Archive for International Justice

Summing up the American Losses at the VI Summit of the Americas, La Paz, Bolivia — May, 2012

By: Rev. Michael Gillgannon, a Kansas City – St. Joseph diocesean priest who has served the people of Bolivia for nearly 40 years

Pope Benedict XVI went to Cuba in March to continue the pastoral dialogue of the Catholic Church with the Cuban government which Pope John Paul II had so successfully initiated in 1999. Despite some not so well informed critics, Pope Benedict’s visit, including fruitful dialogues with both Fidel Castro, and his brother, President Raul Castro, had some quite interesting results symbolized by the regime making Good Friday a national holiday for workers to take part in religious observances. Pope Benedict reiterated his condemnation of the international economic embargo of Cuba while noting that the former Marxist ideology had become outdated in Cuba and elsewhere. Cuba has been in a process of deep economic and political change for some time and it became a pivotal point in the recent VI Summit of the Americas meeting. The difference of the patient dialogue of the Church and the unfortunately outdated Cuban, and Latin American, diplomacy of the United States was quite evident in their different results.

President Obama spent three days in Cartagena, Columbia for the Summit meeting of Hemispheric Presidents. Some cited this as a change in attitude, if not in policy, because few presidents had given that much time to Latin America before. The Summit event was inaugurated in the Clinton Administration in 1994 to promote free trade agreements like NAFTA all over the Western Hemisphere. The agenda this year was once again to promote trade (to seal and applaud such an agreement with the host country, Columbia, recently approved by both countries) but also to respond in new ways to the failed policies of years to curb the continental scourge of the drug trade and the cartels which control them throughout the Americas. The low point for the American President was not the scandalous behavior of the Secret Service agents accompanying him (Interestingly, prostitution is legal in most Catholic countries of the Americas. But, also interestingly, they outlaw the death penalty). Rather, it was the fact that university students in Columbia, reflecting popular sentiment against American policies, mounted demonstrations against him which forced the closing of the universities. And worse, the American agenda for Cuba, for trade, and for drug control, were all roundly rejected by the assembly.

The rejection included, unusual for this meeting, closed door diplomacy which was not able to reach a consensus agreement on a final document. So none was given. The democratically elected Presidents of Latin America and the Caribbean islands, representing over 600 million people, rejected the policy of not including Cuba in the Summit. Only the United States and Canada refused to budge on the fifty year-old policies of exclusion and embargo. Most analysts, north and south, repeated the truism that North American policies on Cuba reflect not intelligent and professional diplomacy but political deference to the influence of the Miami Cuban exiles on Florida and national American politics and policies. President Carrea of Ecuador boycotted the Summit because of the exclusion of Cuba. President Ortega of Nicaragua held a massive support for Cuba rally in Managua paralleling the Summit with thousands in attendance. The Latin American presidents ended by telling the North Americans that they would not attend another summit (in Panama in 2015) without the participation of Cuba.

The Columbia-U.S. Free Trade agreement, years in discussion, was offered as a benefit to the Columbian hosts for the occasion. But President Obama in his 2008 campaign had said he was opposed to such an agreement because of Columbian government policies against workers rights and trade unions. The Washington Office for Latin America recently published their study on such policies documenting that 30 union leaders were assassinated last year in Columbia. Since 1986 almost 3000 such organizers have been killed. And only 5% of such cases have resulted in penalties for their perpetrators. So much for workers benefits and social justice in the free trade agreements which the United States has imposed in the last 20 years on Mexico and Central America. Despite these contradictions, the U.S. policy makers seem tone deaf to the strong voices of so many progressive Latin American countries, like Ecuador and Bolivia, which are organizing political and economic trade blocs of their own excluding both the United States and Canada.

Among other serious disputes continue to be immigration. U.S. immigration policies seem to be unplanned, contradictory, and often, inhuman. A poem of Robert Frost questioned the saying “good fences make good neighbor” by intimating fences and walls are needed only because neighbors quarrel and lack mutual confidence. Building frontier walls and allowing States and municipalities to dictate national foreign policy does not seem to be wise when such laws are seen as unjust and insulting to human dignity. Latin governments ask, “Is the United States becoming a huge ‘Gated Community’ to keep out “the others”? Is fear and “national security” making a once welcoming people…“send us your homeless tempest-tossed”…a nation of selfish and closed citizenry? Latin Americas’ peoples and governments have every reason based on real experiences to think so despite the positive efforts of many Church people and others to change such unjust laws.

