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April 8-12 Guatemala Visit Aims to Reinforce Peace Accords
National Council of Churches Leads International Ecumenical Delegation

April 4, 2002, NEW YORK -- U.S. and other churches around the world that actively helped support the Guatemalan peace process in the 1990s are stepping forward again at the request of Guatemala’s churches to help jumpstart the stalled 1996 peace accords.

Key will be an international ecumenical delegation visit to Guatemala April 8-12. The delegation is being organized by the (U.S.) National Council of Churches (NCC) in response to invitations from 1992 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Mench˙ Tum and from the Rev. Vitalino Similox, Director of the Ecumenical Forum of Guatemala, through which both Protestant and Catholic churches are working for implementation of the peace accords.

The centerpiece of their visit will be a day-long "Peace and Reconciliation Consultation," bringing together between 40-50 leaders of Guatemala’s churches and civil society on April 10 in Guatemala City. NCC General Secretary Bob Edgar and Guatemalan Roman Catholic Archbishop Quezada Y Toru˝o are convening this meeting. Co-convenors are the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) and the World Council of Churches (WCC).

The NCC-led delegation’s mission is to support Guatemala’s churches in their efforts to reactivate implementation of peace accords signed in 1996 by the government and rebels after more than 35 years of armed conflict. More than 200,000 people were killed or "disappeared" and presumed dead. Most of these casualties were attributed to the government and its paramilitary allies.

"I feel quite positive that we are going to Guatemala at the right moment and with the right people," Dr. Edgar said. "The peace agreements are paralyzed, indigenous peoples continue to be marginalized, the government is riddled with corruption and scandal, and the people responsible for the killings and disappearances have not been called to accountability.

"Guatemala’s churches remain united, working in a deeply divided society," Dr. Edgar said. "They have asked us to help support their ministry, judging that Guatemala’s internal situation is so insecure that international pressure for peace and justice is needed again."

The NCC, World Council of Churches, Lutheran World Federation and Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) responded to a similar call during the early to mid-1990s. They quietly arranged a series of informal encounters among the Guatemalan Army, guerrillas, indigenous peoples and civil society.

"These encounters - held in Costa Rica; Washington, D.C.; Guatemala, and Oslo, Norway -- helped build understanding among the parties and commitment to the peace process, thus undergirding the United Nation’s work," said the Rev. Oscar Bolioli, NCC Associate General Secretary for International Affairs, who is staffing the April 8-12 trip. "And they helped integrate Indians into the discussion."

A one-day consultation can’t resolve Guatemala’s deep problems, Bolioli emphasized, but it can regenerate commitment to the peace accords and identify next steps.

Participants in the April 10 consultation will represent a wide range of societal sectors, including human rights, indigenous peoples, women, peasants, trade unions, universities, research institutions, media, business, the courts, the electoral tribunal, several government ministries and main political parties. Two members of the joint government-guerrilla commission overseeing implementation of the peace accords will be present.

Church leaders present will span Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Mennonite and evangelical communities. Diplomats from Norway, Sweden, Spain and the United States - all of which encouraged the signing and implementation of the peace agreements - have been invited.

The NCC-led delegation’s agenda April 8-12 also includes individual meetings with leaders of many of the sectors that will be represented in the April 10 consultation.

In addition to Dr. Edgar, a United Methodist, and the Rev. Bolioli, a Methodist from Uruguay, delegation members include: Methodist Bishop Federico Pagura from Argentina and a president of the WCC; Episcopal Bishop Julio Cesar Holguin from the Dominican Republic, president of CLAI; the Rev. Catherine Gordon, Associate for International Issues in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Washington, D.C., office, and Susan Peacock, a United Church of Christ layperson who directs the Guatemala Program in the Washington Office on Latin America, Washington, D.C.

The upcoming NCC delegation visit to Guatemala is part of a broader program to address impunity following massacres and "disappearances" under repressive dictatorships of the 1960s and 1970s. Former NCC President Melvin Talbert, a United Methodist bishop, led a four-member team to Chile, Argentina and Uruguay Oct. 27-Nov. 3, 2001, to support churches and others working for truth and justice in those countries. That NCC mission followed up on a visit to the same countries in September 1999.

On another recent mission, the Rev. John L. McCullough, Executive Director of Church World Service, and three staff colleagues spent Feb. 25-27 in Guatemala. They visited CWS partners and spent an evening with the Rev. Similox and Ecumenical Forum colleagues, who asked support for their efforts to hold Guatemala’s government accountable to the peace accords. CWS is a global humanitarian ministry of the NCC’s 36 member communions.

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