Dear Colleague Letter on Freedom to Travel to Cuba-signed by 59 Reps!

Did you hear about Jay Z and Beyonce’s recent visit to Cuba to celebrate their 5 year wedding anniversary? Cuban American Republican congresspersons Ileana Ros-Lehtinin and Mario Diaz-Balart wrote to the US Treasury Department criticizing Beyonce’s and Jay Z’s visit and calling for an investigation of the super star couple’s trip to Cuba.

Are you tired of a small minority of Cuban-American congressperons holding us all hostage when it come to US policy towards Cuba? President Obama has made some forward strides to loosen travel to Cuba but we have much further to go. Rep Sam Farr (CA) has authored a Dear Colleague letter addressed to President Obama asking the President to use his excecutive authority to grant general licenses for ALL purposeful travel to Cuba.

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Venezuela: International Day of Action April 11, 2013

Thursday April 11th marks the 11 year anniversary of the attempted coup against elected President Hugo Chavez. Two Days later on April 13th, 2002 in a historic moment for Latin America he returned to his office reversing the coup.

Since first coming into office in 1999 President Chavez had gone through numerous highly observed elections in which he was re-elected by an overwhelming majority of the popular vote. He recently was re-elected for President in October 2012. A controversial figure for some and a beloved President and leader for millions of Venezuelans, President Hugo Chavez succumbed to cancer last month.

New elections are taking place this Sunday April 14th in Venezuela where President Chavez’s sucessor Nicolas Maduro is expected to win. We know of the over decade long hostilities of the United States in trying to intervene in the democractic process in Venezuela and to undermine the alternative economic and political models that challenge US hegemony in the region.

This Thursday April 11th is an International Day of Action in solidarity with the Venezuelan People. As US Citizens we call for NO Intervention in Venezuela, Respect for Election Results, and an End to funding of Opposition groups.

Call the State Department’s Venezuela Desk at 202-647-4216 or email mcnamarajt@state.gov.

Call the White House comment Line: 202-456-1111

For congress contact the ranking members of the Foriegn Operations Sub-Committee and ask them to cut all US funding of opposition groups in Venezuela from the 2014 federal budget.

Republican Chair Kay Granger (TX) (202) 225-5071
Democract ranking member Nita Lowey (NY) 202-225-6506

There will be events happening nationwide this week. For California events see below. 

California Events:

April 14th Chiapas Support Committee (5-C) teach-in @*2-4 pm
Dolores Huerta Room, Pitzer, Claremont Colleges. VENEZUELA
Youth collectives… elections Jeanette Charles, & Youth skyped from
Venezuela.

April 14th Bus from LA to SF: Venezuelan consulate

Global Womens Strike Sunday 14 April, 3:30- 6pm
At the Eastside Café, 5469 Huntington Drive N (corner of Maycrest LA 90032)  Light refreshment.  Let us know by Thursday April 11 if you will need childcare.
Contact: la@allwomencount.net, 323-276-9833

 

Check out our TEN New Year’s resolutions and help us keep them!

Witness for Peace Southwest 2013 New Years Resolutions and Top Five Highlights of 2012.

2013 New Years Resolutions for Witness for Peace Southwest

1. Honduras: End US aided Human Rights Abuses and support the Honduran Resistance Movement.

2. Colombia: send human rights observers to peace communities in Uraba.

3. Migrants Rights: Send human rights workers to the California/Mexico/Border region and advocate for more humane immigration policies.

4. Cuba: Get Cuba off the list of Terrorist Nations, continue to work to end the travel ban and embargo and advocate for the Freedom of the Cuban Five.

5. Congress: Pressure members of the foreign operations sub-committees in Senate and House to stop funding failed drug wars in Latin America and funding foreign militaries that commit human rights abuses.

6. Youth organizing: Award scholarships to students who want to join our alternative spring break delegation to Colombia, offer youth internships and volunteer opportunities, take a delegation of youth to do humanitarian work on the border.

