Our Origins

During the 1970s — a period of economic collapse and political upheaval in Latin America — groups of concerned individuals based in the United States formed Latin American solidarity groups. These groups then formed alliances with Latin Americans and agitated for changes in U.S. policy.

The city of Detroit played host to several Latin American Solidarity Groups, beginning with the Latin American Task Force in the 1970s and continuing with the Committee in Solidarity and with People of El Salvador in the 1980s. Many of these groups had disbanded by the late 1980s, but they left an organizational history and ties with Latin America that account for significant chapters in U.S. history.

Because of her extensive research on Mexican social movements, Professor Elaine Carey was approached by Kathleen Schulz, I.H.M, Jackie Rubio, and Jean Rooney, all of whom had belonged to solidarity groups. These three individuals had possession of the archive, and sought a place to house the collection on the condition that it remain complete and intact. Professor Carey agreed to keep the collection intact, and she has.

Brian Nedwek, Dean of the University of Detroit Mercy College of Liberal Arts, immediately donated space to hold the materials, and it was when we sorted through them that we realized their value. From U.S. Honduran embassy documents to underground newsletters, from photos and slides of guerillas to extensive video documentaries, our archive now holds more than 300 rare items. Come see it for yourself in the Library, 3rd floor archives holdings room, on the University of Detroit Mercy's McNichols Campus.

Some of our documents have the form of books on liberation theology; human rights reports from solidarity groups based in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras; newspapers that cover events rarely, if ever, acknowledged in the U.S.; and newsletters and social justice papers that could have created serious consequences for those who printed them.

We are especially proud that CLASA contains contributions from Detroit locals, including our late Professor of Philosophy Arthur McGovern, S.J.

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    Aguacate: Carney Case Update

    Tracing Two Missing Americans: Aguacate Revisited --Joseph E. Mulligan, S.J.*

    Aguacate, the Honduran base built by the Reagan administration for the Nicaraguan contras in the early 1980s, faded from the limelight in 1988 when the contras and Sandinistas signed a cease-fire agreement. But in recent months, church delegations, international journalists, and relatives of Honduras's "disappeared" have been traveling the 130 miles from Tegucigalpa to inspect the now virtually abandoned base, guarded only by an eight-man squad from the Honduran army.

    Near the base's 8,000-foot runway, a lone building stands in the midst of trees and shrubs. The one-room brick structure seems to have a small basement, covered over by a concrete slab with embedded iron rings; tapping one's foot on the concrete indicates a hollow space below. The walls of the room show spatterings of blood; four samples taken by the Honduran human rights prosecutor have been identified as human blood. Many names of those once held in this rustic cell are scratched into the walls, including a "Mario." This was the pseudonym used by Chicago-born James Carney, a Jesuit priest who served as chaplain for an armed revolutionary group entering Honduras from Nicaragua in July 1983.

    The human rights prosecutor has cordoned off several suspect plots of land at Aguacate, including two sunken holes where bones have been found. It is generally known that part of the base is a cemetery for the contras and perhaps for some of their Sandinista captives. Once the Organization of American States declares the area free of landmines, Honduran investigators and foreign forensic anthropologists will sift through the earth in search of human remains - and perhaps find those of Fr. Carney and others of his group.

    Several years after the disappearance, Honduran deserters in exile began to testify that Carney and others in the column had been captured, tortured and thrown out of helicopters. The late Florencio Caballero, a former sergeant in the Honduran army, told the New York Times that he personally had interrogated Carney (June 5, 1988).

    In 1988, during a special hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, then-Senator William S. Cohen asked Richard Stolz, CIA deputy director of operations: "Can the CIA confirm the manner and death of Farther Carney?" Stolz replied: "No, sir... We do not know the answer to that. I spoke to Ambassador [John] Negroponte briefly Tuesday and again yesterday and the best information that anyone seems to have is that he probably died of - that a number of them were released and they were in the jungle somewhere and died." Did Stolz mean to say that Carney was among those captured and released?

