Just Americas: A Blog by LAWG

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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Yes to Peace in Colombia

As Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met this week with President Barack Obama, it’s time to say, Yes to peace.

In November 2013, the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla group signed an agreement, the second of five agreements which together will make up a final peace accord.  With this second agreement, two of the most difficult topics, land and political participation, have been negotiated, showing that this peace process has a real chance to end a fifty-year war in which hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, kidnapped and disappeared, and some 6 million people have been forcibly displaced.  

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Building Peace on the Ground, Not Just in Havana: The Colombian Peace Process according to Ricardo Esquivia

Ricardo Esquivia Ballestas, a human rights lawyer and leader working with the Mennonite Church of Colombia and the Colombian Council of Evangelical Churches, came to the United States last month to give a lecture at the Kroc Institute at Notre Dame titled “Building a Just Peace in Colombia.”  Ricardo Esquivia is a visionary leader for peace building efforts in rural communities devastated by conflict on the Caribbean coast of Colombia.  He and other leaders are currently facing threats of detention by the Colombian authorities and have also received numerous threats from paramilitary groups. 

On September 30, 2013, Mr. Esquivia gave a talk at the United Methodist Building in Washington DC about Colombia’s peace process and the challenges that leaders and peaceful social movements face in Colombia.  This is what he had to say:

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