7. Bring a speaker from Cuba and Honduras to the U.S for events in your area.

8. Organize Webinars on Colombia and Immigration.

9. Organize a weekend retreat conference for our members with special speakers, trainings and workshops.

10. Organize regular chapter meetings in your area.

TOP FIVE Highlights from 2012

1. This year we’ve been actively working with the Honduras Solidarity Network, we helped get over 100 congresspersons and 7 Senators to speak out against human rights violations in Honduras.

2. Our pressure as part of a grassroots nationwide movement has resulted in over one million dollars of military aid cut to the Honduran military and police.

3. On May 1st we celebrated International Workers Day with our migrant brothers and sisters.

4. In October we hosted our Cuban partner Daisy Rojas on a live webinar“Building Bridges with 21st Century Cuba while she was on tour in the U.S.

5. This Fall we witnessed Honduran LBGQT activist Erick Vidal Martinezreceive an international Gay rights award and share his stories of the Honduran resistance with hundreds of Californian university students.

Help us make our New Years Resolutions come true!

Make a Secure Online Donation with PayPal by clicking on the Donate Button below.

For starting at only $5 a month you can become a monthly sustainer. Click here to see our frequently asked questions and to download the sustainer form.

Checks can be written to WFPSW and mailed to PO BOX 1781 Ojai, CA 93024.

Thank you! And HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!

Bird-Dog the New Congress! Take a look at our “How To” guide.

Bird-Dog Your Representatives

Bird-dog (bûrd’-dôg), v. To follow, monitor and/or seek out a subject of interest, such as a public official, with persistent attention to get answers to questions or influence the subject.

Bird-dogging is a tactic that many organizations, and concerned citizens, use to pressure public officialsto take a public stance on an issue, or to question a stance that a candidate has already taken.It usually consists of one or more bird-doggers who go to a public event where a public official will appear. The bird-doggers ask the candidate pointed questions about issues they care about in order to elicit a response. Because members of the media often attend candidate events, bird-dogging plays an important role in getting candidates’ positions “on record.” This is a vital part of holding politicians accountable to their constituents after the elections.

The highest office in America is at stake. Now is the time to ask the candidates what they are going to do about the issues we care about.

Tips for Successful Bird-Dogging

• Know where they stand. Before you bird-dog, check for the latest information about the candidates. Have they taken a stance on the issue? The more you know about where the candidate stands the more specific your question can be. To find out their voting record on certain issues go to www.votesmart.org

• Be assertive. Candidates have very busy schedules and may only take a few questions from audiences during public appearances. In order to be heard, be sure to get in line or raise your hand immediately when it’s time for questions. You also don’t have to wait for public speeches or town hall events. Try for a quick question during a meet-and-greet session or other public appearances.

• Be polite. Most candidates will not take rude people or questions seriously.

• Be direct. Don’t give a long explanation of your question. While you will want to set up your question, the goal of bird-dogging is to force a candidate to respond to an important issue on the record.

• End with a very specific question. Politicians love avoiding difficult issues, so make sure to ask a clear and specific question to ensure that they address the issue you are interested in. Ask open-ended questions that cannot be answered with a yes or no answer. If you feel like your question was not answered, politely ask it again. Here are some sample questions:

Cuba: 

It is estimated that lifting the travel ban on Cuba could create as many as 20,000 new jobs and over 1 billion in revenue for the U.S, and that two-thirds of all Americans including Cuban Americans support lifting the travel ban on Cuba. Will you support efforts in congress to lift the Cuba travel ban and work to normalize relations with our island neighbor?

Trade:

It is estimated over 600,000 U.S jobs were lost after the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement while two-thirds of all undocumented migrants in the U.S today came as a result of NAFTA. In the last 2 years during one of our worst recessions the US congress passed 3 more NAFTA style free trade deals. Now a new trade deal is proposed under the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement including 8 pacific rim countries. How will you vote on this next new free trade deal and will you work to re-negotiate the trade agreements we already have?

Drug War:

This year alone the U.S will spend 52 billion on the War on Drugs, mostly on military aid to corrupt foreign governments like Mexico and Colombia and on incarcerating drug addicts here in the U.S. With this strategy we have only seen more drugs on our streets, more drug cartel violence and more people in prison. While 20 million Americans needed drug treatment last year and never received it.  In the next congress will you work to shift Drug War spending away from corrupt foreign militaries and domestic prisons and spend more money on curtailing the demand side of drug abuse by providing community services, drug treatment and de-crimilization of drug addiction?

