CENTRAL AMERICA Ideas for action
Keeping up the pressure
There is mounting concern over US policy in Central Aerica and a growing movement to do
something about it. Here we profile the recent campaigns in Canada, the Us and Britain.
It’s nobody’s backyard
That’s the cry going up over a week of activities on Central America taking place in Britain, from November 27th to December 3rd. The idea for the week started when people in the overseas charities, unions and church groups realised that although a lot of high-level lobbying was going on around Central American issues, the great British general public knew little and cared less. The objective of the week is to change that.
This is not a top down , centrally planned operations but encouragement from the sidelines. Organisers of the week have drawn up a list of resources, films and organisations that can provide speakers and other attractive action ideas like the centre of this magazine. And that’s what is out of the ordinary – the loose network which allows groups to stage events which are relevant for them. They can be Christian groups noting their concern through religious event, disarmament groups concentrating on arms supplies and organising a letter-writing lobby, theatrical and musical groups celebrating the culture of the region or relief agencies organising sponsored walks to raise money for the refugees.
The intention is to draw in those who have only been peripherally aware of what is happening in Central America; to bring interest, activity, indignation and anger at the fawning way British foreign policy supports Washington’s heavy handed intervention in the region.
Already the plight of the Central American countries is more than the concern of the blue-jeaned intellectual brigade. Christian organisations and trade unions are also involved. The point according to one of the week’s activists, Martin Honeywell of Latin America Bureau, ‘is too any happenings are usually in London alone, this time we are working with organisations that have groups literally at the parish level. Whilst Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank will be used for an evening of cultural events about Central America, just as important the Dukes Playhouse company on York will be working on a play about El Salvador to be staged in the surrounding schools.
And what will be the sum when all the ballyhoo has died down? Honeywell suggests the work of the groups concerned with the region, will be strengthened, whether increasingly humanitarian aid to the refugees or drumming on the door of government to show anger at the country’s foreign policy, but we are here and that there are possibilities for change. A deep-seated belief in certain fundamental values that Britain fought to uphold in the past are now being cynically contradicted bu our foreign policy. That cannot go on.’
More information on resources on Central America available from:
Nobody’s Backyard, 4 Replingham Rd., London SW19 (please send SAE).
Over the past three years Canadian bi-lateral (non-food) aid to Nicaragua barely reached $240,000 while Nicaragua’s neighbour Honduras received over $43 million.
Through a campaign called Tools for Peace the Canadian Coalition for Aid to Nicaragua is attempting to redress the balance. The campaign expects to raise a half a million dollars in material aid - in effect doubling three years at government bilateral aid. With one pan-time staff person and thousands of volunteers the Coalition has brought together unions, church and women’s groups, non-governmental agencies and Latin American solidarity groups. There are local coalitions organizing fundraising drivers in every Canadian province.
The campaign is based on two previous ‘boat projects’ organized in British Columbia. Organizers hope the effort to fill a large boat with material aid for Nicaragua will become a yearly event.
The goods pledged during 1983 included medical equipment, education supplies like books, pens, and paper, tools, fishing gear and office equipment like typewriters and photocopiers. After loading, the boat will sail down the North American coast to Nicaragua’s Pacific port of Corinto.
According to co-ordinator Phil Westman, the Tools for Peace campaign was intended to build political support for Nicaragua as well as gather material aid.
‘Many Canadians see our government policies as merely a misty reflection of the US government position - ifs the same, but you just can’t see it as well. We want to change these policies so they don’t reflect US interests,’ West-man said.
In the long run CAN hopes their education campaign will force Ottawa to increase aid to Nicaragua while suspending aid to Honduras. ‘Canada sends almost 60 per cent of its regional aid to Honduras,’ according to Mary Ann Morris, a church activist working on the project. ‘The Honduran military is also openly co-operating with the former troops of the dictator Somoza, who have crossed into Nicaraguan territory and killed hundreds of people. Our government should not encourage this violation of international law by sending Honduras millions in aid.’
Whether or not the campaign changes Canadian policy remains to be seen but organizers are happy with the public support they received.
