Colombia Update Archives

Colombia Peace Update - June 2011

Colombia Peace Update - May 2011

Colombia Peace Update - April 2011

Colombia Peace Update - March 2011

Colombia Peace Update - February 2011

Colombia Peace Update — January 2011

Colombia Peace Update — December 2010

Colombia Peace Update - November 2010

Colombia Peace Update — October 2010

Colombia Peace Update — September 2010

Colombia Peace Update — August 2010

Colombia Peace Update — July 2010

Colombia Peace Update — June 2010

  • Clinton stands by as president rails against justice
  • Dreams of Youth Can’t be Camouflaged: Objector Week in Medellín
  • Presidential Elections Go to Second Round this Sunday
  • Agribusiness Behind Forced Displacement
  • Colombian Army in Afghanistan: No Bases Coalition Speaks
  • Last Chance to Apply for Military Bases Delegation
  • Women’s and People’s Summit Against Militarization

Colombia Peace Update — May 2010

  • No Bases Coalition Launched in Bogotá
  • Colombia Bases Delegation
  • Threats to Defenders and Communities
  • Video Letter from the Field
  • Testimony: Against Our Will and Our Rights
  • Days of Prayer and Action in 18 Cities
  • Briefs: Paras Supported Uribe; Candidates Speak; New US Ambassador

Colombia Peace Update — April 2010

Colombia Peace Update — February/March 2010

Colombia Peace Update — January 2010

Colombia Peace Update — December 2009

Colombia Peace Update — November 2009

Colombia Peace Update — September 2009

Colombia Peace Update — August 2009

Colombia Peace Update — May 2008

Latin America Peace Update - September 2011

Land You Love CampaignLand You Love

People from around the world — Colombia, Great Britain, Peru, Spain, Switzerland, Congo, North Ireland, Sierra Leone, Venezuela, Denmark, Austria, the United States and Canada — are taking part in our Land You Love campaign, sending pictures of the lands they love most. Check out their photos here!

In Colombia, more than five million people have been forced to leave the land that is most dear to them. In this year alone, 15 leaders who were struggling to have their lands returned to them have been assassinated.

During the month of September, help us flood the Colombian government and U.S. embassy with photos of the land you love and this message of hope: Every Colombian deserves to live without fear and with dignity on the land she or he loves. See how to take part in this online action here.

Building Peace in Colombia from the Bottom Up: Dialogue is the Path to Peace

397 Decades had passed since the last massive small-farmers mobilization took place in Colombia. This is not surprising, considering the level of violence that Colombian small farmers have had to endure, particularly leaders resisting forced displacement and struggling for getting their land back, twenty-nine of whom have been assassinated in the first semester of 2011. Over twenty thousand people mobilized from August 12-14, 2011 in the “Gathering for Peace and Land, Dialogue is the Path to Peace.”

Read more

The Fifth Commandment

By María Elvira Bonilla, El EspectadorRecruited

There are many who end up carrying a weapon wishing they hadn’t, acting against their convictions. This reality has allowed the conscientious objectors movement to develop, with a presence in ten regions of the country and whose voice made it last year to the Constitutional Court and this week to the House of Representatives. The court decided that a conscientious objector, through a writ of protection, can seek to protect his rights, at the same time that it ordered the Congress to legislate this personal choice. The debate has just begun.

Read more

We Make the Road By Riding

By Janice Gallagher and Paloma Ayala

Oaxaca City, Oaxaca, Mexico - On Day 4 of the caravan, it feels like it has been a couple weeks. After leaving from the central plaza in Mexico City in the early morning of the 9th, we are now spending our second night in the same place, the only time this will happen during the 10-day journey. We are part of La Caravana del Sur, led by Javier Sicilia’s Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity. Sicilia, a nationally-renowned poet and journalist , lost his 24-year year old son to violence in March of this year.

Read more

The Military Logic of the Drug Business

By John Lindsay-PolandKaibiles in training

The Zetas cartel has established a base in the same small Guatemalan jungle town where the U.S. military has been  upgrading facilities and training soldiers from a unit linked to the Zetas. What better demonstration is there of the drug war’s perverse logic? U.S. military training of poorly paid young men with few work options plays directly into the game of narcotraffickers. President Obama said this month that “I don’t think Mexican people want to live in a society where drug kingpins are considered to be some of the more powerful individuals in society.” He was speaking against proposals to de-escalate the war in Mexico, but he could justifiably have said the same about what the current drug war path has produced.

Read more

Respecting Students: Will the Army Obey the Law?

By Liza Smith

It was a routine recruitment appointment in Medellín, meaning that young men with a pre-assigned number showed up to resolve their military status. A number of them arrived with a certificate of exemption — in this case, they were students and according to Colombian law should be allowed to continue studying instead of fulfilling their military service. One young man qualified for four exemptions: he had been displaced from his home, his father was killed by guerrillas, he was the primary breadwinner in his family, and he was a student. Nevertheless, the Colombian military rushed all the students through the line, performing the required medical and psychological exams, and within hours they had been integrated into the army. Hours later FOR got a call from our partner organization the Red Juvenil with a request that we act on the behalf of these young people.

Read more

United States Funded Colombia Operations and Wiretaps Against Uribe Opponents

The Washington Post on August 20 revealed in a front-page story that “American cash, equipment and training, supplied to elite units of the Colombian intelligence service over the past decade to help smash cocaine-trafficking rings, were used to carry out spying operations and smear campaigns against Supreme Court justices, Uribe’s political opponents, and civil society groups.”

The Latin America Working Group gives background on the scandal, and Reps. James McGovern and Janice Schakowsky urged Secretaries of State and Defense Hillary Clinton and Leon Panetta to disclose all U.S. aid to the agency in a September 7 letter.

Thinking of going to the SOA Vigil November 18-20?

Contact us to connect while there.

Researcher Needed

FOR is reviewing more than 100 documents about Plan Colombia, and seeks a volunteer who reads both English and Spanish, can dedicate time, and pays attention to detail, to create an index of the documents. Can you help? Contact us.

July/August 2011 Latin America Update

What It’s Like to Be in a Street Round-up

We have written before in these updates about the military’s use of illegal street round-ups to fill their recruitment quotas.

We need your help
to put a stop to the illegal practice of street round-ups. Please take action here by sending a message to the Minister of Defense that you are concerned about the ongoing illegal practice of street round ups and that the Ministry of Defense should emit a statement to this effect.

FOR and our Colombian partners are still working to set up a meeting with the Minister of Defense himself and will share the number of people who have taken action from around the world to defend the rights of young people. We will update you on the outcome of this meeting.

 In mid-June, reports of major upsurges in street round-ups came in from around the country. The following is the testimony of a conscientious objector taken in one of these street round-ups as published by The Red Juvenil (or Youth Network):

Close to 1am on Friday, June 17, 2011 near the Parque del Periodista I, Carlos Andrés Castaño Cardona, was detained by soldiers of the national military for a search and verification of my military card.  When they discovered that I didn’t have this document, I was immediately put onto a truck with which they were using for a street round-up.  There were 24 of us youth that were detained in different places in the city including some youth that were recruited on the outskirts of town in Bello and Itagui.

We were taken to the facilities of the old Bombona battalion. There I protested to several soldiers that I was not in agreement with what happened. Their response was that the street round-ups that they were conducting were totally legal … They isolated us and didn’t let us call anyone with the argument that we could do it the next day.

In the morning we were taken to another part of the battalion to wait for the medical exams. … During the process of the exams we were forced to get naked in front of various people.  Upon being examined by the doctor, it was decided that I wasn’t apt for military service because of a problem with my spine.  The interview with the psychologist followed, who filled out a physical injury report, which basically said that I had voluntarily presented myself at the battalion.  When I complained about this, the psychologist refused to give me her name and only said that the form had to say this.  I asked her for some paper to denounce that I had been detained downtown, but she wouldn’t give me any.  She finished by telling me that I should keep the report she filled out because they were conducting street round-ups …and they would bring me to the battalion again if they found me in the street without that document.

Once they finished the exams they took us out of the building and left those of us who weren’t apt (there were 7 of us) by the guard.  They left us waiting there an hour before letting us go.

From the moment the soldiers put me in the truck I protested that I was a conscientious objector, but no one knew what this was and they didn’t believe me.  I was finally free again at 11am on July 17th, 2011.
A military round-up of youth in Medellin
FOR, the Swedish agency CIVIS, and two Colombian conscientious objector groups we accompany (the Red Juvenil or Youth Network and ACOOC or Collective Action of Conscientious Objectors) are currently working to set up a meeting with the Minister of Defense himself. In that meeting, we would like to display to the minister the level of international concern for this practice.

Please support those conscientious objector groups we accompany by
sending a message to the Minister of Defense that you are concerned about the ongoing illegal practice of street round ups and that the Ministry of Defense should emit a statement to this effect.

 

Letter from the Field:
Reclaiming the Filo de la Cruz

By Gina Spigarelli

The Filo de la Cruz (The Ridge of the Cross) sits overlooking La Unión, the small rural Peace Community village  in Colombia where FOR has a permanent accompanimient program. The land that makes up the hill belongs to the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, individuals that make up that community, and other surrounding campesinos.  From the center of town in La Unión, one can reach the top of the Filo in a quick 10 minute walk. It is but one jungle covered hill that makes up the beautifully impressive country landscape surrounding La Unión.  As with every piece of land in this war zone, the Filo de la Cruz has a complicated history.
Military Trench in La Unión
The hill received its namesake in the late 1990s, when the military murdered a young Peace Community member in the woods there. In honor of his life, the community placed a cross on the ridge; the cross was made of wood, and has long since fallen, but the name has stuck.

“Two years ago, when the military started camping on the filo, we had no idea they were planning to stay so long,” explained Juan. “For decades both legal and ilegal armed actors have passed through community property, often spending a night or two in hammocks on the filo and leaving traces for community members to later find.” This time was different, however. The military men on the filo didn’t move on after a night or two. They started to build an encampment.

A military encampment overlooking a Peace Community brings obvious concern to the citizens living in the valley below. “ It’s just not good for civilians to be so near an encampment,” Francisco* shared with me. “We immediately knew that  we would be in more danger than before. When the military plants themselves somewhere, they attract other armed actors.  This is exactly what happened and

Military trench on ridge at edge of  La Unión in Peace Community.
FOR
 photo

we as a Peace Community were at risk to be caught in the crossfire.” Over a two year period, there were combats and bombings happening literally just outside of town. “They even had a dummy in military fatigues sitting right there, to draw fire,” added Fernando, motioning to a tree stump on the village-facing side of the hill.

The Peace Community, along with their international supporters, repeatedly published  newsletters  and action alerts expressing their concern over the proximity of the military to cilvilians in the zone. After an exceedingly dangerous combat in October of 2010, where the military and guerrillas were shooting next to the homes of small farmers, the community reached an agreement that they needed to do all they could to convince the military to leave.

“Originally we planned to go up to the filo and tell them to go,” Juan began, “but that would have been particularly complicated and we didn’t know excactly who was there. Instead we decided to continue  publishing complaints. Earlier this year though, when they started interrogating people on their way to work or down to town, we started to be more forward about telling them that we didn’t want them there and they were putting us in danger.”

“Two years is a long time in one place. We were all getting nervous that the military was actually going to come up and build a permanent base on the filo. For us this would have meant serious consideration of displacement,” Francisco said.

In May of this year, without warning, the military withdrew from their semi-permanemt position on the Filo de la Cruz. After a few weeks, the Peace Community planned a community work day to clean up the trash left behind. Walking up the filo and around the encampment, we saw old playing cards and deep trenches, tomato plants and improvised water tanks. There were tents and hammocks and mosquito nets- remenents of an abandoned jungle camp in a war zone.

Rosa explained the idea behind cleaning up the encampment, “We went up there to burn their trash and get rid of their mess. We cleared out the brush and left the área with few places to hang hammocks. We wanted to reclaim that land.  We really don’t want them to come back. When they are here they surround us. They make it hard for people to get to work and they pose a constant threat of combat. One feels bad knowing there is an encampment in their backyard.”

The Peace Community is happy that the military has left the encampment, but even today as I write this article, there are once again helicopters landing on the far side of the filo. When I asked around to see if people thought the military would be back to that encampment, some were more optimistic than others. The vast majority of people, however, gave the same response: “We hope not. We really hope not.”

* All interviewed Peace Community member’s names have been changed.

Declaration from Honduras Against Militarization

Versión en español

We —organizations and individuals from El Salvador, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, the United States, Canada, Italy, Spain, Mexico and Honduras, having come together in La Esperanza, Intibucá, Honduras on this day of commemoration of the two years of struggle by the Honduran resistance against the coup leaders, in response to the call made by MUCA, COFADEH, COPINH, OFRANEH, CEMH, Insurrección Autónoma, Artistas en Resistencia, ERIC and the Campaña América Latina y el Caribe, una Región de Paz: Fuera Bases Militares Extranjeras— issue this Declaration:

No BasesWe declare our opposition to the militarization of the peoples of the world, particularly of the people of the Americas, which means the installation of military and paramilitary bases and structures, providing financial resources, legal frameworks, and ideological support that together carry out the role of strong arm cops for big business interests that pillage the resources of our people and Mother Earth, resources such as water, land, minerals, forests and the people who live in these territories.

We declare that the criminalization of the people’s movements and social struggles is carried out through repression in the form of torture, beatings, disappearances, killings and sexual violence and that these methods are part of the military strategies of the oligarchy and imperialism. Jails are the places where the children of poor women end up, and this situation is even worse in the case of emigrants in the United States.

We declare our repudiation of the return in many countries, especially in Honduras, of obligatory military service as a form of persecution of young people, who are precisely the ones against whom a large part of the military hate is directed.

We declare that the strategy of militarization while generating enormous wealth for the heads of the war industry generates greater poverty and violence against the people of the world, including the people of the United States. This strategy is the same in all countries and therefore the struggle against it is the same for all the people of the world.

We declare our rejection of imperial war operations against the peoples of the world, operations in which civilians, children and young people are killed and then written off as collateral damage.

We declare our call to the North American social movements to continue the struggle against militarization, with the understanding that it affects all aspects of our lives.

We declare as Hondurans that in this encounter we have suffered together the systematic and vicious aggressions against peasants, women, young people, sexual diversity and indigenous and Black populations, that our strength, organization and mobilization have not been weakened, but rather made stronger in the knowledge that they are afraid of us because we are not afraid.

We declare that the solidarity of the people of Latin America and the Caribbean with Honduras is vital to keeping our resistance strong and moving forward in spite of the death and violence that threaten us.

Finally, we declare the satisfaction of joining with brothers and sisters who are resisting the militarization by opposing it with creativity, hope, spirituality and the unity that is found in all regions of the world, and finding deep strength in the ever present energy of our Honduran martyrs.

As a result of this meeting we intend to:

  • Strengthen the continental and regional campaigns against military bases and the on-going methods of occupation and criminalization.
  • Strengthen people’s solidarity using every available mechanism including the involvement of the UNASUR (Union of South American Governments) governments as well as regional fronts and local actions.
  • Propose to CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) that it prohibit as part of the principles of the organization the presence of foreign military bases.
  • Maintain and promote June 28th as a day of rejection of military bases.
  • Energize a campaign against the danger inherent in obligatory military service in Honduras.
  • Make October 3 a day of celebration for the Honduran people as a whole, not merely for its armed forces.
  • Conduct alternative community media campaigns centered on the struggles against impunity, for historical memory, for the freedom of the youth, and the rights of women.
  • Carry out boycotts against items produced by the supporters of the coup and against junk merchandise which are part of the ideological corruption of our people.
  • Engage people in a revolution of the mind.
  • Prioritize artistic productions and gatherings as means to empower our struggle and our never-give-up resistance.
  • Provide support for Human Rights Observer Teams in Honduras –an initiative of CICA (Collettivo Italia Centro America) and COFADEH (The committee of relatives of the disappeared in Honduras)
  • Our gathering expresses its solidarity with the original peoples of the Honduran Moskitía, the Garífuna and Lencas communities, the El Aguán peasant movement, and the sexual diversity community, all of which have endured systematic aggressive violence.

Our gathering is thankful to our brothers and sisters of the COPINH (Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras) for their marvelous effort at organization, logistics, and joint reflection which made it possible for all of us to come together, plan and lay out a path to peace and justice. We salute COPINH’s unwavering spirit of struggle.

We call upon ourselves as a national entity to follow up on the above commitments on October 21, 2011 at El Aguán.

Endorsed at La Esperanza, Intibucá, on June 27, 2011

FARC on the Run?

By Geoffrey Ramsey
Adapted from Hemispheric Daily Briefings

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced in early July that the FARC’s commander, Alfonso Cano, just barely escaped an air raid on his camp located in the south of the mountainous Tolima department.  Since then more details have emerged about the attack, which officials are claiming forced Cano to abandon his usually heavy security contingent. According to El Tiempo, the rebel leader is now on the run with only twelve men, with at least a thousand Colombian security forces hot on his heels. This has led President Santos to make some of his boldest statements yet concerning the guerrillas, saying “Sooner or later, Cano will fall — just like all the other FARC leaders.”

However, there is reason to view this announcement with skepticism. With nearly three quarters of Colombians believing that the security crisis in the country is getting worse, the government has found it increasingly difficult to sell its security policies to the Colombian public. According to Colombia Reports’ Garry Leech, the military has stepped up its propaganda campaign against the FARC, making statements that come off as entirely illogical. This includes recent remarks made by Admiral Edgar Cely to El Tiempo, in which the armed forces commander dismissed a recent round of FARC attacks as consequences   The paper reported that there have been 142 “terrorist attacks” so far this year while there were a total of 144 in 2010.

Colombian Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera added to the official claim on July 6, claiming that these attacks are only acts of desperation.  Rivera said the FARC attacks, rather than a show of strength, should be seen as ndicators that the FARC are “Pablo Escobar-izing,” and becoming more involved in criminal activities. 

But this argument amounts to an attempt to sweep rising insecurity under the rug, and clashes harshly with the lived reality of Colombians. As El Espectador’s editorial board points out, the FARC conducted five major bombings on highways in the last two weeks of June, killing six police officers. While the incidents are a far cry from the assaults that the rebels carried out during their heyday in the 1990s, they demonstrate that the group still has capacity to carry out debilitating attacks security forces in the country.

According to a military report cited in El Espectador, the Colombian armed forces have killed 3,500 people engaged in criminal or rebel activity, 1,137 of which were FARC, ELN and EPA guerrilla fighters. Only 353 were members of the so-called BACRIMs (“bandas criminales”), the second generation paramilitary groups in the country that are believed to be the principal generators of violence.

But FARC operations are on the rise in Colombia, according to a new report from the Colombian group Nuevo Arco Iris. In the first six months of 2011, the group undertook some 1,115 “military actions,” which is a 10 percent increase from the same period last year.

The Paramilitary Spider’s Web in Urabá

With an investigation of nearly a year, the Colombian investigative journalism site VerdadAbierta.com untangles how the paramilitary Self-Defense Peasants of Cordoba and Urabá constructed their power in that region with a sophisticated political and economic structure that continued to operate after their demobilization, and was financed with government funds and, indirectly, by the US Agency for International Development as well.
 
If it were not that so many documents and testimonies confirm it, it would be hard to believe that the paramilitary strategy to politically and economically take over a region — that of Urabá in the Colombian departments of Antioquia, Chocó and Córdoba — had achieved such high levels of complexity and sophistication. The tangle of companies and organizations that they created was such that they got even the governments of Colombia and the United States to support their project, and that an association they created won an international prize.
 
The sinuous strategy had plenty of accomplices, and with them, it managed to rob lands from poor farmers, trained community councils, created non-governmental organizations, set up agribusiness companies that obtained contracts with multinationals, supported electoral campaigns, backed drug trafficking organizations, and took advantage of state resources. Their spider’s web linked to politicians and businessmen, and not only served their counterinsurgency project in the years before the paramilitary demobilization, but continued weaving connections and support as part of their programs for reinsertion into civilian life.
 
An exhaustive review of public documents for nearly a year, together with interviews and testimonies of ex-paramilitaries given to the Prosecutor General’s office, allowed investigators from VerdadAbierta.com to know the full depth of this network.
 
Though the authorities have all the information in their possession and it will be judges who establish to what extent the projects promoted by the Colombian government and Plan Colombia crossed the line of illegality, it is also clear that the calculated conquest of Urabá’s politics and economy by the paramilitaries’ organization was real and efficient.
 
In this special report, Verdad Abierta reconstructs how the paramilitaries implemented their military, political and economic project to consolidate political and economic power in Urabá, a region that was hard hit by the country’s armed conflict. The population there suffered the worst violations of human rights, from forced displacement and theft of their lands, to forced disappearances and brutal killings that included the practice of dismembering.
 
 [Continue here for the full Spanish version of this remarkable report]

Borderlands Organizer

Vigil to End Gun ViolenceReligious communities and leaders are working with border activists and organizers to reduce gun violence by creating a bi-national campaign to impede the illegal flow of assault weapons, sniper rifles and high-capacity handguns into northern Mexico. When gun dealers in the southwestern U.S. turn a blind eye to the practice of “straw purchasing,” whereby stand-ins for illegal gun traffickers buy guns in bulk that end up in the arsenals of Mexican drug cartels, they are contributing to the huge numbers of weapons that flow across the border, and to the growing insecurity, injury and death in communities in northern Mexico.

The organizer will function as an independent contractor, with a focus on building a bi-national coalition of communities of faith and conscience. Applicants can expect to spend approximately forty hours per month to carry out this work, and compensation will be $750 per month. More information, including a description of the project and a request for proposals, can be found at www.presbypeacefellowship.org. Send your cover letter with a CV and/or a description of your organizing background by August 25, 2011, by email to maggie@presbypeacefellowship.org

June 2011 Colombia Peace Update

Contents

The Ticking Clock on the Free Trade Agreement

The free trade agreement with Colombia is at a critical point.  The Obama administration has announced its plans to push the trade deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea through by August.  However, the White House has said that legislation to support workers adversely impacted by trade deals, known as the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), is required before it submits the free trade agreement to Congress. Republicans are pushing to get a deal on TAA so they can have votes to approve the trade agreements completed before the August recess.  Meanwhile, the clock keeps ticking. 

A coalition of human rights, labor and environmentalist organizations are pushing now to let congress hear the following:
    •    Research has shown that with this trade agreement 400,000 Colombian farmers would see their net income fall 48 to 70 percent leading to further displacement.
    •    Such massive social upheaval is likely to fuel a wide array of social problems including strengthening the illicit drug trade to the U.S.
    •    In 2010 more labor unionists were killed in Colombia than the rest of the world combined. The United States shouldn’t be rewarding that violence with a trade deal that consolidates the power of the country’s wealthy.
    •    Illegal armed groups are still for hire. Chiquita is still paying a Justice Department fine for bankrolling brutal killers for over a decade responsible for at least 14,000 murders.

We believe that this trade deal will harm those communities and organizations we accompany.  Please join the push right now to prevent this trade deal and listen to a member of the Peace Community speak on what effects he expects from the Free Trade Agreement and how the Peace Community is preparing itself:

Javier FTA video

Honduras Today: Renewed Commitment to End Militarization

Delegates from El Salvador, Colombia, Cuba, Costa Rica,  Brazil,  United States, Italy, Spain and Canada are in Honduras this week in response to an urgent call for solidarity issued by the Continental Campaign Against Military Bases, of which the Fellowship of Reconciliation plays a very active role. A three-day mobilization against military bases and in resistance to the criminalization of social protest was organized by Honduran activists to commemorate the second anniversary of the June 28, 2009 military coup.  



At their gathering in the Aguan town of La Esperanza, the Honduran groups issued a statement expressing their renewed commitment to work against militarization. The participants will carry out this pledge through activities such as: advocating at the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR); organizing against Honduras’s newly-mandatory military service; campaigning for a boycott of junk food and coup supporters’ businesses; prioritizing art as a tool for nonviolent resistance; and reclaiming October 3 as annual day to mark the power of the Honduran People, not the might of its army.   



Militarization was identified as a strategy for generating immense wealth for war-lords but more poverty and violence for the people; not only in Latin America, but also the United States. Furthermore, international solidarity was highlighted in the La Esperanza Declaration, considered “vital” for maintaining the resistance, “in spite of death and violence that threat [the Honduran resistance] faces.”  



See the list of events planned in the United States. If you are in Washington, New York, or Chicago, come and join the activities planned for today.

A Report from Mexico’s Peace Movement

by John Lindsay-Poland

June was a remarkable month for Mexico’s emergent Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, from the caravan that June 4-9 traversed cities in central and northern Mexico that have been devastated by the invasions, battles and abuses of soldiers, police, and organized crime, to the three-hour dialogue between government critics and victims of Mexico’s drug war with President Calderón and members of his cabinet.

The caravan concluded its journey in the border city of Ciudad Juárez, “the epicenter of pain,” poet Javier Sicilia called it, where hundreds of people lined the highway to greet these pilgrims of compassion in an emotional moment. Sicilia has become the central figure in the movement, after his son was murdered in Cuernavaca in late March and he called for public mobilizations against the government’s war.

Some 600 people gathered at the university in Juárez on June 10 to develop a citizens pact, which was organized through nine different sessions that lasted about four hours each. Versions of the sessions’ conclusions were read out under the scorching sun that afternoon, then edited by a smaller group. That evening in the Juárez plaza, hundreds of people lined up to sign the pact even before it was read aloud – the confidence level was that high. An impromptu press conference the following day, however, generated controversy, when Sicilia said that the text was not the pact, but a set of notes from the working sessions, which needed to be worked on, and that he did not agree with everything in them. Jose Luis de Salvarcar

In the session I attended, on demilitarization, there was heated discussion of whether the pact should demand “immediate” demilitarization, which Ciudad Juárez groups have called for consistently, but which some other cities in the country don’t yet have consensus on. Nevertheless, there was broad consensus around a number of key goals: that the security strategy in Mexico should be demilitarized, that some drugs should be decriminalized, an end to the militarized Merida Initiative and the gun trafficking from the United States, and immediate action to investigate and bring to justice those responsible for a number of emblematic crimes.

Javier Sicilia and his team also called for a public meeting with President Calderon, which occurred on June 23 on live television. The process of victims speaking their truth to the president provided some pointed and moving moments. In Sicilia’s initial presentation, he didn’t mince words, saying Calderon is co-responsible for the pain of thousands of families of people killed, that the army made up of criminals, that a “criminal conception of power has been strengthened” by Calderon’s war, and that Calderon should ask forgiveness of the nation, especially of victims.

Sicilia was followed by five eloquent testimonies from victims and community representatives.”Why undertake a strategy whose results have been totally negative?” asked Araceli Rodríguez Nava, mother of Lisandro Díaz, a disappeared federal policewoman. “It is not ethical, it is not just, it is not Christian to spill so much blood, plant so much desolation in the country and leave intact the main beneficiaries of the drug trafficking industry.”

“I don’t know if the reality of the country is clear for you,” said Norma Ledezma, activist and mother of a girl killed in 2002. “In each home where we’ve lost a member of the family to murder or disappearance life is never the same. It is urgent, because time is running out, to create a national genetic information bank of family members of victims… Justice cannot be created by burying the past.”

Ledezma spoke of Marisela Escobedo, whose daughter Rubí was killed and who identified the man who killed her. After he was convicted and then released, she herself was killed last December as she vigiled at the Chihuahua state building. “It is true that Sergio Rafael Barraza Bocanegra killed Rubí, it is true that the incompetence of state judges freed him, but it is also true that federal police continue to protect him,”  Ledezma said.

Calderon gave a long speech in response, defending his policies, saying if he regrets anything it is not having sent federal forces before he did. “There isn’t violence because the federal forces are there,” Calderón argued. “The federal forces are there because there is violence there, a violence that local authorities couldn’t control, that went beyond them. For a federal presence whose help they asked for, in the case of Juárez, where the controntation between cartels preceded the intervention of federal forces, as in the case of Monterrey, or as in the case of Tamaulipas, where the state’s action is a consequence and not cause of a pre-existing violence.”

But a study written by José Merino and published in the Mexican journal Nexos (English version / Spanish version) completely undermines Calderón’s assertion. “There is a causal effect between the deployment of joint military operations and the rise in the murder rate,” the study found, citing three data sources for homicide rates. Noting that murders in the state of Chihuahua, where Ciudad Juárez is located and where the homicide rate is many times that of other states, which could distort the analysis, the study also found that “the relationship still exists even when we exclude Chihuahua from the data” and that “the effect increases and strengthens when we use municipal data.”

The study, which reinforces the conclusions of one published in January (English summary / Spanish), even calculated how many homicides would have occurred without the military operations, and found that between 7,000 and 13,000 murders would not have occurred between 2007 and 2011 without the federal government’s military deployments. What may have been obvious to citizens of Juárez – that violence got much worse after soldiers and federal police were deployed to their city – is shown empirically in Merino’s calculations.

Want to Participate in Our Mexico Work?

The Fellowship of Reconciliation invites individuals who share our principles and are committed to addressing the U.S. role in the violence hurting Mexico to participate in a Mexico committee that will support FOR’s work in this area. In particular, we are planning faith-based actions to address gun trafficking from border states into Mexico, coalition work to oppose the militarized Merida Initiative and drug policy, and speaking events to educate our communities about the human cost to Mexicans of our nation’s militarized policies and culture. If you are interested in participating, please contact John Lindsay-Poland by email or phone (510-282-8983).


“We had to act,” Calderon said, in a refrain familiar from the aftermath of September 11, as if the only means to act was warfare.

Sicilia responded “Where are the benefits of the strategy? Why don’t you recognize that you could do other things?” Sicilia said Calderon’s mistake was to “think that the bad ones are outside and the good ones are inside, and you launched the war with rotten institutions. This form of attack has defended institutions and not people.”

He noted that the impunity for prominent atrocities, such as arson in a child care center that killed 45 children, or the release of the former mayor of Tijuana after the discovery of an arsenal of guns in his home, including some used in murders, “sends us messages of criminal corruption in this government”  

Sicilia laid out several points or demands, some with more specificity than others. These included 1. the right to truth, justice and non-repetition, 2. a different security strategy composed of a. a strategy for human security and human rights, b. reconstruction of the social fabric, c. decriminalization of some drugs, d. an independent auditor of police, and e. education for youth with a budget at least equal to the security forces, and 3. participatory democracy, including referenda, citizen candidacies, and consultations.

Further dialogues are scheduled, including with the Mexican Congress, and a caravan to Mexico’s southern states is planned for July which will focus on the problem of kidnapping of migrants.

A Little Justice is No Justice at All

Cycle of Impunity in San Jose de Apartadó Peace Community

By Susana Pimiento

In May 2011, Colombian courts issued two rulings regarding crimes committed against the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó. But they are insufficient and far from breaking the cycle of impunity. Instead, the rulings are a reminder how far from justice the Peace Community is and the importance of their plea for the creation of a Justice Evaluation Commission that would look into the reasons behind the failure of Colombia’s judicial system regarding the crimes committed against the Peace Community. On June 22, eleven Members of Congress called on the Colombian government to create such an evaluation commission (see box).

SoldiersThe Attorney General’s office announced the first ruling in a May 18 announcement that the Apartadó court had convicted Raúl Emilio Hazbun Mendoza, also known as “Pedro Bonito,” commander the paramilitary Banana Bloc. The court sentenced him to 11 years, 11 months in prison for the October 20, 2002 “disappearance of one small farmer” - youngster Arnulfo Tuberquia, who was visiting his mother in La Unión - and the forced displacement of 58 families. Hazbun had accepted the charges and pled guilty, yet the whereabouts of the young man remain unknown.

The 2002 paramilitary attack was not an isolated event, but an example of the persistent waves of violence against the Peace Community. In the Peace Community’s chronicle of crimes from 2002-2009, we learn that two days later, on October 22, the same paramilitary men intercepted the public jeep on its way from Apartadó to San José, writing down the passengers’ names and ID numbers and confiscating their groceries. On October 24, army troops occupied the vacated houses in La Unión, looting families’ pantries and houses and slaughtering their chickens and pigs. Even though several paramilitary kingpins have spoken about their tight relationship with the 17th Brigade, not one of its commanders has yet been held accountable for their complicity.

U.S. Legislators Urge Creation of Justice Commission

Members of Congress called on Colombian Vice-President Angelino Garzón to create a Justice Evaluation Commission to investigate crimes against the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó carried out by both the military and illegal armed groups in the area. In the June 22 letter, the legislators cited over 180 killings of Peace Community members. “The lack of effective investigation and prosecution of these cases is deeply troubling, particularly in light of continued U.S. military assistance to the Government of Colombia,” the letter.

The letter also cited nearby bases of paramilitary groups that are “consistently targeting the civilian population and in particular members of the Peace Community.” The Justice Evaluation Commission, which would base its investigation on a Right to Petition submitted in 2009 by Father Javier Giraldo on behalf of the community, is “a crucial initiative,” the legislators said.

The letter was signed by Representatives Hank Johnson (GA), James McGovern (MA), Jan Schakowsky (IL), Raul Grijalva (AZ), Sam Farr (CA), Lynn Woolsey (CA), Bob Filner (CA), Maurice Hinchey (NY), Maxine Waters (CA), Tammy Baldwin (WI), and Barbara Lee (CA).

The lack of accountability for high-ranking officials is what is troubling about the second ruling regarding the Peace Community, issued in May. In that decision, the Colombian Supreme Court refused to review a 30-year prison sentence for the January 12, 2006 killing of Peace Community leader Edilberto Vásquez Cardona. Members of the 17th Brigade’s Voltigeros Battalion had camped out near his house on the night of January 11, 2006, and at 7:15AM raided his home, dragged him out to his house to a site half a mile away, executed him and planted a grenade, a rifle and radio near his body. Seven low-ranking officers were convicted for the crime, a “false positive,” or the extrajudicial execution of an unarmed civilian, later reported as a guerrilla killed in combat, occurring long before the so-called “false positives” scandal broke.

A couple weeks later, at a meeting with the then-commander of the 17th Brigade, General Luis Zapata Uribe, FOR raised our concern about the killing of Vásquez Cardona and others in the Peace Community. We said that the body count policy that gave benefits (bonuses, additional leave time) to soldiers for people killed in combat could be behind the killings, and requested him to put an end to the policy. General Zapata quickly brushed off the request. A couple weeks later, on March 13, 2007, the brigade’s deputy commander confirmed in an official letter the version that Vásquez Cardona was a guerrilla killed in combat.

The State Department, in its certification of the Colombian military and justice system’s progress on human rights in 2010, cited judicial action on the killing of Vásquez Cardona. (7) But unless higher-ranking officers are held accountable for this and other crimes against the Peace Community through their actions and omissions, and their role as commanders is properly examined, a sentence against the low-ranking officers that executed the crimes could be interpreted as scapegoating. It is hardly progress at all.

Disaster Gold

By Liza Smith

When I worked for Peace Brigades International, I made a trip to accompany a community that lived near a mine, El Cerrejon, the second largest open-air coal mine in the world, located in northeastern Colombia.

The mine is like a big monster — pushing land to the edges of an ever-growing hole at the center and spitting fine dust into the air. El Cerrejon produces coal, the coal is put on a train, the train takes it to a boat and it is shipped off to be used as energy for people in far-off places. The people who live nearby are some of the poorest I’ve seen in Colombia – with barely enough food and sick because of the coal dust they inhale all day. Interspersed among their houses are air quality towers – as if on a bad air quality day, they could call up the mine and ask them to stop production.

At a recent conversation with the representative of a network here in Colombia that campaigns against mining, I learned something about gold mines. Only a small percentage of gold that is mined throughout the world ends up in a wedding ring or as a fancy figurine for the living room. Most of it goes to sit in big banks’ basements. It is there to represent wealth on which people can speculate and make investments, but it is never actually used or exchanged. In other words, we dig into the depths of the earth for this precious material only to ship it off to a room where it sits for many years. This seemed to me like one of the more absurd realities of capitalism: we excavate an unrenewable resource and use it to represent a virtual idea in the interests of “growth” and “progress.”

“Growth” and “progress” are buzz-words these days in Colombia. It is a scenario of Naomi Klein’s “disaster capitalism”: Colombian politicians suggest that in the wake of the internal armed conflict (disaster), people will now enjoy wealth and abundance (capitalism). Of course this is a simplification – the armed conflict is not over, and capitalism has been functioning in Colombia for many years already. But there is a palpable shift in public discourse — as much as former President Uribe focused on “security” and fighting the war against terror, his successor President Juan Manuel Santos is promoting a national development plan that includes “five locomotives” or economic sectors his government is encouraging to grow. One of these is the mining industry and, like many other sectors in Colombia, it is mired in corruption was used during the “disaster” for the benefit of the wealthy and multinational corporations, with heavy costs for people, their lands and the environment.

A recent article in Semana exposed the corruption that has permeated the entity that administers mining petitions known as Ingeominas. Currently almost 9,000 mining titles have been handed over, which is about 4% of the national territory, but there are approximately 20,000 requests for titles waiting to be approved, which is equivalent to 20% of the national territory. Many of these titles are found in special ecosystems like páramos, natural parks and forest reserves. For example, in a place called the Macizo Colombiano, where Colombia’s most important rivers begin, there are already 30 mining titles approved.

A recent reform to Colombia’s mining code, which went into effect in February 2010, specified that mining would not be allowed in páramos. The minister of Mines and Energy, Carlos Rodado, denounced the fact that after this law was approved, Ingeominas gave nine titles to several companies to mine in páramos. And according to Semana, only a few days before the law was passed they gave Anglo Gold Ashanti (the world´s second largest gold mining company) 19 titles in this same delicate ecosystem. It is hard to explain this, considering that these requests had been on the books since 2005 and they were approved between January 28 and February 2, 2010, just days before the norm was changed.

Other titles were obtained fraudulently and apparently there were three offices in Bogota where any interested person could go to obtain a title by other means. One government study showed that normally titles would take an average of 600 days to be approved, but some people were getting titles approved in as little as a month. People were soliciting mining titles who weren’t even in the business, but knew that if they could secure one, they could sell it to a big multinational later on.

As I look at the map of Colombia and all the places that have already been petitioned for mines, I recognize that, as Woody Guthrie suggested, this land is may be my land, or your land or their land. But this land is also the land of disaster capitalism where war and violence make way for energy and wealth for a dysfunctional system. It is another aspect of that system that, between actions by affected communities and their allies, needs to change.

Editorial: Time to End the War on Drugs

June 17 marked the 40th anniversary of the “War on Drugs,” declared by President Nixon in 1971, and the time has come to bring an end to it. This failed policy has been extremely costly, wasting billions of dollars that have reduced neither traffic nor consumption, shed much blood, and destroyed the lives of millions of youths, disproportionally African Americans and their families, as the prison industry has grown exponentially.

Whatever little justification policymakers had to defend such a disastrous policy was seriously diminished with the release of the report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy on June 2. The Commission is comprised of 19 well known figures, not known for being progressive or left-leaning, including former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, former UN General Secretary Kofi Annan and former presidents of Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Switzerland, and Greece (Cardoso, Zedillo, Gaviria, Dreifuss and Papandreou, respectively).

The dignitaries declared that “the global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the word,” and that “vast expenditures on criminalization and repressive measures directed at producers, traffickers and consumers of illegal drugs have clearly failed to effectively curtail supply or consumption.” The commission recommended ending the “criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but do no harm to others” and treating drug addiction as a public health problem. Former President Jimmy Carter also joined the critics, pointing out the explosion in incarceration that resulted from the Drug War which has resulted in 3% of the United States population being behind bars, on probation, or parole.No more drug war-Mexico

The United States has been the main force behind the global War on Drugs, yet President Obama and the U.S. Congress have shown little interest in changing course. It is well overdue for grassroots groups in the United States and throughout the continent to mobilize and call for an end of the War on Drugs so that resources can be invested in public health and social programs to create stronger and healthier communities. Communities throughout the continent cannot afford to turn a blind eye on the bloodshed that militarization of the drug war has brought to our neighbors south of the Rio Grande: some 40,000 people have been killed in Mexico since the U.S.-funded Plan Merida started, most of them in states where joint military operations were implemented.

The United States has a history of supporting drug trafficking to advance its political agenda, including the funding of the nationalist forces in China that trafficked opium, the Iran-Contras episode, and support for General Manuel Noriega in Panama (which the United States subsequently invaded on the pretext of stopping drug trafficking). It is time to demand that the War on Drugs no longer serve as an excuse for US militarization in Latin America, for maintaining military bases in the region and supporting military coups like the 2009 coup in Honduras. U.S. relations with Latin America should be based on true mutual respect and actions to improve conditions for populations throughout the hemisphere.

To learn more, go to:
Drugs and Democracy
Intercambios: Asociación Civil para el estudio y atención de problemas relacionados con las drogas
Talking Drugs

Find out what you can do to end the drug war:
http://www.drugpolicy.org/
http://www.avaaz.org/en/end_the_war_on_drugs/?fp

May 2011 Colombia Peace Update

Contents of this Update:

Free Trade Moment

Representative George Miller was right when he told Congress two weeks ago, at a hearing on the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement:

What do you get when you protest your rights in Colombia? You get assassinations. You get death squads against union members, union leaders and members of union families all across the country. The American worker can compete, but you can’t compete against the Colombian army, the Colombian death squads, the Chinese army – that’s not fair competition. But that’s what is protected in these trade agreements.” 

On May 23, Carlos Arturo Castro became the eighth Colombian union leader murdered in 2011.

The time is now! Business interests are pushing the Obama Administration and Congress to pass the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and our best bet to stop it in its tracks is to raise our voices and make our opposition heard. There are a variety of ways you can get involved and join the movement.

Click here to find ways that you can get your message into the media, make sure your elected officials get the message, schedule an event, and organize in your community.

The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and the Igleslia Presbiteriana de Colombia invite you to join them in a seven day public fast, June 5-12, 2011, to oppose the U.S./Colombia FTA becoming law. 160 Colombian Presbyterians have already committed to join in resisting the US/Colombia FTA! Read more information and how you can participate.

Rights for Conscientious Objectors Now!

The struggle to respect the human rights of young people is gaining ground. We need your help to keep the pressure on.

These days in Bogota, there are more and more people talking about the illegality of street round ups and the right to declare yourself a conscientious objector. There are articles in the press about street round ups and the struggle for conscientious objection.

A month ago, members of Colombian conscientious objector groups from Medellín (the Red Juvenil or Youth Network) and Bogota (ACOOC or Collective Action of Conscientious Objectors) along with international representatives from CIVIS, a Swedish agengy and FOR met with the director of the United Nations in Colombia who reiterated that UN is concerned about the issue. Last week 100 people attended a public forum to discuss both philosophical and political views related to conscientious objection and how these histories of struggle have developed in the United States, Europe and Colombia.

And yet, street round ups continue. We need your help to put a stop to this illegal practice. Please take action here by sending a message to the Minister of Defense that you are concerned about the ongoing illegal practice of street round ups and that the Ministry of Defense should emit a statement to this effect.
War not in our interest
We are working to set up a meeting with the Minister of Defense himself and will share the number of people who have taken action from around the world to defend the rights of young people. We will update you on the outcome of this meeting.

See the section on our work to support conscientious obejctors in Colombia.

What’s Land Got to Do With It?land booklet cover

Colombia: Answers to the questions you always wanted to ask

Did you enjoy a banana this morning for breakfast? Cereal or coffee? Did you get to school or work today in a car or a bus that requires gas? Using the earth’s precious resources connect all of us to land: whether that be the land we live on, that land that provides our food or far away lands used to make many other products we consume.

This handy little booklet that fits in your pocket and is full of photos and quotes, explores how all of us are connected to land and in particular how land has been central to Colombia’s conflict over the last 40 plus years. It is a great popular education resource for organizations and individuals alike who are working to educate folks about what drives the conflict in Colombia and how the U.S. is involved.

Available in bulk orders, for $25 for 20 copies postpaid, $60 for 50 copies. Individual copies are $1.75 postpaid.

Click here to order your copies for your community group, you, and your friends.

You can also download a digital copy here (large PDF file, 25 MB) to view on your computer.

Land Restitution in Trouble

By Susana Pimiento

On May 5, Colombian Congress’s Human Rights Commission held a special hearing in San Josesito, a settlement of the San José de Apartadó Peace Community. The Peace community’s security concerns, such as the existence of four paramilitary bases in the area and the persistent attacks by army-backed demobilized guerrillas were highlighted in the hearing. 

235 Congressman Ivan CepedaRep. Ivan Cepeda said in a radio interview that San José de Apartadó has been seized by paramilitaries. “The collusion between paramilitary structures, the army and the national police in an radius of just few kilometers, is beyond our understanding,” he said. This, “in an area that is perfectly controlled by the army but apparently also controlled by paramilitary groups.”

The special hearing at the Peace Community occurred amidst a bitter discussion of the Victims Law that was making its transit through Colombian congress and has been used by some, including former President Uribe, to torpedo land restitution efforts, under the excuse that land restitution would promote illegal occupation, thus threatening large land owners.

Indeed, in a May 11 radio interview, President Uribe aired his opposition to acknowledging that  there is an armed conflict in Colombia and the land reparation clause in the victims’ law, saying that such recognition would promote illegal occupations. As an example, he referred to the presence of people associated with the Communist Party in Apartado that he said were behind illegal land occupations. On his twitter account, Uribe also posted  comments making insidious accusations against Cepeda and other members of Congress for visiting San José de Apartadó.

Revolt in Urabá: Local politicians behind illegal occupation

President Uribe was referring to the revolt that took place during the first week of May, in which hundreds of families illegally occupied lands in several municipalities of Urabá. Those occupations took place simultaneously, and were clearly an organized effort. Press reports indicate that each family was paid between US$10-$50 to take part. The Colombian agriculture minister has long dismissed the argument that the Victims Law promotes illegal occupation, and referring to the invasions in Urabá, he pointed out that politicians were behind them. Indeed, Chigorodó city council member Alexander Londoño Machado, was armed, encouraging illegal occupation and was arrested. The Antioquia interior secretary and two other council members of Chigorodo have been linked to the occupations. 

Press reports also indicate that the families that participated in the illegal invasions came from urban areas in Uraba and that, through the illegal occupations, local politicians were hoping not only to get votes in the upcoming regional elections, but also to change development regulations, claiming that those families represent the region housing deficit. 

Land Restitution Leaders React

Community leaders see the problem of illegal occupation beyond local elections tactics.  In their view, it is clear that paramilitaries are behind those illegal occupation efforts as well as behind torpedoing any land restitution attempts.  As Carmen Valencia, with Land and Life Corporation, a grassroots organization working on land restitution, stated when asked the question of who was behind the illegal occupations: “A spoon cannot be moved here without being noted by or the Self-Defense [forces]’ permission, so one cannot explain if it wasn’t them, and if it was another armed group, how 6,000 or 7,000 people could mobilize in three days without the Self-Defense [forces] reacting.”

The Larger Picture: True reparations?236 Victims and candles

The victims law was finally passed on May 24, without the support of many victims groups. Since his inauguration, President Santos had made the passage of laws for victims and land restitution a big priority of his government, in contrast with President Uribe, who sank a similar bill during his tenure. Although many hail Santos’ efforts as an advance, victims and human rights groups have all along identified serious flaws in the restitution regime.

The victims statute reflects an attempt to move forward within a post-conflict framework, which would be desirable if post-conflict conditions  truly existed. There is plenty of evidence that the paramilitary demobilization initiative implemented during Uribe’s tenure was a failure.  Even though over a dozen of kingpins turned themselves in and were subsequently extradited to the US on narcotrafficking charges, paramilitary structures were not dismantled, a violent struggle to fill the leadership vacuum took place, while the victims of their numerous crimes saw very little true reparation or justice. The impunity rate for the crimes committed by the paramilitaries is practically 100%.  The Colombian state has failed to secure “no repetition” for the multiple human rights violations (forced displacement, threats to human rights defenders, etc)a  key condition to move ahead in a post-conflict phase.

Not surprisingly, one of the main critics to the victims statute is its failure to truly recognize the ongoing armed conflict and the paramilitary structures that have been main engines of forced displacement, not only causing it, but ensuring that it persists amidst rampant impunity. For the past two years, a chorus has insisted that in Colombia paramilitaries are a feature of the past. Government, military and even diplomatic missions insist on referring to paramilitaries as  criminal bands or BACRIM, and portrayed as examples of organized crime.  Article 3 of the recently passed Victims Statue defines victims states as those affected by the “armed conflict”, therefore excluding under this definition victims or organized crime. 
 
Such deliberate exclusion of paramilitaries happens despite a persistent pattern of killing community leaders, particularly leaders involved in land restitution efforts.  In March, San Jose de Apartadó’s Bernardo Rios and two other leaders involved in land restitution were murdered by paramilitaries.

The list continued growing: On May 9, Albeiro Valdés, became the sixth person to be killed from the victims’ association Asovirestibi in Necoclí municipality, just a few months after winning a legal battle to get back the land he and several other families were forced off of by paramilitaries. Martha Gaibao, the spokesperson of a hundred families in La Apartada, Cordoba, was gunned down April 27 after the central government relocated the families she was representing. And the list of victims continues growing. On May 17, the Latin American Working Group and Lutheran World Relief  issued a report on how paramilitary bands operate in Northern Colombia.

The last word on the victims law has not been said yet. It will surely go to the Constitutional Court, where many of its provisions will be challenged. Then, victims will have an opportunity to advance the protection of their rights. Among them, indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombians, disproportionally impacted by the armed armed conflict, may argue they were not adequately consulted as mandated by the Constitution regarding the victims regime. Just this month, the Constitutional Court struck down the new Mining Code on the grounds that it had not properly consulted indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombians for the impacts of mining on their territories, thus violating the prior informed consent required by the Colombian Constitution.

Construction Companies Urge Not to Bid on “Violent Outcomes” in Honduras

More than 70 religious leaders, organizations, and academics on May 26 urged companies not to bid on a $25 million contract to upgrade a U.S. military base in Honduras, saying the base “violates Honduran sovereignty and the principles of democracy.” The Army Corps of Engineers contract is for barracks for enlisted soldiers at Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras.

Honduras has seen extensive human rights violations since a June 2009 coup overturned the presidency of Manuel Zelaya, who is returning to Honduras on May 28 Soto Cano was used for refueling when Zelaya was illegally and forcibly removed from the country, the U.S. State Department has acknowledged.

Leaders of Catholic, United Methodist, Presbyterian, Jewish, and other faiths, 26 organizations, and 30 university professors and academics, including Noam Chomsky, told the companies that the U.S. military is “supporting anti-democratic, violent and wealthy sectors in Honduran society” and that the contract “is not worth the costs.”

In their letter, the leaders cited the Honduran constitution’s prohibition on a permanent foreign military presence, and said the “use of ‘hooches’ instead of permanent barracks on Soto Cano attempted to paper over this prohibition by making the U.S. base ‘temporary,’ which would be definitively changed by the upcoming contract.”

More than 40 companies (see list) indicated their interest in the Army Corps contract, and some of them conducted a site visit to Soto Cano May 25.

U.S. forces on Soto Cano conduct training and other assistance to the Honduran military. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and other human rights organizations say the Honduran armed forces have carried out killings and arbitrary detentions of journalists, human rights defenders, gay and lesbian people, and opponents of the current government.

Honduras has among the highest murder rates in the world, as violence and drug trafficking have spiraled since the coup. Defense Department contracts in Honduras have more than doubled since 2007. “Whether or not the U.S. military presence is contributing to the violence, it certainly is not reducing it,” the letter said.

Mexico’s Anti-Drug War March Demands Far-Reaching Political Reforms

By Laura Carlsen

May 9 - Following a four-day march from Cuernavaca to Mexico City, an estimated 90,000 protesters poured into the central plaza. The march was led by relatives of victims and convoked by the poet, Javier Sicilia, whose son was brutally assassinated in March. Protesters in the march demanded far-reaching changes in Mexico’s security policy and an end to the “war on drugs”. In speeches and documents they also called for political reforms to go the root of the alarming deterioration in public safety and well-being since President Felipe Calderón deployed the army in an offensive against organized crime in December of 2006.

Read the rest of this commentary at the Center for International Policy Americas blog.

Mercenaries

mercenaries at Colombian baseBy Daniel Coronell

from SEMANA, May 21, 2011

This week, The New York Times published an article about a secret army in the Arab Emirates. Most of these men come from Colombia.

Many of them have no military training at all. They are guards who exchanged their poncho, thermos and shotgun for a rifle, an uncertain destiny and a vocation disdained by many: they are mercenaries. They sell themselves to the highest bidder to kill or die in foreign wars. Today they are in Abu Dabi. Behind the adventure that led these guards of frozen mornings in Bogota to the burning sands of the Middle East there is a strange business.

The improvised soldiers of fortune, signed up by an international company, received lightening military instruction on farms and on Colombian military facilities. For that they used weapons from the government or confiscated from guerrillas. Someone from the armed forces supports the multi-million dollar business in the export of mercenaries.

A series of photographs, taken in April 2010, shows a retired major named Fierro linked to the opeation, together with a U.S. man apparently named Robert Bowen. With them are another three foreigners and retired sergeant Victor Diaz, also part of the recruiting team. The photo shows a military lectern and in back is a sign on which you can see the acronym CCOPE, which [in Spanish] stands for Joint Special Operations Command, based in Facatativá, Cundinamarca state. [FOR note: CCOPE was approved for U.S. military assistance in 2009-2010, as well as in previous years.] (See photo)

Another image against shows Sergeant Diaz (ret.) giving firing instructions to two people, apparently women. A soldier in camouflage uniform accompanies him. (See photo)

The third photo shows Major William Bode, the operation’s program manager, next to the two women and two soldiers in camouflage. On a desk are bent providers and weapons different from those used by the Colombian military. (See photo)

This week, The New York Times published an article on the appearance of a secret army in the United Arab Emirates. Its mission is to care for the members of the royal family, watch over their oil pipelines and skyscrapers. The majority of these men - presented a members of an elite force - come from Colombia.

The prestigious daily published the entrance permits into the Emirates of three of the international mercenaries. One is from Bogota, another from Medellin, and another from La Guajira [in Colombia’s northeast].

The brains of the business is a well known international trafficker in cannon fodder. His name is Eric Prince and he founded Blackwater and XE Services, the same companies that in 2006 brought ex-soldiers, ex-police and ex-detectives from Colombia to serve as mercenaries in the Iraq war. They were offered a salaries of $7,000 a month, that was lowered to 4,000, then to 2,700, and finally to a thousand.

Colombian soldiers employed by Blackwater in Iraq in 2006. Photo: Semana

Five years ago, the news weekly Semana revealed in an article, “Trapped in Baghdad” the claims of the naive Colombian mercenaries. They were not paid what was promised and had no way of returning to Colombia.

An investigation by the U.S. State Department into XE Services tells the story of Mr. Prince’s unorthodox procedures. The report by the Office of Defense Trade Controls states that the company carried out unauthorized military training in Colombia. At that time, the Colombian link in the business was a company called ID Systems, a curious company that worked at the same time on computer matters for the Colombian Registry and on military issues. The names mentioned were Captain Gonzalo Guevara and José Arturo Zuluaga Jaramillo.

Some years later the same characters repeat. The company is now called Fortox, but it operates in Bogota at the same address as ID Systems, and José Arturo Zuluaga Jaramillo is a member of its board of directors.

Captain Guevara, on the other hand, is no longer. Someone must have hated him too much. They killed him a year after the Iraq affair, as he was leaving a bakery on 127th Street in Bogota.

translated by Fellowship of Reconciliation      

Niña, Pinta, Santa Maria, & the U.S. Southern Command

From one conquistador to another, 519 years of repression of the Peoples of the Americas

Nina Pinta Santa MariaThey… brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for glass beads and hawk’s bells. They willingly traded everything they owned… They were well-built. with good bodies and handsome features… They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane… They would make fine servants… With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want”

- Log entry by Christopher Columbus, on his first encounter with the native peoples of this hemisphere, from Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States.

519 Years of Militarization
Join us on Invasion Day (Columbus Day) Weekend
October 8-10, 2011

The U.S. Southern Command, located outside of Miami, Florida, is the brains behind the U.S. military domination of Latin America and the Caribbean. We would like to close it. Reclaim the sacred land for the peoples of the Americas. Bring an offering from your part of the Americas to inaugurate a new spirit of peace and justice and end and end U.S. military, economic and political intervention in Latin America and the Caribbean. Close SOA/WHINSEC, de-activate the U.S. Navy’s Fourth Fleet.

The weekend will include:

  • Forum on the militarization of the Americas and resistance movements
  • Concert
  • Rally and march to the Belly of the Beast
  • Solidarity event with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Immokalee, Florida

Sponsored by: SOA WATCH-SouthCom Watch, South Florida; SOA WATCH National; Fellowship of Reconciliation; Pax Christi Saint Maurice.

Contact Ray at mrrratpp@aol.com 754-423-0051 or Linda at lindaliska@yahoo.com 305-801-0245

News Brief: Colombia Recognizes its Armed Conflict

May 5, Bogota - The coalition Colombia-Europe-United States Coordination (CCEEU), which brings together 220 human rights and social organizations, announced its satisfaction that the Colombian government of Juan Manuel Santos has recognized that there is an armed conflict in Colombia.

For the CCEEU, the recognition of internal armed conflict in Colombia is a framework that makes responsibilities for respecting for international humanitarian law enforcible, as well as permitting punishment for violations by any of the armed groups.

We hope that recognizing the armed conflict in Colombia may also soon bring about the basis for the negotiated political solution of the conflict. In our judgement, peace with social justice is the only sustainable way to put an end to the social and armed conflict in Colombia.

April 2011 Colombia Peace Update

Demilitarize Your Life! (part 2)

José Luis Peña video

José Luis Peña Rueda is a conscientious objector from Bogota, Colombia. He was illegally taken by the Colombian military to fulfill his mandatory military service. Here, he tells his story…

Watch the video here.

Letter from the field (US version): “Perforating our reality”

San José Peace Community leader Jesús Emilio Tuberquia spoke in dozens of communities from California, New Mexico and Colorado to New York, Washington, DC and Chicago, from March 27 to April 22, on a tour sponsored by FOR, Loyola University, Peace Brigades International, and many local groups.

In Syracuse, Jesus Emilio’s presentation provided inspiration for a nonviolent demonstration against bombing drones at the Hancock Air Base on Good Friday, where 37 people were arrested. One of those arrested, Julienne Oldfield, said of his talk to the group beforehand: “They were electrified by Jesus Emilio. He had such a way to coming alive when he spoke. He had a great presence and an ease, very powerful.  He pulled everyone together. His visit was a perfect prelude to the action against drones: the fact that is peaceful, non-violent and deeply seated. In the language that he used, his manner. So nonviolent and yet so powerful. If the Peace Community can achieve and stay through in spite of threats, why can’t we?”

In Washington, DC, during a plenary speech at the Latin American Solidarity conference, Jesús Emilio talked about his community, and Colombia, then spoke of the root of the problems in the world. He held up a dollar bill and a Colombian thousand peso note. “This is the problem, is people going after this.” Then he tore up the bills into tiny pieces.

Jesús Emilio said more than once that the community has a terminal cancer, that there is no hope. “How can you live without hope?” asked Loyola students in Chicago. “We can question whether it’s a cancer or not,” says Loyola professor Elizabeth Lozano. “But if it were terminal cancer, would it be realistic to have hope? I think Jesús Emilio see himself as being put on earth to fight for the truth, and he needs every single minute to do that.”

Lozano speaks of remarkable moments, when students and community members stayed on for hours to listen and talk, sometimes with their coats on already. “It was a collective thing.”

Callie Rabe, a teacher at Allendale Columbia School in Rochester, New York, provided this account:

I am a Spanish teacher in upstate New York. Jesús Emilio Tuberquia was on a speaking tour through my area. Due to a stroke of luck, he was able to come speak to students at my school while he was in town. I had no idea the impact it would have on the students, my colleagues, and the school community.

“Jesús Emilio is an articulate speaker, but at the same time he is passionate, sincere and a warm person. His persona immediately intrigued the audience and they were captivated by him. As he began to talk of the horrors of life in Apartadó, my student’s mouths dropped open and you could hear a pin drop. They hung on his every word.

“During the question period after his presentation, I could tell from the questions asked that the students were struggling to comprehend the reality of the situation in Apartadó. “What inspired you to become involved?”, among others, showed their inability to realize that these atrocities were a reality for Jesús Emilio, not a luxury of deciding to “get involved” in creating a Peace Community. By the end of the presentation there was a silence that suggested to me that it was beginning to sink in. That yes, these situations do exist, that in fact they are perpetrated by our own government, and that we are causing the spilling of blood of our brothers and sisters in Colombia every time that we drink a Coca Cola, buy Colombian bananas, or patronize Nestle.

“For days, students caught me in the hall or came to see me to talk about how they were affected by Jesús Emilio’s presentation. They wanted to DO something. They needed to DO something. It had perforated their reality. A parent of a student came to see me to tell me that her son had arrived home at 11:00 that night, following a baseball game that was in a faraway town. He then proceeded to talk non-stop about Jesús Emilio and his presentation. He was so moved, shocked, upset, angry, affected by what he had heard. His mother had never seen him like this…

Thank you Jesús Emilio. Thank you citizens of Apartadó for your commitment to creating peace.”

We Demand Justice, Not Revenge

Statement by the San José de Apartadó Peace Community

Our Peace Community decided, yesterday on April 11, to recover the remains of two paramilitary members that had remained unburied in Arenas Bajas settlement, after combat on April 1 between guerrillas and paramilitaries. The Community had asked to the Ombudsman’s Office to facilitate the removal of the bodies by the relevant authorities, a request that was not heeded. According to the Ombudsman’s Office, the Army had carried out operations in the area and said that the Community was lying, since, according to the military, there had not been any combat and there were not bodies in the area nor do paramilitary groups exist.

