Following is a review of some of the current issues in Central America that are of special interest to us.
El Salvador: The deadline for completing the 1992 peace accords was April 30, but many provisions remain incomplete--electoral, judicial, and constitutional reforms, final titling on the land transfer programs and finding ways to deal with the impact of long-term debt of the land transfer beneficiaries. Social and criminal violence is at highest point since war's end, with youth gangs (maras) terrorizing parts of the cities; many gang leaders learned about gang life on the streets of US cities. A survey from the Jesuit UCA showed that 72.5% of the population considered crime the country's most serious problem. Remittances sent from abroad are still important part of economy--about $1 billion last year.
Of special concern are the recent death threats issued by something calling itself FURODA - the Major Roberto D'Abuisson Nationalist Force. Among the "destabilizers and traitors to the country" mentioned in at least two of their communiques is Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chαvez, auxiliary of San Salvador. A note expressing your solidarity with Bishop Rosa, assuring him of your prayers and concern, can be sent by fax to: (011)(503) 226-4979.
USCC Policy recommendations include: continued support for peace accords implementation; continued development assistance and peace accords related funding, extension of UN presence.
Guatemala: Today the region's most conflicted country, Guatemala is now experiencing both a genuine break-through in the peace process and a worrisome increase in human rights violations, some directed against the Church. Last March the URNG guerrillas declared an indefinite cease-fire, followed immediately by the government's promise to end counter-insurgency activities. With strong encouragement from the bishops, and with the prospective papal visit of February in mind, the URNG commanders and the new President, Alvaro Arzϊ, held several private meetings (some arranged by the San Egidio community) and have effectively ended 35 years of mostly low level conflict. Arzϊ has also moved quickly to cashier several senior military with records of human rights abuse; in recent survey 76.5% of the population favored abolition or sharp reduction of the 42,000-strong army.
But human rights problems continue, with violent expulsions of landless squatters who have occupied lands and new death squads, thought to be tied to some of the military, threatening even the bishop of San Marcos and the Assumptionist Sisters in that area. The Xaman massacre of resettled refugees by Guatemalan soldiers last October threatened the peace process but was overcome by immediate denunciations by the bishops and others (including USCC). Bishop Juan Gerardi of the archdiocesan human rights office says the violence is a product of a mixture of injustice, criminal gangs, "social cleansing" by death squads and the 35-year conflict.
Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini of San Marcos, like Bishop Rosa a good friend of USCC, has also been singled out for death threats by an even more public group called the "Emergency Committee to Defend Private Property." He and the Land Pastoral Commission of his diocese have consistently called for genuine land reform, something the peace process is intended to advance. But some of the landowners (2% of the population who controil 67% of the arable land) seem determined not to respect the rights of the campesinos. Ramazzini has called the huge plantation system "an invention of the devil, in which people are treated as slaves," and some of the masters want to get rid of the bishop. A note of solidarity and support can be sent to him by fax: (011)(502)(9) 60-1206.
USCC Policy recommendations include the continued prohibition of US military assistance, both Foreign Military Sales and IMET-International Military Education and Training funds, but full funding for peace accord implementation and reconstruction, and support of UN mission (MINUGUA). We support continued declassification of documents dealing with serious violations of human rights of US citizens in Guatemala, the most dramatic recent case being that of Sr. Dianna Ortiz, osu. While some 5,847 documents were made available last month by the State Department, documents from Defense, CIA and other intelligence agencies are yet to be released.
Honduras: Declassification of documents is also an issue regarding Honduras, one of the most prominent cases being that of the U.S. former Jesuit Fr. James (Guadalupe) Carney, killed in 1983. Criminal violence has also become a major problem which Archbishop Oscar Rodrνguez of Tegucigalpa and CELAM president lays at the feet of the growing gap between rich and poor caused by the regnant free market economic model. Poverty levels in Honduras have risen to 70%, higher than the 60% for the rest of Central America. Policy recommendations include support for further declassification, and for the debt restructuring aimed at highly-indebted, low income countries, including Honduras.
Nicaragua: The country's external debt, which stood at $10.2 billion in 1990, has now been reduced to $5.7 billion, due in part to Russia's agreement for reduce by 92% the $3.3 billion bilateral debt contracted when the Sandinistas were in power. Addressing the international community at the time of the February 7 papal visit, Pope John Paul spoke of "the need to promote programs of effective aid and exchange aimed at improving productivity, creating jobs, and preventing economic adjustments from disadvantaging the majority poor sectors of society. While the Church doesn't propose technical answers to these problems, it does seek to speak its word, in the name of the Gospel, that an ever more lively international solidarity and awareness of the responsibility to improve the living conditions of all may be promoted. One troubling aspect of Nicaraguan life this past year has been the bombing of churches, 18 in the past year and, as elsewhere, an increase in criminal violence.
Policy positions include support for continued US development and electoral aid, including technical assistance for the October elections. At present, US will supply $6 million, of which $4.5 million is to be channelled through the Costa Rica-based Centro de Asesoria y Promociσn Electoral (CAPEL) to help Nicaragua's electoral council develop computerized databases to produce a permanent voter list and transmit election results, train poll watchers and conduct educational; campaigns on how to register and vote.