Thursday, April 24, 2008

An Update on Life and the Current Crises in Nicaragua

Dear Family and Friends,

While I have been active in updating the blog often with news from the community, I haven't taken the time recently to update you on what I have been doing and how things are going here!

March was a wonderful time, and we were excited for the visit of Friends of Batahola, the Boston College Arrupe group, George School, and others, and to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte.

My work most recently has focused on a research project looking at international volunteer programs. I have had the chance to interview various organizations in Nicaragua to learn about their experiences with international volunteers. This has helped tremendously in setting up Friends of Batahola Volunteers and creating a network of support. Results of the study, which will look at aspects of volunteer programs such as structure, finances, orientations, volunteer work, etc., will be distributed to participating organizations to aid them in improving their own programs.

I have been coordinating with St. Andrews Episcopal Church in my hometown of Yardley, PA about the possibility of a delegation coming to Nicaragua next winter, and I hope that it happens! I am very excited about the possibility of a group from my church coming to learn about Nicaragua and the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte.

Christine and I are also continuing work with the women's group, and will focus the next meeting on self-esteem in a workshop led by two of the Center's scholarship students, who are psychology majors at the university. We are excited to continue working with the group to provide a space for women to come together to have fun, learn, and reflect.

Plans After Nicaragua!
I recently found out that I was awarded a scholarship to attend the Harvard Divinity School to study Theologies of Liberation and will start in the Fall of 2009. I also plan to purse a joint degree possibly at Tufts in International Relations which I will apply to when I return to Boston.

As part of my studies I will enroll in HDS's Field Education program, and am looking into a a position with the American Friends Service Committe's "Project Voice" that is focused on immigrant rights.

I am also excited about reuniting with many friends who will be in the area studying programs such as social work, public policy, or theology, and working with non-profit organizations!

Hopefully my time in Boston will better prepare me to contribute in a meaningful way to addressing issues of poverty and injustice and build upon my experiences in Nicaragua.

The National Transportation Strike, the Food Crisis, and the pullout of Maquilas

We are now entering the second week of the national transportation strike in Nicaragua. Taxi and bus drivers are demanding a freeze on the price of gas and are in negotiations with the government. As a result, many schools, universities, workplaces have been shut down. As tensions mount in the negotiations, two trucks have been burned and one person killed. We hope a resolution will be reached as soon as possible to end the strike.

Rising prices of food and gas are putting a lot of pressure on the most vulnerable sectors of Nicaraguan society and making it harder for families to feed their children. For an interesting perspective on the global food crisis see:
"Capitalism, Agribusiness, and the Food Sovereignty Alternative"- Centre for Research on Globalization

"Making a Killing From the Food Crisis" - Real News Network

Exacerbating the situation is the fact that nine maquilas have announced their pullout of Nicaragua in the last three months, which will leave over 12,000 people jobless. Maquilas (factories where imported goods are assembled for exports, also commonly referred to as "sweat shops") are controversial for their human rights abuses and dumping of toxic wastes, etc. Nicaragua recently lost it's comparative advantage of attracting foreign direct investment when the government, against the advice of the International Monetary Fund, raised the minimum wage by 33.5% to $102 per month to help families cover the increasing cost of living.

For a single mother with two children, this salary would provide only $0.85 a day per person, barely enough to survive. To supplement family income, many children are put to work in the streets selling candies, prostituting themselves, or collecting tin cans and plastic.

Poor countries like Nicaragua are often locked in what is termed a "race to the bottom" with other countries who, desperate for jobs, will make great concessions in worker's wages and human rights, environmental standards, etc. as well as grant tax holidays and other benefits in order to attract foreign businesses. While such neoliberal strategies are theoretically supposed to help jump-start economies in poor countries, they actually allow for the exploitation of already vulnerable populations and leave economies further dilapidated when maquilas leave to find another poor country to operate in.

The Taiwanese-owned maquilas that are leaving Nicaragua will move to Vietnam, where there are no organized unions (as there are in Nicaragua), and the minimum wage is only $35/month as opposed to $102/month in Nicaragua. The Vietnamese government is awarding free land an other benefits to foreign companies as well.

