Quick - what is the most violent country in the world? Hmmm... not sure, but it would have to be a war zone, right? Afghanistan? Maybe Iraq? What if I told you it was Honduras? Followed quickly by El Salvador and then Venezuela. Honduras' murder rate, expressed as the number of murders reported per 100,000 in population, ranks at 86 / 100,000. El Salvador and Venezuela's rates are 75 and 65 / 100,000. In fact, Latin America as a whole, and Central America in particular, virtually owns the title of the world's most violent countries, with a regional average four times the worldwide average. (from Bloggings by Boz) Here are the numbers for 2011:
- Honduras 86 / 100,000 (increase of 15%)
- El Salvador 75
- Venezuela 65
- Guatemala 36
- Colombia 30 (lowest in 35 years)
- Brazil 26
*********I find these numbers illuminating for several reasons. First, I think that most average readers of the news in the US would assume that the majority of violent deaths in the world occur 'over there', i.e. in far away places, rather than in the countries and cities of our shared border and continent. Second, following the US media's focus on the increasing drug violence in Mexico, I imagine no one would guess that Mexico is far behind the levels of violence in much of neighboring Central America. Certainly the violence in the high trafficking zones is real and critical, but it only matches the larger and wider problems of systemically astounding and morally disastrous levels of violence throughout the region. I do not believe it is only a casual association that these same high-violence countries are among the most unequal in distribution of wealth, nor that they are susceptible to the corrosion that the US drug trade brings with it. And while these damning statistics represent very complex underlying problems in these countries, it is the task of every thinking and faithful person to look at how we can be a part of changing these realities. US policy, through trade, drug and military relations, are very real parts of this story. In the coming months, I hope we can connect how these elements of US policy and society directly relate to the levels of regularized violence that permeate the region.
On David Duncan's excellent blog on development theory From Poverty to Power, Kate Raeworth shares this reflection on living in the doughnut hole. In the genre of Alice in Wonderland's rabbit-hole dreamscapes, Raeworth's doughnut hole is an amazing confluence of planetary limits and social boundaries. That is to say, she asks the question of how do we live when we are caught between the constraints of a planet with fixed, limited resources and the constraints of living humanely with one another? Basically just about everything I find terrifying in this world - transposed on top of each other.
Raeworth discusses "Doughnut Economics" - finding the economic space in between planetary and social boundaries. As an engineer, and as a person of faith, I find each of these limits compelling. And urgent. And addressable.I'm interested in how others find this idea of 'doughnut economics.' Do you find one set of constraints or the other more compelling? More urgent? More or less manageable? Do you find people or organizations working on both sides of the equation - or placing themselves intentionally in the doughnut hole, as it were? I do think that these questions are fundamentally connected by our levels of resource use and control. You cannot disconnect the levels of consumption of folks in the United States from both the tangible effects of poverty, hunger, and deprivation experienced by the world's poor nor from the underlying limits of a finite planet. And so we come back, as we often do, to fundamental questions of fairness, equality, and sharing. These questions will change many of our lives, and they are the same lessons I am working on sharing with our daughter, just as every parent I know does. Why can't we actually learn these lessons? Here is the idea visually: And where we stand on the donuthole indicators:
Some interesting links from around the web on some of the '30,000 feet subject's' that are often neglected when we think about our work in this world...
- One of my favorite development bloggers takes a look at where religion and development work intersect. It shows how far our sides have drifted apart - he seems to be writing about making the first tentative steps toward an alien race - but historically and on the ground, Development NGO's, people's organizations, and religious bodies have long been steadfast partners.
- What? The world's largest escalator in one of our favorite cities? Medellin rocks! (like the MetroCables, this escalator serves some of the cities most isolated and impoverished neighborhoods. Medellin has a world-class system of public voting on development projects, and this escalator is a prime example of how people want to improve their neighborhoods.)
- There's more to development than ending absolute poverty | Jonathan Glennie | Global development | guardian.co.uk
- [caption id="attachment_2457" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="from brandspankingnew.net"][/caption] What is the population problem? by Claire Melamed. This is from the slew of articles came out when the world's 7th billion person was both last year. A good look at the deeper questions of justice and equity that are raised when one considers the current state of how we use our world's resources instead of only thinking of population numbers.
