Nicaragua: A difficult country with resourceful people

Carol and David Holstein in Playa Gigante in southern Nicaragua.

We joined 13 other UUs for a College of Social Justice trip to Nicaragua.  As you might recall, the UU College of Social Justice is a collaboration of the UUA and the UU Service Committee providing experiential learning opportunities in social justice that inspire and help us live our faith. It is a privilege to get to know UUs from across the country, bond with UUSC leadership and meet individuals making a difference in their communities.

Our children cannot believe that we go on a vacation where we need to study plus do homework.  The course work covers quite a range but boils down to: 1) Appreciating Nicaragua’s history, including a long period of deplorable actions by the US and 2) increasing awareness of cultural differences from heritage as well as from economic circumstances.  Nicaragua is the second poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere with its 6 million people having a per capita GDP of only $2,200. It has again moved toward totalitarianism from what started as a populist President.  Yes, Daniel Ortega has been President since 2007 and his younger wife has become VP insuring that the family will remain in power.

Strikingly, Nicaragua is a beautiful country.  It has volcanoes, huge lakes, oceans, beaches, rainforests, mountains and kind, friendly people. It also feels like a step back in time with dinners costing $10, $1 beers and $50 hotel rooms.

Our program focused on two areas: 1) Women’s Rights and 2) Environmental Rights.

We spent considerable time with FEM (Fundacion Entre Mujeres), Foundation Among Women in Northern more rural Nicaragua.  This group is supported by UUSC, reflecting a mission to help marginalized people as well as recognizing women’s role in creating enduring groups, strengthening families and creating wealth.  Nicaragua’s machismo culture, men owning the land, an acceptance of violence against women and women’s being relegated to chores and childbearing produces a clear division where men hold all the power.  Basically, FEM exists to empower women.  It’s education about their rights. It is understanding that violence against women is not OK.  Having children is a choice. It’s the sharing of the household income and wealth.  FEM is servicing a group of women who are largely peasants (campesinas) with little formal education.  FEM’s reach has grown over time.  It trains women in bio-intensive gardening, maximizing the productivity of small subsistence plots.  It helps women get their goods to market via a stall to sell produce.  It created a co-op to sell coffee, honey and hibiscus.  Their fair-traded coffee is marketed by a Wisconsin company under the brand “Just Coffee.” The women are extremely passionate about how FEM makes a difference in their lives.  The most moving “speech” was from a woman who explained how she no longer buys onions from the market but rather sells them.  But, the magical part was that by owning productive land, she gave her daughters a future which is better than hers and provides hope.

Climate change is having a big impact.  Rain falling in the dry season; erosion on both coasts; the possibility of a canal through Lake Nicaragua all have catastrophic implications to traditional ways of life.  Being environmentally sensitive is a “luxury” of wealthy countries.  That said, we visited the Guardianes de Yaoska in Rancho Grande.  This group of peasant farmers is fighting a Canadian mining company B2 Gold.  The Yaoska is a river which is the lifeblood of the community.  Thus far, they have been successful at stopping the company from setting up an open pit gold mine.  They are protecting their rural farming life against a government that encourages mining with little/no safeguards.  But, their success has not come without sacrifice.  They had to forego a year of school for their children as the company and government were using schools to spread the pro-mining message.  Violence against protestors was always a real threat.  The most stirring speech was from a man who held up the produce he grows – Malanga – and stated that this is real gold which you can eat.

It is inspiring when you realize that people with little education, little money and little power still can be successful and make a difference.  Their commitment, dedication and drive to preserve their lifestyle for the Guardians or to improve women’s place for FEM is truly amazing.  It provides some hope as we look at our situation in the US and the intractability of so many issues.

Celebrating International Migrants Day with a Call to our Philanthropic Allies

In 2000, the United Nations General Assembly designated December 18 as International Migrants Day. This day recognizes that international migration is a growing phenomenon in our world and calls us to reaffirm and uphold the human rights of migrants and refugees.

