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January 31, 2007
DH 07 JH18
Contact: Joanie Harmon-Whetmore
(310) 243-2740/2001

Professor of Sociology Publishes Book on Central American Grassroots Opposition of Globalization

Carson, CA - Clare Weber, assistant professor of sociology and program coordinator, Women’s Studies, had her first book published last August. Visions of Solidarity: U.S. Peace Activists in Nicaragua from War to Women's Activism and Globalization (Lanham, Lexington Books, 2006) is currently the only study of the shift in direction of peace activists in Central America and the United States from anti-war struggles to exploring the effects of globalization.

Before earning her doctorate in sociology at UC Irvine, Weber lived in Nicaragua for many years, working for Witness for Peace, a politically independent, grassroots organization committed to support peace, justice and sustainable economies in Latin America and the Caribbean by changing U.S. policies and corporate practices which contribute to poverty and oppression. Visions of Solidarity was inspired by her experiences in Nicaragua and her observations of the impact that the Contra War of the early 1980s had on the civilian population.

“We saw that the Contras were primarily trying to sabotage the goals of the socialist government, which were namely education, health care, and land reform,” says Weber. “They would attack teachers and farming cooperatives, so civilians were their main targets. The Contras were supported by U.S. tax revenue under President Reagan, but people in the United States didn’t realize what their
tax dollars were actually doing.”

The testimony gathered by Weber and her colleagues was used in Congress to put a stop to American aid to the Contras in 1988, due to violations of human rights. The Reagan administration attempted to continue its support through illegal means of raising funds, resulting in the Iran-Contra scandal.

With the end of Nicaragua’s civil war in 1990, Weber returned to the United States and began attending graduate school. The human rights and peace groups that she had worked with started to turn their attentions to the effects of globalization and free trade agreements such as NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement).

“We now know that (NAFTA) has impoverished more people than it has helped,” Weber points out. “Although there isn’t a war going on anymore in Central America, people are still hurting economically because of free trade agreements. As a feminist scholar, I wanted to see how women were benefiting or being hurt by globalization, and how organizations were responding to that.”

Visions’ comparative ethnographic study of Witness for Peace and the Wisconsin Coordination Council on Nicaragua explores how the two organizations gave very different responses to the neo-liberal development project imposed on Nicaragua by the United States through measures such as the Central America-Dominican
Republic- United States Free Trade Agreement.

“One of the things that I’m trying to look at besides historic specificities,” says Weber, “is how race, class and gender play out between organizations. There are big power differences in terms of financial resources and the power dynamics between human rights groups from the United States working with non- governmental agencies in Latin or Central America. What I’m trying to show is how these dynamics play out, and how people deal with these –isms when they’re working across borders.”

Weber illustrates the misconception that countries like the United States labor under when attempting to help societies like post-war Nicaragua, and the innovation and courage that belie its third-world status.

“We could take a very paternalistic perspective and say, ‘They’re poor women of color. They’re not as empowered as white, middle-class women in the United States,’” she notes. “In actuality, Nicaragua went through a popular revolution in the late 1970s. During the 1980s, the revolutionary democratic socialist government, the Sandinista party, was in power. In fact, their party’s candidate for president was just reelected this fall.

“A lot of women who were involved in the revolution also ended up in positions in this democratic government,” she says, “so in actuality, you have several generations now of women who are highly skilled at organizing and use innovative ways to act on behalf of women and women’s rights.”

Weber, who will be attending the Sociologists for Women in Society Annual Conference in New Orleans in February, invited a Nicaraguan activist and organizer, Yamilet Mejia, to speak about working with women after natural

“The psychological recovery from both war and natural disasters, such as Hurricane Mitch in 1998, has been a big issue in Nicaragua, and there have been a number of women activists taking that up,” Weber says. So they have a lot of innovative ways they are addressing these issues. In a way, I think the women’s movement in Nicaragua is by far much more vibrant and sophisticated than what we see in the U.S. today, so there is a lot for us to learn.”

With the completion of her book, which is available in the CSUDH Bookstore and on amazon.com, Weber recalls that she thought the project was over. However, she came to realize it was just beginning, not unlike the efforts toward furthering peace and economic stability that she describes in her writing.

“It’s exciting,” she beams. “I was thinking, ‘Okay, it’s done, let’s move on to the next project.’ But there’s a whole other level to it, and one of the things I’m learning how to do is talk about it. What I am trying to get across in my book is more than the details and history of these particular social movements. I’m trying to find answers to the question of how we can share and learn from each other across borders.”

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Last updated January 31, 2007, 11:49 a.m.
by Joanie Harmon-Whetmore