The Roots and Early Years of Peace Brigades International by co-founder Daniel N. Clark
On June 30, 2001, Daniel N. Clark, one of the founders of Peace Brigades International in 1981, wrote this essay and posted it to his website. That would have been just prior to the 20th anniversary of the organization. As the 40th anniversary approaches, we share Daniel’s words and the encouragement to remember our history.
The text below is exactly as Daniel wrote it, we have only posted it in a slightly larger font than the original and are in the process of adding photos where possible to illustrate his essay. We are extremely grateful to Daniel for his invaluable work in capturing in words the early days of Peace Brigades International.
Mahatma Gandhi first spoke of a peace brigade, or shanti sena, in 1922, during large scale Hindu-Moslem rioting in India. Since then, many people have become interested in the idea of nonviolent intervention in conflict by contingents of trained nonpartisans, as well as massive nonviolent action by partisans as an alternative to armed conflict, and some have taken concrete action on those ideas.
My personal interest began in the winter of 1980-81 when our Friends Committee on Alternatives to War presented a symposium and workshop at Whitman College in Walla Walla on civilian action as a national defense. After that I began to ponder whether those same principles might be applicable to peacekeeping and peacemaking at the international level.
I knew that Gandhi had envisioned the possibility of international peace brigades, and that since his death, nonpartisan brigades had functioned within India. With further study, I learned that the World Peace Brigade had been formed during the early Sixties and had been active in assisting the Zambian independence movement. The WPB also organized the Delhi-Peking March in 1963 involving several well-known international activists and others at the time of the Indian-Chinese border conflict. Although I wasn’t aware of it, there had been a number of other precedents for nonviolent action at the international level, as detailed by Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan and Thomas Weber in their excellent book, Nonviolent Intervention Across Borders (University of Hawai’i Press, 2000).
In July 1981, during a Friends World Committee for Consultation interest group at North Pacific Yearly Meeting of Friends, I raised the recurring vision of a nonviolent army interposing itself between warring factions to encourage a ceasefire and permit peaceable consideration of issues in conflict. Following that session, I had the personal conviction that such a nonviolent army should exist, and that Quakers were a worldwide body of peacemakers who had the capacity to initiate it. In order to pursue that concern, I was appointed a representative to the Friends World Triennial to be held in Kenya in August, 1982, though as events transpired I wasn’t able to attend and the idea was introduced there by others.
I also discussed the concept with Charles Walker, a Quaker veteran of the World Peace Brigade, which had become inactive when the U.S. civil rights movement drained away much of its resources. Charlie, who lives in the Philadelphia area, had just completed a book on the subject called A World Peace Guard, and was excited to hear from me. He said the idea was starting to occur again to widely separated people, and wanted to know where and how I thought it might be applied. My response was that such a presence was needed in Central America, where there was tremendous repression and several guerrilla wars underway. Charlie mentioned a Consultation on an International Peace Brigade which was being planned for the end of August on Grindstone Island in Canada.
I also contacted some New York Friends who had put together a group called the Ad Hoc Committee for a World Peace Army, and were planning an East-West march across Europe.
In August, I set out with my family for Central America to continue work I had begun on some development projects as well as to explore these issues. Our “traveling minute” from the Walla Walla Friends meeting read:
“To all Friends Whom it May Concern:
We commend to you our members, Daniel and Barbara Clark, and their children, Rebecca and Jeremy, as they visit among you to explore our concerns for the development of community to community relations between North Americans and Central Americans, and for the possibilities of establishing a nonviolent international peace force able to contribute to the peaceable resolution of disputes between warring nations and peoples.”
On the way we visited Philadelphia where we met with Charlie and another Quaker veteran of the World Peace Brigade, George Willoughby. George was doubtful the Grindstone consultation would be held because of financial and other problems, and said he wouldn’t be coming. Charlie was more positive about the gathering, and invited me to attend.
In Costa Rica, we discussed the peace brigades concept and the coming Friends Triennial and Grindstone Consultation with Quakers at Monteverde, who expressed support. While we were in Honduras, we saw news reports of the aerial bombing of a neighboring Guatemalan village temporarily occupied by guerrillas, and I thought that a potential role for a peace brigade would be to openly place its members in the village to protect civilians. On our return to Miami, I telephoned Charlie, who told me the Grindstone Consultation would be held and urged me to attend.
The Consultation on an International Peace Brigade held at Grindstone Island in Ontario was organized by five long-time workers in the field, Ray McGee of Peaceworkers from California, Narayan Desai of the Sarva Seva Sangh and Radhakrishna of the Gandhi Peace Foundation in India, Piet Dijkstra with the Foundation for the Extension of Nonviolent Action in the Netherlands, and Charles Walker of Pennsylvania. The conference was to be limited to around 20 people already committed to the concept of a peace brigade, and was to address the practical issues of bringing a brigade into being.
Primarily because the expected financing for the consultation had not come through, many of those invited were not able to attend. The eleven participants included Charles Walker, Ray McGee, Narayan Desai, Jaime de J. Diaz, a Catholic priest with the Corporation for Cultural and Social Development in Colombia, Murray Thomson of Project Ploughshares in Canada, Hans Sinn, a Canadian nonviolence trainer and social defense advocate, Henry Wiseman, a Canadian serving as director of Peacekeeping Programs at the International Peace Academy in New York, Gene Keyes, a Canadian scholar and writer, Mark Shepard, a U.S. peace journalist, Lee Stern, Peace Secretary of New York Yearly Meeting of Friends, and myself. By religious background, we were six Quakers, a Hindu, a Catholic, a Jew, a Protestant, and a universalist.
On the bus down from Ottawa, Henry Wiseman made clear to me that his status at the conference was only as an observer. His director, General Indarjit Rikhye, had asked him to attend, and he didn’t expect much to come of it.
I knew Grindstone by reputation as a conference center on a small island which had been the site of an experiment in civilian-based defense written up by Theodor Olson and Gordon Christiansen in a book called Thirty-One Hours: The Grindstone Experiment (Canadian Friends Service Committee, 1966). George Willoughby was featured as a protestor occupying the island and Hans Sinn, a member of the Grindstone Cooperative, as an invading soldier.
The consultation began on the evening of Monday, August 31 with introductions of the participants. The first session, chaired by Hans Sinn, began with a reading from Gandhi by Ray Magee. On Tuesday morning, with Jaime Diaz chairing, Charlie read from Martin Luther King and the session was devoted to statements of the concerns and approach of each participant. My own statement focused on a sense of urgency, given the proliferation of mass weaponry and violent conflicts in the world, and also on the need for a third party not hamstrung by UN vetoes, and one that could act as a partisan for a nonviolent means of struggle, rather than an advocate for specific ends. Narayan, whose father had been Gandhi’s personal secretary, also stated that the situation was urgent, that the peace movement was moving too slowly, and that human survival was at stake.
At the end of the morning, I was asked to give the reading at the next session to begin just after lunch and was at a loss as to what read. Gandhi and King had already been given and are hard to equal. A few minutes before the session was to begin, I went into the library and, not having found anything relevant, I finally just closed my eyes, put my hand out to a book case, and opened a book. What appeared was an amazingly appropriate passage by Tolstoy. Just as at that point we were all feeling inadequate for such a demanding task, Tolstoy was admonishing his readers that while many would say that we had no business launching a major enterprise for peace and justice given our poverty of resources and the formidable nature of the challenge, we had no choice but to do so, and that destiny demanded it.
The afternoon session focused on proposals for the deployment of brigades, and a discussion of organizational alternatives, including simply establishing ad hoc committees for each desired mobilization, creating an organization oriented toward the U.N., or launching an ongoing independent organization. The deployment discussion included my suggestion for a peace brigade in Central America, particularly in Guatemala where the government had been wiping out remote villages and Mexico was rebuffing refugees. Others noted the need for teams in southern Lebanon, the planned east-west peace army march in Europe, and the situation in Northern Ireland. Conflicts between India and Pakistan, Colombia and Venezuela, Belize and Guatemala, and Ecuador and Peru were mentioned later in the conference.
On Wednesday morning, after Charlie reviewed the prior day’s sessions and queried the group about the mission, characteristics, size, leadership style, discipline, partisanship, and roles of the organization we were contemplating, Henry Wiseman raised a question that was on all of our minds. Given the fact that none of us were representatives of any organizations to this consultation, did we really believe we had the authority and capacity to launch an organization of this scope? To our surprise, Henry then proceeded to respond to his own question–answering strongly in the affirmative. Yes, said the skeptic now converted, we were competent to act as a founding group for an international peace brigade, and we should do so.
Everyone else agreed, and suddenly we had crossed the threshold. After hearing the report of a committee appointed to recommend an organizational form, we decided to establish an independent, ongoing organization with broad scope.
Next came the naming process. Everyone was asked to submit names that would potentially sit well with governments, foundations and the general public, and they were read out and discussed. During a coffee break, “Peace Brigades International” was first voiced by Narayan, seized on by Charlie, and on reconvening accepted by everyone.
To govern the organization, we set up an international council composed of the participants as founding members and 15 additional people who would be invited to serve. We also established an administrative team composed of Charles Walker, coordinator, Raymond Magee, treasurer, and myself as secretary, as well as a directorate consisting of Narayan Desai, Jaime Diaz, and Murray Thomson, with Charles Walker, ex officio, and several standing committees.
On the final day at Grindstone, we adopted the Founding Declaration of Peace Brigades International, which read,
“We have decided to establish an organization which will form and support international peace brigades. We find this historically and morally imperative.
Peace brigades, fashioned to respond to specific needs and appeals, will undertake nonpartisan missions which may include peacemaking initiatives, peacekeeping under a discipline of nonviolence, and humanitarian service. We also intend to offer and provide services to similar efforts planned and carried out by other groups.
We appeal in particular to:
–peoples of diverse cultures, religions and social systems ready to contribute in new ways to the nonviolent resolution of conflict;
–all those who seek to fulfill the high principles and purposes expressed in the Charter of the United Nations, and
–all who work to preserve human life with dignity, to promote human rights, social justice and self-determination, and to create the conditions of peace.
We call upon individuals and groups to enlist their services in the work of local, regional and international peace brigades. We are forming an organization with the capability to mobilize and provide trained units of volunteers. These units may be assigned to areas of high tension to avert violent outbreaks. If hostile clashes occur, a brigade may establish and monitor a cease-fire, offer mediatory services, or carry on works of reconstruction and reconciliation.
Those who undertake these tasks will face risks and hardships. Others can provide support and show solidarity in a multitude of ways.
We are building on a rich and extensive heritage of nonviolent action, which no longer can be ignored. This heritage tells us that peace is more than the absence of war.
We are convinced that this commitment of mind, heart and dedicated will can make a significant difference in human affairs. Let us all join in the march from falsehood to truth, from darkness to light, from death to life.”
Of the three members of the administrative team, Ray Magee agreed to serve “pro tem” as he put it, since his primary focus was on the organization Peaceworkers, whose goal was to get the UN to offer or sponsor unarmed peacekeeping as a part of its own services.
Charles Walker, whose heart and soul were in peace brigades, worked for the Friends Suburban Project, a local organization offering community mediation and conflict resolution training, which didn’t give him much freedom to do PBI administrative work. As a result, the secretariat of PBI was established in my office in Walla Walla.