With gas prices rising, all of Central America facing a food crisis, and Nicaragua still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Felix, the loss of 12,000 jobs in Managua is a devastating blow that will leave many more families hungry.

I hope that in the short-term, the Nicaraguan government will respond with measures to protect the most vulnerable sectors of society and develop a long-term plan for sustainable economic development that includes serious protections for the environment and human rights.

Especially in the context of this reality, I am grateful to be working at the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte. The micro-enterprise course opened a few weeks ago, aimed at helping people in the community to start their own small businesses selling cakes and other foods, natural medicines, handicrafts, and other goods to supplement their income. There are 16 people in the course mostly women, who have opened bank accounts to start saving money to open their small business. At the end of the 6-month course, the Center will then match whatever the students have saved to aid them in starting their business. The course will also help students access micro-loans and manage their money.

The course is one example of a program at the Center that helps people to provide for their families in ways that are more sustainable than maquila jobs. I am proud to be working in a place that is, as one friend recently described, "a breath of fresh oxygen" in an environment polluted by the bleak realities of corruption, poverty, and continued exploitation.

La paz,

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Updates on life, small business and the Luz Marina case

Dear family and friends,
I apologize that it's been so long since I've written, although I know Laura has been doing a great job sharing much of the community news from Batahola Norte. We certainly have been keeping busy! Our English class is well in to it's Second Level, and staying strong with 22 students. They are a wonderful group of dedicated learners. Its been fun to get to know each of them better. The class has started to take on a personality of its own now that the students know each other better and feel more comfortable playing games and sharing. I'm also settling comfortably into my role as a teacher, getting better at explaining vocabulary and grammar concepts in creative ways depending on the needs of the students. Thanks again to all of our donors who helped to fund the English class with books, cds, dictionaries, etc. We have definitely been taking advantage of your generosity!!
Aside from English, a lot of my time has been going towards the development of a course is small business start-up and administration. Many of the Center's classes, such as Cooking, Sewing, Craft Making and Natural Medicine, are geared towards helping men and women learn to produce products which they can sell. The next step is in providing information and support to those graduates who want to use their new skills as a source of income. I've spent the last months interviewing small business owners, researching various micro-enterprise curriculums, and organizing my findings in order to aid in the development of a unique curriculum the Center will use to help train many of their graduates in starting their own businesses. The course started this past Saturday, an accomplishment the Center is very proud of!
The women's quilting group I have been accompanying is currently in the process of investigating their potential markets in Nicaragua as well as in the U.S. Their products are getting more creative and more beautiful by the week. The women are enjoying making small quilts, quilted cosmetic bags, quilted backpacks, pillow cases, etc. Recently they have been teaching themselves, using donated books, to appliqué unique designs on their projects, which is a way they hope to incorporate Nicaraguan culture into their work. Soon we will be seeing bags and quilts covered in designs of flowers, volcanoes, fish, etc.!
For those who have been following the case of Luz Marina, the woman from Batahola who was brutally murdered by her husband, we wanted to share the latest news. As noted previously in the blog, Juan Bautista Silva, was found guilty for "frustrated homicide", which holds a sentence of 4 to 7 years. The family of Luz Marina was disappointed and angered by this sentence, given the premeditation that went into the murder, the brutality of the act, and the fact that Silvo's crime ended in the death of their loved one. Recently the court announced that Silva will be serving 6 years and 6 months in jail for his crime. On today's front page of one of the two main newspapers in Nicaragua, there was an article calling for justice for the many perpetrators of domestic violence and femicide in Nicaragua. The Red de Mujeres Contra la Violencia held a press conference to discuss the increasing rates of violence against women in the country and the court system's tendency to let many male perpetrators off with lenient sentences. With violence against women increasing, it is necessary to hold perpetrators responsible for their actions and do something to stop the circle of violence and abuse. We will keep updating the blog with any new developments.
Thank you for reading! As always, we love hearing from you with any questions, reflections or comments.
En paz,

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

No More Femicides! The Community of Batahola Denounces the Murder of Luz Marina Ruiz Uriarte

Justice for Luz Marina?

