Friday, February 12, 2010

In good faith

In the 1980s the US military under Reagan was an extremely dirty actor everywhere in Central America. The 'advisors' in El Salvador trained and equipped the Acteal Brigade that massacred more than 900 at El Mozote, including many little children--plus murdering the religious women pictured above. The Contra--leftover terrorists from US-installed Somoza in Nicaragua--were killing civilians in their "low-intensity" war against the Sandinistas. The generals in Guatemala were assassinating local leaders and terrorizing Mayans who wanted land reform, killing them by the thousands with American weapons. US troops in Honduras advised counterinsurgency Honduran troops on the techniques of terror.

It was a human rights debacle of bloody proportions.

Nonviolence? What a pipe dream. The FMLN, the Sandinistas, the UNRG--all violent opposition to US hegemony. Where was the space for nonviolence in this bloody regional war?

But it was also happening. Peace Brigades International was saving lives with accompaniment. Witness for Peace was building capacity on the ground. Pastors for Peace were operating to bring in resources for the poor.

Even when they were stopped, nonviolence had an impact. Central Americans have deep respect for religious workers and when they are attacked even the arrogant US forces are held to account somewhat.

Pam McAllister described one of these events from 1983 in Honduras, when 150 religious women from various denominations traveled there and because the US was so dominant and meddling, most of the women were not allowed to leave the US. Those who made it to Honduras were on a plane together that was stopped before it could dock at the airport, on the tarmac, by US armed troops in uniform, with US helicopters circling overhead.

The international media was on hand in Honduras, but also had published photos of the women in various religious dress, packing their sleeping bags, trying to begin their Pilgrimage to Honduras at the Miami airport. The images of faith-based nonviolent women of good intention were more powerful in the end than the US armed troops who turned them back. The public opinion in Central America and the US was clearly in favor of these nonthreatening women and it was yet another exposure of the state-sponsored terrorism of the US in the region. "The women's attempt to reach Honduras was covered by all three major news networks in the United States" (McAllister, 1988, p. 15).

When we struggle with nonviolence, it is not about gaining turf or territory; it is about the much more important ecology of human hearts and minds. Let the military take the hill; we will always own the high ground.


McAllister, Pam (1988). You can’t kill the spirit: Generations of women’s resistance and action. Philadelphia: New Society Press.


Witness for Peace said...

Thanks for writing about the successful nonviolent movements throughout Central America. We are proud to be a part of the ongoing work to create another world with our partners in Mexico, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Colombia, Cuba, Venezuela, and Bolivia.

Tom H. Hastings said...

Witness for Peace are some of the early courageous externals who came into hot confict areas to dampen violence. They were acting boldly and paid some prices for their actions, but inspired many others to get involved.