One of our first tasks was to begin filling out the International Council to increase our resources and legitimacy. At Grindstone, we had approved a list of 18 nominees from which the administrative team was to attempt to fill 15 additional seats. Some of these were long-time workers in the field, whom Charlie knew and agreed to invite. Another was Joan Baez, whom Narayan intended to visit along with Cesar Chavez, but was unable to do so before returning to India. I agreed to contact another well-known nominee, Adolfo Perez Esquivel of Argentina, the winner of the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize. This took some doing, but after many months and considerable difficulty, including a 3 a.m. phone call to accommodate the time difference, Adolfo ultimately agreed to join the Council, influenced in part by the recommendation of Hildegard Goss-Mayr of the IFOR who had worked in Latin America with Adolfo’s organization Servicio, Paz & Justicia (SERPAJ), and who had also agreed to serve.
Although I didn’t speak directly to Joan Baez, after a variety of communications over several months from me and other PBI Council members, we finally received word that she, too, agreed to be on the Council. Other than the addition of former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, whom I met in New York the following year, as a member of our Central America Committee, that was the extent of our celebrity recruitment. While celebrities are an important resource for development of an organization, the actual work is carried on by others in most cases.
Another task, which we all shared, was to get word out about PBI through articles, letters, and talks with potentially interested organizations. I agreed to make specific contacts with Friends bodies, and in early November attended the annual meetings of Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) and Friends Coordinating Committee for Peace (FCCP), both in Washington, D.C., and the annual meeting of FWCC Section of the Americas in Indiana. I obtained official statements of support for peace brigades from each, and an agreement by FCCP to sponsor and receive charitable contributions for PBI until we had our own tax-exempt status. At the FWCC meeting I also received an invitation from Jorge Hernandez of the Mexico City Friends Meeting to talk about PBI at the General Reunion of Mexican Friends scheduled in January in Mexico City.
Besides offering possibilities for international work, a general letter we sent out announcing the formation of PBI encouraged local groups to establish community peacekeeping teams to which we would be offering training help. In Walla Walla, the Friends Committee on Alternatives to War sponsored the organizational meeting of a Walla Walla Peace Brigade, and began planning a training session on nonviolent tactics and third-party intervention skills applicable to a range of situations from interpersonal and local community conflicts all the way to participation in international brigades. Lee Stern was also working to establish a local brigade in New York City to respond to Ku Klux Klan activities and other violence there through the Alternatives to Violence Project, and Charlie Walker was in the process of developing a brigade in the Philadelphia area.
Central America Project Explorations
My own focus for international work continued to be on Central America. While visiting in Washington, D.C. in November, 1981, I attended a conference put on by NISGUA, the National Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala, where I briefly met Julio Quan, a Guatemalan exile working with Friends World College. A speaker at the conference was Vinicio Cerezo, leader of the Guatemalan Christian Democratic Party. Though years later he would be elected President of Guatemala, at the time he was engaged in the very dangerous act of simply running as an opposition candidate critical of the government. I mentioned to someone at the conference that an important function of a Guatemalan peace brigade, if there had been one at that point, would be to accompany Cerezo and other threatened candidates during the campaign to deter attacks against them.
Another hot spot in Central America was the conflict along the border between Nicaragua and Honduras, where U.S.-sponsored counterrevolutionaries were making raids into Nicaragua, provoking counterattacks by Nicaragua and leading to Honduran claims of invasion. There were also problems on Honduras’ western border, where Salvadoran refugees fleeing the guerrilla war in El Salvador were being harassed by the Honduran army and pursued and sometimes forcibly repatriated by the Salvadoran army. On the same visit to Washington, D.C. I had talked about the Nicaraguan/Honduran border conflict at the headquarters of the Organization of American States (OAS) with Undersecretary General Val McComie, who suggested that the OAS might be able to provide sponsorship for PBI border teams with the consent of the governments involved.
Since Charlie told me he didn’t think we would have enough resources to field our own brigade in the near future, I proposed to send a document to Quakers entitled, “Some Possibilities for Unarmed Peacekeeping and Peacemaking in Central America” to which I attached the endorsements we had received from Quaker organizations in November, and a letter inviting a response. The paper called for an unarmed international brigade to serve in Honduras and the border areas of Nicaragua to lessen tensions, protect refugee camps, serve as an escort for threatened persons, and provide a monitoring presence at critical borders, among other possibilities. Upon approval by the PBI administrative team and favorable response from the directorate and Council members, I sent the paper and a letter to various Friends bodies, including Friends World College, whose president responded that FWC was very interested, and that I should contact Julio Quan of the college.
Talking by phone with Julio, who was then living and teaching in Costa Rica as the director of the Latin American Center of Friends World College, we arranged to meet in January in Mexico City during the General Reunion of Mexican Friends. When we met, he agreed to be the Central American member of a three-person team which would travel through Nicaragua and Honduras in May exploring possible peace brigade activities. PBI Council member Jaime Diaz of Bogota, Colombia became the South American member, and I served as the North American member. In preparation, Jaime visited Costa Rica and Nicaragua for a few days in March. In Costa Rica he met Julio and made preliminary contacts with the Central America Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Interamerican Institute for Human Rights, and the advisor to the President of Costa Rica for the planned U.N. University of Peace. In Nicaragua he met with the rectors of the National University and the Catholic University, as well as the National Assembly of the Clergy.
Costa Rica. The team began its trip on May 14, 1982 in San Jose, Costa Rica, with a meeting with officials of UNHCR to discuss the security needs of Salvadoran refugees in Honduras. Philip Sargisson, the head of UNHCR’s Central America office, explained their plan to establish UN reception centers for refugees along the Honduran border with El Salvador to provide an international presence as security for new refugees entering Honduras, as well as for the segment of the local Honduran population which had been assisting refugees and was now threatened. Sargisson said they wanted to place one UN professional protection officer in each of the three reception centers planned for La Virtud, Guarita, and Colomoncagua, and asked if PBI could provide three volunteers to serve with each protection officer for a term of three to six months. We said we would consider it, and it was agreed we would visit the UNHCR office in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, as well as the border areas where the centers were to be established.
We also wanted to explore the possibility of establishing training facilities and a secure base of operations in Costa Rica, from which operations could be carried on throughout the region. Executive Director Hernan Montealegre of the Interamerican Institute for Human Rights, a nongovernmental body established jointly by the Interamerican Court for Human Rights of the OAS and the government of Costa Rica, expressed serious interest in our mission and in the possibility of the Institute sponsoring a training program for peacekeepers once concrete projects were identified. The Secretary-General of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Costa Rica also expressed strong interest and requested a concrete proposal for assistance upon the completion of our explorations.
In 1981, when my family and I had visited the Quaker community at Monteverde, an idyllic hamlet adjacent to a cloud forest midway between San Jose and the Nicaraguan border, the Friends there had expressed an interest in hosting a training center for future peace teams, which was renewed during the team’s visit there on the way to Managua.
Nicaragua. One of the most serious areas of international tension in Central America at the time was the Nicaraguan-Honduran border. The attacks into Nicaragua by the Somocistas (ex-National Guardsmen under former President Anastasio Somoza) were tolerated by the Honduran government and actively supported by the U.S. and possibly other governments who feared that the Nicaraguans were supplying the Salvadoran guerillas, and because of general hostility to the Sandinista revolution. The situation was made more complex near the Atlantic coast by the presence of Miskito Indian refugees from Nicaragua, a number of whom had become involved with the Somocistas after having fled a relocation program to clear the border area of civilians to better secure the area against incursions. More recently, a problem had also developed on Nicaragua’s southern border with Costa Rica, where both Somocistas and counter-revolutionary followers of leftist Eden Pastora had launched attacks into Nicaragua, apparently prompting incidents of retaliatory border crossings by the Sandinistas. The team was interested in the possible service of observer units on both borders, which would be able to rapidly investigate any further incursions and provide objective reporting to both countries as well as to international organizations and other interested parties.
In Managua, we talked by phone with Foreign Minister Miguel D’Escoto and met with senior Nicaraguan diplomat Leonte Herdocia, as well as others at the foreign ministry. Serious interest was expressed by the Nicaraguan government in possible service by PBI along the Honduran border, as well as in the possibilities of our assisting in the resolution of the Miskito Indian problem, in which both the Sandinistas and UNHCR saw negotiated repatriation as the best solution. At the time of our meeting with the Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry on May 18, plans were being discussed for a joint meeting to be held two days later between the Honduran and Nicaraguan military commands concerning these issues. The Nicaraguans encouraged us to discuss our ideas with Honduran Foreign Minister Edgardo Paz Barnica, who had recently presented a general peace plan for the region, including a proposal for an international presence at borders and other strategic points.
Other visits by the team in Nicaragua involved briefings on the Miskito problem from church officials, and a general discussion with the Chancellor of the National University, who offered encouragement.
Honduras. Unfortunately, Julio wasn’t able to travel with us to Honduras due to an illness in his family. Jaime and I arrived in Tegucigalpa on May 19, where we met with Charles Bazoche at UNHCR, who had been briefed on our visit by Philip Sargisson. Colomancagua was the sole remaining refugee camp on the Salvadoran border at that time and was reachable only by light plane. Bazoche told us we would be flown there the next morning by the only pilot capable of landing at the treacherous strip there. The only possible conflict was our need to meet with the Honduran Foreign Minister, as requested by the Nicaraguans.
On hearing of our desire to visit with the foreign minister, Bazoche, a somewhat disdainful Frenchman, flatly told us we would never get an audience with Paz Barnica, due to our private status and because of the fact that when I called the foreign minister’s office for an appointment, I didn’t refer to him as “Excellency.” He was taken aback when Paz Barnica’s office promptly returned the call to tell us we could see him the next morning at 10:30, the same time as our flight to Colomoncagua. Unfortunately, we made the mistake of postponing the meeting with the foreign minister in favor of the flight, which turned out to be delayed until 12:30 in any event, and then, as we prepared for takeoff, was cancelled altogether when the pilot discovered a cracked cylinder in the engine.
We next met with Col. Turcios, coordinator of the Honduran Refugee Commission, composed of the Ministers of Defense, Foreign Affairs, Interior, Labor, and Health, which had to approve any agency working with refugees. Before meeting with Turcios, we had been told by Noemi de Espinoza, president of CODE (Committee for Development and Emergencies) and Francisco Meraz, director of the Catholic agency CARITAS-Honduras, that since the refugee camps on the border had been moved away from the border to Mesa Grande, the plan to establish refugee reception centers in their place had long been discussed but had never been approved by the Honduran government. Turcios assured us that the reception centers were an agreed condition of the removal of the camps, and that reception center staff would have free access in the border area to protect refugees. He said the Refugee Commission would be meeting the following week to adopt written regulations for the centers, and that he would present to the Commission PBI’s desire to work with the refugees. He also agreed to try to arrange an interview for us with Col. Bueso, the number two man in the Honduran military who was leading the Honduran delegation to the military talks with Nicaragua.
On the 2lst, we received a briefing from several UNHCR protection officers working in the border area, and learned that the refugees were confined to the Colomoncagua camp at 4 p.m. each day, and that all international personnel, including doctors and staff, were required to leave the camp by 5 p.m., which had resulted in the death of several babies due to lack of medical care during the night.
We then went to the Foreign Ministry for our rescheduled meeting with Paz Barnica, only to find that he had been called to the President’s office to discuss the Nicaraguan-Honduran meeting of the previous day, out of which a joint commission had been established for further discussions of a proposal for joint border patrols by army units of the two countries. In his place, Paz Barnica had arranged for us to see the Vice-Minister, who received us cordially and assured us that he would give the Minister a full report of our conversation, that the Minister would discuss it with the President, and would then respond to it. He also suggested we send a written statement concerning our proposals. We emphasized our interest in teams on the Nicaraguan-Honduran border as a means of implementing Point Three of Paz Barnica’s proposal for the “Internationalization of Peace,” which called for international supervision and vigilance at critical borders, and pledged Honduras’ readiness “to open its territory without reserve to whatever type of international supervision and vigilance would be in harmony with the basic proposition of finding and strengthening peace.” Vice-Minister Rivas, though polite, was unresponsive.