Another sore point is the international drug trade and the failed United States police and military policies of control both at home and in Latin America. A mounting wave of criticism is asking for a revision of these policies because they have not worked for years. And many international voices are saying it is time to look for international collaboration and coordination to control the illicit trade now destroying not only persons but national States.

“The Economist”, a journal usually critical of the economic and political policies of progressive Latin American governments, had a pointed comment on the Summit worth noting…

”If Latin America is doing so damn well all of a sudden, why does it not just get on with the business of standing on its own feet? As for the tricky issues of immigration, drugs and Cuba, can’t those southerners see how things stand north of the border? Don’t they understand that the thorny domestic policies of the United States make serious action on them impossible? They can see. They do understand. But in recent decades some of the countries of Latin America have managed against great odds to summon up the courage to overcome their own impossible domestic politics. It may be time for the United States to follow their example for a change.”


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The 2012 Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace is… Ruben Garcia

Pax Christi USA, the national Catholic peace movement, has recognized the life and witness of Ruben Garcia, naming him the 2012 recipient of the Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace Award.  Pax Christi USA first gave the award to Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, in 1978 and has since recognized some of the most significant U.S. Catholic activists for peace and justice of the past 3 decades, including actor Martin Sheen; poet and priest Daniel Berrigan, S.J.; and Dead Man Walking author Sr. Helen Prejean, C.S.J.  Garcia is one of the founders and the current director of Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas.

During his career at Annunciation House, Garcia has personally welcomed more than 100,000 migrants to his home and community, putting into practice and personally embodying the radical hospitality that Jesus exemplified to the poor, the marginalized, and the excluded. In his nomination of Garcia, Scott Wright, author and biographer of Archbishop Oscar Romero, wrote that Garcia “teaches peace by embodying peace, welcoming the stranger, and inviting others to share in this community where the least have a place at the table. From the experience of welcome and hospitality, comes an awareness and a commitment to address the root causes of injustice that push migrants to flee from the political violence in their countries, or conditions of economic disparity that condemn their families to die in conditions of extreme poverty and misery.”

“PCUSA is pleased to be honoring Ruben Garcia with the 2012 Teacher of Peace Award. For more than 35 years, he has been an inspiring teacher of peace, exemplifying by his life witness the teachings of the Gospel and the spirit of the Beatitudes,” stated Sr. Patty Chappell, SNDdeN, Executive Director of Pax Christi USA. “Ruben’s faith continues to be an inspiring witness to the best of Catholic traditions, social teachings and practices.”

In addition to his work at Annunciation House, Garcia has welcomed and met with hundreds of delegations to the border, teaching by inviting them into the world of the poor and the migrant, and allowing them to see and hear firsthand the stories of immigrants.  He invites them to commit themselves to address the root causes that deny to the immigrant the justice that is due to them in their homeland and in the United States.

“Ruben’s commitment to the radical hospitality of Jesus, welcoming all to the table, with preferential option for migrants, teaches peace moment by moment,” stated Cathy Crosby, Pax Christi USA National Council member and chair of the Teacher of Peace committee. “The PCUSA National Council celebrates the opportunity to recognize Ruben’s many years of humble service.  We hope that the work of Ruben and Annunciation House continues to inspire others to work for justice and peace, as we each recognize the countless small ways we are called to build God’s kingdom here and now.”

The Teacher of Peace award will be presented at a special ceremony honoring Garcia in Washington, D.C. in September 2012.

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National Human Trafficking Awareness Month and Day

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month and January 11 is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. The Sisters of the Holy Cross have prepared a prayer service for victims of human trafficking and a prayer card for use between January 12 and February 5, 2012, Superbowl Sunday. They are found here and here.

Major sporting events are occasions for increased trafficking activity. Pope John Paul II called trafficking, “a shocking offense against human dignity and a grave violation of fundamental human rights,” and Pope Benedict XVI calls it a scourge. The following are facts from Human Trafficking: The Facts from the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking.