Nevertheless, the area’s residents had observed how on April 2 a group of 25 paramilitaries entered the area to inspect the bodies of their companions, but did not take them, while from the air a military helicopter protected them. Our Community is now used to hearing the Army’s and other State institutions’ falsehoods, and was not surprised by this way of lying and hiding the crude reality of the facts.

Many people who do not know us, who have not walked with us, wonder how it is possible that these paramilitaries that threatened us, that forced us many times to abandon our lands and participated in a mulititude of crimes against us together with the armed forces, should now be treated in a humanitarian way by us, to the point that we recover their remains and bury them with a minimum of dignity. Among the standards of the System of Death and Inhumanity that surrounds us, this is not understood. Instead, in our society the principle of “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” reigns. In their speeches, our presidents incite revenge against the insurgency with barbarous language that makes one shiver.

But we don’t share these principles. Our struggle for justice is completely foreign and contrary to any feeling of revenge. We demand justice; we say NO to the armed groups; we demand respect; we do not yeild to their demands; we do not step back from their threats and acts of barbarism. They certainly cause us great fear and intense pain with their criminal actions, but what they have never done nor will they ever do is to create hatred in us. Our hearts beat for life and never [vibrate with] death. For that reason, we demand justice, not revenge. We believe that the dignity of any human being is above the wars, and so our Community’s choice has been to recover the remains, bury them, and/or deliver them to their families.

Walking in search of these remains, so exposing our own lives, we only wanted to show that life only has its fullness and expression in carrying out the ideals of justice. We put ourselves against those who plant death, who only cause pain and death with their weapons, though they never manage to kill civilian resistance, that thing that builds and gives meaning to a world free of oppression, of impunity, and of injustice.

We delivered the bodies to the families, who expressed to us their gratitude and could experience the dehumanization of a State that lies and plays with the families’ pain in such a repugnant way, after having destroyed the consciences of those who were brought into and trained in the most horrendous crimes.

We reaffirm our principles based on solidarity, and we will continue in the total defense of our lands, while making a testament in all circumstances to the truth, without going back one millimeter in the face of the armed groups’ actions of death.

April 12, 2011

The ‘Operational Security’ of Colombian Civilians

By John Lindsay-Poland

During the second term of George W. Bush and the first year of Obama’s presidency, the State Department regularly disclosed which units in the ColombianMarines in Colombia, February 2011 military were approved to receive U.S. assistance. Although not published by the State Department, the disclosure permitted a minimal level of transparency about how taxpayer dollars were being used in a controversial war. It also facilitated minimal oversight for compliance with the Leahy Law, which prohibits U.S. assistance to any foreign military unit for which there is credible evidence that members have committed a gross human rights abuse.

In January of this year, Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela wrote (pdf) to several signers of a letter about military aid to Colombia (pdf), saying that information about which Colombian military units are approved for U.S. aid is now classified to “protect operational security” of Colombian soldiers. He offered no evidence that disclosure of which units receive U.S. aid (and which are suspended from aid because of human rights concerns) presents any risk to operational security. Indeed, reports that the Fellowship of Reconciliation issued with Amnesty International and the U.S. Office on Colombia, which studied the human rights records of U.S.-assisted units and found pervasive non-compliance with the Leahy Law, generated no operational insecurity. But these reports did raise serious questions in Congress about military aid in Colombia.

The month after Valenzuela sent his letter, Colombian Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera made his own disclosure (pdf) of the Colombian military brigades that received U.S. assistance in the previous two years. The Colombian military apparently perceives no problem for operational security in such a disclosure, so you have to wonder why Mr. Valenzuela sees a threat in this transparency measure.

Defense Minister Rivera’s list of U.S.-assisted brigades raises further questions, because it includes army units that, according to State Department documents and statements, had been suspended from receiving military aid. For example, the United States cut off support in 2008 to the 11th Brigade, which operates in Córdoba and Sucre states, after a growing number of “false positive” killings were attributed to brigade soldiers, and a battalion commander from the brigade was arrested for collaboration with the neo-paramilitary Paisas. The 11th Brigade and its sub-units do not appear on the State Department’s list of units approved for assistance in 2008-09 and 2009-10. Yet Minister Rivera states that the United States gave it assistance in the last two years.

Similarly, the Colombian Army’s 12th Brigade operates in southern Caquetá state. The State Department acknowledges assisting the brigade through 2006, but its records show a suspension of aid beginning in 2007, after brigade soldiers were reported to have executed 14 civilians in the previous two years. Yet according to Colombia, the United States has again supported the 12th Brigade during the last two years.(1)

Minister Rivera’s disclosure is part of responses to questions by Senator Jorge Robledo, who has been seeking more precise information about the U.S. military presence in Colombia. Robledo recently co-authored a book about the controversial agreement for the use of at least seven military bases in Colombia by the United States, currently suspended by decision of the Constitutional Court.

Yet Rivera reveals that the United States has extensive use of military bases in Colombia anyway. In fact, U.S. personnel have operated in 24 different locations – from Riohacha to Buenaventura, from Palmira to Valledupar, from Medellín to San Andrés - during the last two years, as part of military deals between the two countries that were not submitted for consideration by either the Congress or Colombian courts. (2) These are obscure implementation agreements, hidden in annexes to unpublished documents, which Senator Robledo continues to seek to make public.

Apart from the constitutionality of the deals, the presence of U.S. military and contract personnel in two dozen locations throughout the country demonstrates that the core of the controversial base treaty is already in place. That treaty was a way to institutionalize the existing arrangements, and to ensure that the U.S. Congress would continue to finance them, despite serious doubts about a strategic alliance with a military charged with thousands of civilian deaths and enjoying nearly complete impunity. Let the “operational security” of Colombian civilians victimized by “false positives” de damned.

The irony is that while U.S. laws allow Washington to hold other nations’ militaries in judgment – at least to withhold lethal and other assistance – for their human rights crimes, the Obama administration becomes less transparent about that assistance. In testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives last month, Admiral James Winnefeld, commander of the U.S. regional command operating in Mexico, declined to give details on aid the United States is giving to the Mexican military, engaged in the disastrous drug war. He said he would leave that disclosure to Mexico.

The State Department declines to debate the ethics, legality, or wisdom of the United States arming an unaccountable military or spreading its military presence in Colombia without legislative approval or judicial review. Instead, it classifies information and lets its clients handle the public relations, at least until the next insider with a conscience, or who is simply fed up, decides to leak the truth.

(1) The other army brigades supported by the United States are: 7th, 8th, 9th, 13th, 21st, 22nd; Mobile Brigades 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19 and 22; the Aviation, Special Forces, and Counternarcotics Brigades, as well as the Center for Military Education.

(2) The other locations are: Apiay, Bogotá, Tolemaida, Cali, Cartagena, Tres Esquinas, Marandúa, Macarena, Facatativá, Armenia, Coveñas, Santa Marta, Barranquilla, Ibagué, Corozal, Palanquero, Espinal, Bahía Málaga, and Puerto Salgar.

Convicted for War Crimes?
Entrepreneurs at a Vacation Resort

By Susana Pimiento

In the Colombian armed conflict, justice has long been considered the exception, as less than three of every hundred gross human rights violations Life in Tolemaida for rights abusersperpetrated by Colombian armed groups, including the Army, end up with a judicial conviction, according to the United Nations.

Take the November 1998 La Cabuya massacre, in which a group of officers from the 16th Brigade, posing as members of the paramilitary group Los Macetos, killed five civilians accusing them of being “guerrilla collaborators,” in a rural part of the eastern oil town of Tame, Arauca. Among the victims was Alicia Ramirez, a woman who was seven months pregnant. The massacre sent 34 families into forced displacement.

Breaking the 98.5 percent impunity, several army officers were convicted for La Cabuya massacre, including Lt Orlando Pulido-Rojas. The State Department, in its 2004 Human Rights Certification, listed Pulido-Rojas’ indictment as one of the examples of the Colombian Government’s efforts to “vigorously investigate and prosecute” members of the armed forces who had allegedly committed human rights violations. His 40-year sentence was confirmed by the Colombian Supreme Court this past February. 

In its April 3 edition, Semana magazine revealed the conditions in which many Colombian army officers convicted for gross human rights violations pay for their crimes. At the Tolemaida military base, though there is a detention center, a large number of army officers live in what amounts to a vacation resort, comprised of comfortable cabins, fully equipped with appliances, AC, satellite TV, and internet. According to Semana, convicted officers are allowed to walk out of the military base as they please, stay overnight (provided they send a text message), and even go out of town on vacation to the Caribbean resorts of San Andres and Cartagena. Their families and friends are allowed to stay over-night at the resort center.

Semana reported on the special privileges granted to the Lt Colonel Pulido Rojas: he was allowed to set up a profitable business inside the base, a restaurant in which he sells standard lunches as well dishes a la carte.

He is not the only convicted “entrepreneur”: Juan Carlos Rodríguez, alias Zeus, allegedly the former head of security for drug lord alias Don Diego had a fleet of four taxis.

Wilson Casallas, of the 6th Brigade Pijaos Batallion, was convicted for the horrific 2003 Cajamarca massacre—in which a man was tortured, his body dismembered, his hands and head placed in a plastic bag, then accused of being a guerrilla member. Casallas is the owner of a bus that runs one of the local transportation routes.

And Gerson Galvis Calderón, with the military’s anti kidnapping unit, convicted for the 2006 killing of six merchants in Barranquilla, works as taxi driver. Furthermore, 68% of the officers, even though their sentences have been confirmed by an appeals court, continue as active army officers, receiving salary and benefits.

It is not clear how exactly one can avoid the detention center and enjoy all the perks, which are sold at an informal market (a cabin costs between US$1,000 and 3,000). Semana documents several cases in which top army commanders, such as General Mario Montoya and General Oscar Gonzalez have secured the funding to build new units. Captain Guillermo Gordillo, the only officer convicted for the 2005 San José de Apartadó massacre, after pleading guilty and revealing how the military operation was planned by top ranking generals, including the former head of the armed forces General Montoya, is held at the base, but he is not believed to be enjoying any privileges.

Privileges: At what cost?
Semana includes testimonies of officers that talk about a “pact of silence” between convicted officers and higher-rank officers, so that the latter would not be implicated in the crimes.

A hearing in Congress was held soon after the latest scandal broke, with some members of Congress calling for closing the military base prison and transferring the prisoners to a facility operated by the Colombian prison agency. Members of Congress also called for political accountability of top generals that have allowed such a charade of justice to happen, and the dismissal of General Mario Montoya from his post as Ambassador to the Dominican Republic. All those calls have been rejected and the army and Defense Minister have closed ranks to keep the detention center at Tolemaida.

This scandal is a reminder of the importance of keeping pressure on the Colombian state to ensure that top military officers are held accountable for their role in crimes committed against so many innocent civilians. The investigations against Generals Fandiño and Montoya for their role in the 2005 San José de Apartadó massacre continue to collect dust at the Attorney’s General office. It is time for those investigations to move forward, to show us that we can still hope for justice. 

Take action: Send an email to the Attorney’s General office urging it to make substantial progress in investigating the role of Generals Hector Jaime Fandiño and Mario Montoya in the February 2005 massacre in San José de Apartadó. Write to; direccion.asuntosinternacionales@fiscalia.gov.co

March 2011 Colombia Peace Update

Contents:

A New Murder in San José de Apartadó

Take action to protect the Peace Community

On March 22, Bernardo Rios of San José de Apartadó was gunned down by a group of men known locally as paramilitaries, less than a mile from a military checkpoint. The same day, in different Colombian towns, two community leaders working to reclaim their stolen lands were also killed by alleged paramilitaries. These deaths are a sharp reminder that, despite widespread assertions that paramilitary activity no longer exists, such groups and their successors continue to operate, often in heavily militarized localities. The suffering Bernardo’s death has caused for his partner and young children, all members of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, are also poignant reminders of the continuing problems associated with Colombia’s internal displacement crisis.

Since the Peace Community was founded in 1997, 195 Peace Community members have been killed, yet only a couple of low-ranking army officers and paramilitary men have been convicted.

Take action! Urge Secretary State Hillary Clinton to protect the Peace Community and to support their effort to end the cycle of impunity.

Petition to Obama:

Say No to the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia

Development for whom?Momentum is building fast in Washington to approve the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Colombia. Just today there will be two hearings in Congress about it! But we cannot let this unfair agreement move forward.

Sign our petition calling on President Obama to say no to the FTA now!

We know that a fair and humane trade agreement cannot be implemented in an environment in which union leaders are assassinated, the land rights of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities and small-scale farmers are consistently undermined, and millions of people have been violently robbed of their homes. And we need your help today to remind our government that we should not even be considering this FTA until there are major improvements in human rights and labor conditions in Colombia.

Given the new makeup of Congress, if this agreement starts moving, it will be a tough fight to keep it from passing. So we need to get our message to President Obama and we need to do it now. Sign this petition to stop the FTA in its tracks!

Our partners at Latin America Working Group started this emergency petition in collaboration with change.org just days ago, and there are already over 10,000 signers. Now we need your help to make it bigger—20,000 signers—so we can really turn some heads in Washington!

Will you help us reach that goal by signing this petition and passing it along to everyone you know?

Colombia now endures the largest displacement crisis in the world, with 5.2 million people living in desperate conditions after being violently evicted from their lands. This agreement would only exacerbate that crisis by encouraging more large-scale agricultural, mining and other resource extraction projects that would push many more communities off their lands and into greater poverty. And for Colombia’s small-scale farmers still living on their lands, experience with similar agreements such as NAFTA has taught us that the unjust agricultural provisions of this trade agreement will make it even harder for these already struggling families to produce enough to survive.

And what’s more? Colombia is still the most dangerous country in the world to be a trade unionist. During President Obama’s campaign in 2008, he promised to not support a FTA with Colombia until conditions improved. They haven’t. There were 52 trade unionists killed the year he made his promise and 51 killed in 2010. Now we must hold him to his word.

Please take a stand for human rights today by signing this petition and sharing it with all your networks!

New FOR Booklet: What’s Land Got to Do with It?

What's Land Got to Do With It? - ColombiaEver tried to explain Colombia’s conflict to someone who knows little about it? Or to understand it yourself, and the ways natural resources and territory are at the center of the conflict and the U.S. role?

What’s Land Got to Do with It? is a 36-page pocket-size booklet made for grassroots education of Colombia, land, and how the armed conflict affects ordinary people. With lots of graphics, pictures, quotes, and written in language accessible for kids and adults, What’s Land Got to Do with It? describes the history and human face of the violence in Colombia and its focus on land.

Available in bulk orders, for $25 for 20 copies postpaid, $60 for 50 copies. Individual copies are $1.75 postpaid. Click here to order your copies for your community group, you, and your friends.

Actions

Latin America Solidarity Conference

Latin America 
Solidarity ConferenceJoin FOR and hundreds of activists for the Education and Strategy Conference to Build a Stronger Movement to End U.S. Militarism and the Militarization of Latin America, to be held at American University in Washington, D.C., from April 8 to 10.

Plenary speakers include FOR’s John Lindsay-Poland, Honduran popular leader Gerardo Torres, Ciudad Juárez poet Perla de la Rosa, economist Mark Weisbrot, analyst Laura Carlsen, theatrical director Héctor Aristizabal, and dozens of workshops, music and skill-building activities. Registration is only $25.

Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia

Colombia’s faith communities stand firmly for peace amidst grueling violence. Now they ask faith communities across the U.S. to join them in this year’s Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia, from April 8 to 11.

Hundreds of faith communities will dedicate part of their worship service that weekend to praying and working for peace in Colombia.

Will you join us? Download our complete packet (PDF) for bringing the Days of Prayer and Action to your faith community, or read more online.

Struggling for Peace in a War Zone Speaking Tour

Jesús Emilio TuberquiaSan José de Apartadó Peace Community founding member Jesús Emilio Tuberquia is speaking in a nationwide tour that began March 27 and continues to April 20. He will talk about what led to his Colombian town’s decision to become a peace community, and the importance of international solidarity for their survival. The Fellowship of Reconciliation and Peace Brigades International, co-sponsors of the tour, maintain human rights observers in San José de Apartadó. Upcoming dates include:

Friday, April 8, Washington, D.C. 6:00 PM, Latin American Solidarity Conference, American University, Ward Circle Building, 4400 Massachusetts Avenue NW. Cost: $25, as part of the conference. Contact: Emily Nelson, repusa2@pbicolombia.net

Sunday, April 10, New York, NY. 6:00 PM, Terraza 7 Train Cafe, 40-19 Gleane St., Elmhurst, Queens, NY. Contact: Katherine Hughes-Fraiteck, 505-480-9008

Monday, April 11, New York, NY. 10:00 AM, CUNY Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Ave., Room 5414, Manhattan. Contact: Katherine Hughes-Fraiteck, 505-480-9008

Tuesday, April 12, Ithaca, NY. 12:15 to 1:15 PM, Cornell University Law School, Myron Taylor Hall room 277. Cost: Free, open to the public and lunch included. More information. Contact: Dawne Peacock, dawne-peacock@lawschool.cornell.edu

Wednesday, April 13, Syracuse, NY. 12:00 to 2:00 PM, Syracuse University College of Law, location TBA. Cost: Free! Contact: Julia Hall, juhall@syr.edu

Wednesday, April 13, Syracuse, NY. 7:00 to 9:00 PM, Artrage Gallery, 505 Hawley Avenue. Cost: Free! Contact: Jessica Maxwell, jessica@peacecouncil.net, (315) 472-5478.

Thursday, April 14, Rochester, NY. 7:00 PM, location TBA. Contact: Will Bontrager, wmbontrager@gmail.com, (585) 289-9641.

Friday, April 15, Chicago, IL. 7:30 to 9:30 PM, The John Marshall Law School, 315 South Plymouth Court. Cost: Free! Contact: Sarah Simonson Manning, sarahsimo@gmail.com

Tuesday, April 19, Chicago, IL. 6:00 PM, Loyola University, McCormick Lounge, 1032 West Sheridan Road. Cost: Free! Contact: Elizabeth Lozano, (773) 508-8535.

For more information about the tour, contact Susana Pimiento, FOR’s Director of Action, (512) 542-1769.

News Briefs

United Nations Evaluates Colombian Rights

In late February the Colombia Office of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights issued its report on 2010. In an attempt to recognize the good along with the bad, the report lauded new president Juan Manuel Santos´ efforts to repair some of the damage inflicted by his predecessor, Álvaro Uribe.

First, he has improved relations with the human rights community as well as his own judicial branch. Second, he has pushed for laws that, legally, would advance serious human rights issues such as land restitution and recognizing victims of state crimes in reparations by Colombia. Finally, his tenure has seen a significant decline in extrajudicial executions and “false positives” (the practice by the Army of killing civilians and counting them as “positive” guerrilla kills).

Nonetheless, the report reinforces what many human rights workers have already pointed out: that this valiant effort has not translated to significant on-the-ground improvement: ¨false positives¨ continue to go unpunished, the government still does not properly consult with indigenous communities about large development projects that would directly affect them, woman and children’s rights are still grossly violated and human rights and labor union workers continue to be threatened, kidnapped and murdered. In all, the report suggested that, although 2010 seems to have seen at least a turn in the right direction, it is still to be seen whether this change is real or merely rhetorical.

Colombian armed forces collaborated with neo-paramilitaries: WikiLeaks

A State Department cable obtained by Wikileaks that recently appeared in the Colombian newspaper El Espectador strengthened the long-trumpeted warnings that the so-called illegal armed actors still represent a national threat similar to that of the paramilitaries and that the military continues to cultivate ties to these neo-paramilitary groups.

According to Jesús Gómez Mendes, ex-commander of the Rural Police Force, the thick links between the military and paramilitary organizations are the main reason why breaking the current web of illegal armed groups is going to be nearly impossible. Moreover, some intelligence officers report that these links are tightened by two facts: first, many current members of illegal armed groups are former military members with strong relationships to their former colleagues. Second, Colombia’s equivalent to the FBI, agreed to merge former paramilitary informant networks with their own. It is becoming increasingly clear that, despite Colombian government denials, Colombia will not be able to solve its paramilitary problem until it truly rids its own military of ties with such illegal armed actors.

U.S. Military Presence in Panama

By Marco A. Gandásegui, Jr., professor at the University of Panama and researcher with Center for Latin American Studies (from his blog)

Panamanian news media published on March 15 a brief note that a U.S.“military intervention” was to begin on national territory. The “invasion” took place in several former military bases that the U.S. had in what was previously known as the Panama Canal Zone. According to the news briefs, 45 military and naval officers were to occupy positions in Sherman (former Army base), Cerro Tigre (Army Special Operations headquarters in the last century), and Rodman (former U.S. naval base).

The information did not indicate the type of weaponry or logistics of the U.S. military presence in Panama. The news brief indicated that among the objectives of the military mission was the training of a total of 45 Panamanians in anti-drug operations. It was not clear where these 45 Panamanians, who will receive training for more than a month, between March 15 and April 19, would come from.

There are indications that the national government is creating military units with U.S. cooperation. The Panamanian constitution explicitly states that armed forces do not exist and will not be formed in the country; instead, there will only be a National Police force. With the U.S. construction of new air-naval bases, starting in 2010, on the coasts of both oceans, the creation of new military battalions began.

President Ricardo Martinelli has given signals that he would not oppose increasing militarization in Panama. The naming of a career military officer as director of the National Police in 2009, the creation of a Security Ministry (2010) and the construction by the United States of the air-naval bases are clear indications of this attitude.

Security Minister J. Raúl Mulino declared that the “invasion” is part of “Panama’s objectives to confront organized crime and narco-trafficking.” World opinion, and especially Panamanian opinion, knows that the problem of production, distribution and consumption of drugs originates in the U.S. and that the solution can only be found with political actions in that country. East Asian countries (Afghanistan, Cambodia and Burma) are victims of these policies. Similarly, in Latin America countries such as Colombia and Mexico, the production and distribution of drugs, respectively, has destroyed the countries’ social fabric.

Currently, the U.S. military has a global intervention program. It tries to hide it beneath the mantel of a fight against “organized crime and narcotrafficking.” This is the goal of Plan Colombia (inaugurated ten years ago) and the Merida Initiative (begun five years ago). The former invested more than a billion dollars in the purchase of sophisticated weaponry by the Colombian government from U.S. companies. In the latter, Mexico has already invested 300 million dollars in the purchase of war planes and other weaponry.

The Merida Initiative, in the case of Panama, began with spending budgeted at over 20 million dollars (to bring the naval air bases up to speed). The local media did not obtain information about the costs that Panama would have to cover due to the presence of U.S. troops in the former Canal Zone bases.

Recently, the Argentine government had to abort a similar U.S. initiative. In that case, the Pentagon tried to introduce into Argentina – under the pretext of organizing a course for members of the Federal Police – contraband equipment, including drugs. The Argentine authorities seized the contraband and sent the U.S. military plane back home.

In the case of Panama, the United States has imposed illegal and unconstitutional “treaties” on the last three governments, by which its military forces have access to the air, land and seas of the isthmus. In addition, its soldiers may carry weapons and have immunity from Panamanian law.

For several years the U.S. has insisted that Panama is a “friend” of narcotrafficking in an effort to create a climate favorable to its intervention. In early March, the State Department labeled Panama an “important center for contraband and warned that its legal and security institutions are susceptible to the influence of narcotrafficking.” In a press release it openly says that “Panamanian officials and members of the U.S. Army will have the opportunity to plan missions, tactical communications, target practice, first aid, and air mobility.”

Panama, March 17 2011

 

February 2011 Colombia Peace Update

 

Take a Step…

…to walk the roads of memory in Colombia

The National Movement of Victims of State Violence in Colombia (Movimiento NacionalBogota feet
de Víctimas the Crímenes de Estado — MOVICE) is a coalition that since 2005 has been fighting for the rights to truth, justice and reparations. MOVICE consists of  more than 5,000 victims of state violence and 300 human rights and political organizations. Since 2008, MOVICE has proclaimed March 6 as an international day of solidarity with victims of state violence. This year MOVICE is organizing actions between March 6 and March 11 around the right to land. Over the past 20 years, more than 4 million farmers, indigenous people and Afrocolombians have been expelled from their lands in Colombia, most to make way for economic interests such as oil, mining and oil palm plantations.

The Colombian government has proposed a law regarding victim’s rights and land restitution without consulting with victims. MOVICE believes that this proposal does not respect the minimum national and international standards on victims’ rights.

MOVICE asks people, organizations, groups and social movements around the world to show their solidarity with  victims of state violence by sending a picture of their foot and/or feet by today, March 7, to m6vida@gmail.com. Let them know where you are sending your photo from. The photos will be used to accompany legal and symbolic actions, to be held between 6 and 11 March.

Use your feet and join MOVICE in its struggle against impunity and unequal land distribution. For land and dignity, MOVE towards the 6th of March!

Watch photos:

More info:
Please, spread the word!

Colombian Senator Demands Explanation

for Pentagon’s Military Base Construction in Colombia

Last month, FOR revealed that the Pentagon has signed contracts for construction of an “Advanced Operations Base” in Colombia, despite a Constitutional Court ruling that the U.S.-Colombia base agreement is non-existent. Colombian Senator Robledo responded by demanding information from Colombia’s Defense Minister.

El Espectador, February 17, 2011

In July 2009 an agreement that would allow U.S. soldiers to operate from seven bases in Colombia - as a strategy to fight drug trafficking and terrorism - was about to be signed by the Colombian and U.S. governments. When details of the agreement were revealed,  it was a Trojan Horse. Then-President Álvaro Uribe described it as “the most convenient thing for the country”; armed forces commander General Fredy Padilla had to send a conciliatory message to neighboring Venezuela and Ecuador, who saw the agreement as a threat, and opposition sectors spoke of “violations of sovereignty.”

Uribe even had to give explanations to the Union of South American Nations during a special meeting in August 2009. A year later, the Constitutional Court gave the final word by declaring the agreement illegal. The opinion, written by Justice Jorge Iván Palacio and supported by the majority of the court’s members, established that the document was not an agreement but a treaty that had to pass through the Congress. The decision took effect immediately, and the legislature was ordered to consider legislation for a treaty that, if approved, would allow the use of national military bases by U.S. soldiers.

But it seems the story didn’t end there. Senator Jorge Robledo of the Democratic Pole, in a letter sent to Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera, asks for an explanation for why the U.S. Army has signed 126 contracts for more than $12 million for construction on Colombian military bases, some of which were apparently signed after the Court’s prohibition. The senator drew on information published by the U.S. government itself, in September 2010, with statistics of public expenditures.

He says that the U.S. army signed agreements for nearly $5 million to construct facilities on Colombian bases in Tolemaida, Larandia, and Málaga Bay. In addition, there is an agreement signed September 30 by the Defense Department with the HCS Group, to provide services for an “advanced operations base center of the Special Operations Command South, in Tolemaida.” According to Robledo, the aim of these contracts is the same as the treaty overturned by the Court.

U.S. soldiers and contractors in Colombia, 2009-2010
US soldiers and contractors in Colombia, 2009-2010

In response, the Defense Minister stated that, effectively, the U.S. government has financed with aid the construction of facilities and infrastructure on Colombian bases, with the purpose of strengthening the national military’s capacity, that in no case implies that U.S. soldiers may carry out operations on the facilities. “The United States Armed Forces are developing work of advising and training the Colombian military, in compliance with the agreement regarding an Army mission, a Naval mission, and Air mission of the United States Armed Forces in Colombia of 1974,” he explained from his office.

The work by U.S. soldiers is conducted in the Professional Soldiers School in Nilo, Cundinamarca; the Armed Forces Joint Helicopter School in Melgar and Flandes; The Marine Transportation Battalion in Malagana, Bolivar; and in military bases in Larandia, Caquetá and Málaga Bay. The majority of them, the ministry said, are part of Plan Colombia. [Click on map to see locations of U.S. soldiers and contractors in Colombia, according to the Defense Ministry.]

In any case, questions and responses announce a debate. For former Constitutional Court magistrate Alfredo Beltrán Sierra, the building of infrastructure by a foreign government constitutes “a clear violation of national sovereignty,” more so when these are military structures. “Remember that the government already tried to justify the establishment of U.S. troops with a disguised agreement that the Court finally overturned.”

Beltrán explained that the only way to allow this work to be carried out by foreign governments is by an international treaty that must comply with all the requirements of the law. “If this is really occurring, it is a flagrant violation of sovereignty and the president, as the chief executive, must come out to respond and give an explanation,” he concluded.

Between Hope and Femicide

By Victor M. Quintana

Seventy-two hours has been enough to show the two faces of reality in Ciudad Juárez, the state of Chihuahua, and all of Mexico. On Saturday and Sunday January 29 and 30, a pluralistic, committed, nonviolent and deeply active and reflective citizen participation marked the first Event for Justice, which has its epicenter in this border, with parallel mobilizations in Chihuahua and Mexico City.
No Mas Sangre 
at fence
With fasting at the [Benito] Juárez Monument, in the neighborhood of Villas de Salvárcar, at the Gandhi monument in Mexico City, and at the site in Chihuahua where [human rights activist] Marisela Escobedo was shot to death [in December], social and civic organizations and unaffiliated citizens remember the first anniversary of the massacre of 18 youth in Villas de Salvárcar, as well as celebrating the passing of Bishop Samuel Ruiz [who died January 24] and commemorate Mahatma Gandhi [on the anniversary of his death] in action and reflection. Hundreds of protesters unite at the point where the wire fence divides the town of Anapra, Chihuahua from Sunland Park, New Mexico to proclaim: “No to blood, no to violence, no to femicide.”

The weekend undoubtedly has been the most intense, visible, pluralistic and united event that citizens have done, especially in Ciudad Juárez, to demand justice that brings a dignified peace. This mobilization managed to capture the attention of the press and public opinion nationally and internationally. It brings together hundreds of very diverse kinds of activists: anarchists, trotskyists, supporters of [Mexican PRD leader] López Obrador, feminists, Christians, cultural activists, social and nongovernmental organizations, associations in struggle, such as that of the doctors… etcetera. The Paso del Norte Human Rights Center, the initial organizers, has received more than 2,000 letters of support via email. In cyberspace, for sure, especially on social networks, there is also a gigantic mobilization.

Nevertheless, the good feelings of hope generated by this event had not dissipated, when the Chihuahua media reported, in the 48 hours from Sunday to Tuesday, several murders of women:

On January 30 the Federal Police again mark with an M for muerte [death] its path through Ciudad Juárez: at a checkpoint they kill with six shots a youth, Karina Ibeth Ibarra Soria, 16 years old, who dies a few hours later. In the south of the state nar Parral, the bodies of three teenaged girls between 15 and 17 years old are found, beheaded. In the town of Santa Isabel, a drunk man threatens and then attacks policewoman María del Refugio Nevárez Villalobos, dragging her for 75 meters and destroying her body. And in Juárez on January 31, Maribel Hernández, 31 years old, a distributor of the newspaper El Diario, is murdered by close-range shooting in the very center of the city. So the number of femicides in the first month of 2011 rises to 29, 7.25% more than in the same month last year, according to the organization Justice for Our Daughters.

On the same days, Inegi reports that Chihuahua State leads in the rate of femicides, with 13.09 per 100,000 women in 2009. This shameful statistic continues in Chihuahua because the continuous high-profile efforts of women’s organizations to apply the Alba Protocol to the search for disappeared women, or to declare an Alert on Gender Violence have been ignored by the authorities at all levels.

Violence in Chihuahua doesn’t diminish, neither in femicides nor in the murders of youth. Neither do the attacks on human rights by the Federal Police and Army. Precisely for this reason it is urgent to respond to and broaden the citizen mobilizations such as last weekend’s. It is necessary that the seeds Juárez is planting flourish throughout the country in vigorous civic and ethical insurgency that drubs the powers that continue to impose their strategy of violence, death, impunity, and injustice.

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:Femicides by year in Chihuahua:height=188,width=250]] To broaden this insurgency it is necessary to revisit some of the lessons from this first event for justice: pluralistic organizing, high ethical content, without partisan or electoral touches; ideological, political and religious diversity; rotating and new leadership; diversity of expression in actions: fasts, marches, speeches, songs, “fairs” of physical and mental health services to participants, music, poetry. In addition, action coordinated with United States activists; intensive use of social networks in the organizing, combined with effective street mobilization. Calls to local, regional, national and international public opinion.

If in Tunisia, if in Egypt, the multitudes have gone into the streets to end single-person dictatorships, can we not in Mexico generate a large civic revolt to end the dictatorship of violence and of blood?

Victor M. Quintana is a Legislative Deputy in the State of Chihuahua. Translation by FOR.

“Consolidation of What?”

Colombia’s Displacement Crisis Keep Burning

Approximately 280,041 people (about 56,000 homes) were displaced in Colombia in 2010 as a result of the armed conflict or other manifestations of social and political violence,” the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement, CODHES, the principal non-governmental organization monitoring forced displacement in Colombia, reported in February. Referring to the Colombian government’s policy of “Democratic Consolidation,” CODHES called its report, “Consolidation of What?”

The most notable fact is that 32.7% of this population, at least 91,499 peple (18,300 homes) come from areas where the ‘national plan of territorial consolidation’ is developed, a flagship program of the government, conceived in 2007 ‘with the purpose of fulfilling the objectives of consolidation of the Democratic Security policy, maintain investor confidence and advance effective social policy.’”

These zones, called Centers of Coordination and Integrated Attention (CCAI, for its Spanish acronym), are heavily supported by the United States, with both military and civilian assistance. The CCAIs have been criticized because they blur the lines between military and civilian roles, effectively militarizing development programs.

Of the 100 municipalities with the highest levels of forced displacement in Colombia last year, 44 were in CCAI zones, including six massive displacements that affected more than 2,684 people,” CODHES reported.

In 2010, in 62 of the 86 municipalities with CCAI zones, at least eight paramilitary groups contiued operating (between old paramilitaries, rearmed ones, and new structures), while the FARC [guerrillas] maintained or reactivated its presence in 30 [CCAI] municipalities and the ELN continued acting in another four,” CODHES says.

Nineteen massacres occurred in the CCAI zones last year, they reported, with another 176 selective killings.

It is clear that violence is the primary cause of displacement, but it is also clear that, behind the armed actions and intimidation by armed groups against the population, and the inability of the State to protect it, powerful economic interests move through the territories that are the object of the consolidation policy.”

 

January 2011 Colombia Peace Update


Pentagon Building “Advanced Operations” Base in Colombia

Despite Constitutional Court Striking Down Base Agreement

by John Lindsay-Poland

U.S. military agencies in September 2010 signed contracts for construction at Tolemaida, Larandia and Malaga bases in Colombia worth nearly US$5 million, according to official U.S. documents available to the Fellowship of Reconciliation. U.S. military contracts for Tolemaida [Excel file] in the fiscal year ending September 30 were larger than the last four years combined.

The contracts included two for an “Advanced Operations Base” [pdf files] for the U.S. Southern Command special operations unit in Tolemaida, located south of Bogota. The special operations unit, known as SOCSOUTH, has as its mission “the use of small units in direct or indirect military actions that are focused on strategic or operational objectives,” including “provid[ing] an immediately deployable theater crisis response force.”

Last August, Colombia’s Constitutional Court struck down the agreement that would give the United States military use of seven bases in Colombia for ten years, because the agreement was never submitted for Congressional approval or judicial review. Yet, even after the agreement was declared “non-existent” by Colombia’s highest court, the Pentagon initiated unprecedented amounts of new construction on bases in Colombia. The contracts place in serious doubt the Pentagon’s respect for Colombian sovereignty.

The base agreement also provoked strong regional opposition in 2009 after Pentagon planning and budget documents referred to “anti-U.S. governments” and the use of “full spectrum operations” in the region, indicating that the Pentagon seeks to project military power in South America. The construction now of a U.S.“advanced operations base” in Colombia raises similar concerns.

Besides the contracts naming military bases, there were also military contracts for $2.5 million construction at unnamed locations in Colombia signed in September. The new contracts may have been signed in September in order to spend funds allotted for the U.S. 2010 fiscal year, which ended September 30. Another military construction contract described as being for “Talemaida Avaition” [sic] for $5.5 million was signed in October 2009, just days before the United States and Colombia signed a military base agreement, and is scheduled to be completed by the end of this month. There was no mention of Palanquero, Apiay or Malambo, other bases included in the October 2009 agreement, in the contract information.

The contract information indicates commitments to fund US military construction at bases in Tolemaida, Larandia and Malaga in Colombia. The Army Corps info also shows plans to build an integrated logistics center in various locations in Colombia, for $14 million, apparently funded by Colombia itself, through a Foreign Military Sales (FMS) account. However, FMS projects frequently offer the United States the potential for continued access through “interoperability” and lowers costs for the buyer.

Annotated map of U.S. military construction in Latin America

US military construction in Central America

FMS projects “promote standardization (by providing customers with defense articles identical to those used by U.S. forces) [and] provide contract administration services which may not be readily available otherwise,” according to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.

US Military increases Construction in Region. The Army Corps on Engineers Mobile District’s plans [pdf file] indicate that US military construction in Central and South America has more than doubled this year compared to 2009. This includes a Southern Command Counter-Narco-terrorism account that is funding construction in summer 2011 of facilities in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Ecuador and Belize, as well as a $10 million upgrade in Soto Cano, Honduras. [see our interactive map for details]

Facilities funded through the Counter Narco-terrorism account are generally for strictly military uses, not for civilians, nor for unarmed approaches to social and economic problems. Moreover, the Army Corps explicitly recognizes the military uses of even civilian-oriented projects. “Every soldier a sensor” proclaimed Lester Dixon, program director for the Corps’ division that operates in Central and South America. Corps “Civilians/Soldiers can collect information and intelligence” and “provide entry point into country” Dixon said in November. [pdf, see p. 5] He noted that Central and South America are “key locations of recent interest.”

It is important to note that U.S. construction of a base does not necessarily mean that the United States will have title to the base or keep personnel there. But it is an intelligence asset to know in detail another nation’s military base, and it contributes to “interoperability” — that is, integration — of armed forces. Public disclsoure of access agreements for U.S. forces is key, since these will shape the terms of U.S. use of the military facilities.

From Bogota to Kabul. On September 30, the US military’s Transportation Command signed two contracts, to be performed out of the airport in Bogota, for “Afghanistan rotary wing pax and cargo movement”, to be carried out by the Medellin-based Vertical de Aviacion Ltda. The contract shows how United States is using the Colombian military to support the war in Afghanistan, which has become unpopular in the US as well as in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Education and Strategy Conference on U.S. Militarism

Washington, DC — April 8-10, 2011

Pre-Register Now
Sponsored by: Latin America Solidarity Coalition
in Conjunction with School of the Americas Watch Days of Action
April 4-11, 2011

Register now to attend an informative and exciting conference to build a larger movement to end US militarism and the militarization of US relations with Latin America and the world. Join Latin America solidarity activists, people of faith, academics, youth and students, anti-war and immigration activists, labor, women, and all sectors which are working to build a better world. The United States is at a crossroads. Down one road lies permanent war, a stagnant economy and loss of liberty. Down the other lies a new world of cooperation, prosperity and freedom. This conference is all about how we can work together to travel on the road to a new and better world.

Please join us for a weekend of plenaries and workshops to educate and inspire each other and to plan actions, strategies, and organizing tools to build a greater movement to overcome US militarism. Participate in SOA Watch’s Days of Action including lobbying and direct action to shut down the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, better known as the School of the Americas. Agitate for closing US military bases in Latin America and for an end to US militarization throughout the Americas and the world. Click HERE to register.

We recognize that US militarism affects both the entire world and everything about our daily lives. If you are working to end US wars, morally stand in favor of peace, are in solidarity with the oppressed, are working to end racism and the criminalization of immigrants, stand solidly in favor of our First Amendment freedoms, or are working to create new economic models that defend the interests of workers and farmers over those of corporations and bankers — then you should attend this conference to build a strong and unified movement against US militarism.

Some topics covered by this conference will include: US military bases, military spending, immigration and border militarization, coups, war profiteers, privatization of war, closing the School of the Americas, foreign military and police aid, growing our skills in media, research, and other organizing, counter recruitment and support for active duty resisters, US relations with Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia, Haiti, Mexico, Honduras, etc., organizing within sectors to resist militarism, cross movement organizing, domestic costs of militarism, direct action, and much more.

Register HERE and visit the LASC web page for low-cost and free housing options. Visit the web page frequently to see updates on workshops, plenary speakers, direct actions and other preparatory information. Visit the SOA Watch Days of Action web page: for details on actions scheduled from April 4-11, 2011. We recommend that you plan your trip to participate in SOA Watch’s activities before the conference and advocacy day on April 11.

Demilitarize Your Life!

Daniel Serna Henao

Daniel Serna Henao is one of four conscientious objectors to be recognized by a court in Medellín, Colombia. Here, he tells his story.

Mothers of Soacha: “Those who killed our sons have received medals and awards”

By Angel Gonzalo, Amnesty International

In 2008, it was discovered that the [Colombian] army had executed more than a dozen young men from Soacha, a poor neighborhood just outside of Bogotá. The government was forced to acknowledge that the armed forces were responsible for extrajudicial executions, as well as to adopt measures to address the problem. The young men had been taken to the north of the country with the promise of a job. After being killed, the army presented them as “guerrillas killed in combat.”

In the majority of the cases, the soldiers received money, days off, and a letter congratulating them for “having killed a member of the guerillas.” Those responsible for the murders removed the victims’ identity documents and attempted to hide the bodies. Since they discovered the common graves in which their sons were burred, 17 mothers and other family members of the victims have gone to the streets to beg for justice. That hasn’t been easy: they have been threatened, attacked and submitted to surveillance with the aim of silencing them.

Last November, during their visit to Spain, I spoke with Luz Marina Porras and María Ubilerma Sanabria, whose sons Fair Leonardo (26 years old and mentally handicapped) and Jaime Estiven (16 years old) were executed.

What is the current status of your demands for justice?

Luz: There still is not justice. Some hearings have begun in my son’s case and in other cases, but there haven’t been advances and the Attorney General has put up all kinds of obstacles in order to delay the cases. In many of the cases, nothing has happened, and it’s already been two years.

What have you asked of the government?

Luz: That it helps bring about justice and that there is no impunity. That there are prosecutors and judges assigned to these cases and that cases are also opened in the 3,183 cases of extrajudicial executions that have been documented in the country. The current president, Juan Manuel Santos, was Minister of Defense when our sons were executed. He has a responsibility and he can’t look the other way.

María: Now that he is president, he has to do what is in his power so that there is justice, and that the cases get moving. We can’t wait any longer. They killed our sons.

What response have you received from the Colombian authorities?

Luz: Nothing. We found the bodies of our sons in common graves very far from our homes, without identification, and we haven’t even received assistance to transport their bodies. We are in a lot of debt for that.

When did you decide to seek justice?

María: When we found out that our sons were executed by soldiers, or with their collaboration, and that the State was involved. We couldn’t believe it. They took them from home, promising jobs. And they killed them.

Where do you get the strength to fight after having lost a son and receiving threats?

Luz: The strength that we as mothers have comes from love for our sons. As mothers, we have to fight, to demand the rights of our dead sons, so that the truth is known and that justice is served. Our sons were our greatest treasure. Ex-president Álvaro Uribe offered us money to silence the Mothers of Soacha, but it didn’t work. Our sons are not for sale. We are poor women and we are fighting against the government, which doesn’t want to accept responsibility, but we will not tire.

María: When I hear a motorcycle nearby, I sometimes tremble because I think that it’s coming for me or for someone in my family, since we have received threats. But we continue to go out to the streets, we show up at events, we go where we are invited so that what happened is known. We won’t sit around at home crying all day for our loss. We carry photos of our sons everywhere so that people see who they are. This is not made up, we don’t do this to do damage to our country, rather to denounce that our sons were killed. In fact, I think we are useful for the country, because we want justice not just for ourselves, but also for all the victims. Hopefully there will be no more disappeared people, no more killed, in Colombia. We invite all mothers to denounce, without fear.

What did you do when your sons disappeared?

Luz: After the disappearance of our sons, we searched for eight months. We didn’t know what had happened. When my son disappeared, we went three times to the Attorney General’s office, where I was denied the possibility of denouncing his disappearance. So we searched using our own methods: in clinics, hospitals, and hostels— I knew that there was the possibility of going to Medicina Legal (government medical and forensic institute) to review photos of cadavers, but I didn’t want to even think that my son was dead. I looked among the homeless, fearing that my son, since he had a mental handicap, could have lost his memory and ended up somewhere alone and defenseless. And look, he was dead. They had murdered him.

María: They had everything prepared. We are people of scant resources, we are heads of poor families, and I’m sure they said, these women won’t come looking for their sons, which is why they took them far away and killed them. Disappeared, without identification, in a common grace, and labeled guerrillas. How absurd! They killed them as if it was nothing.

Who supports you in your struggle?

María: In Colombia we don’t have institutional support, but we have encountered support from NGOs and associations in our country like the Jose Alvear Restrepo Legal Collective, MINGA, MOVICE (Movement of Victims of State Crimes) and Amnesty International at the global level. We are very grateful. Thanks to this support, we can keep going despite the threats and everything that is said against us.

Luz: The laws also exist to protect the most vulnerable, those without resources. Some soldiers have been discharged for the Soacha case, but no one has been imprisoned. As mothers, this situation pains us, but we will not stop. Those who killed our sons have received medals and large rewards, yet we have received nothing. We get strength from the support of Amnesty International and its campaigns about us; it helps us know that we are not alone and we have to continue fighting. Thank you to all.

Source: Revista Amnistía Internacional. Enero-Febrero 2011 No 106.

New Threats against the Peace Community

Recently some news made us all jump up from our office seats in front of our mini-mac. José Obdulio Gaviria, a former aide to ex-Colombian-president Álvaro Uribe Vélez, hosts what is — luckily — a not widely-viewed cable TV show called Cablenoticias, together with Jaime Arturo Restrepo, the president of the association of civil victims of the guerrillas. On January 6, they accused several members of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó of being guerrilla leaders and threats to the country.

It was not the first time such harassment has happened. Since the enormous international outcry after the massacre of eight people, including three children, in 2005, massacres against the Peace Community have stopped. The risk of another international response like the one in 2005, which resulted in the six-month suspension of a portion of U.S. military aid to Colombia, has led, it seems, the Colombian government and its paramilitary allies to believe that massacres are not worth the political cost.

This does not mean, however, that Peace Community members are no longer at risk. There are still selective assassinations and continuous threats from the local public forces as well as from other armed groups. On December 11, for example, the police reportedly stopped, interrogated, and insulted a community member at a roadblock. During the community’s pilgrimage in Bogota on November 2, some police officers went to the place where they were staying and told the porter that they were hosting guerrillas, according to the community. This leads to a general environment of fear on the part of community members and a reluctance to travel far from their homes.

Nonetheless, the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó continues steadfast in its principles of neutrality and in its conflict with the Colombian state over its ability to maintain that neutrality and independence.

In recent years we have seen multiple examples of media attempts to strip the community of its credibility and support network by accusing it of collaboration with the guerrillas. Specifically targeting community leaders with these accusations, the accusers put the community and especially the leaders at risk given the regularity of targeted assassinations against those accused of guerrilla collaboration.

These accusations have been published in local, national and even international media — such as an op-ed by Mary Anastasia O’Grady in the Wall Street Journal in December 2009. A similar article in June 2009, in the Dutch magazine Vrij Nederland even led the Netherlands’ Foreign Ministry to temporarily question the community’s neutrality.

Accusations such as Gaviria’s always fill us with indignation, especially those of us who know personally the accused individuals. FOR volunteers have lived alongside the Peace Community and their members, and have had the chance to get to know their wonderful character and their commitment to nonviolence and neutrality. We know that the accusations are unfounded, and we know how much it affects their personal security.

News Brief

A message from Collective Action of Conscientious Objectors:

José Luis Peña, conscientious objector, was freed!

His freedom is provisional, but it is still big news for us. José Luis was detained because he refused to return to the ranks of the Colombian army, one month and a half after he had been recruited in a street round-up. José Luis declared himself a conscientious objector and was later transferred from Bogota to Leticia against his will, to fulfill his military service as a regular soldier. After almost two months of being prisoner, a judge in the military justice system ordered his provisional freedom, arguing that the way in which he was recruited was illegal, but refrained from making a decision to define his status as a conscientious objector.

To update you since the above was written, José Luis’ case as a conscientious objector was denied in Bogota and is currently being appealed. Additionally, the Constitutional Court of Colombia has taken up his case as an example to be reviewed. Their decision could affect the future of other conscientious objectors in Colombia.

Although José Luis didn’t have a good experience while he was being held at the military brigade in Leticia, he has returned to Bogota with a lot of energy to continue working on his case and to advance the cause of conscientious objectors in Colombia! If you would like to write a message to him directly, you can here: objecionbogota@gmail.com

December 2010 Colombia Peace Update

Contents

Video Letter: Peace Community Pilgrimage

Pilgrimage video

In November 2010, the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, took to the streets. They walked for 10 days. They walked to build relationships with other communities and in hopes of telling their story of struggle over the last 13 years. Watch FOR’s video letter here.

 

FOR Pilot Project: No U.S. Guns in Latin America

Under President Obama’s administration, the United States has supported the military Sites mapcoup in Honduras, secured Colombian military bases, occupied Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, and secured a deal with Costa Rica to send warships and over 7,000 Marines to this country that abolished its military. Social movements in the region have responded with clear opposition to militarization and installation of foreign bases. FOR has joined the Continental Campaign for a Latin America without Foreign Bases, and is launching a pilot project to strengthen a coalition of activists that will monitor and organize nonviolent vigils at US military bases connected with Latin America through training or deployment of troops, war vessels or aircraft.

With the message “No US guns in Latin America,” the pilot project is raising awareness with local communities on the impacts of military expansion in Latin America and how resources could find better use by filling domestic social needs. We have begun by urging people to let the White House know our priorities for Latin America policy, as it assembles next year’s federal budget, through postcards to President Obama. With other U.S. organizations we also issued a statement on December 10, International Human Rights Day.

An important way to resist military intervention is through actions that make it visible and express our reasons for opposing it. Our interactive map and list of US sites from which military intervention in Latin America is carried out illustrates the geography of intervention in the United States. The most important of these sites are located in the Southeastern and Southwestern states, as well as the Washington, DC area, although there are some important training sites elsewhere (e.g. Leavenworth, KS). The campaign will enable us to address US militarization in Latin America at home, and by doing so, support the Continental Campaign against militarization.

postcardFOR is also exploring ways to support anti-militarist youth in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, a city that’s experienced over 7,000 murders since the U.S.-supported Mexican army inserted itself into the city in 2007. Our partners in Colombia have persevered, and we continue to accompany them. Our experience there shows that such community initiatives for peace are desperately needed in situations such as Ciudad Juarez faces — and can survive.

 

 

New US Ship Deployment to Costa Rica during Heightened Tensions

By John Lindsay-Poland

The Costa Rican legislature on December 20 approved another deployment of dozens of U.S. ships to its territory for the next six months, but denied permission for warships to deploy to the country until a full debate occurs after the New Year.

The decision came at a moment when the country’s relationship with neighboring Nicaragua remains tense. The permission is for 46 Coast Guard ships, 42 armed helicopters, and up to 4,000 sailors, deployed — as in the last six months — to combat drug trafficking.

Only four legislators voted against the deployment. Juan Carlos Mendoza, leader of the Citizen Action Party, explained that his opposition to the agreement is based on the United States being at war and that, as such, even Coast Guard ships are under the mandate of the military. “Costa Rica signed a patrolling agreement with civilian authorities and not with the military part. This could be violating the active and permanent neutrality of our country,” he said.

Another deputy, José María Villalta of the Broad Front, said there is no evidence that the deployments have contributed to reducing drug addiction or to traffickers changing their routes away from Costa Rica.

Meanwhile, the day after its approval of the US naval deployment, Costa Rica denounced Nicaragua at the United Nations for the presence of troops along the San Juan River that serves as a border between the two nations, alleging that Nicaragua had “invaded” and “occupied” Costa Rica. The same day, Nicaragua protested a “incursion” into Nicaragua by Costa Rican ships and a plane. Costa Rican ambassador to the UN Eduardo Ulibarri said that his country has no military, and has instead appealed to the OAS, but that Nicaragua had rejected the OAS’s jurisdiction. Nicaragua asserts that the troops dredging the river are in their own territory, which extends to the Costa Rican side of the river.warship to Costa Rica

The approval to deploy armed U.S. ships and helicopters to Costa Rica sends a message that the United States could use the threat of force to arbitrate the conflict, probably in Costa Rica’s favor. Republican Senator Richard Lugar took Costa Rica’s side in a December 15 letter to the Millennium Challenge Corporation, urging action against Nicaragua.

At the same time, the United States continues to deploy troops in smaller numbers to Nicaragua as well, mostly for training missions. Nicaragua authorized more than 700 U.S. troops to conduct exercises and training in Nicaragua this year, including a Special Forces unit that conducted an exercise in May. Nicaragua reportedly approved another U.S. deployment for 2011 on December 13.

Last July, when the United States and Costa Rica agreed to deploy up to7,000 US Marines and 46 warships, some of them assault ships armed with Sparrow missiles, to army-less Costa Rica for counter-drug operations, some Costa Ricans were upset. “I love my country without soldiers,” read a popular statement. One legislator sued in the courts to turn back the agreement, so far unsuccessfully.

Only two of the announced ships deployed to Costa Rica, one of them for ”˜humanitarian missions.’ The other, USS Rodney Davis, conducted counterdrug operations in August.

The US Navy’s Fourth Fleet again plans to deploy ships to Costa Rica for the first six months of 2011. This time, there are no Navy ships on the list (and no US Marines), only US Coast Guard vessels. Although the Coast Guard is an armed and foreign entity, the fact that Navy warships were excluded from the proposal represents a victory for the efforts opposing the dFOR's Susana and Chris at SOA vigileployment of warships to Costa Rica.

It is possible that the Navy did not anticipate the opposition to the arrival of such ships. “We are not sure why there is this uproar,” said US ambassador Anne Slaughter. Or they may have been testing reaction, experimenting in order to inoculate the public to the idea that the United States can send its troops wherever it wants, but that the response was not politically acceptable. This time.

The current proposal continues to insist that Coast Guard personnel may wear their uniforms in Costa Rican territory, and enjoy freedom “to carry out the activities necessary to

Susana Pimiento and Chris Courtheyn led workshops on accompaniment, US militarization, and human rights in Colombia, joining 10,000 others at the November vigil at the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia, to push for the closure of the School of the Americas / WHINSEC.

fulfill their mission” (without naming those activities). It also confers immunity from Costa Rican laws for damages caused by the presence of ships or personnel.

 

 

 

US organizations urge Clinton to suspend aid to Colombian units

Human rights organizations in the United States called on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week to comply with the law and “act decisively” to suspend aid to all units implicated in killings that remain in impunity.

The letter gave detailed information on Colombian Army units aided by the U.S. and reportedly responsible for hundreds of extrajudicial killings. U.S. legislation known as the Leahy Law prohibits U.S. aid to foreign military units credibly reported to have committed gross abuses unless those responsible have been brought to justice.

Citing official investigations and nongovernment human rights reports, the letter notes that aid to commanders and intelligence groups within a unit that has a pattern of abuses constitutes aid to the whole unit, and that assistance to those commanders and intelligence groups should be suspended.

The letter said the units described “represent only some egregious examples” and cited United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston as stating that “There have been too many killings of a similar nature to characterize them as isolated incidents carried out by individual rogue soldiers or units.”

The groups also urged Clinton to publish required reports on foreign military training, as the State Department is nearly three years behind on that reporting.

The letter was signed by Fellowship of Reconciliation, U.S. Office on Colombia, Washington Office on Latin America, United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries, Alliance for Global Justice, Open Society Foundations, and nine other groups.

 

Peace Community Leader to Tour U.S.

Colombian community leader Jesús Emilio Tuberquia has far too much first hand knowledge of just how dangerous it is to work for peace in the middle of a war zone. He is one of the founding members and legal representative of the San Jose Peace Community, located in northwest Colombia. Jesús Emilio Tuberquia

In 1997, Jesús Emilio and 800 other small farmers claimed their territory as a neutral civilian community and refused to cooperate with any armed group (including military or police). The community has since survived threats, killings, massacres, disappearances, and food blockades perpetrated by various armed actors, including the U.S.-funded Colombian military. Despite this violent pressure, Jesus Emilio and the people of the Peace Community have succeeded in building a non-violent community in resistance and as an alternative to the violence that surrounds them.

Jesus Emilio Tuberquia will speak in a nationwide tour in April about what led to his town’s decision to become a Peace Community, and the importance of international solidarity for their survival. Tuberquia’s speaking tour is organized by the Fellowship of Reconciliation and Peace Brigades International, both of which maintain a human rights observer presence in San José de Apartadó. Planned visits during the tour include New York, Philadelphia; Washington, DC; Chapel Hill, NC; Florida; Cincinnati; Chicago; Madison, WI; Colorado Springs; Albuquerque; and the San Francisco Bay Area. For information, or to help organize events in these areas, contact FOR organizer Susana Pimiento.

 

News Briefs

 

C.O. Recognized

A Medellín high court recognized the conscientious objection of Daniel Serna Henao on December 13, reversing an earlier denial of CO status by the Army. Serna is a graphic design student and active member of the Medellin Youth Network (an FOR partner). We join the Medellin Youth Network in celebrating this victory.

 

Colonel Implicated in Youth Killings in the US— to study

Colonel José Gabriel Castrillón García commanded of the Velez Battalion, operating in San José de Apartadó and other communities in the northwestern Urabá region in 2004 and 2005. On February 10, 2004, four youths — Luis Armando Ocampo Mercado, Alberto Mario Arias Manjarres, José Ulises Pérez Pérez, and Edwin Enrique Aras Chavez — were recruited with false promises of work, then subsequently killed and claimed by the Army as guerrillas killed in combat by members of the Velez Battalion under Castrillón’s command.

Like many extrajudicial killing cases, this one was wended slowly through the Colombian court system, until December 9, when Castrillón was called to testify in a court in Sincelejo, Colombia, where eight of his soldiers were on trial for the killings. But Castrillón didn’t show up, because he is in Washington until next July on a diplomatic mission visa, studying at the Inter-American Defense College.

Family members of the four youths sent a letter of protest to President Santos on December 9. “We don’t accept that an army colonel being investigated for an extrajudicial execution is now on a diplomatic mission,” the letter said. “As family members we can see this diplomatic mission as a reward for the forced disappearance and subsequent homicide of our family members.”

 

Mixed Signals

President Juan Manuel Santos has signaled less hostility to human rights defenders than his predecessor Álvaro Uribe. His appointment of former armed forces commander Manuel José Bonnet on December 20 as governor of Magdalena Department doesn’t bode well for ending impunity for the military’s crimes, however, as Bonnet commanded a brigade that reportedly disappeared and killed more than 50 people in 1990. (Terrorismo de Estado en Colombia, p. 71)

General BonnetBut people have another side. Last year, Bonnet harshly criticized the military drug war that he waged, as well as the bombing of Afghanistan. “The more glyphosate is burned,” Bonnet said, “first it helps to poison Colombia’s environment and it helps the big producers like Monsanto, selling large amounts of herbicide.” Drug trafficking should be fought where it is generated, he said. “They do the money laundering, the arms trade is done there. They criticize us because drugs go from here to there, but we can’t criticize them because the weapons go from there to here.”

November 2010 Colombia Peace Update

November 2010 Colombia Update

Contents:

Video Letter from the Field
Join Us at SOA
What do They Teach Them?
Special Report: A glimpse of the hidden side of Mexico’s violence

Video Letter from the Field:

Isaac in La Union
“The radio is the military’s biggest rifle.”
“I was in my bed when an explosion rocked our house.” FOR team member Isaac Beachy tells of combat on the edge of the Peace Community, and analyzes how the military reported on it. Meanwhile, community kids carry on in a party. Filmed on October 30, 2010. Watch the video here.
Help protect the peace community by supporting the Fellowship of Reconciliation Colombia Accompaniment Team.

Join us at SOA: International Solidarity Can Make the Difference!

Starting Thursday, November 18th, we will again be at Fort Benning, Georgia, at the annual vigil in front of the School of the Americas. We invite participants to explore ways that international solidarity can make the difference countering the expansion of US militarism in Latin America and spread the word about the FOR’s Peace Presence in Colombia, which offers a unique opportunity to share the lives of courageous peasant farmers striving for a life in peace dignity.

Applications to join our accompaniment team in Colombia are currently open. This will be the focus of our workshop on Friday, November 19, 8-10 PM, in Convention Center Room 210.

We will also be inviting to join the FOR and organizations from throughout Latin America and the United States in a continental campaign to end foreign military presence in the hemisphere. The timing of this SOA vigil is particularly important.

During the last 18 months the Obama administration has embarked on a surge of US military expansion in Latin America — supporting Honduras’ military coup, occupying Haiti after January’s earthquake, arranging to deploy 7,000 marines to Costa Rica, gaining access to over seven military bases in Colombia — even while we struggle with the domestic economic crisis. As the White House prepares next year’s budget, we are distributing postcards to tell President Obama it is time “We want a budget for our communities, not guns in Latin America.”

If you are coming to the SOA vigil, make sure to look for us. We welcome volunteers to help us tabling. Contact Susana Pimiento at 512-542-1769

What do they teach them?

By John Lindsay-Poland

José Álvaro left his 14-year-old daughter Jenny Torres to take care of her two younger brothers Jimmy, 9, and Jeferson, 6, on October 14, while he worked on a nearby farm in Tame, Arauca. He left a cell phone with her, but after she didn’t answer several calls, he went home and, not finding them, reported their disappearance.

The children’s bodies were found the next day in a shallow grave with signs of strangulation and knife wounds. Jenny Torres’ body showed signs of rape. Army Lieutenant Raul Muñoz was arrested last week for the crime and for another rape of a teenage girl in the area committed on October 2. Two colonels and other officers from the same army unit have also been suspended.Jenny Torres

Lt. Muñoz belongs to the 45th Counter-guerrilla Battalion, which is part of the 5th Mobile Brigade. The battalion and brigade have been approved for U.S. assistance every year since at least as far back as 2003 through last year.