We left Tegucigalpa that evening for San Marcos in southwestern Honduras by way of San Pedro Sula with a car and driver provided us by the UN. In San Marcos, where UNHCR’s office is located, we met Padraig Czajowski, the UN protection officer for the Virtud and Guarita area, as well as other UN staff. Padraig drove us to the new refugee camp at Mesa Grande, where we talked with refugees and met two leaders who with refugees from Colomancagua had written a letter to UNHCR in Geneva protesting their conditions and requesting transfer to Mexico, Nicaragua, or other countries where Salvadoran refugees had been received. They told us of threats to security from the Honduran army, lack of free movement of refugees between the two sections of the camp, prohibitions on the sale of refugee products on the Honduran market, and problems with the availability of food stuffs and medical care. Some refugees we spoke with had been in the camps for more than two years and were facing a further move with the planned reduction of the population at Mesa Grande from 8000 to around 2500.
After returning to San Marcos, we began a grueling three-hour drive over the rocky track to the mountain town of La Virtud where a refugee camp had recently been removed. Although the precise border was in dispute, Salvadoran troops occupied a ridge overlooking the town, and the UN maintained a house in the main plaza across from a Honduran military post, where soldiers observed everyone coming and going. The town’s electrical generator had ceased operation six years before, and there was no electricity or running water. There were no telephones in the town, though there was telegraph service, and the UN had a shortwave radio in the house. During the night, we heard repeated gunfire in the distance, and were told that the night before there had been gunfire immediately outside the house. In conversations with local people we found considerable hostility toward refugees as economic competitors and as subversives in a town predominantly aligned with the military party. The hostility extended to anyone who helped the refugees, so some local people needed protection from their own army. On one occasion a group of drunken Honduran soldiers had apparently tried to break down the door to the UN house.
Although Padraig informed us it was all right to take photos of the town square for PBI, after doing so we were approached by three Honduran soldiers from the garrison, who motioned with their guns that we were to go with them to their barracks. As we crossed the plaza I told a woman who did cleaning for Padraig to let him know what was happening, so we had some expectation that help would be on the way. Even so, after the iron doors of the barracks clanged shut behind us and we were out of the sight of the world and at the mercy of the soldiers surrounding us, it gave me a taste of what it must be like for many Central Americans and others around the world who are seized, often clandestinely, and treated with impunity by authorities.
In our case, Padraig arrived within a few minutes to help explain the reason for our visit and that our intention was not to photograph the military post, only the general plaza. The officer in charge seemed satisfied with this explanation and ordered us released without taking our film or our names.
After La Virtud, we drove 1 1/2 hours to Guarita, where another major border camp had been removed and a refugee reception center was planned. Three hours from the border by horseback, Guarita had electricity and running water, the local people were more friendly toward refugees, and even the atmosphere around the army barracks was more relaxed. The problem was how to patrol and create an international presence in the large area between the town and the border to assure new refugees protection from both the Salvadoran and Honduran armies. With no international presence, no new refugees had entered the area in the three months since the removal of the camp to Mesa Grande, as distinct from La Virtud, where several families had reached the UN protection staff since the removal of the camp, often as the result of a child coming to the UN house and taking the officer on a long journey through the brush to where the refugees were hiding. Also in Guarita, we saw opportunities to do constructive work in cooperation with several development agencies, which would provide an increased measure of protection for local Hondurans.
After Guarita, we returned to San Marcos and from there to Tegucigalpa, where we were scheduled to fly the next day to Mocorron, the primary Miskito Indian refugee camp in Honduras. Because of car trouble, we arrived in Tegucigalpa too late for the scheduled plane, missing also the tropical storm Aleta, which hit the Atlantic coast of Honduras and Nicaragua that day leaving 65,000 homeless.
Having communicated with the PBI administrative team and directorate about these opportunities and receiving approval, we held a final meeting with UNHCR officials in Tegucigalpa, at which we proposed that PBI provide two volunteers to serve initially in Guarita, two in LaVirtud, and an additional two to be provided at the time the Colomoncagua reception center was established. PBI volunteers would serve a minimum of three months, and would be provided credentials signed jointly by the UN and the Honduran government. The UN was to be responsible for their housing and board, as well as their transportation and equipment.
Since we were scheduled to leave Honduras the next day for a brief visit to El Salvador, after which we would be meeting with UN staff again in Costa Rica, we asked that a response to our proposal be communicated through the UNHCR office in Costa Rica later in the week.
Before leaving for El Salvador, we met in Tegucigalpa with representatives of several Honduran peace churches who were actively putting forth a proposal for formal recognition of conscientious objection under the Honduran conscription law. In this meeting, which included my friend Andres Carranza of the Honduran Friends Church, we explored ways Honduran pacifists could broaden their base of support by reaching out to Catholic and other groups with a growing peace testimony, as well as the possibility of contributing to the diffusion of border tensions through actions similar to the Tica-Nica Association which was working to improve relations between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
El Salvador. On May 25, we flew to San Salvador to learn more about refugee and other problems within El Salvador itself. In previous meetings, we had heard of increasing attacks on internal refugee camps, as well as attacks on cooperatives occupying land under the new agrarian reform law. There were at the time 300,000 displaced persons within El Salvador, approximately 160,000 of them in internal camps. In Nicaragua, where refugees were free to work and live where they please, we understood the government might be willing to accept additional Salvadorans.
We first visited the 1400 refugees crowded into the grounds of San Jose de Montana Seminary, an example of the virtual imprisonment of thousands of Salvadoran families within their own country. We learned of threats to refugees in the camp and the murder of a priest who had visited the camp twice, and were told that visits such as ours gave the residents a greater sense of security since it is more difficult for the government to harass them when they receive international attention.
We were then able to meet with Archbishop Rivera Y Damas, successor to the slain Archbishop Oscar Romero who had taken a strong stand in favor of the poor and against atrocities committed by the army. We discussed with the Archbishop the situation of Salvadoran refugees in Honduras and within El Salvador, as well as possibilities of transfer to Nicaragua. He told us about the historical struggle within El Salvador and his new call for negotiations,and assured us he would be visiting the Honduran refugee camps in the coming weeks, and that he wanted to consider further the possibility of PBI involvement.
Our final visit in El Salvador was with the Rector of the Catholic University (the UCA), Ignacio Ellacurea who was later to be assassinated by the armed forces, along with several of his Jesuit colleagues. We were impressed by the University’s courageous publication of a number of periodicals analyzing the situation within El Salvador and denouncing ongoing injustice and terror. He described the assassination, arrest, and exile of students and professors, and of the military occupation of the campus on several occasions. “But we publish,” he told us, “and will continue to do so.” After suggesting that the University look upon PBI as a potential source for teams of international observers should its viability as a forum for free speech continue to be threatened in the future, we flew back to Costa Rica.
Final Meetings. The Costa Rican government had issued a public call for international supervision of the Costa Rican-Nicaraguan border by the OAS while we had been in Honduras. On our return, Alvar Antion, Costa Rica’s senior diplomat and Director-General of Foreign Relations, explained to us that Costa Rica desired unarmed international observers operating on the Costa Rican side of the border to convince the Sandinistas that Costa Rica was no longer being used as a base for counter-revolutionary activities, and to stop the current series of border crossings by the Nicaraguans. He said houses were being burned and Costa Rican campesinos driven out by the Nicaraguans who wanted to create a more secure zone within 4-5 kilometers of the border. Several teams would be required in land rovers, together with 1-2 light planes and communications equipment to enable the teams to immediately cable international authorities and interested governments concerning any border violations.
We explained to him our prior contact with the OAS Undersecretary General, and his suggestion that the OAS might be willing to sponsor PBI border teams with the consent of the governments involved. Antion told us that Nicaraguan junta coordinator Daniel Ortega has spoken out against the Costa Rican proposal, though Costa Rica had not yet presented a formal petition to the OAS. He suggested we contact the OAS again, while making clear to us that the Costa Rican government was making no commitment, and that these were strictly “preliminary discussions.” We told him we would continue our contacts with his counterpart, Leonte Herdocia of the Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry to see if Nicaragua would consent to a PBI observer team with or without OAS sponsorship.
As to equipment needs, Antion indicated that OAS member countries have supplied equipment in the past for such actions, but that Costa Rica had some equipment which might be utilized by the teams. While acknowledging that formal OAS security mechanisms are often cumbersome and time-consuming, he responded positively to our suggestion that the Human Rights Commission of the OAS might be an appropriate agency to sponsor such teams. He further told us, “We agree that an unarmed presence is the strongest weapon,” and stressed the important impact Quakers and other pacifists had on Costa Rican thought around the turn of the century, strongly affecting the subsequent course of Costa Rican defense policies.
In our final conference at UNHCR with deputy chief Belela Herrera since Philip Sargisson was out of the country, we reviewed our trip and the proposal we had made to the UN in Tegucigalpa. We also discussed the situation of the Salvadoran refugees in Honduras and El Salvador, and inquired into the possibilities for their transfer to Nicaragua, should Nicaragua be willing to accept additional Salvadorans. Although she encouraged any assistance we might give to the migration of refugees still within El Salvador, she advised against any effort to assist the transfer of refugees from Honduras because of a variety of political considerations, as well as the inability of Nicaragua to accept all who might wish to come. At the same time, she reiterated the desire of the UN that the Miskitos be repatriated to Nicaragua. Having received no word from Tegucigalpa on the acceptance of our proposal for the reception centers, she said she would try to give us a response by the next day, which was to be our last in Central America for that trip.
Before leaving San Jose, we had further conversations with the Intergovernmental Committee for Migration (CIM), the Latin American Biblical Seminary, the United Nations University for Peace, the Interamerican Institute for Human Rights, and the Friends from Monteverde. However, our followup call to Leonte Herdocia of the Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry found him also out of the country. Julio Quan agreed to contact him on his return to brief him on our meeting with the Honduran Foreign Ministry, to gauge Nicaragua’s willingness to receive further Salvadoran refugees, and to discuss whether Nicaragua would agree to a PBI observer team on the Nicaraguan-Costa Rican border.
As we were leaving Costa Rica on May 27, Julio received a call from Belela Herrera telling us that the UNHCR had formally approved PBI’s offer of volunteers for the reception center protection teams in Honduras, and that we should coordinate the provision of our volunteers through the Honduran relief and development agency CODE.
The New York Connection
In June, 1982, people and organizations from around the world were descending on New York City for the United Nations Second Special Session on Disarmament, prompting a series of PBI meetings there on a variety of topics.
Honduras. On June 17, Ray Magee and I met with Noemi de Espinoza of CODE, who informed us that the Honduran Refugee Commission had not yet given approval of written regulations for the reception centers or of CODE’s coordination of the centers. She also informed us that as a result of a meeting in Geneva of the World Council of Churches, the Canadian Council of Churches, and the National Council of Churches of the USA, Church World Service had hired Tim Wheeler, the New York Quaker representing Heifer International who I had worked with in Honduras, to coordinate all volunteers in Honduras. She suggested we coordinate our proposals with him, and also told us that the Councils of Churches planned to send their own volunteers to the refugee camps.
In talking with Tim Wheeler, who was also visiting New York at the time, we proposed that PBI work with Church World Service, taking responsibility for the provision of volunteers at Guarita and La Virtud where there were no longer refugee camps, while the Council of Churches continue to provide volunteers at the camps themselves, and that PBI provide a training program for all volunteers in the region. Tim indicated an interest in this proposal and suggested we talk with Oscar Bolioli and Antonio Ramos of the Latin American Office of the National Council of Churches in New York, who were to coordinate the volunteer program.