    At the Iran-contra hearings in 1987, Cohen quoted Walter Lippmann in explaining the reasons for the joint congressional hearings: "The great virtue of democracy - in fact its supreme virtue - is that it supplies a method for dragging realities into the light, of summoning our rulers to declare themselves and to submit to judgment." As secretary of defense, however, Cohen has presided over a shameless defiance of President Clinton's orders to provide information to human rights officials in Honduras. The small number of documents declassified by the Pentagon - and those few heavily blacked out - thwarts democracy's methods for "dragging realities into the light."

    Carney was accompanied by another U.S. Citizen: David Arturo Baez Cruz, a native Nicaraguan who had served in the Green Berets for 11 years before returning to his homeland in 1981 to support the Sandinista revolutionary government. His father had been killed and "disappeared" by Anastasio Somoza's National Guard.

    Baez Cruz was first identified in a "secret telegram" from U.S. Military Intelligence in Panama in 1983, which stated that the Green Beret, serving as the column's communications officer, was "killed in action." The telegram was declassified and presented to the Honduran human rights commissioner in early 1998 in response to his request for U.S. documents which could shed light on human rights violations in Honduras.

    "The U.S. Government in 1997 and 1998 reviewed and declassified thousands of pages of official documents related to alleged human rights abuses in Honduras during the 1980s and provided them to Commissioner [Leo] Valladares," the State Department declares in its "Honduras Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1998," published in February 1999. Not mentioned, however, is the fact that almost 50 percent of this material is blacked out, including paragraphs in sensitive sections in which Father Carney is described as having been captured by the Honduran military, tortured and dismembered. In 1997 the CIA acknowledged that this version of Carney's fate "cannot be ruled out." (The official Honduran army version in 1983 was that perhaps Carney had starved to death in the mountains. The army presented the priest's stole, chalice and Bible to his relatives, but said they had not recovered his body.)

    One declassified CIA page presents a report by an unnamed Honduran soldier who says that he carried Fr. Carney's head in his knapsack. Also, Honduran newspapers recently quoted a peasant leader as saying that Honduran military officers told him that Carney's head is preserved in a jar of alcohol in what is now the country's Ministry of Defense building. The human rights prosecutor vowed to investigate such stories.

    The CIA inspector general's report on the agency's activities in Honduras in the 1980s, released in October 1998, shows huge swaths obliterated by magic marker (as did previously declassified documents) but leaves intact some very revealing information. According to the report, "the Honduran military committed hundreds of human rights abuses since 1980, many of which were politically motivated and officially sanctioned," and "CIA reporting linked Honduran military personnel to 'death squad' activities." The report admits that "the CIA's record in reporting human rights abuses was inconsistent. In some cases, reporting was timely and complete; in other cases _______information was not reported at all ________ or was mentioned only in internal CIA channels and not disseminated to other agencies." (The underlines indicate material blacked out by U.S. Censors.)

    Friends and relatives of the two missing Americans, in a March 1999 letter to President Clinton, said they hold the U.S. Embassy and the CIA responsible for fostering a climate of impunity which gave a green light to Honduran security forces to torture, execute and "disappear" persons. "By their admitted silence, U.S. officials were guilty of complicity in gross violations of human rights, including the inalienable rights of POWs captured in Olancho in 1983," the letter charged.

    In a section with repeated references to the capture of the guerrilla group's leader, the CIA report cites ________, who "believes that the Embassy Country Team in Honduras wanted reports on subjects such as this to be benign 'so as to avoid Congress looking over its shoulders' and to keep Congress satisfied with the ongoing implementation of U.S. Policy, ________ also says he believes that the draft 1983 ___ report was 'suppressed' by elements within the Embassy, including ________ for political reasons. Reporting murders, executions and corruption, says ________, would reflect negatively on Honduras and not be beneficial in carrying out U.S. Policy."

    The report quotes a U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency analyst as saying: "Analytical attention was focused on the Olancho Operation for only a two-to-three-month period and by April 1984, the issue was forgotten at the Embassy." This is corroborated by an August 1985 handwritten memo by someone in the embassy: "Fr. Carney case... is dead. Front office does not want the case active.... We aren't telling that to the family."

    In his concluding remarks the CIA inspector general cites a source who said on November 22, 1983, "that the Ambassador was particularly sensitive regarding the issue and was concerned the earlier CIA reporting on the same topic might create a human rights problem for Honduras. Based on the Ambassador's reported concerns, ________ actively discouraged ________ from following up the information reported by the ________ source." The next two and a half pages are totally blacked out.