The military, for the most part, has reacted responsibly, aggressively investigating, isolating a suspect unit, and turning evidence over to civilian agencies. However, the commander of the Army’s 18th Brigade, General Rafael Alberto Neira Wiesner which operates in the same state and received much U.S. aid from 2002-2008, initially urged a local leader to condemn the community group investigating the crime as “playing the game of the guerrillas.” After evidence indicated Muñoz’s culpability, General Neira met with the children’s father, José Álvaro Torres, to apologize. Torres said no one could pardon this crime.

The United States, by law, should have cut off assistance to the 45th Counter-guerrilla Battalion, in 2005, after the Jesuit human rights group Center for Popular Research and Education reported the killing by 5th Mobile Brigade troops of nine-year-old Karly Johanna Suárez Torres in November 2004. Members of the 5th Mobile Brigade reportedly committed five more killings of civilians in 2007, but aid continued to flow. The State Department recently informed our partners at US Office on Colombia that assistance to the 5th Mobile Brigade has been suspended.

A European Union-supported study found that girls in Arauca live in constant fear of getting caught in combat and of sexual violence by soldiers and members of other armed groups. In April of this year, the human rights group Humanidad Vigente reported the rape of another girl in the area by army troops, reportedly of the 18th Brigade. That is the context in which Lt. Muñoz committed his crimes.

How is it that the United States can assist a battalion at least seven years in a row and not identify and address this kind of psychopathic behavior? What was the United States teaching the 45th Counter-guerrilla Battalion? In the new Congress, where Republicans now control committees in the House and Democrats in both chambers act in fear, who will ask these questions of those in the State Department and MilGroup who might have answers?

In another part of Colombia, an Army officer, Edgar Iván Florez Maestre, testified last December about “legalizations” — calculated killings of civilians, for pay, that were then claimed as guerrillas killed in combat. The killings were carried out by members of the ”˜Calibio’ Battalion and, according to the soldier’s testimony, coordinated by the battalion commander, at that time receiving U.S. assistance. But a colonel he named as coordinating these macabre killings has never been investigated. In fact, Colombia’s current attorney general has said more than once that he will not prosecute higher-level commanders implicated in such killings.

Usually hidden inside military experience, there is transformation here. Some soldiers, like Florez Maestre, have spoken out about the abuses they have witnessed (and in some cases participated in). “I want it to be known that they talked to us of human rights and legality knowing that on the other hand they were doing bad procedures, so there was a double morality,” Florez Maestre said. “I want all this to become public.”

His sorrow is a seed for something quite different, a better path. To get on that path ourselves, we need to resolve our own double morality. Jenny Torres and her brothers won’t come back, but by not looking away, by working to end these wars, we help prevent more pain and degradation like that of the Torres family, of Raul Muñoz, and of those U.S. officials who put aside the abuses of the 5th Mobile Brigade to keep preparing its soldiers for war.

Special Report: A glimpse of the hidden side of Mexico’s violence

By Moira Birss

When FOR staff asked if I could travel to a conference on civilian resistance to militarism in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico during the last weekend in October, I jumped at mural in Juarez1the chance to visit a country often compared to Colombia, where I recently spent two years as a human rights accompanier.

However, as my departure date grew closer, I became more and more nervous. The violence wracking Mexico, largely fueled by the country’s drug war, is magnified in the border town of Juarez, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, and often vies for the dubious title of most dangerous city in the world. So just because I spent two years in Colombia as a human rights accompanier, and knew that the mainstream news stories about Mexico I had read didn’t tell the whole story, the concentration and apparent randomness of the violence in Juarez, at least as portrayed in mainstream media, worried me.

Just days before my departure for Ciudad Juarez, for example, four maquila factory workers were killed and fifteen more injured when gunmen shot up three company buses carrying the workers home.[1] Since 2008, the number of murders has surpassed 6,500 in a city of about 1.5 million.[2] New York City, with a population of 8.3 million, had just 1,570 murders in a similar period.[3]

But despite my nervousness, I had made a commitment and was determined to go. FOR asked me to attend the Foro Internaciónal Contra La Militarización y la Violencia — the International Forum Against Militarization and Violence. As U.S. government officials continue to herald the application of U.S. Colombia policy in Mexico, those of us who have worked in Colombia and strongly criticize the human rights implications of that policy are seeking to get involved in the Mexico policy discussion.

I flew from San Francisco to El Paso on Friday morning, took a cab to the Sante Fe Bridge, and crossed over the Rio Grande. I met up with my hosts on the Ciudad Juarez side, and from there they took me to the starting point of the “walk against death,” the Foro’s opening event and the eleventh such march that the Juarez organizations planning the Foro had organized. We marchers were a small group of about forty, with a few signs, a few drums, and a bullhorn. Banners carried by the marchers read “Ni un muerte mas” (Not one more death) and “Por una cultura diferente” (For a different culture). The most common chant translates roughly as “Juarez isn’t a barracks, get the army out of here!” A few of the student marchers had spray paint and where tagging phrases like “savage capitalism” and “not another death” on the empty walls that the march passed.

As we approached the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez where the Foro was to take place, a siren wailed behind us. Those of us near the front turned to check on the rear of the march, but before my brain even registered that the open-air black jeeps packed with men in balaclavas and assault weapons were federal police, four shots rang out. There was a collective gasp, and much confusion. Word began to spread that the shots had been into the air, but suddenly two more rang out. Though I was near the front of the march and the confrontation with the federal police near the back, I soon pieced together what had happened.

As the spray painters were finishing their last tag, the federal police had pulled up, yelled at the kids to stop, then fired a round of shots into the air. The kids, spooked and unarmed, turned and ran through the university gate, and that’s when the federal police shot the second round of shots.

That second round, however, was not fired into the air, but at the kids running away. One of the bullets struck sociology student Dario Álvarez Orrantia in the back from such close range that his guts spilled out where the bullet left his stomach. Seeing that they had perhaps mortally injured a student, some of the federal police jumped down from their jeeps and began to drag Dario by his leg, likely attempting to take him away to cover up what had happened. Witnesses, shaken though they were, somehow had the courage to stop the federal police from taking Dario, and instead rushed him to the emergency room in a private car.

Inside the university, tensions ran high. “He’s a compañero!” one of Dario’s classmates wailed as a friend dragged her away from the gate. Others cursed the federal police, exclaiming that the shooting served as yet another example of the violence and corruption of the federal forces sent to Juarez in February of last year in response to the city’s violence.

The federal police had taken over control of security in Juarez from the military in April of this year, ostensibly to bring more “community policing” to the city.[4] The federal police takeover was in part in response to widespread complaints of human rights abuses by the military, which in turn had controlled the city since March 2008.[5]

As evidenced by Dario’s shooting, the Federal Police haven’t exactly become a beloved community police force, however. Nor have they succeeded in reducing violence in the city. On just one day, October 31””my last day in Juarez””there were 10 murders.[6]

Despite the heated emotions caused by the shooting, Foro organizers decided that the event should continue, albeit with many changes in the schedule. Dario was a constant presence the entire weekend. “An injury to one is an injury to all,” read a banner hung from one of the buildings, and participants and presenters regularly referred to the incident.

Juarez mural 2Impunity appears to reign in Mexico with as much of an iron grip as in Colombia. For example, since the early 1990s, hundreds””maybe even thousands, according to unofficial figures””of women have disappeared in the city, most never to be heard from again. Those whose bodies were recovered showed signs of torture, rape and mutilation. Despite the horrific nature and widespread occurrence of these crimes, the government has opened few investigations and barely followed through on any of them.[7] Though media attention has waned and investigations are nearly nonexistent, the killings continue: nearly 150 women have been killed in Juarez so far in 2010.[8]

Through experience of Dario’s shooting, along with stories told to me at the Foro, I began to realize that Mexico and Colombia have more in common than I may have realized. True, I’ve known that the U.S. has sent billions of dollars””over $1.5 billion in the last three years””for the war on drugs in Mexico, comparable to the $5 billion in Plan Colombia funding since 2000. But I hadn’t realized that human rights abuses by the Mexican military are nearly as rampant as in Colombia, or that there seems to be an institutional effort to stigmatize the defense of human rights in Mexico, as I know from personal experience exists in Colombia.

In September 2008, for example, Mexican General Felipe de Jesús Espitia accused human rights defenders of being financed by narcotraffickers to discredit the army.[9] Such rhetoric is all-too-similar to former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe’s regular statements that human rights defenders have links with the FARC in order to discredit the army.

Though Silvia, who works at a local human rights organization, told me that Dario’s shooting was unprecedented for its directness, many Juarenses have wanted to rid the city of federal police since they arrived, not only for their excessive use of force but for extortion and complicity with drug cartels. In September the government fired 3,200 federal officers””10 percent of the total force””after widespread allegations of misconduct including corruption. Between May and September, the Human Rights Commission of Chihuahua (the state in which Juarez is located) received 60 complaints for abuse of authority. Fifty of those were against federal police for murder, theft, kidnapping and extortion.[10]

Like in Colombia, human rights defenders have been specific targets. In January, human rights activist Josefina Reyes was killed by armed men who, before shooting her in the head, referred disparagingly to her work with NGOs. Reyes had worked to document abuses by the Mexican military.[11] Chihuahua State Human Rights Commissioner Gustavo de la Rose Hickerson now works from exile in El Paso because he fears the same fate.[12] Responding to Josefina’s death, de la Rosa Hickerson said that human rights defenders “are in grave risk, we become enemies of the criminals and of the Army: the cartels don’t want us to investigate their crimes and their arrangements with the police and the Army, and the soldiers don’t tolerate that we denounce their abuses.”[13]

Nonetheless, some good seems to have resulted from Dario’s shooting. The incident has galvanized youth in Juarez to organize. Before the shooting, students in Juarez didn’t have an organization of their own. They have now formed the Asociacón Estudiantil Juarense (Juarez Student Association), and on November 2 organized several hundred marchers to denounce Dario’s shooting and protest the military and federal police presence in Juarez.[14]

Mexican organizations aren’t the only ones demanding demilitarization of the drug war in Mexico. Dozens of U.S. and Mexican organizations have signed and are circulating a sign-on letter calling for a halt to U.S. drug war funding to Mexican security forces, which adds to more than $1.5 billion in the last three years.[15] The organizations are circulating a sign-on letter right now demanding that the U.S. government focus instead “on attacking the causes and structures of organized crime within the United States’ drug addiction and the demand for black-market drugs, international financial transactions and transborder corruption, arms trafficking—and aid Mexico in eliminating the roots causes of the spread of crime such as poverty, inequality, unemployment and the lack of opportunities for youth.” You can read, and sign on to, the letter here.


[1]http://www.elpasotimes.com/juarez/ci_16456579
[2]http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-mexico-juarez-20101108,0,7528721.story?track=rss&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+latimes%2Fnews%2Fnationworld%2Fworld+%28L.A.+Times+-+World+News%29

[4] http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory?id=10326312

[5] http://www.esmas.com/noticierostelevisa/mexico/717671.html

[6] http://www.terra.com.pe/noticias/noticias/act2575486/350-asesinatos-octubre-mes-mas-violento-2010-ciudad-juarez.html

[9] http://www.proceso.com.mx/rv/modHome/detalleExclusiva/75452

[10] http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129776061

[13] http://www.proceso.com.mx/rv/modHome/detalleExclusiva/75452

[14]http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/notas/720673.html

[15] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/09/AR2010110907060.html

October 2010 Colombia Peace Update

Contents

The Battle for Conscientious Objectors in Colombia

Pentagon Official: “We Still Want” Military Base Agreement with Colombia

People’s Congress: Live video

Profile: Ex-FOR team member Nico Udu-gama arrested for protesting President Uribe

Building a Movement to Confront US Militarism in the Americas

The Battle for Conscientious Objectors in Colombia

CALL TO ACTION

You can take action to help have Juan Diego released!!

1. Call the 4th Brigade in Medellín (011 574 493 9290 ext. 111) and ask for his immediate release.

2. Call the Ombudsman of Antioquia (011 574 218 1577 ext. 101) and ask for Doctora Sandra Maria Rojas to intervene in the release of Juan Diego.

Tell them this: “Llamo para expresar mi preocupación por la detención arbitraria e ilegal de Juan Diego Agudelo Correa, numero de cédula 1027885649, en el municipio de Andes (Antioquia) el día 5 de septiembre. Juan Diego se encuentra prestando servicio militar en el Batallón 11 de la Cuarta Brigada, pero se ha declarado objetor por conciencia, postura que tiene el amparo de la Corte Constitucional en el fallo C-728 de 2009. Quiero pedir que usted colabore para que el derecho fundamental de Juan Diego a declararse objetor, a través de una tutela, sea confirmado. Muchas gracias.”

I am calling to express my concern at the arbitrary and illegal detention of Juan Diego Agudelo Correa, ID number 1027884569, in the municipality of Andes (Antioquia) on the 5th September. Juan Diego is currently performing obligatory military service in the 11th Battalion of the 4th Brigade, but has declared himself a conscientious objector, a position that the Constitutional Court has backed in sentence C-728 (2009). I ask for your assistance so that Juan Diego’s fundamental right to declare himself a conscientious objector, by way of a writ, is upheld. Many thanks.

Help Release a Conscientious Objector Arbitrarily Detained and Held against his Will in an Army Base

By Rachel Dickson and Peter Cousins

Juan Diego is a young campesino in the municipality of Andes, a few hours southwest of Medellin. He works on a farm to help support his parents and two little sisters; his father’s income as a day-laborer is not enough to feed the whole family. On September 5, Juan Diego was grocery-shopping for his family in town when soldiers came up to him and asked for his papers. When he told them he did not have his military service booklet, he was pushed into a truck and taken to the 11th battalion of the 4th Brigade. They took away his identification and have still not returned it to him.

In Juan Diego’s words, “Since that day I have been in the base against my will, because I do not want to perform obligatory military service. In the first place, because my moral principles don’t let me participate in the war and so I do not want to be part of any army or armed force. And second, because my highest priorities are my family, which needs me to continue to work, and to continue my high school studies, which I had to temporarily suspend because of the economic difficulties in my family.” (link to declaration) The day after he signed this declaration of conscientious objection, the soldiers in the battalion asked who did not want to be there. Juan Diego replied that he did not want to be in the army because he does not agree with the war. The soldiers laughed, made fun of him, and answered that there wasn’t a chance in hell they would let him go.

Juan Diego is a conscientious objector. He was arbitrarily detained and is being forced to serve in the Colombian military. There are differing views on the legality of Juan Diego’s recruitment, depending on whom you ask. According to Lieutenant Colonel Juan Carlos Quiroz, who directs operations in the 4th Recruitment Zone, which has jurisdiction over Andes, the Colombian Constitution says that the military can go out and compel men to serve in the army (according to Col. Quiroz this includes using force). “No one wants to serve, so what am I supposed to do?” Colonel Quiroz asked us. Lieutenant An officer of the “Cacique Nutibara” Battalion 11 in Andes told us that he feels he is doing youth a favor when he rounds them up in trucks: “Many of the kids don’t have the money to pay for transportation to the brigade’s base to enlist, so we provide the transportation for them.”

However, according to the United Nations, this type of recruitment is illegal and can be defined as an arbitrary detention and a violation of personal liberty. There is no specific legal provision in the Colombian Constitution to allow for these indiscriminate street-roundups. According to the Constitution, since personal liberty is a fundamental right, an explicit written order must be in place to deprive someone of that right. The Colombian Constitutional Court has also declared that administrative detentions, even for only a minute, constitute an illegal deprivation of liberty. The military must legally request the presence of a potential recruit in a written fashion, and if the recruit doesn’t show up, they can then request a warrant or charge a fine. The Ombudsman of Antioquia has requested that the military stop this practice, as have War Resister’s International, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Medellin Youth Network, and FOR, among others, but they keep doing it!

Juan Diego’s recruitment was done illegally according to many authorities, and now, under Colombian law, conscientious objection is also legally recognized. A year ago, the Constitutional Court accepted the validity of conscientious objection in its ruling C-728 in a case brought by the Bogotá-based University of the Andes and the Collective for Conscientious Objectors, together with CIVIS of Sweden. In a change from earlier jurisprudence, the legal requirement for the majority of young males to perform military service is now set against the right not to be forced to act in contravention of one’s deepest moral, religious or political convictions. Last month, the full text of the Court’s judgment was made public. The Colombian Congress is now required to pass a bill normalizing conscientious objection, which may eventually also encompass some form of civil service. But in the meantime, objectors like Juan Diego must present a judge with a tutela, a writ for the protection of constitutional rights. At the time of writing, this is underway in the city of Medellín. The case of Juan Diego, therefore, may prove to be something of a precedent.

Pentagon Official: “We Still Want” Military Base Agreement with Colombia

The United States “still wants [the military base agreement signed last year] and still believes it is important,” according to Palanquero exerciseAssistant Defense Secretary Frank Mora, interviewed in El Tiempo on October 11. But the Colombian Senate’s vice-president says that President Santos will not submit the agreement for congressional approval, and “we hope that policy continues.”

As FOR reported last month, both US and Colombian officials have reacted to the Colombian Constitutional Court ruling that the military base agreement is illegal with nonchalance, saying that current agreements allow the two countries’ militaries to cooperate. Asked by El Tiempo about this response, Mora said that overturning the base agreement “was a legal, political decision, and we understand. When that process ends, we will have a better vision of what will be done.”

Mora added that the agreement “institutionalizes the relationship between both countries on defense issues. It’s true that there are many things can continue to be done, but an important part of a relationship is to keep strengthening it, to formalize it.”

Colombian Senator Alexandra Moreno told El Espectador these kinds of agreements “have not produced results” hoped for and “definitely don’t compensate Colombia for the efforts it has made.” Moreno said that every day “there is less support” from the United States and it doesn’t make sense to continue the same policy that “to our detriment.”

Mora said that the agreement “increases transparency.” It is true that the base agreement was made public after signing. But Pentagon expenditures in Colombia are much less transparent than foreign aid funds, which are programmed by country and use. Mora declined this month to meet with FOR to discuss the agreement.

Meanwhile, US troops from Moody Air Force Base in southern Georgia conducted training exercises on Palanquero Air Base in Colombia in September. Palanquero was named in Air Mobility Command and Air Force documents as key for projection of US military operations throughout South America, and the US Congress approved $43 million for an upgrade to the base last year, on the condition that the Pentagon conclude a base agreement with Colombia. A staffperson for the House Armed Services Committee told FOR that he considers that requirement satisfied, but the funds have not yet been spent. The Pentagon has three years to use the funds.

Film of People’s Congress

Congreso graffiti

The FOR Colombia media team presents a visual collage of the recent People’s Congress, realized in Bogota, Colombia from October 8-12, 2010. 17,000 afro-colombians, indigenous communities, farmers and others camped out in the nation’s capital and marched through the city streets to demand a sovereign nation of the people. For more information on the people’s congress: congresodelospueblos.org

Ex-FOR volunteer and long-time Colombia solidarity activist arrested in DC

I first met Nico in 2003, on my second trip up to the peace community, while he was working as an accompanier with FOR. Over the following years, I didn’t see him much, but I heard stories: how he rode the community’s fastest horse in 20 minutes down a mountain path that usually takes an hour and a half to travel, how he had founded another accompaniment organization in Colombia after leaving FOR, how he was traveling in Palestine, and then the news in September! He had been arrested for speaking out during Uribe’s class at Georgetown University. It seemed like a good moment for an interview.

Nico Udu-gamaLS: Tell me a bit about yourself. What was one thing that politicized you when you were young? And also, when did you first come to Colombia and why?

NU: I grew up in Virginia, it wasn’t anything exciting, just a military city. I got involved in all this stuff during university — was doing activism with some Zapatista groups and around local issues. The day after I graduated, I started hitchhiking south with a friend of mine. We visited the El Mozote massacre site in El Salvador, and villages in Guatemala where the war had happened — it was the stereotypical post-graduation Latin America tour! One time, I was in Tela, Honduras, hanging out with this kid who was living on the streets. We went with him to visit his father who was in jail. I saw what the jails were like in Honduras. Throughout the trip, I was talking to people on the street, in the countryside, in the villages and hearing their stories. I made it to Colombia and up to the peace community in 2002. Five days after I showed up in La Union, the paramilitaries came. It was a marker. It made me ask, what’s going on here?

LS: What happened?

NU: One day we were hanging out and I was teaching some of the children to read. A peace community member came in and took her son away. I went outside and all the kids were gone. I saw a guy with a huge machine gun and the letters ACCU on his armband. I was like, “oh shit.” The paramilitaries were there for six hours interrogating people. They had a kid tied up who they took away and later disappeared. I yelled at them, “what are you doing here??” I didn’t know anything about accompaniment back then.

After that, I stayed there for two months. The community displaced down to the town center of San José and I would go up to La Union every day with them for the cacao harvest. During that time, I got close to people and decided that I wanted to go back. So I applied to the FOR project, went to the training in San Francisco and joined the team in July 2003. The year that I spent in the community was an amazing experience.

Around the end of 2004, a friend and I founded IPO (International Peace Observatory) and we started accompanying organizations in the regions of the Magdalena Medio and Arauca. One time we did an accompaniment in the area of the Nordeste Antioqueño (the northeastern part of the department of Antioquia). We were told that the army had entered a farm where a campesino lived. They had dressed him up as a guerrilla and they were going to kill him. They had a knife to his neck. When we got there, they were holding him a little ways off in the woods. We demanded that the soldiers release him. It was a positive experience because we were able to do something tangible. After Luis Eduardo [and the massacre in 2005], I felt really angry. I still wanted to accompany, but I felt frustrated. At least in this situation, I felt that that the outcome was very positive.

LS: What was different in Colombia than what you expected it to be?

NU: I’m not sure what I expected, but I was able to spend time in the countryside and be in a place where there was a war going on, where our tax money was being used to fight that war. And seeing the resistance, how people are just dancing in the midst of the balaceras (gunfire). Well, it’s not quite like that, but there is a lot of great energy there. I think Colombia is really important in the Western Hemisphere because it’s the thorn in the side of the U.S. I miss Colombia a lot.

LS: How did the Adios Uribe Coalition get started?

We had seen something in [the Colombian newspaper] El Tiempo about Uribe being named as a Distinguished Scholar at Georgetown’s foreign service school. And we started hearing about it from other people as well. We set up a first meeting and about 40 awesome organizers came: unionists, church people, students and artists. People were bouncing with energy. By September 8th we had our first protest: Uribe was speaking at the faculty center so we did a banner-hang off the building and organized the Viva Colombia Fiesta, with drums.

Later we found out that he would be teaching in a Comparative Political Systems course. We decided to go into the class. He was talking about how free trade is good and other benign stuff. Then came the Q&A part and things got interesting — he started talking about how he had brought social cohesion to Colombia, how his presidency was communitarian, how it tried to include everyone. And then he said that, “no one from the social opposition had been killed or displaced during his presidency.”

At that point, I thought to myself, this guy is just straight up lying. In the media, everybody was talking about Uribe’s position at Georgetown in the context of fairness or allowing for academic debate. But I knew what he was saying were lies. So, I stood up and started clapping. I said, “Thank you so much Alvarito, for bringing social cohesion, thank you for wire tapping human rights organizations. I mentioned the mass graves in the Macarena and the people who had denounced them and thanked him for calling those people terrorists. I was trying to be as ironic as possible and at this point I had stepped up on stage. Two guys, who we later discovered were undercover cops, were pushing me back and the tension was mounting. Uribe said “can you get him out of here?” Then they pulled me off stage behind Uribe, arrested me outside and took me to jail.

The charges against me were assault on a police officer and unlawful entry. They were bullshit charges, I definitely didn’t assault a police officer. I was out on the streets by 2pm and I walked back home without shoelaces or money! They dropped the charges, although I do have a Ban and Bar letter from Georgetown, so I’m not allowed to get back onto campus.

LS: What is the focus now of the Adios Uribe Coalition?

NU: We have done various teach-ins and the students at Georgetown had meetings with the Dean of the School of Foreign Service and they are waiting for a meeting with the President. There are rumors that Georgetown might let him go quietly. But as of now, he is coming back on November 3rd and we are planning a protest. If folks want to get involved, they can check out our website: uribe-georgetown.org

It is so disgusting that higher institutions of learning are bringing someone like this to teach. At SOA Watch, we go down every year and protest the soldiers and military brass who are being trained at Ft. Benning. But people like Uribe don’t go to the SOA, they go to places like Georgetown and Oxford, where they can also train people, but in the neoliberal model. Both are part of a larger system. We were thinking of a banner for our November 3rd action that would say something like, “From the gates of Ft. Benning to the gates of Georgetown, no more training criminals!”

LS: I think that’s an important connection to make, that we have to protest all parts of these systems — not just the people on the ground who commit the abuses, but also the places like academic institutions where people are being trained in these models.

Yes, they are the intellectual authors and are helping to solidify another part of the system. When we go down to Georgia we are looking at the muscle. It may look innocuous to protest an ex-president of Colombia, but it is just as important as combating police brutality, doing anti-racist work, or protesting a base in Florida! It’s all connected.

Nico ended by saying that it would be great to party with the coalition, after it’s all over, after Georgetown University politely asks Uribe to take himself and his terrible human rights record elsewhere. See an interview with Nico on “Russia Today.”

Building a Movement to Confront US Militarism in the Americas

(Conference takes place just before the yearly vigil to close the SOA)

Organizers’ Conference:
Building a Movement to Confront US Militarism and the
Militarization of Relations with Latin America
sponsored by: the Latin America Solidarity Coalition

Thursday, November 18, 2010 1:00-7:30pm
Quality Inn, 1325 Veterans Pkwy, Columbus, GA, US, 31901

Registration: $10-$25 no one turned away
Register on-line.


Who Should Participate?
Are you a local, regional or national activist/organizer? Do you work on issues of Latin America solidarity, anti-war, social justice, or labor rights? Then you should participate.

Scope of the Conference
This is an action conference, not an information conference. There will be many informational workshops during the SOA Watch vigil Nov. 19-21.This conference is for the purpose of building a US movement to oppose US militarism and militarization of relations with Latin America and the Caribbean. Without regard to our varying analysis of non-violence, we are united in our opposition to the use of the US military to enforce the neoliberal capitalist model and to extend US political hegemony in the hemisphere. The focus of the organizers’ conference will be to develop strategies and campaigns to oppose and de-fund offensive US military capabilities, basing troops outside the borders of the US, and the militarization of relations with the sovereign countries of our hemisphere through military aid and training and Trojan Horse campaigns such as the so-called War on Drugs and immigration policy. While we recognize that all issues are interrelated, the focus of this conference will be on strategies and tactics to address the military aspects of the issues. We recognize that we are embarking on a multi-generational campaign to change the very culture and ethical system of the United States. The work of this conference will lead into an even more extensive LASC conference April 8-10 in Washington, DC.

Agenda
1-2:30pm Opening Plenary
Panel to frame issues & explanation of the conference process
2:30-4:00pm Small Group Break-out on Issues/Tactics/Campaigns
1. Bases, the Fourth Fleet and training and military aid.
2. Border militarization and immigration
3. Coups and Occupations
4. “Drug War”
5. Domestic costs of militarism and war profiteering
6. Corporate media and the promotion of the US culture of militarism
4:00-4:15pm Break (another 15 break will follow the second session)
4:15-5:45pm Small Group Break-out on Sectors to Enlist in the Movement

1. Academia
2. Organized religion
3. Cultural workers (Artists, musicians, actors, etc.)
4. Labor
5. Students and youth
6. Women
7. Veterans

6-7:30pm Report-backs, discussion and tasking to move the work forward

September 2010 Colombia Peace Update

Contents

Take Action Against Military Round-ups in Colombia

Retreat from Defending Bases, but..

Women mobilize: “My body is my house. I will not give away the key”

Letter from the field: Sorry things aren’t that okay

Breakfast at the Embassies

Upcoming Bay Area Events

Take Action Against Military Street Round-ups in Colombia

Imagine that you are walking down the street, in your hometown, on your way to work or school. You are 18 and the world is your oyster! Just as you are about to cross the street, you are stopped by the military and asked for your military service card. You don’t have one because you never did want to go to war. Tough luck — up you go into an army truck. You are taken away to a nearby battalion where you will begin your obligatory military service. Just like that: snatched off the streets and out of your regular life, to begin the life of a soldier.

In Colombia, this is called a street round up and it happens all the time. In fact, according to the Red Juvenil, a youth organization based in Medellín, it happened nine times in the last week. Here are the details: on September 8th at 9:40am, an army truck was being used to take away young people who had not defined their military situation and who were passing by, disregarding whether or not they were studying and/or working. The same day, at 1:30pm a second truck, without a license plate and with nothing identifying it as a vehicle of the National Army, sought to take various young people to the 4th Brigade despite the fact that they stated they did not want to go, and that they had to study. Various members of the Youth Network of Medellín walked over to dialogue with the soldiers and to point out the illegality of the batidas and the rights of these young people. Those in charge ignored their interventions and proceeded with the round-up. Later that day it happened again, the following day two more times and more recently on September 13, three street round-ups were reported.

We are asking you to take action and support these young people in their efforts to not be pawns for the war in Colombia!

Please send an email to the Ministry of Defense in Colombia, expressing your concern about the illegal street round-ups which have taken place recently in Medellín. Remind them that the United Nations has urged Colombia to revise this practice, as it has no judicial foundation or legal basis and urge that corrective measures be taken to prevent them from happening in Medellín or elsewhere in Colombia.

As Albert Einstein said, “The pioneers of a warless world are the youth that refuse military service.”

Send an email now, and lick here to read the full Red Juvenil comunique in English.

Washington and Bogota Retreat from Defending Bases, but—

State Dept: “Existing Agreements Permit Us to Continue” Military Presence

By Susana Pimiento and John Lindsay-Poland

As the dust settles on the August 10 Colombian court ruling declaring invalid the US-Colombia military bases agreement, politicians and analysts are giving kudos to the Constitutional Court ruling saying that it was for the better. Most of those voices come from former supporters of the deal -including Liberal Party presidential candidate, Rafael Pardo- can be explained largely by the strong anti-Chavez sentiment that saw the base agreement as a strong deterrent against Venezuela.

Increasingly it appears that a new agreement will not be negotiated or submitted for Congressional approval, since such a move would not only provide space for opponents of the agreement, but risk its defeat, if not in Congress, then in the Constitutional Court’s mandated review. The Washington Post reported on August 27 that Santos was “leaning toward” not submitting the agreement to Congress, and quoted a State Department official as saying “We’re confident that in the intermediate period, or if there is no agreement for whatever reason, our older, existing agreements will permit us to continue our robust and effective cooperation with the Santos administration on counterterrorism and counternarcotics.”

The Constitutional Court ruling declaring the agreement invalid came at a perfect time to help mend broken Colombia-Venezuela relations. Unlike other US military bases in the region that were established for drug interdiction exclusively, the wide scope of the US-Colombia deal was interpreted as a threat to Venezuela, prompting President Hugo Chavez to sever diplomatic relations with Colombia. Supporters of the deal in Colombia interpreted it as a guarantee against the supposed prospect of Venezuelan aggression. Yet, the broken relations had a disastrous economic effect on Colombian exports: until the military bases deal was signed, Venezuela was the second largest market for Colombian exports.

Furthermore, countries in the region were not happy with the tension and had offered to mediate. So, it did not come as a surprise that only three days after Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos took office, he received President Chavez in the Caribbean town of Santa Marta, at the hacienda where Simon Bolivar died, and both governments committed to mend their broken relations. Reestablishment of Venezuela-Colombian relations has been widely praised. Colombia and Ecuador have also been progressively patching up of their differences, since the March 2008 Colombian raid into Ecuador that prompted Quito to sever diplomatic ties. With these bilateral détentes, the militarist rationale in Colombia for the base agreement disappears.

Since it is an international treaty, it requires Congressional approval and then it would go back to the Constitutional Court, this time to make sure it is compatible with Colombian constitution. While President Santos’ majority in Colombian Congress would surely afford him a swift approval, the same cannot be said about the deal’s transit through the Constitutional Court. Indeed, as many opponents of the deal have pointed out, Colombian constitution does not allow stationing of foreign troops in Colombian soil (only transit) and the constitution, in its preamble, commits Colombia to integration with other Latin American and Caribbean nations.

At the same time, it appears that the regional objectives of the accord have been substantially reduced. In other words, let the agreement die and go back to the status quo ante, which permitted US-Colombian military cooperation in the war within Colombia, as well as training of other nations’ militaries.

At the end of August, George W. Bush’s top Pentagon bureaucrat for Latin America from 2007 to 2009, Stephen Johnson, published some very telling observations in Foreign Policy. He recommended that the Pentagon:

—embrace new methods. While we might need to continue tracking using conspicuous 1950s-vintage planes for now, flexible staging locations using smaller, less noticeable, civilian sensor platforms should become the model. With help from Congress, we might update our technology to do more tracking from ships or remote radar locations. These steps could help shrink our military footprint, reducing the need for facilities upkeep and status of forces agreements that take forever to negotiate and create headaches for partner countries.” (http://shadow.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/08/31/how_to_update_us_south_american_defense_agreements)

The references to “headaches for partner countries,” “less noticeable” platforms, and the virtues of “shrinking[ing] our military footprint” give backhanded credit to the movements in Colombia, the rest of Latin America and the United States that have campaigned against this and other U.S. base agreements in the region. In that respect, we should recognize the court’s ruling — and Washington and Bogota’s apparent decision not to resubmit or renegotiate an agreement — as a substantial victory.

But it doesn’t end there.

Many of the most pernicious aspects of the military base agreement — especially regarding U.S. intentions for extraterritorial uses of the bases in the region — were not contained in the accord itself, but in U.S. budget and planning documents. The use of Palanquero air base for “contingency operations” (White House budget document for FY2010), the Southern Command’s ambitions to expand beyond counternarcotics operations to establish a base with “air mobility reach on the South American continent” (Air Mobility Command planning document), and references to the capacity for “full spectrum operations” from Palanquero to confront “narcotics funded terrorist insurgencies, anti-U.S. governments, endemic poverty and recurring natural disasters” in the region — these were unilateral U.S. statements of the bases’ missions. It is not clear that scrapping the base agreement will neutralize these regional interventionist plans, or whether those with such ambitions were chastened by the strong opposition the agreement encountered.

Moreover, of the seven bases specified in the October 2009 agreement, the US was already using all of them, except possibly the Palanquero air base. Palanquero was slated for an upgrade to facilitate new operations, but it had already been re-approved for U.S. assistance, after being suspended for five years in the wake of a 1998 bombing that killed 17 civilians. U.S. planes bound for Haiti as part of the militarized response to the January 2010 earthquake left from Palanquero. Both Colombia and the Pentagon still have an incentive to revive the base agreement, since current legislation makes the $43 million upgrade of Palanquero contingent on entering such an agreement. But sources in Washington report that Congress authorized the funds for five years. Any U.S. activities on Palanquero, then, must draw from other funds.

The United States has also had access to other bases not named in the agreement, such as the Tres Esquinas base. Access to these bases will not be denied under the court’s decision, though it is possible that the additional privileges for U.S. forces spelled out in the agreement, such as U.S. troops bearing arms, the wide scope of immunity for crimes committed in Colombia by U.S. troops, and access to the electromagnetic spectrum, will be excluded.

What’s more, foreign military assistance — central to the U.S. military presence in Colombia prior to the bases agreement — can be as pernicious a form of military intervention as “bases.” This is because any nation’s armed forces are granted extraordinary power and privilege — wielding lethal force — in exchange for a commitment to constitutional process and legitimacy. Training that force, especially its leadership, on the scale the US has in Colombia gives the United States itself extraordinary power within the country, even without the profound and institutional violations and illegitimacies that permeate the Colombian army.

Meanwhile, any hopes that the Santos government might use political capital to negotiate with the FARC are dim, with President Santos refusing Brazilian president Lula’s offers to mediate and announcements of a large offensive against the FARC. The Obama administration shows no interest in a negotiated solution, which would require at least tacit U.S. support. U.S. military assistance and presence, then, will continue to help perpetuate the armed conflict. Accusations of Venezuela support for the FARC serve to rationalize the U.S. military involvement in Colombia, as well as destabilization of Venezuela.

The October 2009 military base agreement served as a wakeup call for social movements in the Americas to the growing militarization of U.S. actions in the hemisphere — from assault ship deployments in Costa Rica, to the U.S. role in the Honduras coup, to military control of humanitarian disaster response in Haiti and elsewhere, to the impact of U.S. military aid on political violence in Colombia. TheAmericas Social Forum in Paraguay last month brought together social activists from the whole region for a continental campaign against all foreign military presence in the Americas. There is a lot of energy and concern. It is now our task to strategically mobilize such energy in nonviolent action.

A coalition of organizations is calling for local actions on October 11 to oppose U.S. militarization in Latin America. For more, see the call to action.

My body is my house, my house is my territory. I will not give away the key”

International Summit of Women and People of the Americas against Militarization

by Rachel Dickson

In August, Colombia hosted the first “International Summit of Women and People of the Americas against Ellen and 
youthMilitarization,” attended by almost 3,000 people, including around 200 international delegates from the Americas and Europe. The event provided a unique space for organizations and social activists to come together to share, denounce, and make visible the effects of militarization and war on the bodies of women, territories, and civil society, with the objective to systemize the experiences of resistance against militarization and to define a strategic agenda to coordinate a social movement of women and people for the defense of territories. Although the Colombian Constitutional Court deemed unconstitutional the agreement giving the U.S. military access to seven Colombian bases on the second day of the summit, the focus of the attendees remained centered on building strong opposition to the growing U.S. military presence in Latin America.

The summit, convened by the Social Movement of Women Against the War and for the Peace, came out of a long process involving 60 Colombian social organizations that have spent the last four years developing a common agenda against militarization. According to Betty Puerto of the Women’s Popular Organization (OFP), the goal of the movement is to eventually present a peace proposal from women to the Colombian national government urging a political negotiation to the armed conflict, along with various measures to assure that human rights are protected in Colombia.

The Social Movement of Women was spearheaded ten years ago by the OFP, when they began to collect information about the suffering of women caused by the effects of the internal conflict. Jacqueline Rojas, the Barrancabermeja regional coordinator, said that they later opened to the movement to other regions of the country, where other organizations already had initiatives, and began a campaign of popular education in schools and neighborhoods, teaching the effects of militarization on the bodies of women and civil society.

The movement now includes indigenous communities, labor unions, housewives, Afro-Colombian communities, political organizations, church organizations, academics, student movements, displaced people, small-scale farmers, community mothers, and regional peace processes, all of whom were represented in the summit, united under the slogan, “We do not birth sons and daughters for war.”

The implications for women living around bases are grim, where the number of rapes is alarmingly high. Sexual crimes against women in Colombia have a 98.6% rate of impunity, according to summit speaker Ana Maria Diaz, the deputy director of research at the Colombian Commission of Jurists. According to Diaz, data from the National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences show that in 2004-2009, more than 73% of sexual crimes related to the armed conflict were committed by the armed forces. A 2009 annual report released by the Interamerican Court of Human Rights, suggests that the armed conflict exacerbates the problem. Based on information from 2007-2009, the Commission observed that “the principal perpetrators of the sexual violence are the police, the military forces and the illegal actors in the armed conflict (guerrillas and paramilitary groups).”

Another concern of Diaz is that U.S. soldiers in foreign countries generally receive diplomatic immunity, meaning they can’t be tried for their crimes in the countries where they are deployed, and there are numerous cases of sexual abuse committed by U.S. personnel, sometimes of young girls, that remain in impunity. (See interview with mother of 12-year-old girl raped by a U.S. soldier and a contractor in 2007.) Prostitution rates are also high around bases, with military-sanctioned “entertainment houses.”

To see these effects first hand, international delegates from 19 different countries participated in humanitarian visits to twelve heavily militarized regions around Colombia in the first days of the summit. They found evidence of multinational companies around the country allied with police, military, and paramilitary forces to end social organizations and gain control of territory, according to the report written and presented during the summit. They found women to be extremely victimized by militarization in these regions, and social movements to be severely stifled by the State.

In Barrancabermeja, the delegates joined over 2,000 Colombian activists from the organizations that make up the Social Movement of Women Against the War for two days of seminars, workshops, and speeches. Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba, who has been involved with the Movement for sometime, described the effects that the largest business in the world, war, has brought to Colombia — bodies floating down the Magdalena River, women’s corpses missing a head or arms, and more than 5,000 “false positives,” — civilians killed and dressed up as guerrillas by the army.

Women talked about the issues they face from various perspectives: indigenous, small-scale farmers, Afro-Colombians, urban dwellers, union leaders, artists, and internationals were all represented. One afternoon the Movement held the largest march to occur in Barrancabermeja in eight years; participants carried banners, candles, and rocks to remember those who had lost their lives in the conflict.

On the last day of the summit, the group caravanned to Puerto Salgar, home to the Palanquero air base, one of the seven bases “given” to the U.S. in the 2009 agreement. According to a study contracted by the Social Movement of Women and released at the summit, prostitution is alarmingly high in Puerto Salgar, and the base has had a strong influence on cultural, political, and social life in Puerto Salgar.

The women held an eight-hour vigil in front of the base, with musicians, speakers, dancers, and theater. One impressive youth dance group from Barrancabermeja highlighted the devastation to the environment and civilian life in the city by oil company control. Colombian Senator Gloria Ines Ramirez spoke of the need to continue the struggle, and a message of encouragement to the Movement was read aloud, written by Clara Lopez, the president of the Polo Democratico, the only major Colombian political party to oppose to the U.S.-Colombia bases agreement.

The summit successfully brought together many people working against the expansionist interests of the U.S. in the region, people who denounce the growing militarization of the region as a strategy of appropriation of the wealth and natural resources of territories, and the effects on women in particular. Women’s bodies are used as commodities in war, and while femicide rates are rising, women also are frequently left behind to raise and support the family when their partners go to war or are killed. The event brought hope and promise to a broken movement, a movement that has been systematically marginalized, threatened, and suppressed by the powers that be.

Already many women who helped organize the event have received subsequent threats — one organizer has been followed by men on motorcycles taking pictures outside her house, another has been forced to flee the country. Around the time of the event a human rights defender was found murdered in retaliation for her participation in public, international human rights events. The picture remains grim inside Colombia and out, but the international community of opposition to the status quo gets stronger after each event such as this one.

Sorry, things aren’t that OK

It’s worse than they say

Heating up in San José

by Isaac Beachy

Recently arriving in Apartadó’s airport after a short vacation, I was dumbfounded by a large poster in the baggage claim that proudly proclaimed, “Thanks to you soldier, there is a people that can work the land in peace and tranquility.” I left the airport to continue accompanying a community in their struggle with all the “peace and tranquility” that supposedly surrounded them.

Those of you in the States may have heard this everything-is-OK discourse from the Colombian government, who , or from your own government. In a blog entry this past December focusing on San José de Apartadó, the U.S. Department of Stategushed, “Thanks to a reinvigorated effort by the Government of Colombia supported by the U.S. government, this former battleground between the Colombian military and armed insurgent groups is slowly coming back to life.”

In part because of the national and international attention San José received after the 2005 massacre of eight peace community members, the Colombian government and military are anxious to make an example of San José to show the prosperity that comes with their dominating presence there. The narrative of San José as a military success also serves the U.S. government by validating the continued massive infusion of military aid to Colombia under Plan Colombia and the war on drugs.

The recent reality in San José unfortunately has looked very different. About a month ago, Álvaro Montoya, the town pharmacist and president of San José’s Community Action Council, left his house in San Jose early on a Thursday morning to go to Apartadó in one of the regularly departing jeeps. About twenty minutes outside of San José near a peace community village, two armed, camouflaged men stopped the jeep and asked Álvaro to get off. They killed him and left his body by the side of the road.

Alvaro’s murder was not an isolated event but one of many that make up an increasingly tense situation in San José. Soon after Álvaro was murdered, the FARC removed Nelly Vargas, the daughter of a peace community member and mother of three, from her house and killed her in a hamlet near San José. Paramilitaries have also recently been active in Apartadó and San José. In July, pamphlets were distributed throughout the region warning people to stay indoors after 10pm. Along with this threat, paramilitaries held a meeting in Apartadó on July 27 stating that they were prohibiting people from going to San José. In the same meeting, paramilitaries informed people that they had a list of targets in San José to kill. Although their superiors have a discourse that all-is-OK, the military has been mounting an increasing number of checkpoints on the road to and around San José.

There is a very tangible tension I feel when walking through San Jose. Whether it’s the large police bunker overlooking the town, the constant gaze of soldiers as I walk by, the collective fear of a guerrilla attack, or just the knowledge of recent events, I can’t be sure. The daily reality, though, is clear enough to FOR and all those who live near or in San José: it reveals the Colombian and U.S. governments’ discourse of peace and tranquility as a monstrous joke.

A Breakfast with the Embassies

By Peter Cousins

Father Javier Giraldo has been a busy man of late. One of the biggest supporters of the Peace Community of SanFusil o Toga José de Apartadó, at the start of September he released two books in as many days. One dealt with the interface between Christianity and human rights, while the second focused on the history of the attacks on the Peace Community during its 13 years of existence.

The latter, entitled Fusil o Toga, Toga y Fusil (The gun or the robe, the robe and the gun), was launched before representatives of ten North American, European and Latin American embassies, in the presence of various friends and accompaniers of the Community, including FOR, whose team helped plan the event. Father Javier explained that the title itself is indicative of current trends threatening the Peace Community — either members collaborate with the military (the gun) or they will be brought to trial on false grounds (the robe).

The book opens with a throwback to a massacre in 1977, etched in the memory of San José de Apartadó locals, in the vereda of Mulatos, a rural zone which would later become (in)famous across Colombia and the world for the ghastly massacre of seven Peace Community members and children. As we report elsewhere in this bulletin, Mulatos was the location of another killing within the last month, this time of a Community member’s relative.

The substance of the book meticulously recalls the acts and threats of violence against the Peace Community over the 13 years of its existence, and details the derechos de petición (similar to freedom of information requests) concerning these attacks which have been sent to various governmental representatives, and either ignored or treated superficially.

The breakfast also proved an opportunity for the Community representatives to outline their viewpoint on a variety of contemporary issues, be that the long-standing and continued presence/threats of paramilitary actors in close proximity to Peace Community spaces, the shelving of a disciplinary investigation into slanderous comments made against the Community by former-President Uribe, or the recent verdict which cleared ten army officers and sub-officials of any involvement in the aforementioned Mulatos massacre. Father Javier described this judgment as one of the most horrendous that the Colombian State has produced.

Community leaders asked for diplomatic support in launching a Commission of Evaluation of Justice, to look at the structural problems that have led to a complete lack of meaningful justice for attacks against the Community. This Commission is one of the four points that, if satisfactorily addressed by the Colombian government, would lead to the re-establishment of dialogue between the Peace Community and the State. Plans were also revealed for a Community pilgrimage to Bogotá in November, which will encompass visits to marginalized or militarized areas.

The Peace Community has sought to nurture its relationships with the foreign Embassies, as part of its non-violent struggle for justice. The United States was represented at the breakfast by the new human rights officer. This event will be followed up with diplomatic visits to San José de Apartadó in the coming weeks. In the context of a new Colombian administration enjoying a honeymoon period, the breakfast enabled members of the diplomatic corps to hear about very real concerns unfolding in the post-Uribe era, in the context of thirteen years of attacks and impunity so painstakingly documented by Father Javier Giraldo.

Join us at SOA Vigil

The Fellowship of Reconciliation will be at the upcoming School of the Americas vigil in Fort Benning, Georgia, from November 18 to 21, addressing the issues of US military presence in Latin America. Stay tuned for our workshop details.

We are also looking for volunteers to help us set up and staff a table at the largest mobilization of Americans concerned about US role in Latin America. Contact Susana Pimiento at spimiento@forusa.org or tel 512-542-1769.

Upcoming Bay Area Events

Crisis in Colombia — an Update

Friday, October 8, 2010, 7:30pm
Redwoods Presbyterian Church, 110 Magnola St., Larkspur, CA

In South America, growing US military involvement is encountering civic movements for peace and human rights and governments seeking independence from Washington. Colombia has become a focus for this encounter, as US policy prolongs a long war that’s displaced millions of Colombians, and controversy seethes over pervasive civilian killings, US military bases, and a proposed free trade agreement.

John Lindsay-Poland of FOR and Task Force on the Americas Director Dale Sorensen will discuss US militarization in the hemisphere, impacts on human rights, and grassroots responses. Both recently returned from fact-finding delegations in Colombia. They will show photos of affected Colombian communities and maps of US aid and human rights violations with their presentation. Donations accepted, refreshments served.

Information: Call the Task Force 415/924-3227

Forum: “Beyond Despair: US Militarization of Latin America”
Sunday, October 17, 2010, 9:30am

First Unitarian Universalist Church, 1187 Franklin Street at Geary, San Francisco, CA

John Lindsay-Poland speaks on our increasing presence as a military force in Latin America, how that affects the freedom of people in those countries and whether our country is a force for good or for ill in this hemisphere. Can US citizens effectively stand with threatened communities and activists? How are these changing with the militarization of US policy and people’s movements in South America? John is director of research and advocacy for the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a national interfaith peace and justice organization.

Contact: Karen Melander-Magoon, karenmm [at] sbcglobal.net

August 2010 Colombia Peace Update

Contents

Soldiers Acquitted for San José Massacre

The Decision to Keep Talking

FOR Report on Military Aid

Land Valued by Many: “To Displace 1,000, Kill 10”

Constitutional Court to Rule on Bases Agreement

Costa Rican Court Suspends US Troop Deployment

SOA Activists Protest at Tolemaida Base in Colombia

Briefs: Presbyterians Speak; Journalist Visa Denied, Granted

Soldiers Acquitted for San José Peace Community Massacre

A Medellin judge acquitted ten soldiers on August 6, including a colonel and major, for participation in the massacre of eight civilians in San José de Apartadó on February 21, 2005.

The case has been a critical measuring stick for the ability of the Colombian court system to render justice in the cases of thousands of killings of civilians in the country’s armed conflict. The community’s members were protected by an Inter-American Human Rights Court ruling, received international accompaniment, and among those killed were a community co-founder, Luis Guerra, and three children. An Army captain, Guillermo Gordillo, confessed to his participation in the massacre, as did several paramilitary members who said they worked together with the military. The victims were killed by machete, and several of them dismembered.

massacre anniversary processionThis makes me deeply sad, after everything that’s been done to make justice,” said Gloria Cuartas, former mayor of Apartadó, who has been an ally to the Peace Community.

Gustavo Araque, attorney for one of the soldiers, said that “the judge was capable of overcoming the political pressure and media war; she ruled in law.”

Cuartas pointed out that the ruling is inexplicable after the confessions of Gordillo and paramilitary men.

Meanwhile, the Peace Community reported threats by paramilitary gunmen in settlements in Córdoba affiliated with the community in June and July. On August 6, the commander of the Army’s Voltigeros Battalion reportedly said on local radio that he was filing suit against a community member for libel and threats.

On the eve of a State Department decision on whether to certify Colombia’s human rights record, the ruling on the massacre also creates a dilemma for U.S. officials, who will have to decide whether to bend the law by certifying, or to recognize that if even a case that receives extraordinary attention doesn’t receive justice, the United States cannot certify progress in human rights. Send a fax to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging her not to certify.

The Decision to Keep Talking

By Arno Kopecky

It’s no secret that around here, to denounce the government is to hang a tombstone around your neck. What guarantees can you give us thatLivelihoods in peril we’ll be safe after you leave?”

The question was posed by the leader of an Afro-Colombian fishing community living in the shadow of a military base at Bahia Malaga on Colombia’s central Pacific coast, and it put us on the spot. As if to underscore the challenge, a steady succession of combat helicopters came rapping in from their dusk patrol of the jungle surrounding the town of Juanchaco.

How to respond? We were a dozen middle class Americans in blue shirts, in town for the night as part of a delegation organized by the Fellowship of Reconciliation and Witness for Peace to better understand the US-Colombia Defense Cooperation Agreement signed last October. Under terms of the Agreement, described by FOR researcher John Lindsay-Poland as “a consolidation of Plan Colombia,” US forces will take up permanent residence at this air strip and the naval base around the corner, together with six other bases across the country.

The stories we heard in Bahia Malaga conformed to a national pattern: ever since the army built twin bases here in 1986, things have been going downhill for the communities who first settled this region two hundred years ago. “The Navy took my family’s land and threatened to kill us if we ever came back,” said a soft-spoken woman our delegation met earlier that day. She and dozens of families like hers have spent the past 24 years seeking legal redress for the farms their government appropriated, to no avail.

Their demands join those of two and a half million Colombians displaced over the course of former President Álvaro Uribe’s two terms in power. His successor, former Minister of Defense Juan Manuel Santos, took over last weekend with a promise to continue the policy of “Democratic Security” under which a national network of paramilitary groups collaborated with government and military to clear millions of farmers off the land; one third of Colombia’s congress and senate has either been indicted or is under investigation for links to paramilitaries, but justice is nowhere in sight. The official disarming of the paramilitaries under Colombia’s “Justice and Peace” initiative has yet to slow the tide of hundreds of thousands of campesinos forced off their lands each year.

We want to stay in the countryside,” another woman told us. “We don’t want to move to the city, because we don’t know how to live there. Yet the army is slowly pushing us off the land and the sea.” The navy has already sealed much of Bahia Malaga off to the fishermen who ply the waters in narrow skiffs, while hunters risk being mistaken for guerrillas or cocaine runners each time they enter the jungle. “I came across a patrol when I was hunting the other day,” one grizzled man told us, “and they took away my rifle. They said I should come by the base if I wanted it back, but when I showed up they only laughed in my face.” He got off lightly; the same day our delegation heard his testimony, two teenaged brothers went out hunting in another part of the country and stumbled onto army property; soldiers shot them both, killing the 14-year-old and leaving his 15-year-old brother in critical condition. “If our army does this on its own, what should we expect when the Americans come to join them?”

After a while, the questions started to feel rhetorical. American soldiers and contractors enjoy legal immunity under the new agreement; FOR’s latest report, published on July 29, has revealed a direct correlation between Plan Colombia funds and the “false positives” scandal under which Colombian soldiers murdered three thousand civilians and dressed their cadavers up as guerillas — yet rather than scale back its involvement, the US negotiated the DCA in secret and signed it without congressional debate in either country, ignoring the protests of nearly What the community wantsevery president in South America… How then to protect Colombians from our army, let alone their own?

What’s more — how do we protect ourselves? Americans may not have paramilitaries knocking down their doors, but the billions our government spends on military exploits in Colombia divert precious resources from collapsing systems of education, health, housing and labor here at home.

In the end, our hosts’ decision to keep talking was an answer in itself. From Bahia Malaga’s fishermen to the union leaders of the Magdalena river valley, from the family members of “false positive” victims in Cali to the silver-haired Senator Robledo in Bogota who has risked jail for opposing his President, the determination of Colombians across the country to maintain their peaceful resistance seems only to grow stronger as the onslaught against them stretches into decades. In place of guns and guarantees, what we have are voices. The only way to lose is to stop using them.

Arno Kopecky participated in a recent special delegation on military bases organized by FOR and Witness for Peace. His article, “Canada Backs Growing Embrace of US Military,” was published on August 6 in the Canadian journal, The Tyee.

FOR Report on Military Aid and Human Rights

FOR released its groundbreaking report, “Military Assistance and Human Rights: Colombia, U.S. Accountability and Global Implications” on July 29, together with the U.S. Office on Colombia, in an event co-organized by the Colombia No Bases Coalition. See coverage and commentary on the report in English by NACLA Report on the Americas, Global Post, Colombia Reports, and Inter-Press Service. The Colombian TV news program Noticias Uno also ran a two-minute segment.

Watch the event in Bogotá that launched the report, with presentations (in Spanish) by John Lindsay-Poland, Alberto Yepes of the Colombia Human Rights Observatory, and Diego Otero, author of a recent book on U.S.-Colombian military relations.

The State Department said it is preparing a response to the report.

Land valued by many: “To displace 1,000, kill 10”

By Isaac Beachy

On July 9, self-identified paramilitaries entered a Peace Community member’s house in Las Claras, Córdoba. Peace Community members were “invited” to a meeting the paramilitaries said they would return for in the next couple days. Members of the Peace Community in Las Claras, who were together for a community work day, met and decided they would not participate in any way, as it violated their principles of neutrality. Likewise they decided that if any Peace Community member were to be taken by the paramilitaries, all other members would go together to retrieve them.They reasoned it was better to be killed together in defense of one than to let one be killed alone. At the Peace Community’s petition, a group of accompaniment organizations, including FOR, began a rotating presence with members of the Peace Community in Córdoba. To this date paramilitaries have not returned to carry out their promise to hold another meeting, but the threat and fear of their presence continues.

Paramilitary groups have long had a strong presence and control throughout Córdoba, which was a stronghold of the Self-defense forces of Colombia (AUC). This has especially been true in Murmullo Alto and La Osa, two villages within miles of Peace Community members, where paramilitaries gathered campesinos for meetings in June. In these meetings paramilitaries informed the campesinos that they would be reasserting their control in the region, first by continuing meetings throughout the region, including in Puerto Nuevo, Alto Joaquín and Las Claras, all villages where Peace Community members live. The paramilitaries also specifically emphasized that no group would be left outside of their control (i.e. those with principles of neutrality).

Having joined the Peace Community in June 2009, members in Puerto Nuevo, Alto Joaquín and Las Claras are fairly new to the community and have made serious advances since joining. They have built a school in Las Claras and have plans for a library. In Alto Joaquín, Peace Community members bring rice they’ve grown to a new threshing machine to de-husk the rice they will eat, sell or distribute to other parts of the community as a part of its continuing efforts for food security. Recently the Peace Community in Córdoba has also started cultivating sugar cane, bananas, cacao (to make chocolate), and coffee.

Unfortunately, the same fertility of the land that gives Peace Community crops such life also attracts large entities who want the land, but without the campesinos who currently work it. Urrá S.A. E.S.P, the company that owns the reservoir that many Peace Community members live by, has distributed pamphlets asking those living around the reservoir to leave. The Colombian government owns over 99% of Urrá S.A. E.S.P. In the early 2000s similar pamphlets were distributed before paramilitaries committed several massacres, causing the displacement of thousands from the lands now below the reservoir. As one Peace Community member said, “They say to displace one hundred, kill one. To displace one thousand, kill ten. That is their strategy.”

For now, the Peace Community has not asked for a specific response from FOR other than the continued work of accompaniers and continued attentiveness of the FOR community. As this delicate situation develops we ask all to be attentive to requests for action you may take on the Peace Community’s behalf.

Isaac Beachy is a member of the FOR accompaniment team in San José de Apartadó.

Colombian Constitutional Court to Rule on US access to Military Bases

The highest Court in Colombia’s judicial structure is soon to pronounce judgement on whether the Defense Cooperation Agreement, signed in October 2009 by Colombia and the USA permitting the latter’s armed forces the use of seven Colombian military bases, is constitutional. Former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe refused to present the Agreement to Congress, arguing (as the USA also did) that it was merely revamping of various existing agreements and did not amount to a new treaty, and thus did not require the approval of Colombia’s elected representatives.

Nevertheless, opposition from each and every one of Colombia’s South American neighbors, as well as Colombian civil society, would appear to be justified, as the Constitutional Court agreed to examine whether or not this lack of congressional scrutiny was in line with Colombian requirements. The preliminary judgement, issued by magistrate Jorge Iván Palacio, argues that the Agreement as it stands is indeed unconstitutional. If the full Court agrees, it would be sent back to the Colombian Congress and could take up to a year to be approved.War ships in Juanchaco

US Ambassador to Colombia William Brownfield has suggested that, even if the Agreement requires further scrutiny, military cooperation between the two countries can continue under the terms of previous agreements. Nevertheless, despite the much-vaunted bilateral nature of the Agreement, this would represent a setback to the USA, which thus seeks to expand its military control over the Western Hemisphere.

The Colombian Constitutional Court is not the only Latin American judicial organ to have taken up the issue of an broadened US military presence. Within the last month, the Costa Rican Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments to determine whether or not the arrival of up to 46 US warships, 7,000 US soldiers, 200 helicopters and two aircraft carriers through the end of 2010, in this officially pacifist country, is in breach of the Constitution. While the Supreme Court makes its decision, the increased military presence is on hold.

The new Colombian president, Juan Manual Santos, has inherited Uribe’s security policies, including the Defense Cooperation Agreement. However, we shall soon find out if his administration is obliged to present it to the recently-installed Congress. In the event this should happen, a window of opportunity opens to ramp up the opposition from outside the legislature too.

Costa Rican Supreme Court Temporarily Halts Entry of US Military

Civil Society Is Organizing to Maintain the Country’s Status as a Nation Without Armed Forces

By Jamie Way, Narco News Bulletin

July 28, 2010

The Costa Rican Supreme Court last week agreed to take a case challenging the constitutionality of a US-Costa Rican agreement that would allow for a massive US military presence. The agreement cannot go into effect until the Supreme Court rules, thus postponing the arrival of US forces.

On July 1, Costa Rica’s unicameral Legislative Assembly, with 31 votes out of 57, approved the US Embassy’s request to open the country to 46 US warships, 7,000 US soldiers, 200 helicopters and two aircraft carriers. This permission was granted through at least Dec. 31 of this year, officially justified by the necessity of fighting drug-traffickers, providing humanitarian services and providing a place for US ships to dock and refuel. While most reports have put a Dec. 31 expiration date on the agreement, the Nicaraguan media last week reported that Costa Rican Foreign Minister Rene Castro, in a meeting with Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Samuel Santos, said that the agreement is for five years.