Charlie Walker, Ray and I met with Bolioli and Ramos the next day. Though before making our arrangements with the UN we had been told the Councils of Churches were suspending their own provision of volunteers to the camps, we were now told they had a continuing volunteer agreement with the UN, and that they were surprised that the UN had committed itself to the receipt of PBI volunteers at the reception centers. They said that before agreeing to cooperate with PBI, they would have to consult with the Canadian and World Councils, and with UNHCR in Honduras regarding their relationship.
In order to clarify our status with the UN, Julio Quan contacted Philip Sargisson again at UNHCR in Costa Rica, and on June 22 told us by telephone of Sargisson’s advice that we could proceed to place volunteers directly under the UN without further action of the Refugee Commission, and that we should cable the characteristics of our proposed volunteers to him within 24 hours as he would be in Honduras for that period of time and could seek their immediate approval.
PBI had already been busy recruiting. In Canada, Hans Sinn had sent out a mailing funded by Murray Thomson‘s Operation Ploughshares to over 1000 people, including Canadian organizations and peace churches, asking for volunteers and money. To assist in the effort, Hans had also been working on the formation of PBI-Canada, which was to become PBI’s first country group. After checking with our two most qualified volunteers, a medical social worker and a registered nurse with experience in Central and South America and direct service with Cuban and Vietnamese refugees in the US, we sent a telex to Sargisson proposing their arrival at UNHCR in Tegucigalpa on July 12 for service at Guarita.
On June 25, having received no reply, Murray Thomson arranged a meeting with his friend George Gordon-Lennox of UNHCR in New York, who telephoned Sargisson in Costa Rica. Sargisson said he had received the telex, that the information on the volunteers was insufficient, and that UNHCR-New York should telex their entire resumes to Costa Rica. When pressed, Sargisson admitted that he was having difficulty getting approval of UNHCR-Honduras, and that even if the volunteers were qualified, as they clearly were, he would have to discuss them with other agencies serving in the region, and would have a reply for us the next week.
On June 30, Julio tried to reach Sargisson again, found that he had left for a month’s vacation leave, and was informed by his deputy Belela Herrera that Sargisson had found that the volunteers were not sufficiently experienced, and suggested that we attempt to work through some another agency.
These events brought home to us the difficulty of doing refugee work in the fractious border regions of Honduras where battles between agencies, while more civilized, were sometimes as fierce as those between armies. Sadly, while this was going on, Salvadoran soldiers massacred another group of refugees in the La Virtud region.
Nicaraguan Border Disputes. In New York, Ray Magee and I also met with Gen. Indar Rikhye, President of the International Peace Academy, who expressed strong interest in the potential contribution to be made by PBI on Nicaragua’s borders, as well as the possibility of participation by the Peace Academy. He suggested he make inquiries of the countries involved on our behalf, and we agreed.
In Washington, D.C. I met with Edmundo Vargas Carreno, Executive Director of the OAS Human Rights Commission, who emphasized the important role PBI might play in the Honduran-Nicaraguan border problems, while expressing pessimism regarding the possibilities along the Nicaraguan border with Costa Rica. He also expressed grave doubts about the formal involvement of the Human Rights Commission with an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) of any kind or in border matters in general, as did OAS Undersecretary General Valerie McComie in a subsequent conversation, a departure from his initial encouragement.
While Julio Quan had been in further communication with Alvar Antion of the Foreign Ministry in Costa Rica during this period, he had heard nothing more from Leonte Herdocia at the Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry.
El Salvador. On June 19, Ray Magee and I attended the first meeting of a new Working Group on El Salvador. This ad hoc group had grown out of an idea by Paddy Lane, a Quaker who was PBI’s representative in Alaska, for a major nonviolent action of some kind in El Salvador. The focus of the meeting was on the potential projects we had identified in the report of our visit there. There was also discussion of the interest of Servicio, Paz & Justicia in a project in El Salvador, and the group decided it was best to coordinate any future projects there with SERPAZ. Pat Parkman, who would later serve as chair of PBI’s Central America Projects Committee, was named as convener of the Working Group on El Salvarodor.
Other Meetings. A variety of other PBI meetings and events took place around the disarmament session, among them a meeting of Carl Kline of the Lisle Fellowship, Radhakrishna of the Gandhi Peace Foundation who had accepted a seat on the PBI Council, Ray Magee and myself with 20 people on their way to a summer peace brigades training seminar in India to be led by Narayan. Charlie, Ray and I gave talks on PBI at the Fellowship of Reconciliation Coffeehouse across from the UN; Ray and I met with George Sherry, Deputy Director of UN Peacekeeping Operations; in Philadelphia, Charlie, George Willoughby and I met with Asia Bennett, executive director of AFSC, and her staff; in Washington, D.C. I met with the director and Central America staff of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). Additional meetings took place involving Charlie Walker, Murray Thomson, Lee Stern, Jaime Diaz, Radhakrishna, Ray Magee, Hildegard Goss-Mayr and others. All in all, it was a productive convergence.
Incorporation and First Council Meeting
From August 23-27, 1982, the Second International Consultation on Peace Brigades was held in Bergen, The Netherlands, together with the first meeting of the International Council of PBI, and the initial meeting of the directorate of the newly formed PBI corporation.
During the New York meetings, we had discussed the necessity of incorporating PBI as a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization for fundraising and other purposes, which we understood to have been authorized at Grindstone. The question was whether to incorporate a PBI-USA as a U.S. fundraising arm, with Peace Brigades International incorporated elsewhere, or to incorporate the international organization itself in the U.S. Jaime Diaz and Radhakrishna advised that there was no reason the international organization itself should not be incorporated in the USA, a country where it is easy to move funds in and out, and it was agreed that I prepare and file Articles of Incorporation for PBI in Washington state, acting as incorporator. PBI was officially organized as a Washington nonprofit corporation on July 6, 1982, and I was named as its registered agent, a role I continue to play.
The meetings in Bergen were hosted by the Foundation for the Extension of Nonviolent Action (SVAG) and were conducted as an open meeting of the PBI International Council, with non-council participants freely taking part except with regard to blocking consensus, which was the agreed basis for all decision-making. The participants came from seven countries.
The Council agreed that project organization, administration and fundraising would generally be decentralized, and that PBI would function under the principle of maximum local autonomy consistent with the consultation and integration necessary to develop and maintain an efficient international network and coordinating body for joint training and action. It was decided that the ultimate form of the international organization should not be determined yet, and that the present PBI structures would be considered “provisional”.
For the present, the corporate articles were approved, and bylaws I had drafted were adopted with minor amendments. In addition to the founders, council members who had accepted the invitations approved at Grindstone were confirmed, including Piet Dijkstra of the Netherlands, Paul Hare, a veteran of the World Peace Brigade then in Israel, War Resisters International Vice-President Devi Prasad as well as Radhakrishna of the Gandhi Peace Foundation in India, Sulak Sivaraksa of Thailand, and Hildegard Goss-Mayr of Austria, as well as new members WRI Secretary John Hyatt of England and Ueli Wildberger of Switzerland. They were soon to be joined on the Council by Joan Baez of the USA, Adolfo Perez Esquivel of Argentina, and Gen. Michael Harbottle of Great Britain, who had served as Chief of Staff of the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces on Cyprus.
The Council acknowledged that for the present its members would not be formal representatives of the specific groups they came from, but of an idea–peace brigades–though it was agreed that the selection criteria would include organizational, geographical, cultural, and sexual balance. Toward this end, the existing directorate was continued, with the addition of a European woman to be appointed. The existing Coordinator, Secretary, and Treasurer were also continued, with the understanding that Ray Magee would serve only until a new treasurer could be found, as he desired. That fall, Ray was replaced as treasurer by Nancy Ball, clerk of the Walla Walla Friends Meeting.
The Council acknowledged that development of a network of local and regional PBI groups and contacts was critical to the our work, and welcomed the founding of PBI-Canada by Hans Sinn and Murray Thomson as our first country group. During the meetings, the European participants met as a subgroup and announced the formation of a European section of the organization, to be concerned with conflicts between immigrant groups and local populations, as well as developing contact persons in each language area, bringing together trained people in each area, developing lists of available people, and generally collecting and disseminating information on nonviolent action and PBI.
Area committees were established for Central America, Sri Lanka, Namibia, European Intercommunity Conflicts, India-Pakistan, and the Middle East, whose task was developing a project exploration committee to monitor each area and to develop or recommend a response to the area’s needs either directly through PBI or through cooperating with or assisting other groups. The Council also established a training group to be convened by Narayan Desai as successor to the provisional arrangements made at Grindstone for training and curriculum.
Finally, we discussed methods of internal communication, as well as relations with other organizations, including the importance of cooperative relationships with the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR), War Resisters International (WRI), Amnesty International, and the Shanti Sena, among others. Electronic mail, now a mainstay of PBI, was just being developed and was not available to most council members, though we arranged telex capacity for the Secretariat in Walla Walla and urged members of the Council to identify local telex links. John Hyatt, Secretary of WRI, offered to send out a PBI brochure with a cover letter to the WRI mailing list, and we encouraged other council members and PBI contact persons to consider a similar mailing by other international or regional groups they were in contact with as the beginning of a grass roots fundraising, networking and recruiting campaign.
In his concluding remarks, Narayan commented on the practical approach of the group to what might have appeared to some to be a utopian concern. He noted that “we have dreamed some, but it’s good to dream for life instead of planning for death,” and that “if we dream for life, we may start living for life.” “Still,” he told the gathering, “we have been mostly practical, honest to ourselves and to the need to keep close to the truth.” He noted that the conference had presented many germinal ideas, greater clarity as to concepts, broader institutional participation, and the needed combination of idealism and realism. “If some of our decisions have been wishful thinking,” he concluded, “may God bless us in making these dreams reality.”
At the close of the meetings, several participants joined Dutch activists in a silent peace vigil in nearby Alkmaar, the headquarters of IFOR. After that I flew to London where I stayed with John Hyatt and his family, and where I was able to talk with Amnesty International and several other groups. On the way home to Walla Walla I stopped in New York for a few more visits, including a good meeting with Richard Chartier of the FOR and a meeting of the El Salvador Working Group.
Commitment to Central America
In June, at Charlie’s suggestion, I had been appointed Project Director of PBI’s Central America Peace Teams Project, and at the Bergen meetings was named as convener of PBI’s Central America committee, which included Jaime Diaz, Paul Hare, and Julio Quan.
In the fall of 1982, it was concluded that there were enough possibilities for significant contributions by peace brigades in Central America to justify placing a team in the field for at least three months beginning in early 1983. Our goal was to again have a three-person team composed this time of a Latin American, a North American, and a European. The team would spend the first month visiting major conflict areas and continuing the explorations with governments, churches and popular groups begun by the earlier PBI team. After the first month, a joint decision would be made with the project committee as to what field projects would be most useful for the remainder of the initial three months, following which a decision would be made whether to continue the team’s presence further.
In November, I made another trip to the east coast of the United States, out of which came a new and expanded Central America Project Committee, including PBI Council members Jaime Diaz, Charles Walker, Paul Hare, Devi Prasad, Ueli Wildberger, Hans Sinn and Hildegard Goss-Mayr, as well as George Willoughby, Julio Quan, Richard Chartier of FOR, Philadelphia area El Salvador scholar and activist Patricia Parkman, Mennonite Central Committee executive secretary Herman Bontrager, and former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who had been active in monitoring Latin American elections.
We invited SERPAJ to appoint a Latin American member for the second PBI Central America field team, but that didn’t happen, and the team was made up of myself, Hazel Tulecke, a retired Quaker educator from Yellow Springs, Ohio, and Ludger Deckers, a Catholic activist from Cologne, Germany.