- A great look at the impacts, both positive and negative, of short-term mission trips, from our friend and Co-Worker in Guatemala Amanda Craft.
We've talked a lot about the Free Trade Agreement here on the blog. And yes, we know the risks of being a one note band. And yes, we have often thought the vote was just around the corner. But we have not changed our minds - this is still a bad deal. Bad for our partners here; bad for the majority of Colombians in rural areas. But more than that, these types of trade agreements - which will serve to further advance the huge inequities in wealth and power - are bad for everyone in the long run. We all prosper when growth is shared and expanded rather than saved and hoarded. The US will benefit from a more democratic and more just Colombia, just as Colombia will benefit from US lawmakers looking at the long term costs and weaknesses this trade agreement will amplify. And tomorrow, Wednesday, this trade agreement will come up for vote. It is a part of a package of three deals - Colombia, Panama and South Korea - and a program to provide aid to US workers who lose their jobs due to the shifts brought on by these trade deals. While all of the trade deals have their issues, the deal with Colombia is what we know, and so we ask that you too raise your voice against this deal. Below are links to ways to call, email, or fax your representative and senators. There are also other links - closing arguments, if you will, on the case of what kind of future we want to create. Time is of the essence. We encourage you to speak out now. Call Congress. Email Congress. Resources for Presbyterians. Colombia FTA letter - RW & MB Lisa Haugaard has a summary of the problems with the Colombia deal - well worth a read, but here are some highlights: (from Huffington Post)
First, the slaughter of trade unionists in Colombia is far from over. More trade unionists were killed last year in Colombia than in the rest of the world combined -- see this chart, if the words alone do not resonate... Something is deeply wrong when a country leads the world in murders of people who exercise their freedom to organize. Second, the trade agreement will devastate poor farmers who have borne the brunt of the country's brutal conflict. These farm families who have lost husbands, sons and daughters -- and barely eke out a living as it is -- will lose even more... We should care about these families because they have suffered so much already. But we should also care because undercutting their livelihoods would push farmers back into coca production, the raw material for cocaine. U.S. taxpayers have already paid the tab on some $8 billion in aid to Colombia, supposedly with the aim of fighting illegal drugs. Third, the trade agreement will escalate the kinds of investment that are most associated with violence. You may have heard about the campaign against conflict diamonds. Colombia has conflict gold, conflict coal, conflict oil, conflict cattle ranching, conflict ports, conflict dams and conflict African palm plantations for biofuel... Unless paramilitary and other criminal networks are dismantled before the deal is sealed, the FTA will escalate the violence.We have a brief moment to stop this step in the wrong direction. May we all act.
Word on the wires is that the Colombia Free Trade Agreement may be submitted soon, as early as Monday, for Congressional approval. I thought it might be a good to time to post our letter outlining our particular reasons for opposition to this agreement. Perhaps you can share it with your Congress person.... (PDF version here Colombia FTA letter - RW & MB), IPC statement about the Agreement here (IPC - Letter against the FTA)
August 17, 2011Honorable Member of Congress: First, we want to thank you for your service to our country and its citizens, and indeed to your service to people everywhere who continue to look to the United States as a beacon of hope, justice, and freedom. We write to you from Barranquilla, Colombia, where we live and serve as Mission Co-Workers with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and our partner church here, the Iglesia Presbiteriana de Colombia. We want to share with you some of our observations from living and working here amongst a Presbyterian church that seeks to follow God's call to serve the good of all people, especially those far from the centers of power. We are writing to urge you to vote against the passage of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement as it is currently written. Our churches, here in Colombia and in the United States, have long worked for trade between countries that serves the good of all people, rather than only a select few. The proposed Colombia Free Trade Agreement, as it is currently written, falls short of the basic principle of fairness for all, and thus as a church we cannot support its passage. There are many reasons for this agreement's shortcomings: the destructive effects on the Colombian environment, the weak protections for Colombia's threatened indigenous peoples and Afro-descendent population, and the threats and violence against Colombian trade unionists. Conversely, there are other negative impacts for US workers and manufacturing. These weaknesses in the current agreement have been well covered by other groups. We want to focus, however, on the destructive effects that this agreement will have on the average Colombian small-scale farmer and how that will have negative consequences for the well-being of US citizens in your district. Small-scale farmers in Colombia make up the majority of the rural population, most existing at a subsistence level or just a step above. They usually farm small