9th International Writers in Prison Committee Conference, Brussels 24 March-27 March 2011

Reflections

Dennis Conroy
Member, San Miguel de Allende PEN Centre
Representing, Chicago Network for Justice and Peace

A pre-conference gathering was held on 24 March in the Brussels Town Hall at which delegates were addressed by Mr. Freddy Thielemans, Lord Mayor of Brussels and other dignitaries. Immediately afterward, delegates dined together at a nearby restaurant and participated in the “Forbidden Books” presentation as part of a Passa Porta Festival public event. The Passa Porta Festival (held every day of the WiPC Conference) hosted a hundred “odd encounters, talks and debates with well-and lesser-known authors.”

Over the course of four days, the open and celebratory presentations and dialogues with writers from around the world were in stark juxtaposition with the PEN conference focus of urgent and sustained intervention on behalf of countless writers world-wide who are imprisoned, threatened, disappeared and murdered.

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Thinking About Peace

Our board member Lucina Kathmann presents the following reflection at the Feria Internacional del Libro de Guadalajara (27 November through 05 December 2010), the largest Spanish language book fair in the world. This presentation is a follow-up to her eye witness account of the savagery of the undeclared civil war in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico (see her original report below). In this follow-up presentation, Lucina Kathmann reflects on the rising level of violence fueled in part by the easy availability of guns.

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UNCIVIL DISCOURSE IN CIVIL SOCIETY: THE NOVEMBER 2010 ELECTION

Good words for good purposes have been chased from the political marketplace. A personal example: this summer, in a public situation, a friend asked me for the address of the Chicago Network for Justice and Peace with which I work. When I said the words ‘justice and peace,’ a total stranger within ear shot shouted out ‘why are you against Israel.’ I asked some friends to help me understand how it was that the words ‘justice and peace’ could provoke such a strong, negative feeling when, for me, these words express a basic principle of Catholic social thinking, which has inspired Catholics and non-Catholics alike to work for justice in civil society for more than a 150 years. My friends informed me that many people hear the words ‘justice and peace’ as ‘code’ for supporting socialism, or Palestinian rights, or taking nuclear weapons from Israel. This incident bewildered me and caused me to remember the politics of the 1950’s when to be in favor of, let alone to be working for, ‘peace’ meant you were a communist, a communist sympathizer, or a communist dupe. (Sometimes it only meant that you were a hopelessly naïve intellectual ‘egg-head’ a la Adlai Stevenson.)

Reflecting on the debasement of the words ‘justice and peace’ prompted me to consider other words that caused people to shout down the speaker. Here’s a partial listing of what came immediately to mind: immigration; Islam; race; abortion; affirmative action; the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and on Terror; separation of church and state; prayer in public schools; the Catholic church; gay marriage; women priests; NAFTA; global warming; et alia. What I realized in making this list is that I myself had been silenced: I no longer discussed these issues in public situations.

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AN UNDECLARED CIVIL WAR IN CIUDAD JUAREZ, MX: A REPORT. March 2010

Dear friends of Chicago Network, for some weeks now we have been sending you information on the deadly campaign against journalists and other writers in Mexico working to investigate and publish the facts about the destructive effects of drug trafficking on Mexican society. Our board member Lucina Kathmann has just completed a fact finding trip to Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, a city right across from El Paso, Texas on the USA border.

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Support for the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Center for Human Rights

For the past two years the Chicago Network for Justice and Peace (CNJP) has given support to the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas (Frayba) Center for Human Rights, a non-profit civil organization located in the state of Chiapas, Mexico. Frayba was founded in 1989 through an initiative of Samuel Ruiz Garcia, then Catholic bishop of the Diocese of San Cristóbol de las Casas. Serving very poor indigenous communities and villages in Chiapas, Frayba works in defense of and promotion of human rights.

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Salesian Project Street Children in Guayaquil

Guayaquil, Ecuador, S.A., Proyecto Saleciano Chicos de la Calle de Guayaquil – Salesian Project Street Children in Guayaquil.

Ecuador’s port Guayaquil is a bustling city that has attracted tens of thousands of people from the country side in search of work and a better life. However, these hopes, in many cases, didn’t materialize, creating a large underclass in which children became the greatest casualty.

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Mexican Provincial Literature: The Gate Opens

By Lucina Kathmann

Mexico, like all of Latin America, suffers from being overly centralized. Over-centralization has been blamed for Mexico’s underdevelopment, inflation and almost every other economic evil; it is also responsible for problems in the literary world. For as long as anyone can remember, almost all the publication, attention, sales, distribution, critical notice and publicity for literature have been concentrated in the capital. If you wanted to write, you had to go to the capital. Yet not everyone can.

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San Miguel International PEN Scholarship Program

The San Miguel PEN Scholarship Program focuses on students who do well in school and want to continue their education but cannot for economic reasons. Such scholarships have proven themselves effective for enabling students to pursue their educational goals and for improving the general economic and social situation of their families. Please contact Pat Hirschl at mexicanpat@gmail.com, for detailed information about the program and the students. Checks in support of this program should be made out to Chicago Network for Justice and Peace and mailed to:

1132 W. Lunt #3B
Chicago, IL 60626

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About the Chicago Network for Justice and Peace

The Chicago Network for Justice and Peace assists individuals and organizations in their efforts to promote literacy and the use of the literary arts for creating effective communication between and among cultures and groups within cultures; in doing so, we seek to foster community building and the common cause for justice and peace.

To fulfill its mission, CNJP supports:

  • Volunteer tutoring programs in schools and in prisons;
  • Cross cultural literary conferences;
  • Collaboration with International PEN’s International Women Writers Committee, Linguistic Rights Committee, Writers in Prison Committee;
  • Library development;
  • Collaborative publication projects;
  • Literacy programs;
  • Collaborative artistic projects involving the literary arts;
  • Scholarship programs for students of merit who would otherwise be denied appropriate education for financial reasons.

To view the current list of projects, please see our Service Program.

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