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ARCHIVE HIGHLIGHTS: Peacebuilding in Latin America

The American Friends Service Committee’s work in Latin America dates back to the 1930 when young work camp participants traveled to Mexico to assist with the effort to improve health and education. During the years of WWII and after, the organization created hostels for refugees and assisted in the settlement of Spanish and other refugees in Latin America and the Caribbean. Throughout the 1960s and 70s community service units traveled to various locations in Central and South America engaging in projects that included water instillation programs, family gardening projects and construction of community centers. The AFSC was also there to lend assistance whenever violent storms, earthquake or floods took their toll on communities in Latin America.

Towards the 1980s, AFSC became very vocal in calling for an end to violence in Central America. In 1978, the organization called for an end to US military intervention in Nicaragua and began sending medical supplies to refugees in affected parts of the country. AFSC also called for the end of military intervention in El Salvador in 1980 and began publishing numerous reports on how violence was affecting the people of Central America. AFSC urged the State Department and the President himself to cut off military aid aimed at promoting US interests in the area, going as far as to sue President Reagan for issuing a certification of human rights in El Salvador “in bad faith”. A 1983 report published by the organization found that most Central Americans wanted peace and viewed the United States as an inevitable force of violence in their homelands.

 As political turmoil started to develop in Haiti in the late 1980s, AFSC called for the US to not intervene and pushed for a Caribbean solution to be determined by leaders of surrounding countries. By 1990s as political situation worsened AFSC accepted the need for US and UN to put international pressure on Haiti to restore constitutional order. In 1996 AFSC sent aid to Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Hortense Puerto, and in 2001 they pressed to allow residents of Vieques to peacefully protest US military training on the island which eventually resulted in the closure of US Navy bases and military training exercises.

In 1987 the organization fought to allow more refugees to enter the United States and that the U.S. allow Central American governments the right to self-determination. In 1989 AFSC condemned the U.S. invasion of Panama and in 1991 pushed for peace and reform in El Salvador. After a major drought in the region in 2001, AFSC made a public request for donations to help those affected by crop shortages. Throughout their years of involvement in the region, the American Friends Service Committee always stood on the side of peace while focusing their resources on humanitarian aid.

Today AFSC continues to work on addressing the root causes of social problems with communities in Guatemala, Haiti and Mexico.