Por La Vida: UUCSJ Delegation Public Statement In Solidarity with the People of Guapinól

Delegation members - Por La Vida 2018

Delegation members – Por La Vida 2018

As a human rights delegation to Honduras from November 29 to December 6, 2018 that visited the community of Guapinól in the municipality of Tocoa, Bajo Aguán, we are deeply concerned about the recent police and military occupation occuring there. We have received news as well as photo evidence that police vehicles have blocked the entrance and exit to the community in order to monitor all passage, with participation from the Ministerio Publico. Members of the community are afraid of being unlawfully detained, intimidated, and threatened. The community of Guapinól is defending their water supply from the destruction caused by the nearby mining project of Inversiones Los Pinares, which would destroy their only source of drinkable water.

This occupation comes shortly following the murders of Gerson Leiva and Lucas Bonilla in the nearby community of Ceibita, where community resistance to a mine by the same company, Inversiones Los Pinares, has faced violent repression. There is a documented history of violent acts by state and private business actors against human and land rights defenders in the region of Bajo Aguán.

Our delegation is comprised of clergy members, human rights professionals, educators, and organizers, with the institutional support of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, UU College of Social Justice, SHARE-EL Salvador, and Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

During our delegation we witnessed clear and convincing evidence that there are political prisoners in Honduras, that there is rampant impunity for femicide and the murder of human rights defenders, and that migration and the recent exodus are rooted in systemic violence and loss of livelihoods. The human rights conditions of Honduras do not merit U.S. State Department accreditation, which is currently upheld, a prerequisite for military assistance.

The systemic attack on human rights defenders includes false criminal charges, which we witnessed first-hand at the hearing for Jeremías Martínez, one of at least 18 Guapinól community leaders facing outstanding warrants for their activism.

As people of faith and conscience, we call for:

  • An end to police and military occupation of communities in the Bajo Aguán, including Guipinól;
  • An immediate investigation into the murders of Gerson Leiva and Lucas Bonillo;
  • An end to U.S.military aid and arms sales to Honduras, which have regularly been used by the government of Juan Orlando Hernandez against the country’s own people;
  • And the re-introduction and passage of the Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Act in the U.S. Congress.

We continue to follow these cases closely and are in regular communication with leaders from Foro de Mujeres, Mariposas Libres, Mujeres de Aguán, Red de Mujeres Campesinas, and Radio Progreso, ready to respond to new rights violations and conduct ongoing visits. As we continue to support those migrating, we equally support the social movements working to improve conditions that allow for a dignified life and justice for the people of Honduras. We invite all allies to follow the above organizations on social media to increase visibility and support.

Como delegación de derechos humanos que viajó a Honduras entre 29 de Noviembre a 6 de Diciembre 2018, que visitó a la comunidad de Guapinól en la Municipio de Tocoa, Bajo Aguán, estamos profundamente preocupados por la ocupación policial y militar que está pasando allí.  

Delegation members around a mandala

Delegation members around a mandala

Hemos recibido noticias y fotos de patrullas bloqueando la entrada y salida de la comunidad para monitorear todos que vienen y van, con participación del Ministerio Publico. Miembros de la comunidad tienen miedo de ser capturados, intimidados, y amenazados. La comunidad de Guapinól está defendiendo el río de Guapinól de la destrucción que genera la empresa minera operada por Inversiones Los Pinares, la cual destruiría su único acceso al agua potable.

La ocupación sigue el asesinato de Gerson Leiva y Lucas Bonilla en la comunidad de Ceibita, donde han visto represión violento en contra de la resistencia comunitaria a la minería, lo cual pertenece a la misma empresa Inversiones Los Pinares. Hay bastante documentación de los actos violentos por el estado y negocios privados colaborando en contra de los defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos y la tierra en la región de Bajo Aguán.

Nuestra delegación está formado por profesionales religiosos (pastores y una hermana), trabajadores de derechos humanos, educadores, y activistas, con el apoyo institucional de UUSC, UU College of Social Justice, SHARE-El Salvador, y Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

Durante la delegación nosotros fuimos testigos de evidencia clara y persuasivo que hay presos políticos en Honduras, que hay impunidad frecuente por el feminicidio y el asesinato de defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos, y que la migración y el éxodo tienen raíces en violencia sistémica y la pérdida de oportunidades económicas. Los condiciones de los derechos humanos en Honduras no merecen la acreditación del Departamento del Estado de los Estados Unidos, un requisito para ayuda militar.