Prior Joint Patrol bilateral agreements between the countries allowed only US Coast Guard presence with Costa Rican law enforcement aboard. The US Coast Guard was permitted to follow vessels into Costa Rican waters while in pursuit and awaiting Costa Rican officials. Thus, the new agreement represents a substantial increase in the allowance of US military presence in Costa Rica, a country that abolished its army in 1948 and has a policy of neutrality.

The legislature’s approval of the bilateral agreement has not gone unchallenged. A substantial legislative opposition has formed, including representatives from the Broad Front, Citizen Action Party and the United Social Christian Parties. The opposition has challenged the constitutionality of the agreement, citing Article 12 of the Costa Rican constitution. Article 12 restricts the reasons that military forces may form and states that they must always remain under Costa Rican civilian control. Last week, the Costa Rican Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. This is encouraging news for the opposition regardless of the outcome, because the agreement cannot go into effect until the Court issues a ruling on the constitutional question. There is no indication about when the Court may issue a ruling.

Civil society as well is organizing to oppose the US military presence in its waters and on its soil. Distrust of US motives is widespread in light of the tacit US government support for the Honduran coup, the agreement with Colombia to use seven bases there, and tensions between Colombia and Venezuela in which Venezuelan forces are on high alert in preparation for a possible attack from Colombia. Costa Ricans have reacted by holding forums and protests. Student groups as young as high school have started to form in opposition to the US military presence. Some have created Facebook pages and posted YouTube messages representing civil society’s desire for a peaceful and sovereign nation, like this one.

While Costa Rican officials and civil society have proven themselves to be a formidable force in opposition to the spread of US militarism, it is vital that we in the United States make our voices heard in support of our Costa Rican sisters and brothers.

Former Prisoners of Conscience Take Protest to Military Base in Colombia

Nine U.S. human rights activists held a vigil at the Tolemaida military base in Colombia with a 12 foot banner that reads “U.S. Military out of Colombia.”

TOLEMAIDA MILITARY BASE — August 3 — The Tolemaida military base is one of seven Colombian bases to which the U.S. military has been granted access for 10 years under the U.S.-Colombia Defense Cooperation Agreement, which was signed in October 2009. The agreement has been met with opposition by Colombian and international human rights groups. It caused tensions in the region after a U.S. Air Force document became public that revealed that the United States military is planning to use the seven Colombian bases for “full spectrum operations throughout South America” against threats not only from drug trade and guerrilla movements, but also from “anti-U.S. governments” in the region.

Father Roy is Uncle SamFather Roy Bourgeois, SOA Watch founder and Purple Heart recipient, led this delegation of SOA Watch activists. Most of them have served federal prison terms for nonviolently calling for closure of the School of the Americas (SOA), now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). By confronting this current escalation of U.S. policy, the U.S. activists at Tolemaida are expressing solidarity with courageous Colombians working for peace and justice. Members of the delegation come from all over the United States, are equally male and female, and represent a wide variety of life and faith experiences.

The bases agreement operates from the same failed military mindset that has given rise to the School of the Americas (SOA/ WHINSEC),” said Father Roy Bourgeois. “The purpose of the bases and the purpose of the SOA/ WHINSEC are the same: to ensure U.S. control over the region through military means.”

After blocking the entrance to the Tolemaida military base for two days, the group held a protest at the gates of the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá on August 6.

See videos of their actions. Read the press statement (Word document) that they are now delivering at the Tolemaida base, and bios and quotes (Word document) from the human rights activists.

News Briefs

Presbyterian Church Speaks Out Against Military Base Agreement

The Presbyterian Church-USA, at its General Assembly in July, overwhelmingly approved a resolution “”seeking the permanent suspension of the U.S. military use of seven Colombian bases initiated in 2009” because it will “increase violence and displacement within Colombia, and be perceived by many Colombians as a violation of Colombia’s national sovereignty; and sow distrust among nearby Andean nations which perceive the expanded U.S. military presence in South America to be a threat to their national security.” The resolution was initiated in response to a pastoral letter from the Colombian Presbyterian Church that called for a suspension of the agreement.

The resolution urges “help the work of Presbyterians in the United States and in Colombia who are working to create a more just and peaceful society, as the gospel exhorts us to do.” The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship has an accompaniment team in Colombia.

Journalist Hollman Morris Granted US Visa

Last month, we reported that Colombian journalist Hollman Morris had been denied a US visa to participate in Harvard University’s Nieman Fellow program. The same day we sent our newsletter, the State Department reversed its decision and granted Morris a visa. The reversal responds to widespread protests by academic, journalist and human rights leaders and organizations, and the lack of any evidence to substantiate insinuations that Morris had consorted with terrorists.

July 2010 Colombia Peace Update

FOR Colombia Peace Update — July 2010

Journalist Exposing Violence in Peace Community Denied U.S. Entry

FOR Report on Military Aid and Human Rights

The Other 13 Million Votes

Declaration against Invasion and Military Impunity

Video Letter: Mulatos Peace Village

Letter from the Field: The Colombian Odyssey or the Fight over Land

Journalist Exposing Violence in Peace Community Denied Entry to U.S.

Hollman Morris was the first journalist, after the massacre in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó in 2005, to go to the community and talk with community leaders and members in depth about their experience, which became an 30-minute report in May 2005. Shortly afterward, documents obtained by Morris and published by the Center for International Policy show that the Colombian government intensified surveillance and efforts to discredit his work, and even undertook to prevent him from obtaining a visa to visit the United States.

Now, the United States itself has denied Morris a visa. The following piece by Robert Giles of the Los Angeles Times tells some of the story.

Hollman MorrisIt is not uncommon for international journalists who come to Harvard University as Nieman fellows to be out of favor with their governments. They often work in countries where free expression and the rule of law exist in name only. They report in an atmosphere of danger where threats, and sometimes violence, are common tools to encourage self-censorship and silence truth-telling.

Colombian journalist Hollman Morris has long worked in challenging conditions, producing probing television reports that document his country’s long and complex civil war. He has built contacts with the left-wing guerilla group known as the FARC and told stories of the conflict’s victims. He has revealed abuses by the country’s intelligence service and enraged government officials, including the president, Álvaro Uribe, who once called him “an accomplice to terrorism.”

Morris was awarded a Nieman Fellowship in journalism this spring and planned to travel to the United States to begin his studies at Harvard in the fall. But then, last week, he was told by a U.S. consular official in Bogota that he was being denied a visa under the “terrorist activities” section of the Patriot Act.

In the 60 years that foreign journalists have participated in the Nieman program, they have sometimes had trouble getting their own countries to allow them to come. The foundation’s first brush with the harsh reality of journalism under repressive regimes came in 1960, when Lewis Nkosi, a black South African and writer for Drum, a magazine for black South Africans, was awarded a fellowship. His application for a passport was denied by the country’s apartheid government. Angry and bitter, he applied for an exit visa. It enabled him to leave, but he was forbidden to ever return.

Morris, though, is the first person in Nieman history to be denied the right to participate not by his own country but by ours. The denial is alarming. It would represent a major recasting of press freedom doctrine if journalists, by establishing contacts with so-called terrorist organizations in the process of gathering news, open themselves to accusations of terrorist activities and the possibility of being barred from travel to the United States.

For the rest of this story, go to the Los Angeles Times.

See also statements by the American Association of Univeristy Professors, American Civil Liberties Union, and PEN American Center; the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA), which is presenting an award to Morris in absentia in October; Harvard’s Nieman program; and radio journalist Mario Murillo,

FOR Releasing Report on Military Aid and Human Rights

The Fellowship of Reconciliation releases a report on July 29, “U.S. Military Aid and Human Rights: Colombia, U.S. Accountability, and Global Implications.” Drawing on extensive data from the Colombian Attorney General’s and Inspector General’s offices, 20 human rights organizations, the U.S. State Department, and the Colombian military, the report addresses what implementation of U.S. human rights law in Colombia requires and explores the relationship between U.S. assistance and the human rights records of Colombian military units after receiving assistance.

The report will be presented in Bogotá on Thursday, July 29 at 6pm in the Benjamin Herrera Auditorium of Universidad Libre, Calle 8, No. 5-80, in an event co-sponsored by the Colombia No Bases Coalition. The U.S. Office on Colombia is also cooperating in the report.

The Other 13 Million Votes

On a drizzly June 20, punctuated by World Cup matches beamed in from South Africa, Colombians went to the polls to elect their president for the next four years. This was the second round of voting, pitting the candidate of the ‘U’ (National Unity) party, former Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos, against the ex-mayor of Bogotá Antanas Mockus, running for the Greens. A victory for Santos had been widely anticipated and indeed, the final result appeared overwhelming: 69% for Santos, against 27% for Mockus. Santos will take up the Presidency on August 7, coinciding with the anniversary of the Battle of Boyacá, a moment of great significance in the history of Colombia’s independence.

However, despite the apparent high levels of support and a Congress full of allies, not everyone is happy. There are reports of electoral fraud, and he could be arrested in Ecuador for the Colombian bombing of that country’s territory in 2008. The following irreverent blog by Luis Fernando Afanador, published on the website of the weekly magazine Semana a day after the election, casts an alternative light on the results.

13 million of us did not vote for Santos

Nine million abstentions, three and a half million in favor of Mockus, and nearly 500,000 blank votes: those of us who didn’t vote for Santos are a respectable majority. They can ignore us but they won’t be able to crush us.

What next? An uribista government and the traditional parties thirsty for posts and contracts. It was clear that Santos would put distance between himself and Uribe and the high number of votes in his favour allows him to do so. Surely he will now nominate his own people and there will be a much more qualified team — we will go back to having Ministries! — in public office. Relations with the judiciary and the opposition will be smoother and cleaner. Will the paramilitarized right be booted out and the traditional right, which has always governed, return? We will have to wait and see: Uribe and his gang are alive and well, and they won’t be swindling those political intriguers who supported Santos — they really did get down to work during the elections — with sweets or subordinate posts. They will claim the lion’s share of the votes in this period of “Great National Unity”. And the sixty-four thousand buck question is this: will Santos do anything to stop the course of justice in cases — in which he is not involved — against the former government? If he plays dumb over this, then it really will be war and Uribe will be more than just a thorn in the side. The latest desperate tantrums which the soon-to-be ex-president has thrown suggest betrayal and war.

The legal right is on its way then, efficient and intelligent, ready to get rid of that clumsy mountaineer who has passed his sell-by date. The right which, let it be said, has never done a good day’s work in its life and has been corrupt and has tolerated paramilitaries and the dirty war and afterwards washes its hands of the whole lot.

And the opposition? Mockus doesn’t have the talent to be an opponent (I just hope that, if Enrique Peñalosa — up to now part of his team — accepts the offer of a Ministry under Santos, then Mockus is capable of kicking him out). Gustavo Petro, yes, but his party, the Alternative Democratic Pole, has badly lost prestige. And rightly too. It’s no slander to talk of the 20% bite.

For now, we are a majority clamoring for a leader.

You can read more analysis on the election results on the blog of our former team-member Moira Birss.

Declaration against Invasion and Military Impunity

Many people around the hemisphere were dismayed by the Costa Rican legislature’s approval on July 1 of a plan to bring thousands of U.S. Marines and dozens of heaivly armed U.S. warships to Costa Rica through December. Here is just one statement of organizations in protest. For information on this deployment, see also Adam Isacson’s July 13 post.

We the undersigned and organizations of our support network, categorically reject the U.S. military ships entering Costa Rican USS Kearsargeterritory, as well as any further increase of militarism to attempt to solve conflicts in global politics.

We oppose the permission granted by the Costa Rican Legislature, which allows for joint patrols against trafficking of drugs into Costa Rica with up to 46 warships, 200 helicopters, 10 AV-8B Harrier aircraft and 7,000 marines.

With this action, the government of Costa Rica aims to join the U.S. military agenda in Latin America. The solution to drug trafficking is social, not military.

Costa Rica, with its neutral and pacifist tradition, cannot allow its territory to be used for a military objective that violates their sovereignty. This U.S. military contingent will be able to move freely throughout Costa Rican territory with immunity for its troops. Such a military presence in a country without an army is unacceptable.

We call on our respective goverments and peoples to jointly promote all possible action to defend Costa Rican sovereignty, and to reject this military action.

Signed by 29 organizations from 19 nations of the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean, July 8, 2010.

Video Letter: Mulatos Peace Village

Mulatos Peace Village video
Watch the FOR’s team 3-minute video letter from San José de Apartadó as they take a tour of Mulatos, the site five years before of a notorious massacre. It is now home to families who are building a peace village in the midst of the war.

Letter from the Field:

The Colombian Odyssey or the Fight over Land

By Marion Hiptmair

Turbo portThe humid air entering by the open windows of the already-rumbling Chevrolet Sprint was refreshing us. Our destination: Turbo, one of Colombia’s most important port towns on the Caribbean, known for hot weather, dirty town beaches and its mainly Afro-Colombian population. Turbo is full of life, salty ocean-air and fresh fish — and one of my favorite towns in Colombia. I was happy having the chance to accompany Fernando, the friendly lawyer of the Antioquian Farmer Association (ACA), during his job there.

FOR has accompanied ACA’s work now for about five years. They mostly support farmers who have been — or are threatened to be — displaced, in defense of their land. In Colombia access to land always has been a source of political power — and of humanitarian problems. This is a social and armed conflict in which members of the elite attempt to defend their political and economic power by putting at risk the fundamental economic, social, cultural and environmental rights of Colombian farmers.

In Turbo, the ACA works with campesinos (small farmers) who had to leave their land because of the violence in the region. When the security situation in the region got better later on and the campesinos came back to their own land, to which they even have the titles, somebody else was living there and cultivating their land. Somebody they have never met before; somebody they are afraid of and who doesn’t even let them visit their own land. After this welcome back they often try with different state agencies to recover their land, but it seems impossible — impossible especially for somebody to whom all this bureaucracy is one of the biggest barriers and there is no money to pay a lawyer.

banana field in UrabaThe ACA and the Association of Victims for the Restitution of Land and Property in Urabá work together with some of these campesinos to help them to get back their land.

It’s now about ten years, that I’ve been trying recover my land,” one of the campesinos said to me, while sitting in a bar in Turbo waiting for the other two campesinos to come. He was sipping on his aromatica (sweet herbal tea) while reflecting on what had happened to him. When everyone had arrived, Fernando got some information from each of them, and we continued to an Internet café where he finished up his documents. Shortly before 5 pm, when the public offices in Colombia close, we enteed the registration office and deposited the documents. “Now the patience procedure starts” said Fernando to the campesinos, “you have to come here, every Friday, as if they would be holy, and ask for any progress in your process”.

Juan, one of the campesinos who started the judicial process with the help of the ACA two years ago, was able to finally resettle his land. “The first thing I did was knock down all those plantain plants, which had hardly been cultivated in this region when I left!” said Juan proudly. As a little thanks for the help of the ACA, Juan gave Fernando some kilos of fresh corn he had just harvested and a big smile.

Let’s hope that the judicial process for the other two campesinos in Turbo and for all the other campesinos the ACA accompanies works out all fine, and that they are soon able to cultivate their own land again.

June 2010 Colombia Peace Update

Contents

Colombia’s President Rails against Justice, Clinton Stands By

By Lisa Haugaard

Colombia’s outgoing President has launched an assault against his country’s courts for taking some initial steps to bring high-ranking military and government officials to justice for their role in murder, illegal wiretapping, disappearances and torture. This is no abstract political debate. When the President takes to the airwaves to denounce those working for justice, the judges, lawyers, witnesses and victims’ families know that death threats, and sometimes murder, often follow. The threats and attacks usually appear to be from paramilitary groups. Colombia’s Supreme Court made a call for help: “We make an appeal to the international community to accompany and show solidarity with the Colombian judicial system which is being assaulted for carrying out its duties.”

These tirades come just as Hillary Clinton makes her first trip to Colombia, announcing in a June 9th joint press conference with President Uribe that, “The United States has been proud to stand with Colombia and we will continue to stand with you in the future.” The Secretary sought to assure the Colombian government that U.S. military assistance would flow, and that the Obama Administration supported a trade agreement, seeming to signal that concerns about human rights and labor rights came from the Congress rather than the White House. “The security threats have not completely been eliminated and therefore the United States will continue to support the Colombian military, the Colombian people and their government in their ongoing struggle,” Clinton said. “There is no resting until the job is done.”

President and military brassOn June 10, President Uribe went on national television surrounded by the military’s high command to denounce the justice system for a verdict against Colonel Luis Alfonso Plazas Vega for the disappearance of 11 people in 1985 following the army’s storming of the Palace of Justice. The M-19 guerrillas had seized the Palace, taking hostages and demanding to put the President on trial. In the army’s no-holds barred retaking of the Palace, more than 100 people were killed, including the guerrillas and 11 of the 24 Supreme Court justices. The colonel’s conviction, however, was not for the methods used when the army retook the palace. Instead, it was for the disappearance of 11 people, mainly cafeteria workers, who left the Palace alive and then disappeared, “allegedly tortured and killed because they witnessed heavy-handed tactics by the army as it stormed the building.”

Uribe blasted the verdict part of a “panorama of judicial insecurity which conspires against the maintenance of public order in Colombia.” But to the families of the disappeared cafeteria workers, justice is finally at hand. “With this groundbreaking ruling the victims’ families, who for almost a quarter of a century have campaigned for justice, have begun to break the silence that has for so long protected those responsible,” said Marcelo Pollack, Colombia researcher at Amnesty International.

On June 1, President Uribe attacked the Attorney General’s office for investigating his ex-director of the Special Administrative Unit for Financial Information and Analysis (UIAF), who was allegedly implicated in the DAS scandal regarding the illegal wiretapping of judges, human rights defenders, and journalists. He labeled the ex-director “an innocent, good man who has only served the country.”

A few days later, Uribe blasted the Attorney General’s office and lawyers for bringing General Freddy Padilla de León in for questioning. Padilla was summoned to testify regarding the system of armed forces’ incentives which are believed to have driven soldiers to commit abuses in order to up their body counts. “I raise my voice against the accusations against General Padilla de León. They are useful and useless idiots of terrorism who don’t do anything more than make false accusations—. Terrorism now wants to win via ink-stained wretches who want to stop the advances of democratic security.” Uribe called for new legislation to protect the military’s high command from accusations regarding the conduct of their troops.

Clinton’s one-day trip included a much-commented visit to a Bogotá restaurant, which was used to demonstrate that the country’s improved security situation now permitted her to have a “wonderful meal” in safety.

The Dreams of Youth Can’t be Camouflaged:

Conscientious Objector Week in Medellin

By Rachel Dickson

May 15th was International Conscientious Objector’s Day

FOR Colombia training game

Felipe Cordero, Jon Patberg, and Matt Johnson cooperate in the FOR Colombia volunteer training to turn over a small blanket they’re standing on, as part of the June 3-8 program. And they succeeded!

Photo: Shauen Pearce

For 25 years, May 15 has been celebrated as International Conscientious Objectors’ Day, a tradition of struggle led by anti-war and pacifist groups. Conscientious

objectors stand up for human rights and dignity, democratic rights, and international law. Widespread public support and pressure can help protect these courageous individuals from feelings of isolation and from repression of them and their rights. That’s why the Youth Network of Medellín is looking for international support to organize actions at Colombian Embassies and Consulates throughout the world, to draw attention to the problem of forced recruitment in Colombia, and the specific impacts on youth. Read more about the call to action below.

The Youth Network of Medellín (Red Juvenil de Medellín) has been actively dreaming, looking for, and creating peace and social justice for 20 years, and this year on May 15 was no exception. In the name of Conscientious Objector’s Day, the Red Juvenil launched a campaign “For a dignified life and the demilitarization of our bodies and lands,” whose objective is to encourage disobedience as a means to transform youth confronted with a militaristic and patriarchal culture.

During the week in the name of the campaign, the Red Juvenil staged a collective direct action in the streets of Medellín, put on a play about the U.S. military bases in the University of Antioquia, and held a forum for the release of a 2009 study called “The Dreams of Youth Can’t Be Camouflaged,” about the increasingly violent and dangerous realities of city life for Colombian youth.

The report, released in a forum at the University of San Buenaventura on May 14, focused on abstract as well as pragmatic aspects of the reality of youth in Medellín. “The cement hides the poverty but does not make it disappear. Militarization controls the inconformity,” said Alejandra, a four-year member of the Red Juvenil. “We talk of all time at the same time, because we recognize as reality the downtown city known by tourists, as well as the city overwhelmed by bullets and hunger. In Medellín, it’s as real the asphalt and bright lights of Christmas (a dazzling display of lights sponsored by the government thaDon't Be War Clownt features over 14.5 million light bulbs and has earned the city quite some fame), as the darkness reminiscent of the 14th century that 60,000 families live today, disconnected from electricity,” said Jhony, a University of Antioquia student and 5-year member of the Red Juvenil.

The presenters went on to scoff at the education projects offered by Medellín, which has publicized greatly its significant social investment, but that according to these students, has provoked few tangible results. Infrastructure is not a guarantee of the quality of education, they claimed. Furthermore, the said, schools teach students so that they graduate quickly, and get jobs to keep the economy going; they are not taught to think. The harsh realities become dire necessity for many teens, and for many in Medellín neighborhoods, joining an armed group represents the most viable means of survival. The armed groups use youth, specifically for “errands,” or murders, taking advantage of the cheap labor and greater levels of immunity from prosecution for minors that commit crimes, one speaker exclaimed. The state’s Democratic Security policy has naturalized force — one has to relate to the war in order to come out ahead, said another speaker at the forum.

Military Base street theaterThe relentless violence encouraged by the Democratic Security policy means the Colombian military has a high need for bodies — recruitment, including forced recruitment, is a necessity. Several members denounced the practice of batidas, in which soldiers drive around in a truck without license plates, picking up young men who do not have their obligatory papers, trucking them off directly to the barracks to begin their military service. The commander of the Army’s 4th Brigade, Alberto Mejía Ferrero, has condemned the practice of batidas as prohibited, but he admitted it continues to happen when recruiters have trouble meeting their quotas.

Young men are not the only victims, as women face especially brutal persecution. Women are utilized and seduced for their services, explained Alejandra. She said that not only are they exploited sexually from a young age by virtually all of the armed groups, they are frequently forced to transport drugs and weapons, taking advantage of the machista and militarized culture that rarely requires women to be searched.

Read the rest of Rachel’s account of the forum here.

CALL TO ACTION

In the context of the Red Juvenil’s campaign, “For a Dignified Life and the Demilitarization of our Bodies and Lands,” they are inviting internationals from all over the world (in particular U.S. residents, since U.S. foreign policy has a direct and distinct impact on Colombia) to organize direct actions at Colombian Embassies and Consulates, to draw attention to the problem of forced recruitment of youth.

The idea is that individuals and collectives come up with an action proposal and contact the Red Juvenil to get support and relevant information and texts to help plan the action. Specifically, they want to encourage direct action in the month of July (the month of Colombian independence), and the month of October (the month of Race Day in Colombia, or Columbus Day in the U.S. Actions can be big or small: staging a clown protest of 3 people or 300, writing a letter, calling the Embassy, calling your representatives, performing a play, making a mural. Contact the Red Juvenil using this page. Or contact the FOR team in Bogotá for support: bogota@forcolombia.org.

Photos courtesy of Sacha Klein.

Presidential Elections go to Second Round

By Peter Cousins

Former Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos, and ex-Mayor of Bogotá Antanas Mockus will face one another in the presidential run-off on June 20th, after the elections on May 30th failed to produce an outright winner.
However, of the nine candidates to stand for the presidency, Juan Manuel Santos of the governing ‘U’ Party gained by far the most votes, taking nearly 47% of the ballot — 3% short of a clear majority. Mockus, in second place, took just under 22% for the Green Party.

The entire election campaign has been full of twists and turns. Initially it was almost taken for granted that current President Álvaro Uribe would be permitted to alter the constitution and run for a third consecutive term. However, once the Constitutional Court threw out this measure, his former Minister Santos took an early lead, with Mockus’ percentage of the vote trailing behind in single figures. The picture changed again when former Mayor of Medellín Sergio Fajardo — up to that point a presidential candidate himself — accepted an offer to join Mockus’ ticket as vice-president (although it is believed that in a future Green administration, he would take up the post of Minister of Education, a topic close to his heart during his term as mayor and something of a theme of the Green campaign). From then on, all the polls pointed towards a photo finish, with Santos and Mockus each hovering around 35% of the intention to vote.

The difference between the polls and the final result (12-13% more for Santos, and 12-13% less for Mockus), therefore, is noticeable, and has been attributed to different factors. One pollster acknowledged that they had overlooked the ‘foreign vote’ — that of ex-pat Colombians across the world.

Mockus himself has said that the surveys failed to sufficiently take into account the rural vote, with campesinos (peasant farmers) largely ignored. Indeed, he went as far as to declare that polls brought his campaign false hopes. The extent to which corruption was also a factor is not easy to gauge, but one source has recorded over 500 incidences of unfair play across the countr

The Catholic Church limited itself to generalities about support for human dignity and human rights, which contrasts with the position taken by the World Council of Churches in February, when they reaffirmed their call for a negotiated end to the conflict.

In any case, Santos goes into the next round as a clear favorite, with it all to lose. Critical in this second phase are the positions taken by the remaining candidates. With Liberal candidate Rafael Pardo leaving the choice up to his followers, most legislators in his party are backing Santos. The Alternative Democratic Pole have called for voters to abstain, because Mockus refused to support what the Pole considered five essential political points.

Mockus has applied his brand of political clean-up to the conflict with the FARC, saying that the armed conflict must be won within the limits of the Constitution, which is nevertheless different from declaring that he seeks negotiations and an humanitarian accord. Indeed, in order to maintain his credentials in the field of security, he even suggested that the FARC would be better off negotiating with Uribe now. But Santos, whose ‘U’ Party promises to keep in place President Uribe’s Democratic Security policy (with all the associated costs in terms of human rights abuses), is likely to receive the backing of the uribista-inclined Conservative and Radical Change parties. The raw fact is that Santos would only need an additional 3% on top of the votes which he won in the first round, to take the Presidency.

What do these results tell us about the political barometer of Colombia? Despite his apparent hard line regarding the armed conflict, the supposed ‘green wave’ could be read as an expression of support for cleaner politics, in the light of the ‘false positives’ and illegal wiretapping of a wide sector of society by the secret services, known as the ‘chuzadas’. That is to say, Colombians were looking for both continuity and change. The final results suggest that they sought less in the way of change and more continuity.

Agribusiness behind Forced Displacement

By Susana Pimiento

On May 18, a human rights prosecutor ordered the arrest of twenty-two oil palm businessmen. The businessmen are accused of colluding with paramilitary death squads for promoting the forced displacement of Afro-Colombian communities of lower Atrato River, in the province of Choco. A total of 23 oil palm companies are being investigated and more arrests are expected.

Raul Jazbun, an agro-businessman also investigated for links with death squads and a key witness in the Chiquita case, told prosecutors in a separate investigation, that that once soil studies showed that the lower Atrato River area was ideal for oil palm cultivation, agribusiness companies such as Urapalma were organized. And then the horror campaign began, that included several massacres, assassination of community leaders and massive military operations. Those companies were subsequently granted extensive government subsidies.

AfroColombian communities in resistance — El Espectador photoOver the last decade, the Atrato River Afro-Colombian communities have been waging an impressive non-violent struggle to recover their lands and evict the invaders, accompanied by organizations such as Justicia y Paz and Peace Brigades International and supported by prominent human rights defenders. They have been trying to enforce their collective rights as Afro-Colombian to their ancestral land, granted by the Colombian constitution. On May 11, the Colombian Constitutional Court had halted a government move to give title to a community council because it became evident that the council did not represent the community and was instead a mechanism used by the oil palm companies to keep their crops.

The recent decisions by the Human Rights prosecutors and the Constitutional Court constitute an important first step towards justice, truth and reparation for the Afro-Colombian communities. A lot remains to be done, including making the 17th Brigade commanders accountable for the key role they played in many of those horrific acts.

Colombian Army Shouldn’t be Used to Attack Other Nations

Colombia No Bases Coalition

In a shameful attitude for the Colombian people that further isolates us from the world’s democratic nations, the Colombian government on March 26 decided to send a new contingent of soldiers to support the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. There is no conflict between the Colombian and Afghan people to justify the sending of these troops.

Obsequious to United States expansionist interests to the very last day, the Uribe government’s actions in support of war and human rights violations have led our country to be seen as a threat to the stability of the region and a systematic enemy of global democratic processes.

The Colombia No Bases Coalition rejects military interference in any country of the world, and we demand of the government the immediate withdrawal of Colombian troops from Afghanistan, as well as the expulsion of the United States military presence in our territory.

Bogotá, May 31, 2010

Last Chance to Apply:

Military Bases Delegation to Colombia

July 24 — August 2
There are still a few spaces left on this unprecedent delegation.
Last fall, the governments of Colombia and the United States signed an agreement to grant the Pentagon use of seven military bases on Colombian soil. The agreement bolstered the United States’ military presence in the Andean region at a time when progressive movements in Ecuador, Venezuela and Bolivia struggle to reorganize their societies more equally, and victims of Colombia’s dirty war demand accountability. It also intensified the contentious mix of militarism and free trade that has characterized U.S. Latin American policy.

What role do the bases play in upholding free trade orthodoxy and advancing the counterinsurgency, anti-narcotics program known as Plan Colombia? How does the increasing militarization of Colombia affect grassroots politics?

JOIN US AS WE EXPLORE THESE ISSUES IN COLOMBIA. ON THIS DELEGATION, WE WILL:

  • Visit several U.S. military bases
  • Talk with Colombians who live and work near the bases
  • Meet with human rights, labor, peasant, and community groups
  • Meet with U.S. and Colombian government and military personnel

DELEGATION LEADERS: The delegation will be led by Susana Pimiento Chamorro and by Lesley Gill (Ph.D. 1984, Columbia); Vanderbilt U., Department Chair, Anthropology. Lesley’s research in Latin America focuses on political violence, human rights, global economic restructuring, the state, and transformations in class, gender, and ethnic relations. Her books include The School of the Americas: Military Training and Political Violence (Duke, 2004). Susana Pimientois a Colombian-American attorney who co-directs Fellowship of Reconciliation’s Task Force of Latin America and the Caribbean. Based in Bogotá, she has undertaken research on military bases and played a very active role in the formation of the Colombia No Bases Coalition.

CONTACTS: Lesley Gill 615-322-2851, Lesley.gill@att.net

Ken Crowley 202-423-3402, ken@witnessforpeace.org

COST: Full Delegation Cost $1,225

FOR is collaborating with Witness for Peace (WFP) the sponsor of this delegation. WFP is a politically independent, nationwide grassroots organization of people committed to nonviolence.

Women and People’s Summit of the Americas against Militarization

Colombia: August 16 — 23, 2010

Silence the weapon so that women and the people
may speak in defense of life and sovereignty.”

We call on our colleagues, women and men, to join in solidarity with our common struggle for a negotiated political solution to the social and armed conflict that lives in our country. Together, we raise our voices against The United States’ military bases in Colombia and in our America.

The Summit is designed to have three moments:
First moment: Solidarity and Resistance Action to the regions of Colombia (August 16-20, various locations)
Second Moment: Round Table Discussions (August 21 — 22, Barrancabermeja)
Third Stage: Vigil for life. (August 23, Puerto Salgar)

“As Women, we construct loving relations with Mother Earth”¨and affirm the sovereignty of our people.

For further information or to confirm your participation, write to: encuentrodelasamericas@gmail.com
The Women’s Social Movement against War and for Peace

May 2010 Colombia Peace Update

Contents

No Bases Coalition Launched in Bogotá

On April 8, the Autonomous University of Colombia hosted an important step forward in the resistance to the militarization of Colombia: the launching of a coalition opposed to Defense Cooperation Agreement which permits the US military access to Colombian bases. The launch, No Bases Coalition launches at the Autonomous University of 
Colombiawhich was overflowing with people, took speeches from Colombian academics, parliamentarians and activists, and also heard from a member of a similar coalition in Ecuador that monitored and resisted the US former base at Manta. A declaration was also read out, to which over 150 individuals and organizations have added their signature, which denounces the supposed pretext of combating narco-terrorism in the region and highlights the flaws in the agreement.

The Colombian TV program Contravia aired a feature-length program about military bases the same day as the coalition event, focusing on impunity for sexual violence by U.S. soldiers, with commentary from FOR staff Susana Pimiento and John Lindsay-Poland. FOR has compiled an extensive corpus of information concerning the Defense Cooperation Agreement and those interested in learning more about the coalition, in which FOR plays a significant role, can visit the coalition’s web site.

In subsequent days and weeks, the need for such solidarity was again made clear, as both the US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela and Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited Colombia. Both were full of praise for Colombia’s perceived security advances — Gates even referred to the country as an “exporter of security” in reference to a planned deployment of Colombian troops in Afghanistan, with no mention of the horrendous abuses for which its US-funded army is responsible.

Meanwhile, the continental significance of the anti-bases coalition was not just driven home by the presence of an Ecuadorian. As the coalition was being launched, US and Brazilian officials were busy discussing an agreement which will permit the US access to a base in Sao Paolo, on the supposed basis of monitoring drug trafficking, in a similar fashion to bases at Miami and Lisbon. Brazil expressed its displeasure at the US-Colombian agreement, so its openness to this agreement is somewhat perplexing, although it is known that no US troops will be permitted on Brazilian soil as a result. The US rhetoric is less clear still: Valenzuela argued that the agreement with Brazil does not resemble the one with Colombia, yet the American Forces Press Service reports Gates as saying, during his visit to Colombia, that “the United States and Colombia established a ground-breaking model that others in the region now hope to emulate”.

Military Bases, Human Rights & Free Trade Delegation

July 24 to August 2

Last fall, the governments of Colombia and the United States signed an agreement to grant the Pentagon use of seven military bases on Colombian soil. The agreement bolstered the United States’ military presence in the Andean region at a time when progressive movements in Ecuador, Venezuela and Bolivia struggle to reorganize their societies more equally, and victims of Colombia’s dirty war demand accountability. It also intensified the contentious mix of militarism and free trade that has characterized U.S. Latin American policy.

Map of bases used by the United States in Colombia

What role do the bases play in upholding free trade orthodoxy and advancing the counterinsurgency, anti-narcotics program known as Plan Colombia? How does the increasing militarization of Colombia affect grassroots politics?

JOIN US AS WE EXPLORE THESE ISSUES IN COLOMBIA. ON THIS DELEGATION, WE WILL:

  • Visit several U.S. military bases
  • Talk with Colombians who live and work near the bases
  • Meet with human rights, labor, peasant, and community groups
  • Meet with U.S. and Colombian government and military personnel

DELEGATION LEADERS: The delegation will be led by Susana Pimiento Chamorro and by Lesley Gill (Ph.D. 1984, Columbia); Vanderbilt U., Department Chair, Anthropology. Lesley’s research in Latin America focuses on political violence, human rights, global economic restructuring, the state, and transformations in class, gender, and ethnic relations. Her books include The School of the Americas: Military Training and Political Violence (Duke, 2004). Susana Pimiento is a Colombian-American attorney who co-directs Fellowship of Reconciliation’s Task Force of Latin America and the Caribbean. Based in Bogotá, she has undertaken research on military bases and played a very active role in the formation of the Colombia No Bases Coalition.

CONTACTS: Lesley Gill 615-322-2851, Lesley.gill@att.net

Ken Crowley 202-423-3402, ken@witnessforpeace.org

COST: Full Delegation Cost $1,225

Deposit $150 due June 10 Balance $1,075 due June 24

FOR is collaborating with Witness for Peace (WFP) the sponsor of this delegation. WFP is a politically independent, nationwide grassroots organization of people committed to nonviolence.

Threats to Rights Defenders and Communities Continue

With little time remaining before the Colombian presidential election, the violence which many people credit President Uribe with having reduced, shows little sign of abating. The most recent statement from FOR’s partners at the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó denounces more threats in an area whose stability has been progressively decreasing since the second half of last year.

The most recent events mentioned include the threats from both paramilitaries and members of the army to do away with the Peace Community. Soldiers are alleged to have suggested that the Inter-American Court and Colombian Constitutional Court rulings, which offer protection to the Peace Community, have no standing in their eyes. Meanwhile, the local army brigade itself has broadcast calls to Peace Community members to present themselves at the garrison, implying that they are a source of useful information for the armed forces in their conflict with the FARC.

One of the Peace Community’s most loyal supporters, Father Javier Giraldo, has himself become a target. In the final days of April, graffiti appeared on the walls of Bogotá indicating that the “Marxist” priest would soon be killed. The Vice-President of Colombia, Francisco Santos, deemed the threats of sufficient gravity to issue a statement of his own from China. But his claim that the State can be trusted to guarantee his safety despite differences of opinion, was somewhat undermined one day later, when it was revealed that Colombia’s security agency, the DAS, had been spying on Father Javier since the 1970s.

Grafitti targeting Father Javier Giraldo

On April 10, the paramilitary group Rastrojos circulated threats against 60 organizations, including the UN Development Program. Thirteen U.S. organizations wrote to U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield urging a response, noting that last year Somos Defensores registered 125 cases of threats against human rights defenders, 32 of whom were subsequently assassinated. On May 9 the human rights group Justice and Peace received information that gunmen have been paid US$15,000 to kill Enrique Petro, a peasant leader in the Curvaradó basin region of Chocó Department.

If these cases concern threats of aggression, so acts of violence across the country have also presented in recent months. In February, soldiers reportedly attempted to rape a young woman in the course of extracting a forced confession about her alleged involvement with guerrilla forces, while in Antioquia a civilian was murdered by the paramilitary group Aguilas Negras. This took place in a municipality, Amalfi, where FOR is aware of the negotiation process between a local citizens’ council and the company responsible for the development of a reservoir in the area. The killing is interpreted as an act of intimidation against the negotiation process.

However, by far the most serious act of violence occurred at the start of April in Suarez, in Lower Cauca region. There, at least eight miners were massacred in an area where, like Amalfi, the interests of large corporations loom large. According to a survivor of the attack, the victims were made to kneel down and were shot in the head.

The killings occurred in spite of the proximity of local army battalions and the police force. The police commander in the area has since attributed the crime to a front of the FARC, a common response of public officials. But this response has been interpreted as an endeavor to divert attention from other hypotheses emphasizing the role of economic interests in the killing.

Finally, a different kind of threat has emerged in the Pacific region, around the port city of Buenaventura. Local organizations have declared a social emergency, drawing attention to the environmental dangers of ill-controlled mineral exploitation whose impacts could be devastating for the unique mangrove ecosystem in the area. The concurrent militarization of rivers and waterways offers only a military approach to challenges of an extremely different nature, while threats against local community leaders mirror the patterns highlighted elsewhere in the country.

To prevent further threats and murders from taking place please:

  1. Urge Ambassador William Brownfield at the US Embassy in Bogotá, email: AmbassadorB@state.gov to contact the Colombian authorities and urge them to act to dismantle the paramilitary groups operating in northern Cauca; guarantee the safety of the threatened individuals; investigate the threats made against these individuals and to prosecute those responsible and to follow through on the promises made to these leaders in the December 2009 meeting.
  2. Ask your member of Congress (US Capitol Switchboard 202-224-3121) to contact the US State Department and ask that they take action to guarantee the safety of these threatened individuals and not to certify military aid to Colombia.

Introducing: Video Letter from the Field

This month FOR team member Isaac Beachy talks to us in a video letter from a trail in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó.

Testimony: Against Our Will and Our Rights

By Gabriel Jaime Moscoso Prada

Maybe many think that the army, being a governmental entity and “defending the laws” also respects us. But unfortunately the majority of people are unaware that the army conscripts youth who are NOT qualified. Such as myself, Gabriel Jaime Moscoso Prada, another young person in this city who is not in agreement with the war, and I was conscripted February 12, 2008, in biggest round of conscription in the history of this country. In spite of being the only son, studying in the Sena and using glasses all the time, I was taken to Puerto Berrio, Antioquia to the army’s 14 Brigade together with 69 other youth, including minors, several youth who were studying, two with glasses, among others.

Of those of us were in that changing room in the Anastasio Girardot stadium, I can say that no one in the place had the desire to go into the army. Most of us expressed feelings of sadness, fear, anguish, desperation, and anger on seeing that we would be forced to be part of this cold and merciless war that day after day does away with our youth, requiring to defend interests that in many cases we don’t know. And for those who didn’t care one way or the other about doing military service still did not want to be far from their families.

We should also mention the desertions and suicides caused by forced recruitment, because although many don’t know it, the rate of soldiers dying outside of combat is very high, not only through arbitrary recruitment, but also by the highly offensive treatment and psychological violence. Moreover, the only thing they teach is to kill and blindly obey the orders of “superiors,” without regard to having to push around the people that it says it is defending.

For these and other reasons I am a conscientious objector.

Days of Prayer and Action in 18 Cities

By Liza Smith

Last year, as part of the Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia, Bay Area activists painted a large sheet with red letters “4 Million Displaced End US Military Aid to Colombia.” This year, the banner was already grossly out of date: only 365 days had passed, but now there were already 4.9 million displaced. Almost one million more people had fled their homes from violence in Colombia. While the numbers of civilians affected by Colombia’s conflict continues to grow, the good news is that organizing efforts in the United States to make this crisis visible and to oppose U.S. policy towards Colombia, have also grown.

Poster: Four million displaced. End US military aid to 
Colombia.

In 2010 the Days of Prayer and Action almost tripled its efforts from the year before: with 18 actions in cities as diverse as Cleveland, Duluth, Greensboro, Hutchinson, Raleigh, and Santa Cruz, the coalition effectively highlighted the displacement crisis by bringing the faces and testimonies of people who were forced to flee their homes and lands to city streets, churches and university campuses across the U.S. The public displays were coordinated with a national call-in day during which people from all over the country urged their Congressional Representatives for a change in US policy towards Colombia. Thousands of emails were sent with the same message.

The posters made by hundreds of activists and concerned folks around the country with personal messages to President Obama are being collected in Washington, D.C. where they will be used in one final public display on May 24. Following the display, organizers and leaders of this effort will give all of the posters to a member of Obama’s administration as a clear and tangible display of grassroots’ demands: the U.S. should end its support of Colombia’s war by selling helicopters and training soldiers; instead it’s time to work for peace and support human rights in this country that has withstood decades of war.

It’s not too late to send an email! Tell your representative to change U.S. policy towards Colombia. To see more photos of action around the country, click here and here.

Listen to a recent interview with Marino Cordoba from AFRODES (an Afro-Colombian organization working on displacement issues) and FOR’s Liza Smith about the internal refugee crisis in Colombia.

News Briefs

FOR and SOA Watch Event on Military BasesJohn Lindsay-Poland (FOR), Adam Isacson (Center for International 
Policy), and Livia Suárez (Venezuelan Embassy) speak on US military 
bases in Colombia

FOR participated on April 18 in a public panel in Washington, DC on U.S. military bases in Colombia. John Lindsay-Poland (FOR), Adam Isacson (Center for International Policy), and Livia Suárez (Venezuelan Embassy) addressed the regional, Colombian and US policy dimensions of the agreement for U.S. use of seven military bases in Colombia. John also briefed Congressional staff and collegial organizations on research FOR has undertaken on U.S. military assistance to Colombia and extrajudicial killings.

Colombian Candidates Speak on Human Rights

Semana magazine interviewed the six main presidential candidates on their views on human rights in Colombia. The result is an illuminating look at how prospective leaders see human rights, the recent Human Rights Watch report on paramilitary activity in Colombia, and what should be done to protect indigenous people, human rights defenders, and trade unionists.

Paramilitary Chief Says He Supported Uribe’s Election

Through a closed-circuit satellite link to a prison in Virginia, where he is accused of drug trafficking crimes, former AUC paramilitary chief Salvatore Mancuso asserted that his forces supported Álvaro Uribe’s election in 2002. He is the fourth paramilitary chief to make the claim.

Salvatore Mancuso

Mancuso declared that he participated in a plot against former Supreme Court magistrate Iván Velásquez, who was the leading judge investigating the Uribe government’s collaboration with paramilitary groups.

Mancuso also stated that he met with leading presidential candidate Juan Manuel Santos twice in 1997, as part of a plot to overthrow then-president Ernesto Samper. Santos, he said, arrived at one meeting accompanied by emerald dealer Victor Carranza, long suspected of being himself a paramilitary leader.

Obama Nominates New Ambassador to Colombia

Colombia Report and FOR

Peter Michael McKinley

President Barack Obama nominated Peter Michael McKinley on May 7 as the next U.S. ambassador to Colombia. McKinley served as U.S. ambassador to Peru since 2007.

McKinley once wrote a study that “portrays a colony, which grew, prospered and matured within the confines of Empire,” according to the publisher’s description. That colony was pre-revolutionary Caracas, but the perspective is interesting as McKinley comes representing the United States to a country many consider to be within the confines of U.S. empire.

He held the post of deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Mission to the European Union in Brussels from 2004-2007, and previously had similar roles in the U.S. embassies in Mozambique, Uganda and Belgium. The career diplomat has also served in the U.S. embassies in London and Bolivia.

The ambassador is a supporter of free trade deals: “Free trade in Latin America is critical to our relations with our hemispheric partners,” he said in 2008. “It’s also critical to the economic and security interests of the United States.”

If confirmed, McKinley would replace William Brownfield, who has been ambassador to Colombia since 2007, after being ambassador to Venezuela. The nomination must be ratified by the U.S. Senate.

April 2010 Colombia Peace Update

April 6, 2010

Contents

Letter from the Field: Returning to Mulatos and La Resbaloza in 2010

By Chris Courtheyn

MulatosI remember vividly my first trip to Mulatos, in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, on February 19, 2008. I had only a week earlier arrived in the Peace Community for the first time. The five-hour walk through hills and riverbeds to Mulatos from the settlement of La Unión where FOR’s team lives was brutal on my body, exhausting my legs and knees. Arriving at the site of the February 2005 massacre, there was nothing more than a small chapel in what seemed the middle of the bush. In fact, this space to where community members had returned in 2004 was now totally overgrown with tall grasses. The area was subsequently cleared and prepared for the events that would take place two days later: a mass at the massacre site in Mulatos, and a commemoration event honoring those killed in La Resbaloza.

This was the first major event I accompanied as an FOR volunteer in Colombia — the “return” to the veredas of Mulatos and La Resbaloza. (A vereda is a small rural district of dispersed rural settlements.) The farmers living there had originally been displaced in 1996, along with thousands of others throughout the country’s northwestern Urabá region, when paramilitaries swept the area in an attempted takeover of territory. The Peace Community began to return to these veredas in 2004, only to suffer the horrendous massacre, attributed to an army and paramilitary operation, of eight of its members on February 21, 2005. Three years later, the Peace Community attempted to return once again.

I made that first trip with my teammate at the time, Daniel Malakoff. He had been a FOR accompanier previously in 2005, and in the aftermath of the massacre remembered Mulatos as a desolate place. He commented how much had changed in the previous three years, in seeing various farmers along the trails, houses under construction, and the newly planted crops, such as corn. He told me that he perceived that the Peace Community had responded to the tragedy of 2005 with intense resilience and had become even stronger. (Read his February 2008 Letter from the Field.)

Fast forward to 2010. The area that only two years ago was overgrown with weeds is now a settlement of its own: the Peace Village of Mulatos. In the proceeding weeks, Peace Community members from other veredas such as La Unión, La Cristalina, Alto Joaquín and Las Claras, had come to build the village. The new constructions were numerous: kiosks and homes, a kitchen and a dining hall, toilet and shower stalls.

Hundreds of people participated in the week-long commemoration of the 2005 massacre. Peace Community members were joined by representatives from other communities, such as indigenous Colombians from Cauca and Chocó, as well as internationals from Italy, Austria, France, Brazil, and the United States.

MulatosCommunity families have now returned to over ten veredas since its founding in 1997. Mulatos is emblematic of the community’s process, illustrating the constant obstacles it faces, where attempts to return are stalled through massacres and threats. Today, guerrillas, paramilitaries and army soldiers continue to pressure these farmers to submit to their command or to flee, yet the community remains vigilant and vows to return to and work their lands no matter how long it takes.

Community principles have evolved over time, as well. As explained by a member: “In the founding of the community, our priority was to return to and remain on our lands through nonviolent resistance. However, over the past two years, our principles have grown from simply not collaborating with any armed group to a focus on not replicating in any way the logic of the armed groups. In other words, to not simply reject violence in order to survive in the midst of war, but to work together even harder to develop a true social and economic alternative of peace. This has meant more harmony with the environment, such as cultivating our crops organically and building agricultural centers where we can harvest medicinal plants available in the region. We are continuing to evolve more and more into a true ‘community’ with the environment and with each other. This Peace Village in Mulatos is a focal point for this alternative vision.”

Many community members and non-members alike expressed similar feelings about the meaning of the gathering. In the words of an indigenous community leader, “learning about the history and resistance here makes me realize that peasants throughout Colombia face similar problems. The dynamic of the armed groups and multinational companies threatening to displace us from our lands is not unique to one place. This gathering shows us we are not alone; internationals are in solidarity with our resistance and your accompaniment increases our security.”

People expressed these feelings of togetherness and hope two years ago. Even more powerful is the extent to which the Peace Community has built upon this solidarity since then. A place where five years ago lay blood and dismembered bodies is now a peace village of remembrance and resistance.

Military Agreement to let US Use Seven Bases in Colombia Not Closed

El Tiempo, 6 March 2010

Click here for the original version in Spanish.

In an unusual decision, the Colombian Constitutional Court will review the agreement. The court accepted a case that seeks to declare the negotiation nonviable because it was not approved by the Congress.

The debate was thought to be over and, according to Frank O. Mora, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense, the United States would begin to use the bases in May.

Court sources say that the possibilities range from leaving things as they are, to overturning the agreement, to suspending its implementation until a corresponding law has been passed.

The government maintains that this is not a new treaty with the United States, but an extension of agreements signed by the country since 1974. But the plaintiff, Luis Alfredo Sánchez Rojas, believes the Congress must be the one to approve the agreement for use of the bases through a law that had to have been sent to the Constitutional Court for prior review of its implementation.

The court admitted the case on December 10, assigning it justice Jorge Iván Palacio, who asked the Congress to send him a list of the treaties with the United States that have been approved, and invited former presidents Belisario Betancur, César Gaviria, Ernesto Samper and Andrés Pastrana to submit their opinions.

He also called on the State Council. That court issued an opinion that was given to the government on October 13 and said that the new negotiation included issues — especially the U.S. presence in Colombian military units — that went beyond previous pacts. In that sense, the State Council said, it was a new treaty, so that congressional review was unavoidable. It also criticized the imbalance between what Colombia gave up and U.S. obligations.

The opinion was non-binding, and the executive branch decided to go the opposite route. The agreement with Washington was finally signed in October, amidst an intense polemic with several regional governments, especially with Venezuela.

Justice Palacio also asked the Supreme Court and non-governmental groups for their opinions. [The Colombian Commission of Jurists submitted an opinion (PDF) that demonstrates how the base agreement establishes a new Colombian obligation for U.S. use of military bases.] On February 12, the justice sent the case to Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez for his opinion. Nevertheless, the Public Ministry had already submitted its observations on the agreement’s terms before it was signed. The delegate for “Preventive Oversight of Public Functions,” Margarita Carreño, said that the immunity of U.S. military personnel in Colombia should be reviewed.

Colombian Social Organizations Launch Coalition Against U.S. Bases

More than 150 Colombian organizations, amongst them the coalition of major labor federations (CUT, CGT, CTC, CPC), the United Democratic Coalition, FECODE, RECALCA (Colombian Action Network in Response to Free Trade), and many other important democratic entities within the country have signed a declaration rejecting the U.S. military presence on at least seven Colombian military bases.

The document with all the endorsements will be presented on April 8 at a public event that aims to formalize the establishment of the Colombia No Bases Coalition. This is a democratic, peaceful and pluralistic event focused on coordinating actions to address the sale to the United States of Colombian sovereignty made under the Uribe government through the Defense Cooperation Agreement signed on October 30, 2009.

For more information about the coalition and event: http://www.colombianobases.org or by mail: colombianobases@gmail.com

There Will be No FTA during Uribe’s Government

Colombian Network on Free Trade (RECALCA)

Click here for the original version in Spanish.

No TLC!The Uribe government sees “windows of opportunity” where there are only concrete walls. For a year now and on an almost weekly basis, the government puts out news that some gesture by the Obama government opens the possibility of near-term approval of the Free Trade Agreement. Obama’s speech on the State of the Union was a “window,” the closing of the FTA with the European Union was another.

The last window was the presentation made by US Trade Representative Ron Kirk on the US trade agenda for 2010. There it was evident that, after all this time, the Obama administration only makes promises to present in the coming months “a list of changes” to make, which will include “norms and labor laws” that must be approved or reformed.

In a Congressional hearing, Kirk revealed that he is worried not only by labor rights or violence against trade unionists, or even the loss of competition with the European Union, but that he would have to “take into account the US worker and the jobs that have been lost through the signing of treaties such as these.” In spite of this treaty being closed and re-closed, Kirk, speaking of the agreements with Panama, Korea and Colombia, said that “if these treaties are negotiated appropriately, they are an important part of the agenda for creating jobs.”

It was like someone who says that renegotiation of the texts will have to be reopened to satisfy US expectations and repeat the process of including them in Colombian legal regulations. The United States agenda is to double its exports in five years, and Colombia is key for this. These obstacles will not be resolved in the short term, and surely only by the initiative of a new Colombian government and congress, would changes the US promises to present in the future be studied. Even Colombian Ambassador Carolina Barco said that the Obama administration “appears hardly to have defined its strategy for Colombia.”

Add to this that in November there will be crucial elections for the US Senate and House of Representatives. On top of that, Charles Rangel, the African-American congressman who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee and friend of the FTA, had to resign his post, and was replaced by Sander Levin, a friend to trade unions. This is the committee that will determine if the FTA gets onto Congress’ agenda or not.

It is good news for the country and bad for the government: there will be no FTA with the United States at least during this year. No matter how many visits they make, how many lobbying firms they hire, how many US Congressmen they bring to show them the advantages of our democracy. All will be in vain. But since Uribe wants to perpetuate his policies, surely he will persevere to privatize more, to liberalize the economy more, on the basis now of the FTA with the European Union that is in the process of being approved.

We need to remain alert and incorporate the struggle against the FTA into social movements’ agenda, and say good-bye to Uribe in a fitting way. Uribe will no longer be in the government. Now we need to guarantee that there is no uribismo in the country’s orientation.

First Ruling Against Army for San José Massacre

Attorney General not interested in top commander’s responsibility

Twenty months after Capitan Guillermo Gordillo pled guilty in the February 2005 massacre of eight people in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, a judge sentenced him to 20 years in prison. This is the first ruling against an army officer for the massacre.

Unfortunately, despite copious evidence linking higher ranking army officers, particularly Generals Mario Montoya and Héctor Fandiño, to the planning (Montoya) and the execution and cover-up (Fandiño), acting Colombian Attorney General Guillermo Mendoza seems determined not to advance investigations of their involvement.

In July 2008, Capitan Gordillo confessed that he and his troops had taken part in a joint paramilitary-military operation that resulted in the grisly massacre. He admitted that Phoenix military operation had been planned and carried out with the participation of paramilitary death squads. And he testified to General Montoya’s participation in the planning of the operation.

In his ruling against Gordillo, the judge also used as evidence the testimony of paramilitary leader Diego Fernando Murillo, known as Don Berna “in which [he] accepts the participation of the Heroes of Tolova Self Defense Bloc under his command in the acts being judged.”

Capt. Gordillo is not the only officer implicating General Montoya. According to Coronel Acosta Celi and Lt. Jose Fernando Castro (also suspects in a separate investigation), General Montoya participated in the design of the military operation demanding participation of guides — widely understood to mean death squad members — as it was revealed in the trial for 10 additional army officers. General Fandiño, was the head of the 17th Brigade, units from which participated in the massacre, and he allegedly took an active role in the subsequent cover-up operation. An investigation of Fandiño’s role that was opened in September 2008 has only been collecting dust on the Attorney General’s desk. Last month, the victims’ legal representative filed a petition requesting the arrest of both generals, so they can be heard in the investigation. But acting Prosecutor General Mendoza recently told a Global Post reporter that “we have to be careful not to call on every single general.”

For the full Global Post investigative report, see “A Massacre Explored.”

An Army of Clowns

These Days Only One Kind of Army is Possible!

Hi! We don’t start wars, we come in peace, bringing tenderness to change the world with. Our hope is greater than our sadness! On with our hearts!

We are the real army and the armed forces are deceiving you. They promised that the time for joy would come, but it never did. Time to abolish the armed forces! Time to refuse to serve in the military! These days only one kind of army is possible, an army of clowns! And being a clown is a serious business, it’s not all magic, war is no game!

We are looking for people with enormous and rebellious hearts to make up this battalion of buffoons. We recruit male and female clowns, actors and actresses, jugglers, gymnasts, acrobats, magicians, musicians, dancers, storytellers, poets, painters and all other dreamers who are against war and in favor of a more humanized world, ha! Ah, but, we don’t want horse tamers!

We have heard a lot about this business of ‘bread and circus to the people,’ but we have had neither bread nor circus, just a macabre spectacle of death… So many, that we have grown used to death as an everyday thing, and with the corpses lining up one next to the other, the bullet-ridden bodies — sometimes with the hands tied and their eyes covered — charred and destroyed by chainsaws, repeated time and again on the TV screen. It is the death of solidarity and sensibility. Subjected to collective intimidation, we inhabit an everyday world of death — bodies which have been tortured, massacred, tied up, branded, these corpses become voices of a punitive model. Yet, we know that, the more delirious and exhausted society finds itself, the greater the urgency for art, culture, spirituality and youth—

We send hugs, against sadness and in solidarity, full of complicit smiles and shared joys. The plot advances at a steady pace. We are especially grateful to all those who support us.

Clowns always talk about the same thing, they talk about hunger — the hunger for food, for sex, but also the hunger for dignty, for identity, for power. They are the ones who ask questions such as, ‘Who governs, and who protests?’” —Dario Fo

Desadaptadoz
Punk Collective and Association

Translated from “Alternatives, Organization and Resistance in a Militarized Society,” published by Red Juvenil.

News Briefs

Episcopal Church Urges Refugee Aid and Opposition to Military Bases

During its Feb. 19-22 meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church adopted several resolutions, including the following:

Express solidarity with the Episcopal Church of Colombia, ministering in the midst of Colombia’s internal armed conflict; recognize that the resulting social and humanitarian crisis is aggravated by displacement of civil population to the Ecuadorean border; urge the U.S. government to commence a ‘generous program of resettlement’ for those who cannot return to Colombia and are unable to integrate or remain in Ecuador; to work with the UN High Commission for Refugees and other organizations to assist host countries by providing adequate funding; to press for a political solution to the armed conflict between the Colombian government and opposing forces; and voice the church’s ‘strong opposition’ to the installation by the U.S. government of military bases in Colombia.”

United Nations and US Report on Human Rights in Colombia

UN High Commission on Human Rights issued its report on Colombia for 2009. The US State Department also issued its 2009 Human Rights Report on Colombia.

Both reports are important official statements about the serious human rights violations that persist in Colombia.

Get Involved

Days of Prayer and Action, Sunday-Monday, April 18-19

With nearly five million Colombians forcibly displaced from their homes by a debilitating war, Colombia is now the second worst internal displacement crisis in the world. Between now and April, tens of thousands across the U.S. and Colombia will participate in this year’s Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia to call for a much-needed shift in U.S. policies toward the war-torn country. Please join us.

There are three ways you can get involved: 1) Host a Face the Displaced Party in March. 2) Display the faces in a demonstration in April 3) Dedicate a worship service to Colombia in April.

Click here for more information.

Click here to find an event near you!

US Policy in Latin America
Join us for a Webinar on April 26, 2 PM Eastern

Register for the webinar.

With John Lindsay-Poland, FOR Latin America Program Director

John has extensive experience in and knowledge of Latin America. He will guide our discussion of on the ground activities in Latin America, showing new maps of U.S. aid and impacts, while reflecting on the present and history of US policy in the region.

FOR has been in the forefront of work to end US military aid in Colombia, the country with the greatest human rights and humanitarian crises in the hemisphere, and also the largest recipient of US military training and equipment. FOR has also contributed to informing high-level and grassroots concerns in South America about new US military bases in Colombia. This webinar will explore what our country is doing in Colombia and what we can do to address it.

Monday, April 26, 2010, 2:00 to 3:30 PM Eastern

Space is limited. Reserve your webinar seat now.

After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about how to participate in the webinar.

February/March 2010 Colombia Peace Update

March 4, 2010

No Third Term for Uribe

President Álvaro Uribe
BBC photo

Late on Friday February 26, the Colombian Constitutional Court ruled against a plebiscite to determine whether or not current President Álvaro Uribe might stand for a third consecutive term. Such a situation was never envisaged in the Constitution of 1991, which initially prohibited even a single re-election. However, in spite of Colombia’s becoming a “museum of horrors” (as the Spanish daily El País put it) under Uribe, the president pushed for a referendum on a constitutional change, with the backing of a large segment of the population, and that of the Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez. The nine magistrates of the Court thought otherwise, and voted 7-2 against the legality of a constitutional amendment.

Having considered the issues at hand, including the path by which the referendum project reached the Court, the judges found that the referendum project was beset by fatal flaws constituting “substantial violations of the democratic principle”, which went beyond “mere irregularities.” President Uribe stated that he will abide by and respect the Court’s ruling, which should please other leaders, including President Obama, who said a year ago that two terms should be enough.

The decision leaves the presidential field wide open. Candidates include former Defence Minister Juan Manual Santos, ex-ambassador Noemí Sanín, former mayor of Medellín Sergio Fajardo, and Senator Gustavo Petro. Some are clearer advocates of Uribe’s “democratic security” program than others. President Uribe himself had described the decision as to whether to stand again as a “crossroads of the soul”. Now that the decision has been made for him, time will tell what direction his political career takes. Some have suggested that he should run for Mayor of Bogotá.

