintaining a state policy that reaffirms the inequity and systemic discrimination of the poor, Afro-Colombian and indigenous people of Cartagena and the rest of Colombia. 

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Obama and Castro Shake Hands and Bring Positivity to the State of U.S.-Cuba Relations

Yesterday at Nelson Mandela's memorial service in South Africa a small but significant gesture took place between President Barack Obama and President Raúl Castro: they shook hands. While this normally wouldn't have been such a noteworthy action of civility, it has highlighted the need to address the current state of broken relations between the United States and Cuba. The Latin America Working Group (LAWG) supports this development and encourages further steps by both countries to move us along the path towards engagement and normalization.

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Honduran Elections: No Cause for Celebrations

The November 24, 2013 elections in Honduras and their aftermath are a critical moment for the direction of the country.  In June 2009 a coup overthrew the elected president, Liberal Party member Manuel Zelaya.  In this month´s election, Zelaya´s wife Xiomara Castro de Zelaya under the new Libre party banner ran against the National Party´s Juan Orlando Hernandez, the traditional Liberal Party, a new Anti-Corruption Party and several others. 

The Supreme Electoral Council declared the National Party’s Juan Orlando Hernandez the winner, followed by Libre, with the Liberals, and the Anti-Corruption Party also receiving a significant share of votes.  The newer parties’ significant vote count has altered the traditional two-party (National, Liberal) Honduran political scene.

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