plots of land, often with few legal guarantees, harvesting staple crops such as corn, rice, sugar, and other native consumables. Their existence is precarious, depending greatly on market prices, weather, and other forces of nature, to say nothing of the myriad of violence and social conflicts that are particular to the Colombian context. The introduction of US agricultural staples such as corn, rice and sugar, which are all subsidized and produced at much lower costs in the United States than is possible in Colombia will have a highly detrimental effect on the majority of rural Colombians, effectively eliminating the livelihoods of many of these farmers. For that reason alone, this trade agreement is flawed. There are, however, much deeper implications to this drastic reduction of the Colombian rural economy. For years, the United States has worked to decrease the amount of coca that is grown in Colombia, mostly through the aid package of Plan Colombia. Particularly through the social aid in the package, which Congress has emphasized in recent years, the US government, through USAID, has striven to reduce the incentives to small scale farmers for growing coca. We have learned that the only effective programs to reduce coca is by offering small scale farmers other viable options to provide for their families. Through smart and targeted programs we are finally seeing results, and the amount of coca being grown in recent years has begun to decline. These gains are tentative, and the wide- scale introduction of US subsidized crops will obliterate them since the destruction of the rural economy here will effectively make the illicit coca trade the only viable alternative to thousands of small Colombian farmers. We will have worked for the past ten years only to reverse course overnight. Many members of our partner church are these small scale farmers. In our time living with and working among them, we know that they are not the ones who will turn to growing coca to provide for their families. But we also know that given that choice – to grow coca and feed your family, or watch them perish – thousands of other campesinos will turn to coca. That coca will bring with it many tremendous negative consequences as it travels to the United States. We are seeing the impacts on cocaine's trafficking in South and Central America. We know its impacts on the streets of the United States. Those consequences touch all of us through addiction, violence, and the destruction wrought by the drug trade. There are many parts to the drug problem, but it starts with a small, poor farmer deciding how to feed his family here in Colombia. We have a chance to change that decision. We urge you to consider these implications in your deliberations. We understand fully that trade agreements are complex instruments, with many benefits and costs. That is only amplified in Washington's current climate surrounding these trade deals. However, the high costs to the rural Colombians we know and work with form the moral case against this particular agreement; and the significant setback to US interests in working against the spread of the coca trade form the logical case against the agreement. We pray that together, you will find them compelling reasons to vote no to the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. Blessings, Rev. Richard Williams and Rev. Mamie Broadhurst Mission Co-Workers, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Barranquilla, Colombia
A week or so ago, I had the chance to hear one of Alice Winters' last lectures at Reformed University. Tomorrow, after 35 years of mission service here in Colombia, she is headed back to the United States for her retirement. I would say she is headed home, except she has now lived in Colombia for more years than she ever lived in the United States, so...hard to say what going back means. Alice has done many things since she has been here, not the least of which is teaching possibly every pastor and many elders in the entire Presbyterian Church of Colombia. Her mark is deep and wide, and the mark people here have made on her has been irrefutably profound and transformational. In recent years she has primarily been a professor at the University here in Barranquilla, teaching Old Testament and Hebrew to all who pass through its doors - Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Baptists, Mennonites, and more. She has always been kind enough to spend time with each set of accompaniers that has passed through the North Coast as well, and they have in turn been treated to Biblical study and theological reflection with her. And let me just tell you, she's good. I have always been anxious about leading Bible studies. I don't know why exactly, but I rarely feel I do it as well as it should be done. Sadly sitting with Alice does not just rub the super-impressive-Biblical-reflection-hoodoo off on me, but if it did...dang. I never fail to learn something in listening to Alice, even if it is a reflection I have heard her give in the past. She somehow manages to make closer study of the Bible remain an act of discipleship and devotion, never shunting it off to confines of academic inquiry and yet always replete with intellectual rigor. In one of her last talks at Reformed University, she opened her remarks looking at two reflections on the current economic crisis. One was from comments made by Governor Rick Perry of Texas at the prayer rally in Houston last week and the other a letter written by many Latin American leaders regarding the same concern. Among his remarks, Gov. Perry said:
“I tell people, that “personal property” and the ownership of that personal property is crucial to our way of life.