    On the 16th anniversary of the disappearance of his nephew, Arturo Cruz Sr., a former member of the Sandinista Nicaraguan government (ambassador of Nicaragua to the U.S.) and later (having defected) a director of the contras, made a statement which was distributed to the press after a memorial mass for the disappeared in the cathedral of Tegucigalpa on September 27: "I am the uncle of David Arturo Baez Cruz. His father, Adolfo Baez-Bone (my brother-in-law), was captured and murdered by the Nicaraguan National Guard under the dictator Somoza in 1954. I fear that his son met a similar fate in Honduras. The governments of Honduras, Nicaragua and the United States should do everything possible to see to it that truth is told in the case of my nephew, David Arturo, and the other disappeared persons, and to condemn and abolish the military practice of murdering prisoners."

    The CIA report offers a clue as to the fate of Cruz's nephew. It cites an October 1983 document from an office (name blacked out) stating that "it had received information indicating that PRTCH (Revolutionary Party of Central American Workers-Honduras) guerrillas who had been captured by the Honduran Armed Forces in Olancho Department had been summarily executed by Honduran Army officers after being debriefed. Among those executed was Reyes Mata, his Deputy Commander "Comandante Zapata,' and a Nicaraguan advisor who had accompanied the guerrilla force." Jose Maria Reyes Mata, a medical doctor, was the leader of the revolutionary column.

    In various places the CIA report states that Dr. Reyes Mata was murdered by one or more Honduran military officers. In each case the name or names are blacked out. According to the Washington Post (November 4, 1998), a U.S. official said the U.S. would provide "amplifying information on the incident through government-to-government human rights channels." Senator Christopher J. Dodd (D., Conn.) was quoted in the same article as saying that the CIA and other U.S. agencies have an obligation to turn over "all relevant information that may shed light on an individual's involvement or responsibility for the murder or disappearance of Reyes Mata and others killed in Honduras."

    Arturo Cruz Sr. wants to know whether "the Honduran government has asked the U.S. Government for the names of these murderers and whether 'the Nicaraguan advisor who had accompanied the guerrilla force,' cited... as one of those executed by Honduran officers, was my nephew David Arturo Baez Cruz. What additional information, if any, does the U.S. government have about my nephew? When did U.S. government officials or agents first learn of the presence of David Arturo Baez Cruz and Fr. Carney in the guerrilla group, and when did they first learn of their deaths?"

    The relatives of Fr. Carney also issued a statement on the 16th anniversary of the disappearance, noting that the inspector general's report stated that "according to ________, during the 1980 to 1984 period when executions had been carried out, each execution had to be approved by the Honduran Armed Forces Commander and the President of Honduras."

    The relatives then asked: "Did the president of Honduras approve the execution of Dr. Jose Maria Reyes Mata and of U.S. Citizen David Arturo Baez Cruz? And if Fr. Carney was captured alive - a hypothesis which the CIA says it cannot rule out - did the president approve killing him? We note with interest the fact that the Honduran government has initiated the process of excavations at Aguacate, the former military base where remains of political prisoners may be found. We urge the Honduran attorney general to continue this investigation and to bring it to a successful conclusion, finding the remains of Fr. Carney and of Mr. Baez Cruz and of others in the same group at Aguacate or wherever they may be."

    On June 23, 1999, Representative James McGovern (D., Mass.) And 20 other U.S. Representatives, along with Senator Carl Levin (D., Mich.), sent a letter to President Carlos Flores of Honduras, asking him "to take whatever steps and actions may be necessary to help identify the sites where Fr. James Carney and David Arturo Baez Cruz are presently buried. If you so desire, we will urge the U.S. government to provide any technical support you might request to facilitate this process."

    In August 1999, Thomas Gumbleton, auxiliary bishop of Detroit, and three U.S. religious women visited Aguacate, where they also learned of a land dispute between peasant groups and the military. Gumbleton, who had made several previous trips to Honduras in relations to the Carney case, stated: "I am outraged that the CIA and the Defense Department have not adequately complied with President Clinton's declassification order and have not seriously cooperated with the Honduran system of justice. About half of the material released is blacked out. Our government must be more cooperative in releasing more information concerning the two missing Americans and ...disappeared persons of Honduras."