Help FOR support peace efforts in Colombia and demilitarize U.S. policy.

Five years after San José massacre, justice is elusive

Five Years After Colombian Massacre, Justice Is Still Elusive

By Moira Birss

The case against 10 soldiers involved in the Peace Community massacre is just the first step in a long journey toward justice.

February 21 marked the five-year anniversary of a brutal massacre of eight people, including three children, from the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó. Horror about the crime — in which bodies were beheaded, and others cut into pieces before being thrown into a common grave — resulted in a six-month suspension of U.S. military aid to Colombia and the de-vetting of the 17th Brigade. Ample evidence points to military-paramilitary collaboration in the crime, yet five years later, not a single individual has been punished.

Civilian killings during Colombia’s decades-old internal conflict have not received much attention, but the 2005 Peace Community massacre generated enough notice and outrage to suspend U.S. military aid, in large part due to the Community’s courageous stance of neutrality. As the 2005 massacre and other attacks against the community demonstrate, the Community’s strategy doesn’t always work because the armed actors — including the military — see it as a threat to their power in the region. Nonetheless, the members of the Peace Community believe that pacifism and communal work are the best way to keep their dignity and integrity and continue to live on their land.

The 2005 massacre case is emblematic not just as an example of the brutality suffered by civilians at the hands of the Colombian military and paramilitaries, but also of the Colombian state’s efforts to maintain impunity in such cases. While the Peace Community always insisted that the army and paramilitaries committed the crime, the Colombian government tried to place blame squarely on the victimized community itself. Shortly after the massacre, Colombian President Álvaro Uribe publicly accused the community of guerrilla collaboration, backing up army officials who claimed the FARC had committed the massacre to punish the community for collaboration gone awry. It has since been proved that army officials paid false witnesses to testify that the FARC committed the massacre.

Several former paramilitaries have since admitted their participation in the massacre and described the military’s role. After being implicated, Captain Guillermo Gordillo, who commanded one of the companies involved in the military operation that led to the massacre, pled guilty to a lesser charge. As a result of these testimonies, 10 low-ranking soldiers have been charged with collaboration in the massacre. However, more than 100 soldiers who participated in the operation and their superiors who ordered the operation have never had to answer for it.

Despite the damning evidence against them, the accused soldiers maintain that the paramilitaries secretly infiltrated the army and committed the massacre without the soldiers’ knowledge — a claim that is hard to believe when Captain Gordillo and two paramilitaries testified that the army and paramilitary guides camped together for three nights before the massacre. As the victims’ lawyer Jorge Molano says, “You don’t spend three nights with someone and not know he’s there.”

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Observation Mission Finds Electoral Process at Risk

By John Lindsay-Poland

An international pre-electoral observation mission, sponsored by the Colombian Misión de Observación Electoral and Global Exchange, ran from February 3 to 15, included 20 members from seven countries, and met with political parties, officials, National Election Council, NGOs, victims, journalists in Bogotá, Antioquia, Valle de Cauca, Córdoba and Santander departments. I coordinated the Antioquia group. The mission will issue a final report March 8.

Our team’s declarations led to more than 70 print news stories and editorials as well as stories in electronic media. The head of the national welfare agency (Acción Social) felt compelled to very publically and immediately respond to our findings. After the release of our initial findings there was a wave of electoral complaints coming in from around the country reflecting just the types of intimidation and manipulation we identified.

From our preliminary report:

Human Rights Violations Are an Electoral Risk. The protection of human rights, as well as effective justice in such cases are key to ensuring that voters can fully participate in a democracy in a transparent, free and informed manner. The mission would like to express alarm over the human rights situation in the country and the grave violations of these rights on the part of legal and illegal armed groups and narco-traffickers to life in Antioquia, Santander, Córdoba and Valle del Cauca. In our visits, we found that levels of violence remain high especially among vulnerable populations including youth, women, Afro-Colombians, Indigenous, internally displaced, LGBT and poor persons. In addition to selective assassinations, the mission was informed by diverse sources that a new modality of forced disappearances has taken hold in order to not influence the official murder statistics. This violence and impunity in these cases greatly prevent citizens from trusting the authorities. It leads many voters to decide not to participate in the electoral process.

Read the full preliminary report.

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Pentagon and CIA get in the game

Obama’s Budget and Colombia

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates meets counterpart Juan Manuel 
Santos, now the frontrunner presidential candidate

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates meets counterpart Juan Manuel Santos, now the frontrunner presidential candidate

By John Lindsay-Poland

The Obama White House proposed cutting military aid in the foreign aid package it sent to Congress on February 1, from $263 million to $228 million, according to Center for International Policy’s analysis. In its first year, the Obama administration had increased military aid in the package by $23 million. The Uribe government responded immediately by sending Defense Minister Gabriel Silva to Washington to try to restore the military funds.

But that was only half the story. Bloomberg News reported on February 5 that President Uribe claims that the military base agreement between the United States and Colombia “will compensate for a proposed decline in U.S. Assistance” in Washington’s aid budget. “The declines in Plan Colombia will be compensated in some way, and Plan Colombia will in some way be extended, thanks to this cooperation agreement,” Uribe said.

The Pentagon does not publish its assistance by country, but Bloomberg said that the Defense Department budgeted $160 million to Colombia this year, including $43 million in funds for work on the air base in Palanquero. In a letter to FOR (PDF), US Ambassador William Brownfield said that DOD counter-narcotics funding to Colombia this year is estimated at $37 million. “These funds complement security assistance program funding but focus on support to counter-drug capabilities and operations, as well as institutional reforms that improve operational effectiveness and support the rule of law and respect for human rights.”

Brownfield did not specify how much of the additional “security assistance program funding” comes from the Pentagon. However, a DOD source in the Pentagon who works on Colombia policy told FOR that next year the “Mil Group” in the US Embassy in Bogotá “hopes for fifty to sixty-five million dollars.”

Yet DOD funds are not the only US military assistance hidden from taxpayers and the public. CIA Director Leon Panetta met with President Uribe as well as Defense Minister Gabriel Silva and armed forces chief Freddy Padilla on February 26 and agreed to offer CIA support for restructuring Colombia’s scandal-ridden intelligence agency, DAS (Dept of Administrative Security). According to Caracol Radio, the CIA director expressed interest in applying Colombia’s intelligence model to other nations. Panetta also reportedly agreed to serve as a direct conduit to Barack Obama for Colombia, including about the stalled Free Trade Agreement.

What professionalism can the CIA show to guarantee that Colombians will have even a whit of honor?” asks columnist Alfredo Molano. “From a terror unit at the service of government, the DAS will become an organ of United States military control in the country, complementing the seven military bases that Uribe handed over to the hawkish gringos.”

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Human Rights Lawyer Investigating ex-Army Commander is Threatened

Accusations by an army intelligence unit that peaceful human rights, youth and political groups are part of terrorist organizations don’t constitute violations serious enough to suspend U.S. assistance to the unit, Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela told FOR in February. But a contract on the life of a human rights attorney who was smeared by the U.S.-supported unit should make the State Department reconsider its determination.

Bayron Góngora of the Juridical Liberty Corporation (CJL) received word February 9 that paid assassins belonging to a Medellín gang had been contracted to kill him. “The information is highly trustworthy,” said Góngora, who has left Colombia for his safety.

In April 2009, the Regional Army Intelligence Unit in Medellín produced a report accusing CJL, and specifically Góngora by name, as well as the Polo Democrático political party, Medellín Youth Network and Institute for Popular Training of belonging to the FARC’s political arm, PC3. CJL has led efforts for justice in cases of civilian killings by the army in Antioquia. Combined records of government and human rights organizations register more than 800 cases of civilians reportedly killed by the Army in Antioquia since 2002.

Góngora has successfully pressed the Colombian Attorney General to investigate former army chief General Mario Montoya and former Medellin-area police chief Brigadier General Leonardo Gallegos, for their alleged alliance with confessed narcotrafficker and death squad chief, Diego Fernando Murillo Bejarano, alias don Berna. Murillo, who resides in a New York prison, testified last June that Montoya and Gallego had coordinated a 2002 operation to take over a Medellín barrio together with a paramilitary operative under Murillo’s orders.

In December, FOR and Human Rights First wrote to Valenzuela (PDF) to urge ceasing aid to the Medellín unit and others that have also produced specious accusations against human rights defenders, and to urge the Colombian government to either provide evidence of the intelligence units’ accusations or publicly clear the names of those accused and investigate those who produced false reports.

Valenzuela acknowledged U.S. assistance to army intelligence units in Medellín and Caquetá, though he said the Caquetá unit had been cut off since 2007 because of unnamed “human rights concerns.” The aid has included computer systems and maintenance, communications and audiovisual equipment, and transportation equipment and support, according to a fact sheet provided by U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield.

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Letter from the Field: The Nature of Revolutionary Love

Adriana Roman at the San Francisco Women's BuildingMichelle Gutierrez photo

Adriana Roman at the San Francisco Women’s Building

Revolutionary love among friends...
Michelle Gutierrez photo

Revolutionary love among friends…

By Liza Smith

The revolution and a good party are inextricably linked.” In almost every presentation she did during her week long speaking tour in the Bay Area, Adriana Roman — activist, human rights defender, lawyer and youth organizer with the Medellín Youth Network (Red Juvenil) — reminded her audiences that we are not doing anything if we are not having a good time with one another. We are not building anything for the future, if we are not living those dreams out in the here and now. We cannot talk about solidarity, if we don’t work in a network of people we actually, really, deeply care about. It is those friendships that are the basis of everything we do in this world.

Adriana spoke to the Berkeley School of Law, to students at San Francisco City College and the California Institute of Integral Studies. She spoke on the radio twice, conducted a workshop with youth from the organization HOMEY, and discussed the current situation in Colombia with members of the local Colombian and Latino community over fresh pan de bono and coffee. She talked about how the Red Juvenil was using the Colombian constitution to protect the rights of conscientious objectors and she told stories of how activists with the organization would intervene during an illegal recruitment of youth by the Colombian military. She explained how the Red Juvenil first came to be, in 1990, amidst incredible violence in her native city of Medellín, when young people were only thought of as victims (because they were getting killed) and victimizers (because they were doing the killing).

From events to workshops, Adriana and I chugged back and forth across the Bay Bridge in a 1989 Oldsmobile. I also took her to see the Golden Gate bridge (it was foggy, of course) and to eat sushi (she had never tried it before). In between the fog and the raw fish, we talked about the institutionalization of the movement, our love lives, Marx’s “superstate” and the mini-state-in-your-head of Foucault, feminism, the current political context in Medellín, military recruitment and the way youth in the US are targeted, Uribe’s reelection, and the relationship between our two organizations.

I felt lucky to have all the down-time with her. Aside from everything I learned, her insistence that we build this movement upon the basis of friendships resonated deeply with me. I started out this year at midnight, around a fire in the cold, Colorado air, under a clear sky and a bright moon. A friend said in the first minutes of the new year that instead of each person saying his/her aspiration for 2010, she wanted to hear what question each of us had for the coming year. Mine was, “what is the nature of revolutionary love?” This question had been swimming around in my head for some time — was I part of this struggle because of love? Did my activism show love? Is the love I give and receive in the world, revolutionary? Is it based on an understanding of freedom?

Adriana said that often someone would come to the Red Juvenil house, someone who had never been there before, maybe the parent of a young person who was fighting for conscientious objection status — and all the people in the house would be glued to their computer screens, hardly noticing the new arrival. She would protest, “Chicos! Unstick yourseleves from your screens! Let’s greet this person who has just come into our space. Offer her a cup of coffee, sit down and talk for a moment!” Her words inspired me, at least — to seek out a few more times in the week for a conversation over a cup of coffee with the real intention that if we get to know each other, listen to each other, think together and care about each other as friends who are part of this collective effort … well then, we actually might get something done.

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A Good Day for Justice

Supreme Court issues landmark ruling on political-paramilitary ties

By Susana Pimiento

One of the most dramatic events in the alliance between political leaders and right wing paramilitary death squads — known as the parapolitics scandal — was the foretold death of El Roble (Sucre) mayor Eudaldo “Tito” Diaz. In a February 2003 community council headed by President Álvaro Uribe, Eudaldo Diaz denounced the plan to kill him and pointed, seated in the front row, to the politicians responsible for the plan to kill him, among them governor Salvador Arana and Senator Álvaro Garcia.

At that community meeting, Diaz, also spoke about the ties of Sucre political leaders with paramilitaries, describing how portions of the Sucre budget were being funneled to finance dead squads, as well as politicians’ involvement in massacres of campesinos, human rights activists, and union leaders.

Despite the murder of many key witnesses in the case, ten years later, on February 23, the Colombian Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling, sentencing Senator Álvaro Garcia to 40 years in prison, the longest sentence given to a legislator in Colombian history. Garcia is a senator with Colombia Democratica, a political movement headed by Mario Uribe Escobar, president Uribe’s first cousin and close political ally. He was found responsible for sponsoring paramilitary death squads, embezzlement of public monies to fund the death squads and ordering the October 2000 Macapeyo massacre, in which 15 campesinos were brutally killed by paramilitaries. The Court also found evidence of Garcia’s responsibility in the killing of Georgina Narvaez, an election official.

On December 3, the Colombian Supreme Court had also found former Sucre Governor Salavador Arana responsible for ordering the killing of Eudaldo Diaz and for his ties with paramilitary groups, and sentenced him to 40 years in prison.

Julian Roberts has produced a moving documentary about paramilitarism in Sucre (in Spanish with English subtitles) that features Diaz’s dramatic story in Part 2.

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News Briefs

Martha GiraldoWitness for Peace photo

Threat to Activist who Denounced Army Killing of Father

Martha Giraldo, a Colombian activist whose father was an innocent victim of the Colombian army, fell subject to a death threat herself in mid-February. As Witness for Peace reported, Martha was forced off the road in Cali, after which her aggressors pointed a gun at her, clearly an attempt to silence her. Martha has been a vocal critic of the impunity rife in Colombia, and was a speaker at the 2009 vigil at the School of the Americas. Respond to the threat against Martha.

Reports released

Two reports were released in February, which drew attention to different aspects of the consequences of Colombia’s armed conflict. The prestigious Berkeley Law School examined the effects (PDF) of the extradition of Colombian paramilitary leaders to the USA, arguing that the arrangements neither guarantee justice for the victims of paramilitary violence, nor are in the interests of U.S. foreign policy.

Truth Behind BarsThe extraditions have been a controversial aspect of the supposed paramilitary demobilization process. Many victims have argued that sending criminals to face drug charges in the States was a convenient way of preventing them from speaking out on subjects that might really hurt, such as their links to powerful senators aligned with President Uribe or the Colombian armed forces.

In another report, Amnesty International pointed out that the indigenous communities of Colombia are still subject to the threat of violence, not just from paramilitaries, but from State forces and the guerrillas as well.

Recent high-profile stories include the killing of members of the Awá community by the FARC in Febrary and August 2009. But this year has already seen the 17th Brigade of the Colombian Army launch attacks in Chocó department, in which two Embera-Katio persons were injured. The Colombian Constitution affords special protection indigenous peoples, but despite government statements to the contrary, Amnesty’s report is a reminder that their situation is as vulnerable as ever.

Human Rights Group Files Suit Against US Bases

The “José Alvear Restrepo” Lawyers Collective filed suit against the U.S.-Colombia military base agreement on February 26, charging that the agreement is one-sided in favor of the United States and denies the rights of victims of any crimes committed by US troops present in Colombia, because it grants troops diplomatic immunity. The suit cites the October 2009 Colombian Council of State finding that the agreement is an international treaty, which must be submitted to legislative approval, and asks that the agreement be declared unconstitutional.

Defense Minister Gabriel Silva reacted: “It would seem to me a barbarity that this agreement be declared unconstitutional.”

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Upcoming Events

Last Chance to Apply for 2010 FOR Colombia Training

May 10-15, San Francisco, California: FOR seeks committed and skilled volunteers, 23 years or older at the time of service, with sound judgment and proficient in Spanish to serve for 12 months and longer on our accompaniment team in Bogotá and San José de Apartadó, Colombia.

Learn more or apply for the training. Applications due by March 15.

Days of Prayer and Action

Sunday-Monday, April 18-19: With nearly five million Colombians forcibly displaced from their homes by a debilitating war, Colombia is now the second worst internal displacement crisis in the world. Between now and April, tens of thousands across the U.S. and Colombia will participate in this year’s Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia to call for a much-needed shift in U.S. policies toward the war-torn country. Please join us.

There are three ways you can get involved:

  • Host a Face the Displaced Party in March.
  • Display the faces in a demonstration in April.
  • Dedicate a worship service to Colombia in April.

Learn more about the Days of Prayer and Action.

Save the Date! Webinar on US Colombia Policy

Monday, April 26: FOR is presenting a special webinar at 2:00pm EST, with John Lindsay-Poland discussing Colombian human rights, U.S. policy, military bases in Latin America, and what you can do. Watch this space for how to sign up.

A New Vision for Peace in Colombia

Wednesday, March 10: Join Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) for a webcast at 2:00pm EST with:

  • Monsignor Hector Fabio Henao, Director, National Social Pastoral Secretariat, Colombian Conference of Catholic Bishops
  • Mary DeLorey, Strategic Issues Advisor, Latin America & Caribbean Region, CRS
  • Rev. Juan Molina, O.S.S.T., Latin America and Global Trade Policy Advisor, Office of International Justice and Peace, USCCB

RSVP for the CRS webcast.

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January 2010 Colombia Peace Update

January 20, 2010

  • The Mulatos Connection: a Reflection"
  • Seeking Justice for 2005 San Jose de Apartadó Massacre"
  • Water, Energy and the Displacement Factor
  • Adriana Roman on Speaking Tour in the Bay Area
  • Next FOR Colombia Team Training
  • Dharma in Action Fellow

    Take Action: Organizational Sign-on To Oppose Bases in Colombia

    We of the Mingas network are deeply concerned about the recently signed military agreement between the governments of Colombia and the United States. Under its terms, the U.S. is permitted to upgrade, expand and use seven Colombian military bases for the purpose of increasing the operational capabilities of U.S. armed forces throughout South America. We believe the agreement will further exacerbate tensions across the entire region and aggravate armed conflict within Colombia.

    The Mingas network opposes war and the exercise of violence as an instrument of political action. We believe that today the path of social transformation is democratic and peaceful mass struggle. We repudiate all forms of terror and State terrorism, including targeted killings, kidnapping, extortion, and armed attacks on the civilian population; none of these are legitimate expressions of the struggle of the people, and thus we condemn all such acts.

    We call on faith communities, solidarity groups, students, academics, and other organizations in agreement with the above basic principles of nonviolence to come together in alliance to reject the U.S.-Colombia military base agreement — and we invite you to take action immediately.

    Join us in signing the letter opposing bases in Colombia:

    You can sign by filling out the online form at the foot of the letter. Note that the current letter is a sign-on for organizations only. Signatures must be received by February 1, 2010. After collecting signatures, we will send the letter to President Obama and other key government officials.

    The Mingas Network

    The Mulatos Connection: a Reflection

    By Peter Cousins

    "I never thought I'd play soccer on this field again."

    The words are those of don Miguel Graciano, a campesino of the San José de Apartadó district and currently the work coordinator for the Peace Community in the "vereda" (settlement) of La Esperanza. My time as an international accompanier with FOR in the Peace Community has come to an end, and as I reflect on my year in the campo, don Miguel's words capture a little of the essence of the Community's story.

    During the first weekend of September, we accompanied a Community assembly in the vereda of La Resbalosa, at the extremes of the San José de Apartadó rural district, on the border with the state of Córdoba. During that weekend, plans for an aldea de paz (peace hamlet), in the neighbouring vereda of Mulatos were announced, community projects were advanced, and an inter-vereda football tournament was held. My team-mate Rachel wrote a thorough account of the weekend on her blog.

    The outlook for these veredas has been considerably bleaker. In February 2005, eight Peace Community members — including visionary leader Luis Eduardo Guerra — were murdered in Mulatos and La Resbalosa in a joint army-paramilitary operation, which the government sought to blame on the FARC, who in turn were supposedly looking to avenge Luis Eduardo’s alleged demobilization from the guerrillas. With this story, President Uribe was able to say in public, shortly after the massacre, that the Peace Community harbored terrorists.

    The murders initially prompted a massive displacement of campesinos to the village of San José de Apartadó, but the reaction to these events would later take the Colombian government by surprise. The attempt to destroy the Community was quickly followed with a presidential order to locate a police post in San José de Apartadó, interpreted by the displaced Community members as obliging them to live amongst the armed representatives of their victimizers, the State. Could the Peace Community withstand this double blow?

    The government bargained on neither the resourcefulness of the campesinos, nor the determination of many across the world who did not wish to see the murders remain in impunity. The Community's initial response was to displace en masse from San José de Apartadó to a plot of land owned by the Dutch government, now also known fondly as "San Josecito." There, despite repeated outbreaks of fever and malaria, the Community regrouped and took stock of its situation.

    Fast forward three years from February 2005, and San Josecito had become a sort of administrative center for the Peace Community, hosting many of their meetings with outsiders, and with campesinos houses, a restaurant and plans to build a library and install sewage facilities. At the same time, the Community undertook returns to lands in Mulatos and La Resbalosa, which had remained empty and overgrown.

    Now, nearly two years later, the Peace Community's presence is established. Even in the time that I have spent here, the differences are remarkable. A caserío (hamlet) has been built in La Resbalosa, centered on the old school, and it was chosen as the site of the September gathering.

    What is happening in Mulatos is perhaps even more extraordinary. As agreed at the assembly in La Resbalosa, the aldea de paz is taking shape. I wrote the first draft of this article in Mulatos itself, where we celebrated Christmas: 150 campesinos plus the international accompaniment of FOR and Peace Brigades International. I watched the campesinos raise a kiosko, a 'bandstand'-style building made of wood with a thatched roof. Eventually there will be six such constructions there, which will be used to preserve the community's historical memory and shape the future direction. If San Josecito is the community's 'administrative center,' so the site by the river in Mulatos, where Luis Eduardo was killed, is set to become its 'spiritual home.' With the five-year anniversary of the massacre looming, this project is bound to give a special impetus to the aldea de paz.

    However, the Colombian government is still up to its usual dirty tricks. Not content with slandering the Community in the aftermath of the executions, they set up an interview of demobilized FARC commander "Samir" with a Wall Street Journal correspondent Mary O'Grady to repeat those lies. His predictable accusations published the day before the trial of Army soldiers for participation in the 2005 massacre, echoed those he made on national radio at the end of May (See "The View from San José"). The Peace Community and other organizations and individuals have already responded to this article.

    Even the U.S. Department of State got in on the act, giving the Colombian government a boost in the days before the trial with a piece of its own. The U.S. lauded the "population-centric, [...] whole-of-government" approach to President Uribe's handling of the San José de Apartadó district. While they did not add to the lies about the Community, they managed instead to ignore it altogether, quite a feat given its high profile, but for the benefit of their argument, the only convenient thing to do.

    It also failed to mention the recent spate of combat and murders in and around San José de Apartadó which has led to the displacement of four or five families and traders, and has virtually everyone else living in fear. Instead, a photo appeared of children being led around by four beaming policemen and women, three of whom I have never seen in San José, despite virtually weekly passage through the village over the last year.

    The shifting tactics of Uribe's government concerning the Peace Community have ranged from physical aggression of the kind at Mulatos and La Resbalosa, to the use of false testimony of demobilized guerrillas, the recent de-recognition of Community territories and the squeezing of their lands by other means (see my team-mate Moira's ). We might actually talk of a "whole-of-government" approach to the destruction of the Community.

    The threats to the continued presence of the Peace Community are real and significant. For this reason, the work in Mulatos and La Resbalosa is, for me, the most illuminating and symbolic part of the Community's recent history. Don Miguel's words have a similar effect; he, like the Colombian government, could never have expected that La Resbalosa would once more host a soccer competition, much less new Peace Community homes and projects. Soccer is a metaphor for the new life that is today taking root thanks to the Community in the San José de Apartadó district.

    Seeking Justice for 2005 San Jose de Apartado Massacre

    On December 13th, the long awaited trial for the massacre started in a tense atmosphere with over twenty army officers, wearing camouflage uniform, carrying machine guns and hovering in the courthouse.

    Lt. Milanes, commander of the Anzoategui I Battalion Velez platoon, was the first one of 0 officers on trial to take the stand. He recounted how there had been a contingent of around 100 paramilitary men, taking part in the military operation coded "Fenix" that lasted nine days (Feb 16-24, 2005). He and Colonel Espinosa were the only charged army officers that would admit the participation of paramilitary troops in the operation. The rest gave flimsy excuses saying they had not seen the death squads.

    Lt. Milanes, while describing the heavy weapons and army uniforms that the paramilitary troops had during the operation, could not explain why he and his men had failed to go after illegal armed groups, as was their duty. Indeed, when asked by the judge if it is normal for the armed forces to carry out joint operations with the Colombian Self Defense [paramilitary] troops, he replied: "Today it's not normal. At the moment, I was a company grade officer, inexperienced, I had been Lt. for only one year."

    Very little new information was expected from hearing the accused take the stand — three officers chose to remain silent using the right against self-incrimination. The central part of the trial was the testimonies of two paramilitary commanders — known as 'Melaza' and 'Pirulo' and Capt. Gordillo, all of whom have admitted their participation in the massacre. Jorge Molano, the attorney representing the victims, was also expecting to question those witnesses in light of the extradited paramilitary boss, alias HH's testimony. Just before being shipped away to the United States to respond for drug trafficking charges, he started talking about how the paramilitary and the army operated together and of higher ranking XVII Brigade army officers being investigated for the massacre in a separate investigation. Those testimonies, inexplicably, went missing and the defense used that as an excuse to request suspension of the hearing.

    Except Lt Milanes, all the officers were represented by attorneys working for a law firm paid with funds coming from a payroll deduction of all active officers. Attorneys from this law firm are notorious for using legal tricks to obstruct criminal investigations — for instance insisting that extrajudicial executions of unarmed civilians be tried in military courts (as opposed to civilian courts) with the purpose of delaying the investigation and then filing for release of their defendants claiming that the legal deadline has passed for each stage of the investigation. Such was the case with 17 army officers being investigated for the so called false positives, the assassination of young men from Soacha that were later reported as guerrillas killed in combat and who were released last week, before their trial even started.

    Their release generated outrage among Colombian public opinion, human rights organizations and even prompted a statement from the representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. It is very likely that the same tactic will be used in the case of the San José de Apartadó massacre. If that happens, not only justice would be compromised, but also the security of the victims and of those struggling for justice for those horrible crimes.

    Whatever the fate of this trial, it is just a small piece in the search for justice for the San José de Apartadó massacre. The investigation against higher ranking officers, including General Hector Jaime Fandiño who was heading the XVII Brigade during the massacre is completely stalled, because it lacks the political will of the acting Attorney General Guillermo Mendoza Diago (as well as his predecessor's Attorney General Mario Iguaran). Justice will be served only when the top military and civilian authorities who participated in the massacre and its subsequent cover-up are punished.

    Water, Energy and the Displacement Factor

    By Marion E. Hiptmair

    I joined the FOR team in La Unión, San José de Apartadó in the beginning of November. After only a few weeks, because of logistical circumstances, I got the chance to join a FOR accompaniment trip in northeastern Antioquia, along the Porce River. "Great!" I thought, without knowing a lot about how tough this journey would be.

    The number of displaced people in Colombia is high, second worldwide only to Sudan. In the case of Colombia, Colombia has a lot of natural resources to offer, and one of its valuable resources is water. Through that, much of Colombia's energy is produced in big hydroelectric plants. This energy is not considered renewable, as these plants have an enormous effect on in the ecology and population of this region and of Colombia. A hydroelectric plant of this size needs a lot of space and the flow, size and density of the river changes. These changes very often lead to displacement, not just in Colombia.

    In this case, Medellín Public Enterprises plan to build a new hydroelectric plant "Porce IV" along the Porce River, a project worth US$ 800 million. The eminent domains of the region are organized and the implementation of the 400 megawatt plant is foreseen for 2015. This construction affects several small villages along the river and will cause the displacement of about 1500 families, some of them already displaced by the construction of the Porce III plant.

    People in this region are mostly gold miners and "chaluperos" — transporting goods and people with their motor canoes or "chalupas." To secure social justice for themselves with the construction of Porce IV, local people organized themselves, assisted by the Antioquía Peasant Association (ACA). FOR has accompanied the ACA, an organization that supports farmers through workshops, investigations and organization in their fight against injustice, since 2005.

    Our adventurous accompaniment started in Medellin. We went in a camioneta (pick-up truck) to Amalfi, a small village in northeastern Antioquia and one of the places affected by the construction of Porce IV. From Amalfi we continued in a camion (small truck) — where we sat in the open back with excellent view on the stars of Colombia. When we finally arrived in "La Vega de Naranjal" we filled our still empty stomachs with a delicious Colombian meal. In Colombia, meals in general always include some kind of meat, rice, beans, patacon (mashed and fried plantain), plus the famous agua panela (sweet sugar cane in water) ... mmmhhmm ... After this dinner and a whole day of traveling, military controls, and talking, we fell totally exhausted into our beds.

    At 5:30 am some people from the village came into the guest house and woke us with a nice breakfast of tinto (sweet black coffee) and freshly-made buñelos (fried dough balls). After this refreshment we set out on a 3 hour walk to Los Trozos, from where we continued in chalupas along the Porce River to Zaragoza, where a big community meeting would take place. The trip in the chalupa was an adventurous rafting ride through this region wonderful nature. We saw colorful birds, monkeys swinging through the trees and many marvelous plants. Once we arrived in Zaragoza, we all were quite surprised, as it was much bigger and hotter than we had expected. After a refreshing shower we went on to the community meeting. To inform people of our presence we were invited to give a short presentation of FOR and its work in Colombia. The evening and the next day were full of meetings, until ultimately we left in the afternoon with a colectivo (shared taxi) and a bus back to Medellín.

    People we met at this accompaniment were great and really appreciated our presence. We were invited to so much food and tinto, that we hardly could have eaten more. Several people told us about the positive effect of international accompaniment, saying that they felt much more secure and could express themselves more openly.

    Adriana Roman, Youth Activist and Human Rights Defender, on speaking tour in the Bay Area in February

    "This is what makes us dream about all the possibilities and from those dreams, begin to live them, to incorporate them in our political actions, in our homes, in our public spaces, in our affections. Through our dreams we take a chance, we defy what has been imposed on us, we insist on living differently. We denounce and speak out in parks, in the streets and to the judges. Our voices are not silenced; although many times silence has accompanied us in our losses, when bullets have taken away our loved ones, this silence makes us deaf and expresses our desire to continue on this path which we have chosen, a path that implies our own transformation and the transformation of power. Our proposal is to build a collective, to come together, live and unlearn together, to defend dignity, that of our own and many others."
    —Adriana Roman

    View a full list of Adriana's speaking engagements from February 15 to 21 in the Bay Area, click here.

    And don't forget to check back, as her schedule continues to fill up!

    Next FOR Colombia Team Training

    Interested in serving on an amazing human rights team in Colombia? Consider applying to the FOR Colombia Peace Presence. The next volunteer training will occur in the San Francisco Bay Area, May 10-15, 2010.

    More information and how to apply, click here.

    Dharma in Action Fellow

    The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) Colombia Program and the Buddhist Peace Fellowship are seeking a Buddhist practitioner who can join the FOR team to carry out nonviolent protective accompaniment to threatened activists in Colombia, while exploring the relationship between Buddhism and activism during one year of service in the field. The volunteer will carry out human rights protective accompaniment in Bogotá or the rural community of San José de Apartadó. Team members in San José assist in increasing the security of a community that, despite being located in a conflict zone, has publicly chosen not to support any armed group. Bogotá team members support work in San José and also work with other grassroots nonviolent initiatives. Work includes accompaniment visits, organizing delegations, meetings with government officials and writing. The Dharma in Action Fellow would be responsible for communicating reflections on the relationship between Buddhism and activism through a socially engaged email list and/or a personal blog and upon completion of service will give a speaking tour, visiting Buddhist centers in the US to talk about his/her experience and insights while on the team in Colombia.

    More information and how to apply:
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  • December 2009 Newsletter

    December 8, 2009

  • From Fort Benning: "I would sing a thousand years"
  • Where Does US Military 'Aid' Go?
  • Who Decides a Peace Community?
  • Calle Trece's Open Letter
  • Next Colombia Volunteer Training

    Action Alert: Community Lawyer Under Threat on Eve of Massacre Trial

    Jorge Molano

    Jorge Molano, who serves as the lawyer representing victims of massacres such as the 2005 Peace Community massacre, works tirelessly to end the impunity of human rights abuses by the Colombian army. He has had to take his children out of the country due to fears for their safety, and in recent days he and his partner have been the subject of vigilance by suspicious characters. The trial of army officers charged with the San José massacre takes place December 14-16 in Medellín.

    Please take action by writing to Colombian officials urging them to protect Jorge and his family!

    Human Rights First Action Alert
    Frontline Action Alert
    Article in Colombian newspaper (spanish)

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    I Would Sing A Thousand Years: A Report from the Vigil at Fort Benning

    Photo: Al Viola

    By Liza Smith

    Hear KPFA's interview with Liza here.

    Ana Gabriela, an eighth grader in Oakland, made meticulous paper dolls, the most beautiful of the bunch. Each doll that she carefully crafted represented a thousand people in Colombia who have been forced to flee their homes by the conflict. She was part of an effort that FOR led in the spring of 2009 to make 4,000 paper dolls representing the four million displaced people in Colombia. Her teacher decided to make it a class project and students cut out and decorated as many paper dolls as they could manage — each one included a fact about displacement and how it had impacted afro-Colombians, women and children.

    After months of doll making throughout the Bay Area, I had piles of them in my room, stuffed into shopping bags. Ana's dolls arrived folded and tucked into a white envelope. A few days before our protest, I camped out in the parking lot across the street from my house and with the help of friends, strung thousands of them together. On April 20, we marched down the streets of San Francisco, Colombian and US activists together, and presented them to Nancy Pelosi's office with a message that US military aid to Colombia makes us complicit in the displacement of so many people. Afterwards, we saved the dolls for future actions and lobbying, but special care was taken with Ana's — they couldn't be thrown away or even crushed.

    Months later, Bob Nixon (a Bay Area activist who has worked to close the School of the America's and originally brought the doll making idea to this eighth grade class) told Ana's teacher and the other students that he planned to go to the yearly School of the Americas protest. He would walk in the solemn procession and place their hand made dolls on the fence at the gates of Ft. Benning as part of a collective memorial to protest the training that Latin American military officials receive there. Ana's mom came up to him with tears in her eyes — she said initially she didn't know why Ana spent so much time on this school project. Then she realized the significance of it all: it was not only about Colombian people displaced from their lands and country just like she and her family were forced to leave theirs; it was about human rights abuses in Latin America and how the US was implicated in those abuses; and it was about the School of the Americas — the very school that had trained the soldiers who had killed her husband's family in El Salvador. This was full circle: her daughter's meticulously painted paper dolls would be hung on the fence where soldiers had been trained who participated in the assassination of her husband's family over twenty years before.

    Bob told me the story of Ana's family while we stood at the FOR table on Saturday at the protest — a story that represents how interconnected our struggles are and one that reminded me of time. And of the time it takes. This November was the 20th anniversary of the killing of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador, which is commemorated by the vigil at the gates of Ft. Benning. Twenty years, which is nothing in comparison to the hundreds of years that indigenous communities have been fighting colonialism or Afro-descendent people have been fighting racism. It is little compared to the decades that Colombian human rights defenders and communities in resistance have struggled to change their country's reality. But for someone like me, just a baby in this movement, twenty years is a long time! In my life I only know half of twenty: I look back and reflect on the ten years that I have been protesting Plan Colombia. I look forward and see another ten years protesting the agreement between the US and Colombia for the use of seven military bases.

    This year, my protest was from the stage and through song. During two hours, we spoke and sang aloud hundreds of names; we raised our voices hundreds of times with the word "presente" for each stolen life; we saw thousands of people walk by the stage and towards the gates, making memory. At moments, familiar names were spoken: Luis Eduardo Guerra and his son, Yolanda Ceron, Orlando Valencia. Hearing their names made my stomach turn and my voice waiver. They brought stories to mind.

    Singers at Ft. Benning

    Luis Eduardo, a peasant farmer working to support other peace community families and members as they return to lands that had been stolen from them. He was killed in a massacre with his companion and child in 2005. Yolanda, a nun assassinated in 2001 for speaking out against military-paramilitary collusion and African palm oil plantations in southern Colombia. Orlando, an Afro-Colombian leader, denied a visa to the US to participate in a conference, was on his way home when he was taken away on a motorcycle by armed gunmen in October 2005. Ten days later his body was found washed up in a river. Amidst the familiar names and the hundreds of unfamiliar ones, I saw faces I knew too: Colombian compañeros who had traveled to the US to join our protest and activist friends from the US with whom I've shared in these struggles for a few years now...

    Even after only ten years, there are days I feel tired. In my office in California, far away from the gritty reality of what is really going on in the streets and in the world, I ask myself if so many emails and telephone conference calls really will make a difference. But from the stage at the gates of the School of Assassins, I knew: I would sing a thousand times for its closure, I would sing a thousand times the names of the dead and another a thousand times songs for the living, I would sing forever along side all those who continue to struggle with the hope that someday we will see some of the change we search for.

    See pictures from the vigil, listen to Liza's song at the gates or browse FOR's information about the agreement to allow the US access to seven military bases in Colombia.

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    Where Does US Military 'Aid' to Colombia Go?

    By John Lindsay-Poland

    The United States continues to assist Colombian military units that have reportedly violated human rights, a review of recently released State Department documents shows. FOR obtained the list of 353 Colombian military and police units that the United States approved for aid in 2008-09 and 2009-10. US law requires the State Department to review all foreign military units proposed for assistance and exclude those with histories of gross human rights abuses.

    According to US officials who spoke to FOR, military aid this year is concentrated in three geographic "bands": in a long band across southern Colombia, from Meta, Tolima and Huila departments — where the Army-FARC war is focused — west to Buenaventura on the Pacific coast; in the southwestern state of Nariño; and in the northern Montes de Maria area.

    The United States continues to fund military units reported to have committed large numbers of civilian killings, including the macabre practice known as "false positives," in which civilians executed by the army are reported as guerrillas killed in combat. This includes the Codazzi Engineering Battalion of the 3rd Brigade, which operates in Valle and Cauca states and reportedly killed 12 civilians in 2007 and 2008. The battalion's commander during this period was Coronel Elmer Peña Pedraza, a graduate of the School of the Americas (SOA). The Colombian Prosecutor General is investigating nearly 2,000 cases of extrajudicial killings reportedly committed by the army since 2002.

    A good deal of current assistance is to increase Colombian military training capacity. Twenty different military training centers and schools, for everything from infantry and special operations to aviation and officer training, are approved for US assistance this year, as well as two police training centers. Colombian officials have stated that the military base agreement signed with the United States on October 30 will strengthen Colombia's military training program and help it to sell training to other nations, despite the Colombian military's history of systematic human rights violations.

    The United States is also assisting Colombian intelligence units. For the fourth year in a row, three regional army intelligence units in Medellín, Bogotá and Villavicencio have been approved for assistance, despite histories of abuse and scandal. The 6th and 7th Regional Military Intelligence Units have produced specious reports accusing human rights defenders, university professors, and community leaders in Medellín and in the southern department of Caquetá of being members of the FARC guerrillas. On December 3, FOR and Human Rights First wrote a letter to Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela urging suspension of US assistance to these units.

    The concentration of US aid in Nariño and Cauca is of special concern, given the escalation of violence and reports of military-paramilitary collaboration in the area. In those two states, the United States supports the 19th Mobile Brigade, 23rd Brigade, 6th Mobile Brigade, and battalions in the 29th and 3rd Brigades, as well as police units from both states and Barbosa municipality. On August 26, armed men killed 12 A'wa indigenous people in a remote settlement of Tumaco, Nariño in the jurisdiction of the 23rd Brigade. Human Rights Watch wrote that "initial reports suggest that members of the Army may have massacred these people." The commander of the US-assisted 23rd Brigade, two-time SOA graduate Colonel Joaquín Hernández, said his troops did not participate in the massacre.

    The United States is also funding units that operate in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, specifically the 11th Mobile Brigade and its counter-guerrilla battalions. US officials have long asserted that the 17th Brigade, which has nominal jurisdiction in San José de Apartadó, does not receive funding, in part because of its history of violations against members of the community. However, in the last year a new task force that combines army units has been formed to patrol an area that includes San José. The 11th Mobile Brigade is reportedly part of the task force.

    The United States no longer vets assistance to a number of brigades in the oil-rich areas bordering Venezuela, which had been a focus of assistance from 2002 to 2007. The 30th Brigade in Norte de Santander was implicated in the most prominent cases of "false positives," by which poor young men in Bogotá barrios were recruited for work and claimed shortly after as guerrillas killed in combat in Norte de Santander. The 18th Brigade in Arauca and 16th Brigade in Casanare received training and other assistance especially as part of an oil pipeline protection initiative, which has apparently expired. But the US still assists the 5th Mobile Brigade, which operates in Arauca and to which eight extrajudicial killings have been attributed, according to the Colombia Human Rights Coordination.

    In addition, the United States finally suspended assistance to the Pigoanza and Magdalena battalions in the Ninth Brigade, operating in Huila state, with among the worst records for killing civilians in Colombia. In 2007 and 2008 alone, the two units reportedly committed 51 extrajudicial killings. US aid flowed to the two battalions in 2005, 2006, and 2007. However, the United States continues to assist the Ninth Brigade's support battalion and its command staff, to whom the two battalions report. A Colombian court ruled recently that commanders are responsible for abuses committed by their subordinates. And judicial investigations into most of the killings reportedly committed by the two US-assisted battalions have not advanced.

    In Meta, the state with one of the worst problems of "false positives" in 2006 and 2007, the United States supports the 28th Brigade, 4th Mobile Brigade, and the 9th Mobile Brigade, and has for most years since 2000. In fact, the United States supports most of the army's mobile brigades, which have been a focus for the counterinsurgency war.

    The United States also approves aid to all six Colombian regional air bases, including the base in Palanquero where the United States will be increasing its presence, despite base personnel's involvement in the 1998 attack in Santo Domingo, Arauca, in which 17 adults and children were killed by cluster bombs.

    The US Congress reduced funds for the Colombian military in 2007, and the response appears to be to suspend aid to many of the worst units. But aid is still flowing to many military units with histories of abuse, and there is to date no accountability for US complicity in violations committed by units that were formerly trained by the United States.

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    Who Decides You're a Peace Community

    Campesinos watch as a soldier passes by the entrance to La Holandita.

    By Moira Birss

    The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó has long used principles of civilian neutrality under international humanitarian law in order to protect its members, declaring the various settlements of the Community throughout the rural area of San José as neutral, safe spaces for civilians.

    Both to enforce that neutrality and to protect its members, one of the Community's basic tenets denies access to Community settlements to any armed actor, legal or illegal. Not only does international humanitarian law prohibit the presence of armed actors in civilian spaces like schools or health centers, but local evidence demonstrates the risk to civilians of proximity of armed actors. In the village center of San José, for example, the police post has attracted guerrilla attacks, putting nearby civilians in grave danger. Unsurprisingly, the Colombian army doesn't like this idea, arguing that no area of the country is off-limits to the army in its duty to protect Colombians.

    Despite the armed forces' resistance to respecting the Community's civilian neutrality, advocacy by FOR and other accompaniment organizations has, in the past few years, succeeded in garnering a measure of respect for the Community's settlements. In the past, Community leaders accompanied by FOR have asked soldiers to leave the Community settlement in La Unión and the soldiers have complied.

    Recently, however, the army seems to have changed its tack. On September 28, a troop of soldiers from the 17th Brigade entered La Union's village center, where FOR has our permanent presence. FOR volunteers accompanied Community leaders as they went to ask the soldiers to leave the village center, which is clearly marked by signs and fences. When FOR contacted commanding officers about this presence, they laughed and said we were mistaken, claiming that soldiers didn't have to leave because the only area belonging to the Community is La Holandita.

    La Holandita is the Community settlement closest to the village center of San José, and is built on land donated by the Dutch government. Many Community members displaced to the settlement after the government installed a police post in the village of San José in 2005.

    In subsequent meetings with FOR, army and state officials have defended this refusal to acknowledge any other Peace Community settlement except La Holandita. Not only is this a drastic change in policy, but it ignores the protective measures issued by the Inter-American Human Rights Court, which order the Colombian state to protect members of the Peace Community, wherever they may be, not just specific territories. The measures also dictate that the "protective measures be mutually agreed by the State and the Community members." The Community has always insisted that, given the long and bloody history of army aggressions, the armed forces maintain a reasonable distance from Community settlements. These measures were then upheld by the Colombian Constitutional Court in 2007 (read the decision here).

    Control of territory is inextricably intertwined with the conflict in Colombia, and is at the root of much of the violence against civilians and displacement (see Moira's "Colombia's War: He's giving our country away"). Through the presidential social aid program called Acción Social (Social Action) and the state land agency INCODER, the state has begun a program of gifting land titles in the San José region, including plots very close to Peace Community settlements, according to community leaders. Some of the plots of land that the state is giving away, however, used to belong to campesinos that displaced from the area due to past violence, the community says.

    Given the constant struggle over land both in the San José area and throughout the country, one can infer that the army's new discourse is a strategy to use land-control practices to undermine the strength of the Community's presence in the region and chip away at the respect it has won for neutral civilian spaces. FOR remains very concerned about this apparent strategy and has been conducting meetings with the diplomatic corps to insist upon protection for all Community members, whether they live in La Holandita or not, and respect for Community principles of civilian neutrality.

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    Open Letter to the Colombian Foreign Ministry

    The popular Puerto Rican hip hop artist Calle Trece traveled to Colombia in October to perform and to receive several Latin Grammy Awards. When he went to receive the award, on international television, he wore a T-shirt: "Uribe Para Bases Militares," which can be translated either as "Uribe For Military Bases" or "Uribe Stop Military Bases." The Colombian government protested. Here is Calle Trece leader René Pérez's response.

    October 19, 2009, San Juan, Puerto Rico

    By means of this letter I am telling you what I feel from the depth of my heart.

    I love Colombia, and so I am concerned about foreign military bases in the country. As a Puerto Rican, I have lived that in my flesh and bones and I don't want your country to go through what mine did.

    According to your press release, I insulted your president with the words on my T-shirt.

    On the shirt there is a play on words, they have a double meaning. One reads in it what you want. At least I read it clearly: "Uribe Para Bases Militares." A direct and clear message.

    The concept for my shirts was created by the people themselves through "Twitter." The Colombia shirt was made by a Colombian, the Venezuela one by a Venezuelan, and so on. One was made for each country.

    The idea of the shirts was to give voice to people, to people who in general are without and don't get heard. Instead of putting on a beautiful tie I chose to send a message. A message not made up in my head but from someone who breathes the same air breathed in Colombia every day. My struggle is not against the president, but against all that promotes war as military bases do. The text of the T-shirt also conveys a feeling of many young people in your country, which like any human being with feelings, I share totally.

    It can't be that in this century there are still people without the ability to understand the right we have as artists to express what we feel at all levels. The censure should not come from the government. Those who don't want to hear me, just don't come to the concert. That would be most valid and legitimate way to censure me. With all due respect to Mr. Uribe, the president of Colombia is not Colombia. As Rubén Blades says, "the country is not defined by those who repress the people."

    With these words I say good-bye, but not without sending a kiss to all those places I have visited in Colombia, the Sierra Nevada in Santa Marta, Palenque, San Jacinto, Maicao, Cali, Medellín, Bogotá, Valledupar, Cúcuta, Bucaramanga, Barranquilla, Cartagena and all those places that I still have to go.

    Rene Pérez Joglar

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    Next FOR Colombia Team Training

    Interested in serving on an amazing human rights team in Colombia? Consider applying to the FOR Colombia Peace Presence. The next volunteer training will occur in the San Francisco Bay Area, May 10-15, 2010.

    More information and how to apply.

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  • November 2009 Colombia Peace Update

  • Support Congressional Call for New Colombia Policy
  • "Expeditionary Warfare" Base Agreement Defies Court
  • Letter from the field: The Cumbia of the Disconnected
  • Briefs: Join FOR at the SOA Vigil; Conscientious objection recognized; next FOR Colombia team members

    Honoring a Courageous Team Member
    Former Colombia team member and a member of the FOR Colombia Committee, Joe DeRaymond, died of a brain tumor on October 1. We grieve his passing.

    Only a month before, Joe visited the San José de Apartadó Peace Community on FOR's human rights delegation. Before the delegation he had been in El Salvador, visiting La Loma, and until the last minute, it was uncertain whether he would be able to make it. His participation in the delegation was active and particularly meaningful. In it, Joe gave a great gift: he made it possible for Adrián Martínez, a Salvadoran community leader who had also suffered the horrors of war, to participate. His participation was a great learning experience for Colombian campesinos, human right defenders, Peace Community members and delegates alike.

    Peace Community members were extremely happy to see Joe again. He was very dear to their hearts. As one of the first FOR volunteers in Colombia, he accompanied the community in 2003-04, and also rejoined the team immediately after the 2005 massacre, in which three children were brutally killed, as well as Luis Eduardo Guerra, a very charismatic leader.

    Shortly after arriving on the team in 2003, Joe wrote: "In this moment, our FOR accompaniment and the accompaniment of Peace Brigades International is welcomed as an important buffer against invasion or envelopment by the armed struggle which embroils Colombia. International eyes, ears and attention [are] crucial to the maintenance of the fragile space within which the Peace Community lives."

    Joe also served for five years on the FOR Colombia Committee that has guided our accompaniment project in Colombia since its inception. And he represented FOR at the School of the Americas vigil at Fort Benning, where he was also arrested for "crossing the line" in 2005, an act for which he served three months in prison. His commitment was humbly stated, but fierce and strong at the same time.

    Peace Community members were very saddened to hear the news of Joe's death. "He shared our suffering, it is so sad to know he's gone," a Peace Community leader community told us. Two weeks ago, during a visit to the Peace Community there were many conversations about Joe. Many members were unaware of the seriousness of Joe's health condition at the time of his last visit; without exception they conveyed their appreciation for Joe's generosity, making the effort to come all the way to see them one last time.

    In honor of Joe's commitment to the San José Peace Community and his work of accompaniment, we have established the Joe DeRaymond Memorial Accompaniment Fund. Please join dozens of others who have already contributed to extend Joe's life work, supporting the courageous volunteers who follow his example of human rights accompaniment in San José.

    Please make a donation today in Joe's name. Or send a check made out to FOR to: Fellowship of Reconciliation, 436 14th St. #409, Oakland, CA 94612. Please put "Joe DeRaymond" in the memo line.

    From all of us here at the FOR Colombia Peace Presence, we are deeply saddened by Joe's passing, grateful for the opportunity we had to know him, and inspired by his life and energy to continue our work for peace in Colombia.

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    Support Congressional Call for New Colombia Policy
    As of Friday, Congressman McGovern and three other Representatives are circulating a letter in Congress addressed to Secretary of State Clinton calling for a change in US policy towards Colombia — and the letter's asks mirror those of FOR and other groups during the Days of Prayer and Action last spring. It calls for a decrease in military spending in Colombia and increased US support for human rights and humanitarian efforts.

    This letter is a chance to get Congress behind the changes we want to see and an opportunity for our government to stand by our brothers and sisters in Colombia.

    We need your support to give the letter the power it needs. Take action today to ensure we get as many representatives as possible to sign on to it by November 25, when it will be sent to Secretary Clinton.

    Find out how to get your representative to sign on!

    The letter makes a strong case that there is no time to waste in changing US policies towards Colombia. It paints a vivid picture of the Colombian government's failure to protect human rights, raising issues of the killing of civilians by the army, the persecution of human rights defenders, and the humanitarian crisis of more than four million people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes. While FOR believes the United States should terminate all military "assistance" to Colombia, we support the letter's call to "scale down" and "systematically 'Colombianize'" military programs.

    The letter also calls for an end to harmful and ineffective aerial fumigations, urging that we invest instead in creating more drug treatment centers in the United States to decrease the demand for illicit substances. To get all the details, read the full letter.

    This letter will only have a strong effect if Rep. McGovern is backed up by many other members of Congress. Now is the time for faithful action for a sustainable peace in Colombia. Please help ensure that your congressional representative signs on.

    Urge your Representative to sign on today!

    And don't stop there: Tell your friends and family. Make an announcement in your church. Or go ahead and forward this on to your whole address book! We may not get another chance like this again for a long time, so let's pull out all the stops and make our voices heard!

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    "Expeditionary Warfare" Base Agreement Defies Court and International Pleas
    Colombian and US officials signed an agreement October 30 to grant the United States the use of at least seven military bases in Colombia for ten years, an agreement that was fiercely criticized by South American leaders, Colombian civil society, and US lawmakers and humanitarian groups.

    The new US air base in Palanquero will "expand expeditionary warfare capability" and "improve global reach" for "conducting full spectrum operations," according to a newly disclosed Pentagon budget document (PDF). The Air Force document describes South America as "a critical sub region of our hemisphere where security and stability is under constant threat from narcotics funded terrorist insurgencies, anti-US governments, endemic poverty and recurring natural disasters." The document flatly contradicts well-publicized claims by US Ambassador William Brownfield that soldiers based in Colombia will "never, never, never" participate in armed operations, and that the base agreement doesn't allow operations outside Colombian territory.

    While the US Embassy in Bogota said the agreement enters into force immediately (PDF), a Colombian court ruling (PDF) said the agreement is "broad and unbalanced" in favor of the United States and is not based on any previous treaty, and so must be reviewed by the Colombian Congress and Constitutional Court. The agreement puts no limits on the number of US personnel to be deployed in Colombia nor on the number of military bases they will use.

    Colombia's constitution requires legislative approval for stationing of any foreign troops on Colombian territory, as well as for all international treaties. The Colombian State Council, a court created to issue opinions on the presence of foreign troops, found that the agreement gives the US the power to decide what operations will occur, gives immunity to US troops, allows access to bases beyond the 7 bases named in the agreement, and defers the most important questions about military operations to future "operational agreements."

    The Council also reviewed 15 prior treaties and declarations cited by the Colombian government as the foundation for the current base agreement, and found that none of them offer a basis for the current agreement on stationing of military troops and use of military bases. It concludes that the agreement is a treaty, and so must be approved by the Colombian Congress and reviewed by the constitutional court. But Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez, in signing the deal, said the government would bypass legislative approval of the base agreement.

    The agreement's environmental provisions are extremely unfavorable to Colombia. The accord requires the United States to turn over all facilities in "as is" condition, while there is no obligation by the United States to remediate environmental damages caused by activities carried out under the agreement, such as chemical contamination, unexploded ordnance, fuel spills, etc. Any appeal to international bodies to remedy damages is forbidden. The agreement even contemplates Colombian payments to the United States for improvements, whether or not damages to lands or property have occurred.

    Colombian Senator Gustavo Petro called on the government to renounce the pact, a renunciation which he says would improve relations with neighboring Venezuela. In addition, Petro said, "because it didn't go through Congress, the pact is ineffectual, and any occupation by [US] soldiers in Colombia is illegal."

    In addition, twenty-seven European organizations called on President Obama to reconsider the agreement (Word document), and urged the president to prioritize human rights in US relations with Colombia. "The militarization of Colombia," the groups wrote, "will lead to an increase in internal destabilization, will involve even more of the civilian population in the war, increasing the violations of human rights and strengthening the resurgence of the paramilitary groups and the receding guerrilla groups."

    People representing several organizations, including US activists, raised a banner at the Palanquero base saying "No US Troops in Colombia" and remembered the 17 Colombians killed by pilots operating from the base in 1998. "It will be worse than the School of the Americas, because it will not only be part of a process of training the Colombian army, but now the US army will be able to operate here with impunity. And it will be a threat to Colombian sovereignty," said Gilberto Villaseñor, a former FOR Colombia team member who participated in the presence.

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    Letter from the Field: The Cumbia of the Disconnected

    by Moira Birss

    Marches in Colombia are often colorful and vibrant, and the Carnival March for Life, Dignity and Popular Identity in Medellin on October 9 was no exception. Drummers, clowns on stilts, clowns in tutus made up the parade, and a band played the "Cumbia of the Disconnected":

    I had a full salary
    I had many dreams
    I paid all the utilities
    And nothing was left for food
    Nothing was left for food

    If you paid the utilities
    And want to go grocery shopping
    Don't come with that story
    You only have enough to pay on credit
    You only have enough to pay on credit
    ...
    Doña Luz was already blind
    From saving money
    But nonetheless
    The bill always went up
    The bill always went up

    The phone in my house
    Answering it is always a problem
    Because calls appear
    To Holland and Cartagena
    To Holland and Cartagena
    ...

    The march, which I accompanied at the request of our partner organization the Medellin Youth Network (Red Juvenil), was the symbolic closing of the Medellin Social Forum, in the tradition of the now-geographically-dispersed World Social Forum. The Forum, held October 2-11, brought together communities and organizations from Medellin, the region and other regions of Colombia. The purpose, as the website explained, was to "address the problems caused by neoliberalism, authoritarianism and privatization, and create alternatives and proposals to transform the situation of poverty and social exclusion in the city of Medellin, Antioquia and Colombia."

    As described in the "Cumbia of the Disconnected," a primary focus of the march and the Forum itself was access — or the lack of it — to utilities like water, electricity and telephone. In the comunas, or shantytowns, of Medellin, many of the poorest, most of whom are displaced people from other regions of the country, have never had connections to such utilities, or have been disconnected because of their inability to pay the high fees on their scant to nonexistent income.

    A primary complaint of the Red Juvenil and other organizers of the Forum and march is that Public Companies of Medellin (EPM for its Spanish initials), which provides utilities in the region, does not fulfill its obligations as a public company supposedly at the service of the public. EPM is only 51% publicly held, and the Red Juvenil and others accuse it of acting very much in the predatory and profit-focused manner of private companies, at the expense of the most needy.

    While accompanying the march and listening to the charges against EPM, I was struck by the irony of the situation. Three weeks ago I accompanied a three-day series of workshops and meetings in Amalfi in the northeast of Antioquia. There, EPM has gotten declared what in Colombia is the equivalent of eminent domain in order to construct a fourth hydroelectric dam on the Porce River. More than 8,000 independent miners and small farmers, many of whom were displaced by the construction upriver of the previous dam, will be displaced by this dam. The community, with the support of FOR's partner organization the Antioquian Campesino Association, is working to achieve fair compensation and relocation in the area, in order to avoid the fate of many of those displaced by previous dams, who for lack of better options ended up in the shantytowns of Medellin and victim to the extravagant rates EPM charges for utilities

    Though this seems like a pretty depressing situation, I was inspired by the way that the Red Juvenil and the other organizations of the Forum made it a point to bring the march and carnival to the people in the comunas themselves. So often, forums and marches and other such manifestations of protest and articulations of alternatives happen in city centers, universities, and other sites where shantytown dwellers don't have access. The comuna residents may be disconnected from electricity, but the Red Juvenil and the Forum are making sure they are not disconnected from the struggle for a better Medellin, Antioquia, and Colombia.

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    News Briefs

    Join FOR at the SOA Vigil, November 20-22
    FOR will be present at the mass vigil at the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia from November 20-22. If you are planning to go, please join us for a workshop on US military bases in Colombia, on Friday, November 20 at 9 pm in Howard Johnsons Carter Room. It is critical that we are informed about and engaged in opposing the new military bases that the United States will be using in Colombia to increase its capacity for "expeditionary warfare" in South America. Come join us in forging smart and creative activism on this issue.

    FOR will also have a table with extensive materials at the vigil, and we invite volunteers to help us staff the table for any length of time. Please contact Colombia Project Co-Director Liza Smith, liza@igc.org or at our office, 510-763-1403.

    High Court Recognizes Colombian Conscientious Objection
    The Colombian Constitutional Court issued a ruling on October 15 — in a writ of protection revision — recognizing the right to refuse to serve in obligatory military service based on religious or philosophical reasons. Until now, the law granted such right only to those belonging to indigenous minorities, a right that the Constitutional Court reiterated for indigenous and disabled people.

    The Court also ordered Congress to pass legislation granting such a "basic civil right." A progressive senator from the left, Gloria Ramirez, last year introduced a bill to that effect in Congress. It was rejected, and she was planning to reintroduce it in the next legislature.

    The court heard the case at the request of a research team at the University of the Andes, supported by groups of conscientious objectors and human rights organizations. The Medellín Youth Network called the decision an "important advance," but added, "rights aren't won in courts, which are the places that end up guaranteeing and recognizing them. Rights are earned in people's struggles for their recognition. Objectors must continue to organize and mobilize ourselves, demanding and demonstrating that we're here, that objectors with or without legal and constitutional recognition will continue in the street, on the walls, in statements, and in direct actions."

    Next Members of the FOR Colombia Team
    By Ashleigh Saheen, Daniel Read, Isaac Beachy, Jenn Svetlik and Marion
    A new group of five applicants to FOR's Colombia Peace Presence gathered in San Francisco from September 12 through 17 to participate in a training to go to Colombia in late 2009 and early 2010. Activities and sessions included topics on the history of FOR and Colombian history, accompaniment theory and practice, skill development for field work and information on US policy and advocacy campaigns

    The applicants shared a desire to participate in work that is directed by the community and accompanies community members in a culturally appropriate way. "I spent a few months previously in Colombia and it was an amazing experience. I knew I had to come back soon," said Denver, an applicant from Denver by way of Canada and Japan.

