100 Person Delegations to Nicaragua, Cuba, Colombia & Mexico
July 1st, 2003
End Economic & Military Violence
What an extraordinary experience! The 20th Anniversary Delegation and Celebration of our beloved Witness for Peace was a deeply moving and hopeful event. My heart is filled with joy and gratitude! Before the delegation, I hoped and prayed that this 20th Anniversary Delegation would be a life transforming, energizing and empowering experience for all 72 delegates and International Team members. I believe that it indeed met and surpassed these expectations. We had a great training at the University of Maryland. The four delegation groups began to bond and begin the process of forming a "beloved community." All the delegation coordinators worked effectively:
Kate Stevens and Sean Donohue with the Colombia group
Andy Summers and Paddy Inman with the Cuba group
Rick Axtell and Carrie Leslie with the Nicaragua group
Allison Styan and I with the Mexico group
Each of these people - all skilled delegation coordinators used their group process skills and deep spirituality to guide and deepen the experience of being Witnesses for Peace.
Our Mexico group - seven young people and 6 or 7 grandmothers and fathers formed strong, loving and supportive bonds. We sang joyfully, gave back rubs and hugs and encouragement to one another. Everyone opened their hearts and minds and allowed the experience of being in Mexico to move their hearts and ignite their passion and their minds to deepen their understanding of the impact of NAFTA on the people of Mexico and the probable negative impact of the Free Trade Area of the Americas on Latin America.
On Saturday June 28th all four groups returned to Wash. DC from Nicaragua, Colombia, Cuba and Mexico deeply moved by their experiences. They had bonded closely across generations and become "beloved communities." Each group was deeply moved by their experiences in each country.
On Sunday June 29th we gathered at the University of the District of Colombia to prepare for our work as Witnesses for Peace to educate our communities here in the United States and for our work to change US policies towards Latin America. At 11:00am each group had 15 minutes to present what they had learned to the larger group of 70 people. What creativity! They had banners, candles, skits and dramatic readings.
Plan Colombia is a plan of death and destruction. Our beloved Nicaragua is being devastated by the burden of debt and the structural adjustment policies imposed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Children cannot afford to go to school. Many beg on the streets. The Cuban people cannot get antibiotics or cancer drugs to prevent nausea during cancer treatment. Cuba cannot import building materials for new housing projects. It is long past time to lift the embargo! The neo liberal economic model, which began to be implemented in Mexico in the 1980s and continued with NAFTA, has devastated both the rural sector in Mexico as well as its industrial base. Unemployment has risen, and according to the UNDP the poverty index has risen from 36% to 60%. Sixty percent of the small and medium businesses have gone bankrupt causing thousands of people to immigrate north seeking work.
Together we trained for our media work, to meet with our US Senators and US Representatives to stop passage of the Free Trade Area of the Americas. We want Fair Trade, which will benefit workers and farmers and business in both the United States and in Latin America. We also prepared to witness in front of the White House on Monday morning. The Hemisphere is Not for Sale! We are all family - brothers and sisters. Only with justice for all people will we attain both peace and a sense of security.
As I flew home I prayed, "Lord - beloved one - make us instruments of your peace. Transform us! Empower us! Be present to us. Strengthen us!"
I am tired but so deeply grateful for these past two weeks for the love and support and joy of being together - for being used as instruments of God's love. I am also thankful for the past twenty years and for our beloved Witness for Peace community. So many people have given so much to create this community - the 12,000 witnesses who joined WFP delegations to Latin America, the over 300 long term team members who risked so much and gave years of their lives to WFP. The many dedicated and creative staff and WFP board members who poured themselves out to make our witness possible: Bob Bonthius and Fran Truitt, Phyllis and Richard Taylor, Sharon Hostetler, Betsy Crites, Steven Bennett, Carol Richardson…so many good people. Special thanks to my husband Bob Phares and my two daughters Rebecca and Lisa who have given me so much love and support over these many years.
Gracias! Thank you!
- This Hemisphere is Not for Sale
- End the Cuban embargo!
- Stop Plan Colombia
- Stop the Free Trade Area of the Americas
Gail S. Phares
July 1, 2003