Our founding fathers understood that it was a very important part of the pursuit of happiness. Being able to own things that are your own is one of the things that makes America unique. But I happen to think that it’s in jeopardy.
It’s in jeopardy because of taxes; it’s in jeopardy because of regulation; it’s in jeopardy because of a legal system that’s run amok. And I think it’s time for us to just hand it over to God and say, “God, You’re going to have to fix this.”
I think it’s time for us to use our wisdom and our influence and really put it in God’s hands. That’s what I’m going to do, and I hope you’ll join me.”From Latin American church leaders comes this reflection (you can read the full letter at the end of this post):
As people of faith who have ourselves lived through economic and political turbulence in recent decades, we join with U.S. religious leaders from all Christian faith traditions who are fulfilling their prophetic role by standing in solidarity with the poor. In such times, faith leaders must be true to their vocation and amplify the voices of the vulnerable millions that have been excluded from the heated political debates that have raged in Washington.She went on to look at various Bible passages and to talk about the theologies that seem to be at work behind these two very different reflections. One which says that "personal property" is crucial and that our responsibility is basically to back off and just let God do whatever God is going to do, and one which says that in fact we have a very active role to play as people of faith - to stand in solidarity with the poor and amplify their voices in times of crisis. It seems to me that no matter what we say about separation of church and state, that there is never (nor can there really be) a separation of faith and state. We make decisions and take action and believe things about others based on what we believe about the way the world works - with a God, without one, a God who is most concerned with my happiness, one who is most concerned about justice for all. What Alice did (and does) so well was to lift up the theologies she saw amidst political speeches or legal decisions or church actions and try to see what basis those theologies have (or don't have...) in the Bible. In doing so she kept life sacred - if that is to say that she kept it always pointing toward God, or at least trying to show to what kind of God it was pointing. We wish you the best Alice, but doggonit, we are sure gonna miss you. (more below the fold...) Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, We are fellow believers with you in the God who has never ceased reaching out to defend the poor and the excluded. We view with deep concern recent decisions in the United States that will add to the suffering of the most vulnerable members of U.S. society. As people of faith who have ourselves lived through economic and political turbulence in recent decades, we join with U.S. religious leaders from all Christian faith traditions who are fulfilling their prophetic role by standing in solidarity with the poor. In such times, faith leaders must be true to their vocation and amplify the voices of the vulnerable millions that have been excluded from the heated political debates that have raged in Washington. Those who govern should know that the decisions made in your country have consequences for the economies of other nations around the world. In the medium and long term, they will affect the lives of millions of people in the countries of the Global South. It seems to us immoral that politicians, with some exceptions, embrace only the interests of the wealthy, preferring to cut social assistance to those in greatest need. We know the generosity and solidarity of the American people and the assistance programs to the poor that operate through churches and civil society organizations in Latin America. It is therefore inconceivable to us that the wealthy make no effort to take responsibility for the debt generated by the country as a whole. Paying more taxes will not bankrupt them. Cutting social benefits jeopardizes the lives of the retired, the sick and others who are in need. Is this not brutally unjust? Therefore we, the undersigned Christian leaders of Latin America, write to express our solidarity with the people of the United States, especially those who embrace Christianity, who call for a true and just resolution to this crisis — a crisis that is not only economic, but also, and above all, moral. We encourage you to join the efforts of various churches, including those called “Circle of Protection.” Our prayers are with you, dear brothers and sisters in the faith. Do not falter in your efforts, although these may be lonely times for people whose prophetic voice the politicians seem not to want to hear. God is watching the politicians and will not stop telling them: “Give justice to the poor!”(Psalm 82:3)