    The interactive training activities are designed to prepare participants for situations they may confront during their work on the Colombia team, and included relay races, team building games, Jeopardy! sessions, and writing activities that accommodate a variety of learning styles. Given the complexity of the security and human rights situation, the sessions not only prepare the trainees, but also give them the chance for self-evaluation.

    "I always feel rather silly during the games," said Marion, a future volunteer from Austria. "But I always like the analysis we do afterward. It's very helpful to me."

    The training was led by several FOR staff and former volunteers who have plenty of wisdom to share with the group. They provide a space for applicants to share their thoughts and analysis but also provide insights from their experience in the CPP.

    Chris Courtheyn, a former volunteer from 2007-08, returned to be a facilitator. Since returning from Colombia, he has worked in southern Colombia but supports FOR when he can. "Living in San José was one of the most amazing experiences in my life," he said. "I want to continue supporting the CPP team any way I can."

    "As we complete each session," Jenn, an applicant from Texas, enthusiastically shares, "I am more and more convinced that human rights accompaniment is an effective and appropriate way for US activists to build relationships with peace leaders around the world."

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  • September 2009 Colombia Peace Update

    We Need Your Support!
    Thanks to the hundreds of you who responded to our call to send a message to Congress about military bases in Colombia and to support FOR's work to put a brake on this new "Plan Colombia."

    If you have not made a recent contribution to the FOR, we urge you to do so today. Our work on human rights and U.S. military bases and training in Colombia has had increasing influence. But we don't have large institutional funding, so we rely on you and your networks of support to keep it going.

    In last week's New York Times, an article details a massive scandal that has erupted in Colombia about illegal spying on human rights organizations and opposition groups by the government. (See "Spying on Democracy" below in the News Briefs section.) FOR is one of the NGOs that has been the targets of illegal wiretaps and surveillance. Our work is critical and under threat, and we need your help now.

    Please click here to contribute to the Fellowship of Reconciliation Colombia Program.

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    Bases Agreement Still Secret, but Opposition Grows
    By John Lindsay-Poland
    South American presidents at August 28 summit. President Uribe, on extreme left, had to be dragged into the photo by the Argentine President Kirchner. (Photo: Semana)More than two months after news of a U.S.-Colombia accord for seven military bases provoked a storm of debate throughout Latin America, including a summit on August 28 of 12 South American presidents of UNASUR, Washington and Bogota were still keeping the unsigned agreement secret. A military official told Inside the Pentagon in early September that the military is "translating it, making sure the translation is a good one. The lawyers are taking a scrub at it."

    So when the continent's defense ministers met in Quito on September 15, tasked by their presidents to study U.S. military plans for the region, they may have had only vague and contradictory information to work with. U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield spoke only of the bases' use to combat drug trafficking, while foreign minister Jaime Bermudez said the bases would also address "terrorism and other international crimes." And an internal Colombian report stated that the agreement includes increased cooperation, including for military training. President Uribe said the defense ministers could see the agreement "as long as it goes hand in hand with the OAS," in which Washington plays a more prominent role.

    In a joint press conference with Bermudez, apparently convened for damage control on August 18, Hillary Clinton muddied the waters further, saying that U.S. and Colombian cooperation also must address issues from the "economic crisis to the climate crisis to public health concerns, such as H1N1 virus."

    In addition, the outgoing commander of the 12th Air Force, Lt. Gen. Norman Seip, told Inside the Pentagon that he supports establishing a series of small U.S. airfields throughout the region to conduct intelligence operations. That arrangement would be consistent with the plan to set up lily pads," as the Pentagon is doing in Africa and the Pacific, as an alternative to large, expensive, and politically vulnerable fixed bases.

    Essentially, the Pentagon and Colombia are saying to the region, "Trust our word, we'll only use these bases internally, within Colombia." But this message is not reassuring for those in Colombia who are tired of war, including the millions of people displaced from their lands by Army, paramilitary, or guerrilla violence.

    The claim that operations will be limited to Colombia also is not credible. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez read aloud at the summit from the U.S. military report on the Southern Command's interest in establishing "strategic airlift" capability in South America, and using the Palanquero base in Colombia to "cover the entire continent." The report also indicated that U.S. officials have sought an agreement with French Guiana for military access. (FOR was the first to make public the Air Mobility Command's disclosure in May.)

    Members of Congress in both the House and Senate were likewise not persuaded. In the House, a September 15 letter from 16 Representatives highlighted the failures of Plan Colombia, especially the drug war, while Senators Dodd and Leahy asked
    how the base agreement would impact the Colombian military's political will to address killings of civilians. They also sharply criticized the Obama administration's complete lack of consultation with Congress and Colombia's neighbors in negotiating the agreement.

    Meanwhile, Wayu'u indigenous leaders, whose communities straddle the Colombian-Venezuelan border in the northern Guajira region, announced that they would close the border if the military base deal goes ahead. Many trucking companies that move Venezuelan oil into Colombia are run by Wayu'u collectives. Venezuelan oil had been exported to Colombia at lower rates, to alleviate economic conditions in the northern area where Wayu'u communities are concentrated. But a Venezuelan legislator claimed that Colombia was dumping the subsidized fuel onto the black market for use as far from the border as Bogotá. Wayu'u communities also were angered by Israeli authories' claims that the Palestinian Hezbollah are active in the Guajira.

    September 15-19, a coalition that includes the National University International Economy Observatory, Colombian Action Network on Free Trade and the Fellowship of Reconciliation, organized a series of public events in Bogotá, Barranquilla, and Medellín, in which the bases in Colombia are being debated.

    Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano also commented on the bases in Colombia, saying: "It not only offends Latin American collective dignity, but the intelligence of anyone, because they say
    their function will be to combat drugs. Please, for how long! Almost all the heroin consumed in the world comes from Afghanistan... And Afghanistan is a country occupied by the United States. As we know, occupying countries have responsibility for what happens in the occupied countries."

    To link to a wide variety of information and documents about the proposed military bases in Colombia, click here.

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    Beyond the Peace Community...

    The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó released three statements in July and August documenting abusive army behavior, an increasingly visible paramilitary presence, and the unexplained deaths of several civilians. Peace Community territories in the further reaches of the district have fallen victim to aggression, in particular in La Resbalosa, a hamlet to which Peace Community members have been returning over the last 18 months. The Community has denounced unauthorized entries into private
    dwellings, the theft of crops, damage to property and insulting behavior by soldiers. Soldiers beat and verbally abused Julio Guisao, the work coordinator of La Resbalosa, as he was making his way home on July 20.

    Colombian soldiers on trial on August 25 for the February 2005 massacre in San José de Apartadó wore their uniforms, despite no longer being on active duty.
    In considering the context for army operations, two points stand out. First, the army has published and distributed a booklet to its field personnel detailing the behavior expected of soldiers towards Peace Community members. Given the recent aggression, we question the
    effectiveness of the booklet.

    Second, the area has witnessed the introduction of two or three mobile brigades whose mission, according to army officials, is to exert greater pressure on the area's remaining guerrilla insurgents. This is in addition to the standing brigade, which has a base in the village of
    San José de Apartadó, in the foothills of the Serranía de Abibe. The different veredas (sub-divisions) of the corregimiento appear full of the military. Troops station themselves within ten minutes’ walk of the hamlet in La Unión (where the international accompaniers are based) roughly every other week, staying in one place for up to five or seven days. However, there has been no violation of the Peace Community space in La Unión since April of this year. We are led to speculate that international accompaniment in La Unión provides a modicum of protection to Peace Community members that is not enjoyed by those living further into the mountains.

    A newly-confident paramilitary presence is exerting itself once again in the veredas
    close to Nueva Antioquia, a traditional stronghold of paramilitarism. Although official State discourse maintains that paramilitary forces no longer exist following a demobilization process, the presence of up to 200 armed men presenting themselves as Autodefensas Gaitanistas ("Gaitán" Self-Defense Forces, named after the slain Colombian politician) ridicules this claim.

    The Peace Community argues that the paramilitaries never demobilized, and that links with the security forces in Nueva Antioquia remain intact. The Autodefensas' activities in La Esperanza and surrounding settlements over recent months have included death threats to Community members and accusations of collaboration with the guerrilla insurgency.

    While it has been possible to attribute these aggressions to military and paramilitary forces, the recent deaths of three people within a fortnight in the area remain unresolved. In one incident, a prominent figure was murdered in La Cristalina settlement, where Peace
    Community families also reside. A second killing occurred in a vereda shared with Peace Community families. In the third instance, a decomposed body appeared ten minutes away from the hamlet of La Unión. A forensic team was called upon to remove the remains under the auspices of the office of the human rights ombudsman, given the proximity to protected Peace Community spaces. It is not yet clear who committed the murders, or whether they were acts of political or social violence, but as always there is reason to suspect the involvement of
    at least one armed group. Furthermore, in the department of Córdoba, which now hosts three Peace Community hamlets, the murder on July 31 of a local civilian at the hands of paramilitaries provoked the displacement of nearby residents.

    Instability in San José de Apartadó is compounded by sporadic outbreaks of combat between army or paramilitary forces and guerrillas, which pose a further danger to the lives of civilians. In the midst of this violence, the Peace Community seeks to build and expand its spaces
    of life, free from the damaging effects of the armed conflict, as the Geneva Conventions envisage.

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    Damming Magdalena: Emgesa Threatens Colombian Communities

    By Jonathan Luna, Special to CorpWatch

    A small path descends from the town of La Jagua, crossing a field and forest until it ends at a cliff overlooking the Magdalena River. Pairs of buff-necked ibis take flight announcing their local name, "cocli cocli." Above the beach where children swim, the rock is carved
    by erosion and dotted with small holes occupied by birds. The landscape is dotted, too, every 100 meters, with concrete markers declaring the land, river, and everything else a "public utility" that Colombia has given to the energy company Emgesa as part of the Quimbo Hydroelectric Project.

    The Magdalena River. (Photo: Jonathan Luna)Quimbo's developer, Bogotá-based Emgesa S.A. Empresa Generadora de Energía, projects costs at $700 million for the hydro component and $200 million for substations. The Ministry of Environment granted a construction permit in May, and the dam is scheduled for full operation by 2014.

    "If completed, it would be the first of multiple Emgesa dams proposed for the river in the department of Huila, along the country's longest and most economically important river," said Miller Dussán, a leader of the grassroots coalition Plataforma Sur de Organizaciones
    Sociales and professor of philosophy at the Universidad Sur Colombiana (USCO).

    The Quimbo dam would inundate about 8,800 hectares (ha) (34 square miles), displace some 1,500 rural peasants and eight community-owned cottage industries, and flood 842 ha of riparian forests and 2,000 ha of cultivated land, warned Dussán. It would severely cut "Agrado's
    agricultural potential, resulting in its gross domestic product decreasing by at least 30 percent."

    Discussion has been heated on radio and in the Colombian legislature which, in November 2008, held a televised nine-hour debate. Endangered Huila communities have mounted opposition marches, camps, and local and regional social forums. Plataforma Sur is spearheading the effort,
    which includes regional youth, USCO academics, the Regional Council of Indigenous Peoples of Huila, Colombia's largest labor union (CUT), various social and environmental NGOs, autonomous collectives, and politicians including a former governor of Huila.

    Continue reading here. http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=15415

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    Letter from the Field: A Gentle Land(with apologies to Michael Vickory)

    By Ivan Kasimoff, participant in August 2009 FOR Delegation to Colombia

    A few members of the August ’09 Delegation came to Colombia before the official arrival date and have seen a wonderful, lush country, from the rich colonial cities of the Caribbean coast such as Cartagena, to the exciting city of Cali, to several historical towns such as Mompox on the Magdalena River, and to Barichara frozen in its 17th century construction in the Andean highlands. And some of us have walked through the Centro Histórico of Bogotá where the large cathedral stands before the wide Plaza Bolívar named after the great liberator of Latin America from Spanish imperial control.

    As the delegation has been through several days of meetings, we have together been able to go to uptown Bogotá to the Parque 93 in a peaceful area of cafes and restaurants, a small area of
    respite amongst towering skyscrapers on all sides. We find the Colombian people to be polite, perhaps a bit restrained, but always helpful. The common greeting here is a simple "Buenas" everywhere you go. Their days are busy as it seems that everyone goes to work. Street life is vibrant and there is no shortage of open shops, discos, cafes, and exotic produce on stands and carts on the street. We are dazzled by the jugos naturales with names like lulo, maracuya, mora, zapote, and the list goes on. We get around easily as many Colombians do on the modern transportation systems, one cleverly named the Transmileno. There are also several subway lines in the city of Medellín, not to mention several funicular lines up into the hills of this modern city. After now a week in Colombia, it is fair to say that the delegation has been enjoying our stay and experience in this land.

    The image we have of Colombia is of course informed on the one hand by what we see in our travels. There is also the image of Colombia represented by President Uribe and widely disseminated in the media here, much of which is presented in the same way in the North
    American media-a country making progress and overcoming its historic problems of terror and drug trafficking. There is another image which we learn about in our own studies of this country and meetings we have with members of various NGOs and activists as you will read by keeping up with the writings in this blog. As in much of the conquest of the Americas beginning in the 16th century, hundreds of thousands if not more indigenous people were killed in Colombia. Then soon after the war for independence from Spain, Colombia had not less than eight civil wars in the 19th century. When the Cold War began, some 200,000 people were killed in the Bogotazo uprising. Waves of political and military battles by a number of armed actors continued on into the '60s, '70s, and '80s. And in the '90s and into our own millennium, the drug wars became a component of the violence of everyday life not only in the country but in many major cities. With the election of President Uribe in 2002, Colombians now live in the state under his firm hand called Seguridad Democrática, which if one wants to look carefully means police and military personnel are present on many, if not every street in the cities. That is not all we can see in this land.

    Everyday life is filled with police or military actions. Our bags are checked when we enter buildings and certain streets in the city. We are fingerprinted and photographed when we enter the lobby of the building that hosts the U.N. High Commission on Human Rights and Refugees. Large military personnel trucks are parked at city plazas and parks where uniformed officers comb through the public space questioning military recruitment aged youth to see if their registration papers are in order-if not, on to the trucks these youth go for basic training.

    And out of the cities, there are police and military checkpoints on the roads. Passenger filled buses are stopped on their journeys so that the authorities can check over IDs and suspicious behavior. On one 100 mile trip to a major Caribbean city with 3 Colombians in our taxi, we were stopped 3 times, one stop 5 minutes after the other. All of our papers were looked over twice. Us males were frisked on two of these stops, and I had to nearly empty out my luggage for them to see. Perhaps more stunning than these acts "for our security" was that each time we returned to our seats, not one person commented or even sighed at the intrusive actions of these highly armed men.

    Once in the coastal city, on the way back to my hotel, I was stopped on the street by 2 young police officers. They patted me down, and up. They asked me to empty my pockets. The officers then personally went through my pockets from behind me and upon only finding money and an ID which they showed no interest in, accused me of having cocaine. What could I say? There was some back and forth, but again, what could I say. They had no explanations. No probable cause. No logic here. Then they requested a gaseosa, a soda pop. I just starred at them in disbelief. They let me go, let me go with feelings of violation, humiliation, and fear.

    None of this is unusual here. In our meetings we learn about arbitrary arrests, police harassment, disappearances, forced displacements of thousands of peasants and indigenous people (about 10% of the 43 million population are refugees in their own country). And there are targeted assassinations, and more recently selective assassinations (where 2 or 3 persons associated with a targeted person are killed). The very office in Bogotá where we meet to learn about Colombia today was recently broken into and its computers stolen in the same month as 3 other NGO offices were similarly robbed. And in a meeting with campesinos in a small town that FOR delegates participated in, heavily armed police officers stood outside the meeting hall while simple people sharing the story of their lives were watched.

    There is no gentle land. This is the Colombia Gabriel Garcia Marquéz exposes readers to in the city of Mompoz in 100 Days of Solitude. This is the Colombia of President Uribe’s Seguridad Democrática. This is the Colombia the United States supports with Plan Colombia.

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    News Briefs
    Argentina decriminalizes possession for personal use Argentina's Supreme Court decriminalized the small-scale use of marijuana on 25 August, opening the way for a shift in the country's drug-fighting policies to focus on traffickers instead of users. The high court ruled it unconstitutional to prosecute cases involving the private use of marijuana.

    Elsewhere in Latin America, Colombia and Mexico have already decriminalized the possession of small amounts of drugs. Brazil and Ecuador are looking at an initiative to legalize some drug use.

    "Each adult is free to make lifestyle decisions without the intervention of the state," the court's ruling said. It did not set a weight limit for what constitutes small-scale and the court said it was not decriminalizing all drug use. "Behavior in private is legal, as long as it doesn't constitute clear danger," Supreme Court President
    Ricardo Lorenzetti said. "The state cannot establish morality."

    Don't Break Colombia's Heart
    Activists laid flowers and crosses on the gigantic hearts placed by the Colombian government around Washington, DC. (Photo: Marino Cordoba)No More Broken Hearts is a response to the "Discover Colombia Through Its Heart" PR campaign put on by the Uribe administration in Washington, DC, and New York in the month of September. Launched at the close of the summer Congressional recess, and centered on Union Station across from the Capitol, this PR campaign is clearly intended to win Congressional support for the proposed U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. No More Broken Hearts is a coalition of Colombians, Colombian-Americans, and others concerned about human, labor and environmental rights in Colombia, and opposed to the FTA. Read about why here.

    We stand with those Congresspeople, and millions of Colombians who continue to publicly oppose the FTA, U.S. military aid, and military bases.

    Spying on Democracy

    From Washington Office on Latin America, US Office on Colombia, and Latin America Working Group

    A scandal far worse than Watergate is unfolding featuring Colombia's presidential intelligence agency, the Administrative Security Department (DAS). Exposed by the Colombian news weekly Semana and the subject of an Attorney General's office investigation, the DAS is revealed to have been illegally spying on many of the varied forces of Colombian democracy: opposition politicians, human rights groups, journalists, clergy, unions, and Supreme Court justices. The operation went deeper than surveillance, employing a variety of dirty tricks, seeking to "neutralize and restrict" the normal activities of human rights groups and any voices
    critical of the Uribe administration.

    And the scandal is far from over. Indeed, Semana magazine revealed on August 29 that the DAS, despite the media outcry and the Attorney General's investigation, is continuing and even
    increasing its illegal espionage, focused against judges, human rights lawyers and, now, presidential candidates and members of Congress. According to a DAS agent interviewed by Semana, "What interests us now? Simple: the referendum [the legislation
    allowing a referendum to permit President Uribe to be elected for a third term]. We have to know... what the politicians are thinking." A U.S. Department of Justice official's conversations with a Supreme Court judge were recorded. And even the prosecutors investigating the DAS were illegally wiretapped.

    Human Rights Defenders Campaign Launched
    In Colombia, being a human rights defender is a dangerous, often deadly job. Those working on issues ranging from the environment to the rights of women, campesinos, the indigenous and
    other victims of the armed conflict receive threats to their physical and psychological integrity, and that of their families, on a daily basis.

    More than 100 organizations from the United States, Europe, and Latin America on September 9 launched a campaign to change these conditions. The aim of the campaign is to bring sustained and coordinated pressure on the Colombian government to achieve a positive, lasting and significant change for the country's
    human rights defenders.

    Areas of focus

    • Impunity in cases involving defenders.
    • Misuse of state intelligence against defenders.
    • Systematic stigmatization of defenders by government officials.
    • Unfounded criminal proceedings brought against defenders.
    • Problems with the protection program for defenders at risk.

    Individuals can endorse the campaign. Click here to see what you can do.

    State Department "Certifies" Human Rights in Colombia

    The State Department announced on September 11 that it "certified" improvements in Colombia's human rights record, triggering the release of $32.1 million in military equipment and training from the fiscal year about to end. As of June, Senate officials had place a hold $72 million in other military assistance because of human rights concerns.

    The State Department 157-page "justification" for certifying contains curious combinations of statements. "The security situation in Colombia continues to improve," yet "homicides of labor unionists rose" and "reports of extrajudicial killings continued during the certification period", while "investigations into cases of extrajudicial killings are proceeding slowly," and the number of people displaced by the conflict increased (by disputed amounts). If this is improved security, what would worse security look like?

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    World Summit for Peace: Bogotá, Colombia-October 1-4, 2009

    Pacifists Without Borders, with support from the Bogotá mayor's office, will trail blaze the pathway towards the World Summit for Peace, which will occur in the city of Bogotá, October 1-4, 2009. This citizen-led and -promoted initiative is a collective effort towards global peace and against violence, militarization, and injustice. The objective is to
    collectively construct a favorable setting for reflection, to exchange ideas and dialogue about peace as a social construction, derived from a system based on the principles of social justice and peaceful coexistence.

    The World Summit for Peace will have two dimensions:

    1. The global dimension: It is crucial to lead a cultural process from Bogotá, Colombia and the Andean Region which is comprised of basic values such as nonviolence and pacifism. Bogotá will be converted into a stage from which a worldwide peace process will be constructed, promoted, and led within a global context. Moreover, the global dimension to the Summit will further permit the world community to be informed about the particular dimensions of the Colombian armed conflict.
    2. The local dimension: this proposed process looks to foster spaces for dialogue about the Colombian conflict and to develop strategies with the help from all international participants in order to search for a solution to the Colombian armed conflict. Furthermore, we look to provoke a collective reflection through an ample process of participation that will permit us to create the atmosphere for a solution and a post-conflict strategy.

    During the summit, Bogotá will be the arena for artistic expressions. A host of such artistic expressions will permeate throughout the city, including concerts, dance presentations, theatrical performances,
    painting exhibitions, and alternative films from all reaches of the world. You too are invited to inundate the city with art in the name of the Global Peace!

    The summit will produce five strategic documents. Three of them will be elaborated by well-known internationally recognized figures. These documents will be presented in the summit by their authors and they will be discussed in three large public assemblies. The three documents will address the central themes: justice, culture, and democracy, and their relationship to peace. We will make the effort to establish these documents as the basis for dialogue in the preliminary stages of the summit.

    The fourth document is what we call the Bogotá Manifesto 2009. This will be a proposition that will emerge from the summit and will be elaborated by the promoting group and the facilitators of the event. The first draft of the manifesto will be presented and discussed
    through a permanent virtual online forum for a period of six months. Furthermore, the World Summit for Peace will project a strategy for the implementation of the Bogotá Manifesto as a post-summit strategy.

    The fifth document will be the Pathway to Peace in Colombia: Conflict and Post-Conflict. This will be a collectively elaborated project with the wide
    participation of international and national participants. It will be signed by all participants as the first stage of a work in progress in order to achieve a political solution to the Colombian conflict.

    There is no charge for participation in the Summit in Bogotá. To register, send an e-mail to: cumbredepaz@cumbremundialdepaz2009.org

    The organizers want curiosity for the Summit to increase as the main event draws closer and likewise aspire to generate interest among the worldwide citizenry and institutions. Moreover, they hope to unite global support and commitment for this global cause. We hope to create
    strong alliances with the international media in order to promote the city's image as a city committed to Peace in Colombia and in the World.

    World Peace Conference • www.pacifistassinfronteras.org • 011(571)368-1999

    August 2009 Colombia Peace Update

    Action Alert: Colombia Military Bases, or South American Peace?

    Tell Secretary Clinton you don't want military bases in Colombia!
    The plan to increase the U.S. military's presence on Colombian bases is the wrong plan, and it is provoking intense opposition in Colombia and the rest of South America. The plan would prolong the failed drug war, expand the war within Colombia that has caused such suffering, destabilize already tense regional relations, create incentives for an arms race, and violate Colombian sovereignty through immunity for U.S. soldiers' crimes. It would also violate the Colombian constitution, which prohibits the presence of foreign soldiers except in transit (and even then only if approved by the Colombian senate).
    Opposition in Latin America has surprised the Colombian and U.S. governments, but so far they appear determined to forward with the deal. Colombian officials announced Friday (August 14) they had reached agreement on the bases in Washington, and only need to work out technical issues in the weeks ahead.
    Yet the two governments did not sign an accord, and disclosed no information about what was agreed. What's clear is that the U.S. and Colombian governments want to stem the broad opposition that has erupted throughout the hemisphere, and projecting the idea that the deal is sealed says that opposition is futile.
    But the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) also learned that the negotiations "encountered some difficulties" on at least five issues, even before South American opposition forced President Uribe to make a seven-nation tour to seek support for the plan.
    We need to let Secretary of State Clinton know that this is not the way to address conflicts in the Andean nations or to help our compatriots who suffer from addiction.
    Send a message to Hillary Clinton today.
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    Religious and Grassroots Leaders Urge Suspension of Base Talks

    Bases deal "presents enormous dangers for entire hemisphere"

    Over 100 religious, national, community organizations and leaders and academics called on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton August 13 to "suspend negotiations for expanded U.S. military access or operations in Colombia," a plan that has generated a swell of protest among Latin American countries, including Colombia.
    "It is rational for regional leaders to see the installation of several U.S. military sites in Colombia as a potential threat to their security," the groups said, because of U.S. support for trans-border attacks from Colombia, reported violations of the expiring base agreement with Ecuador, a Pentagon statement that it seeks access for "contingency operations" in the region, and the painful history of U.S. military intervention in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    "To broaden relationships with South America and value respect for human rights, the United States should not create a fortress in Colombia in concert with the region's worst rights violators, the Colombian military," the letter said.
    Signatories included 20 national religious organizations and leaders and 32 U.S. peace and human rights groups, as well as community organizations, academics, and international NGOs. Opposition has come from other quarters in the United States also. The Washington Office on Latin America, Mingas FTA, and the Campaign for Peace and Development, among others, have spoken out against the base deal.
    Many South American presidents also have expressed opposition to the increased U.S. military presence in Colombia. Brazilian President Lula da Silva urged President Obama to join presidents from the South American Union to discuss the issue later this month in Buenos Aires, and Venezuela President Hugo Chavez said that "the winds of war are blowing" because of the plan for U.S. troops to operate in seven Colombian bases.
    Background documents on the military base negotiations between the United States and Colombia.
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    Obama's Choice: Documents Show U.S. Seeks Colombian Bases for Training & Operations

    By John Lindsay-Poland
    Published by Americas Program, Center for International Policy, 13 August 2009
    President Obama was forced to address the growing clamor in South America in opposition to plans for U.S. military use of at least seven bases in Colombia. The base agreement proposes to carry out regional operations with a wide and ambiguous mandate and has raised concerns among governments throughout the region. "We have no intent in establishing a U.S. military base in Colombia," Obama said on August 7.
    But the South American presidents who met in Quito on August 10 weren't buying it. They agreed to meet again later this month to discuss the bases in Colombia. Despite a seven-nation tour by Colombian President Álvaro Uribe the previous week, only Peru openly supports the proposal. President Lula da Silva of Brazil-the continent's superpower-called for President Obama to attend the meeting, and several Latin American presidents and Colombian leaders echoed the call. Obama needs to "explain in depth U.S. policy for the region," Lula said.

    Southern Command Chief Douglas Fraser and Colombian armed forces chief Freddy Padilla meet on August 4. (Source: Daylife.com.)

    His declaration came following an explosive exposé of base negotiations between the Pentagon and the State Department, and the Colombian government in the Colombian weekly Cambio. The report generated broad discontent in Colombia and the region. The article noted that the plan would include "filling the gaps left by the eventual cutting of [military] aid in Plan Colombia," according to sources cited in Washington and Bogotá.
    Whether the bases are "U.S." in name matters little in practice. The proposal has always been for U.S. military use of national bases in Colombia, which is how the United States works at military bases in Honduras, Ecuador, and many other countries in the world. The Pentagon does not acknowledge having "U.S. bases" in Iraq, for example. In Ecuador, the U.S. government denied it had any military base, though now supporters of the military deal with Colombia claim the U.S. operations in Manta, Ecuador were "truly a gringo presence." Obama's announcement doesn't change the situation that has bothered so many Latin Americans and U.S. citizens who hoped for something better from Obama's government.
    The issue is really the missions of U.S. forces at those bases and the message they send to Colombians and others in the region that the United States will respond militarily to every problem, from poverty to bilateral tensions. The State Department says the bases are to address narcotics trafficking and "should be viewed as nothing more than that." But the most recent military budget document and the Colombian government define the purposes much more broadly. The Pentagon seeks sites for "contingency operations, logistics, and training," and plans to deploy C-17 cargo aircraft-not used for counter-narcotics-at Palanquero air base in Colombia.
    In fact, the facilities under negotiation appear to be aimed at replacing the former School of the Americas and other U.S. military training sites for Latin American armies. In a July 28 written response to Colombian senators, Interior Minister Fabio Valencia said that the agreement seeks to "deepen cooperation in areas such as: interoperability, joint procedures, logistics and equipment, training and instruction, strengthening monitoring and reconnaissance capacity, combined exercises, and especially exchange of intelligence information."
    There will be an attempt to "expand training offered to other countries in the region through instruction of helicopter pilots and in human rights and international humanitarian law." Colombia is already imparting military training to jungle commandos and naval forces of other countries, Valencia says, and "plans to continue doing so with low-cost training of the same quality as that offered by countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom."
    To read the rest of "Obama's Choice," click here.
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    Letter from the Field: "Yanquis Fuera!"

    Bogotanians Protest U.S. military bases
    By Sofia Larsson

    It is easy to ignore things that don't affect us directly. It is easy to change TV channels if they show a war we don't want to see and it is more relaxing to listen to a good music channel on the radio than listen to a program informing us about injustices that make us uncomfortable. And even if we do listen and have opinions, most of us will not try to make the broader public listen to them.
    On July 24, some 300 people gathered at the Bolivar Plaza in Colombia's capital city to protest the possible establishment of at least five U.S. military bases on Colombian territory. While negotiations between the U.S. and Colombian governments are taking place regarding the matter, political parties, NGOs, lawyer collectives, and other social movements in Colombia are working hard to inform the public about the risks that such an agreement would create — risks they argue that many Colombians don't know about.
    One of the protesters, a male student in his twenties, takes a break from the unison shouting of "Yankees, go home!" and "Multinationals out of the country!"
    "After years of the war on drugs and enormous amounts of military aid from the U.S., there are still no real results," he tells me. "The drug trafficking is still big business in Colombia, so why do some people in this country want the war to continue? Why does the U.S. want the war to continue? Report after report shows that the previous military actions have not worked! As much as the military bases is an attempt to fight the drugs, it is a attempt to control this continent and the leftist governments of our neighboring countries. If this deal goes through, Colombia will end up being the Israel of Latin America!"
    Four days later another protest against the American military bases takes place in the center of Bogotá. Many people stop by to look at the crowd that sings and jumps in order to convey their message to the onlookers.
    One of the passersby, a middle-aged woman coming out from an office building, receives a flyer from one of the protesters. She reads it, starts shaking her head and asks me as I stand beside her: "Don't they understand that they are asking for the old Colombia back? Don't they understand that we need help to fight the guerrillas?" I don't have time to answer her as some of the protesters have heard what she said and one of them starts talking loudly in her direction: "The U.S. military have tried to help us solve the problem of drug dealing with war for many years already, without results! Why do you want our country to be a slave under the U.S. government? Why do you want to sell our country and worsen our country's relations with the rest of the continent even more? Why do you want to displace more people?" The woman shakes her head in response, says she is late for a meeting and starts walking away.
    The protester who had been talking to the woman looks at me and says, "Sometimes people just don't seem to understand that there is more to Colombia than Bogotá. They don't see the war here anymore, so they think that the army and the gringos got rid of most of it, but that's not true."
    I think to myself that he is right. I have worked in the field, where war and coca cultivation are very much present and cause immense problems and fear among the people living there. But that seems very far away when we're standing in the middle of a city where another kind of every-day life is taking place. So, regardless of whether one agrees or not with the message that the jumping loud crowd wants the rest of us to engage in, they remind us of problems we know exist, but can choose to ignore. They remind us of that this country needs us to stay informed and share our opinions, thoughts, and concerns.

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    British MPs Urge End to U.K. Military Aid

    The Western hemisphere, and Colombia in particular, has recently come back into focus in British politics, culminating with a resolution in the House of Commons calling for an end to all British military aid to Colombia.
    Over recent months, Britain's Foreign Office has appointed a new minister with responsibility for Latin America, Gillian Merron, and a new ambassador to Bogotá, John Dew. The changes in personnel have prompted several calls to transform British foreign policy towards Colombia, coinciding with the fallout from the so-called "false positives" scandal, whereby the Colombian army is suspected of killing over 1,000 civilians and dressing them up as guerrilla fighters killed in combat. The special envoy for the United Nations has called the practice "cold-blooded and premeditated murder" carried out in a "systematic" fashion.
    These various currents converged at the end of March, when Foreign Secretary David Miliband announced the slashing of military aid to Colombia. In a letter to Liberal Democrat peer Lord Eric Avebury, Under-Secretary Merron said "our bilateral UK military project on human rights has ceased." The official British stance had previously been that military aid was destined exclusively for human rights training and assistance with de-mining. British-based NGOs such as Justice for Colombia and ABColombia had already cast doubt on this assertion. It appears that cabinet ministers now share their concerns.
    Nonetheless, questions remain about the new British position. The principal reservation centres on the secretive nature of the assistance that London provides to support the "war on drugs," which has not ceased. The government will not even release the financial figures in question, such is the level of sensitivity surrounding the program. However, investigations carried out by Justice for Colombia concluded that some of the funds get mixed up in "counterinsurgency" efforts of the kind leading to the false positives.
    There is pressure from within Westminster, too, to further revamp the position. A parliamentary Early Day Motion — used by backbench and opposition members of parliament (MPs) to influence and shape policy and legislation — "calls on the Government to freeze UK military assistance to Colombia until the Colombian regime fully implements the repeated human rights recommendations made by the UN." This has attracted a large number of signatures from all sides of the House of Commons (242 at the time of writing), amounting to over one-third of all MPs.
    It remains to be seen whether or not this continuing pressure will manifest itself in further changes to British foreign policy towards Colombia. It is conceivable, given the "ripe moment" for change that appears to have presented itself. The substantial further alterations called for also point the way for U.S. policymakers, since U.S. contributions to the Colombian military dwarf those of any other country, including Britain.

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    Protests in Colombia Increase Despite Oppression of Dissent
    President Álvaro Uribe's official approval ratings may be high, but what the media tends not to report are the equally high numbers of social protests in Colombia, which undermine the claims of unwavering approval for Uribe. According to a report by the Center for Investigation and Popular Education (CINEP), social mobilization has increased during Uribe's mandate, in 2007 reaching the highest levels since 1975, amounting to an average of two protests a day.
    Much of the social unrest is targeted at the president himself. CINEP's research, based upon an extensive database it has maintained since 1975, found that the national government has been the target of the majority of recent protests. The second most common target has been armed groups — military, paramilitary, and/or guerrilla — which CINEP interprets largely as protests against the failure of the government to solve the problem of the armed conflict.
    Not only have numbers risen, but the motives for protests have changed in recent years. In departments (geographic regions) like Antioquia, which has one of the highest levels of social unrest in the country, the cause of the protests has changed in recent years from labor unrest to issues of human rights, justice, and reparations. Along those lines, recent years have seen a rise in protests by nontraditional social actors, like indigenous communities, afrocolombians, women, and the LGBT community. The Indigenous and Popular Minga in October of last year, a nationwide mobilization of hundreds of thousands of participants from the south department of Cauca all the way to Bogota, exemplifies the strength of such actors.
    These increases are exciting, impressive, and inspiring given the Uribe administration's constant campaign to smear any opposition to his policies with the accusation of collaboration with the FARC, thus making protestors targets of retaliatory violence and unfounded legal persecution. Despite such oppression, these Colombians are bravely demanding a more just, secure, and democratic Colombia.
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    News Briefs

    Anti-Mili
    By Peter Cousins
    Colombianos, las armas os han dado la independencia, las leyes os darán la libertad.
    "Colombians, arms have given you independence, laws will give you freedom."
    (Francisco de Paula Santander)
    On the front of the Supreme Court of Justice in Bogotá's Boliva Plaza, are carved these words of General Santander, a hero of the independence era and later President of Gran Colombia. Colombia celebrates its "Proclamation of Independence" on July 20 each year. As in most countries, this sort of occasion turns into a day for the "great and the good" of State — president, mayors, generals, flags — to take center stage, with the added factor that, last month, the country commenced its take-off towards the bicentenary of the "Proclamation of Independence" in 2010. But in the midst of all this, Santander’s words transcend the years and have for a Colombia that is 199 years young a certain resonance, whose truth is in danger of being eclipsed. What do I mean by this? The historical and contemporary contexts will help us arrive at some sort of understanding.
    To read the rest of Peter's essay, click here.

    "Witness" paid to testify against Peace Community

    by Moira Birss

    The demobilized paramilitary chief known as "HH" testified that he gave money to Colombian army Colonel Nestor Duque to in order to bribe demobilized guerrillas into claiming that the FARC was responsible for the February 2005 massacre in which eight members of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó were brutally murdered.

    Read Moira Birss' blog post.

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    World Summit for Peace: Bogotá, Colombia-October 1-4, 2009

    Pacifists Without Borders, with support from the Bogotá mayor's office, will trail blaze the pathway towards the World Summit for Peace, which will occur in the city of Bogotá, October 1-4, 2009. This citizen-led and -promoted initiative is a collective effort towards global peace and against violence, militarization, and injustice. The objective is to collectively construct a favorable setting for reflection, to exchange ideas and dialogue about peace as a social construction, derived from a system based on the principles of social justice and peaceful coexistence.
    The World Summit for Peace will have two dimensions:

    1. The global dimension: It is crucial to lead a cultural process from Bogotá, Colombia and the Andean Region which is comprised of basic values such as nonviolence and pacifism. Bogotá will be converted into a stage from which a worldwide peace process will be constructed, promoted, and led within a global context. Moreover, the global dimension to the Summit will further permit the world community to be informed about the particular dimensions of the Colombian armed conflict.
    2. The local dimension: this proposed process looks to foster spaces for dialogue about the Colombian conflict and to develop strategies with the help from all international participants in order to search for a solution to the Colombian armed conflict. Furthermore, we look to provoke a collective reflection through an ample process of participation that will permit us to create the atmosphere for a solution and a post-conflict strategy.

    During the summit, Bogotá will be the arena for artistic expressions. A host of such artistic expressions will permeate throughout the city, including concerts, dance presentations, theatrical performances, painting exhibitions, and alternative films from all reaches of the world. You too are invited to inundate the city with art in the name of the Global Peace!
    The summit will produce five strategic documents. Three of them will be elaborated by well-known internationally recognized figures. These documents will be presented in the summit by their authors and they will be discussed in three large public assemblies. The three documents will address the central themes: justice, culture, and democracy, and their relationship to peace. We will make the effort to establish these documents as the basis for dialogue in the preliminary stages of the summit.
    The fourth document is what we call the Bogotá Manifesto 2009. This will be a proposition that will emerge from the summit and will be elaborated by the promoting group and the facilitators of the event. The first draft of the manifesto will be presented and discussed through a permanent virtual online forum for a period of six months. Furthermore, the World Summit for Peace will project a strategy for the implementation of the Bogotá Manifesto as a post-summit strategy.
    The fifth document will be the Pathway to Peace in Colombia: Conflict and Post-Conflict. This will be a collectively elaborated project with the wide participation of international and national participants. It will be signed by all participants as the first stage of a work in progress in order to achieve a political solution to the Colombian conflict.
    There is no charge for participation in the Summit in Bogotá. To register, send an e-mail to: cumbredepaz@cumbremundialdepaz2009.org
    The organizers want curiosity for the Summit to increase as the main event draws closer and likewise aspire to generate interest among the worldwide citizenry and institutions. Moreover, they hope to unite global support and commitment for this global cause. We hope to create strong alliances with the international media in order to promote the city's image as a city committed to Peace in Colombia and in the World.
    World Peace Conference • www.pacifistassinfronteras.org • 011(571)368-1999

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    Please note new office address for FOR Task Force on Latin America:
    Fellowship of Reconciliation •
    P.O. Box 72492, Oakland CA 94612 •
    Tel: 510-763-1403 Fax: 510-763-1409 •
    Web: http://www.forcolombia.org


    Click here
    to change your subscription or unsubscribe from the FOR e-mail network.

    July 2009 Colombia Peace Update

    U.S. Military Sites Set to Replace Plan Colombia

    By John Lindsay-Poland

    The United States is negotiating for the use of five military facilities in Colombia, in an agreement whose objectives include "filling the gaps left by the eventual cutting of [military] aid in Plan Colombia," according to sources in Washington and Bogotá cited by an explosive article published July 1 in the weekly Cambio magazine.
    If such an agreement is reached, it could constitute an end run around the struggles waged for years by human rights, religious, peace, indigenous, Afro-Colombian, women's, and youth groups to demilitarize U.S. policy in Colombia.
    The agreement would establish U.S. military operations for at least ten years on five sites — at Palanquero, Puerto Salgar; Apiay, Meta; and Malambo (all air force bases); and in Cartagena and Malaga Bay (both naval bases). "Unlike the agreement for the U.S. military presence in Manta, the agreement at its start does not limit its application to counternarcotics operations in the Pacific, but extends to the Caribbean, and also includes assistance in the fight against terrorism — that is, against the guerrillas," Cambio said.
    The U.S. negotiators, the magazine says, "have made it known that even if they won't interfere in the exercise of command by Colombian officers on the bases, they will ensure the autonomy of U.S. military forces when operations go beyond Colombia's borders." So apart from U.S. soldiers' involvement in the Colombian army's decades-long counterinsurgency war, Colombian foreign policy in the region will be held hostage to U.S. actions in other countries that may be undertaken from the bases.
    A point under negotiation is whether the agreement would be automatically renewed after ten years, or require a new agreement, as Colombian negotiators reportedly want. Either way, U.S. use of the base would extend until after the Obama administration is gone from the White House. Some people liken changing U.S. policy to turning around an aircraft carrier, which takes a long time. In this case, the aircraft carrier is dropping its anchors.
    Another sticky point is judicial immunity for U.S. soldiers and contractors, sought by Washington. "Immunity = Impunity" wrote one reader on the Cambio site.
    The locations of the bases under negotiation raise further questions. None of them are on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, where aircraft from the Manta base patrolled for drug traffic — supposedly with great success, reflecting how traffic has increased in the Pacific. Three of the bases are clustered near each other on the Caribbean coast, not far from existing U.S. military sites in Aruba and Curacao — and closer to Venezuela than to the Pacific Ocean. Why are U.S. negotiators apparently forgoing Pacific sites, if counternarcotics is still part of the U.S. military mission? What missions "beyond Colombia's borders" are U.S. planners contemplating?
    Annual funding requests for Plan Colombia, especially in the "Foreign Operations" bill, have been a space for debate about funding the Colombian military and are subject to conditions and reports on human rights. But funding for U.S. military activities in Colombia faces no such discussion. Even Colombia desk officers at the State Department don't know how much Defense Department money is spent in Colombia. And Congress exercises almost no direct oversight on the activities of U.S. military bases around the world — with the exception of a couple high-profile sites like the detention center in Guantanamo Naval Station.
    Moreover, Washington's and the U.S. military's priorities in Colombia are evolving. Congressional staffers have told us that Plan Colombia is scheduled to be reduced, and even many conservatives believe drug policy must change. The foreign aid budget approved by the House on July 9, which included $520 million for Colombia spending, zeroed out purchases of spray aircraft. It substantially cut other eradication programs from last year, although they still account for at least $80 million in military aid. The Malaga Bay naval base that hosts maritime interdiction operations received a boost in the bill.
    But funding for military training and other non-drug war military aid — that is, for counterinsurgency — increased slightly (to $1.7 million and $60 million, respectively). The U.S. military budget will also likely include more than $100 million in aid to the war, not including $46 million requested for upgrades on the base in Palanquero.
    The negotiations are set to conclude soon, since operations in Manta must cease by November, and U.S. officials have already indicated they will shut down operations there before September.
    With an increasingly unpopular drug war and a president enamored with special operations, the establishment in Colombia of five U.S. military facilities for at least ten years, whose missions include counterinsurgency and transcend Colombian borders, would be the worst thing to happen to U.S. policy in the Andes since Plan Colombia began a decade ago. We invite you to work with us in mobilizing opposition to these negotiations.
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    Letter from the Field: The View from San José

    By Peter Cousins

    At the end of May, the Peace Community at San José de Apartadó was subject to an unusual, two-fronted attack. On live national radio, the Community was accused of active collaboration with the FARC guerrilla insurgents, and of enslaving its members into a life of misery, with no option of leaving. Some Community leaders and loyal Colombian supporters were singled out for particular treatment, including Jesuit priest Javier Giraldo, former Apartadó mayor Gloria Cuartas, and — in particular — the academic Eduar Lanchero.
    That the Peace Community should be linked to the insurgency is nothing new. Nor is the discourse that the campesinos are living in misery. As accompaniers, we often hear from civil and military officials (as well as the occasional former Community member who must have managed a furtive escape) that there is no progress, no development, in the Peace Community.

    Ex-Interior Minister Fernando Londoño

    What was novel this time around were the protagonists — the ex-Minister of Justice-turned-broadcaster Fernando Londoño Hoyos, and a demobilized guerrilla leader, alias "Samir" of the FARC's 5th Front, active in the San José de Apartadó area. As President Uribe’s Justice Minister, Londoño Hoyos spoke fervently against "Samir's" type. But this exchange was cordial in the extreme and, in all probability, highly coordinated. It was also illegal, as "evidence" of criminal activity must be passed to the Prosecutors' Office, not broadcast on the radio, jeopardizing due process and the presumption of innocence. It has also been making waves across the Atlantic, where a Dutch journalist quoted parts of it in an article of her own.
    The Peace Community has denounced the broadcast, batting back each of the accusations, in a lengthy communiqué that document speaks for itself. Nonetheless, as I listened to the interview, I was reminded of Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy. Just as his novels are set in a parallel Oxford, so I became increasingly convinced that this must have been another Peace Community, somewhere else. It is not the Community that I have gotten to know over the last six months. Of its supposed links to the FARC, one need only say that such ties would violate its most basic raison d’être, that of effacing itself from Colombia's armed conflict, which rumbles on in defiance of assorted government officials' diagnoses of post-conflict conditions. There are some other examples, however, in particular the alleged levels of poverty and misery in the Peace Community, and the lack of progress/ development.
    It is true that the campesinos amongst whom we live and work do not feature in the upper quartile of Colombia's richest people — and they are never likely to. There are also disparities of wealth among Community members. As the most recent communiqué makes clear, they have not adopted a strategy for the economic development of the San José district. Their project, (freely) undertaken as their signs declare, is one of dignified resistance to violence, displacement, government interference, and hunger, based on principles of nonviolence, solidarity, and a cooperative work model.
    The conventional economic models don't always bring "growth," either. Recently I saw a USAID packet of the kind distributed to displaced people, consisting largely of bags of imported frijoles (beans), proudly bearing the stars and stripes, alongside the logos of the Colombian State and the U.N. World Food Program. In these parts, frijoles grow as if there were no tomorrow. The sheer senselessness of importing such products loomed large. It is, to use a phrase from England, like taking coals to Newcastle. I wonder if it speaks to the logic of neo-liberal "development," whereby it is cheaper to import products en masse, while keeping people displaced and dispossessed.
    The Peace Community's proposal of getting back to work, growing frijoles and other crops themselves, surely benefits from the logic of empowerment and common sense. Over the years, this has led to progress after a fashion. They have been developing fair trade of organic cocoa and baby bananas. Meanwhile, out of a muddy field, fifteen minutes' walk from San José de Apartadó, there arose a new caserío (hamlet) — San Josecito — as a home for the Community's displaced. This has become a focal point for the Peace Community, and hopefully a site that will provide a safe home for many in the years to come.

    FOR team member Peter Cousins

    But the Community's work does not stop where the road does. Since the return to the vereda (a rural sub-division) of La Esperanza in 2006, the Peace Community, together with the accompaniment of FOR and other international organizations, has opened up viable spaces in the far reaches of the San José district. In July there are plans afoot for a "celebration of life" in La Resbalosa, eight hours' walk from San Josecito. Indeed, such has been the success of the Community model that campesinos in the veredas of Naín, Las Claras and Alto Joaquín, up to 16 hours on foot in the neighbouring department of Córdoba, have begun the process of signing up.
    The FOR peace team completed its first accompaniment to the area in June, when a group of Peace Community teachers went to share ideas and experiences, and build up the Community curriculum. I asked people in these distant veredas why they wanted to join the Community. The answer was often the same as what we hear closer to home: that the army has started to back off; that the armed groups show greater respect because of international accompaniment; and even that the Peace Community's work model offers a feasible alternative to truly becoming enslaved to the vicious coca trade.
    It is curious to hear accusations of enforced misery on the radio. Such circumstances would surely not lead to the easterly expansion of the Peace Community. But then, there is little doubt that the view from San José differs significantly from that of the authorities in Bogotá, Apartadó, or Carepa, where the local army brigade is based and from where we believe the interview with "Samir" was conducted. The Community is hard at work in otherwise-forgotten corners of this part of Colombia, and deserves the support of like-minded people, support which the improbable combination of Fernando Londoño Hoyos and alias "Samir" set out to undermine.
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    "Restrict or Neutralize": Unveiled State Policy of Spying and Persecution of Peace Community, Churches, and Human Rights Defenders

    In January the weekly news magazine Semana revealed that Colombia's domestic intelligence agency, the Administrative Department of Security (DAS), which answers directly to the president's office, for years had been conducting illegal surveillance of Supreme Court judges, opposition politicians, prosecutors, human rights defenders, and journalists. The government responded by claiming that a few "bad apples" conducted the spying.
    Just after the Semana story on the spying, news reports revealed that many files, computer hard drives, and recordings had been destroyed. In response to the reports, the Attorney General's Office's judicial police — CTI — began an investigation into DAS operations. Though much of the evidence was destroyed, documents that remained covered the years 2004-2005. These revealed that a secret group within DAS — known as G3 — was responsible for carrying out a systematic policy of political surveillance and even sabotage against dozens of groups and individuals who were critical of the government's policies.
    So far, only an index of the files has been made public, but even this index demonstrates the astonishing scope of the operations. According to a CTI report, G3 missions included surveillance of "people and organizations opposing government policies in order to restrict or neutralize their activities." The report clearly shows that totally legitimate activities were targeted and, that the purpose of the surveillance went much further than information gathering: it was intended to sabotage and criminalize legitimate activities.
    What kinds of activities were carried out?
    The intelligence operation did not include only "collection of private and privileged information," which in itself violates persons' right to privacy. In fact, the G3 carried out what its members called "offensive intelligence," which included "physiological warfare", "sabotage" of human rights organizations' activities, baseless persecution of human rights defenders (judicializaciones in Spanish), and production and dissemination of propaganda material to attempt to convince the international community of "what really happens" in Colombia.
    Who were the targets?
    * The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó:
    The cell phone number of Peace Community accompanier Eduar Lancheros and the interception of the peace community's email account was ordered on July 22, 2005, barely five months after a brutal massacre carried out by the Colombian Armed forces and paramilitary death squads. Three days later an order was issued to carry out "offensive intelligence" against Jesuit priest and key community supporter, Javier Giraldo, and on August 12, an order was issued to gathered private information — including telephone, national registry, chamber of commerce, intelligence annotations, and financial data on nine leaders of the Peace Community.
    * Two of the most prestigious human rights lawyers groups: Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo (CCAJAR) and the Colombian Commission of Jurists.
    The G3's activities against these attorneys, who have prosecuted cases against military officials for massacres and extrajudicial executions, were particularly aggressive. For example, pictures were taken of the lawyers' children and a set of the house keys of attorney Alirio Uribe was found at DAS. Agents even sent a bloodied and dismembered doll to one attorney with a note that said, "You have a pretty daughter. Don't sacrifice her." Surveillance of these lawyers was aimed to document private information that could be used to undermine the prestige of the activists.
    * Other targets
    Religious groups involved in humanitarian work, such as Mennonite group Justapaz; the Catholic group Justicia y Paz; Catholic Bishop Tulio Duque Gutiérrez, who served in Apartadó; and the Swedish Christian group Diakonia.
    Colombian groups working on defense of victims of the conflict, forced displacement, forced disappearance or in peace-building such as Minga, CODHES, ASFADDES, Redepaz, Ideapaz. There was a plan to sabotage the 2005 "week for peace" organized by Redepaz and to judicializar Posso (Idepaz).
    What has been the official response?
    President Uribe has continued to maintain that the scandal is attributable to a few individuals in the DAS. Nonetheless, three presidential aides have been linked to the case and are under investigation: Bernardo Moreno, the general secretary of the presidency; Uribe's press secretary César Mauricio Velásquez; and his communications adviser, Jorge Mario Eastman.
    The Attorney General's Office is in the process of determining whether to charge the DAS officials with conspiracy to commit crimes, illegal use of surveillance equipment, abuse of authority, tampering with public documents, the destruction, suppression or concealment of public documents, or other charges.
    [top]
    Uribe Returned from Washington Chastened, with No FTA

    By Colombian Action Network on Free Trade (RECALCA)
    On his recent visit to Washington, President Uribe had a new and noisy failure. Barack Obama told him he didn't agee with re-election, and gave the example of George Washington, who resigned before running for a third term. On the Free Trade Agreement (FTA), he said again, as at the summit in Trinidad, that he had given instructions to his trade representative Ron Kirk to seek a way forward toward ratification, but he did not commit to a schedule and he indicated that the U.S. Congress had a busy agenda. Ron Kirk said that there has not been progress in defining the benchmarks that Colombia must fulfill for ratification, goals that would only be established at the end of the year.
    Obama repeated several times that there would have to be a treaty that benefits both economies, by which he was recognizing that, in spite of how the treaty would broadly benefit the United States, he wants more guarantees for the U.S. and what was negotiated does not satisfy him.
    The U.S. president referred with concern to the human rights situation, the killings of civilians, and the wiretaps, and insisted that Colombia must promote the rule of law and transparency, issues he would not have addressed if he had not had serious doubts about the Colombian government's conduct.
    During the official visit, Uribe didn't even get promises, and he signed no agreement, which have become customary during these kinds of visits. The Colombian leader recognized that he did not expect an increase in U.S. exports, but he repeated his thesis that just attracting foreign investment would allow Colombia to provide alternatives to the drug trafficking economy. A statement easy to refute, since during the same visit he said that in the last seven years, foreign investment has increased eight times, while the world recognizes that drug trafficking continues the same or worse. Uribe also recognized that non-ratification was affecting Colombia's possibilities for signing other free trade agreements. At the same time, Republican Senator Charles Grassley, a fervent defender of free trade agreements, said that the agreement with Colombia would be delayed until at least 2011.
    In summary, Uribe left chastened, dozens of protesters mobilized against him in front of the White House, and the U.S. media practically ignored his visit. The international space for the government closes daily, and what resounds in the global media are revelations about high military officers' commitments to paramilitaries and the confirmation that dozens of legislators were bribed for their previous support for re-election.
    In the midst of this isolation, Uribe's response is to run and give new installations for military operations in Colombia territory to replace the base in Manta, Ecuador, including legal immunity for soldiers and contractors, and ensure facilities in important Colombian Air Force and Navy bases.
    We give notice that, in its international weakness, the government continues and deepens concessions to multinationals and other powers, mortgaging national sovereignty. We call on the population to oppose its policies and continue denouncing the free trade agreements.
    RECALCA is a coalition of 50 of Colombia's most important social and labor organizations, to coordinate strategies for education, outreach, and mobilization in the face of free trade agreements promoted by the government.

    [top]
    U.S. Funded Death Squad-Tied Army Unit
    By John Lindsay-Poland
    In the next few days, a retired Colombian colonel and School of the Americas graduate, Víctor Hugo Matamoros, will be tried for his role in facilitating the bloody takeover of the northeastern Catatumbo region of Colombia by paramilitary death squads in 1999. The takeover resulted immediately in a series of massacres, the displacement of more than 20,000 people, and paramilitary control of drug trafficking and other economic activities in the area.

    U.S. Ambassador Curtis Kamman privately told Washington at the time that the army must be complicit in massacres in the towns of La Gabarra and Tibú. "How did seven massacres occur without interference under the noses of several hundred security force members?" Kamman wrote to Washington.

    Yet, the United States continued to fund a unit intimately involved in the massacres after they took place, until at least 2007, according to State Department documents FOR has obtained.

    To read the rest of this article, click here.

    [top]
    News Briefs

    "Eradication is a waste of money."
    Is that FOR talking about the harmful, wasteful program to fumigate coca in Colombia? Or maybe one of those other pesky grassroots groups always wanting change? No: it's Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the recently appointed U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, where efforts to eradicate poppies and the opium trade have been no more effective than aerial fumigation in Colombia. "The farmers are not our enemy, they're just growing a crop to make a living," he said. "It's the drug system. So the U.S. policy was driving people into the hands of the Taliban." Are Obama's officials in this hemisphere listening?

    New Resource on Colombia
    The July/August issue of NACLA Report on the Americas, the premier progressive journal in the U.S. on Latin America, is devoted to exploring current conflicts in Colombia, titled "Coercion Incorporated: Paramilitary Colombia." The issue features important pieces about the penetration of paramilitaries into the mainstream economy, the palm oil industry, petroleum-run Barrancabermeja, Nasa indigenous resistance, and the conflict between Colombia and Ecuador. You can preview the issue here. Or, better yet, buy a copy.

    [top]

    Please note new office address for FOR Task Force on Latin America:
    Fellowship of Reconciliation •
    P.O. Box 72492, Oakland CA 94612 •
    Tel: 510-763-1403 Fax: 510-763-1409 •

    News: A U.S. Military "End Run"

    • U.S. Military Sites Set to Replace Plan Colombia
    • Letter from the Field: The View from San José
    • "Restrict or Neutralize": Offensive Intelligence Unveiled
    • Uribe Left Washington Chastened
    • U.S.-Funded Death Squad-Tied Unit
    • News Briefs: Afghan Lesson; New Colombia Resource

    U.S. Military Sites Set to Replace Plan Colombia

    By John Lindsay-Poland

    The United States is negotiating for the use of five military facilities in Colombia, in an agreement whose objectives include "filling the gaps left by the eventual cutting of [military] aid in Plan Colombia," according to sources in Washington and Bogotá cited by an explosive article published July 1 in the weekly Cambio magazine.

    If such an agreement is reached, it could constitute an end run around the struggles waged for years by human rights, religious, peace, indigenous, Afro-Colombian, women's, and youth groups to demilitarize U.S. policy in Colombia.

    The agreement would establish U.S. military operations for at least ten years on five sites — at Palanquero, Puerto Salgar; Apiay, Meta; and Malambo (all air force bases); and in Cartagena and Malaga Bay (both naval bases). "Unlike the agreement for the U.S. military presence in Manta, the agreement at its start does not limit its application to counternarcotics operations in the Pacific, but extends to the Caribbean, and also includes assistance in the fight against terrorism — that is, against the guerrillas," Cambio said.

    The U.S. negotiators, the magazine says, "have made it known that even if they won't interfere in the exercise of command by Colombian officers on the bases, they will ensure the autonomy of U.S. military forces when operations go beyond Colombia's borders." So apart from U.S. soldiers' involvement in the Colombian army's decades-long counterinsurgency war, Colombian foreign policy in the region will be held hostage to U.S. actions in other countries that may be undertaken from the bases.

    A point under negotiation is whether the agreement would be automatically renewed after ten years, or require a new agreement, as Colombian negotiators reportedly want. Either way, U.S. use of the base would extend until after the Obama administration is gone from the White House. Some people liken changing U.S. policy to turning around an aircraft carrier, which takes a long time. In this case, the aircraft carrier is dropping its anchors.

    Another sticky point is judicial immunity for U.S. soldiers and contractors, sought by Washington. "Immunity = Impunity" wrote one reader on the Cambio site.

    The locations of the bases under negotiation raise further questions. None of them are on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, where aircraft from the Manta base patrolled for drug traffic — supposedly with great success, reflecting how traffic has increased in the Pacific. Three of the bases are clustered near each other on the Caribbean coast, not far from existing U.S. military sites in Aruba and Curacao — and closer to Venezuela than to the Pacific Ocean. Why are U.S. negotiators apparently forgoing Pacific sites, if counternarcotics is still part of the U.S. military mission? What missions "beyond Colombia's borders" are U.S. planners contemplating?

    Annual funding requests for Plan Colombia, especially in the "Foreign Operations" bill, have been a space for debate about funding the Colombian military and are subject to conditions and reports on human rights. But funding for U.S. military activities in Colombia faces no such discussion. Even Colombia desk officers at the State Department don't know how much Defense Department money is spent in Colombia. And Congress exercises almost no direct oversight on the activities of U.S. military bases around the world — with the exception of a couple high-profile sites like the detention center in Guantanamo Naval Station.

    Moreover, Washington's and the U.S. military's priorities in Colombia are evolving. Congressional staffers have told us that Plan Colombia is scheduled to be reduced, and even many conservatives believe drug policy must change. The foreign aid budget approved by the House on July 9, which included $520 million for Colombia spending, zeroed out purchases of spray aircraft. It substantially cut other eradication programs from last year, although they still account for at least $80 million in military aid. The Malaga Bay naval base that hosts maritime interdiction operations received a boost in the bill.

    But funding for military training and other non-drug war military aid — that is, for counterinsurgency — increased slightly (to $1.7 million and $60 million, respectively). The U.S. military budget will also likely include more than $100 million in aid to the war, not including $46 million requested for upgrades on the base in Palanquero.

    The negotiations are set to conclude soon, since operations in Manta must cease by November, and U.S. officials have already indicated they will shut down operations there before September.

    With an increasingly unpopular drug war and a president enamored with special operations, the establishment in Colombia of five U.S. military facilities for at least ten years, whose missions include counterinsurgency and transcend Colombian borders, would be the worst thing to happen to U.S. policy in the Andes since Plan Colombia began a decade ago. We invite you to work with us in mobilizing opposition to these negotiations.