Work in teams of two or more people and disperse. Bird-dogging can sometimes make people nervous so it’s best to go in teams of two or more for support. Also, if you have two people in a team, one can ask the question while another writes down the response. It’s best if you can get the candidate’s response on camera, but either way, get an accurate quote of what was said so you can pass the information on. The website http://www.birdogger.org is a good place to post candidate responses.

When you ask a question, be prepared with a follow up question – you might just get the opportunity to ask it. And, this way if someone else asks your question you’ll have a backup. If you have a group of people at the event, split them up. Dispersing at the event might allow everyone in the group to ask a question.

Keep it cordial. You are likely to get more of a response from candidates, and make a positive impression on the media, if you are calm and respectful in your demeanor. Hardly anyone is 100 percent opposed to your views, so try and come up with a compliment on a candidate’s position that you can mention before you ask your question.

For a list of congressional races and how much money they have raised go towww.thegreenpapers.com

To find out who contributes to their campaigns go to www.opensecrets.org

For Bird-dogging help contact southwestwfp@gmail.com or call (805) 421-9708.

Past Highlights and Pictures

Highlights and Accomplishments

Southwest Region Witness for Peace

Moving Congress: In theSouthwest region secured 6 of 87 congressional signers on a Dear Colleague letter condemning human rights abuses in Honduras. On the Colombia Free Trade Agreement 4 congresspersons were swayed to vote NO through Southwest region efforts in October. WFPSW rallies were held at 3 Southern California undecided congressional offices a day before the free trade votes. 2 of the 3 reps voted against the free trade agreements the next day. Through grassroots pressure, this December Rep. Berman CA-28, ranking Democrat in the House Foreign Relations committee sent a public letter to Secretary Clinton questioning US funding of state sponsored repression in Honduras. This next year we will be bird-dogging congress during election campaigns to make sure they address the failed Drug War, Honduras human rights violations, the Cuban Embargo and immigration reform. (pictured WFPSW members at Rep. Henry Waxman’s office)

Honduras– The Southwest Region joined protests at the Honduran Consulate in the spring when there was a brutal military/police crack down on teacher/students protests that lead to the death of elementary school teacher Ilse Ivania Velásquez Rodríguez. In March the Southwest region hosted Gerardo Torres, leader of the Honduran Resistance Front, for several speaking events in Southern California. In September the Southwest region sent a nine-person delegation to Honduras that visited the campesino movements of the Aguan Valley, 4 political prisoners, served as international observers for the Sept 15 Resistance marches and met with the brand new US Ambassador to Honduras. The Southwest hosted Afro-Honduran Garifuna Doctor Luther Castillo for a workshop on Honduras at the School of the Americas vigil in Ft. Benning, Georgia. The Southwest continues to be an active member of the Honduras Solidarity Network. In 2012 we plan to send more protective accompaniment delegations to Honduras, push for more cuts in US funding and get a Dear Colleague letter circulating in the Senate.(pictured: delegate Sara Kohgadai with former Honduran President Mel Zelaya.)

Trade- Three free trade agreements came to a vote  for Colombia, Panama and South Korea. The Southwest held face to face meetings with several congressional offices in the spring in which reps committed to vote against the FTAs. During the final votes many reps spoke out strongly against the FTAs on the floor of the Senate and House. In the end 80% of House Democrats voted against the Colombia FTA and most significantly against a specific ask by President Obama to pass the trade agreements. In 2012 election season we will be holding reps accountable for their votes on the FTAs and will push for more congressional co-sponsors for the Trade Act, a bill that will stop any new FTAs and renegotiate all current FTAs. (pictured: rally at Rep. Karen Bass’ office. She voted against all 3 FTAs)

