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We Need a New Normal!
For the people of Colombia and Central America, normal means extreme inequality, suppression of workers’ rights, and crackdowns on civil liberties.
Normal means catastrophic climate shocks like prolonged droughts that destroy land and the subsistence livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of campesinos.
Normal means US training and support of police and military in civilian-targeted warfare in Latin America: “crowd control” against pro-democracy and indigenous water protectors, enhanced surveillance, sniper tactics, interrogation, torture, and assassination. Our government trains US law enforcement at military bases, as well. The infamous School of the Americas (SOA)—the US Army’s institution housed at Ft. Benning, GA, which has produced the assassins of St. Oscar Romero, four US women doing missionary work in El Salvador, and thousands of others—is now training US Border Patrol and ICE agents!
Normal means border imperialism and exceedingly militarized US policies. As US imperialism forces émigrés north, the United States’ militarization of its southern border means more refugees are caught and deported—prevented from claiming their internationally-recognized right to seek political asylum. The US Border Patrol, the largest police force in the US, operates with impunity—not only at the borders but throughout the country. Agents have been responsible for murder, rape, and the destruction of critical humanitarian aid.
Normal means that refugees who seek safety at our borders are criminalized, jailed, separated from their families, held in county jails, state and federal prisons, and for-profit prisons, sent to “third safe countries,” and deported to the same turmoil and uncertainty they tried to escape.
We need a new normal.
At this critical moment, we call on people here in the US to see migrants at our doorstep as Sister Dorothy Kazel and Jean Donovan saw the displaced refugees of war in El Salvador: with love, mercy, and compassion.
IRTF’s voice is known and respected in circles of immigrant support and defense. We have persisted for four decades to address root causes of migration. Our focus is not as much about immigration policy but on policies affecting emigration. It was US foreign policy that fueled the civil wars in Central America during the 1980s, and US policies continue to feed political, economic, and environmental turmoil in the region today.
Throughout Latin America (and particularly in the Northern Triangle of Central America), millions of people are struggling to survive day-in and day-out under the enormous forces of entrenched structural violence:
- violence waged by US-sponsored militarized security forces
- violence of gangs and other organized crime
- violence based on gender (femicide and the murders of transgender people)
- violence against Mother Earth’s forests, lands, and waterways
- violence generated by unfair global economic pacts and policies
- violence of political corruption
- violence of extremely unjust and exploitative economic systems.
These multiple layers of structural violence—closely tied to the United States’ imperialist legacy in the region—are, sadly, “normal.” These “normal” forces place massive pressures on millions of people, pushing them off their land and out of their homes. These “normal” conditions are coercive, forcing people to make the painfully difficult decision to migrate north in order to feed themselves and their families, in order to survive!
In these uncertain times, one of the few abiding certainties our partners in Central America and Colombia have known has been unchecked atrocity: increased attacks on human rights defenders, the unjust criminalization of land and water defenders, and the ever-escalating militarization of “security” forces that suppress civil liberties. Here in the US, our people are suffering from similarly undemocratic and dangerous trends: militarization of municipal police departments, state-sponsored police violence against peoples of color, out-of-control ICE raids, and the unsafe jailing of detainees (immigrants, county inmates, state, and federal prisoners) in close quarters, despite admonitions from leading health experts to create safe physical distance and shelter-in-place.
This coronavirus is a wake-up call, exposing the structural weaknesses and failures of our domestic infrastructure and global policies.
We need to build a new normal.
- Ensure that human rights are at the center of their responses to health pandemics, climate shocks, political instability, and all other crises to come.
- Dismantle oppressions (racism, xenophobia, transphobia, classism, and other forms) that are not only unjust but targeted—making certain communities more vulnerable to suffering.
- Protect the life-generating power of Mother Earth by taking the lead from indigenous, Afro-descendant, and campesino communities who are defending life, land, and water.
- End systemic poverty and ensure universal access to clean water, decent housing, quality education, and adequate health care.
- Organize a solidarity economy that puts the needs of workers and the environment first.
How do we create this “new normal”? Solidarity.
Since 1981, IRTF has built bridges of solidarity with oppressed communities in Central America and Colombia. IRTF challenges and organizes for change in the policies and practices of US corporations, military, and government. We can take on this necessary work with a prophetic voice thanks to independent funding that is not tied to foundations, government, or large donors. More than 80% of IRTF’s support comes from individuals like you who care deeply about social and economic justice. As needs and circumstances change in Central America and Colombia—as well as immigration enforcement policies in the US—this crucial support from individual donors gives us the autonomy to be flexible and stay true to our mission. We need, appreciate, and thank you for your financial support.
In this time of anxiety and fear, let us nurture each other’s wisdom and feel our connectedness to each other across this country, throughout this hemisphere, and around the globe. Our struggle for human rights and mutual liberation does not happen in isolation; it is a communal struggle that binds us to each other. Thank you for joining with this community working to build a “new normal.”
Brian J. Stefan-Szittai, Christine Stonebraker-Martínez
P.S. As we enter into our 40th year of solidarity work, please consider a gift of $40 (or $400 if you can!). We’ll put your gift to work to stand with marginalized and vulnerable communities in Latin America, at our border, and in immigration detention facilities. All people deserve care and safety.
Join with us to create a “new normal.”
IRTF Board of Trustees: Heather Craigie, Rachel Rosen DeGolia (co-chair), JP Graulty (treasurer), Rev. Ellen Huffman (co-chair), Diane Pinchot, Joann Rymarczyk-Piotrkowski, Akshai Singh, Sarah Sommers, Keely Veatch (secretary)
InterReligious Task Force on Central America, 3606 Bridge Ave., Cleveland OH 44113