Today the murder trial for Luz Marina finally came to an end after three weeks of proceedings. Juan Bautista Silva (in photo below) was convicted of "frustrated homicide" since Luz Marina didn't die until two weeks after the attack. The prosecutor had hoped for a "frustrated murder" conviction, where Silva would have faced up to 30 years in prison. The sentence of "frustrated homicide" means that Juan Bautista Silva will only serve between 4-7 years in prison.

Silva entered his house on Feb. 6th, locked the doors, dragged his wife into the back room of their house. He sprayed her eyes with pepper spray to disorient her before stabbing her multiple times. Luz Marina's brother, Fidel, had to break into the house and intervened as Silva took out a gun, intending to shoot Luz Marina to end her life. She died on February 19th in the hospital. The above photo is from the crime scene. The photos of Luz Marina are too graphic to post here.

The family of Luz Marina and members of the community are outraged at the ruling and plan to appeal. Fidel is going on a hunger strike tomorrow in protest. We hope that the sentence will be changed to reflect the gravity of this crime, and send a clear message that violence against women will not be tolerated. If such an act had been committed against a stranger, Silva would have easily gotten the maximum sentence of 30 years. How can brutally murdering one's wife be considered a lesser offense?


Remembering Luz Marina
Killed by her Husband
Batahola Norte
February 19, 2008

On February 6, 2008, Luz Marina Ruiz Uriarte, resident of Batahola Norte, was brutally stabbed by her husband of 22 years, Juan Bautista Silva. Luz Marina died on February 19. On the night of February 6, Bautista entered the residence where he and Luz Marina lived, locking the doors behind him as he took her into the back patio of the house. After spraying Luz Marina's eyes with pepper spray, he attacked her with a knife. Neighbors called her family, and Fidel Ernesto Ruiz, her brother, arrived on the scene. He kicked in the front gate and was able to subdue Bautista, who also attacked Fidel. Because Fidel was wearing a jacket, he survived with minor wounds. Luz Marina escaped through the front of the house and collapsed when she got to her truck parked outside. She was taken to Hospital Lenin Fonseca where she was treated. Because of the severity of her frontal wounds, doctors did not notice the three stab wounds in her back until a week later. She died at 4:20am on February 19. She is survived by her 20-year-old daughter, who was attending dance class at the time of the incident. Juan Bautista Silva is an ex State Security official who was trained in intelligence in the USSR in the 80s and is a Sandanista community leader. In December, 2007, he attempted to kill his wife, who called the police, but they failed to arrest Bautista. After the February 6th attack, he was declared mentally unstable and sent to the psychiatric hospital.

No More Femicides

Luz Marina's death was not a result of her husband's psychotic break, it was a femicide. According to Ruth Matamoros, director of the Red de Mujeres Contra la Violencia, Bautista's behavior was consistent with the profile of an abuser. It is a common pattern, she noted, in cases of violence against women, that when the man feels he has lost control over his victim, he resorts to the ultimate form of control by taking her life.
Violence against women is endemic in many parts of the world, including the United States. A woman was killed by her husband in my suburban hometown of Yardley, Pennsylvania last year. As a member of the Sexual Assault Network of Boston College, I saw that rape and other forms of violence against women, even at a top U.S. university, is not uncommon. My freshman year roomate was punched in the face by her ex-boyfriend in the middle of campus one day. I note these examples only the emphasize that while case of Luz Marina can seem foreign to the realities some of you may be living in the U.S. or other places, even quiet suburban and rural communities in the U.S. can be saturated with violence against women. Abuse rarely comes to light except in the case of extreme violence, such as this one. Women who live with abusive partners often struggle for years in silence, not knowing how to escape the cycle of violence. Many women who are raped are too scared to come forward because of fear they will not be supported or that they will be told that they were responsible for what happened to them. Even at the funeral of Luz Marina, some in the crowd commented that "she got what was coming to her" because of rumors that she had had an extramarital affair. In Nicaragua, certain factors exacerbate violence against women, such as the fact that sexism is more evident here. It is more difficult for women to get an education and job, and they are paid less than men even when they hold the same position (this is true in the U.S. as well, but by a smaller margin). As in the U.S., police often do not respond to cases of interfamily violence, and they often revictimize the woman by making her retell her traumatic story over and over again or humiliate her by forcing her to recount the details of a rape, for example. Nicaragua has the advantage of having the Comisaría de la Mujer, a section of the National Police dedicated exclusively to addressing crimes against women. While the Comisarías de la Mujer have been instrumental in investigating cases of interfamily violence, most women don't know about this resource, and the Comisarías face many challenges due to inadequate funding.