So maybe it is our recent trip to the US, but I've been thinking a lot lately about the differences between living in Colombia and the United States. Of course there are lots of differences, and lots of them completely unquantifiable, but what can you quantify about living in another culture? I came across a really interesting tool a while back which is a great help in thinking about this. It is called If It Were My Home and it uses demographic, health and economic data to compare lifestyles in different countries. First - size. Finally, a wonderful size comparison of Colombia's land size to the lower 48. Again, Colombia is not a small country! It is twice the size of Texas. Second - the stats. What is fun about these is that after being here for a couple of years, I can actually check these out a bit more... 1) Have 2.7x higher risk of dying in infancy. It may be debatable, but I think I'm safe in escaping infancy unscathed. 2) Use 93% less electricity. Great! We can check this one. I looked back at our electrical use in the US and here. We averaged 470 kwh/month in the US; we average 291 khw/month here. That's 38% lower. For reference, electricity here costs about 33% more, so that may account for some of it. But the facts shows that we end up using a lot less electricity here in Colombia, which is a good step for environmental sustainability! 3) Use 90% less oil. My guess is this one is pretty accurate. Without a car, using buses, taxis, and motorcycles as our primary transport, yeah, we probably use 90% less oil. 4) Make 80% less money. Hmm, we do make less money here in Colombia. I hesitate to put a % on it, but 80% is not out of the ballpark... 5) Spend 93% less on health care. Probably accurate... (e.g. I saw a blog post about the average hospital delivery in the US is $40,000. Ours here - about $2,500) 6) See a 30% more of a class divide. My impressions of this would be that the divide here is higher, but I think you are much more aware of class divides in cultures that are not your own. 7) Would be 29% more unemployed. Well, we did come here with a job, and have managed to keep it so far... 8) Have 28.42% more babies. Ahh! We can be concrete on this one! We have had exactly 100% more babies here in Colombia. 9) Will die 3.93 years sooner here in Colombia. We are hoping not to test this one out...
**********So what is the take away? Colombians use much fewer natural resources - electricity, oil - which translates into a much more sustainable lifestyle for the planet. Some of that is due to lower incomes, some to higher costs. Colombia's population, therefore, has less of a footprint on the planet, even as it is growing faster. This is probably no surprise to folks used to high consumption lifestyles; still, it is a clear call for what the planet can sustain over the long haul. And in general, Colombia is a rather average country in terms of income and consumption - clearly not the richest, but also not among the poorest. Another good resource to gauge yourself and the rest of the world is The Global Rich List. Check it out to compare your income to the rest of the world. Surprised? Often by only comparing ourselves to our neighbors we lose perspective of how we stack up in the wide swath of our human family. Beyond any numbers, our time in Colombia has shown us that we are indeed a part of one large, convoluted human family. Like any family, we are in this together, and everyone's actions effect all the rest. But these numbers show just how much those of us in the rich world have to examine our consumption and control before we are equal and faithful members of our larger human family.
...Lord, hear our prayers...
