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Embrace the
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placeholder February 29, 2016   •   VOL. 54, NO. 4   •   Oakland, CA
Letters from Readers

Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini, center, flanked by Deacon Nate Bacon, left, his wife Jenny of the Archdiocese of San Francisco and others from InnerChange.
COURTESY PHOTO

Embrace the Banana Challenge

The recent reports of house raids, arrests and deportation of hundreds of Central American women and children living in the United States based on a new directive from the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement begs the question, "Why?"

Since summer 2014 when a huge spike of Central American immigrants arrived at the border there is cursory knowledge of the violence and poverty in Central American countries that contributes to the immigrants' flight. The real root causes of the violence and poverty are often ignored or denied.

An interfaith pilgrimage composed of 17 clergy and lay leaders from across the United States journeyed to Honduras and Guatemala in August to find out for themselves.

Organized by Rev. Deborah Lee of the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, this group met with more than 20 faith-based leaders including Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini, the ordinary of the Diocese of Huehuetenango in Guatemala, academics, direct service providers and immigrants themselves from these two Central American countries.

Here, the hidden face of globalization which Pope Francis has repeatedly called to the world's attention begins to manifest itself. For starters, the problematic agricultural export economy occupies the greater majority of the rich farmland in both countries. Bananas, coffee, sugar and most recently palm oil are sold across the world but especially to North Americans.

But don't ask what those who work the plantations are paid nor how they are treated. And don't ask the ecological impact of this monoculture. Such questions will be spun according to the whims of government officials and corporate operatives, including such U.S. businesses as Chiquita, Del Monte, Mazzola and others.

Most recently the world's investors in mineral resources, hydroelectric technology and tourism have joined the parade to exploit Central America's rich natural resources. Gold and lead mining companies based in the U.S. and Canada extract precious minerals with arsenic. But rarely if ever do we see or hear of those peasants whose health and lives are damaged by the diversion of this dangerous chemical into water tables or rivers.

Chinese construction companies are building dams through Honduras. Their purpose is to divert water from rivers that will provide for hydroelectric interests whose purpose is not only to provide needed electricity to other Central American countries. Rather, within 70 to 80 years in a post-petroleum world their dream is to furnish American electrical needs. But why don't we hear of the families forcibly driven from their small villages and simple subsistence lifestyles into overcrowded cities teeming with brutal gangs who bribe, intimidate and extort money from small vendors or families. Those who don't pay are threatened with violence or become victims of gang-violence.

Nor do we hear of the international textile interests who prey upon an impoverished young labor force composed mainly of young women. At 18 they are offered employment. Bent over sewing machines in overheated rooms lacking adequate light and ventilation they toil away 14 hours a day making undergarments for consumption in the United States and Europe. By the age of 30 they are often physically maimed, psychologically and spiritually spent. They frequently leave to find other low-paying jobs as nannies or housekeepers.

People in either country have little political recourse. Though ostensibly promoted as "democracies" in fact they are far from it. Both countries remain in the hands of oligarchies — bands of families who have controlled the economic, political and cultural life for generations. And it is these families who serve as owners and gate-keepers for economic and political decision-making. It should be no surprise to even a casual observer that in the absence of an independent, impartial, legal and political system that families like these are able to rule with impunity.

But what does that have to do with those of us living in the East Bay? Who cares what happens in Honduras or Guatemala? Yet, those who hold this sentiment are often first to decry "those illegals subverting our laws and coming into our country illegally."

One means of learning more about the root causes of the poverty and violence of these countries is to join in a 40-day banana fast. While corresponding to the Christian liturgical season of Lent it is meant as an opportunity of members of other faith traditions to participate as well. This is not so much a boycott of bananas as a means of learning more about one of the root causes of immigration from these two countries both historically and currently. For more information on the banana challenge visit: www.Im4humanintegrity.org.

Funds from the "Banana Challenge" will be used as part of an "Honduran Emergency Solidarity Fund" that will be sent to Jesuit-run Radio Progresso in Honduras to address the humanitarian needs of leaders and activists who are displaced and forced to relocate for safety. Checks should be made out to "IM4Humanintegrity" with "Honduras Emergency Solidarity Fund" on the memo line. They should be mailed to Rev. Deborah Lee, Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, 310 8th Street, Suite 310, Oakland 94607. Contact Rev. Lee at dell@im4humanintegrity.org.

(Tom Webb is a staff member of the Oakland Catholic Worker and regional coordinator of Pax Christi Northern California. He was a participant in the "Roots Causes" pilgrimage in August.)


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