‘Nicaraguans deserve to live in peace and to build their new society without outside interference’, Mary Ann Morris says. ‘I think Canadians agree with that.’
For further information write to
TOOLS FOR PEACE,
2425 Cypress St.
Vancouver, B. C. V6J 3N2
More than 150 Americans from 31 states were involved in the Action for Peace in Nicaragua campaign’s first visit to that country in early July, 1983. The group led by the Carolina Interfaith Task Force on Central America included American church leaders. journalists and celebrities.
All were committed to joining the religious community of Nicaragua in their search for peace. But the main goal was to be a vigil of prayer at the Nicaragua-Honduran border.
According to Task Force director Gail Phares, ‘the inspiration for the peace vigil grew out of our Task Force’s 29-member study tour in April, 1982. We visited communities along the northern border under constant attack by the US-supported contras in Honduras, This direct experience of those innocent people’s anguish coupled with our own anger at the US government’s complicity gave birth to the peace vigil.’
‘We wanted to symbolize our opposition by a Gandhi-like peace action,’ says Joseph Moran, the Task Force’s Associate Director who accompanied the group to Nicaragua.
While in Nicaragua the group met with church leaders, government representatives and others who both support and oppose the Sandinista revolution, Besides the vigil in the war zone in Jalapa, a candlelight demonstration took place in front of the US Embassy in Managua to protest American support for the ex-Somocista mercenaries currently attacking Nicaragua.
The ‘peace vigil’ group was also struck with the idea of creating a permanent peace witness near the Honduran border. So in October, 1983 a small group of North Americans travelled to Nicaragua to live for a while on the frontier, to share the life and danger of the people, to live in their homes and work alongside them at tasks determined by the host community. On their return they will report the results of US-backed covert action against Nicaragua. They hope, because of their non-violent presence and their media contacts, to serve as a human shield and reduce the violence.
Besides the permanent peace witness, interfaith study tours from each state will visit Nicaragua to gain first-hand knowledge of the country and then return to work with Congress, the press and their churches to educate others and help stop the American intervention in Central America.
Witness for Peace,
Resources for Non-violence,
511 Broadway, Santa Cots,
Inter-church Committee on Human Rights in Latin America, 40 St Clair East, Toronto.
Ontario. M4T 1M9
An ecumenical organization established and supported by the major Canadian churches. Documents human rights abuses and critiques Canadian foreign policy. Also publishes authoritative newsletter and engages in national education work.
Contact - Gwen Jenkins
Latin American Working Group,
Box 2207. Station Rd Toronto,
Ontario, MSS 2T2,
An educational and research group with extensive contacts and resources on Central America. Publishes quanerly newalener, sponsors tours, conferences and educational seminars.
Contact - Nick Keresztesi
Ten Days for World Development
85 St Clair Avenue East Toronto,
Ontario. M4T 1 M8. (416) 922-0591.
A yearly development education programme of the Canadian churches, this year (Feb 3-13. 1984) focussing on Central America. Public forums, speakers. seminars held on national basis.
Contact - Jeanne Moffatt
Central America Solidarity Network,
c/o P0 Box 2207, Station P.
Toronto, Ontario. M55 2T2.
A new national body coordinating solidarity activities, originally for El Salvador and now for all of Central America. Will put people in touch with local and regional committees.
Contact - Alison Acker
Interreligious Task Force on El Salvador
and Central America.
c/o National Council of Churches.
475 Riverside Drive. Room 633,
New York, NY 10115, (212) 870-3383
Contact - Bev Keene
Religious Task Force on Central America,
1747 Connecticut Avenue NW - Third Floor,
Washington DC 20009, (202) 387-7652.
These groups facilitate nation-wide networking on Central America for the religious community, with the first mainly Protestant-based and the second mainly Catholic. Suggestions for direct action at the local level, nationally coordinated protests, preparation of educational and outreach materials, as well as model liturgies and worship programs.
Contact - Margie Swedish
National Labor Committee in Support of
Human Rights and Democracy in El Salvador,
c/o ACTWU. 15 Union Square West
New York, NY 10003.
