Wednesday, March 26, 2008

SiPaz Report-Rev. Griebler's Report from Chiapas

Dear Ones - I'm home safe from Chiapas. There's surely a piece of my heart that lives in Latin America. It was good to be there even for a little while. And it was a short little whirlwind trip. I was there for a board meeting of SiPaz (International Service for Peace) and to meet with Congregational and Disciple of Christ pastors from Northern Mexico who were visiting Chiapas and our mission partners at IMM and Global Ministries invitation.

Lots of meetings, including one with all 14 cabinet ministers from the state of Chiapas. Had to wonder why the governor wanted his entire cabinet to spend the day with SiPaz? Perhaps to portray an image of concern for human rights. Too bad the reality says different. Most of my meetings were with the board of SiPaz, this incredible little international coalition that provides critical presence, reliable information and works to build a culture of peace in Chiapas. Which is still one of those strategic places where you can measure the social temperature of world.

The conflict in Chiapas smolders still. Where the movement for autonomy among the indigenous people is strongest (the Northern Zone – which is where the ancient Mayan site Palenque is located) the military and paramilitaries have increased their presence. The Protestant churches are fanning the flames once again, pastors preaching that Zapistasta supporters and communities are devil-possessed. And that the devil must be driven out. Not that the churches are causing the conflict – it’s rooted in issues around land and power and access to strategic resources. Not surprisingly, expulsions are on the rise and fear grows that the situation is ripe for more Acteal-type massacres. (Back in 1997 paramilitaries killed 47 people who were gathered in a church praying for peace in the town of Acteal. The victims were members of Las Abejas, a group committed to active non-voilence that supports the Zapatistas’s goals, if not always their means. Many of the victims were women - 4 were pregnant - and children. The killing spree took place over 5 hours. A military installation was just a football field's length away, but no one came to intervene and stop the killing. Which leaves one to presume that the military chose not to respond and so is complicit in the crime.) SiPaz is one of the groups that works to lessen tensions and to actively build a culture of peace. I’d say we’ll be in business for a while.

See, there's oil in them there hills. And quite a lot. And uranium, fresh water (think hydro-electric dams), rich bio-diversity of cloud forest, rain forest and jungle(think pharmaceuticals), natural beauty & Mayan cultural sites (think eco-tourism). The Mexican government and the trans-national corporations are interested in clearing out most of the indigenous communities to make way for development. This is what the trade agreements from NAFTA to CAFTA to Plan Pueblo Panama are all about. Phase 1 is an Indian removal project to be sure. Of course, some co-operative indigenous communities will be allowed to remain and make a show of their authentic Mayan culture for the tourists. The Zapatista autonomous communities aren't planning on co-operating with the various free trade agreements. At the very least they will not just roll over. They want to have a say, now and into the future. Their resistance - which has taken the form of active non-violence - is more than admirable - really courageous, creative and inspirational.

If you or your congregation would like to see pictures or hear more about this, just ask and I will be happy to talk with you or even a group that’s interested. I can be reached at St. Michael's United Church of Christ, 630/231-0687.

School of the Americas Vigil

Human Rights Protesters Sentenced to Federal Prison for Nonviolent Civil Disobedience Opposing Controversial U.S. Army Training School

Federal Magistrate Sentences 78-year-old Blind Man

Columbus, Ga - Eleven human rights activists, ranging in age from 25 to 78, appeared before U.S. Magistrate G. Mallon Faircloth in a Columbus, GA federal courthouse today. The eleven were charged with trespass after peacefully walking onto the Fort Benning military base on November 18 in protest of a controversial U.S. Army training school for Latin Americans with a legacy of human rights abuses.

Ed Lewinson, a 78-year old Professor Emeritus of History at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey, was sentenced to 90 days in prison and a $500 fine. Ed trespassed onto the base in three previous years but the state refused to prosecute due to his blindness.

Lewinson, together with the ten other defendants, were among the tens of thousands who gathered November 16-18 outside the gates of Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia to demand the closure of the controversial U.S. Army’s School of the Americas, now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA/WHINSEC). The group peacefully crossed onto Ft. Benning, site of the school, at the culmination of a symbolic funeral procession in memory of those killed by graduates of the institution in Latin America.

"I crossed onto the base because of what graduates of the SOA/WHINSEC have done to the people of their own countries and I wanted to contribute something towards stopping this,” said Lewinson in regards to his act of nonviolent civil disobedience. “Only by pointing out the results of violence can we stop violence,” he added.

The defendants and sentences are:

Joan Anderson, 65, Casper, WY - 30 days and a $500 fine
Ozone Bhaguan, 33, Duluth, MN - 90 days and no fine
Le Anne Clausen, 29, Chicago, IL - 30 days and no fine
Art Landis, 74, Perkasie, PA - 30 days and no fine
Ed Lewinson, 78, Newark NJ - 90 days and a $500 fine
Chris Lieberman, 54, Albuquerque, NM - 60 days and no fine
Diane Lopez Hughes, 58, Springfield, IL - 45 days and a $500 fine
Tiel Rainelli, 25, Canton, OH. – 90 days and a $500 fine
Gus Roddy, 45, Chicago, IL – 30 days and a $500 fine
Stephen Schweitzer, 45, Binghamtom, NY – 60 days and a $500 fine
Michelle Yipé, 45, of Argonia, KS - 30 days and a $500 fine

The SOA/WHINSEC, a military training facility for Latin American security personnel located at Fort Benning, Georgia, made headlines in 1996 when the Pentagon released training manuals used at the school that advocated torture, extortion and execution. In spite of an aggressive international PR campaign and lobbying efforts on behalf of WHINSEC, support for the institute continues to erode. In 2007, Presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia and Oscar Arias of Costa Rica announced that they would cease to send military and police to the school, becoming the 4th and 5th countries after Argentina, Uruguay and Venezuela to commit to a withdrawal from the U.S. Army training facility.

Since protests against the SOA/WHINSEC began 18 years ago, 226 people have served prisons sentences of up to two years for nonviolent civil disobedience