El ataque sistemática en contra de las defensoras de derechos humanos incluye cargos criminales falsos, lo cual fuimos testigos directamente al corte de Jeremías Martínez, uno de 18 líderes en Guapinól enfrentando órdenes de captura por su activismo.

Como personas de fé y consciencia, demandamos:

  • La parada de ocupación policial y militar en las comunidades de Bajo Aguán, incluso Guapinól;
  • Una investigación inmediata de los asesinatos de Gerson Leiva y Lucas Bonillo;
  • La parada de ayuda militar y venta de armas de los Estados Unidos a Honduras, que estan usados en contra de la gente por el gobierno de Juan Orlando Hernandez;
  • Y el pasaje de la Acta Berta Cacares para Derechos Humanos en Honduras en el Congreso de los Estados Unidos.

Seguimos vigilando lo que está pasando en Guapinól y en estos casos. Estamos en comunicación con las líderes de Foro de Mujeres, Mariposas Libres, Mujeres de Aguán, Red de Mujeres Campesinas, y Radio Progreso, y estamos pendientes para condemnar nuevos violaciones. Como seguimos solidarizandonos con los migrantes, igual nos solidarizamos con los movimientos sociales de Honduras que están luchando para mejorar los condiciones para una vida digna y justicia en Honduras. Invitamos a todos aliados que siguen las páginas de facebook y los redes sociales de estas organizaciones para seguir aumentando su visibilidad.

Back to the Future: US Intervention in Latin America, Version 2019

If we were surprised by the news a few days ago that the U.S. is backing a sudden and self-proclaimed “interim president” in Venezuela, we shouldn’t have been. Though it didn’t garner as much notice as it deserved, the Trump administration publically advertised its intentions at the beginning of November, in a speech by National Security Advisor John Bolton. “This Troika of Tyranny, this triangle of terror stretching from Havana to Caracas to Managua, is the cause of immense human suffering, the impetus of enormous regional instability, and the genesis of a sordid cradle of communism in the Western Hemisphere,” Bolton said. “Under President Trump, the United States is taking direct action against all three regimes to defend the rule of law, liberty, and basic human decency in our region.”

The “direct action” Bolton had in mind is now very clear: regime change, with Venezuela first on the list. As the Wall Street Journal reported January 25, Vice President Mike Pence made a phone call to Juan Guaidó the night before Guaidó proclaimed himself president, pledging full US support if he would do so. The next day, when Guaidó made his audacious proclamation, the United States immediately recognized his claim, and then reinforced its intentions with crippling new sanctions against the country’s critical oil exports.

Now Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has named as Special Envoy to Venezuela Elliot Abrams. In one of the most cynical possible introductions, Pompeo declared that Abrams’ “passion for the rights and liberties of all peoples makes him a perfect fit and … a true asset to our mission to help the Venezuelan people fully restore democracy and prosperity to their country.”

Nearly any dimension of Elliot Abrams’ history can prove the lie in that characterization. He was a lead player in US government support and direction of the military regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala that committed massive atrocities against their people. He denied and helped hide one of the worst massacres of civilians in El Salvador during that era, in El Mazote, at the hands of the Salvadoran army supplied and trained by the United States. He helped design and enact the Iran-Contra scheme that made possible the Contra war against the Nicaraguan revolution, and explicitly supported their strategy of attacking “soft targets” – meaning civilian cooperatives. This is a very partial list of the many ways Abrams has actively supported gross violations of human rights; for more details, see the January 30 edition of Democracy Now.

It is undeniable that the Maduro government’s mismanagement and corruption have been an economic disaster for Venezuela. The most recent election that returned Maduro to power was widely criticized as fraudulent, and his government has been guilty of multiple human rights abuses. Yet we must be deeply suspicious of US-led attempts to overthrow a government as a solution to these problems. Our country’s track record over the past century, in Latin America alone, includes Argentina, Brazil, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay, has resulted in long-standing and brutal dictatorships.

What we are watching unfold now in Venezuela feels frighteningly familiar. As in the past, the goal is cloaked in lofty rhetoric, made particularly cynical by the track records of those who are enacting it. But there have been very few voices challenging the motives or methods of this intervention so far, from either Democratic or Republican members of Congress. Meanwhile, the immediate consequences in Venezuela have been increased suffering, arrests, and deaths, and the longer term fears are of civil war or of the rise of a new military-backed dictatorship.

Finally, remember that John Bolton has already signaled that Venezuela is just the beginning of the regime change agenda. Nicaragua and Cuba are clearly next in line.

