|Security, Privilege and Basic Human Rights|
|Written by Val Liveoak|
|Monday, 26 July 2010 15:52|
This month has been less busy and I have had some time to think. This entry is a response to an ongoing conversation with Dave Zarembka, the coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative of Friends Peace Teams.
In Central America the issue of security comes up mainly for me in regard to travel between sites or workshops.
Options for travel range from air, private (taxi), semiprivate (shared taxi or shuttle) and public bus -- first class or common. So far I have considered air travel between sites in Central America to be privilege, a privilege I have not felt a need to exercise. With concerns about carbon footprints not to mention frugal use of FPT or my own money for travel, the first-class public bus has won out so far, even for trips of up to 20 hours. But many people, not only foreigners, say, "I can't stand to ride the bus that long, I have to fly."
Margaret and I have often taken the common buses to Honduras, because of the savings in both cash and time, but my radical Honduran colleague said she'd only travel between Honduras and El Salvador on the first class public bus, because it is "too dangerous" to use the common public buses (due to a history of armed robberies on the route from the border toward her city.) When I travel to Guatemala City, I also use the first class bus for the same reason. To or from Suchitoto, San Salvador I have used both common public buses and taxis, sometimes shared, sometimes private. My criteria for choice includes security -- if I am carrying my computer, which I would not want stolen in the occasional assaults on the route, I take a taxi; and convenience -- if I have to be somewhere at an early or late hour, I usually take a taxi. Inside San Salvador, I usually take public buses but have been told many times that this is "dangerous", so would not do it if carrying heavy or valuable things. In Colombia, I continue the practice of flying between Bogota and the N. coast, avoiding a 20+ hour bus ride which I anticipate as scary and dangerous (up and down all those mountains) even if the chances of kidnapping on the road have decreased. (When I started work in Colombia, those chances were much greater.) I do fly between the US and Central America/Colombia, in part because there is still no land connection between Central America and Colombia (south of Panama City).
Citizens of all the countries we work in are more vulnerable to both common crime (although an obvious, presumably "rich" foreigner may be targeted at times) and to local news coverage sowing fear with its coverage of crime. At the mini-workshop I did with Friends last Sunday, most of the 15 attenders, adults and youth alike, answered the question, "How does violence affect my life?" with concerns such as, "When we leave the house in the morning, we don't know if we will come back unharmed in the evening." Clearly for them, security is a basic human right which they are denied in both their beliefs and in reality. (Last month, gangs shot up and then burned a vanload of people on a commuter busline, to cite an extreme and current example.)
Central Americans and Colombians alike, all live "behind bars", imprisoning themselves in homes and businesses as well defended with burglar bars, razor wire, and alarm systems as they can afford. In some middle and lower-middle class neighborhoods, roads have been closed off and made into gated communities, so not just the rich and foreigners have gates and guards. I don't know if the sense of community in these enclaves is greater or lesser than when they were more open -- I suppose they have dual effects: neighbors have to cooperate to pay the guard, and protect the keys that give access to their enclave, but the fear that makes them lock themselves in behind walls cannot in the end promote much community, can it?
And even in the countryside, which is much more open, (although fences and window coverings--usually shutters--provide a minimum of protection for the average campesino), gang activity, especially extortion -- "la renta" -- is so widespread that people who fled more than once from soldiers, shelling and helicopter attacks during the civil war of the 80s, say "It's more dangerous now than during the war."
So for me, security in the personal sense can be both a question of privilege and of basic rights.
I believe that the way the US government uses its military power is beyond a question of privilege -- it has become (probably since WWII and even before that) a question of abuse of power. In the US, common citizens like ourselves reap both the benefits and the costs of this abuse of power. The benefits are the strength of our economy (although one can argue with the purported positive effects of military spending, someone is making lots of money off it) and the drawbacks are the lack of resources for social needs, the militarization of our society, and the ever growing government encroachments on liberty and the Bill of Rights.
I think it behooves all of us to keep seeking to assert our basic rights while considering what is privilege, or indeed abuse of power.
|Last Updated on Monday, 26 July 2010 15:58|