Guatemala. Though we planned to look again at potential refugee work along the Honduran/Salvadoran border as well as possible work within El Salvador, Guatemala seemed to present the greatest potential for substantial change. There were two events which suggested we should look closely at the possibilities for peace team work there. The first was encouragement we received from Herman Bontrager of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). The situation in Guatemala at the time was treacherous for Guatemalans as well as anyone else doing work involving popular or cooperative activities. As a consequence, nearly all international agencies had left, including AFSC whose staff had departed under death threats. A number of knowledgeable people told us they considered it irresponsible for PBI to consider placing a team there under such circumstances. The Mennonites were the exception. They were still there, and advised us there were possibilities that should be carefully considered.
The second, related event that suggested the potential importance of a Guatemala project was the “apertura” or “political opening” announced by General Efrain Rios Montt shortly after a military coup brought him to power in Guatemala in late 1982. In an apparent effort to end the guerrilla war, Rios Montt had announced that on March 23, 1983, all parties of every persuasion, including socialists, would be permitted to freely engage in political activity without harm, leading to the election of a constituent assembly and the drafting of a new constitution the following year. The question was whether any significant attempt would be made by Guatemalans to exercise the rights offered by the government, and whether or not the presence of a PBI team would be seen as a threat by any party, as merely irrelevant, or as a significant contribution to reducing the violence and protecting the rights of participants in the political process.
Hazel and I began visits on January 15 with the assistance of Roberto Garay, a member of a Catholic base community in Mexico City, who was also to become a member of our project committee. In Mexico City we met with representatives of the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission in exile, the Guatemalan political opposition, the Mexican Friends Service Committee, the president of the Mexican Government Refugee Commission, former Guatemalan President and current Ambassador Julio Cesar Mendez Montenegro, and others. In Chiapas, the Mexican border region with Guatemala, we interviewed Guatemalan refugees at La Sombra, Txicao, and Carmen Zahn after an attack and assassination of several refugees by Guatemalan military units, whose helicopters we observed searching for more refugees on the Mexican side of the border.
From Chiapas, we traveled by bus to Guatemala City, where we were joined by Ludger Deckers. There we met with Msgr. Juan Gerardi, former Catholic bishop of Quiche province who was later to be assassinated, other Catholic and Protestant church officials, trade union and indigenous leaders, US embassy staff, a representative of the Christian Democratic Party, and others. Though we had written to President Rios Montt and hoped to meet with him, instead we were given a meeting with Jorge Serrano, President of the Guatemalan Council of State who would later be elected President. After our visits in Guatemala, we continued on by bus to El Salvador.
El Salvador. In San Salvador, the capital, we met with officials of both the National University and the Catholic University, as well as the five different human rights organizations, focusing on the potential development of a nonviolent studies program at the two universities and the possible protection of human rights groups within El Salvador.
One of our interviews was to have been with a member of the medical faculty at the National University, but we learned she had been kidnapped by armed men at her clinic two blocks from the U.S. embassy the day before. When we raised this issue the next day in a meeting with Col. Reynaldo Lopez Nuila, head of the National Police and of the government’s human rights commission, he insisted the police had no knowledge of the kidnapping and offered to open his prisons to us to see for ourselves that she was not there. When we asked about the activities of the independent and church-related human rights commissions, he criticized them as being guerrilla sympathizers. We told him we were interested in the possibility of working with all of the commissions, including the government’s, and the potential for accompanying their members into the countryside where they were then unable to go, to allow better access to information. He said we would be free to work with all the commissions, that people we spoke to would not suffer, and that our representatives could be identified as officially recognized to travel throughout the country in this work, which would be an important contribution to the democratic process. “We want to be transparent as a crystal,” he assured us. On the other hand, he wanted to know if we had any representatives from communist countries. We told him we didn’t, but that we had made some contacts with Solidarity in Poland, and would like to in the future. He seemed to consider us harmless enough, and told the photographer he had brought in not to develop his photos.
We also met with officials of the Lutheran Church, which provided us housing, and visited a refugee cooperative supported by the Catholic Archdiocese out in the countryside. On the way, we passed a unit of the Salvadoran army patrolling the vicinity. While there we received word that a member of the community had been seized by the patrol. Just as we were deciding whether to approach the soldiers and make inquiries about his status, we were told he had been released. Later, as we were being shown the community’s water supply at the foot of a deep ravine, a company of armed soldiers came up over the ridge and began running at us. As they reached the bottom of the ravine where we were standing, we were relieved to see them continue on up the other side, apparently in the midst of some training maneuvers or perhaps attempting to frighten us off. The event underlined the courage of the church in resettling refugees from combat zones in productive communities such as that, despite the continuing risks.
Panama Conference, Decision-Making in Costa Rica. From February 13-18 the team took part in the SERPAJ Conference on Nonviolent Action in Central America, held in Panama City and attended by 38 people from throughout Central America, as well as Mexico, Colombia and Brazil. The conference focused on the theology, strategies and tactics of nonviolent action, as well as the present situation in Central America and proposals for nonviolent action. During the conference, we were able to continue our conversations with Guatemalan church people. We also became acquainted with Alvaro Diaz, an articulate and personable attorney who was head of the Humanities Department at the University of Gran Colombia in Bogota, and was the SERPAJ representative in Colombia. We were very happy when Alvaro agreed to join the PBI team for the remainder of its initial three months in Central America.
At the close of the Panama conference, in view of the significant potential presented by Guatemala, we decided to forego our planned visit to the Honduran border areas, where prospects were still not good. Instead, we were ready for our committee meetings with Julio Quan and Pat Parkman scheduled for February 18-21 in San Jose, Costa Rica from February 18-21, where we would decide what to do next.
As to Guatemala, while the responses of the parties we talked with varied according to their position in the conflict, it was clear there was tremendous distrust of the government’s good faith and ability to provide a true political opening, particularly while a counterinsurgency program was being carried on in the countryside. At the same time, it was apparent that no firm decisions had been made concerning possible political activity, and that most groups were adopting a “wait and see” attitude, since little could be known until March 23, when the new laws were to be promulgated and the existing state of siege lifted. What seemed clear was that any relaxation of the existing repression would see a renewed degree of popular activity on a variety of levels: exiles returning to the country, labor union, campesino and student organization, opposition political party registration, and the possible establishment of an openly functioning human rights commission within Guatemala which did not exist at the time.
Beyond indications of a guarded return to an increased level of political activity, the team’s interviews almost universally concluded with the suggestion by Guatemalans that the presence of an international monitoring team would be important in its capacity to report first hand abuses of political and human rights, that it “could save lives” and would be an inhibiting factor in the repression of groups attempting to organize and exercise their rights in the new period.
We had been told in various interviews that “this is certainly the time to be present in Guatemala,” that “the next six months could determine whether any real changes will come about in the current structures,” that “politically speaking, this is the time to struggle, this is the moment,” and that “your presence could be very, very important.”
Our conclusions, which were adopted by the project committee, were that while there was a serious and well-founded lack of confidence in the government’s intentions and that additional discussions with Guatemalans and observations of developments needed to occur before committing ourselves to a long-term presence, a PBI team should be placed in Guatemala for the first month of the “political opening” beginning March 23, and that a recommendation should be made by that team whether to continue the PBI presence during the entire year leading to the announced constituent assembly election in 1994.
Beginnings in Guatemala
On March 21, after visiting Nicaragua and Honduras, Hazel opened the PBI headquarters in Julio Quan’s vacant home in Guatemala City which we had inspected during our visit and later agreed to rent. Our plans for the arrival of the other two team members, Alvaro Diaz of Servicio and Ludger Deckers, had fallen through, so we were scrambling to replace them. Alvaro had applied for a Guatemalan visa in Bogota, and when he explained in detail the purpose of his trip, his visa was denied. This was a mistake we avoided in the future by having team members apply only for tourist visas until we had negotiated full legal status for PBI, which often took years. Since Ludger’s primary interest was in refugee work, he had decided the Guatemala project was not for him.
Their able replacements were Alain Richard, a Franciscan priest from France whom we had met at the Panama conference, and Pablo Stanfield, an American linguist from Seattle whom I had met at the General Reunion of Mexican Friends the year before. After having had no contact since our brief meeting in Mexico City, as I was frantically searching for who might best fill out our Guatemala team during this critical period, Pablo called me up out of the blue to ask for more details about the peace organization I had told him about, and within a week was in Guatemala.
With a team in the field, it was now time for the responsibility to be shared by a larger body. At that point, I was both the International Secretary of PBI whose Secretariat was in the office of my home in Walla Walla, and the Central American Project Director whose expanding project committee had not yet held an actual meeting. I was receiving and responding to correspondence about PBI from individuals and organizations all over the world, writing articles, editing, producing and mailing the quarterly newsletter PBI REPORTS, recruiting and evaluating volunteer applications, consulting with committee, council, and team members, doing PBI’s legal work, and a variety of other tasks.
The recruiting task alone was a demanding and very important one. The selection criteria we had adopted in Costa Rica continued to call for a team composed of a Latin American, a North American and a European, with both sexual and religious balance. Team members were to be fluent in Spanish, should have some previous experience in a Third World country and with nonviolent action, be politically aware but without political affiliations which would prejudice the project, should have a commitment to nonviolence and to the project, and an ability to work easily with others. Personal interviews were obviously desirable, yet very difficult given the distances involved. In addition to the three person in-country team, we wanted to develop a larger brigade ready to respond to a call by the team for a major short-term emergency presence, and also a broad communications network for the prompt reporting of any abuses.
Philadelphia Meetings. To respond to these needs, we called a series of meetings from April 22-25 in Philadelphia, including a general conference on Peace Brigades in Central America, and a meeting of PBI’s Central American Project Committee, to be coordinated by Pat Parkman, a knowledgeable and responsible member of the committee. Among the matters to be addressed was a decision on whether to continue the presence of the PBI team in Guatemala, and my request for the appointment of a new full-time Central America project director.
These meetings, attended by about 35 people, were important for the future of PBI in a variety of ways. Besides Pat Parkman and myself, participants included Herman Bontrager of MCC, George Willoughby of the Movement for a New Society (MNS) at whose conference center the meetings were held, council members Charles Walker, Hans Sinn and Lee Stern, Julio Quan who was appointed PBI representative in Costa Rica, Roberto Garay, PBI representative in Mexico, Philip Hazelton and Joleigh Commandant of PBI-Canada, Betsy Fairbanks of the Resource Center for Nonviolence in Santa Cruz, and PBI Guatemala team member Hazel Tulecke.
Hazel presented the written report and recommendations of the PBI team which had been in Guatemala since March 22, as well as her personal perspectives. Their month in the country they had been in contact with various sectors of Guatemalan society. Their activities had resulted in a stay of execution for two religious workers condemned to death by the government’s secret tribunals. They had also received an invitation to present a university forum on nonviolence following a special showing of the film “Gandhi”. After discussing the team’s report, the committee made several important decisions:
- To continue the team’s presence in Guatemala, with the intention that it should continue there for a minimum of one year,
- To expand the size of the team to five persons, stressing its international character by avoiding a preponderance from any single country or region, and seeking at least one member able to serve the entire year, with others a minimum of three months,
- To establish a Ready Response Brigade able to create a larger international presence in Guatemala or elsewhere in Central America during a short-term crisis, and
- To develop an international network of organizations and individuals able to disseminate and act on reports of the team and to provide general support for the project.