In early December, UUSC Senior Program Leader for Environmental Justice and Climate Action, Salote Soqo, participated in a stock-taking meeting for the Global Compact for Migration – an international mechanism for advancing a more unified approach to the needs of migrants. “The meeting was extraordinary,” Soqo says, “in the sense that in a time of rising nationalism and xenophobia, there was great convergence amongst delegates around centering the global compact on the protection of the rights of all migrants.” The meeting sent a strong signal that the Global Compact — and the international community’s collective actions on migration — must be centered on human rights.

David Boseto, of UUSC Partner Ecological Solutions, and boat driver Muku in Wagina, Solomon Islands

This International Migrants Day, celebrate with UUSC as we issue a new resource, Community-Led, Human-Rights Based Solutions to Climate-Forced Displacement: A Guide for Funders. UUSC is calling more funders to engage directly on the issue of climate-forced displacement and to incorporate human rights-based approaches to amplify the voices, advocacy, and solutions of frontline communities.

Climate change is advancing rapidly and placing people’s human rights at risk. According to Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre and Norwegian Refugee Council’s Global Report on Internal Displacement: GRID 2017, in 2016, 24.2 million people were newly internally displaced by natural disasters. It is likely that 200 million people will be displaced by climate change by 2050.

“Climate impacts exacerbate existing inequities in society.”

Climate-forced displacement is having severe impacts on human rights. Climate impacts exacerbate existing inequities in society. A majority of disaster-related displacements occur in low- and lower-middle income countries and disproportionately affect small island developing states, according to the Global Report on Internal Displacement. The spectrum we have developed outlines human rights at risk and key concerns for frontline communities, from the tipping point at which communities decide they must consider radical adaptation measures, through migration or resettlement.

→    The right to self-determination must be at the core of relocation planning.

“Frontline communities have the most appropriate solutions to these challenges.”

While frontline communities have the most appropriate solutions to these challenges, these communities receive the smallest share of funding and are sidelined by state and international decision makers. Trends in financing favor climate change mitigation over other approaches. No reliable mechanisms exist for community organizations to access international funds directly. Indigenous communities face additional hurdles accessing funds from national governments — and it is even more difficult for unrecognized tribes.

Our guide offers concrete steps funders can take to advance community-led, human rights-based solutions to climate-forced displacement by:

  • Assessing how climate-forced displacement relates to a current strategy or portfolio
  • Effectively partnering with grassroots communities working on issues along the climate-forced displacement spectrum
  • Advancing a human rights-based approach to climate-forced displacement
  • Acting as a bridge and network builder to amplify the voice and impact of grassroots communities

Encroaching Erosion a Looming Threat to Chevak Native Village

Communities who have contributed the least to the planet’s climate crisis are threatened by accelerating climate change impacts. Chevak Native Village is one of the many frontline villages in Alaska which needs urgent protection. Minimal government assistance has left villagers to cope with weather related changes and erosion caused by increasing temperatures and thawing permafrost by themselves. But like other villages in Alaska, this community does not have sufficient capacity nor resources to deal with the barrage of ongoing climate issues, and is in need of immediate assistance.

Chevak village is about 518 miles northwest of Anchorage and about eight miles inland from the Bering Sea. The village is home to 1,200 Cup’ik villagers, including 200 children who attend the local Chevak School. The village has over 200 stilt homes painted with bright colors that mask the wooden structures arranged neatly across the village.

In early June, UUSC joined our partner, the Alaska Institute for Justice (AIJ), on a visit to Chevak, one of the 16 villages that AIJ is working with to develop advocacy strategies to enhance their ability to adapt to a radically changing environment. Our shared vision is to ensure that the human rights of Alaska Native villages are advanced and protected in the face of climate risks.