    Letter from the Field: The View from San José

    By Peter Cousins

    At the end of May, the Peace Community at San José de Apartadó was subject to an unusual, two-fronted attack. On live national radio, the Community was accused of active collaboration with the FARC guerrilla insurgents, and of enslaving its members into a life of misery, with no option of leaving. Some Community leaders and loyal Colombian supporters were singled out for particular treatment, including Jesuit priest Javier Giraldo, former Apartadó mayor Gloria Cuartas, and — in particular — the academic Eduar Lanchero.

    That the Peace Community should be linked to the insurgency is nothing new. Nor is the discourse that the campesinos are living in misery. As accompaniers, we often hear from civil and military officials (as well as the occasional former Community member who must have managed a furtive escape) that there is no progress, no development, in the Peace Community.

    Ex-Interior Minister Fernando Londoño

    What was novel this time around were the protagonists — the ex-Minister of Justice-turned-broadcaster Fernando Londoño Hoyos, and a demobilized guerrilla leader, alias "Samir" of the FARC's 5th Front, active in the San José de Apartadó area. As President Uribe’s Justice Minister, Londoño Hoyos spoke fervently against "Samir's" type. But this exchange was cordial in the extreme and, in all probability, highly coordinated. It was also illegal, as "evidence" of criminal activity must be passed to the Prosecutors' Office, not broadcast on the radio, jeopardizing due process and the presumption of innocence. It has also been making waves across the Atlantic, where a Dutch journalist quoted parts of it in an article of her own.

    The Peace Community has denounced the broadcast, batting back each of the accusations, in a lengthy communiqué that document speaks for itself. Nonetheless, as I listened to the interview, I was reminded of Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy. Just as his novels are set in a parallel Oxford, so I became increasingly convinced that this must have been another Peace Community, somewhere else. It is not the Community that I have gotten to know over the last six months. Of its supposed links to the FARC, one need only say that such ties would violate its most basic raison d’être, that of effacing itself from Colombia's armed conflict, which rumbles on in defiance of assorted government officials' diagnoses of post-conflict conditions. There are some other examples, however, in particular the alleged levels of poverty and misery in the Peace Community, and the lack of progress/ development.

    It is true that the campesinos amongst whom we live and work do not feature in the upper quartile of Colombia's richest people — and they are never likely to. There are also disparities of wealth among Community members. As the most recent communiqué makes clear, they have not adopted a strategy for the economic development of the San José district. Their project, (freely) undertaken as their signs declare, is one of dignified resistance to violence, displacement, government interference, and hunger, based on principles of nonviolence, solidarity, and a cooperative work model.

    The conventional economic models don't always bring "growth," either. Recently I saw a USAID packet of the kind distributed to displaced people, consisting largely of bags of imported frijoles (beans), proudly bearing the stars and stripes, alongside the logos of the Colombian State and the U.N. World Food Program. In these parts, frijoles grow as if there were no tomorrow. The sheer senselessness of importing such products loomed large. It is, to use a phrase from England, like taking coals to Newcastle. I wonder if it speaks to the logic of neo-liberal "development," whereby it is cheaper to import products en masse, while keeping people displaced and dispossessed.

    The Peace Community's proposal of getting back to work, growing frijoles and other crops themselves, surely benefits from the logic of empowerment and common sense. Over the years, this has led to progress after a fashion. They have been developing fair trade of organic cocoa and baby bananas. Meanwhile, out of a muddy field, fifteen minutes' walk from San José de Apartadó, there arose a new caserío (hamlet) — San Josecito — as a home for the Community's displaced. This has become a focal point for the Peace Community, and hopefully a site that will provide a safe home for many in the years to come.

    FOR team member Peter Cousins

    But the Community's work does not stop where the road does. Since the return to the vereda (a rural sub-division) of La Esperanza in 2006, the Peace Community, together with the accompaniment of FOR and other international organizations, has opened up viable spaces in the far reaches of the San José district. In July there are plans afoot for a "celebration of life" in La Resbalosa, eight hours' walk from San Josecito. Indeed, such has been the success of the Community model that campesinos in the veredas of Naín, Las Claras and Alto Joaquín, up to 16 hours on foot in the neighbouring department of Córdoba, have begun the process of signing up.

    The FOR peace team completed its first accompaniment to the area in June, when a group of Peace Community teachers went to share ideas and experiences, and build up the Community curriculum. I asked people in these distant veredas why they wanted to join the Community. The answer was often the same as what we hear closer to home: that the army has started to back off; that the armed groups show greater respect because of international accompaniment; and even that the Peace Community's work model offers a feasible alternative to truly becoming enslaved to the vicious coca trade.

    It is curious to hear accusations of enforced misery on the radio. Such circumstances would surely not lead to the easterly expansion of the Peace Community. But then, there is little doubt that the view from San José differs significantly from that of the authorities in Bogotá, Apartadó, or Carepa, where the local army brigade is based and from where we believe the interview with "Samir" was conducted. The Community is hard at work in otherwise-forgotten corners of this part of Colombia, and deserves the support of like-minded people, support which the improbable combination of Fernando Londoño Hoyos and alias "Samir" set out to undermine.

    "Restrict or Neutralize": Unveiled State Policy of Spying and Persecution of Peace Community, Churches, and Human Rights Defenders

    In January the weekly news magazine Semana revealed that Colombia's domestic intelligence agency, the Administrative Department of Security (DAS), which answers directly to the president's office, for years had been conducting illegal surveillance of Supreme Court judges, opposition politicians, prosecutors, human rights defenders, and journalists. The government responded by claiming that a few "bad apples" conducted the spying.

    Just after the Semana story on the spying, news reports revealed that many files, computer hard drives, and recordings had been destroyed. In response to the reports, the Attorney General's Office's judicial police — CTI — began an investigation into DAS operations. Though much of the evidence was destroyed, documents that remained covered the years 2004-2005. These revealed that a secret group within DAS — known as G3 — was responsible for carrying out a systematic policy of political surveillance and even sabotage against dozens of groups and individuals who were critical of the government's policies.

    So far, only an index of the files has been made public, but even this index demonstrates the astonishing scope of the operations. According to a CTI report, G3 missions included surveillance of "people and organizations opposing government policies in order to restrict or neutralize their activities." The report clearly shows that totally legitimate activities were targeted and, that the purpose of the surveillance went much further than information gathering: it was intended to sabotage and criminalize legitimate activities.

    What kinds of activities were carried out?

    The intelligence operation did not include only "collection of private and privileged information," which in itself violates persons' right to privacy. In fact, the G3 carried out what its members called "offensive intelligence," which included "physiological warfare", "sabotage" of human rights organizations' activities, baseless persecution of human rights defenders (judicializaciones in Spanish), and production and dissemination of propaganda material to attempt to convince the international community of "what really happens" in Colombia.

    Who were the targets?

    ? The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó:

    The cell phone number of Peace Community accompanier Eduar Lancheros and the interception of the peace community's email account was ordered on July 22, 2005, barely five months after a brutal massacre carried out by the Colombian Armed forces and paramilitary death squads. Three days later an order was issued to carry out "offensive intelligence" against Jesuit priest and key community supporter, Javier Giraldo, and on August 12, an order was issued to gathered private information — including telephone, national registry, chamber of commerce, intelligence annotations, and financial data on nine leaders of the Peace Community.

    ? Two of the most prestigious human rights lawyers groups: Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo (CCAJAR) and the Colombian Commission of Jurists.

    The G3's activities against these attorneys, who have prosecuted cases against military officials for massacres and extrajudicial executions, were particularly aggressive. For example, pictures were taken of the lawyers' children and a set of the house keys of attorney Alirio Uribe was found at DAS. Agents even sent a bloodied and dismembered doll to one attorney with a note that said, "You have a pretty daughter. Don't sacrifice her." Surveillance of these lawyers was aimed to document private information that could be used to undermine the prestige of the activists.

    ? Other targets

    Religious groups involved in humanitarian work, such as Mennonite group Justapaz; the Catholic group Justicia y Paz; Catholic Bishop Tulio Duque Gutiérrez, who served in Apartadó; and the Swedish Christian group Diakonia.

    Colombian groups working on defense of victims of the conflict, forced displacement, forced disappearance or in peace-building such as Minga, CODHES, ASFADDES, Redepaz, Ideapaz. There was a plan to sabotage the 2005 "week for peace" organized by Redepaz and to judicializar Posso (Idepaz).

    What has been the official response?

    President Uribe has continued to maintain that the scandal is attributable to a few individuals in the DAS. Nonetheless, three presidential aides have been linked to the case and are under investigation: Bernardo Moreno, the general secretary of the presidency; Uribe's press secretary César Mauricio Velásquez; and his communications adviser, Jorge Mario Eastman.

    The Attorney General's Office is in the process of determining whether to charge the DAS officials with conspiracy to commit crimes, illegal use of surveillance equipment, abuse of authority, tampering with public documents, the destruction, suppression or concealment of public documents, or other charges.

    Uribe Returned from Washington Chastened, with No FTA

    By Colombian Action Network on Free Trade (RECALCA)

    On his recent visit to Washington, President Uribe had a new and noisy failure. Barack Obama told him he didn't agee with re-election, and gave the example of George Washington, who resigned before running for a third term. On the Free Trade Agreement (FTA), he said again, as at the summit in Trinidad, that he had given instructions to his trade representative Ron Kirk to seek a way forward toward ratification, but he did not commit to a schedule and he indicated that the U.S. Congress had a busy agenda. Ron Kirk said that there has not been progress in defining the benchmarks that Colombia must fulfill for ratification, goals that would only be established at the end of the year.

    Obama repeated several times that there would have to be a treaty that benefits both economies, by which he was recognizing that, in spite of how the treaty would broadly benefit the United States, he wants more guarantees for the U.S. and what was negotiated does not satisfy him.

    The U.S. president referred with concern to the human rights situation, the killings of civilians, and the wiretaps, and insisted that Colombia must promote the rule of law and transparency, issues he would not have addressed if he had not had serious doubts about the Colombian government's conduct.

    During the official visit, Uribe didn't even get promises, and he signed no agreement, which have become customary during these kinds of visits. The Colombian leader recognized that he did not expect an increase in U.S. exports, but he repeated his thesis that just attracting foreign investment would allow Colombia to provide alternatives to the drug trafficking economy. A statement easy to refute, since during the same visit he said that in the last seven years, foreign investment has increased eight times, while the world recognizes that drug trafficking continues the same or worse. Uribe also recognized that non-ratification was affecting Colombia's possibilities for signing other free trade agreements. At the same time, Republican Senator Charles Grassley, a fervent defender of free trade agreements, said that the agreement with Colombia would be delayed until at least 2011.

    In summary, Uribe left chastened, dozens of protesters mobilized against him in front of the White House, and the U.S. media practically ignored his visit. The international space for the government closes daily, and what resounds in the global media are revelations about high military officers' commitments to paramilitaries and the confirmation that dozens of legislators were bribed for their previous support for re-election.

    In the midst of this isolation, Uribe's response is to run and give new installations for military operations in Colombia territory to replace the base in Manta, Ecuador, including legal immunity for soldiers and contractors, and ensure facilities in important Colombian Air Force and Navy bases.

    We give notice that, in its international weakness, the government continues and deepens concessions to multinationals and other powers, mortgaging national sovereignty. We call on the population to oppose its policies and continue denouncing the free trade agreements.

    RECALCA is a coalition of 50 of Colombia's most important social and labor organizations, to coordinate strategies for education, outreach, and mobilization in the face of free trade agreements promoted by the government.

    U.S. Funded Death Squad-Tied Army Unit

    By John Lindsay-Poland

    In the next few days, a retired Colombian colonel and School of the Americas graduate, Víctor Hugo Matamoros, will be tried for his role in facilitating the bloody takeover of the northeastern Catatumbo region of Colombia by paramilitary death squads in 1999. The takeover resulted immediately in a series of massacres, the displacement of more than 20,000 people, and paramilitary control of drug trafficking and other economic activities in the area.

    U.S. Ambassador Curtis Kamman privately told Washington at the time that the army must be complicit in massacres in the towns of La Gabarra and Tibú. "How did seven massacres occur without interference under the noses of several hundred security force members?" Kamman wrote to Washington.

    Yet, the United States continued to fund a unit intimately involved in the massacres after they took place, until at least 2007, according to State Department documents FOR has obtained.

    To read the rest of this article, click here.

    News Briefs

    "Eradication is a waste of money."

    Is that FOR talking about the harmful, wasteful program to fumigate coca in Colombia? Or maybe one of those other pesky grassroots groups always wanting change? No: it's Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the recently appointed U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, where efforts to eradicate poppies and the opium trade have been no more effective than aerial fumigation in Colombia. "The farmers are not our enemy, they're just growing a crop to make a living," he said. "It's the drug system. So the U.S. policy was driving people into the hands of the Taliban." Are Obama's officials in this hemisphere listening?

    New Resource on Colombia

    The July/August issue of NACLA Report on the Americas, the premier progressive journal in the U.S. on Latin America, is devoted to exploring current conflicts in Colombia, titled "Coercion Incorporated: Paramilitary Colombia." The issue features important pieces about the penetration of paramilitaries into the mainstream economy, the palm oil industry, petroleum-run Barrancabermeja, Nasa indigenous resistance, and the conflict between Colombia and Ecuador. You can preview the issue here. Or, better yet, buy a copy.

    June 2009 Colombia Peace Update

    Delegation to Colombia: Apply Today!

    August 15-29, 2009: Delegation to San Jose Peace Community, Medellin and Eastern Antioquia
    Witness the incredible commitment and experience of the Peace Community of San José and other Colombian grassroots initiatives.
    Program Highlights:

    • Travel to the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó
    • Meet with people whose family members have been killed by the U.S.-funded Colombian army and are nonviolently working for justice for these crimes.
    • Meet grassroots activists who courageously and creatively advocate for truth, justice and integral reparations.
    • Experience unparalleled access and a rich part of Colombian life to understand both the war's impacts on peasant communities and advances to justice.
    • Convey your experience as a group to U.S. officials

    Four decades of armed conflict in Colombia have led to indigenous people, women, union activists, youth, journalists, and human rights workers being subject to killing, displacement, and kidnapping. Now, victims have united in a national movement to demand that the perpetrators of these crimes be held responsible.
    How do you build a culture of peace amidst violence? The emergence of peace communities, sustainable agriculture in rural areas, youth-led cultural projects to refuse war, and women's networks taking a lead in organizing for peace, has provided a political space for civilians who find themselves caught in the crossfire of the armed groups.
    Join the Fellowship of Reconciliation on a powerful delegation as we visit communities and organizations that struggle for the right to say no to armed conflict and are creating peace and justice from the grassroots up.
    Cost includes all lodging, food, language interpretation, travel from Bogotá: $1,500.00.
    For an application, click here (MS Word document). Please register by June 30. For more information, contact John at 510-763-1403 or johnlp@igc.org.

    Letter from the Field: A Stranger in Our Midst

    By Moira Birss

    The arrival the other day of a stranger to La Unión reminded me how much this conflict distorts human relations and making people suspicious and fearful of each other.
    Those of us in the FOR house hadn't even noticed that a stranger had been hanging around since 10 a.m. until two of the community's internal council members came to the house in the afternoon requesting accompaniment to go speak with the man. Our obliviousness was likely due to two things: we don't know each and every family member or long-lost neighbor in this area, so it's not uncommon for someone who is a stranger to us to pass through, and, despite our training as accompaniers, we aren't as finely attuned to the subtle daily changes.
    Around here, everyone pretty much knows everyone, and this isn't exactly an easily accessible place (photo: Zara Zimbardo), so strangers don't just tend to wander by. The stranger's presence here soon raised alarm bells, and a few particularly threatened individuals event went so far as to hide in their beds under the blankets. By the afternoon when he still hadn't left — in fact, he had been wandering around a bit, raising even more suspicion — the council members asked us to accompany them to talk to him in the kiosko (the central community meeting space, covered by a round palm-thatched roof), where he had been hanging out for the previous hour or so. The community members with whom we discussed the incident before heading to the kiosko were quite worried and very visibly shaken up.
    Why was everyone so afraid? Colombians are known to be friendly, welcoming folk, and those from the countryside stereotypically even more so. Here in Urabá, however, the conflict has destroyed people's ability to trust strangers or to welcome unexpected occurrences. Around here, one never knows if a stranger is in fact a government official doing intelligence in order to build up a false judicial case against community members, a paramilitary paving the way for a massacre, or a guerrilla with some sinister motive. One can never be too sure, because experience has shown that if you let your guard is down, then you or your family members might not wake up alive tomorrow morning. In the discussion before going to talk to the stranger, one particularly scared community member even suggested tying the guy up and carrying him out of town, so great was the fear that the man might try something. He was only sort of joking.
    Because of the unknown and potentially dangerous identity of the man and the community's commitment not to collaborate with any armed actor, the council decided that the only option was the ask the man to leave. Despite recognizing the potentially threatening motives of the man, I felt uncomfortable sitting there as they kicked the guy out, even though they attempted to be nice and explain their reasoning; it didn't help that he was Afro-Colombian, and so may have felt like he was being kicked out because these campesinos don't want a black man around.
    In the end, we all left with the suspicion that the man was, in fact, up to something. Earlier in the day he had told a community member that he was a banana plantation worker from Apartadó, and that since they're on strike, he came up here looking for work. Later, when the group of us went to speak with him in the kiosko, he again said he was a bananero, but claimed that he came up as a tourist. Not only had his story changed, but no one comes here as a tourist, particularly if they don't know anyone who lives in the area. This is not a touristy area by any means, and any normal bananero would have heard the rumors about the movement of armed actors in these parts and thought twice about heading here all alone. Regardless of what the man was really up to, I walked away from the kiosko saddened by how the conflict promotes and reinforces the assumption that strangers are enemies rather than friends, and not to be trusted.

    U.S.-Aided Intelligence Unit Accuses Human Rights Groups of Being Arms of Guerrillas

    [Ed.: Translation of banner: "In a time of lies, the truth is terrorist."]
    A report by the Medellín attorney general's office, based on army intelligence documents, accuses political parties and human rights groups of belonging to the political arm of the FARC, known as the Colombian Clandestine Community Party, or PC3. The most recent report, dated April 2 of this year, prompted the re-opening of a criminal investigation against the citizen groups that had been closed last December for lack of evidence. Those accused include the Democratic Pole — the largest opposition political party in the country; the anti-militarist FOR partner Medellín Youth Network; as well as the Antioquia Peasant Association and Judicial Liberty Corporation, with whom FOR has worked for more than four years. The attorney general's office's report was obtained by the Institute for Popular Training, which was also named in the report.
    In February, the Army's Regional Intelligence Center No. 7, based in Medellín, had urged re-opening the investigation, supplying a supposed organizational diagram of the PC3. That Center No. 7 received U.S. assistance in 2005, 2006 and 2007, according to a document released to FOR last year by the State Department.
    The Human Rights Ombudsman of Medellín rejected the accusations, and said the situation of the city's social movement is "grave." In a letter to Christian Salazar Volkmann, the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner representative in Colombia, FOR wrote that "We are seriously concerned about this accusation, since it not only delegitimizes the laudable work that these organizations do, but affects their security by making them military targets."
    The report comes amid an escalation of threats and attacks on human rights and student groups in Medellín, which have suffered from thefts of information, burglaries of their offices, threats to leaders, and physical attacks — including on Youth Movement activist Yenifer Rueda Cardenas.
    Rueda was attacked on May 3 in her home neighborhood in Comuna 13, a poor sector of Medellín, by three men. Since 2002, when her brother was killed for refusing to be involved in an armed group, Rueda has worked to prevent recruitment of youths by the army and illegal armed groups. Last October, she was threatened by men who identified themselves as paramilitaries, as she worked for the Medellin Social Forum.
    Four youths were killed and a child was wounded on May 21, in a separate incident in Comuna 13 denounced by the Medellín Youth Network. The sector's neighborhoods "are part of the armed conflict between bands that exercise control, financed by paramilitary and mafia structures present in the whole city," the Network wrote. "Their members are youths also."
    On May 21, armed youth pursued three youth who allegedly robbed construction materials, then killed them. Yesid Torres, 13, and his 9-year-old brother Juan Manuel witnessed the scene as they did an errand for their mother. Saying they would be informers, the young gunmen shot at the children as they ran, killing Yesid and injuring Juan Manuel. The previous weekend, the mayor of Medellín — often visited by U.S. Congressional delegations because of his impressive discourse — had visited the neighborhood to inaugurate a soccer field and talk about security improvements in the area.

    The Dark Side of Plan Colombia

    By Teo Ballvé
    [Ed.: The following article appeared in the June 14 issue of The Nation. Photo credit: TedHackett.net.]
    On May 14 Colombia's attorney general quietly posted notice on his office's website of a public hearing that will decide the fate of Coproagrosur, a palm oil cooperative based in the town of Simití in the northern province of Bolívar. A confessed drug-trafficking paramilitary chief known as Macaco had turned over to the government the cooperative's assets, which he claims to own, as part of a victim reparations program.
    Macaco, whose real name is Carlos Mario Jiménez, was one of the bloodiest paramilitary commanders in Colombia's long-running civil war and has confessed to the murder of 4,000 civilians. He and his cohorts are also largely responsible for forcing 4.3 million Colombians into internal refugee status, the largest internally displaced population
    in the world after Sudan's. In May 2008, Macaco was extradited to the United States on drug trafficking and "narco-terrorism" charges. He is awaiting trial in a jail cell in Washington, DC.
    Macaco turned himself in to authorities in late 2005 as part of a government amnesty program that requires paramilitary commanders to surrender their ill-gotten assets—including lands obtained through violent displacement. Macaco offered up Coproagrosur as part of the deal.
    But the attorney general's notice made no mention that Coproagrosur had received a grant in 2004 from the US Agency for International Development (USAID). That grant—paid for through Plan Colombia, the multibillion-dollar US aid package aimed at fighting the drug trade—appears to have put drug-war dollars into the hands of a notorious paramilitary narco-trafficker, in possible violation of federal law.
    To read the rest of this article, click here.
    Teo Ballvé is a freelance journalist based in Colombia. His web site is www.TeoBallve.com.

    Pentagon Plans Latin America-Wide Intervention Ability for New Military Base in Colombia

    Para version en castellano, clic aquí.
    By John Lindsay-Poland
    The United States is planning to establish a new military facility in Colombia that will give the U.S. increased capacity for military intervention throughout most of Latin America. The plan is being advanced amid tense relations between Washington and Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, and despite both a long history and recent revelations about the Colombian military's atrocious human rights record.

    President Obama told hemispheric leaders last month that "if our only interaction with many of these countries is drug interdiction — if our only interaction is military — then we may not be developing the connections that can over time increase our influence and have a beneficial effect."

    In this Obama is on point. This base would feed a failed drug policy, support an abusive army, and reinforce a tragic history of U.S. military intervention in the region. It's wrong and wasteful, and Congress should scrap it.

    The new facility in Palanquero, Colombia would not be limited to counter-narcotics operations, nor even to operations in the Andean region, according to an Air Mobility Command (AMC) planning document. The U.S. Southern Command aims to establish a base with "air mobility reach on the South American continent" in addition to a capacity for counter-narcotics operations, through the year 2025.

    With help from the Transportation Command and AMC, the Southern Command identified Palanquero, from which "nearly half of the continent can be covered by a C-17 without refueling." If fuel is available at its destination, "a C-17 could cover the entire continent, with the exception of the Cape Horn region," the AMC planners wrote.

    President Obama's Pentagon budget, submitted May 7, includes $46 million for development of the Palanquero base, and says the Defense Department seeks "an array of access arrangements for contingency operations, logistics, and training in Central/South America."

    To read the rest of this article, click here.

    To hear the radio interview on La Raza Chronicles about this story, click here.

    See the statements by the Medellín Youth Network and the Intercongregational Commission for Justice and Peace .

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    News Briefs & Upcoming Events

    Reasons to celebrate. According to Mingas-FTA, "Public pressure has forced a victory in the fight to stop the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (CCFTA). Sources from Canada's three opposition parties have confirmed that the ruling Conservative Party has removed implementing legislation for the CCFTA, from the government's current legislative agenda— The struggle against the CCFTA is [not] over, but Canadians are having their say and getting in the way of Prime Minister Harper's reckless trade agenda."
    In addition, the Colombian Network for Action on Free Trade writes: "Last month marked five years since the Uribe government began negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement with the United States, which they hoped to have ready in a year. Today Colombians have reason to celebrate that, in spite of the colossal efforts to hand over national sovereignty, the U.S. Congress persists in its decision to deny approval of an agreement with the questioned Colombian government."
    Called to trial. Former director of the Administrative Security Directorate (Colombian equivalent of the FBI) Jorge Noguera has been called to trial for the homicides of trade unionists, human rights defenders, and politicians who denounced the pact between paramilitarism and the political class in Colombia. Noguera was a campaign director for president in 2002, before running DAS from 2002 to 2005. "Impunity has begun to fracture," writes the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers' Collective. Read the full story here.
    A Conscientious Objector speaks. The Medellín Youth Network conveys the story of Cristian Camilo Henao Suaza, currently held against his will in a Medellín army barracks. "It terrifies to know that I returned to bathe in a pool full of subversive blood. I refuse to work for the war in any of its forms. All my life I have refused to be part of violent acts and now, with the State forcing me, very afraid and desperate but sure of who I am, I continue refusing and I will continue to do so as my conscience dictates this." Read the rest of his testimony here.

    Please note new office address for FOR Task Force on Latin America:
    Fellowship of Reconciliation •
    P.O. Box 72492, Oakland CA 94612 •
    Tel: 510-763-1403 Fax: 510-763-1409 •
    Web: http://www.forcolombia.org

    May 2009 Colombia Peace Update

    From Kindergarten to Political Action
    By Liza Smith

    We think it's because people miss kindergarten — cutting out stencils of human figures and decorating them with markers is fun! And it's very different from how most of us spend our time doing very serious, time-consuming, "adult-like" activities.
    How else to explain the massive outpouring of grassroots energy in this year's National Days of Prayer and Action this past April 20, the largest mobilization calling for a change in U.S. policy towards Colombia since 2003? Does it show that the winds of public sentiment are changing?
    Massive outpouring of grassroots energy might sound exaggerated, but here are the numbers: more than 100 churches and faith communities participated in holding a prayer or service for peace in Colombia; more than 300 people took to the streets to demand change in seven different cities; 3,000 faxes/emails and 20,000 postcards were sent to President Obama to request a bold new policy towards Colombia. All across the country, schools, churches, community groups, Colombians, and gringos alike came together in over 100 doll-making parties to create, by hand, about 10,000 dolls. Thirty interviews were broadcast on a wide variety of U.S. radio programs and Colombia's media covered the events in both major newspapers and on radio stations as well. Activists met with Congressional offices in most of the cities where the actions took place; in one case the delivery of paper dolls impressed Nita Lowey's staff (D-NY) so much that they were promised a meeting with the Congresswoman herself.
    In San Francisco, we started our march with a bit of sage, drums, and a blessing to the four directions. Sixty of us gathered on the sidewalks in the midst of the city bustle while Luis, a local Colombian, gave instructions to turn and face in each of the four directions.
    East: To our Congressional representatives and President Obama, may they hear our message loud and clear!
    South: To our brothers and sisters in Colombia, may our solidarity be felt!
    West: Where the sun dies each day, may it rise again!
    North: That's where we are standing right now, look around, see who is next to you.
    — up above, look at the sky and the heavens.
    —. down below, to our ancestors, those who have come before us —
    From there we started our march in the hot sun (it was 92 degrees!), each person holding a long string of paper dolls. After about 40 minutes of walking, sweating, chanting, and handing out yellow flyers to onlookers, we made it to the Federal Building where Nancy Pelosi's office is housed. A commission of three went upstairs, bearing gifts: a strand of paper dolls, a letter signed by those present, and a poster opposing the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia.
    Each of our dolls represented 1,000 people who were forced to leave their lands and homes. Four million internally displaced people in Colombia is a number that is extremely difficult for any one person to imagine. As one long-time Colombia advocate expressed "nothing else [like the paper-doll making project] has managed to make the problem visible so well."
    Maybe that's part of the explanation for this outpouring of energy — we are bombarded with numbers about the dire straights of the world's human population and environment. Every day we hear how many people have died in the Sudan, how many kids go without water in India, how many acres of rainforest get destroyed every minute in South America and how many fewer ice caps exist at the North Pole. The numbers are not only overwhelming, but they can immobilize us, leave us feeling helpless and impotent.
    The idea of making paper dolls to represent a crisis of epic proportions was precisely to make tangible an issue that is hard to grasp, not only for those of us making them, but also for the general public, our politicians, and reporters from the media. It was a creative, hands-on way to approach the problem.
    But there's another explanation: this year's Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia is the fruit of many years of work and the success we experienced encourages us to take a long-view of our struggles. When Plan Colombia was made policy in 2000, activists quickly started to mobilize: in the fall of 2001 and spring of 2002, people joined together in Washington, D.C. to strategize and mobilize against the new policy. In the spring of 2003, five actions took place across the U.S. to target corporations that were implicated in human rights abuses in Colombia. Over the years there have been many delegations, speaking tours, lobbying visits, educational events, and local protests. More recently, faith communities came together to hold services and prayers for peace. Solidarity activists have been working hard since 2000; this year was yet another colorful manifestation of our desire to change harmful U.S. policies towards Colombia.
    The lesson learned? Put together nine years of hard work and a bit of kindergarten play and you can create a grassroots uprising.
    We have our efforts to celebrate — and a long road ahead.
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    Learning to Live Together

    By Peter Cousins
    In a message for Semana Santa (Holy Week), the Catholic Church in Colombia called for reconciliation and forgiveness between Colombians. This followed an interview given by Archbishop Rubén Salazar, president of the Colombian Bishops' Conference, with El Tiempo newspaper, in which the archbishop urged reconciliation and put the Church at the service of this search. Such a call prompts us to ask what "reconciliation" is about, and what it might look like in Colombia. It also suggests questions of the Church itself. But the very word "reconciliation" has largely remained absent from political and civil society discourse. This increases the significance of the archbishop's call.
    How might we conceive of "reconciliation"? I propose a definition (drawing on many previous attempts by academics): "learning to live together." Thus defined, two important elements are captured: the goal, and the process. Some scholars have called into question the relevance of the word reconciliation in societies that have never been truly conciled with themselves in the first place. It is clear that both of these points find expression in Colombia, a country which has suffered more than 50 years of continuous violence, and is unlikely to be brought together overnight.
    So, what might have to happen for Colombians to "learn to live together," to (re)concile with one another? We might start with the release of the hostages held by the FARC rebels (a recent Semana article suggests that the exact figure is unknown, but could sit at 125).
    But it cannot stop there — the number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Colombia now stands at 4.6 million — second in the world only to Sudan. A country that aspires to "live together" should at the very least offer a dignified place to live for all those wishing to go home. The gross social and material inequalities in Colombia would start to be ironed out.
    And Colombians will have to face up to the crimes committed by all sides over the years. President Uribe's 2005 Justice and Peace Law has proven controversial owing to the relatively light sentences handed down to some who have admitted their responsibility for major crimes; however, truth for amnesty agreements have been used relatively successfully elsewhere, for example in South Africa. The president has nevertheless undermined his own project by extraditing so many people (some 800) to the USA on lesser charges of drug trafficking, thus reducing the chances of the full truth about certain crimes being arrived at. In this respect, the State itself has a long way to go. It is itself implicated in many crimes. As one former paramilitary has said: "The State asks for the truth, but why, if it cannot bear it."
    All of this is set against the background of an armed conflict, the existence of which is, incredibly, denied by some right-leaning politicians. And much of the above is either a cause or a consequence of this violence. An end to hostilities is ultimately a condition for meaningful reconciliation, though steps can be taken towards this goal while the conflict persists.
    None of this, it must be said, is particularly new thinking — it has all been expressed before. But the archbishop's exhortation casts a new light on the challenges ahead, and their gravity. What role the Church itself will play in this process has yet to be seen. Archbishop Salazar's admission that its concentration on humanitarian issues alone has cost it credibility with the guerrillas, might suggest that it plans to broaden the scope of its analysis and action. Part of the issue here is that the Church has not always spoken with a unified voice in the past. The differing attitudes of various bishops of Apartadó towards the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, are one example of this inconsistency. If the Church is to find a position that advances the cause of reconciliation, it will take all of the "creativity" to which the archbishop, in a different context, refers in his interview.
    Finally, it is worth considering why it is that the Church has chosen to speak out for reconciliation at this particular point. Though Holy Week is the most important time in the Church’s calendar, the timing has more to do with the 2010 presidential election, campaigning for which is gearing up already. There is a great deal of uncertainty whether President Uribe will stand for a third time, which would involve a change to the constitution. Should this not happen, there are plenty of Uribistas lining up to take his place.
    The campaign is shaping up to be contested along one of two lines — a continuation of Uribe's Democratic Security policy (which seeks the defeat or demobilization of FARC guerillas), or pursuing a humanitarian accord, in which guerrilla prisoners would be exchanged for FARC-held hostages. In his interview, the archbishop appeared to support both positions (which may be an example of his diplomatic creativity!), but came out against Uribe's remaining in office for a third term. With a year or so to go before the election, much could yet happen. But it seems as though the Church wanted to put its oar in before the boat gets out to sea.
    The next year could prove to be truly significant for Colombia. It this a "ripe moment" for a humanitarian accord, as the basis for a lasting peace? Could this be the start of Colombians learning to live together? These are the big questions beneath the surface of Archbishop Salazar’s call to reconciliation.
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    Breaking borders, breaking structures, breaking guns —
    through nonviolence, love, and the imagination
    By Kristen Kuriga

    Last night I dreamt I was in Colombia. I was walking down the street at night alone and the lighting was dim. A man with a machine gun came out from behind a building and forced me to the ground. He put his gun up to my head and I could hear him slowly pulling the trigger back. My heart was pounding as I lay with my face on the cold concrete. Am I going to die? Everything was in slow motion. As I heard the bullet coming out of the gun I grabbed the end with my hand and bent it. I stood up, took the gun from the man, and broke it with my hands. I threw the gun on the ground and walked down the dark street alone.
    What I saw and felt of the conflict in Colombia is slowly drifting out of the background of my mind and into the foreground of my dreams. In the first days of my return I was filled with the joy and love of life that permeated the organizations we visited and the spirit of the conscientious objectors. I was and am inspired by what they have transformed this conflict into for themselves: empowerment, alternative vision, celebration of life, and standing up against injustice and fear. That with a gun to their temple, they choose to break the gun with their bare hands. That they believe it is possible to end violence with nonviolence.
    And I realize that I also took from this delegation the way that violence and militarism creeps into our minds and our hearts, even when we are not aware of it. As I remember walking down the streets of Bogota and Medellin, certainly not alone, and especially not at night, I saw many men and women with guns. Yet they were police officers and military members, and for that reason, I think somewhere in me I accepted their right to carry a gun. I realize how easily we have accepted, and I have accepted, that in our culture those in authority have the right to threaten and to use violence as a means of keeping order. It took me back to the days following 9/11 in New York City. When I first entered the train station or walked through the financial district and saw men and women with machine guns and in riot gear, I was startled. I had never felt so frightened, so much like I was living in a war zone. And slowly I began to accept it. To see it as normal. This morning I realize the depth to which I have accepted violence as normal. How desensitized perhaps I have become to the constant war we are living in.
    My visit to Colombia opened my eyes to the reality of armed conflict. For more than 60 years, Colombians have been fighting an internal war. Disappearances, assassinations, mass displacement of peoples, mass graves, curfews, and recruitment into military groups have become normalized. All that I have read about social and economic structures, globalization, conflict resolution, and peace and justice became real, became felt for me.
    What is it like to be a youth in this world of violence, militarism, and war? On both sides of the delegation, Colombia and the U.S., we talked about how the social and economic structures of our specific contexts have attempted to dictate our options. In Colombia, as a youth from a "barrio popular," the options you are given is to fulfill your mandatory service to the military and perhaps die or kill in the conflict between the state, paramilitary groups, and the FARC and ELN, to join the paramilitaries, the drug trade, or a guerilla group, or to be part of the masses of unemployed. For youth from poor communities in the U.S., especially communities of color, youth are presented with the options to join the military, to work a minimum wage job in the service sector, if you are "lucky enough" to get one, or to a join a gang and likely end up in the rapidly growing prison system. Are these real options?
    Although the situation for youth on the surface seems so drastically different in Colombia and the U.S., we were able to see the parallels between these two contexts by sharing personal stories. Through the practice of council, each of the U.S. participants shared on the topic of "the experience of violence in your life," with the opportunity for the Colombian delegates to relate their own experiences to these stories and mirror back to the group what they felt and heard. It was amazing to me that in the sharing of these personal stories, youth from both sides were able to see that not only was their experience personal, or even representative of the context of their own community, but is a reflection of the way in which global social, economic, political and military structures have impacted their options and lived experiences. It was clear that each person was an individual with a distinct story, but that the themes and experiences knew no boundaries and no borders.
    As we left Medellin to return back to Bogota, Tanya and I fought back tears in saying goodbye to the members of the Red Juvenil who had shared so much story, art, and passion with us. Sandra eloquently shared something that moved me so deeply I was tempted to take out my tape recorder and ask her to say it all over again. But I remember it in my heart — she shared something like this:
    Do not cry for sadness because we are separating. Tears of sadness do not accomplish anything. Cry for joy because you have made friends here, you have made family. Know that we have made relationships, and so now we can talk to each other and visit one another. Know that to get to know each other, to build relationships, is to break borders.
    Breaking borders, breaking structures, breaking guns through nonviolence, love, and the imagination. Despite all of the obstacles and barriers to envisioning other possibilities, this delegation brought together youth who refuse to accept that these are the only options. That said, I want a different life for myself and for my community. I don't accept your structures and your limitations. I realized the power of community and art to allow people not only to vision, but to live a different reality. Several times on the delegation we had the opportunity to discuss, what is a conscientious objector? Is it refusing to serve in the military? Is it refusing to participate in violence? Or as I heard from many of the men and women in Colombia, that being a conscientious objector is refusing to accept structures of injustice that have harmed me, my community, the earth, conscientious objector was the belief that all of this could change. These organizations, these youth, show that it is possible by living it.
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    Summit: Behind the Smiles and Handshakes

    By Teo Ballvé
    With all that happened at the Summit of the Americas, it was easy to miss a significant about-face by the Obama administration.
    No, it wasn't the administration's supposedly softer stance toward Cuba. Nor was it Venezuela's well-received offer (by Chávez-basher Hillary Clinton no less) to re-exchange ambassadors with Washington. Obama won't read the Spanish edition of The Open Veins of Latin America, a gift from Chávez, so that can be dismissed, too. The about-face came when Barack Obama promised Colombian President Álvaro Uribe that the White House would work toward helping pass the stalled "free trade" agreement between the two countries.
    During Obama's presidential campaign, his opposition to the trade deal was one of the few concrete policy stances he took on Latin America. The trade pact came up in a debate with John McCain, who tried to ridicule Obama by suggesting that he did not understand what was at stake with the Colombia trade deal. In stating his opposition, Obama shot back: "Actually, I understand it pretty well, the history in Colombia right now is that labor leaders have been targeted for assassination on a fairly consistent basis, and there have not been prosecutions." Obama added, "The trade agreement itself does have labor and environmental protections, but we have to stand for human rights, and we have to make sure that violence isn't being perpetrated against workers who are just trying to organize for their rights."
    Apparently, Obama had a change of heart over lunch with Uribe. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs explained, "The president has asked our trade representative, Ambassador Kirk, to work with the Colombians to work through our remaining concerns, the president's remaining concerns, about violence against labor leaders in Colombia."
    At the same meal, where Uribe and Obama spoke for 45 minutes, they agreed to set a meeting in Washington to discuss the trade deal and Plan Colombia. (Many analysts predict Plan Colombia, a multi-year military assistance package aimed at fighting rebels and the drug trade, will face cuts in the next foreign appropriations bill.) At the lunch, Uribe reportedly showed Obama statistics that claim a drop in the murder of unionists and an increase in arrests of the perpetrators. The Colombian president is known to have a way with numbers, having a Fidel Castro-like knack for citing statistics in his speeches.
    The devil is, of course, in the details. The Colombia-based National Labor School, a watchdog group, notes that nearly 2,700 unionists have been killed in the country since 1986, mostly by murderous right-wing paramilitary groups, with only 90 convictions — a 97 percent rate of impunity. The overall number of labor activists killed in recent years has decreased — mainly due to the much-criticized demobilization of paramilitaries under Uribe's amnesty program. But killings of unionists spiked last year to 49, compared to 39 labor leaders killed in 2007.
    At a U.S. congressional hearing in February, José Luciano Sanín of the National Labor School testified, "More than 60 percent of the all murdered unionists in the world are Colombians. The murder rate of unionists in Colombia is five times that of the rest of the countries of the world, including those countries with dictatorships that have banned union activity." Uribe probably suggested to Obama that under his administration more murderers of these peaceful activists were brought to trial than under any previous government. Again, the facts don't corroborate this assertion.
    Uribe's amnesty program required paramilitary commanders to confess all their crimes in exchange for light sentences as short as five years — a pittance for charges including crimes against humanity. But Uribe singlehandedly undermined even this minimal punishment scheme.
    Take, for instance, the case of José Ever Veloza García, a paramilitary leader also known as "H.H." His paramilitary bloc was active in the 1990s in the northwest region of Urabá — a center of operations for Chiquita, the banana company. At last count, H.H. confessed to at least 1,200 murders, including the brutal killing of workers belonging to the region's banana unions. H.H. admitted, "During that time the unions were really strong and there were a lot of strikes. What we did, and it was our duty, was to force the workers to go back to work at the plantations—. Those who disobeyed and didn't go work, knew what they had coming."
    One of H.H.'s close collaborators in Urabá was a banana magnate-turned-paramilitary named Raúl Hasbún. In a recent interview with the Miami Herald, Hasbún coldly admitted, "I killed a lot of union members."
    H.H. was one of the few paramilitary leaders who willingly confessed most of his crimes — some 3,000 in all. Some of his confessions implicated high-ranking politicians in Uribe's governing coalition. One of the politicians forced to resign due to his links with H.H. was Colombian ambassador to the Dominican Republic Juan José Chaux Mosquera — an Uribe appointment. As H.H. was in the process of revealing the extent of his crimes, which continued implicating government allies, Uribe abruptly extradited him to the United States on drug trafficking charges. The family members of H.H.'s victims in Colombia criticized the extradition saying it violates their right to know the full truth about what happened to their loved ones.
    Let's hope, for the sake of slain unionists and their families in Colombia, that President Obama does not forget his own campaign promise and his suggestion at the Trinidad Summit that "true security only comes with liberty and justice."
    Teo Ballvé, NACLA's web editor, is a freelance journalist and editor based in Colombia. His web site is www.TeoBallve.com.
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    Authorities Dismiss Libel Charge for Human Rights Complaints

    "There is no better defense than an strong offense," you often hear people say in Colombia. Colombian army officials have used this strategy against human rights defenders and San José Peace Community leaders in a perverse manner: backed by practically 100% impunity, they filed criminal charges for libel and slander against victims of military abuses for denouncing those violations before the international community.
    Backed with false testimonies of demobilized guerrilla collaborators, Colonel Nestor Iván Duque, the head in 2004-05 of the Bejarano Battalion operating in San José de Apartadó, brought criminal charges of false complaint, libel and slander against Jesuit priest Javier Giraldo, regional ombudsman Miguel Angel Afanador and attorney Elkin Ramirez of Corporacion Juridica Libertad. All three had denounced the army's participation in the brutal 2005 massacre to the international community, and Ramírez spoke before the Inter-American Court of Justice. It was a novel action to accuse those who denounced violations before the Inter-American Court of libel.

    Four years later, the Bejarano Battalion's current commander, Colonel Germán Rojas, is adopting an almost identical strategy to counter complaints of threatening accusations against peace community leader Reynaldo Areiza. The peace community recently reported that Rojas told Areiza that "unless he collaborates with the definitive destruction of the Peace Community, he would be prosecuted as the 'financial manger of the 58 Front of FARC' and as a 'drug trafficker,' for which that he has obtained 'witnesses'." Rojas responded to the community's complaints by bringing criminal charges against Areiza for libel and slander.
    International pressure mounted over the case against Father Javier Giraldo, Elkin Ramirez and Miguel Angel Afanador. On April 8, the prosecutor leading the investigation against them closed the investigation, saying that "no crime has been committed." But it may be early to rest: Colonel Duque can appeal the ruling.

    [top]
    News Briefs & Upcoming Events

    The next time you hear someone call U.S. policy in Colombia or the presidency of Álvaro Uribe a success consider this news: forced displacement of Colombians from their homes rose by 25% in 2008, with 380,000 fleeing because of political violence during the year, according to a new report by the Consultancy on Human Rights and the Displaced, CODHES.
    Because of FOR's close relationship of accompaniment to the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, and role in responding to the February 2005 massacre there, has led us to report frequently on developments in the investigation of the massacre. In April, Semana magazine published an English translation by the Colombia Support Network of a remarkable account of the military and paramilitary operation that led to the massacre. Recommended.
    Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos confirmed in an interview published April 21 that negotiations to establish a U.S. military facility in Colombia are advancing. U.S. military operations conducted at an airbase in Manta, Ecuador must end by November, under terms of the agreement with Ecuador. He said he expects negotiations to be completed in June, and the operations to begin early next year.
    First Ruling Punishing Colombian Army for Killing of Peace Community Member: Peace Community member, and leader of humanitarian zone, Edilberto Vasquez was killed by troops of the Army 17th Brigade's Voltigeros Battalion on January 12, 2006. Early that morning, the army came to his house and asked him to come with them. Shortly after, he has shot dead, a gun, a radio and a grenade planted next to him. Vasquez was presented as "a guerrilla killed in combat."
    On April 17, an Apartadó court found seven low-ranking members of the Voltigeros Battalion guilty of the crime, sentencing them to 30 years in prison. While the ruling was presented in the media as a blow to the Colombian army's practice of "false positives" — the killing of unarmed civilians presented as success in the counterinsurgency war — the highest-ranking officer sentenced for the crime was a Second Sergeant.
    Does U.S. foreign military training affect human rights? The government doesn't know. In this Foreign Policy in Focus article, John Lindsay-Poland writes about American lack of accountability in sharing lethal skills.

    August 15-29, 2009 Delegation to San José Peace Community, Medellín and Eastern Antioquia
    Witness the incredible commitment and experience of the Peace Community of San José and other Colombian grassroots initiatives. $1,500 from Bogotá. For information, contact John Lindsay-Poland, johnlp@igc.org. To download an application, please click here (MS Word document).

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    Please note new office address for FOR Task Force on Latin America:
    Fellowship of Reconciliation •
    P.O. Box 72492, Oakland CA 94612 •
    Tel: 510-763-1403 Fax: 510-763-1409 •
    Web: http://www.forcolombia.org

    April 2009 Colombia Peace Update

    Click here for previous Colombia Updates.

    Letter from the Field: The Change They Want to See
    By Moira Birss
    The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó celebrated twelve years of existence and resistance on March 23 with a small ceremony and a brief march to the cemetery in the village center of San José, where many of the community's dead are buried. Those present honored, with two minutes of silence, the memory of the 184 Peace Community members killed in the last twelve years, and reaffirmed their resistance against a litany of state crimes: massacres, forced displacement, rapes, extrajudicial executions, food blockades, house burnings, robberies, and threats.
    According to state officials, however, the Peace Community just needs to get over the past. In a recent meeting, an army official complained to us that the Peace Community is always harping on the past, and that they should move on and think about the future. "Things are different now," he said. "We train the soldiers in human rights. In fact, the army has declared 2009 'the year of human rights'."
    If I myself, an outside observer, can't forget the brutal history of the Peace Community, how can those who've actually suffered it actually forget a past that includes, just four years ago, the massacre and dismemberment of five adults and three children, committed by the army in collaboration with paramilitaries? The state wants to wipe the slate clean, and so condemns the community for conserving its memories and demanding an end to impunity.
    But even if the slate of history were swept clean, would the present look much different, as the official asserted? The day following the community's anniversary, we set off on an accompaniment trip to La Resbaloza and Mulatos, the two outlying veredas (hamlets) in which the 2005 massacre occurred and where just over a year ago the community sponsored the return of several families that had fled from their land after the massacre. The recent actions of soldiers in La Resbaloza indicate that, just because the army is conducting some form of training in human rights, doesn't necessarily mean that those human rights are being respected. Last week, according to the community, soldiers attempted to rape a woman in La Resbaloza, and threatened her and the man with her with death if they reported the attempt.
    In another recent incident, a community leader — a sweet older man who has land in La Resbaloza and spends about half his time there — returned to his farm to find much of his freshly-harvested bean crop eaten and several pots and tools missing after a troop of soldiers had passed through. Now, when he leaves the farm for a few days, he has taken to hiding his pots, pans, and tools so they're not also taken. All the soldiers are desconfiados, he says. Untrustworthy.
    Back in the towns and cities, paramilitaries have been distributing leaflets threatening "social cleansing"; in other words, death to prostitutes, drug users, and other "undesirables," and a recent increase in murders confirms the validity of such threats. When questioned about these leaflets, the same army official dismissed the threats as unimportant since they had been distributed throughout the country, as if somehow their widespread distribution negates the danger.
    As a community leader affirmed during the twelfth anniversary commemoration, the community dreams of a different world. But they don't just dream about it. Contrary to the army official's assumption, the Peace Community is building that different world. At the commemoration ceremony, the construction of a new agricultural research and study center was announced, and the Peace Community can pride itself in many years of operating under a cooperative work model, practicing nonviolence, and having developed organic cacao and baby banana export projects. With memories of the past — loved ones murdered, tortured, robbed, raped — to drive them forward, the community continues, as Mahatma Gandhi said, to be the change they want to see.
    Read more from Moira at her blog.
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    The "Un-Threat"
    Responding to a recent spate of leaflets distributed all over Colombia threatening "social cleansing" — the murder of prostitutes, drug addicts, and thieves by paramilitary death squads — activists with the Center for Research and Popular Education didn't sit on their hands.
    Instead, they decided to launch a competing message delivered openly, in the daytime. Twenty thousand leaflets will circulate with the message: "We want the crime rate to go down, that there be less irresponsible drug use, that women and women not be forced to making their living from sex, that our youth not see their life choices reduced to the street or crime, that theft not be the way we subsist. We don't support more violence to eradicate violence."
    The "un-leaflets" are being handed out in poor neighborhoods in Medellín, Bogotá, and other cities.
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    Momentum Builds for Days of Prayer and Action: Sunday/Monday, April 19-20

    On Monday, April 20, people in a half dozen cities across the U.S. will creatively and publicly present 4,000 paper cut-out dolls, each one representing 1,000 of Colombia's four million displaced people, to governmental representatives. These symbolic actions, intended to raise the profile of Colombia's crisis, will take place in New York, Washington D.C., Chicago, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
    In the United States and Colombia, doll-making parties have served to connect people and inspire creativity in the making of thousands of paper dolls.
    How to participate: More than 300 churches in the US, Canada and Colombia are planning to participate in the April 19 Day of Prayer. (Resources, such as a faith action packet, prayer, and bulletin insert in English and Spanish are available here.)
    Even if you aren't near a city or don't belong to a participating church, you can participate by sending postcards and calling President Obama as part of the National Phone-in on April 20 to urge Change Colombia Can Believe In — assistance for the displaced and a negotiated end to war in Colombia, instead of for gunships and military training.

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    The Fate of Plan Colombia
    By John Lindsay-Poland, FOR
    Readers of this Update will be accustomed to criticisms of Plan Colombia — the U.S. counterinsurgency package of over $500 million a year since 2000. But it may be a surprise when Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos calls for an end to Plan Colombia. That's what he did on March 15, in an angry interview published in the daily El Tiempo.
    "Plan Colombia has helped us a lot and was very important at a critical moment," he said. "Now, it is not needed."
    Santos framed his proposal as an indignant and patriotic rejection of Democratic Party impositions, including demands for prosecution of human rights crimes as a condition for assistance and the passage of the Free Trade Agreement. "We are not only allies and friends, but the only country in Latin America where the image of the United States is positive," Santos said. "Nevertheless, they mistreat us."
    Claudia López, a columnist for Semana magazine, interpreted the vice-president's comments: "The interview could be summarized," she wrote: "'Before, we did the same thing and nobody questioned us about anything. Now, they ask us why unionists are killed and we don't produce judicial verdicts to clarify the crimes; how are we going to ensure that labor rights are respected for free trade; they ask us why we wiretap and follow judges and journalists who make us uncomfortable; why members of the security forces kill innocent young people to give false evidence of combat progress; why criminal gangs continue to operate in zones where the paramilitaries supposedly demobilized. They ask us how we spend those piddling 550 million dollars that they give us for Plan Colombia. It is an outrage! They must respect us!'"
    "Santos, in effect, complains about the only U.S. intrusion in Colombians' lives that has not been completely perverse in its effects: the only one that has saved human lives," writes columnist Antonio Caballero. "I don't remember any other."
    Santos' suggested rejection of human rights conditions on military assistance as a form of US intervention is reminiscent of the Guatemalan and Indonesian militaries' rejection of U.S. conditions on aid in the 1980s and 1990s, leading to partial bans on military aid that lasted more than a decade.
    Claudia Lopez refuted Santos' claim that Democrats are seeking enforcement of human rights conditions as a way to humiliate Colombians. "They are interested in issues like democracy and human rights. Because they are a central part of the political platform with which they won the elections. — But you haven't noticed this detail. Your indignation about the questions, and not about the facts and violations, only reinforces the well-founded doubts that this government now has, and makes them think that you don't care a bit about whether they kill unionists or violate human rights."
    Congressional Democrats may also be motivated to cut military aid to Colombia in the wake of budget resolutions in late March that reduced the overall levels of international affairs funding — if constituents urge them in that direction. The bulk of Plan Colombia money comes from funding managed by the Foreign Operations subcommittees chaired by Rep. Nita Lowey (NY) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (VT). Lowey's committee is expected to 'mark up' this budget between now and June.
    The Pentagon, on the other hand, continues its quiet negotiations with the Colombian military to move the U.S. "Forward Operating Location" from Manta, Ecuador to Colombia, when the Ecuador lease expires in November. For that, Defense Department officials will be grateful, and may reward Colombia with more assistance, through funding streams that are far from transparent in our country.
    Translation of López and Caballeros columns by Center for International Policy.
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    Families Remember in Solidarity Actions
    The National Day Against Extrajudicial Killings on March 6 was marked by rallies and marches in several Colombian cities — Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, Bucaramanga, Cúcuta — and in Europe: Madrid, Barcelona, Berlin, Paris, and Rome, as well as in Mexico City and Buenos Aires.
    In Bogotá, according to organizer Franklin Castañeda, "when we started to organize this event, we thought of 50 or 70 family members participating. But there are more than 200 people participating who represent so many cases of extrajudicial killings, including ones from February of this year."
    According to human rights attorney Liliana Uribe, organizations have documented 1,477 victims of extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances by state forces since 2002, many of them "false positives" — the Colombian army's practice of killing civilians and claiming them as "positive" kills of guerrillas. The National Prosecutor General's office is investigating cases for 1,171 of these victims, but in only 32 cases has the Prosecutor General moved the process toward a verdict and sentencing.
    The day before the event, Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos claimed "the problem of 'false positives' has been resolved." Standing next to U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen, Santos asserted to the media that there has not been a single report of a "false positive" since October. March organizers have documented five extrajudicial killings between October and December.
    "The strategies have changed," Castañeda says. "Once human rights defenders have revealed some of the methods, they have gone to others. Once we revealed the strategy of extrajudicial killings of peasants — the State took up the strategy of kidnapping poor youths and later presenting them as killed in combat. Once that was denounced, we've noted more cases of forced disappearances that are not reported as combat casualties."
    The day closed with a symbolic act, "The Night of White Sheets," in the central plaza.

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    International Womyn's Day March in Medellin
    By Mayra Sofia Moreno
    [Note: I spell "womyn" with a 'y' to completely distinguish it from the gender of men.]
    International Womyn's Day inspired events and marches all over the world. In the city of Medellin in Antioquia, Colombia, a march was organized to honor this day. Womyn of all sectors, social stratus, and ages joined to express, voice out, and speak out against issues that affect them directly.
    The Medellin Youth Network (Red Juvenil), one of FOR's partner organizations that works with nonviolence against the militarization of their society, asked us to accompany and observe this event.
    The march was scheduled to start around 9am in Barrio Aranjuez. When we arrived several groups representing female organizations were gathered on the street corners. We noticed the vibrant colors of all the womyn: some dressed in costumes, others wearing bright shirts, fairies with slogans on their wings, and an artist with several instruments. The diversity was noticeable and it was obvious that the march was going to be vibrant, its energetic crowd heard, and with many social issues identified and highlighted in a way that also celebrated the day dedicated to their gender.
    After an hour the crowd was larger and Red Juvenil members dispersed to join the activities. Some grabbed their instruments and joined the music groups, others joined the jugglers and dancers, and some were in charge of stamping the walls with stickers with information about womyn's rights.
    We noticed immediately that all the patrolling forces were womyn! Even in the police forces they were recognizing International Womyn's Day. We formally introduced ourselves to the commander of the police unit present and explained our role as human rights observers. We expressed our concern for the security of the people we accompany and the civilian population in general.
    As routine, we were asked to walk close to the beginning of the march. We always place ourselves on the periphery of the march so as to not be confused and/or perceived as being participants. This confusion can result in the immediate deportation of internationals, as it is against the law for foreigners to be active participants in anything that seems like a political event in Colombia. Also, more security is always needed in the front of marches because of the risk of confrontations with the police and/or interruptions or incidents that might create an obstacle for the march to continue its course.
    Nonetheless, participants throughout the march always fear being documented by civilian-dressed police and undercover agents of Colombia's intelligence agency, known as the DAS. The danger here is that march participants become targets and pictures and videos taken of them are arbitrarily used by the authorities to charge them with being terrorist, rebels, or guerrilla collaborators. There is also a history of violence that is still practiced, in which subjects are identified, pictures are taken of them, and they later appear murdered and or are disappeared.
    All along the way more and more people joined the march and we could hear loud voices on megaphones saying: "Ni del Estado, Ni de la Iglesia, mi cuerpo es de mi pertinencia" (Not the State's, not the church's, my body belongs to me). "Mujeres marchamos contra la violencia!" (Womyn march against violence!).
    Activities were taking place in different points along the march that extended at least five blocks. Kids danced traditional Colombian music in the front, musicians in the middle, clowns and fairies throughout the crowd, student activists dressed in black chanting slogans, and all in all, anywhere you looked you saw movement, color, and heard voices of varying strengths and tones.
    The march ended in the Parque de los Deseos on the city's east side at around one pm. Luckily, there were no major incidents that put at risk march participants.
    FOR was glad to observe an event where non-violent activists participated collectively, not only to speak out against those problems that still affect more than half of the world's population, but to also celebrate the energy and fundamental roles that incredible womyn continue to play throughout societies worldwide.
    Click here for video of the march produced by the Communication Team of the Antioquia Peasant Association.
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    August 15-29, 2009 Delegation to San José Peace Community, Medellín and Eastern Antioquia
    Witness the incredible commitment and experience of the Peace Community of San José and other Colombian grassroots initiatives. $1,500 from Bogotá. For information, contact John Lindsay-Poland, johnlp[at] igc.org. To download an application, please click here (MS Word document).

    March 2009 Colombia Peace Update

    March 10, 2009

    1. April 20 National Day of Action for Colombia
    2. U.S. and Colombian Organizations Call on President Obama: End Plan Colombia and Change U.S. Drug Policy
    3. Colombia Inviting U.S. Military Operations Kicked out of Ecuador
    4. More Illegal Wiretapping Uncovered
    5. School of Americas Graduate Threatens Peace Community Leader
    6. Commemoration
    7. August 2009 Delegation to Colombia

    Be a Voice for Peace in Colombia

    April 20 National Day of Action for Colombia

    On Monday, April 20, people in a half dozen cities across the U.S. will creatively and publicly present 4,000 paper cut-out dolls, each one representing 1,000 of Colombia’s four million displaced people, to governmental representatives. These symbolic actions, intended to raise the profile of Colombia’s crisis, will take place in New York, Washington D.C., Chicago, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

    To participate in this colorful grassroots mobilization, to stand up and speak out against the daily displacement of thousands of Colombians, and to urge our leaders to chart a new policy towards Colombia, we encourage you to:

    • Host a doll-making party: Ask your student club, church group, or community organization to consider doing a doll-making party in February or March. The parties are an opportunity to raise awareness in your community about Colombia’s crisis while making dolls to be used in April 20th’s public actions. Click here to download a displacement fact sheet, a doll-making guide and a compelling video on Colombia’s crisis.
    • Help plan the day of action: Contact your local organizer (listed below) and help shape the public doll-delivery actions of April 20—plans include speakers, marches, protest, street theater, creative performances and more!
    • Send postcards to Obama: Contact Liza Smith (liza@igc.org) to receive postcards that urge Obama and his administration to shape a new policy towards Colombia. Distribute the postcards to your friends, colleagues, family and wider community to sign and send in.
    • Send emails to Obama: Click here (link coming soon!) to let the Obama administration know that the time is now to chart a new policy towards Colombia. Please forward the link widely.

    To contact coordinators about the action in Portland, OR, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York or Washington, DC, click here.

    Want to get others in your community involved? Download a half-page flyer that outlines the Days of Prayer and Action, to be used in tabling, flyering, etc.

    Get your faith community involved in the Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia —Talk to a leader in your faith community about this opportunity to pray and act for peace in Colombia. Ask them to set aside Sunday, April 19 to focus on Colombia during the worship service. Click here for sample sermons, prayers, etc.

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    U.S. and Colombian Organizations Call on President Obama: End “Plan Colombia” and Change U.S. Drug Policy

    In two letters signed by hundreds of Colombian and U.S. organizations, FOR and more than 45 other national and regional human rights organizations and faith-based institutions today released a letter to President Barack Obama calling for a major change in U.S. policy toward Colombia.