The committee also received reports about and discussed the situation in El Salvador and along the Nicaraguan-Honduran border. Regarding El Salvador, Pat Parkman reported on our explorations and the visit she made there following the committee meeting in Costa Rica, as well as on our followup letters to the two universities and two of the human rights groups, the Human Rights Commission of El Salvador (independent) and Socorro Juridico, a lawyers’ group, which had expressed interest in cooperating with PBI. Since no response had been received, we decided to telephone them to see if they still wanted PBI help, and learned from calls to the two universities that they were still interested in PBI participating in a study of the problem of violence and its solutions within El Salvador, and would be contacting us again after further meetings between the two universities on the subject. We were able to reach one of the human rights groups, which had not received our letter, but would be discussing the question further.
We decided that Pat should be authorized to pursue the university project on behalf of PBI, since it could be carried on in part at other sites in Central America outside of El Salvador. As to possible work in El Salvador with human rights organizations, because of Julio’s adamant opposition to our working within El Salvador at that time in view of what he stated were unreasonable security risks, it was decided that we were not in a position to consider such work immediately, but would keep in contact with interested groups and consider further any proposals received.
Regarding the Nicaraguan-Honduran border, a letter from European members of PBI was read expressing continuing concern about the Nicaraguan border situation and how PBI might relate to this explosive international problem. We had also been contacted by the organizer of Vigil for Peace, a group of about 20 unarmed North Americans who had taken up positions along the northern part of the border during the first week in February, while large-scale U.S.-Honduran military maneuvers took place near the border. Calling for military nonintervention in Central America, the group dug in for five days along an area of the border where confrontations between Somocista counterrevolutionaries and Nicaraguan troops were common, hoping to discourage any incidents which might provoke a confrontation or trigger a major incident during this show of military strength. The primary organizer of the vigil had asked PBI to consider a further response there in the future. As we gathered in Philadelphia, we recognized that an occasion might present itself before long in which a PBI Ready Response Brigade could have an important role to play there, which in fact was not long in coming.
As to administration, my request for a full-time Central America director was satisfied by the appointment of Jo Leigh Commandant as project director, and the establishment of a Central America Project Office in Toronto, where a support group for PBI would be established to assist in the project administration. Jo Leigh, proposed by George Willoughby, was a Quaker psychiatric social worker who had emigrated to Canada from Texas, and was a member of MNS. She had been heavily involved in Native Peoples’ rights, had traveled in Mexico and Peru, and had served as a representative to a UN conference on North and South American Indian rights in Geneva and as an election observer in Bolivia. I was asked to chair the project committee, and Jo Leigh and I together with Charlie Walker as PBI Coordinator were authorized to act as an executive committee for the larger project committee between its meetings. We were also to act as the personnel committee for the selection of volunteers. In addition, Roberto Garay and Betsy Fairbanks were added to the membership of the project committee.
Although PBI had adopted a general budget of $75,000, exclusive of project costs, and a $50,000 budget for the Guatemala project, we had only raised around $15,000 total by that point, so no salaries could be paid, and all of us still worked as volunteers.
The task of developing a broad international network of support for the Guatemala team was an important one, and following the conference the first occasion for alerting that emerging network presented itself. Though the official state of siege was lifted on March 23 when the new electoral laws went into effect, the Guatemalan government’s secret military tribunals had not been suspended, and their continued existence was undermining its offer of a “political opening” and respect for human rights. Six people were currently under sentence of death by the tribunals, in which the accused had no access to the evidence against them and no knowledge of the identities of their judges or accusers. Since this was inconsistent with the government’s promise to permit open political activity of every kind with safety for the participants, we urged everyone we were in contact with to write to President Rios Montt, to contact the nearest Guatemalan embassy, and to take other steps to bring an end to the tribunals.
While we began to recruit new members for the Guatemala team to join Pablo Stanfield, who was appointed the team’s coordinator, we also began planning another peace brigades conference in California, where we hoped to promote the formation of local groups as part of our envisioned Ready Response Brigade. In the meantime, things were heating up along the Nicaraguan-Honduran border.
Nicaraguan Border Brigade
When the initial PBI exploratory team visited Central America in 1982, the conflict along the Nicaraguan-Honduran border was one of our primary concerns. Even at that time, Nicaraguan contras were active enough in the border area to create a number of incidents between Nicaragua and Honduras, which were in turn being used by the United States as justification for increased militarization of the region. Our preliminary discussions with the Nicaraguan and Honduran foreign ministries and with the OAS regarding possible PBI observer teams had generated expressions of interest, but nothing further.
In early July, 1983, a delegation of 150 North American religious people visited Nicaragua and traveled to the town of Jalapa on the Honduran border, where they vigiled for several hours before returning to Managua. Following this, several of the vigilers, including Paddy Lane, proposed the establishment of an ongoing nonviolent presence by U.S. Christians in Jalapa, a provincial capitol which had often been attacked and was rumored to be the site selected by the Nicaraguan counterrevolutionaries for the establishment of a provisional capitol inside Nicaragua. The proposal was for the Witness for Peace to begin its presence in Jalapa on October 1, 1983, to shield the town from further attack.
The response of the Nicaraguan government was positive, except it considered October 1 too late. The Sandinistas were convinced the contras would launch a major attack in September, hoping to show the U.S. Congress concrete progress before U.S. covert funds were due to be cut off on October 1. Another factor in Nicaragua’s concern was the presence of thousands of U.S. troops across the border in Honduras and in 19 ships on both of Nicaragua’s coasts taking part in the US/Honduran Big Pine II maneuvers, which were feared to be a cover for either an indefinite U.S. military presence or a planned invasion of Nicaragua.
On August 16, Witness for Peace communicated to PBI the request of the Nicaraguan government for an international presence in Jalapa prior to October 1, when the Witness for Peace team was expected to arrive. Although PBI had no Ready Response units organized at the time, we had alerted our network concerning the Nicaraguan border conflicts as a result of Big Pine II operations.
PBI’s Ready Response Brigade was envisioned as a crisis response unit composed of contingents from various regions able on short notice to place their members in Central America for brief periods, and to provide supportive actions in their home areas. In addition to an international crisis team, each brigade would have local members whose role was to make contact with the news media, government officials and other groups, care for the team members’ personal affairs, and carry on actions in support of the international team’s presence. Local units would also be available for peacekeeping in local or regional conflicts in their home areas.
On July 30, we had held a conference on International Peace Brigades at Friends Center in San Francisco with the specific goal of establishing local units in the San Francisco area. The Peaceworkers organization handled local arrangements, Michael Nagler, President of Peaceworkers gave a moving introduction, Charlie, Ray, Joleigh, Alain Richard and I also gave short talks on peace brigades in Central America, and workshops were held on a variety of topics, including the Ready Response Brigade for Central America. The conference was attended by about 70 people, and resulted in the formation of local PBI groups in San Francisco, Salinas, and Santa Cruz, as well as an interview and article by the Christian Science Monitor and other publicity.
Conference participants included Scott Kennedy of the Resource Center for Nonviolence in Santa Cruz, David Sweet of Witness for Peace, David Hartsough of AFSC, and Jack Schultz, an innovative general contractor, mechanical engineer, aviation pilot, ship’s captain, navigator, diver, and photographer from Santa Cruz. At the close of the conference, Jack was authorized to organize a Santa Cruz contingent of the Ready Response Brigade, and arrangements were made for the Santa Cruz unit to be headquartered at the Resource Center on Nonviolence, along with Witness for Peace.
Because preparation of the Santa Cruz Brigade was already underway when we received the Nicaragua request, and appeared to have excellent local support resources, we decided to invite them to respond to the Nicaraguan appeal by organizing a ten-person brigade to be present in Jalapa the last two weeks of September. A six-person local steering committee was set up for the brigade, consisting of Scott Kennedy, director of the RCNV, Betsy Fairbanks, RCNV staff and PBI Central America Committee member, Phil McManus, RCNV staff, David Sweet of Witness for Peace, and Jane Fessenden and Francis Wright, both of the Social Concerns Committee of the Santa Cruz Friends Meeting where Jack was a member, with whom we had consulted before authorizing him to coordinate the brigade.
It was agreed that applicants for the brigade were to satisfy certain PBI criteria, such as minimum age, familiarity with Spanish, and experience with nonviolent action, and to be approved by PBI as well as the local steering committee. The mandate to the local steering committee was to coordinate the organization and preparation of the Santa Cruz Brigade prior to its deployment in consultation with PBI staff, as set out in a special memorandum on strategies, tactics and procedures we prepared for the Jalapa brigade. After deployment, project decisions were to be made by PBI project staff.
The brigade’s preparation and training were planned to occur in two stages, initial preparation in Santa Cruz utilizing local training resources, then international training near Mexico City with PBI Central America project staff, PBI Guatemala team members, and members of Roberto Garay’s Maryknoll Christian base community which was to host the brigade during its training.
The key principles in our political strategy for the brigade were (1) we wanted all the parties who had a stake in the matter to know we were on the ground in Jalapa, and (2) we wanted to make a similar offer to Honduras, to make clear our nonpartisanship. In a formal statement we issued regarding the project’s purposes, we declared that its primary objective was to establish a known, unarmed international presence in the town and immediate environs of Jalapa, Nicaragua for the specific purpose of inhibiting and discouraging rebel or foreign military attacks against it.
The secondary objectives of the Jalapa Brigade are (1) to focus international attention on the escalating conflict between the current Nicaraguan government and U.S. and Honduran-assisted counterrevolutionary forces attacking it, (2) to encourage the parties to the conflict to pursue political rather than military solutions, and (3) to demonstrate the use of active nonviolence as an effective means of peacekeeping and peacemaking in international conflicts.
To accomplish these objectives, as PBI Secretary, I sent letters to the foreign ministers of both Honduras and Nicaragua, as well as to the Contadora Group nations (Mexico, Panama, Colombia and Venezuela) which were promoting a peace plan for the region, and to the U.S. Undersecretary of State for Latin America. The letters described our intended action in Nicaragua and our offer of a similar brigade to Honduras, and were delivered in person to the U.N. missions of the Contadora Group nations in New York, to the U.S. State Department and the Nicaraguan Embassy in Washington, D.C., and to the Honduran Foreign Ministry in Tegucigalpa. In addition, we informed the United Nations Secretariat of the project.
In Honduras, we also presented a formal request for PBI observer teams to freely visit areas where U.S. and Honduran troops were to be stationed during the Big Pine II operations, as well as in the border areas where suspected incursions were occurring. Also in Tegucigalpa, PBI staff personally delivered a letter to a representative of the Nicaraguan Democratic Force, the principal “contra” group. At the Honduran Foreign Ministry, PBI project representatives were again received courteously, but without response.
We issued a news release prior to the brigade’s arrival in Nicaragua, which went to all major international, USA and Canadian news services; press conferences were held in Toronto and San Francisco, and one was planned for Mexico City; and a notice went to PBI’s growing network of individuals and organizations concerned with peace and justice in Central America.
Administratively, I agreed to serve as director of the Jalapa project, which was overseen by PBI’s three person executive committee for Central America, in liaison with Julio Quan in Costa Rica who was at the time the PBI Central America Representative. Charlie had prepared a training memo for the brigade as part of its local preparation. Unfortunately, because Julio was not able to enter Mexico for the international training there, that part of the training was moved to Managua.
On September 13, a nine-person PBI brigade arrived in Managua. The next day the brigade was introduced on the platform at a huge Independence Day rally before the diplomatic corps and news media by Daniel Ortega, coordinator of the Nicaraguan Junta, who called them “Friends of Humanity.” Ortega later mentioned the presence of the brigade in his speech as chief of state to one of the opening sessions of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. Following a training session by PBI, a briefing by Nicaraguans, and a meeting with the U.S. Ambassador, on September 17 the brigade, together with Jo Leigh Commandant, traveled by jeep to Jalapa, a town of about 9000 people swollen by refugees and situated about four kilometers from the Honduran border.
