By Dean Dettloff, Animator for Central Ontario
In December 2020, two Lenca Indigenous land defenders, Víctor Vásquez and José Santos Vigil Girón, were unjustly imprisoned in Honduras, based on unfounded complaints from local businessmen. Víctor’s story anchored our People and Planet First campaign last fall.
Thanks to skilled legal defence spearheaded by Development and Peace’s partner CEHPRODEC and strong local and international advocacy around their case, Víctor and José were released on October 15, 2021. At that time, Víctor said, “In this prison, I did not feel alone. I felt strong because of the warmth and support of all my brothers and sisters at the national and international level.” But Víctor and José still await trial, and their legal battle is far from over. Maintaining public and international support is crucial to the Lenca people’s defence of their activists, land and sovereignty.
As an animator, I have often shared Víctor’s situation, highlighting the importance of fundraising and building global solidarity here in Canada. The most rewarding sharing of this story has been among Catholic school students. Zooming into dozens of classrooms and clubs in the last six months, a consistent message kept coming through: these students want justice, and want to be part of getting it.
During our discussions about a campaign-based retreat, chaplain Andrew Selvam of the Iona Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga, Ont., wondered if his students could communicate directly with Víctor. Our programs officer Mary Durran relayed the idea to CEHPRODEC. They said they would welcome cards or letters of solidarity, which would continue to build public support. We settled on a grade 12 student retreat that would introduce solidarity as a core principle of Catholic Social Teaching, explain Víctor and José’s struggle and allow students to make Christmas cards for them.
Pandemic-slowed international mail and a busy coffee farming season meant the cards did not arrive in time for Christmas. Nonetheless, it was a joy to receive a photo of the Indigenous Council of Simpinula holding the cards in Honduras in early February. On a large white board they wrote, “Your messages were received with love and affection. Simpinula resists!”
While cards from kids in Ontario are unlikely to sway a judge in Honduras, they remind the Lenca people that they are not alone. And they remind us in Canada that we are not disconnected from struggles on the other side of the equator.
In Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis tells us that solidarity means “thinking and acting in terms of community.” Development and Peace helps students to see themselves as part of a global community, knowing that we are all integrally connected. Alone, it is easy for those in power to write off, ignore or quietly dispose of people who resist injustice. Creating bonds of global solidarity shows that more and more people have their eyes on a person or issue, expecting justice.
During Advent, students prepared for the birth of Christ by sending warm messages of solidarity. Now, in Lent, as we enter into Christ’s suffering, we must continue looking for creative ways to express our solidarity with those whom the Salvadoran Jesuit Ignacio Ellacuria calls “crucified peoples.” We must put people and the planet first; refuse the lies of big businesses that would bulldoze ancestral lands; and stand with those who, like Jesus, resist unjust imperial powers, even at the cost of freedom.
¡Simpinula resiste! ¡Nosotros estamos contigo!