Based in Washington, DC and founded by the Jim Wallis-headed group Sojourners, Witness for Peace (WFP) is a national organization that claims to support “peace, justice and sustainable economies in the Americas” through publications, work-and-travel “opportunities,” and “action tools.”
WFP coordinates trips for American college students to such countries as Cuba, Nicaragua, Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela. It is a university version of Global Exchange, taking students to see the alleged “horrors” of American foreign policy and the purported benefits of socialism firsthand. Student groups nationwide send dozens of WFP “delegations” to South America and the Caribbean annually. Regional WFP chapters and campus-based programs draw hundreds of students who travel for $600 to $1,200 a head. Students receive academic credits for participating in these trips, where they learn, among other things, that the U.S. has impoverished Cuba through its 40-year embargo; that the U.S. is an international aggressor, systematically devastating other nations for political and economic advantage; and that the U.S. has perpetuated an “epidemic” of unfair trade practices via the North American Free Trade Agreement, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (which allegedly put the Western Hemisphere up “for sale“). Regional free trade destroys workers, according to WFP, not least because it eliminates “collective ownership.”
The WFP homepage prominently features a quote that reads, “Finding the truth is not enough. What we also have to find is justice.” The author of that quote is Rigoberta Menchu, a pro-Castro communist who falsely claimed to be the writer of a Nobel Prize–winning autobiography that was later found to have been authored by the French Marxist Elisabeth Burgos-Debray.
A WFP brochure explains that the group was founded in 1983 “by people of faith and conscience [in] response to U.S. funding of the Contra War” in Nicaragua. WFP uniformly supported the Communist Sandinista regime that had taken power in that country by means of a violent 1979 revolution. In the 1980s, WFP members traveled to Nicaragua and returned with reports of humanitarian disasters wrought by the anti-Communist guerrilla forces (the “Contras”) backed by the Reagan administration. WFP insisted that any efforts to undermine Sandinista power amounted to a violation of the Nicaraguan people’s “right to self-determination.”
On one occasion, a 190-person Witness for Peace delegation was treated to a pro-Sandinista press conference immediately after arriving in Nicaragua. Ushered into a lounge reserved for the occasion, its exits blocked by armed Sandinista guards, the tour group looked on as the Witness for Peace leadership, in collaboration with Sandinista officials, proceeded to stage a press conference—complete with tape recorders, television lights, and cameras, and reporters from the Sandinista-controlled media—denouncing the “illegal war being waged against Nicaragua … designed, directed and funded by the [U.S.] government.” One WFP spokesman expressed his “wish that our visit would ‘hurt’ American policy in the region.”
Other WFP initiatives included dispatching teams of Christians to the Nicaragua-Honduras border to form a “protective shield” between Nicaraguans and anti-Sandinista forces. Between 1983 and 1990, some 4,000 activists, many of them members of Sojourners, took part in the Witness for Peace program, relaying the Sandinista party line to the American public while condemning the anti-Communists as “terrorists.”
A November 1983 article for Sojourners magazine revealed that the WFP program had been designed in partnership with members of the Sandinista government, including Tomás Borgé, one of the foremost figures in the Sandinista Directorate and a Minister of the Interior.
Today the WFP curriculum focuses most heavily on Cuba, which is portrayed as a poverty-stricken victim of U.S. imperialism that supplies universal health care, housing and nutrition for all its citizens, unlike the United States. American college students are taught to “uncover the realities behind historic U.S. propaganda against Cuba.” “The revolution is well over four decades old,” reads one WFP publication on Cuba. “Universal education and health care are guaranteed for all. A full course of antibiotics costs U.S. $0.30 and a hospital visit is free. A farmer’s child can study medicine, engineering or theology without paying a cent. Women make up 62% of university graduates. Cuba’s AIDS rate is the lowest in the Americas and one of the lowest in the world. The literacy rate is 96.8%.”
“The U.S. is at war in Columbia,” reads In Our Name?, a 48-page WFP screed published in 2002. “On any given day there are up to 500 U.S. Military advisers in Columbia, presiding over three U.S.-created battalions, and hundreds of military contractors.” WFP travelers to Colombia in July 2005 “learned” that 800 U.S. Special forces have displaced 3 million Afro-Colombians, supposedly the largest number of refugees outside the Sudan. A “riveting educational video” on Columbia highlights the “plight” of these displaced persons, “the courage of Colombians who work for peace and human rights,” and the “harm done by U.S. military aid.” The war on drugs, it tells students, is “really a war on farmers.” WFP’s conclusion: U.S. assistance in Colombia equals, in the magnitude of its harm, the Islamist perpetration of genocide in Sudan, where more than 2 million have been murdered and hundreds of thousands forced into slavery.
WFP considers America’s 2003 invasion of Iraq to be more unjust than the long reign of Saddam Hussein. After visiting Baghdad 25 days after the 1991 ceasefire in Operation Desert Storm, a Witness for Peace delegation reported: “The ultimate cost of any war is measured in human and spiritual loss. In war, buildings turn to rubble, craters form and bridges sink. All of these can be replaced in time. But you cannot rebuild a life that has been lost or disguise injustice behind parades and patriotic celebrations.”
As war with Iraq was imminent in early 2003, WFP stated: “[W]e at Witness for Peace strongly condemn the current Administration’s insistence on war as the only solution to the current situation. This situation is called a crisis only because the Bush Administration has manufactured a crisis to suit its warlike political needs. … Having borne witness to U.S. military and economic aggression in many nations, we have a unique perspective on the extraordinary toll of warfare. Having stood with our brothers and sisters facing direct U.S. aggression in Nicaragua, Colombia, Guatemala, Cuba and even Iraq, we call upon our nation to pause and reflect on the deadly realities of this unnecessary military excursion.” In February 2003, just a month before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, WFP likened the U.S. to Nazi Germany.
In 2006 WFP began sending “delegations” to Hugo Chavez‘s Venezuela because of its alleged commitment “to stand with people of the Americas seeking justice when faced with U.S. government aggression.” These tours seek to help participants “move beyond the rhetoric from Washington … [and] research U.S. policy of funding opposition groups and statements aimed at delegitimizing the Chavez administration.”
Witness for Peace is a member organization of the United for Peace and Justice anti-war coalition, which is led by Leslie Cagan, a longtime committed socialist who aligns her politics with those of Fidel Castro‘s Communist Cuba.
WFP has received funding from the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, and the General Service Foundation.