[caption id="attachment_2135" align="alignright" width="258" caption="Banner from Colegio Nazareth for Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia, 2011"][/caption] Sunday was the last day for the ayuno, or fast, that Mamie and I participated in last week. We joined people in the United States and Colombia for this fast - an ancient tradition in the Jewish and Christian traditions - as a sign of protest, lament, and hope. So how does a week of fasting bring about protest, lament, and hope? The Hebrew prophet Isaiah wrote of the type of fast that God chooses in a time of crisis for the Hebrew people, and it is a clear call to us today:
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?Just preceding that passage, there are clear warnings about what type of sanctified religious displays are the opposite of God's desires, and a warning for all of us fasting this past week:
“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? (Isaiah 58)So do I feel like we loosed the bonds of injustice this past week? Undid the thongs of the yoke? Let the oppressed go free? Shared bread or clothed the naked? Or instead, did we serve our individual interests, continue in the oppression of others, or fail to be humble in this fast... If the measure of a fast is to have stopped the Colombia/US Free Trade agreement, or to have taken the reigns of the debate in Congress, then we certainly did not accomplish that. Yet, I also think those goals would fall more in line with the second text from above, the ways that we humans can misinterpret sacred actions like fasting. Instead, I pray and hope this fast had a different but deeper impact; I am changed for it, and changed for good. After a week of sunup to sundown fasting, I can say that it is very much an exercise of patience and deliberateness. For me there were no revelations, no in-breakings of the Spirit - only the constancy of my hunger. The dull ache of lack that I so often literally quench. But not this past week. This past week that hunger, that lack, was a holy symbol of God's hunger. God's hunger for justice and dignity for all of God's beloved creations. Fasting is not an exercise to force something outside to happen as much as it is to steel your resolve, to examine deeply your commitments, and to fuel the simmering fire for justice that is somewhere in all of us. Many of our readers joined us in fasting, and even more joined us in calling into the White House to voice opposition to the harmful elements of this agreement (and it is not too late for you to call...). I am hopeful about the political impact of this witness. It is important for people who know some of the deeper impacts of these trade agreements to raise their voice in opposition. And thanks be to God, there are times when the political leaders in the US listen to this kind of witness. Raising our voice about this one policy is just the beginning of working for the much broader transformation of our political order, towards a world where the dignity and value of all of God's people, and creation, is the common goal. But in the end, I am also hopeful about a deeper change. A change deeper than the many give and takes that this trade agreement is going through. A change deeper than the hope promised by politicians. I am hopeful for a deeper change in me, and in you. A change that we can truly join in the fast that God chooses. A change to align our whole lives in the work of God. Then we truly change this world.
A good message from our friends at the Latin America Working Group:
Today is the national day to call and raise your voice against the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. Here are the details. What will you do? What will you say?
I also wanted to include this thoughtful note from Tom Milligan, of the Colombia Mission Network:
Dear friends of the IPC-PCUSA Colombia Mission Network. I write you today in my capacity as the convenor of this Network. Many of you already know of and are planning to participate in events related to opposition to the proposed US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement but I wanted to be doubly sure that all of you are aware and receive my invitation to participate. After years of deliberation and political wrangling, the Obama Administration will now be considering passage of a free trade agreement (FTA) between the United States and Colombia on a fast track. This agreement has gotten fairly positive reviews in the media and in various sectors of civil society. I, myself as a businessman and community leader in Sidney, Ohio was inclined, early on, to see the trade agreement favorably. Yet, in learning more about its specifics, in listening to our brothers and sisters in Colombia and upon reading and understanding the issues at a deeper level, I have come to see the possible grave consequences for workers both here and in Colombia, should the trade agreement be passed. As a matter of conscience, I have come to the conclusion that the FTA must be opposed. Why Presbyterians Oppose the Colombia FTA
The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship is taking a leadership role in this movement, which is where you come in. I am ask you to join with our brothers and sisters in Colombia to oppose the FTA in the following ways: -Join the public Fast of Resistance June 5-12, 2011. We are fasting alongside our sisters and brothers in Colombia and around the United States. The Fast is aimed at reaching a deeper spiritual place in our opposition to the FTA while bringing attention to the FTA issue. 160 of our Colombian brothers and sisters have already agreed to participate in this. Even if you cannot fast for the entire week, fasting for a day or a portion of the week would be a significant witness with our Colombian brothers and sisters (Details on the PPF website) www.presbypeacefellowship.org/colombia -Sign the PC(USA) Petition (refer to the PPF website) -Participate in a Call-In to the White House at a time coordinated by the PPF to voice your opposition to the FTA. (refer to the PPF website) -Follow the effort on Facebook and Twitter and promote this to your personal networks to spread the word! (hashtag: #peacefast) Your participation in these actions is critical to the success of this effort and an important show of Christian solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Colombia as a concrete sign of our partnership covenants. In Christ, Tom Milligan, Convenor, IPC-PCUSA Colombia Network
- Our partners in the Presbyterian Church have consistently asked us to support them in their opposition of the FTA.
- The PC(USA) as a body has studied the situation and policies thoroughly, and official church policy opposes the FTA specifically.
- A broad coalition of religious advocacy groups are working together to protect the most vulnerable in Colombia by opposing the FTA.