Community Response

Hundreds of people came to the funeral of Luz Marina to show their support of the family and grieve the loss of an incredible woman, who in addition to running an ice cream shop, collaborated with Operation Miracle, which brings brigades of Cuban doctors to perform eye operations on residents of Cuidad Sandino. Christine and I help facilitate a women's, group twice a month, and this past Saturday, we focused on the issue of interfamily violence, screening "Ya No Más," a Nicaraguan documentary on the subject. Several women from the community organized to create a petition to demand justice in the case of Luz Marina, and have been working hard this week to collect signatures. At the Mass at the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte on Sunday, Fr. Rafael denounced the killed and offered space for Fidel and other members of Luz Marina's family to share reflections. At the end of the Mass, the assembled lit candles for Luz Marina and prayed for an end to violence against women. Fidel, along with other family members and women from the community, have been meeting with Mujeres Contra la Violencia, who have pledged their support of the case. This Friday at 8pm marks 9 days after her death, and the community will gather at Luz Marina's house to remember her. On Monday at 10:00am, at the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte, there will be a press conference with the family, members from the community, and a representative from Mujeres Contra la Violencia. We are hopeful that the community will come together to demand justice in this case to send a clear message that violence against women will not be tolerated, and to give hope to women currently suffering from interfamily violence.

~Laura To read the Nuevo Diario article in Spanish click: "Líder político a juicio por asesinato y homocidio" * Information based on Nuevo Diario article, and conversations with Fidel Ruiz and Ruth Matamoros

Update 3.4.08: Batahola in Solidarity

Yesterday, March 4, a press conference was held at the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte to demand justice in the case of Luz Marina. Present were Ruth Matamoros, director of the Red de Mujeres Contra la Violencia, Sandra, also of the Red, Fidel Ruiz, Jennifer Marshall, and Fatima Urbina Barrios, CPC women's representative. The group presented the community's petition signed by people in the neighborhood to demand justice and call for an end to violence against women.

Due in part to pressure by the community, Silva last week was transfered rom the psychiatric hospital to prison after being re-evaluated by medical staff and declared sa
ne. This marked hopeful progress in the case.

Maria Elena from the Centro de Mujeres de Acahualinca has volunteered to accompany the women's group of Batahola to run workshops on gender and interfamily violence.

On Friday at our weekly staff reflection a the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte, we watched "Ya No Mas," the Nicaraguan documentary on interfamily violence, and began planning for more ways to discuss the problem of violence with groups of youth and men from the Center as well.

The tragic murder of Luz Marina has shocked many in the community. It is also an example of of the police's failing to respond to reports of interfamily violence. Of the 23 women killed by their partners in 2007, every single one had previously reported violence to the police, who failed to respond. By seeking justice in the case of Luz Marina, the family, Batahola community, and Red de Mujeres Contra la Violencia seek to send a message to perpetrators of violence that they will be held accountable for their acts. Justice in this case will also send the message to women suffering abuse that if they report their partners, they will be taken seriously by the police and be protected.

Please check back for future updates on this case and what the Batahola community is doing to help people break the cycle of violence.


Monday, April 14, 2008

April Update for St. Andrews Episcopal Church Chronicle

Read this doc on Scribd: St Andrews Chronicle

Friday, April 4, 2008

Remembering Martin Luther King

This speech was given on April 4, 1967, exactly one year before his assassination