The primary goal of the visit was to assist the State of Alaska’s Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys (DGGS) Coastal Hazards Program to install shoreline erosion monitoring equipment. Project Manager Jacquelyn Overbeck describes this work as part of the State’s effort to facilitate community-based monitoring of erosion in areas where minimal or no baseline erosion data exists in rural Alaska. The installation included a community teach-in to discuss the basis of the monitoring and to show villagers how to collect and read data. Chevak is one of the first villages where this work is taking place.

Land erosion is taking place along the bluffs that form the southwestern borders of the village causing land instability for homes and other community structures. Over the years, individual homeowners have placed sandbags and metals to stop the erosion, but this has not been enough. According to some villagers, erosion has been happening since the 1980s but is now happening at a more rapid pace. Without immediate assistance, Chevak could erode away and cause the community to relocate.

But relocation is not an option, nor is it new for Chevak. Chevak Mayor Richard Tuluk states that “This is our third home.” Chevak first moved a few miles inland from their original location along the Bering Sea sometime in the 1930s, where they lived for about ten years. In 1950, they moved to their current location, which is located behind the bluff of the Ninglikfak River. The land that Chevak currently sits on belongs to Hooper Bay. This history pays homage to the nomadic culture of Alaska Natives as natural voyagers.

AIJ’s work with Chevak focuses on implementing community-based monitoring, which is coordinated with state and federal government agencies that can provide information regarding rates of erosion and resources to respond and protect the community. Robin Bronen, the Executive Director of AIJ, states that “Part of what needs to happen, is that communities need to be given the information they need to predict when storms or natural hazards are going to happen, and at the same time monitor the impacts of these disasters in real time and report that back to national and state agencies so that they are aware of what communities are experiencing. With this data, communities will also be able to access financial resources that will help them reduce their hazards and risks.”

Erosion is not the only issue that Chevak is dealing with. Some villagers shared stories of how they were once able to travel across permafrost-laden marshland to access the surrounding volcanic mountains during winter to pick berries, but due to permafrost melting earlier and faster than before, those trips are now becoming impossible to make. Other villagers spoke of finding fewer fish stocks, increasing flood waters during storms and frequent warm weather periods.

Without a governance framework in place to address this multitude of problems, government assistance will be provided on an ad-hoc basis at best, and communities will continue to lack the resources they need. Alaska Native villages will not be the only communities in the nation or the world who must adapt to this accelerating climate crisis. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) reports that in 2016, about 24 million people were displaced by sudden onset hazards in over 118 countries. This figure does not include those that are displaced by slow onset climate impacts, which are difficult to determine. This data is staggering and reflects the enormity of climate induced forced displacement and the importance of a governance framework.

Responding government agencies must partner with communities at risk to determine effective adaptation strategies that ensure the protection of life and property. This also ensures that the processes that take place are transformational, and that they recognize and respect the agency and human dignities of those who are unjustly confronted by our climate crisis.

UUSC Recommendations for the Global Compact on Migration

On Tuesday, May 23, Salote Soqo, senior program leader for environmental justice & climate action, spoke as a respondent at the Second Informal Thematic Session for Global Compact on Migration at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Speakers at the event identified the many causes of forced migration and improvements for global migration policy, which will be incorporated into the Global Compact on Migration, the first intergovernmentally negotiated UN agreement to cover all dimensions of international migration in a holistic and comprehensive manner. 

Read Soqo’s full remarks on climate-forced displacement below.

Thank You, Your Excellency.

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, through our work with some of the most vulnerable communities around the world, and particularly in the South Pacific and in Alaska, recognizes that climate-induced environmental degradation is an obvious driver for human mobility.

In the interest of time, I would like to emphasize four main points based on our experience thus far:

Firstly, it is important for us to acknowledge that the root causes of climate-induced displacement are not climate change per se, but global economic and power inequality. Industrialized countries therefore have an obligation to protect those that are made vulnerable by their carbon emissions. We must assign responsibility to where it is due.

