WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
28 May 2015 | Publication | News

WOLA Digest: May 2015

WOLA's monthly digest provides highlights from our programs, including news, analysis, and stories of impact. To receive the digest in your inbox each month, please visit www.wola.org/sign_up

New Photo Essay and Website Show the Human Cost of Current Drug Policies in Latin America

Women across the Americas are being incarcerated for minor, non-violent, drug-related crimes at an alarming rate. In Argentina, Brazil, and Costa Rica, well over 60 percent of each country’s female prison population is incarcerated for drug-related crimes; in Ecuador, that number tops 80 percent. To shed light on this issue, WOLA, the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), and the Center for Law, Justice and Society (Dejusticia) recently announced the launch of a new website and photo essay. The website, which highlights the efforts of a working group of international experts, provides up-to-date analysis on gender-related trends in drug policy and options for reform, while the photo essay shows the human cost these policies have on women in Latin America. Please click here to see the full photo essay.

Women Behind Bars




#CICIGSÍ and Protests in Guatemala: Major Blows to Impunity in Guatemala

In April, in a huge victory in the fight against impunity, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina announced that he would extend the mandate of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a mechanism that has worked to strengthen the Guatemalan judicial system and dismantle criminal networks deeply embedded within the state. As WOLA concluded in a recent report examining the Commission’s lessons learned over the past eight years, the extension of the CICIG represents an important opportunity to strengthen the rule of law in Guatemala, and is vital in the fight against criminal networks. WOLA participated in a social media campaign surrounding the CICIG’s renewal using the hashtag #CICIGSÍ, which went viral in Guatemala in the days leading up to Pérez Molina’s announcement.
In light of recent hard-hitting CICIG investigations linking high-level officials to corruption, thousands of Guatemalans have taken to the streets to demand the resignation of corrupt authorities. As WOLA’s Adriana Beltrán discussed on WBEZ Chicago's Worldview, Vice President Roxana Baldetti, Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla, and other top officials have already resigned amidst recent scandals. Stay tuned to WOLA for updates and analysis as the story unfolds.

Colombia Suspends Aerial Fumigation Program Using Cancer-Causing Glyphosate

In early May, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced the suspension of a U.S.-backed aerial fumigation program. WOLA was an active participant in the debate leading up to the Colombian government’s decision, and our analysis of the program’s failure was cited in major Colombian media. The program used aircraft to spray coca bushes with herbicides containing glyphosate—commonly known as Roundup—a chemical determined to be “probably carcinogenic to humans” by the World Health Organization. This harmful chemical has been sprayed over 4.35 million acres of Colombian territory and rural residential areas since 1994, but as WOLA’s Adam Isacson points out, even if glyphosate were safe fumigation would still be an ineffective and counterproductive policy. Ultimately, the suspension of aerial fumigation represents a major victory for human rights and Colombia’s post-conflict future. In a new video interview, Isacson discusses the major flaws in the program, and what kind of policies should take its place moving forward.

New Data Highlights the Alarming Impact of Mexico’s Southern Border Program

In 2014, a dramatic increase in unaccompanied Central American migrants at the U.S. border made national headlines and brought attention to the poverty and endemic violence in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. So far this year, the number of children and families apprehended at the U.S. border has fallen significantly due to a massive immigration crackdown in Mexico. Mexico deported nearly 40,000 Central American migrants in the first three months of 2015, a 79 percent increase from last year. As a result of this crackdown, and with the encouragement of the United States, the number of unaccompanied minors deported from Mexico is now equal to the number apprehended in the United States.
However, the violence in Central America continues, and this increased enforcement raises serious humanitarian concerns for migrant children who are not being adequately screened by Mexican authorities to see if they qualify for protection or refugee status. As noted in a recent New York Times article on the issue, the humanitarian consequences of this crackdown could be severe, and thousands of Central Americans migrating out of a genuine fear for their lives could ultimately be sent back to the violence and threats they were trying to escape.

State Department Announces Cuba’s Removal from ‘State Sponsors of Terror’ List

For more than two decades, WOLA has advocated for Cuba’s removal from the U.S. list of ‘State Sponsors of Terror,’ a necessary step toward advancing President Obama’s goal of updating U.S. policy towards Cuba. Today, it finally happened. The State Department’s announcement of Cuba’s removal from the list came after the end of a 45-day waiting period following the White House’s announcement of the move to Congress. These announcements follow April's historic Summit of the Americas, in which Cuba participated for the first time and President Obama met with Raul Castro face-to-face. WOLA’s Joy Olson and Geoff Thale were on the ground at the summit participating in civil society forums and meeting with partner organizations there. To see more of WOLA’s work on Cuba, please click here.

WOLA Celebrates the Beatification of Archbishop Romero

Last week, the Vatican celebrated the beatification of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, the first step on the path toward recognizing him as a saint. In an era when El Salvador was torn by repression and violence, Romero’s commitment to the poor, to peace, and to social justice was a source of hope and strength and an inspiration to the human rights movement in Latin America and worldwide. WOLA worked closely with Monsignor Romero in the 1970s, and one of the most treasured documents in WOLA’s archive is a letter he wrote expressing gratitude for the support WOLA gave to him and the Salvadoran people. At WOLA, we are proud to work with many who knew Monsignor Romero, and many more who followed in his footsteps. 

Archbishop Romero

Archbishop Romero (standing center) with WOLA Founders Bill Wipfler and Tom Quigley the day before his assassination. Photo courtesy American Friends Service Committee.

Save the Date! Join WOLA in Honoring Courage and Leadership in Human Rights

Join WOLA on Wednesday, October 28 at the Mayflower Renaissance to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the prestigious WOLA Human Rights Award, which honors organizations and individuals who have worked tirelessly to promote human rights and social justice in Latin America. This year’s awards will be presented to Justicia y Paz, the Inter-Church Commission for Justice & Peace from Colombia; and Tim Rieser, Foreign Policy Aide to Senator Patrick Leahy and Democratic Clerk of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Department of State and Foreign Operations. Stay tuned for more information. We hope to see you there!