• An estimated 2.5 million people are in forced labor (including sexual exploitation) at any given time as a result of trafficking

Of these:

  • 1.4 million – 56% – are in Asia and the Pacific
  • 250,000 – 10% – are in Latin America and the Caribbean
  • 230,000 – 9.2% – are in the Middle East and Northern Africa
  • 130,000 – 5.2% – are in sub-Saharan countries
  • 270,000 – 10.8% – are in industrialized countries
  • 200,000 – 8% – are in countries in transition

• 161 countries are reported to be affected by human trafficking by being a source, transit or destination count

• People are reported to be trafficked from 127 countries to be exploited in 137 countries, affecting every continent and every type of economy4

The Victims

  • The majority of trafficking victims are between 18 and 24 years of age
  • An estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked each year
  • 95% of victims experienced physical or sexual violence during trafficking (based on data from selected European countries)
  • 43% of victims are used for forced commercial sexual exploitation, of whom 98 per cent are women and girls
  • 32% of victims are used for forced economic exploitation, of whom 56 per cent are women and girls
  • Many trafficking victims have at least middle-level education

The Traffickers

  • 52% of those recruiting victims are men, 42% are women and 6% are both men and women
  • In 54% of cases the recruiter was a stranger to the victim, 46% of cases the recruiter was known to victim
  • The majority of suspects involved in the trafficking process are nationals of the country where the trafficking process is occurring

The Profits

• Estimated global annual profits made from the exploitation of all trafficked forced labor are US$ 31.6 billion

Of this:

  • US$ 15.5 billion – 49% – is generated in industrialized economies
  • US$ 9.7 billion – 30.6% is generated in Asia and the Pacific
  • US$ 1.3 billion – 4.1% is generated in Latin America and the Caribbean
  • US$ 1.6 billion – 5% is generated in sub-Saharan Africa
  • US$ 1.5 billion – 4.7% is generated in the Middle East and North Africa


  • In 2006 there were only 5,808 prosecutions and 3,160 convictions throughout the world
  • This means that for every 800 people trafficked, only one person was convicted in 2006

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Everyone Deserves Justice and Peace

“Everyone deserves justice and peace!” This was the sentiment of youth from the Learning Club Leadership Academy, a neighborhood teen youth program serving inner-city youth surrounding Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Kansas City, Kansas. The group’s members participated in the American Friends Service Committee’s Reflections on Afghanistan Mural project, which is teaching area youth about the Afghan people, the Afghan war and the impact the war has had on people there, on U.S. soldiers and on the United States. After learning about Afghanistan the youth create murals which reflect their feelings and thoughts about the war.

A selection of the murals produced by local youth will be added to the traveling exhibit, Windows and Mirrors: Reflections on the War in Afghanistan ( when it is in Kansas City from November 12 through December 30, 2011. The traveling exhibit will be on display at the in Central KCMO Public Library and the Johnson County Central Resource Library. The murals produced locally will be displayed with other student works at the Johnson County Central Resource Library.

After learning about Afghanistan the Learning Club teens identified themes they wanted to communicate in their murals. They wanted to recognize the violence experienced by both Afghans and U.S. citizens; the extreme poverty and hardships suffered by the people of Afghanistan. They wanted people to recognize our equality and that we have lots in common– the importance of family, hopes for the future, desires for peace, health, jobs…

Jose Faus, Kansas City area artist and poet, volunteered his skills to facilitate the creative process with the Learning Club youth. He introduced methods of communicating emotions and meaning not only with images but also with color, shape and rhythm. The results were extraordinary.

School and youth groups interested in participating in the project can contact AFSC at 816 931-5256 or

We wish to thank Utrecht Art Supplies for their contribution of and discount on paints and other materials in support of this project.

Click here to see photos of Learning Club Leadership Academy working on murals.

This article was taken from American Friends Service Committee Website.

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Statement of Solidarity with School of the Americas Watch

November 23, 2011

Sister Michelle spoke at the School of the Americas vigil on November 21, 2011 accompanied by Mercy Associate Nelly del Cid from Honduras, Sister Tita from Panama and Sister Anita from Argentina. 