Secondly, there have been previous remarks made by member states to center the global compact on a human-rights centered approach. We concur with this concept and reiterate the recognition that the experts of this approach are the communities that are most affected by these issues and who inherently hold the power to meaningfully address these problems with dignity—these are Indigenous People, women, children, the elderly and people living with disabilities, and farmers and fishermen whose subsistence and livelihood depend on their natural environments, and those living in remote areas of the world. Their active participation must be mandatory in state responses, their rights must be respected, and means to incentivize and implement community-based climate initiatives must be enabled through this compact. And more to the point of internally displaced populations, states must recognize that they have the obligation to protect their residents within their borders, and this compact should enforce their existing obligations.

Thirdly, building protections in place to protect communities where they are must always remain the priority, and if relocation is a necessity, which is particularly the case for small island developing states where displacement is inevitable for some islands, it must be planned proactively. It is thus important that this global compact work in tandem with the instruments of the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the accompanying institutions to enforce adaptation, disaster risk reduction, emergency humanitarian aid, and mandatory mitigation measures, particularly through the extension/renewal of the Doha Agreement, to compliment aspects that are not addressed by these instruments in order for this compact to be of value-add, and to avoid repetition.

Lastly, the compact must recognize that climate change is a multiplier of risks, as stated throughout this session. In some situations, this leads to conflict and violence, which often leads to forced migration. Thus, there is increasing recognition amongst states that climate change is a national security issue, and indeed it is, but it is important that, and in the spirit of unity and moral conscience, that the compact avoids language or measures that further dehumanizes or commodifies climate-forced displaced populations and must intentionally combat xenophobia and other forms of religious, cultural, and social discrimination against migrants.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss. This week’s Rights Reading highlights articles on sanctuary, sustainability, and the Paris Agreement.

White People, It’s Time to Prioritize Justice Over Civility, Tauriq Moosa, The Establishment, May 9, 2017

Photo of justice statue

One of the hallmarks of white privilege is the option to be uninformed on and indifferent towards issues of oppression. In the name of “civility” and a backwards sense of fairness, the media has been giving white supremacists a platform on television to express their hate speech. However, this show at fairness actually undermines the platform of people of color fighting for true equality, giving them less airtime and raising white supremacists’ “concerns” to the same level as the concerns of those who are actually oppressed. Whether it’s in an effort towards equal airtime or boosting viewership, the media and white moderates’ uninvolved attitude thus promotes a more passive sense of fairness than an active move towards justice.

Moosa makes a strong argument for how the disaffected white majority can be even more harmful than hate groups. Just because white supremacists can make themselves look presentable and can express their views in a civil manner does not make their rhetoric valid or worthy of a platform in mainstream media.

Not Just Cities: We Can Become a Sanctuary Nation, Robert Greenwald and Angel Padilla, The Nation, May 9, 2017

Trump has called for a crackdown on undocumented immigrants, pushing for law enforcement everywhere to report even the smallest of misdemeanors to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This is just one example of the alarming move towards the criminalization of marginalized communities that has been happening under the Trump administration.

“Sanctuary” is a term being used a lot lately, but it doesn’t just have to apply to cities. Communities all across the United States can engage in sanctuary practices to protect immigrants. There are many ways that individuals can get involved, such as coming together to push sanctuary laws, going with immigrants to ICE check-ins, staying vigilant and spreading the word about potential ICE raids, and working with grassroots organizations to advocate for immigrant rights.

UUSC recently called on Massachusetts to pass legislation that would would end “287(g) agreements” whereby local law enforcement personnel are authorized to perform a variety of federal immigration enforcement functions, including questioning people about their immigration status, arresting them for immigration violations, and place them in deportation proceedings. Read the press release here.

You can also read our Expanded Sanctuary blog series to learn more.

White House Advisors Postpone Paris Climate Deal Meeting, Andrew Restuccia, Politico, May 8, 2017

Yet again, Trump’s meeting with advisers to discuss the United States’ involvement in the Paris Agreement has been postponed. His advisers are in disagreement on this issue. Trump is expected to make a decision soon on whether the United States will withdraw from the Paris Agreement, a potential step that is being condemned worldwide.