    In late September Carney's brother, Patrick, and I visited Aguacate and spoke with top Honduran civilian officials in Tegucigalpa, who expressed their commitment to carry the investigation forward to its ultimate conclusion. Friends and relatives of the two disappeared Americans similarly commit themselves to encourage the digging for remains in Honduras and to continue urging the Clinton [now Bush] administration to unearth pertinent information in Washington.

    * Reprinted with permission from the author from Christian Century magazine, August 30 - Sept. 6, 2000


    Shop Your Conscience

    Cooperativa de Mujeres por La Dignidad
    A cooperative of indigenous women from the highlands of San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico
    from Sr. Rosemarie Abate, HVM

    San Andres Larrainzar shouldn't just be famous because it is a part of modern history, being where the San Andres Accords were signed between the Mexican government and the Zapatistas (EZLN) in 1996. It should also be known for being the base for our cooperative, Mujeres por la Dignidad (Women for Dignity), and so part of ancient history since it is where we reproduce the weaving and embroidery techniques of our ancestors.

    Our cooperative is run and owned entirely by indigenous women, and has more than 700 members in four municipalities: Chamula, Chenalho, Zinacantan and San Andres Larrainzar. We produce handicrafts of such outstanding quality that they have been displayed as collectors' items in museums in the USA — at over 20 times the price for which they were sold in San Andres.

    You may be surprised to learn that despite the complexity, quality and cultural significance of our handicrafts, normally each woman receives about 1 peso for every 8 hours that she spends on her work — yes, less than 15 U.S. cents. This is because normally she has to sell her work to the shops and stalls of San Cristobal, at very little more than the cost of the material from which the product is made. And so in 1995 we formed our cooperative so that our families, rather than the middle-men, might earn a fairer wage.

    Now when a woman is able to sell her products through the cooperative (because someone like you shops here), she receives at least 20 pesos for 8 hours of work — still a very low wage but enough perhaps to ensure that her family can avoid hunger. As you will see if you visit us, we live in conditions very different from people in San Cristobal. However, we are proud of our traditions and culture and so despite our lack of material wealth, in our cooperative you will find hundreds of the most beautiful pieces of artisan work to be found in Mexico. We have thousands of handmade items from which you can choose, such as cushion covers, napkins, tablecloths, wall-hangings, tablemats, dolls, blouses and bags. We have handicrafts in ancient and modern designs, and we use natural dyes as well as dyes in vibrant colors. So why not come and visit us in our cooperative in San Andres Larrainzar?

    Founded in 1997 with more than 800 Tzotziles and Tzeltales from the rural Highlands; only able to produce 30 percent of basic needs, the selling of creative work is important to combat malnutrition. High prices for material and low prices when selling to local merchants moved the women collectives to open a store in San Cristobal and seek international markets to obtain a just market.

    The store is a cooperative administered by Mayan women and is a place to meet and work collectively. Visitors can appreciate the elaborate work that goes into each piece. In each village, the women form an organization and each piece has the name of the woman and her village. Money supports women's collectives projects like gardens and pre-schools, as well as basic needs of individual families.

    The women's collectives conserve the heritage. Famous for weaving of cotton and wool material, the women often use natural dyes. The vision expressed in each handmade piece is part of the person who created it. The embroidered designs represent the universe, water and earth that give us life. Flowers and corn express the Mayan world.

    The Cooperative is part of the struggle of Indigenous Women for Peace with Dignity and Justice. Violence has been a part of life for four hundred years. Through the sale of our artisan work we build the bond between us and with women and men around the world.

    The economic and social situation of our communities grows more difficult. Our women are equal to our men. We do not have land to work, nor does there exist other forms of work, nor help from the government. The one road we have to continue to resist and live is to organize the women to sell our artisan work and to go forward together. In addition to this cooperative, we are in touch with other like cooperatives. Alternative purchasing of handmade items and coffee from indigenous coffee growers helps the struggle for peace and dignity.

    If you would like to know more about purchasing directly from cooperatives in Chiapas, please call 313-869-2160 or email Sr. Rosemarie.