During the team’s stay in Jalapa, the major attack the Sandinistas feared was in fact launched from Honduras by the contras. While battles raged elsewhere in the border region, there was no attack on Jalapa. Brigade members established vigils at dawn and dusk in the town plaza and in surrounding villages where people joined them in song, prayer and discussion. The team also broadcast to an international radio network they set up called “Radio Peace International” establishing links to ham radio operators in many countries and focusing constant attention on their presence. Their other activities included planting a peace garden, teaching Morse code in the schools, and helping harvest coffee for a local cooperative.
For the two weeks the brigade was in Jalapa, not a hostile shot was fired. Together with the fact that contra attacks dramatically increased throughout the border region during the same period, that was convincing evidence to Nicaraguan officials that the brigade’s presence had indeed brought peace to Jalapa. Sixto Ulloa Dona, a spokesperson for CEPAD (Evangelical Committee for Development Aid, a coalition of 34 Nicaraguan religious groups) said in a farewell message to the brigade,
“We in Nicaragua are totally in your debt. You have done something the Christians in Nicaragua have not done…The proof of your triumph lies in the fact that no attacks were made while you were in the Jalapa area. The contras are intelligent and fully understand the consequences to your peacekeeping team.”
While the Jalapa brigade was a success and demonstrated the power of an unarmed international presence to deter violence, putting together such a brigade in a short time is a difficult thing to do, and the subsequent ten-person brigade which was to replace the Santa Cruz group on the lst of October didn’t arrive as promised by Witness for Peace. However, WFP was able to place four persons in Jalapa in mid-October, and over time came to be a powerful presence for peace and justice in Nicaragua and Latin America in general.
As to the Santa Cruz Brigade, all of the functions of developing a brigade including recruiting and selection of members, general preparation and orientation, deepening members’ understanding and practice of nonviolence as well as nonpartisan, third-party skills, team building and development of a leadership structure, and gaining a better understanding of the socio-political conditions in the region of service, had to be compressed into an approximately three-week period. This time frame inevitably involved compromises, including standards of leadership, recruiting, training, and support, without which a brigade would not have arrived in Jalapa during the critical period of increased attacks.
In part, difficulties arose from the lack of opportunity by project staff to visit the brigade while it was being organized and prepared, and from an apparent lack of clarity by the steering committee as to its duties in relation to the brigade. Mistakes were also made in designating the initial brigade organizer as coordinator of the field brigade–a matter which should have awaited a joint decision by the brigade, the local steering committee, and PBI project staff–and in moving the international training to Managua, where there was insufficient time to deal with many unresolved matters within the team before it was actually placed in service.
Yet as I said in a November, 1983 article in the quarterly journal Transnational Perspectives,
“given the rise of military activities in the world, and the threat that any conflict may be “globalized”, it is clear that to “fight war, not wars” in any effective way, large numbers of peace brigades must be able to be organized and deployed in a variety of situations. To accomplish this will inevitably require flexibility as to selection and preparation criteria, and the uncomfortable realization that peace brigades, while working for peace without, will not always be peaceful within.”
By most accounts, the biggest mistake would have been to not undertake and proceed with the Jalapa project.
Guatemala and Beyond
On August 8, 1983, a new military coup unseated Gen. Efrain Rios Montt as President of Guatemala and replaced him with Defense Minister Gen. Oscar Humberto Mejia Victores. One fruit of the new coup was the abolition of the secret military tribunals which PBI and other human rights organizations had severely criticized under Rios Montt. At the same time, the new regime sought closer links with the U.S. in its pursuit of a regional military solution to problems in Central America, and killings by all sides in the Guatemalan countryside appeared to increase.
Mexico City Meetings, Change of Secretariat. PBI’s presence in Guatemala continued despite the coup, and from December 2-12, Guatemala team members joined PBI’s Central America Committee, International Council members, and others for a series of meetings at the Casa de Los Amigos in Mexico City to review the Central America work as well as our general administrative structure. During our Central America Committee meeting, two Guatemalan brothers sentenced by the secret military tribunals thanked us, described their capture, the torture of one of them, and their six month long ordeal in prison after they had been sentenced to more than ten years imprisonment for conspiracy against the government though they had not been charged with that crime and no evidence had been produced, and told us their release at the time the secret tribunals were abolished was the result of international pressure.
Following evaluations of the Guatemala project and the Nicaraguan-Honduran border project, and reports on possible future work elsewhere in Central America, it was clear to all that much remained to be done despite important progress, and that many new possibilities for nonviolent action existed, including specifically action within Costa Rica and along its border with Nicaragua.
In October, after previous contacts, PBI had formally offered its services to the Costa Rican government in the border region with Nicaragua. Then, in response to a U.S. proposal to place up to 1000 U.S. Army personnel in Costa Rica to build roads in the border area, an alternative offer for a U.S./Costa Rican peace brigade to build the roads was endorsed by former Costa Rican President Jose Figueres who presided over the abolition of Costa Rica’s army. That offer had derailed the U.S. attempt at militarizing the border. Discussions were then underway with Costa Ricans for the organization of seminars throughout the country on the application of the principles of civilian-based defense, with the hope of ultimately gathering ideas from the different sectors of Costa Rican society into a national civilian-based defense plan to be presented to the authorities, a concept later to be explored in Nicaragua as well.
Another item on the agenda for the International Council meeting in Mexico City was consideration of my resignation as PBI Secretary. At the time of our San Francisco meetings, I told Charlie the burden of my travels was becoming too great for my family, and that I had promised Barbara I would step down as Secretary by the end of the year. This was a necessary move for PBI in any case, since our level of activities was such that the administrative headquarters needed to be in a city with easy access to centers of population and political power. When I mentioned my family problem to Julio some time before, he said, “Get a new wife.” Instead, I decided to “get a new life.”
In the “Report of the Secretary” delivered to the Council at Mexico City, I reviewed the activities of the Secretariat over the last 15 months since our council meeting in Bergen, including the editing and publication of four issues of PBI Reports, three in both English and Spanish with arrangements for their translation into French, production of a PBI brochure in English and Spanish, issuance of periodic updates between each issue of the Reports, all which were sent out to our mailing list of approximately 500 people in 20 countries, development of a formal volunteer application form and agreement for service, obtaining U.S. tax exempt status, developing and circulating written guidelines for the formation of local units of the Ready Response Brigade, as well as coordinating and leading the second PBI team to Central America, helping coordinate the Philadelphia conference and committee meetings resulting in the appointment of a full-time project director for Central America, planning and coordinating the San Francisco conference, serving as project director for the Jalapa Brigade, and coordinating the Mexico City conference and meetings. During that time, regional PBI organizations had also been active, including a three-day meeting of the European section at Havelte, The Netherlands, a conference by PBI-Canada in Toronto, and the formation of PBI groups in Puerto Rico and Colombia, as well as the beginnings of a group in Nigeria, and local brigades in several cities.
Although PBI had formed a finance committee, the inadequacy of its finances was still one of its most pressing problems. In considering who could best take over the duties of PBI Secretary, my candidate was George Willoughby a respected international peace activist, Quaker, Gandhian, founding member of MNS, and veteran of the World Peace Brigade, who also lived in the Philadelphia area which would be a good place to locate the PBI Secretariat. I put the question to George, and was greatly relieved when he said he would be willing to serve if requested. Charlie and the others readily agreed, and in Mexico City the International Council appointed George as PBI Secretary and chair of a new PBI Administrative Committee which included Charles Walker and several others, all from the Philadelphia area, giving PBI a substantial base in a single locality for the first time.
Although I resigned as chair of the Central America Projects Committee at the same time, again to be replaced by George, I agreed to continue as a member of that committee as well as the International Council, to serve on several other committees, and to continue as legal counsel for PBI.
Since February, 1984 when the PBI Secretariat was formally transferred from Walla Walla to Philadelphia, much has happened to PBI, most of which is related in considerable detail by PBI volunteers Liam Mahony and Luis Enrique Eguren in their eloquent and moving book, Unarmed Bodyguards—International Accompaniment for the Protection of Human Rights (Kumarian Press, 1997), and which I will briefly summarize here.
Guatemala. In March, 1994, Nineth de Garcia contacted the PBI Guatemala team about the capture of her husband, a union leader, at a police roadblock, and his subsequent disappearance. Pablo Stanfield responded was that she should consider bringing together others with similar problems. The next month, PBI team member Edith Cole, a Quaker psychologist from California who had learned of PBI from an article I had written, visited one of the groups we had contacted in El Salvador in 1983, the Committee of the Mothers of the Disappeared and Assassinated (COMADRES), and brought back a tape recorded message from them to the women of Guatemala.
When she was asked a few days later to accompany several families requesting an audience with Archbishop Penados concerning a mass for the disappeared, Edith played the tape to about 20 women in the Archbishop’s waiting room. They were so moved by the message and the courageous actions of the Salvadoran mothers, they decided on the spot to form a similar group in Guatemala and immediately asked the Archbishop to allow them to hold meetings in his palace, as Archbishop Oscar Romero had done in El Salvador. While he agreed to perform the mass, he was understandably reluctant to host the meetings of the new group, perhaps fearing the same fate as the martyred Romero. As they left the palace, Edith offered the women the use of the PBI house, which was the beginning of what was to become a powerful new element in Guatemalan political life.
Hundreds of people, mostly Mayan women, began coming to the PBI house for the weekly meetings of the new Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo (Mutual Support Group, or GAM), which became the only openly functioning human rights organization in Guatemala at the time. The GAM organized memorial masses, published newspaper ads listing disappearances and calling for investigations, and by August was given a meeting with President Mejia Victores. Not getting any satisfaction, in October they organized the first mass protest in Guatemala in years, a twenty-mile march from San Lucas to Guatemala City by hundreds of people accompanied by a team of peacekeepers trained by PBI. In November, the GAM members publicly accused the security forces of responsibility for the disappearances, held a sit-in at the Guatemalan Congress building, and again met with the President, who this time agreed to establish a cabinet-level commission to investigate the disappearances. GAM also began calling for international investigations and the tying of further aid to Guatemala from other nations to human rights improvement, including specific appeals to the European Union, the U.S., the OAS, and the U.N.
In response, GAM members started receiving death threats, began to be followed, and one member’s home was searched. President Mejia accused them of being linked to “the forces of subversion.” On March 31, the public relations officer of the GAM, Hector Gomez, was found dead. He showed signs of beating and burns, had no tongue, and his hands were tied behind his back. On April 3, PBI’s Alain Richard warned founder and secretary of GAM Maria Rosario Godoy de Cuevas not to leave her home for any reason because she was also in danger of being killed. The next day she was found dead in her car in a ravine with her brother and her two-year-old son, who had been ill. The cause of their deaths was strangulation, and the child’s fingernails had been pulled out.
These events created a crisis for the GAM, many of whose members went into exile or left the group. They were also the cause of renewed commitment by those who remained, and round-the-clock escorting of the surviving leadership by PBI, beginning a pioneering new form of human rights protection. In addition to accompanying the two remaining GAM directors who were on a death list, PBI alerted the international community to the attacks and the escorting, as a result of which the U.S. State Department sent a communiqué to the Guatelaman government indicating the U.S. did not want more killings of the families of the disappeared, and nearly every embassy in Guatemala expressed similar concerns. A committee of the U.S. Congress voted to cut nearly all direct military aid to Guatemala and to put human rights conditions on economic aid. There were no other killings of GAM leaders.