Good morning,

I am here to represent the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, Mercy Associates, Mercy Volunteers, Mercy College Students, and Ministry Partners who are standing in solidarity with you and with all those negatively affected by the graduates of the SOA. We come with mercy, compassion, and hope, but also with a sense of urgency and impatience:

  • As the Mercy Family, we are scandalized that we, the USA, who are 4% of the world’s population, have 50% of the world’s military;
  • We are scandalized that the US has troops in 130 or so countries currently;
  • We are scandalized that in a country where 80% of us claim to be Christian, many seem to have forgotten the words of Jesus- that we should actually love our neighbor as ourselves.

We all know whose interests our numerous military bases are protecting.

And yet there is hope:

  • There is hope in our Honduran Mercy Sisters and Associates who are part of the “women resisting violence” movement inHonduras;
  • Our Panama sisters gave us hope, when in 1984, their efforts and those of others succeeded in getting the SOA out of Panama;
  • And there is hope in you, who come here year after year to say NO to the oppressive, unjust structures of a military culture.

You know what solidarity is:  standing with our brothers and sisters in love and compassion- to the end.

So we must continue this SOA Watch here and at home- as our sisters from Latin America have reminded us, we must connect the dots and be awake and alert to what’s happening around us.

Let us continue until that day when right relationships, non-violence, the common good, and finally, peace, will prevail in the Americas and all over our planet.  Thank you!

Experiencing the SOA Watch the First Time

By Sister Michelle Gorman, R.S.M,  Sisters of Mercy West Midwest Community Leadership Team Justice Liaison,

November 29, 2011

After many years of being aware of the annual School of the Americas (SOA/WHINSEC) protests at Fort Benning, GA, I finally was able to attend.  I was inspired by the presence of so many Catholic groups as well as the intergenerational mix of college students, middle aged activists, and older people aided by canes and wheelchairs. Fr. Roy Bourgeois and Martin Sheen were the celebrities who spoke from a long history of efforts to close the SOA. Mercy Sisters Anita Siufi (Argentina), Tita Lopez (Panama), and Mercy Associate Nelly del Cid (Honduras) were the Mercies who have lived daily with the effects of the SOA in their respective countries.

The continuing existence of the SOA and its history of militarization in the Americas violates every one of our Critical Concerns, i.e., the practice of non-violence, anti-racism, reverence for Earth, and concern for women and immigrants. The causes of violence, racism, and disrespect for immigrants, women, and Earth itself lie in the greed and inhumanity of ‘the few’ who continue to maintain control over resources in many parts of our world, with complete disregard for the needs of ‘the many’.

In one of her several talks during the protest event, Nelly del Cid reminded us that the three most lucrative issues on our planet today are trafficking in persons, drugs, and arms. This scandalizing fact awakens in us a sense of urgency to act and a renewed support for all those resisting the devaluation of human life for the sake of greed and profit. . . .

How do we, as U.S. citizens and taxpayers, get in touch with our own complicity which results in the denial of basic human rights in so many parts of our world? When we and many other groups beyond the U.S. commit ourselves to work for systemic change, we encounter a system that privatizes land and water, seeds and crops, the very basics of life itself?

Where can we find the courage to continue to seek the welfare of our brothers and sisters if not in the placing of our hope in the God of Mercy, Wisdom, and Mystery, whose compassion extends to the fall of a sparrow?  We must be in solidarity with all of those who, past and present, resisted and continue to resist the unjust structures created by a military culture that is becoming more and more pervasive in our world.  Our planet is too beautiful to be destroyed; our brothers and sisters worldwide are too beautiful to be dominated by those who only seem to value the bottom line.

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Facing the Future: Hunger and Climate Change

Briefing Paper by Maria Riley, OP

As we approach Thanksgiving and World Food Day, let us reflect on pervasive hunger that haunts many in our global community.  The Global Women’s Project at the Center of Concern in Washington, D.C. has just issued a briefing paper for our consideration.  In “Facing the Future: Hunger and Climate Change” by Maria Riley, OP, we learn that the 2011 World Hunger and Poverty Statistics identifies multiple causes of persistence of hunger in the world. Poverty is the principal cause and harmful economic conditions and systems drive poverty and hunger. Conflict compounds hunger and poverty among refugees and internally displaced populations. Climate change is increasingly identified as a current and future cause of hunger and poverty. Add to these immediate causes the fact that governments and international agencies have neglected agriculture relevant to people in poverty for the past 20 to 30 years with the advent of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund’s structural adjustment programs in the Global South.