As people who are committed to human rights, to self-determination, and to the norms of international law, we cannot be silent as our country attempts to reassert its control over the nations of Latin America. Please use the links above to follow what’s happening, and contact your own legislators to let them know you’re paying attention and are concerned. Stay alert to UUSC’s advocacy asks for additional ways to take action, and bring your faith community along by sharing what you know. Democracy and human rights depend on all of us!

My Trip to The Border (Operation Streamline)

My Trip to The Border (Operation Streamline)

A unique perspective from a past Border Witness participant.

More than a trip to Tucson, ours was a pilgrimage to the Mexican American border, and an experience that has shaken me to my core.  

One day after coming back from the desert walk, we went to a court to witness Operation Streamline.

Let me tell you this: when I entered that criminal court my heart was pounding. We saw 70 people captured in the desert by border patrol brought there, as the most heinous criminals, briefly released from their shackles to face a judge. Their crime was to cross from Mexico undocumented. As an immigrant myself, I feel uneasy, to say the least, because the rule of law, a system that is temporarily protecting me during my forced exile from my country, is the same used to condemn so many people, and they are my people too.

An hour into the proceedings and it wasn’t my heart but my brain that was pounding. What we witnessed was a very mechanical process, which was not designed to generate surprises or justice. The judge read the charges with the monotony of a rosary prayer,  while “the sinners” always responded with a sad dimmed voice: “culpable, guilty, culpable…” Using on average less than 2 minutes for each defendant, the judge condemned all of them to time, as always happen (except for this time one was sent to immediate deportation). Streamline judges have sentenced many legitimate asylum seekers, people with legal reasons to be here (and even some permanent residents and citizens). Just there is not enough time for them to present their cases.  

It was striking that everybody in the courtroom was so amicable. I am sure that later that day, every lawyer, agent, and even the judge went home to dinner with their kids or to watch tv and Netflix at home. They might not see it this way, but they work in a factory line that processes people as sausages, most of them innocents, sending them to jail, and then back to their countries, to their desperation, sometimes to circumstances of unjust persecution, to be tortured or killed. But these officers were not monsters; they were doing their job.  

In that instant came to my mind the trials of Adolf Eichmann in Israel as reported by Hannah Arendt, the philosopher that penned the concept of the Banality of Evil. At that time, most people regarded Eichmann as an evil monster, he was after all the father of the Final Solution to exterminate the Jews. But Arendt wasn’t most people: Eichmann didn’t strike to her as a particularly evil man but as a good bureaucrat. He clung to the idea that he was unable “to change anything” and that he was doing his job, obeying the law. That way Eichmann was not only claiming innocence but discrediting the idea that the Nazi criminals were psychopaths, different from us, from “normal” people. He was just a good citizen.

But he didn’t trick Arendt. What we regard as Evil is capable of a fairly ubiquitous presence if only because it tends to appear in the guise of good. She didn’t conclude that situations such as the Holocaust can make ordinary people commit horrible crimes given specific contexts and incentives. And I am not equating Operation Streamline (that is the managerial name given to this unjust system) to the Holocaust, but stressing that in both situations the streamline judge, and the border patrol in Tucson – as Eichmann in Nazi Germany— were voluntarily following the principle of authority. But they forgot to apply another principle of the law: that of reciprocity, the golden rule. They decided to apply the law even if it was unjust. I can see that there is a substantial moral distance between the Final Solution and Operation Streamline. But shouldn’t there also exist a substantial moral distance between a totalitarian regime in the 20th century and democracy in the 21st? Today more clearly than in the past the moral choice between good and evil belongs to the individual. The voter, the politician, the legislator, the executioner chooses the ax and nobody can blame society for its own decisions. All our choices have political consequences even when the chooser seems politically powerless.

I’ll leave you with Hannah Arendt:

“Under conditions of terror most people will comply but some people will not, just as the lesson of the countries to which the Final Solution was proposed is that “it could happen” in most places, but it did not happen everywhere. Humanly speaking, no more is required, and no more can reasonably be asked, for this planet to remain a place fit for human habitation.”

Don’t let the streamline judge, the border patrol, or the legislator to trick you. Don’t be as most people. Don’t comply, don’t be accomplices.

~ R


The Nuns I Always Wanted To Meet

The Nuns I Always Wanted To Meet

“Do I call them ‘Sister?’” My co-worker and I were settling our things into our assigned room at the convent. The air was hot and muggy, something I felt acutely as I was still in that heightened state of awareness that you feel your first moments in a new land. I had technically been to Honduras before, but everything felt new. “I dunno,” my colleague answered (she had been raised Catholic as well). “It’s kinda weird one way or the other.”