Colombia- In the Spring the Southwest hosted events for the Days and Prayer and Action on Colombia, in July we sent an accompaniment delegation to the humanitarian peace communities of Uraba, Colombia and in the fall we lobbied against the Colombia FTA and hosted Jani Silva, campesina leader from Putumayo, Colombia on a speaking tour that reached over 1000 people. In 2012 we will send protective accompaniment delegations to Uraba, Colombia and continue to raise awareness in the US of the failed drug war model. (pictured Southwest delegates in Uraba, Colombia)

Migrant Rights- In January we hosted the first domestic delegation on immigration and migrant rights in Ventura County, California. We co-sponsored multiple migrant rights forums and participated in campaigns to stop ICE’s Secure Communities Program. In the summer the Southwest sent volunteers to deliver water and humanitarian aid at the Arizona/Mexico border with the human rights group No More Deaths. In 2012 we will return to volunteer on the border, flight for an end to ICE’s S-COMM program and participate in migrant rights forums and Know Your Rights Trainings. (pictured: volunteers with No More Deaths take a break in the Arizona/Mexico desert.)

Cuba– the Southwest has participated in the efforts to protect Cuban family travel. Hardline Cuban Americans in congress twice this year have tried to roll back travel for Cuban Americans to Bush era policy. In December the Southwest sent 28 delegates to Cuba ranging from ages 24-76 and representing 18 states. This coming year we will support the campaign to Free the Cuban Five, organize delegations to Cuba and lobby to end the travel ban and embargo on Cuba. (pictured: International Workers Day march in Havana, Cuba)

Delegations– The Southwest sponsored 4 delegations to Honduras, Colombia, Cuba and Ventura County, CA. A total of 55

delegates participated and the Southwest Region awarded $3,175 in delegation scholarship assistance. In 2012 we have delegations planned for Honduras, Colombia, Cuba and domestic California and Arizona delegations on migrant rights. We also will be facilitating more short term and long term volunteer accompaniment teams in Uraba, Colombia and the Aguan Valley of Honduras. (pictured: Southwest region’s first domestic delegation focused on farmworkers and migrant rights in California.)

Dear Colleague Letter on LBGT Murders in Honduras

Help Address Violent Crimes Committed Against the LGBT Community in Honduras

From: The Honorable Jared Polis
Date: 6/11/2012

Dear Colleague,

Please join us in sending the letter below to the State Department calling on them to urge the government of Honduras to take immediate steps to investigate and resolve cases of violent crime against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community in that country.

Since 2009, more than 70 LGBT individuals have been murdered, and many of these cases remain unresolved. The State Department’s 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices found that the Honduran law enforcement has been complicit in human rights abuses, and that police officers had targeted vulnerable persons, including LGBT people. Given the level of U.S. support and assistance for the Honduran government, it is vital that we ensure they protect the human rights of all their citizens, especially vulnerable populations like the LGBT community.

The deadline for signing onto the letter is close of business Wednesday, June 20th.  To sign onto the letter, please contact Rafael Reyneri at Rafael.Reyneri@mail.house.gov or 225-2161 in the office of Rep. Polis

Sincerely,
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TANYA COLE – Letter to the Editor (Ventura County Star) – Drug war spending

In a recent forum for the candidates for the 26th Congressional District, Candidate Jess Herrera was asked if he were elected, would he work to combat the failed drug war by reducing U.S. Drug War spending abroad and decriminalizing drugs at home. By the reaction of the audience, this seemed to be a tough question.

Mr. Herrera said Mexico and Latin America need our help combating the drugs and the police at home are doing a fine job. Perhaps Mr. Herrera is not aware that the “Failed Drug War” is named so for a reason.

After billions of U.S. dollars have been spent in drug war aid to Latin America, we have only seen an increase in drug production and an increase in human rights violations by the militaries we fund, particularly Colombia, Mexico and Honduras. At home we have the largest prison spending and prison population in the world with most people in the system for non-violent drug related offenses.

I hope our congressional candidates do a bit more homework before this election.

During President Obama’s trip to Colombia for the Summit of the Americas last weekend, he received an earful from Latin American presidents about the failures of Washington’s drug war. Of all countries, we should understand supply and demand economics. President Obama should refocus our drug policies to drug prevention and rehabilitation programs. Decriminalization/regulation of drugs will put the cartels and drug dealers out of business. Investment in our communities instead of guns and jails is money better spent.