During his election campaign, Trump stated his intent to withdraw the U.S. from the climate deal. Already under his administration, we have seen an increase in policies and government appointments that favor big business interests over the safety of the environment and the public. Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement is a dangerous step in the wrong direction for environmental policy and foreign relations. UUSC is watching the White House closely for further developments. Read our latest statement on Trump’s “Energy Independence” Executive Order.

The Dark Side of Fashion We Never Talk About, Rachel Selvin, Refinery29, May 8, 2017

Do you know the environmental footprint for what you’re wearing right now? It’s probably larger than you think. The process to manufacture and distribute clothing requires a high amount of energy and resources. While often overlooked, the fashion industry is one of the leading contributors to environmental pollution and resource depletion in the world.

Selvin discusses pioneering new biotechnologies to cut down on the environmental cost of fashion, but it isn’t just manufacturers who need to think more sustainably. Consumers need to be conscience of what they’re really buying, and how much. Cutting down on how many new clothes you buy and making sure that that your clothing is sustainably sourced are two great ways to reduce your personal environmental footprint.

The Good Buy, UUSC’s online store, is a great option for buying sustainably sourced products, and you’ll also be helping to fund UUSC’s human rights efforts.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss. This week, we are focusing on Climate Justice, as Climate Justice Month comes to an end.

How a Tiny Alaska Town Is Leading the Way on Climate Change, Joe McCarthy, Global Citizen, April 18, 2017

 School in Kivalina

“By 2100, as many as 13 million people living in coastal regions of the US and hundreds of millions more people throughout the world could be displaced by climate change.”

Kivalina, Alaska is a small village in Northwest Alaska, with a population of 420 indigenous people. Located 70 miles above the Arctic Circle, Kivalina is one of the most affected communities of climate change. The temperature increases have doubled in Alaska compared to the United States, and the Arctic Sea has evaporated by half in the last 35 years. In just 10 years, Kivalina will no longer be a place people can inhabit.

The people of Kivalina are mobilizing and planning. They are known to be self-reliant and have a lot of experience working with their communities and government. The article highlights more of the history of Kivalina and some of the work our partner, Alaska Institute for Justice is doing.

How a Warming Planet Drives Human Migration, Jessica Benko, The New York Times, April 19, 2017

There are obvious environmental consequences to climate change, but the effects are manifold. Climate change leads to droughts, floods, food and housing insecurity, and famine. This then leads to both political and economic insecurity. While there is no official legal definition for what it means to be a climate refugee, in 2010, it was estimated that 500 million people would need to evacuate their homes by 2015 due to climate change.

The evaporation of Lake Chad has led to 3.5 million already being displaced. In Syria, 1.5 million were forced into cities because of a three-year drought in 2006. Other areas, such as China, the Amazon Basin, and the Philippines have also experienced the detrimental effects of climate change, displacing and even taking lives.

On April 29, We March for the Future, Bill McKibben, The Nation, April 19, 2017

Climate justice is being threatened by the Trump administration, but the reality is, climate justice has been a decades-long battle with each administration. The current climate-justice movement is being led by communities, farmers, scientists, and indigenous people. Those that are marching march for a multitude of reasons: pipelines, the labor movement, fracking, solar panels to other sustainable measures.

The United States is facing setbacks with the current administration, but the rest of the world is showing hope. Solar panel prices have dropped, wind energy is being used, and other countries are investing in renewables. People continue to march, protest, and resist in other ways, defining what the new normal is.

Check out related blogs and articles for climate justice month

Three-part series on composting, The Good Buy, April 18, 2017

5 Ways to #Resist this Earth Day, Green Peace, April 18, 2017

Making a Deeper Commitment to Climate Justice Month, UUSC, April 19, 2017