Two UUSC colleagues and I were in Honduras to be part of an accompaniment trip to support our partners/human rights activists returning to Honduras (written about much more clearly here). I had never been a part of an accompaniment trip before and felt out of my element for so many reasons: I do not consider myself a human rights expert; I am not an expert on Central American history nor international relations; I had never been a part of interfaith circles before; I knew this trip was going to be emotionally intense in ways that I was not prepared for. My background is in experiential education and I am perhaps too comfortable in the role of the facilitator–I get to (too often) lead and direct group emotional processes to a carefully thought out pedagogical question and thus open up a space for cognitive “awakening.” Sweet. But when faced with the personal stories of state-sanctioned torture and terror, what in the hell do you do with that? When faced with the deepest stories of both human hate and resilience, where can you emotively go?

Gina and the interfaith accompaniment delegation she traveled with in Honduras.

Our group was comprised of various human rights activists of various faiths. In particular, there were four nuns that I found myself keenly interested in. Would they be like the nuns of my catholic school childhood? Would they be like the nuns from the pueblo that I lived in during Peace Corps who, try as I might, I couldn’t make friends with (I remember angrily muttering to myself, ‘Doesn’t your religion compel you to be friendly?!’)”

I was standoffish during the delegation’s first morning worship. I am pretty open minded, but I didn’t know if this would be a journey back to the robot-like “praying” of 2nd grade. To my delight, instead of an authoritative dictatorship over my spiritual process (whoa, catholic school, leave your mark much?), Sister Mary Ellen lead us in bodywork. We did Tai-Chi. “Holy shit,” I thought, “this lady is really good at creating a mind-body connection.” Moreover, I could feel that this integrated fully with her deep understanding of her own Catholicism. And it wasn’t just her. When Sister Rosa Maria spoke about her work in Honduras, I could palpably feel both her toughness and love. (“I wouldn’t mess with her,” Jose, our delegation leader would say.) I felt the presence Sister Ann could bring sitting next to someone who was deeply grieving and afraid, I felt the strength that Sister Kathleen emoted as she lead a group of us (after hearing some of the hardest stories I had ever heard) to hold hands. She guided us to reconnect to spirit. She knit something back together. She held us together in community.

This isn’t saying that I’m returning to Catholicism. I’m not. But I know when I am in the presence of something good, I know when I am in the presence of people who have faced themselves and done their own work. Honduras was hard in a way that I don’t know how to write openly about, because I am afraid that I won’t do it justice–I don’t know where I end and it begins. I feel guilt that it was hard; I felt deep emotions during the journey, and then I got to leave. I feel embarrassed about how unequipped I was to hold it all. I feel anxiety about not knowing about how to move forward. I find myself reexamining my life choices up to now and asking myself, “With all that I know that is unjust in this world, have I done enough?”

But then I breathe and I remember. I think Sister Mary Ellen would say to let my emotions come. They are each a friend and have something to teach me. I think Sister Rosa Maria has her doubts and fears, too. I bet Sister Anne had to learn how to be present amidst pain. I’m sure Sister Kathleen doesn’t always feel strong.

After sitting and listening to a group of men tell their stories of being beaten, imprisoned, terrorized, and caged, we all stood in a circle. Sister Kathleen lead us in what I think was the most powerful prayer I have ever heard. We went around the circle and simply stated a word that gave us hope (or courage or something like that, to be honest I don’t remember the details). And then she lead the group in a song that most people knew the words to and people sang together. After crying, and still afraid, they sang.

We then had our own moment as a delegation to stand in a circle and be. I remember thinking, “I don’t know how to hold this, I don’t know how to hold this.” We gave time so that those of us who wanted to speak could speak. The responses varied from rage to sorrow to silence to everything in between. And as I stood there, I finally realized: I don’t need to know how to hold this. I cannot hold this as one person. We have to hold it together.

During one of our worships we had a chance for silent reflection. I think there was a prompt–I forget what that prompt was. But one of the sisters, at the end of the time, pointer to herself and said, “My body.” She then pointed to the group of us sitting in a circle and said, “My body.” And then she pointed to the greater environment and said, “My body.” I am so grateful to have finally met the nuns that I always wanted to meet. They were not able to give answers or make the horror of the world go away. But by the simple example of their presence and their persistence, they gave me a bit more strength to have faith in what could be, they helped me feel what true community might feel like, and they helped me to stay present in something I didn’t want to stay present in.

My body.

My sisters.


Gina Collignon is responsible for planning, developing, and supporting the UU College of Social Justice’s experiential learning programs. As the Senior Associate for Immersion Learning Programs, Collignon designs travel programs that connect participants to activists and change-makers in new environments so that participants can leave inspired to join related social justice campaigns in their home communities.
Join Us To Flood The Desert!