(2121 242-0700, eat 251.)
Coalition of 12 AFL-CIO trade union presidents and heads of two national professional associations. Prepares materials on organizing union events on Central America and establishing local trade union committees on Central America.
Contact - Dave Dyson
Coalition for a New Foreign and Military Policy,
120 Maryland Avenue NE.
Washington DC 20002,
The ‘nerve center’ of grassroots pressure and Capitol Hill lobbying to change US policy towards Central America. Provides up-to-the minute information on congressional action, education and outreach materials and training seminars for local organizers. 24-hour ‘Central America Legislative Hotline’ (202) 483-3391.
Contact - Cindy Buhl
Washington Office on Latin America.
110 Maryland Avenue. NE.
Washington DC 20002, 1202
Church-sponsored research and advocacy group which links progressive leaders of Central America with US legislators, press and other national leaders. Conferences, country reports, human rights investigations and monthly newsletter.
Contact - Heather Foote
Organisations working on Central American issues and co-operating with the week of action November 27 - December 3rd tend to be either the larger general Third World development agencies or smaller specialist support groups concentrating on one country.
General development agencies include:
P0 Box 1, London 5W9.
Phone (01) 733-5500.
Contact - Mary Lucas
Catholic Institute for International Relations.
22 Coleman Fields, London N1.
Phone (01) 354’0883.
Contact - Carolyn Spires
274 Banbury Road.
Oxford 0X2 7D2.
Contact - Information Dept.
Specialist agencies include:
El Salvador Committee for Human Rights.
21 Compton Terrace.
London N1 2UN.
Phone (01) 359-1836.
Contact - Mike Gatehouse
El Salvador Solidarity Campaign.
29 lslington Park Street
Phone (01) 359-3976.
Contact - Jane Carter
Guatemala Committee for Human Rights.
27 Compton Terrace,
London N1 2UN.
Phone (01) 359-1836.
Contact - Emily Ryan.
Guatemala Working Group.
1 Amwell Street London EC1
Phone (01) 800-6871.
Contact - Freida Schicher.
Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign.
21 Compton Terrace, London.
N1 2UN. Phone (01) 359 1836.
Contact - Mark Thomson.
Community Aid Abroad,
75 Brunswick Street. Fitzroy,
Victoria 3065, (03) 419 7055
Contact - Trish Collinson
Australian Council of Churches,
100 Flunders Street Melbourne.
Victoria, (03) 63 8245.
Contact - Greg Thompson
Central American Support Committee,
3 Britton Street West Richmond,
Contact - Kate Cooper
P0 Box 1905, Christchurch,
Worth reading on... CENTRAL AMERICA
El Salvador: The Face of Revolution By Robert Armstrong and Janet Shenk; Pluto Press, 1982. A well-written and richly-detailed account of Salvador’s history leading up to the current revolutionary turmoil.
Under the Eagle: US Intervendon in Central America and the Caribbean By Jenny Pierce: Latin America Bureau, 1981. A gold mine of outrageous claims and more outrageous actions by successive American governments.
Dollars and Dictators By Tom Berry et al; The Resource Centre, 1982. A guide book with a difference. Sectoral overviews and a country-by-country breakdown with descriptions of history, politics and the economy.
What Difference Could a Revolution Make? By Joseph Collins; Institute for Food and Development Policy, 1982. The Food First team looks at what the Nicaraguan revolution will mean for food production and land ownership.
NACLA Report on the Americas Bimonthly magazine available from NACLA, 151 West 19th Street, 9th Floor, New York, NY 10011. Sf5/yr. Probably the best single source of continuing political analysis on Central America, and the rest of Latin America, from a left perspective.
Human Rights in Central America Americas Watch Committee, 36 W 44th Street, New York, NY 10036. An excellent series of human rights reports on Central America, including the above, has been published by this independent human rights monitoring group.
Central America Update Jesuit Centre for Social Faith and Justice/LA WG, Box 2207 Station P, Toronto, Ontario, Canada MSS2T2. A bimonthly newsletter with an insightful analytic.