Maria Riley considers hunger and poverty reduction, environmental issues, agroecology and organic food movements, future sustainability, and actions others can undertake.  She provides resources from which she drew her information.  To read her complete briefing paper, go here.  Click on Briefing Paper 8 World Food PDF contained in the attachment box on this page.

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Wangari Maathai

Wangari Maathai — “The best tribute we can pay to this great woman of Africa is to continue to organize so that we can gain higher levels of spiritual awareness and build the shared values for peace and social justice across the planet.”  Horace Campbell.

Wangari Maathai:  “In the process of helping the earth to heal, we help ourselves.”

By Jone Johnson Lewis, in

Wangari Maathai founded the Green Belt movement in Kenya in 1977, which has planted more than 10 million trees to prevent soil erosion and provide firewood for cooking fires. A 1989 United Nations report noted that only 9 trees were being replanted in Africa for every 100 that were cut down, causing serious problems with deforestation: soil runoff, water pollution, difficulty finding firewood, lack of animal nutrition, etc.

The program has been carried out primarily by women in the villages of Kenya, who through protecting their environment and through the paid employment for planting the trees are able to better care for their children and their children’s future.

Born in 1940 in Nyeri, Wangari Maathai was able to pursue higher education, a rarity for girls in rural areas of Kenya. She earned her biology degree from Mount St. Scholastica College in Kansas and a master’s degree at the University of Pittsburgh.

When she returned to Kenya, Wangari Maathai worked in veterinary medicine research at the University of Nairobi, and eventually, despite the skepticism and even opposition of the male students and faculty, was able to earn a Ph.D. there. She worked her way up through the academic ranks, becoming head of the veterinary medicine faculty, a first for a woman at any department at that university.

Wangari Maathai’s husband ran for Parliament in the 1970s, and Wangari Maathai became involved in organizing work for poor people and eventually this became a national grass-roots organization, providing work and improving the environment at the same time. The project has made significant headway against Kenya’s deforestation.

Wangari Maathai continued her work with the Green Belt Movement, and working for environmental and women’s causes. She also served as national chairperson for the National Council of Women of Kenya.

In 1997 Wangari Maathai ran for the presidency of Kenya, though the party withdrew her candidacy a few days before the election without letting her know; she was defeated for a seat in Parliament in the same election.

In 1998, Wangari Maathai gained worldwide attention when the Kenyan President backed development of a luxury housing project and building began by clearing hundreds of acres of Kenya forest.

In 1991, Wangari Maathai was arrested and imprisoned; an Amnesty International letter-writing campaign helped free her. In 1999 she suffered head injuries when attacked while planting trees in the Karura Public Forest in Nairobi, part of a protest against continuing deforestation. She was arrested numerous times by the government of Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi.

In January, 2002, Wangari Maathai accepted a position as Visiting Fellow at Yale University’s Global Institute for Sustainable Forestry.

And in December, 2002, Wangari Maathai was elected to Parliament, as Mwai Kibabi defeated Maathai’s long-time political nemesis, Daniel arap Moi, for 24 years the President of Kenya. Kibabi named Maathai as Deputy Minister in the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Wildlife in January, 2003.

Wangari Maathai died in Nairobi in 2011 of cancer.

More About Wangari Maathai

  • ·Wangari Maathai and Jason Bock. The Green Belt Movement: Sharing the Approach and the Experience. 2003.
  • ·Wallace, Aubrey. Eco-Heroes: Twelve Tales of Environmental Victory. Mercury House. 1993.
  • ·Dianne Rocheleau, Barbara Thomas-Slayter and Esther Wangari, editors. Feminist Political Ecology: Global Issues and Local Experiences.

Editor’s note:  In 1977, Wangari Maathai started a movement — called the Green Belt Movement — to plant trees to solve societal woes. Known in her native Kenya as “The Tree Lady,” she was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She is also first woman in central or eastern Africa to hold a Ph.D., and the first woman head of a university department in Kenya. She died after a long battle with cancer.  The article notes that she received her biology degree from Mt. St. Scholastica in Atchison, KS.  We share our Benedictine Sisters sorrow and loss.


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