Join Us To Flood The Desert!


Leaders from the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee and the Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice will be Flooding the Desert with Faith in August. Join Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray (President of the UUA), Rev. Mary Katherine Morn (President of UUSC), Rev. Kathleen McTigue (Director of the UU College of Social Justice) and Rachel Freed (Vice President and Chief Program Officer of UUSC) from August 3rd to the 6th in Arizona for this important action! Read Susan and Mary Katherine’s letter below for more information.

Dear Colleagues,

We are sending this letter to UU ministers and Directors of Religious Education to ask that you consider joining us for a specific resistance action planned for this August 3-6 in Tucson, AZ, called Flood the Desert. This is a strategic act of resistance in response to criminal charges being levied against activists whose humanitarian actions have been focused on saving the lives of migrants who are often lost in the desert.

Many of you will have heard of No More Deaths, a volunteer group that works along the rugged Arizona/Mexico border. It is a program affiliated with the UU Church of Tucson, AZ, and a partner organization of UUSC. Over the past decade, No More Deaths volunteers have hiked the migrant trails leaving water caches; staffed a first aid tent in the desert for migrants who are wounded or ill; and helped recover remains of hundreds who have lost their lives – marking the places with memorial shrines.

Nine volunteers with No More Deaths now face federal misdemeanor charges, and one faces felony charges, for their humanitarian assistance. These excessive charges are part of an escalating strategy to criminalize activism. They are meant to intimidate citizens away from dissent. In response, we are asking ministers and other religious leaders to join us in early August and Flood the Desert.

In an action of direct civil disobedience, religious leaders will assert the right to offer humanitarian aid by stocking water caches and in so doing, challenging the government’s utter disregard for the most basic human rights.

Our purpose in this action is three-fold. First, to call attention to the escalating injustice of US policies toward migrants in order to inspire others to raise their voices. Second, to act in solidarity with the volunteers facing criminal charges for living out their religious mandate to welcome and care for the stranger. And third, to raise the call of our faith traditions as an act of resistance against the cruelty and violence that dominate US policy and actions.

If you are able and willing to join us, please follow the link above to register.

In faith and solidarity,


Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray                                                 Rev. Mary Katherine Morn

President, UUA                                                                    President, UUSC

Lenten Reflection, Honduras

Praying the “stations of the cross” is a longstanding Lenten tradition all over the Christian world, during which believers are reminded of the last moments Jesus lived through as he carried his own cross to the crucifixion. Throughout Latin America, the Way of the Cross, or Via Crucis, is often an elaborate procession, during which a life-sized cross – usually made intentionally heavy – is carried to each inflection point of prayer.

Via Cruces Cross being carried in HondurasThe Via Crucis we followed last month in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, was different. It demonstrated vividly the power and peril faced by those whose deepest faith compels them to stand up against oppression. The cross they carried was covered with words —  poverty, violence, hatred, murders, torture, imprisonment – naming explicitly the weight the people carry, under the repressive presidency of Juan Orlando Hernandez. Those in the procession also carried 34 smaller crosses, each one bearing the name of a person who had been shot and killed by security forces in the past two months, since the fraudulent election that ensures Hernandez will continue in power.

I was in Honduras as one of 50 faith leaders who responded to a call for accompaniment, issued by religious and human rights leaders whose lives are in increased jeopardy as they continue to voice their indignation and opposition.  Our Via Crucis was allowed to proceed without interference. But later that day, and throughout our week in Honduras, we witnessed peaceful protests violently dispersed by members of the police and military.

This violence in all of its forms is the very real and present cross that our Honduran siblings carry every day. It is carried as well by human rights champions in El Salvador and Guatemala, and by the thousands of men, women, and children who are driven from all three countries to the deeply perilous path they follow north. If they make it across the US border, the migrants carry the weight of detention, actual or feared, and the uncertainty that shadows each moment.

In this Lenten season, as I remember the Via Crucis in which I participated in Honduras, I am thinking about what parts of the cross are mine to carry as a citizen of the United States. The teargas, water cannons, and live ammunition I saw used in Honduras are all products of the USA. In a very real sense, the Honduran government itself is a result of the approval and recognition our nation offered in the wake of the 2009 military coup, and offered again this past November in recognizing fraudulent elections. I want to stay awake to these truths. It’s by staying awake that we can find ways to act to shift US policy, and thereby shift the weight of the cross from the shoulders that have carried it for far too long.