PBI in Jalapa, Nicaragua in 1983 as “tracer bullets lit up the sky”

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Peace Brigades International (PBI) was formed 40 years ago this week (August 31-September 4, 1981) on Grindstone Island just south of Ottawa.

PBI’s first on-the-ground work was in September 1983 in Jalapa, Nicaragua close to the Honduran border where US-backed Contra forces were launching attacks.

JoLeigh Commandant, who became the first director of PBI’s Toronto-based Central America Project around November 1982, was part of our presence there.

A November 1983 Santa Cruz Friends Bulletin includes a story told by Mary Duffield of PBI’s presence in Nicaragua.

Mary wrote:

As one of four Friends involved in a two-week nonviolent vigil for peace along the Nicaraguan-Honduran border, I truly believe we are nourishing a seed of enormous potential in this Peace Brigades International idea.

The vigils culminated usually in celebrations of song and laughter, the youngsters especially delighting in the Spanish version of ‘Old MacDonald had a Farm’, (as tracer bullets lit up the sky and automatic rifles sounded off in the distance).

The day before we left Jalapa, we attended the funeral of one of the young men killed by mercenaries blowing up a customs station. After the church ceremony (the revolution has not opposed the churches, and many religious officials are in total support of the Sandinistas), Antonio’s army companeros bore the coffin along.

The company commander also was the dead boy’s grandfather. He had lost his son only a little while before. The grandfather ordered the man’s youngsters and related children to scrape the first dirt down over the coffin. The sobbing little ones could not do this.

So, the old man entreated them tearfully: ‘You must … we’re doing this for you, we’re doing this for the children…’

The villagers began to sing their hymns, and we joined in. Then JoLeigh Commandant, impulsively, moved to the woman calling to Antonio to stay, put her arms around her, saying: ‘Yes, we are all doing this for the children. That is why we must have peace, for all the world’s children.’

The old man and the woman turned toward JoLeigh and nodded, with a new awareness in their eyes, and somehow we were all uplifted for a moment of shared hope. We all clasped hands in that sacred awareness.

The morning we left Managua for home we heard the radio broadcasters: ‘This is the morning the Peace Brigadiers are leaving. These are the people who came all the way here to show us that many North Americans care about the people of Central America.’

For more on our history, please see this Anniversary Timeline.

Photos: JoLeigh at a United Nations Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas in Geneva in September 1977. And JoLeigh in a photo posted on Facebook at the time of her passing in 2013 at 90 years of age.

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