– Tanya Cole,

Ojai

Published at http://www.vcstar.com/news/2012/apr/18/drug-war-spending/

Open Letter: Restore Civil Liberties and Protect Human Rights in Honduras

Honduras_Zacate Grande

We call on the de facto government of Honduras to restore constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties, respect human rights and freedom of expression, accept international monitoring and mediation, and establish dialogue with the constitutionally elected administration of President Manuel Zelaya. We call on all parties in Honduras to resolve this conflict through peaceful means.  

We are greatly concerned about the Micheletti government’s decision to suspend constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties through the decree published on September 26th, 2009 in the official government newspaper. We are also concerned about the violations of human rights and freedom of expression that have taken place since President Manuel Zelaya returned to Honduras on September 21st. We call upon the government to immediately cease excessive use of force by police and military directed at peaceful protestors; arbitrary detentions; and harassment, surveillance and attacks against human rights defenders. We urge the government to cease acts of hostility and harassment directed at the Brazilian Embassy. We are gravely concerned about restrictions upon the freedom of the press, including the suspension of guarantees of freedom of expression included in the September 26th decree and actions to cut off power to, occupy and close media outlets.

We urge the de facto government to immediately accept Organization of American States mediators, and call upon the Honduran Supreme Court and Congress to accept the request of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to conduct a visit to verify the reports of human rights abuses since September 21st. We further call upon the government to provide access to other UN and OAS special rapporteurs to monitor the human rights situation.

Finally, we urge the U.S. State Department to advocate strongly for protection of human rights and civil liberties, and to use all diplomatic means to restore constitutional order in Honduras and support, in conjunction with Organization of American States, a process for national dialogue. 

Jean Stokan
Director
Institute Justice Team, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas

Reverend John L. McCullough
Executive Director and CEO
Church World Service

Vicki Gass
Senior Associate for Rights and Development
Washington Office on Latin America

Robert E. White
President
Center for International Policy

Jennifer Atlee 
Co-Director
Quixote Center

John A. Nunes
President and CEO
Lutheran World Relief

Viviana Krsticevic
Executive Director
Center for Justice and International Law

Rev. M. Linda JaramilloExecutive Minister 
Michael Neuroth, Policy Advocate on International Issues
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries

LaMarco Cable
Program Associate for Advocacy and Education
Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ

James E. Winkler
General Secretary, General Board of Church and Society
United Methodist Church

T. Michael McNulty
Justice and Peace Director
Conference of Major Superiors of Men

Sarah Stephens, Executive Director
Bart Beeson, Program Associate
Center for Democracy in the Americas

Mary B. Campbell
Associate Director for Companionship, Advocacy,and Education for Latin America and
the Caribbean, Global Mission

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Erin Kliewer
Executive Director 

STITCH

Amanda Martin 
Director 
Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA

Eric LeCompte
National Organizer
SOA Watch

John Lindsay-Poland and Susana Pimiento Chamorro
Co-Directors 
Fellowship of Reconciliation Task Force on Latin America and theCaribbean

Marie Dennis
>
Director
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Nan McCurdy
President

CEPRHI, Ecumenical Committee of English Speaking Church Personnel,Nicaragua

Stephen Coats
Executive Director
US Labor Education in the Americas Project – USLEAP

Kristen Moller
Executive Director
Global Exchange

Dave Robinson
Executive Director 
Pax Christi USA: National Catholic Peace Movement

Roz Dzelzitis
Executive Director
May I Speak Freely Media

Laura Carlsen
Director, Americas Program 
Center for International Policy

Sharon Hostetler
Executive Director
Witness for Peace

Barbara Mecker
Staff Liaison, Latin America/Caribbean Committee
Loretto Community

Mary Ellen McNish
General Secretary
American Friends Service Committee

Sarah Aird
Board Member
Amnesty International USA

Jim Vondracek
Managing Director
Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America (CRLN)

Manuel Pérez Rocha
Associate Fellow
Institute for Policy Studies

José Artiga
Executive Director
SHARE Foundation

September 29, 2009

Coordinated by Latin America Working Group