NW SOA Vigil 2008My good friend, David Golemboski, a doctoral student in government at Georgetown University and a member of the Board of Directors for the nonprofit organization Witness for Peace has an excellent article in the latest issue of America magazine, Still ‘Presente’? U.S. Catholics Should Reconnect with Latin America.” David has long worked in the field of social-justice-related concerns, most recently as a staff member of NETWORK prior to his beginning the graduate program at Georgetown. This is an essay well-worth reading, here’s the beginning of it, click the link below to read the rest on the America website.

Since August, several workers formerly employed by General Motors in Colombia have been protesting unsafe working conditions and demanding compensation after being fired following injuries sustained on the job. Some of the protestors have launched hunger strikes, sewing their mouths shut and declaring that they are prepared to die if G.M. does not agree to a fair resolution of the conflict. The protest has received coverage in major newspapers and has expanded to include demonstrations at G.M. locations around the United States, including the corporate headquarters in Detroit and the home of G.M.’s chief executive officer outside Washington, D.C.

A number of human rights organizations and faith groups in the United States have spoken in support of the workers and organized to pressure G.M., but none of the most vocal advocates have been representatives of the U.S. Catholic community. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has not made any official statement concerning the protests. This conspicuous absence is no one-time phenomenon. Rather, it highlights a shift that has occurred in the U.S. Catholic community over the past two decades.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, great portions of the U.S. Catholic community were heavily engaged in various forms of outreach and expressions of solidarity with the people of Latin America—the land of Archbishop Oscar Romero, liberation theology and death squads. This included delegations of Americans who traveled to Nicaragua, El Salvador or other places and the establishment of sister-parish relationships between U.S. and Central American congregations. According to Christian Smith, a sociologist at Notre Dame, more than 100,000 U.S. citizens traveled to Nicaragua during this time “to observe its revolution firsthand.” At home, the sanctuary movement saw faith communities sheltering political refugees from Latin America, often illegally. Countless Catholics joined in advocacy efforts to reshape U.S. policies in Central America, the movement to close what was then the School of the Americas in Georgia being a prominent example. The growing use of Spanish songs and prayers in U.S. liturgies originated largely in the spirit of solidarity that flourished in this era.

But since the 1980s and early 1990s, this widespread and intense commitment to Latin America has waned. The annual School of the Americas protest continues (the S.O.A. is now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation), but the event is now as much an annual convocation of progressive Catholics as a targeted advocacy effort. Whereas Latin America was once a central preoccupation for the U.S. Catholic Church, it now appears to be a dwindling niche concern for a handful of aging diehards.

Should we expect that Latin America will remain a relative non-issue in the American church? Do U.S. Catholics still care about Latin America?

Shifting Priorities

The gradual eclipse of Latin America on the agenda of many U.S. Catholics has much to do with changes in geo-political dynamics and the U.S. government’s foreign policy agenda. In particular, the end of the cold war and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, have had enormous consequences in shaping U.S. objectives abroad. Soviet Communism has been replaced by Islamist terrorism as the nation’s primary perceived enemy, and the corresponding “battlegrounds” have shifted as well. No longer do U.S. covert interventions and overt wars aim to stop the spread of communism, but rather to disrupt the operations of Al Qaeda and other terrorist threats. Central America figured prominently in the old struggle, but the Middle East has taken center stage in the new one. During this fall’s presidential debate on foreign policy, neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney mentioned a single Latin American country by name. As the currents of global politics have changed, the projects of global activists have evolved as well. Catholics who once protested wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador now find themselves focused on countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Syria.

This shift has coincided with a growing perception that the economic and political crises that once called for urgent attention in Latin America have abated. The civil wars that ravaged El Salvador and Nicaragua ended more than 20 years ago. Jess Hunter-Bowman, associate director of the Latin America solidarity organization Witness for Peace, believes that this has contributed to diminished interest in Latin America. “When there isn’t that front-page issue,” he says, “people turn their focus to whatever new crisis needs to be addressed.” Also, globalization is steadily, if unevenly, delivering many benefits of economic growth to Latin America. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, between 2000 and 2010, gross domestic product per capita in Latin American countries grew at nearly six times the rate that it had over the previous two decades. Only a naïf could believe that Latin America is entirely liberated from its struggles, but one is no longer besieged by the horrific reports of the kind that used to emanate regularly from Latin American countries in decades past.

But despite some positive developments in Latin America, poverty, inequality, corruption and social instability remain wide-spread. Mexico has been terrorized over the last several years by the brutality of the international drug trade and scandalized by the government’s ineffectual response. In Colombia, similarly, a U.S.-led “war on drugs” bears a share of responsibility for violence, displacement and devastation of agricultural communities. In Honduras violence and impunity have spiraled out of control since the 2009 coup that overthrew that country’s democratically elected president. According to the Committee of Families of the Detained and Disappeared of Honduras, a leading Honduran human rights organization, more than 10,000 complaints of human rights abuses by state security forces have been filed in the last three years. In early 2012 the United Nations called Honduras the world’s most dangerous nation. Responsibility for this crisis falls partly on the United States, given the Obama administration’s decision to more or less accept the outcome of the coup…

To read the rest, visit: America Magazine’s Website Here

Photo: Witness for Peace

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