By the fall of 1985, elections were held under the new constitution which had been adopted by a constituent assembly, as promised. Nonetheless, disappearances continued, and on October 31, over a hundred GAM members began a five-day occupation of the National Cathedral to call for an independent commission to investigate the fate of 775 family members, the first occasion in which the cathedral had been taken over for political or humanitarian reasons in its 200-year existence. The occupation, with PBI volunteers standing by on the street day and night, was a serious blemish on Guatemala’s new image of democracy, occurring as it did three days before the primary elections.
In response, General Mejia, as President, ordered PBI’s volunteers expelled from the country for “manipulating” the GAM, a practice PBI had scrupulously avoided. Before leaving, Alain Richard met with Vinicio Cerezo, the apparent winner of the presidential election, and urged him to protect the GAM, which he agreed to do. PBI brought in new volunteers before those expelled departed, so the continuous protection of the GAM was able to be maintained.
Before President Cerezo’s inauguration in January, 1986, under pressure from the military the constituent assembly passed an amnesty for all prior human rights violations, which the GAM also protested. As Mahony and Eguren write of the GAM leaders,
“For many Guatemalans, these women were the country’s sole symbol of courage and resistance, the only ones who refused to forget the past or deny the truth of the present. By late 1986, the GAM was renowned in the international human rights community. Its leaders began traveling around the world, speaking out agains
t Guatemala’s human rights record. Holding weekly or biweekly demonstrations in front of the National Palace, the GAM criticized the amnesty law and pressured Cerezo for a commission to investigate the disappearances….”
In the years that followed, Nineth de Garcia was one of the most frequently quoted political figures in the country….In 1987, the group received the Carter-Menil human rights award and used the proceeds to buy its own house, which became an important center of popular movement activity. In 1988, it began organizing demonstrations in highly militarized rural areas and initiated the first public exhumations of clandestine cemeteries, uncovering and identifying victims of massacres. In subsequent years, its offices were bombed several times, and many members were killed, but the GAM never gave up. In 1996, Nineth Montenegro (de Garcia) took her seat in the Guatemalan Congress, continuing the struggle for human rights in a different arena.
Once GAM had its own house, PBI’s Guatemala team began to add protection for an expanding labor movement and other organizations taking advantage of the new political space created by the GAM’s actions, beginning with the thirteen-month PBI presence outside the Lunafil factory during its occupation by striking workers. PBI went on afterwards to accompany individual labor leaders, and maintained a presence at dozens of strikes and key union offices.
The next major phase of the new Guatemalan activism, in which PBI also had a part, was an historic movement for Mayan rights in the countryside. In the Spring of 1988, residents of Quiche province delivered a letter to President Cerezo protesting the required service in the oppressive “civil patrols,” carried banners in the May Day parade proclaiming their refusal to serve and demanding the removal of the military from their communities, and notified the human rights ombudsman of their refusal.
The principal organizer of the peasants, Amilcar Mendez, then began receiving threats that he and his family would be executed unless he left the country within 60 days. The threats also mentioned “your Communist gringo friends.” Mendez had been receiving assistance from PBI since 1983, including help fleeing the country to Toronto in 1986 in the face of previous threats. PBI began accompanying Mendez twenty-four hours a day and opened a second PBI house in Santa Cruz del Quiche near Mendez’ home to support the new movement.
PBI also activated its emergency response network to demand that President Cerezo protect Mendez. Over time, PBI had developed a telephone tree which included thousands of people around the world, who within a few hours could send hundreds of telexes, telegrams and letters to government officials in Guatemala and their own countries seeking protection for people the team knew were threatened.
On July 31, three days after the deadline expired for Mendez departure, the Council of Ethnic Communities (CERJ) was formed by hundreds of campesinos from Quiche province meeting at his home. The purposes of CERJ were to provide human rights education, investigate government wrongdoing, resist service in the patrols, and work against cultural and ethnic discrimination. After three months, the CERJ claimed a membership of 6000 and had obtained unanimous resistance to service in the patrols by nearly 40 villages. Two volunteers were maintained at the PBI house in Quiche for about four years. At the same time, PBI began receiving requests for accompaniment from other groups taking part in the powerful new Mayan rights movement begun by the CERJ.
The CERJ’s work and persistence brought the legitimacy of the forced civil patrols into question by authorities within Guatemala and internationally, including the Guatemalan Congress, the OAS and the UN, as well as the press and public. Like Nineth de Garcia of the GAM, Almicar Mendez acknowledged that he would not be alive without international accompaniment. As time went on, he invited broader international support for the CERJ, as well as accompaniment by other organizations. In 1995, he was elected to the Guatemalan Congress, and in 1996, the Guatemalan government began dismantling the patrols.
Local activists were not the only ones to be attacked in Guatemala. In January, 1989, a former member of the GAM falsely claimed to have been a guerrilla, and said he had helped found the GAM for the guerrillas, that Almilcar Mendez and a PBI volunteer were both guerrillas, and that PBI and other international organizations were cooperating with the armed opposition to discredit Guatemala. Other than having been a member of the GAM, though not a founder, there was no evidence to corroborate any of his assertions. That May, while PBI was accompanying Rigoberta Menchu, the Mayan author and activist who was later to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, as well as other members of the Unified Representation of the Guatemalan Opposition (RUOG) PBI received a bomb threat at its house, although nothing was found.
On August 15, shortly after a first floor room in the GAM house was destroyed by a bomb, two hand grenades were thrown over the garden wall of the PBI house, blowing out most of its windows. Fortunately, no one was injured in either attack. However, on December 20, 1989, PBI volunteers Meredith Larson, Rusa Jeremic and Mitch Goldberg were attacked and wounded by two men with knives near the PBI house in Guatemala City. A month before, Sister Dianna Ortiz, a U.S. nun who was teaching school as a rural missionary, was abducted, tortured and raped by Guatemalan police under the apparent command of a North American, a crime for which former Minister of Defense General Victor Gramajo was later found guilty by a U.S. court.
These attacks caused a serious debate within PBI’s project committee about whether PBI was willing to risk the increasing possibility of a volunteer’s death. PBI’s decision was to continue in Guatemala, but also to generate the greatest international pressure it could. As Mahony and Eguren describe it in Unarmed Bodyguards,
The week following the attack, PBI published an ad defending its work in every major Guatemalan newspaper. It was signed by dozens of members of the U.S. Congress, members of parliaments from Canada and Europe, international church leaders, and other well-known international figures. At the same time, ads condemning the attack on PBI were published by dozens of other Guatemalan organizations. Several embassies made public statements, U.S. Ambassador Thomas Stroock personally telephoned the families of the volunteers who had been attacked, and he visited the PBI house several times….
Meredith Larson returned to the U.S. for medical treatment. In January and February, she gave dozens of public presentations in the United States about PBI’s experience in Guatemala. She spent weeks going from one congressional office to another telling her story and urging the legislators to sign a letter to (President) Cerezo. PBI’s U.S. chapter organized its national network of supporters to barrage these same officials with constituent telephone calls. The letter sent to Cerezo was ultimately signed by 111 U.S. senators and representatives. Similar campaigns in Canada and Europe generated other high-level messages of concern.
U.S. Representative Theodore Weiss went on to submit an amendment to the 1990 appropriations bill conditioning military aid to Guatemala on the results of investigations into a list of human rights abuses, including the attack against PBI…A few months later, innkeeper Michael Devine, another U.S. citizen, was murdered by Guatemalan soldiers, after which overt U.S. military aid to Guatemala was suspended altogether.
The PBI team in Guatemala moved into a more secure house in April 1990 and held another reception for the diplomatic and press corps. The organization had achieved a new prominence both in and out of Guatemala…PBI now frequented government offices, and ambassadors visited the PBI house. The violent attacks against PBI stopped.
According to PBI volunteer Maria Gabriela Serra, “From the moment of the bombing, we achieved a legitimacy with the authorities that we’d never had before….When you have government ministers and ambassadors coming to your house, that’s sending a clear message to the death squads…”
By January, 1993, when thousands of Guatemalan refugees began their internationally negotiated return from Mexico to resettle in new committees in the countryside, they were accompanied not only by PBI but by a multitude of international organizations and individuals, and the principle of international accompaniment had fully come of age. Although they suffered great hardships and eventual attacks, the refugees continue to be accompanied by a succession of internationals following PBI’s pioneering example.
In 1996, the guerrillas and the government signed negotiated peace accords, and calls for PBI accompaniment became fewer and less urgent. In 1999, after 16 years, PBI decided to close its Guatemala project and to focus its attention on other countries.
Other Projects. In 1987, PBI placed a team in El Salvador at the request of Bishop Medardo Gomez of the Lutheran Church and several other Salvadoran organizations, which continued there through the end of the civil war and until 1991 . Among the many groups and individuals accompanied by PBI was COMADRES, the Mothers of the Disappeared and Detained. During the climactic full-scale guerrilla offensive on San Salvador in November, 1989, the army entered the University of Central America and murdered six priests, including Rector Ignacio Ellacuria and others we had visited in 1982-83. International workers were also arrested, including PBI team members Karen Ridd from Canada and Marcela Rodriguez from Colombia, whose account of their interrogation and beating by the treasury police, and Karen’s courageous and successful refusal to be released without Marcela is one of the most moving stories in PBI’s history.
In 1989 in Sri Lanka, PBI opened its first project outside of Latin America. Since its founding PBI had been following the dual civil war there between the majority, mostly Buddhist Sinhalese and the minority, predominately Hindu Tamils in the north, as well as the rebellion by the largely Sinhalese Marxist People’s Liberation Front known as JVP in the south, which had resulted in many murders and disappearances. In 1989, the Sri Lanka Bar Association requested PBI protection for lawyers who were being assassinated for bringing habeas corpus petitions for detained and disappeared persons. PBI went on to accompany many activists and organizations in Sri Lanka until 1998, when requests for accompaniment were diminishing and the government demanded the right to censor the organization’s human rights reports before they were published as a condition of continued work there.
In 1995, after a brief experience in Haiti with the coalition Cry for Justice in 1993, PBI placed its own team in Haiti emphasizing extensive training in nonviolent conflict resolution rather than accompaniment. This work expanded on earlier training in peace and human rights provided in Guatemala and El Salvador, including conflict resolution, negotiation methods, group process, political analysis, and other topics. Beyond Cry for Justice, PBI has carried on two other joint projects with partner organizations: The Balkans Peace Team from 1994-2001, and International Service for Peace (SIPAZ) in Chiapas, Mexico, from 1995 to the present. Since 1998, PBI has also had its own project in Mexico.
In 1994, PBI opened a project in Colombia involving the largest teams in PBI’s history, and since 1999 has had an East Timor/Indonesia project. From 1994-1999, PBI also operated a North America project dealing with conflicts involving indigenous peoples, primarily in Canada.
Since 1992 the PBI International Secretariat has been in London. The organization now has country groups in Australia, Belgium, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States, as well as active members and representatives in other countries. It maintains an excellent website at www.peacebrigades.org and an annual budget in excess of $1 million.
In 2001, PBI was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the American Friends Service Committee, a 1947 winner of the prize. According to an AFSC statement,
“PBI has a sustained, deep commitment to non-violence in working for peace and human rights and provides a successful model for how ordinary people with extraordinary courage can support local workers for peace in some of the most dangerous of the world’s conflicts.
PBI’s extraordinary record of accomplishment is powerful proof that non-violence and peaceful approaches to human rights and social change can work when supported by the international community. In more than twenty years of work in some of the world’s most violent conflicts, no one under PBI protection was killed while they were being protected, nor have any PBI volunteers been killed….
PBI has not received as much international attention as its work warrants…. Its mission, program, and methodology are compatible with the high honor of the Nobel Peace Prize.”
The greatest honor of all is having been associated with the committed and courageous activists working with and protected by PBI over the years. They continue to deserve our support.