    The Colombian groups’ appeal (PDF) , signed by former Foreign Affairs Minister Augusto Ramírez Ocampo and more than a hundred other national leaders, organizations and individuals, urges President Obama to consider five changes in U.S. Colombia policy:

    • Reformulate counter-drug policy, including modifying Plan Colombia to prioritize voluntary eradication of coca leaves, productive alternatives for farmers, and a rural reform that respects land rights and reparations for those victimized by violence and drug trafficking.It also calls for further strengthening of social and humanitarian components of the plan in relation to military components.
    • Promote a negotiated end to the armed conflict.
    • Support the judicial branch in its efforts to investigate “the capture of the State and economy by mafias that put at risk our democracy, as in the case of the ‘parapolitica’ scandal, and prevent impunity for the armed groups and their allies.”
    • Prioritize strict respect for human rights as the foundation of U.S. aid policy.
    • Agree on fair trade treaties, based on mutual respect, human rights and sustainable development.

    In a letter coordinated by the Fellowship of Reconciliation (PDF) , 46 national and regional U.S. organizations urged the President to end a failed drug policy in Colombia and to invest in drug treatment here in the U.S. and aid for the millions of Colombians displaced by war. The letter followed closely on the heels of the President’s first address to a joint session of Congress, in which he stated the need to “go line by line through the federal budget in order to eliminate wasteful and ineffective programs” and to “act boldly and wisely.”

    The U.S. groups’ letter encourages the White House to make three major changes to current U.S. policy. First, it presses the Obama administration to end military aid to Colombia, the largest recipient of U.S. military aid in the Western Hemisphere. Second, it calls for renewed diplomatic efforts to support a negotiated settlement to the armed conflict in Colombia. And third, it challenges the U.S. to increase development aid to the nation, as well as to dramatically redirect funds to domestic drug treatment programs.

    Both sides in Colombia’s armed conflict have committed terrible atrocities,” and civilian killings by the Colombian army have increased in the last two years, the groups wrote. Research by FOR and Amnesty International last year showed that nearly half of these killings were reportedly committed by U.S.-supported units. “For us, and we think for you, it does matter whether people are threatened by corrupt and brutal armed forces that our tax dollars have trained and equipped. We want that to stop,” the groups said to the President.

    The failure in U.S. drug policy led former presidents of Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia in February to describe Colombia as “a clear example of the limitations of the repressive policy promoted globally by the United States” and to call for a new paradigm that prioritizes reducing demand for illegal drugs.

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    Colombia Inviting U.S. Military Operations Kicked out of Ecuador

    Colombia may allow more U.S. aircraft on its air bases as part of a new military cooperation agreement being negotiated to replace U.S. military operations carried out in Manta, Ecuador, Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said during a visit to Washington on February 26. Santos said the city of Cali is being considered, because of its proximity to the Pacific and its altitude. U.S. aircraft based in Manta patrol the Pacific for narcotics and undocumented immigrants, and contribute to Plan Colombia.

    [photo: Santos <span class=& friends]" src="http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/2507/images/0903colombia-santos_gates.jpg" align="left" height="120" hspace="4" width="295" />“We’re expanding cooperation in every sense, including access to our bases and that is what we’re negotiating,” Santos told reporters alongside Colombian Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez during a visit to Washington, where they met with U.S. officials and lawmakers.

    The deal being negotiated provides expanded access to Colombia’s bases for U.S. military planes, Santos said, adding that “instead of one type of airplanes, let’s have this other type.”

    Santos expressed confidence that an agreement would be reached this month, building on existing military relations. El Espectador noted in January that the Uribe government seeks to improve relations with the Obama administration through hosting the military operations now conducted from Ecuador. Negotiations for the U.S. presence began February 13 and 14 in Colombia.

    Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has promised the U.S. base deal will not be renewed, and voters last year approved a constitution prohibiting foreign bases. Correa said the Manta air base would be converted into an international airport when the 10-year base deal expires in November 2009 and U.S. forces pull out. Last July, Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry officially notified Washington it would not renew the base agreement, and the U.S. ambassador, Heather Hodges, has said that U.S. troops will leave Manta this November.

    But Santos said that hosting the U.S. operations “is only a possibility we are studying in the framework of a new military cooperation agreement being negotiated with the U.S..”

    [photo: Santos]The only real possibility I see that will favor Colombia in an eventual agreement with the U.S. is the same achieved with Plan Colombia, where equipment brought by the United States in the long term is transferred to Colombia— Look at the Ecuador case, the U.S. leaves and they didn’t leave them anything,” wrote Jhonny Fabian on an unofficial Colombian military forum on March 1.

    The coalition of Ecuadorean peace and human rights groups that successfully campaigned for the base closure is planning to conduct a social, economic and environmental audit of the impacts of the Manta base, said Gualdemar Jiménez of Service for Peace and Justice (SERPAJ). He was visiting Washington on Saturday for “Security Without Empire”, the national conference on military bases organized by a U.S. network, including FOR.

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    More Illegal Wiretapping Uncovered

    Less than two months after the interception of FOR’s email — along with other 150 email accounts — was revealed, a new scandal of spying on opposition emerged during the last weekend of February. The weekly magazine Semana uncovered a massive wiretap operation carried out by the Department of Administrative Security (DAS), the Colombian secret police that answers directly to the President.

    The targets this time included Supreme Court Justices who are investigating members of Congress close to President Uribe, including his cousin Mario Uribe. The Uribe government have fiercely attacked several of those justices, accusing them of “engaging in witness trafficking” and political persecution. Over the past 18 months, the justices and their families have also been targeted for harassment, including one whose home was broken into with just a laptop stolen.

    Ivan Velásquez, the justice handling the parapolitica investigation, reportedly had more than 1,900 phone calls intercepted in a three-month period and has been subject to a “man to man” surveillance. In October 20007, “Tasmania,” a right wing paramilitary leader, was reportedly bribed to falsely accuse Velásquez of manipulating testimony. No one has been charged for any of the attacks on the justices.

    Evoking the Fujimori-Montesinos regime in Peru that targeted political adversaries for intelligence operations, the latest set of illegal interception targets also included opposition politicians, journalists, and even some government officials. The intercepts are an effort, according to the whistleblowers, because “you have to have insurance” against the victim of wiretapping denouncing the one who ordered it.

    President Uribe has denied any involvement in the illegal operation. The government portrays the scandal as an infiltration from the mafia into the intelligence agency.

    The justices have announced taking the abuses to the United Nations and the Organization of American States, saying the abuses amount to “a plot against the Supreme Court.” The justices have also made clear that it is not enough to prosecute the officials who have implemented the wiretapping, but to reveal who ordered them and who has benefited from the information illegally obtained.

    The abuses of the Colombian intelligence are linked to U.S. military aid. The U.S. has contributed equipment used in the abusive interception, according to Semana. Although U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield stated his rejection of such use of American aid, there has been almost no debate in Washington about the “causalities” of U.S. aid in terms of basic human rights and civil liberties.

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    School of Americas Graduate Threatens Peace Community Leader

    [photo: Renato]
    Renato Areiza and his daughter

    In 2006, FOR hosted a U.S. speaking tour by Renato Areiza, then coordinator of the San José Peace Community. He visited communities in Texas, California, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., North Carolina, Florida, and spoke at the annual vigil to close the School of the Americas.

    But last month Renato faced a different kind of audience. On February 7, Renato was detained in San José de Apartadó by an army lieutenant, who put him on the phone with Colonel Germán Rojas Díaz. Rojas accused Renato of being the financial chief of a guerrilla front that operates in the area and told him to cooperate or go to prison, according to the Community. Renato told Rojas that he has had nothing to the armed groups.

    Colonel Rojas commands the Voltigeros Battalion of the Army’s 17th Brigade, and was trained at the U.S. Army School of the Americas in 1990.

    Since Renato made these accusations public, the Community says, “members of the Army and paramilitaries desperately seek out Reinaldo throughout the area and have shown him their enormous anger for having denounced the blackmail.” On February 24, soldiers told a community member that Renato had “earned his death.” The Community stated that the Brigade has had a guerrilla commander who deserted the rebels illegally living in their compound for three months, though they are required to turn him over to prosecutors. The former guerrilla, known as “Samir,” reportedly ordered a number of killings in the area and is negotiating benefits from the Army in exchange for collaboration in destroying the community.

    At the same time, some 50 European and Colombian organizations called on Colombia’s Prosecutor General to fully prosecute the intellectual as well as material authors of the massacre in 2005 in San José, committed by paramilitary “guides” in cooperation with army soldiers, and to announce the status of the investigations. An army captain implicated General Héctor Jaime Fandiño in an attempted cover-up of the army’s responsibility in the massacre.

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    Commemoration

    Just as there were many who were appalled at him — his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness.” Isaiah 52: 14

    February 21, 2005 is a date etched in the collective memory of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó. A new week was starting, but two families would not live to see the end of that day. In one of Colombia’s most gruesome episodes — and there have been plenty of those — soldiers and paramilitaries joined forces to sow death on the fertile soils of Mulatos and La Resbalosa.

    There was a total of eight victims. Amongst those killed by the riverside in Mulatos was Luis Eduardo Guerra, a strong leader and founder of the Community. At 35 years of age, he was the oldest person to lose his life that day. The youngest, Santiago Tuberquia Muñoz, murdered in the hills of La Resbalosa above Mulatos, was only 18 months when his life was cut short. The events became the focus of national and international attention. The Peace Community appealed for justice while human rights organizations and other groups expressed their solidarity. The Army rushed to blame the FARC guerrilla insurgents while President Uribe flew to Apartadó to express his concern about the supposed productive relationship between the Community and the same guerrillas, apparently unaware of, or not disposed to worry much about, the incoherence between the arguments.

    The massacre was denounced before the United Nations in Geneva, with members of the Peace Community and the Vice-President of Colombia sitting opposite one another in the chamber. The attacks caused the Peace Community to enter into ruptura (break-off of relations) with the State, circumstances which still prevail today. They provided the government with a pretext to install a police post in the village of San José, and caused a delay in the disbursement of U.S. military aid to Colombia after a vigorous campaign in which FOR played a central role. In the last year there have been advances in the judicial cases against more than a dozen soldiers and military officers, including one general, for involvement in the massacre.

    Although the Peace Community has lost some 180 members to armed violence, something about these massacres stood out. Perhaps it was the fact that children between the ages of 18 months and eleven years lost their lives. Maybe the murder and subsequent mutilation of a central community figure seemed one load too many to bear.

    In any case, each year since 2005, members of the Peace Community have gathered on February 21 at the sites of the killings to remember their friends and to reaffirm their guiding principles. Together with other internationals, FOR provided accompaniment over the period of the commemoration. This was my first outing to the veredas (sub-divisions of the San José de Apartadó region, which include Mulatos and La Resbalosa) since joining the FOR CPP team in the middle of January. Despite the tragedy behind the commemoration, I found it an opportunity to get to know the terrain beyond La Unión, where FOR volunteers are based. Of greater importance still, it allowed me to spend time with more of the people in this Community, all of whose lives have been touched by the kind of violence they seek to reject.

    This year, the anniversary of the massacre fell on a Saturday, and by Friday night, people had gathered from across the veredas and were setting up their hammocks for the night between tree trunks, as rice and kidney beans bubbled alongside large pots of tinto (the sweet, black coffee of which all Colombians seem to partake).

    The first of the following day’s acts happened before breakfast at 8am, the time of the massacre of Luis Eduardo, his wife Bellanira and his child Deiner. This took the form of a mass given by Father Javier Giraldo, the priest who has supported the Community since its foundation. He reflected on Luis Eduardo`s life and death in the light of the servant passages in Isaiah, including those read as prophesy of Christ’s passion. Father Javier then drew out what he felt to be close parallels between the prophet`s words and the life of the fallen Community leader. He suggested a sign of his strength was given on the very morning of his death; despite being warned about the presence of soldiers and paramilitaries, Luis Eduardo refused to contemplate stopping work. The epigraph I have chosen for this article is taken from one of the readings at that mass; those who found him said that his body was hard to identify, given the damage done to it by his murderers.

    After breakfast, a caravan of campesinos, bestias (horses and mules) and international accompaniers headed up the hills to La Resbalosa, where the second family was killed. We heard testimony from a witness who had been present at the recovery of all the bodies. Father Javier told of the chilling confessions by paramilitaries concerning the death of the youngest of the children, Santiago and Natalia, which have come forth since last year`s commemoration, and offered prayers for the family. And then we set off once more, for the disused school in La Resbalosa.

    At that site, the Peace Community is in the process of effecting a return to the lands. The two families presently living there are expected to be joined by a further four in due course. Father Javier `baptized` one of the houses and the formal commemoration thus ended on a positive note. We returned to Mulatos for one further night, and negotiated an increased quantity of mud on the way home to La Unión the following day. The effort was worthwhile as we were rewarded on the final stretch with spectacular views of both the village and, in the distance, the Bay of Urabá.

    What is a new volunteer to make of such a weekend? This is the question I have been asking myself since the event. It was the first time I had experienced such a gathering of Peace Community members, and the community spirit, present also in La Unión, was that much more apparent. I was struck by how much it meant to them to be accompanied by internationals. When I considered this from their point of view, the presence of people from towns and cities in North America and Europe, some of which would be wholly unknown to them, could conceivably be quite overwhelming.

    Above all I was left with the impression that, as the saying goes, you reap what you sow. On that fateful morning of 21 February 2005, the blood of two innocent families stained the very lands they had farmed. Despite the solidarity displayed, it was a devastating moment, and the Community must have felt alone and vulnerable. Yet four years on, there are grounds for optimism that justice will be served, that the military will not get away with this one. Equally, just as Luis Eduardo refused to leave his land as danger approached, the Peace Community as a whole has refused to uproot itself from the land it claims for itself. Where death once visited, crops, plants and new homes have taken its place. The example of La Resbalosa demonstrates this perfectly. Perhaps Father Javier will have to find some prophesy about the resurrection for future commemorations.

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    August 15-29, 2009 Delegation to San José Peace Community, Medellín and Eastern Antioquia

    Witness the incredible commitment and experience of the Peace Community of San José and other Colombian grassroots initiatives. $1500 from Bogotá. For information contact John Lindsay-Poland, johnlp@igc.org. To download an application, please click here (DOC) .

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    January 2009 Colombia Peace Update

    December 30, 2008

    Stand up against Colombian government spying on nonviolent organizations!
    Call on the State department to act and make a donation to ensure that this vital peace work continues.

    Happy new year! In this month's update you will find a lot of exciting news about the struggle for peace in Colombia:


    Click here for a special holiday message from a member of our Colombian peace team!

    FOR Under Surveillance!

    NGOs condemn U.S.-assisted surveillance
    FOR and leading human rights organizations have released letters to U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield and Colombian Attorney General Mario Iguarán condemning the electronic monitoring of humanitarian groups. In addition to FOR, the letter was signed by leaders of Amnesty International, Latin America Working Group, Human Rights First, Washington Office on Latin America and ten other human rights organizations.
    The letters also addressed the U.S.'s role in these illicit efforts. The letters stated, "The United States bears significant responsibility in this matter, given that the agencies involved in these actions — National Police, Defense Ministry and Attorney General's office — are recipients of extensive U.S. assistance. In 2006 the State Department awarded a $5 million contract to provide SIJIN [Colombian police intelligence unit] with 'internet surveillance software.' As a result, U.S. taxpayers were apparently paying for Colombian agencies to spy on legitimate U.S. and Colombian humanitarian organizations."
    Click here to learn more and read the letter from NGOs to Ambassador Brownfield and Attorney General Iguarán.

    "Speak Truth to Power" takes on a new dimension when you realize you are under surveillance! That is exactly the position we at FOR find ourselves in once again. In 2005, we informed FOR supporters that more than 10,000 pages of FBI files had been released to us, documenting decades of surveillance of the organization. Now, we have just learned that for two full years — since December 2006 — our Latin America program has been targeted and monitored by state agents. Specifically, the e-mail messages intercepted include FOR communication in the US and with Colombia!
    This covert action is a direct violation of our right to privacy as a humanitarian activist organization. FOR's e-mail account was among more than 150 e-mail accounts of human rights organizations, journalists, academics, and labor organizations that were targeted. We've also learned that the Colombian military paid for computer hard drives "of interest to intelligence" agencies. The June 2007 break-in and stealing of FOR's Bogotá office computers containing sensitive files on our work with members of Colombian peace communities may have been a direct result of this state-sanctioned surveillance.
    FOR is meeting this attack on civil rights by calling on U.S. and Colombian officials for a full investigation, sanctioning of officials responsible, and the erasure of intercepts. Join us in exposing this militaristic intervention. Click here to write to the State Department's chief for human rights concerns.
    We also hope you will take this opportunity to show the Colombian and U.S. regimes that you support democracy, privacy, and self-determination by making a donation reaffirming your commitment to FOR.
    Update: Ten days ago, we first announced the intercepts on our email placed by the Colombian judicial police for the last two years, apparently using surveillance software provided by the United States, and asked you to write the State Department. More than 500 people sent faxes to Assistant Secretary of State Kramer! If you weren't one of them, click here to send your letter now.
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    "We Continue Resisting the Armed Groups that Attack Us"
    From a statement by the Pioyá Indigenous Council, November 27th 2008
    Last night, the Nasa indigenous community, together with the Indigenous Guard rescued six officials from Jamabaló County and an Education Ministry representative who had been kidnapped by an illegal group on the road between Jambaló, Silvia and the city of Popayán. The seven were traveling in a mini-bus at 6pm when they were intercepted by four hooded and armed men who identified themselves as members of the FARC.
    After intimidating them they were taken toward the Pioyá Indigenous Territory with purpose of taking them into the jungle. An hour later, the Jambaló community learned of events and immediately called indigenous authorities, who quickly began operations in the area to rescue those kidnapped. When the kidnappers realized they were being pursued by the community, they had to separate in two groups: three guerrillas took a couple and the other group took the rest in the vehicle, at about 9pm. The community continued in pursuit until they surrounded them, so that they were forced to abandon the captives. "The Indians are here, the Council is here, better to leave them," the guerrillas said when they felt the community near, said Emilce Muñoz, one of those kidnapped.
    While this was happening, another group of men, women, youth and children, guided by the community's radio station, followed the trail of the couple until they caught up with them at midnight. The guerrillas tried to intimidate the community by firing shot in the air, but the resistance of a civilian community with its words and thought was stronger, and they managed to rescue the last two captives. After the pursuit, the subversives left behind a revolver, now held by the Pioyá indigenous authorities.
    This is not the first time these events have occurred in indigenous territories, especially Pioyá, where the Nasa community has taken action to resist — the rescue of a Swiss citizen in 2003, rescue of helicopter using public funds in 2006, deactivation of anti-personnel mines in El Carmen settlement, eradication of marijuana this year, and now the rescue of seven kidnapped people.
    In a public act, the events [of November 26] were denounced and the confiscated weapon was destroyed as a rejection of all the armed groups that provoke imbalance in our communities. Because we don't agree with an army that victimizes the civilian population with 'false positives' nor with guerrillas that say they are of the people while the attack the people's rights.
    For a longer first-hand account in Spanish of these amazing events, click here.
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    Raffle Winners
    From nearly a thousand tickets sold, the winning ticket for two round-trip tickets from the United States to Colombia were chosen at a San Francisco event full of information, poetry and music on December 7. And the winner is—. John Law, of Portola Valley, California. John first traveled to Central America in 1988 on a delegation led by FOR Colombia Committee member Phil McManus, and it was a watershed in his life. "From my point of view, that was my primary introduction to Latin America." His wife Peggy Law, a progressive radio producer, will travel with him to Colombia.
    Colombian human rights activist Amanda Romero gave a stirring visual presentation about conflict and grassroots nonviolent resistance in Colombia, the Global Fund for Women spoke of displaced women's organizations building from the ground up, Christy Rodgers read translations of Maria Mercedes Carranza's dark poetry, FOR presented an award to the Oakland youth organization Bay Peace, and Aluna played its irresistible Afro-Colombian rhythms.
    There were 30 other raffle prizes awarded, including one for the most tickets sold — 70, by returned FOR Colombia volunteer Marcie Ley. Thanks to all of those who purchased and sold raffle tickets, those who donated prizes, and to event co-sponsors. We look forward to seeing you all in 2009.
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    Powerful Video on Extrajudicial Killings in Colombia
    A new 13-minute video from Witness for Peace documents the violence of war. Click here to watch now.
    After seeing this shocking story — just one of thousands — please take action today!

    • Demand that Congress immediately end all funding to the abusive Colombian military. Click here to send a message to your member of Congress.
    • Please also send a message of support to members of Jose's family—including Martha—who have risked their lives to speak out about her father's murder. The Giraldo family urged our friends at Witness for Peace to use their original video footage of the day their father was murdered. We are humbled by their courage to share their story, despite the risks to their own security.

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    U.S. Presbyterians Call for Engagement with Colombia, End to Military Aid
    The U.S. Presbyterian Church (PC-USA)'s General Assembly approved a strongly-worded resolution on Colombia earlier this year. We conclude the year with the good news of the Presbyterians' commitment and firm witness on U.S. policy toward Colombia. The PC-USA calls on its members and congregations to study Colombia's situation, pray for the work of its church there, advocate with U.S. elected officials
    "to lay down the weapons of violence and support the nonviolent struggle of the churches and civil society of Colombia and those in the U.S. who stand beside Colombians to end the violence" The resolution urges advocacy of the following in advocacy with lawmakers:
    "a. Withdrawing military support to the government of Colombia.
    b. Reorienting U.S. policies toward Colombia in such a way as to encourage a more equitable distribution of that country's immense wealth, and to protect the rights of groups threatened by the interests of large corporations, including indigenous people, Afro-Colombians, labor leaders, human rights workers, and many campesinos.
    c. Ending the aerial fumigation for coca crops and focusing on programs that provide higher levels of support for farmers to convert to alternative crops and that reduce demand for drugs in the United States.
    d. Transferring U.S. support to the growing civil society committed to democracy and nonviolence.
    e. Providing aid to strengthen health care, education, and nutrition, especially among the displaced.
    f. Increasing aid for resettlement of displaced persons in their homelands.
    g. Channeling aid through nongovernmental organizations.
    h. Supporting the commendable work of the United Nations in Colombia, especially the work of the high commissioner of refugees with internal refuges, displaced women, and threatened indigenous communities.
    i. Ratifying and urging Colombia to also ratify, the United Nations Convention Against Corruption."
    The General Assembly also called on its global ministry to continue monitoring the situation in Colombia, to keep the church abreast of its finding, and offer advice on how Presbyterians can continue to support peacekeeping efforts. The church's Washington Office was directed to educate Presbyterian Members of Congress about the impacts on Colombians of Plan Colombia and the prospective Free Trade Agreement which "would have grave consequences for workers, indigenous and Afro-Colombian populations, and the environment."
    There will be 43 Presbyterian Members of the incoming Congress, including Frank Wolf, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Operations panel that funds most of Plan Colombia; Lynn Woolsey (CA), co-chair of the Progressive Caucus; and John Spratt, the chair of the powerful House Budget Committee, which writes budgets that show the nation's priorities in drug policy and other areas that affect Colombia
    The resolution also offered support for the Presbyterian Accompaniment Program in Colombia, initiated by the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, in response to requests from Colombian Presbyterians.
    FOR applauds this prophetic statement by the U.S. Presbyterian Church, and we urge other churches and faiths to follow the Presbyterians' example.
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    Colombia: Social Conflict Replaces Warfare
    By Raúl Zibechi, Americas Policy Program, Center for International Policy
    Social conflict has overtaken the center of the political stage, displacing President Álvaro Uribe, who merely repeats the script that brought him so much success in the war: the Indians, sugarcane workers, teachers, government workers, truckers, and anyone else who protests and mobilizes is being manipulated by the FARC guerrillas.
    "If you watch what is happening in Cauca department, you can understand that a new political perspective has substituted social action for armed confrontation," says journalist and sociologist Alfredo Molano. In Cauca, in southwestern Colombia, tens of thousands of Nasa Indians along with other ethnicities have been on a "Minga por la Vida," a collective mobilization in support of life values, since Oct. 12. And an equal number of sugarcane cutters have been on strike for two months. Something is changing in Colombia.
    So far in 2008, the government has hit the FARC rebel forces hard, but political initiative no longer resides in the president's Nariño Palace offices. In the street, ways of doing politics are being reconfigured into mass actions that cannot be denounced as terrorism, as the president and his closest ministers would wish. The temptation to criminalize social protest can lead to a grave failure for Uribe, because people are beginning to overcome their fear, and even the union movement is showing its face.
    Strong denunciations of human rights violations are beginning to appear at the same time. Uribe was forced to retire 27 military officers in a scandal that cost the Army commander, General Mario Montoya, his job. It was proven that military troops kidnapped poor young men from urban peripheries and later counted them as dead "guerrillas" in the mountains. Three thousand members of the military are being investigated by the justice system. In the last televised U.S. presidential debate, Barack Obama told John McCain that as long as trade union members were being murdered in Colombia, the Free Trade Agreement would not be signed.
    Hundreds of Protests
    September and October have been filled with strikes, work stoppages, and demonstrations. Federal Justice Department workers carried out a prolonged strike for better wages and a department budget that would guarantee its autonomy. The government declared a state of "internal disturbance," an outlandish reaction showing the mindset of the government that thinks it sees guerrillas behind every union, every strike, and every protest. Shortly afterward, federal workers in the electoral system, the "Registraduría," followed suit, as later did teachers and truck drivers who had been on strike in August.
    On Sept. 15, 12,000 sugarcane cutters went on strike and occupied eight sugar mills in Cauca Valley. The cutters, almost all of whom are Afro-Colombians, arise at four in the morning, work from 6:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. under a punishing sun, and return home around 8:00 p.m., after making 5,400 slashes with their machetes and inhaling smoke from the burning canes and the herbicide glyphosate used on the plantations.
    They earn about $10 a day and must pay for their own social security, tools, work clothes, and transportation to the cane field. At dusk, long brown silhouettes can be seen along the Pan-American Highway between Cali and Popayán, staggering like zombies after a criminally brutal workday.
    At the beginning of the strike, they described their miserable living and working conditions and won the support of a good part of the population that usually turns its back on demands by Afro-Colombians and indigenous people. The authorities were surprised by the long continuation of a strike they thought would be over in a few days. The demands are simple: the cutters want contracts and wages for days not worked when the mills are shut down and for days when they seek medical treatment, since accidents at work disable 200 workers each year. And they want to eliminate the mobile scales that tip in the owners' favor.
    For the government and the Association of Sugarcane Growers, the main problem is that the strike forced the importation of sugar from Ecuador and Bolivia, paralyzed the production of ethanol, and raised the price of gasoline. In a show of little common sense, the minister of Social Protection told the parliament that the strike was not a social problem but a protest by criminals. Several cane cutters were detained, and it was decided to expel foreign journalists who were covering the strike.
    The labor reforms approved in Colombia in 1990 and, especially, in 2002, completely deregulated the labor market. In 1992, for each temporary job, five permanent ones were created. With the establishment of the Associated Work Cooperatives (CTAs), labor's map was turned on its head: in the first 10 months of 2008, for each permanent job, 10 temporary jobs were created, according to a study by the National University.
    With the CTAs, employers avoid paying fiscal costs and other taxes to the state and enjoy a huge reduction in labor costs. The U.S. Congress questioned the "dumping" of the labor force, among other issues, in order to freeze the signing of the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia.
    The cane cutters redoubled their resistance to the owners, who had to spend 54 days negotiating with delegates from the Sinalcorteros Union. The cutters were unable to eliminate the CTAs or get an agreement on direct contracts, but they won a 12% increase in wages, control over the weighing scales, provision of tools, broader owner coverage of missed work for illness or accidents, and a work day ending at 4:00 p.m. The union came out of this strengthened: it went from 870 to 3,000 members.
    Deterioration in working conditions and the constant increase in the cost of food is at the root of the re-launching of the work protest. That is why Molano, persecuted by a government that forced him into a six-year exile, insists that: "The current protest is the tip of the iceberg of a social movement that can move toward the democratization of the country." The national strike by the CUT union on Oct. 23, the first of its magnitude in years, can be taken as a sign of evolving changes.
    The Great Indigenous "Minga"
    The most important protest, which disturbs the government, began on Oct. 12-the Minga of Indigenous Peoples-a mobilization of collective and community work that seeks to reverse the situation of Colombia's 100 ethnic groups and was called by the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), Cauca Regional Indigenous Council (CRIC), and Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca (ACIN).
    There are five demands: rejection of the Free Trade Agreement with the United States, which they consider an agreement "between owners and against the people"; repeal of the constitutional reforms that subject indigenous peoples to isolation and death; rejection of Plan Colombia, "which infests our lands and sows them with displacement and death"; government fulfillment of its agreements after the 1991 El Nilo massacre-in which 20 Indians were killed from the Nasa tribe, the most mobilized and best organized indigenous group-and that include the transfer of thousands of acres of land promised by the state as compensation.
    The indigenous mobilization began with the blocking of the strategically important Pan-American Highway by some 10,000 people who were brutally attacked by the armed forces, with two dead and some 90 wounded, mostly from gunshots. The communities retreated and occupied other sections of the highway. When the government refused to meet with them, they began a march toward Cali, joined by sugarcane workers and other union groups.
    As on previous occasions, the Indians were catalysts for social action, since their demands are more political than those of other sectors, and they are better able to explain them. They denounced the fact that in the six years of the Uribe administration, 1,243 Indians were murdered from the 100-plus ethnic groups in Colombia, and 54,000 were displaced from their lands. The motto, "We are all cane cutters, we are all Indians," showed a new political and social connection in a country until recently polarized, and paralyzed, by war.
    In Cali more that 20,000 indigenous people waited for Uribe to show up in order to begin a round of conversations, after having walked for a week along the Pan-American Highway. Uribe finally arrived as the Indians, tired of waiting, were leaving. That mis-encounter of Sunday, Oct. 19, was not improved by the Nov. 2 meeting in La María (Piendamó), where thousands of indigenous people have been gathered since Oct. 12 and have formed what they call a Land of Dialogue, Coexistence, and Negotiation.
    After six hours of listening to presidential arrogance and providing data to show the continual violation of human rights in Colombia, the Indigenous and Popular Minga decided to "walk the word," to keep walking in support of life. They actually took the same path as all the indigenous peoples in the continent-after dozens of meetings, they decided to keep moving forward.
    For the full text of this article, go to: http://americas.irc-online.org/am/5725
    Translated for the Americas Policy Program by Maria Roof. Raúl Zibechi is international analyst for Brecha of Montevideo, Uruguay, lecturer and researcher on social movements at the Multiversidad Franciscana de América Latina, and adviser to several social groups. He is a monthly collaborator with the Americas Policy Program (www.americaspolicy.org).
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    Upcoming events
    Security Without Empire: National Organizing Conference on Foreign Military Bases
    "The only truly common elements in the totality of America's foreign bases are imperialism and militarism — an impulse on the part of our elites to dominate other peoples largely because we have the power to do so." — Chalmers Johnson, former CIA Consultant, Prof. Emeritus University of California
    February 27-March 2 at American University, Washington, DC
    This inter-active conference will feature workshops, presentations by international and local activists, planning for action, lobby skills session, a Pentagon vigil and Congressional advocacy.
    For more information and to register, click here.
    Or contact GGold@afsc.org or call 617-661-6130
    Organized by the National Project on U.S. Military Bases, made up of organizers from American Friends Service Committee, American University Department of Anthropology, Code Pink, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, Granny Peace Brigade/No Bases, Institute for Policy Studies, , International Women's Network Against Militarism, Southwest Workers Union, United for Peace & Justice, U.S. Peace Council, Pacific School of Religion/Institute for Leadership Development and Study of Pacific and Asian North American Religion, Veterans For Peace.
    Upcoming Delegations
    March 27-April 6, 2009: Youth Arts and Action Delegation. Builds on the dynamic experience of the first youth arts and action delegation in 2008 and the groups of conscientious objectors in Medellín and Bogotá. This delegation will be the focus of a documentary film produced by two participants. $1000 from Bogotá.
    August 15-29, 2009: Delegation to San José Peace Community, Medellín and Eastern Antioquia. Witness the incredible commitment and experience of the Peace Community of San José and other Colombian grassroots initiatives. $1500 from Bogotá.
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    April 2006 Peace Presence Update

    In this Update:

    State Department Responds to Congress on Peace Community

    Last month, we reported on the letter from 59 congressional representatives to Secretary of State Rice, calling for a cut in military aid until the Colombian government fires commanders in the Army’s 17th Brigade and makes substantial progress in investigating and prosecuting massacre and other crimes against the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó. Many of you contacted your representative to urge him or her to sign the letter, which drew much media attention in Colombia.

    Three weeks later, the State Department replied to the representatives, saying that the Colombian Defense Ministry had ordered a “special program of human rights and international humanitarian law training” for the 17th Brigade. Defense Ministry officials also met with U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights representatives to “plan a joint strategy to manage the situation in San José de Apartadó,” said the letter signed by Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Bergner.

    The letter left a number of questions unanswered. Who is carrying out the “special” training for the 17th Brigade? A key problem has been the military’s failure to distinguish between civilians and insurgents. How does the “special” training address that problem? What does the directive actually say? With no prosecution of perpetrators for more than 160 killings in San José de Apartadó, what is preventing the Colombian Attorney General’s office from advancing in investigations of these crimes? When will the United States hold the military accountable for them?

    Maybe State officials are asking the same questions, since Secretary Rice has not yet certified Colombian compliance with human rights conditions for the release of a portion of military aid for Fiscal Year 2006. To ask these questions of the State Department yourself, contact Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere, Charles Shapiro by fax at 202-647-0791, and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Jonathan Farrar by fax 202-647-5283.

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    Intelligence agency scandal rocks Uribe government

    It’s as if FBI director Robert Mueller were publicly charged by other FBI officers with erasing the criminal investigative files of key members of Al Queda, of getting its sleeper cell members into flight school, and of delivering electoral fraud on behalf of terrorist groups.

    Only a few weeks before the vote for his re-election on May 28, President Álvaro Uribe, Bush’s strongest ally in Latin America, faces a fierce scandal over links between his government and right-wing terrorist groups. The scandal involves collaboration between the Administrative Department of Security (DAS) — the Colombian equivalent to the FBI and Immigration Service — and the paramilitary groups operating in the Colombian Caribbean region.

    The revelations originated in an interview with a former DAS official, Rafael Garcia, published by the widely respected magazine Semana and Herald Tribune. According to Garcia, former DAS chief Jorge Noguera maintained close links with paramilitary capos operating the Caribbean region, including a commander known as Jorge 40. Noguera is accused of giving Jorge 40 a 10% commission of DAS contracts and lending him a bullet-proof SUV equipped with electronics that allowed him to pass through police and military checkpoints.

    Most chilling is the accusation that DAS gave paramilitary groups a list of labor leaders and leftist intellectuals, several of whom were later assassinated by paramilitary squads. Shortly after the killings, families of the victims accused DAS of participation in the murders, calling them state crimes. Garcia himself has been in prison since last summer for erasing the records of criminal investigations into paramilitary terrorists and narco-traffickers.

    Also prominent among the accusations is the charge that DAS facilitated a fraud in the 2002 elections that gave President Uribe 300,000 votes in the Caribbean region and secured the victory of Uribe supporters associated with paramilitaries into the Congress. DAS is also said to have been involved in a plot to assassinate several Venezuelan officials, in an attempt to destabilize the Chavez government. Noguera was Uribe’s campaign manager for the Caribbean province of Magdalena and was later appointed head of DAS.

    Kill the Messenger

    President Uribe reacted angrily to questions by the press regarding the scandal. With a “kill the messenger” approach, Uribe dodged the questions. Instead he irately stated in a radio interview: 'I'm not going to allow to stand accusations that the government assassinated labor leaders or was implicated in a conspiracy against Venezuela.” He added: "This topic is so delicate that the reports gave grounds for rendering the government illegitimate. (—) The harm isn't to Álvaro Uribe. The harm is to the legitimacy of Colombian democracy, to a country that for the first time is beginning to see a bonanza of investment."

    After the initial revelations of DAS infiltration by paramilitaries last year, Uribe appointed Noguera consul in Milan, Italy, instead of initiating a criminal investigation.

    U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Signed
    Grassroots Mobilization Organized to Halt Deal in Congress

    Despite strong opposition by civil society and an injunction by a Colombian court, the United States and Colombia finalized the negotiations of a bilateral Free Trade Agreement in February. Washington reached a similar deal with Peru a few weeks earlier.

    The Colombian government admitted that the agreement will have both losers and winners. Among the losers are most Colombian farmers, who would be forced to compete with highly subsidized U.S. products; protection for labor rights, safety and the environment, which will be subject to deregulation; and lower- and middle-class health care users, who will be affected by higher medication prices.

    Furthermore, the free trade treaty is likely to have a negative impact on the Colombian armed conflict. Significantly privileged under the agreement is Colombian palm oil — the very same crop that is promoting violence and displacement among Afro-Colombian communities in the Chocó region.

    The treaty still faces several hurdles before it enters into force, including congressional approval in both countries and, in Colombia, by the Constitutional Court. Grassroots groups in the United States are organizing efforts to urge Congress to deny approval to treaty.

    For more information on such efforts, go to:
    www.witnessforpeace.org/campaigns
    www.citizen.org/trade/afta www.globalexchange.org/campaigns/afta

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    May 21 and 22: Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia

    People of faith in the United States and Colombia are expressing solidarity with Colombian communities affected by the war through prayer and political action. The day of prayer will take place on Sunday, May 21, when hundreds of congregations across the country are expected to join in remembrance of the victims of the war and rejoice with Colombia’s many and diverse peacemakers.

    On Monday, May 22, people will demand respect for the values of peace, justice and human rights, and that U.S. funds be directed to alleviate poverty in Colombia rather than fueling the war with military aid. In early June, the House of Representatives is expected to consider an amendment to re-direct military aid to Colombia to social programs.

    To join the prayer and action and to get materials, including a list of participating churches, please visit < a href="http://www.peaceincolombia.org>www.peaceincolombia.org.

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    Building Peaceful Resistance to the "Other War":
    A Human Rights Delegation to Colombia — August 6-20, 2006

    As war rages on in Iraq, four decades of conflict between armed actors in Colombia has led to the killing, displacement, and kidnapping of indigenous people, women, union activists, youth, journalists, and human rights workers. Many peace communities in Colombia face violent pressure and displacement from the armed forces and paramilitary and guerilla groups.

    Despite the Colombian government’s ties to the most frequent human rights abusers — paramilitaries — the United States continues to fund the Colombian military and fuel the war. Over $740 million, 80% of it military, is to be delivered in 2006.

    The FOR delegation will meet with Indigenous, Afro-Colombian, youth and women's organizations, Colombian and U.S. government officials and travel to the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó. Delegates will come to have a greater understanding of the peaceful resistance growing in Colombia, the "drug war", and U.S. military intervention. Our permanent and growing accompaniment work allows FOR to assemble a unique and rich delegation experience.

    Thirteen hundred dollars covers all delegation expenses, including translation, qualified FOR delegation leaders, lodging, meals and transportation (including airport pickup). Airfare to and from Bogotá is NOT included. For more information or an application call 415.495.6334 or e-mail: amanda@igc.org Applications and a non-refundable deposit of $200 must be received by June 16.

    Thanks and an Appeal

    Last month we appealed to readers for help with technology, and in response, Mike Domer in Missouri very generously donated two laptop computers for use by the FOR’s human rights observation teams. Thank you, Mike!

    Another way you can directly help the work of human rights observation in Colombia is by donating airline miles. A donation of mileage (35,000 miles) will pay for the cost of transporting an FOR team member to Colombia, and can be tax-deductible for the full listed price of the ticket. All cash contributions are tax-deductible also. If you are interested in contributing airline miles, please contact the TFLAC office at 415-495-6334 or amanda@igc.org.

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    Seeking Colombia team applicants

    The Fellowship of Reconciliation is seeking qualified applicants for its field teams in Bogotá and San José de Apartadó, for openings in 2007. Team members must be committed to nonviolence and the goals of the FOR Colombia program, speak Spanish with fluency, and be prepared to serve for at least one year.

    Team members in San José provide protective accompaniment to community members and document events of the armed conflict. Team members in Bogotá work with other nonviolent initiatives, support the team and community of San José, and organize delegations.

    All applicants must complete a full application, have an interview, and participate in a six-day training in October, 2006, which will be in San Francisco. For information and application, go to www.forusa.org/programs/tflacvolunteers.html or call 415-495-6334.

    Letter from the Field
    “You’re waiting for heat to pierce your skin”

    Arenas Altas is a settlement and ‘Humanitarian Zone’ of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, a district where FOR has a permanent accompaniment team. The team regularly accompanies community leaders as they visit Arenas Altas.

    In November and January, the army killed two residents of Arenas. The following is an account by FOR team members Paul Kozak and Gilberto Villaseñor of events on March 29.

    “When members of the community were caught in the middle of cross-fire in Arenas Altas on March 29 and emerged unharmed,” wrote Peace Community leaders of these events, “it was not thanks to the good will of the armed groups; rather it was thanks to the international presence.”

    We departed with community leaders around 9 a.m. for Arenas Altas, where the leaders were to have a meeting with those from the settlement. When we arrived, half of the people who had shown up for the meeting had left. At first it wasn’t clear why, but then we learned that there was guerrilla and army movement in the area.

    Apparently there were two known guerrilla milicianos — part-time combatants — who had passed through the field and had been confronted by community members and asked to leave. The community members told them that their presence put the community in danger and asked them to go back. The milicianos obliged and turned around, just before we arrived. Thus most of the people from Arenas became petrified and returned to their homes. The settlement has a kiosk — an open structure where civilians can go if there is combat — and we waited there for community members to gather to proceed with the meeting. We learned that only about 10 milicianos remain in the entire district.

    Then we saw a continuous trickle of about 30 army soldiers walking through the soccer field on their way up to the ridge. They had a man and a younger male with a sack over his shoulder in custody — Jesus Guisao and his son Victor, known by everyone as civilians, though they are not members of the Peace Community.

    We were asked to accompany two Peace Community members to go and talk to the army. A woman who belongs to the Peace Community spoke to the soldiers as they passed through a gate, asking them if she could speak with the commander, trying to explain that the men they had detained were civilians and hard workers. One of the soldiers said in passing that they should talk to the National Police. All of the soldiers pretty much ignored her, saying “we’re in a hurry”, “the commander’s up ahead”, until finally one soldier stopped to speak with us.

    He told us that they spotted Jesus running away from the military, so they decided to grab him and his son and take them into the police station in Apartadó for interrogation. The soldier, a young person, said not to worry, that the Army was there to help the civilian population, that they had been taught to do public works.

    The woman from the Peace Community explained that Jesus was a civilian, that someone was trying to make some money off of him by saying he is a miliciano. Her hands trembled ever so slightly as she spoke. We were impressed by the woman’s courage in speaking out, knowing that she may have to deal with these soldiers in the future without the presence of internationals.

    We returned to the kiosk to relay information to the others and make decisions about how to proceed. The plan was to inform the FOR team in Bogotá, the Ombudsman’s office, and the other two Peace Community settlements. (One of the three would have been great. In baseball terms, it would put us in the Hall of Fame.) Pablo accompanied two community members to the top of a cocoa grove beyond the settlement and returned to the settlement. At 1:15 p.m. Pablo and a community member walked to the ridge behind the school to call Bogotá.

    As the phone was dialing, all of a sudden gunfire sounded from directly behind us. Two guerrillas were attacking the army. Pablo and the other community members froze. A few seconds later, responding gunfire by the army came from the other side, with us in the middle. You’re waiting for heat to pierce your skin. We calmly walked a short distance, hoping to avoid a stray bullet. Then the normally poised Pablo (who was as calm, cool, and collected as a quarterback in the pocket) lost his poise and hit the ground, scampering to a patio at a nearby house.

    A community member approached him and said that the best idea would be to join the others. After a few seconds, which seemed like an eternity as the shots continued, the two walked down toward the kiosk in open air in front of it all. They arrived luckily, with chills in their spines and found others huddling behind the bathrooms of the school.

    Meanwhile Gilberto was in the kiosk when he heard and felt the shots being fired. At first he was confused: he had only seen the Army soldiers passing through and they could be seen on the ridge. From where he was standing, it wasn’t clear who was firing at whom, but almost everyone reacted quickly. The pulsating shots kept coming. Gilberto was in front of an elderly woman on the floor, and she stared at him as though she was lost for a minute; it seemed so long. He was trying to get her up and out of the way but she wouldn’t move. Finally another community member came and convinced her to get up, and he sheepishly followed her.

    The exchange of gunfire continued for about 15 minutes. In the meantime it was decided that a white flag would be hung to acknowledge our innocence. Some industrious men put together the flag and we waited. When the firing ceased, soldiers could be seen coming down the hillside to the entrance of the settlement. We waited anxiously together, children clinging to parents, parents grasping onto children, all with anguished expressions.

    Half an hour later, people finally dared to disperse to their homes, as it became apparent that the intense danger of the moment had dissipated. Some people tried to eat lunch. Pablo and a community leader trekked again up the filo to communicate with the outside world. An explosion was heard in the distance followed by gunfire. At 3:00 p.m., a fighter helicopter — apparently a U.S.-made Blackhawk — entered the air overhead, circling just outside of the settlement. People scurried to get a full glimpse as it started to fire down below. It was a surreal view. Most people only see a helicopter like that in action in a movie. Finally at 4:00 p.m., the helicopter left the area.

    We decided, along with community leaders, that the team should split, with Gilberto going back with a community member to FOR’s home base, while Pablo would accompany other leaders back to the community displacement camp, “San Josecito”. One of the groups met up with a resident on the way and discovered an interesting turn of events. During a second combat, an army soldier was shot and killed near the path. There was a pool of blood, gauze, an IV, and a broken mirror. According to someone nearby, the soldier was carried to the house and they tried to revive him there. The troops were quite angry for having lost their compañero. Jesus escaped during the exchange of combat. Instead of continuing to San Josecito and risking an encounter with angry soldiers, the group decided to take the trail back home.

    It was an unbelievable day, one that we are glad to have known, although we hope it is never repeated. When you think the world is going to end today, just think that it is already tomorrow in Australia. That is not the wisest thing ever said, but then again how war makes us all so very unwise.

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    April 2007 Peace Presence Update

  • Uribe accused of links to death squads
  • Massacre investigation reveals paramilitary-military cooperation
  • Youth Network decries forced recruitment
  • Letter from the Field: Buddhist Delegation report
  • News update: Ecuador says no to military exercises, Uribe visits Washington, Congressional hearings on U.S.-Colombia relations
  • Announcements: August delegation, Peace Presence training

    National Groups Call for End to Military Aid to Colombia

    Dozens of organizations released a letter to Congress on May 1 calling for a complete cessation of U.S. military aid to Colombia as that country’s president, Álvaro Uribe, arrived in Washington seeking support for his military and trade programs.

    The letter, signed by more than 40 religious, peace and activist organizations and leaders from throughout the United States, condemns the current U.S. aid policy for failing in its stated aims, reinforcing impunity for human rights violations, and contributing to the displacement of millions of Colombians. Colombia is the largest recipient of U.S. military aid in the world outside the Middle East and Afghanistan. In the light of expanding revelations of Colombian government and army involvement with paramilitary death squads, which are responsible for more than 60% of atrocities committed in the country, the letter calls on Congress to re-cast U.S. policy in Colombia and articulate goals consistent with respect for human rights.

    FOR coordinated the letter. Other signers included United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, School of the Americas Watch, Witness for Peace, the Baptist, Buddhist, Episcopal, Lutheran and Presbyterian Peace Fellowships, Christian Peacemaker Teams, and groups from Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, Los Angeles and Westchester County, NY.

    Military aid to Colombia is supposed to be contingent upon the Colombian army breaking ties with the death squads, but the organizations argue that current “mechanisms for separating the State from illegal paramilitary groups and protecting human and labor rights do not work.”

    Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last month certified that Colombian armed forces had met human rights conditions for the release of military aid. Less than two weeks before, The Los Angeles Times disclosed a CIA report stating that Colombian Army chief General Mario Montoya Uribe had collaborated with paramilitary groups. The leaders’ letter also cited legal charges against Uribe’s ex-chief of intelligence for paramilitary collaboration, Army executions of peasants who were then dressed as guerrillas, torturing of cadets, and Army involvement in domestic bombings as reasons why military aid should be terminated.

    Other prominent organizations, including the AFL-CIO, have also called for terminating U.S. military aid to Colombia. Amnesty International urges “a complete cut off of all US military aid until human rights conditions improve and impunity is tackled.”

    Some Democratic lawmakers also have called for steep cuts in military aid. Rep. James McGovern (D-MA) told National Public Radio, "I don't like this current ratio of 80% military and 20% social and economic investment. I think it should be the other way around.... We need to make it clear that we are not a cheap date."

    Yet turning off the military spigot to Colombia is made even more difficult by the fact that much assistance is hidden in the Pentagon budget — so that not even lawmakers know how much is there. In previous years, between $100 and $200 million of Plan Colombia funds came through the Defense Department, with the remaining $600 million in the Foreign Operations bill (about three quarters of this is military and police assistance). But the amount from the Pentagon for Colombia last year is not even known, and the proposed military budget for Fiscal Year 2008 does not specify how the amount of funds to Colombia. The US Embassy Military Group in Bogota, in response to an inquiry from FOR, stated on April 4 that the budget request was “unknown, as we’re still submitting requirements for ’08.”

    Action: Contact your Representative in Congress, ask for the Foreign Policy aide, and urge that s/he support an end to U.S. aid to the Colombian Army. Let them know that you support the letter from 40 grassroots organizations and leaders who gave the case for ending military aid in their May 1 letter. Ask them to find out how much the Pentagon is requesting in assistance to the Colombian Army, and to get back to you. Please be polite and persistent.
    Congressional Switchboard: 202-224-3121.

    Days of Prayer and Action on Colombia: Get your community or church involved! Join hundreds of churches in Colombia and the United States on May 21 and May 22 to pray and act for a new U.S. policy on Colombia. Click here for information and resources that can be shared with others.

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    Corruption Back on the Farm
    Evidence Disclosed Tying President to Paramilitary Death Squads

    “Paramilitarism in Colombia was founded by some sectors of the State,” opposition Senator Gustavo Petro has argued, and to prove this assertion he held a hearing in Congress on April 17. The nationally televised debate lasted over two hours and focused on President Álvaro Uribe’s tenure as governor of Antioquia (1995-1997), using government records and testimonies to maintain that Uribe had willingly supported right-wing paramilitary groups.

    Under scrutiny was Uribe’s staunch support of now-outlawed civilian militias known as Convivir. Petro indicated that many of the chiefs of such militias had become top paramilitary bosses, including Salvatore Mancuso and Chepe Barrera. According to evidence presented by Petro, Uribe and other officials were aware that some Convivir units were headed by warlords.

    Senator Petro also unveiled President Uribe’s family ties to paramilitary groups. Two of Uribe’s family farms were used as a meeting point to plot killings by a right-wing death squad known as the “Twelve Apostles.” President Uribe’s brother Santiago is alleged to have belonged to the illegal group. Petro showed a picture of Uribe’s brother, posing with renowned drug trafficker and Pablo Escobar’s business partner, Fabio Ochoa. Ochoa is currently serving a 30-year sentence for drug trafficking in a U.S. prison.

    The debate also reviewed paramilitary activity in Urabá, scrutinizing Uribe’s main military advisor, Ret. General Rito Alejo del Río. Del Río was commander of the 17th Brigade during the late 1990s, and has been implicated in collaborating with paramilitaries to murder banana union workers and civilians in the Urabá region, including those of the San José Peace Community. Former Attorney General Luis Camilo Osorio fired the attorneys leading the investigation against del Río, and ordered the case against him closed. Osorio, now serving as Colombia’s Ambassador to Mexico, is currently under criminal investigation by the Colombian legislature.

    Paramilitary Scandal Reaches New International Dimension

    Two days after the hearing, former Vice-President Al Gore shunned Uribe by canceling attendance at an environmental conference in Miami, so as to avoid sharing the stage with the president. In a written statement, Gore called the allegations brought by Senator Petro “deeply troubling” and declared he could not attend the event “until this very serious chapter in history is brought to a close.”

    US Embassy in Bogotá had hit man on its payroll
    On April 24, Petro announced that he had unveiled a plot to kill him, orchestrated by retired Colonel Julián Villate, who previously served as security consultant for the US embassy in Bogotá. Villate has a murky career: before working for the US Embassy, he was involved in Operation Dragon, a scheme for spying on union leaders, human rights workers and politicians in Cali, apparently to later assassinate them. Villate currently works as security officer for Alabama-based Drummond Coal Company, currently being sued in an Alabama court for reportedly paying paramilitary death squads to murder union members at Drummond affiliates.

    Source on Rito Alejo

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    New Evidence in February 2005 Massacre Investigation
    Paramilitary Member Worked with 17th Brigade

    A former member of the paramilitaries confessed to assisting the Army’s 17th Brigade in murdering Alejandro Perez, one of the eight people killed in the February 2005 massacre in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó. On April 25, Adriano José Cano, alias Melaza, formerly with the Banana Paramilitary Bloc, told investigators that the Army gave him a weapon and a uniform to participate in operations, and that in one of them he helped in the killing of Alejandro Perez.

    Cano gave testimony as part of the demobilization process that requires paramilitary members to confess crimes they committed in order to receive a sentence reduction. The prosecutor and Inspector General investigators working on the massacre’s criminal and disciplinary investigations were expected to follow up with more questions.

    Cano’s testimony not only gives further evidence of Army’s responsibility in the massacre, a charge that the Peace Community has made since immediately after it happened. It also underscores the Army’s illegal practice of using non-army personnel (including active and demobilized illegal combatants) in carrying out military operations. While Colombian law allows using these people as informants, acts such as carrying weapons, wearing a uniform and engaging in combat itself are banned.

    Source: El Tiempo, 26 April 2007

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    Forced recruitment: An outrage continues
    Translation of statement from the Medellí Youth Network

    The recruitment procedures that the national army uses are despicable, especially in our particular experiences in different parts of Antioquia state. There the pursuit and recruitment of youth has become a daily occurrence of intimidation and verbal and sometimes even physical violence, which ends with the placement of these youth onto a path to becoming killers.

    As evidence of the cruel recruitment situation in our areas, we describe a case that occurred in the municipality of Cisneros, Antioquia:

    Saturday, April 8, 2007, at six in the morning, Alejandro de Jesus Gonzalez Duque was driving to the city of Medellí when, just outside the city, the vehicle was stopped by soldiers who made him stop the vehicle and asked for his military papers [which show proof of military service]. Alejandro didn’t have his papers because his service requirement had been resolved the December before by an exemption that the military gives for young people who are completing their university studies.

    Alejandro is a youth of 18 in his final year at the Educational Institute Josefina Muñoz Gonzalez and was taking night classes while working during the day.

    He explained his situation to the soldiers, but his arguments were in vain. They took him to a nearby base and he was held under the so-called “call to democratic security,” which requires military service to defend the nation. Alejandro González was deprived of his freedom, and his rights to work and education were violated by the Army.

    It was not until April 12 that he was set free, thanks to the intervention of a petition filed against the brigade on April 11. A complaint was also filed with the Human Rights Ombudsman and the Attorney General’s office on April 10.

    We believe that it is necessary to raise the voice of many young people to express energetically that “Young People Won’t Go To War!” We won’t go; we want to construct a society based on proposals from the community, youth groups, artistic visions, those generating alternatives for life, based on a dream where we can all live in a world without weapons.

    The armed forces and forced recruitment—

    During the first months of this year, in the urban area of Amalfi (county in northeast Antioquia), the Army detained young people who left their villages to visit the town center. They were put on trucks and forced into military service in the Puerto Berrío Brigade, where they were trained to be rural soldiers.

    Since this event, village youths have had to hide on their farms, not going down to the town to shop or sell their goods. They are scared to leave because they don’t want to abandon their families or take up the weapons of any army, even if it’s a legal one.

    In addition to seriously affecting the economic well-being of their families, this situation has significantly affected the freedom of these rural youth: their freedom of movement, the freedom to develop their personality, the security of themselves and their immediate family and, in a very open way, their right to due process in recruitment for olbligatory military service.

    Nonetheless, we remain convinced that war cannot be the only choice that the Colombian State offers to us young people. We therefore insist that conscientious objection to military service, a human right recognized in international legislation and in Article 18 of the Colombian Constitution, must be applied immediately, even if the recruitment is carried out legally, and even if the basis for the young person’s objection is not religious but political, ideological, moral, or philosophical.

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    News Updates

    Ecuador Refuses U.S.-led Military Exercises, Which Are Moved to Colombia
    Ecuador’s ministers of foreign relations and national defense, María Fernandez Espinosa and Lorena Escudero, announced May 3 that the country will no longer participate in military exercises with UNITAS, a yearly set of naval exercises involving the United States, Colombia, Peru and Chile. Ecuador was to be the site of the exercises, according to some groups at Washington’s behest. Instead, the exercises will take place in Colombia, in Málaga Bay.

    Rafael Correa, Ecuador’s president, confirmed the country’s decision to withdraw, stating that Ecuador wants to retain its sovereignty and dignity. Correa also ordered Ecuador’s air force to intercept fumigation planes belonging to the U.S.-based private military contractor Dyncorp, which fumigate along the Colombia-Ecuador border and often pass over into Ecuadorian airspace.

    Ecuador insists that these are military decisions and not political, but they are clear indications that Ecuador does not fully agree with the U.S.-led status quo in Latin America.

    Uribe visits Washington to Shore-Up Support Amid Protests and Skepticism
    Colombian President Álvaro Uribe visited Washington this week in an effort to influence U.S. Congressional members as they make decisions on the pending U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement and funding for U.S. military and anti-drug aid to Colombia.

    While President Bush lauded Uribe as a “friend of the United States,” many legislators expressed skepticism and critics staged protests in the wake of continuing allegations directly linking Uribe and supporters of his government with paramilitary death squads. Protesters staged a die-in, with dozens of people wrapped in white body bags, to symbolize the fate of paramilitary victims.

    More information on the visit is in a story from the Miami Herald. This piece from protest organizers contains links to several related stories.

    U.S. Congressional Hearings on Military Funding to Colombia Tainted by Inaccuracies

    Funding for Plan Colombia, the U.S. legislation that directs U.S. involvement in Colombia’s armed conflict, is up for renewal this year, and on April 24 the House Subcommittee on Western Hemispheric Affairs held the first review hearing.

    Reports and analysis from those who attended the hearings describe testimony that was disheartening at best and shockingly inaccurate at worst. Peace Presence team member Amanda Jack, who attended the hearing, recounts that former House Speaker Dennis Hastert spelled Colombia wrong in his submitted testimony, called the guerrilla group ELN the E-lon, and then referred to some other group called the AUL [he probably meant the paramilitary group AUC], while talking dispassionately about how Colombian drugs were killing U.S. children.

    Statistics were also grossly misrepresented in the hearing. Charles Shapiro, Acting Assistant Secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, testified that both the Colombian government and the country’s leading NGO on labor had reported a reduction in the assassinations of trade unionists in 2006, to 25 and 38, respectively. In fact, as reported by the leading labor and human rights group US LEAP, the Colombian government’s data reports that 60 trade unionists were killed, a 50% increase. The National Labor School, Colombia’s leading NGO on labor issues, actually reports 72 deaths, a much higher number. As Steven Coats, executive director of US LEAP, explains, “the State Department is either deliberately misleading the U.S. Congress or is guilty of gross negligence on an issue that is central to the debate about a free trade agreement with Colombia.”

    Not only have trade union death rates not improved under Uribe, but impunity in all sorts of violence against civilians remains widespread. This is true despite the disinformation used by State Department officials and Uribe himself as they try to influence U.S Congress during Plan Colombia funding decision-making.

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    Members of the Buddhist Delegation Now in Colombia Report on First Few Days

    How much of Colombia can we breathe in in eighteen days? What will we bring back with us in our hearts and minds? How much love and how many tears will we leave behind to enrich the depleting soil growing the African palm for export? How much of our heart will we leave behind?

    The first group we met with was Justapaz, on the morning of April 27. The office was filled with women, and two joined us to share their insight and experience. Justapaz works with the ecclesiastical community. They emphasized a methodology of creating humanitarian programs that arise from the needs of the people, rather than imposing one’s own ideas, a practice that resonates with our intention here in Colombia.

    To work with a foundation of Biblical justification, as Justapaz does, is to speak the language of the people, and root the (sometimes despairing) struggle in a sense of hope and faith.

    On the third day of our delegation we walked up some stairs and entered a small room with pink walls. This was the office of Afrodes, a human rights group that helps displaced Afro-Colombians get back on their feet. They welcomed us, and then began by giving us a condensed version of their people’s struggle starting with the slave trade in the 14th century.

    In the 1500’s many Africans were kidnapped from their homeland and brought to Colombia. Once here they helped fight alongside other Colombians for independence from Spain, because they were promised freedom if they won. However, after Colombia gained independence they broke their promise and massacred all of the African leaders. It wasn’t until 1851 that they were finally set free. Reparations were given to the slaveholders but not to the slaves, as if to say that the Africans have the same worth as property. Most Afro-Colombians then moved to the Pacific and Atlantic coasts to start a new life. At this time that land was worth nothing to the State, but now it’s more valuable and the Afro-Colombians are being displaced. Multinational corporations were interested in the natural resources of their land. So the Army, in conjunction with paramilitaries, came into the area and displaced between 15,000 and 17,000 people. Some Afro-Colombians came to Bogotá and started Afrodes to try to start dialogue between those displaced and the government. The government claimed to take their land because of guerillas living there. The struggle isn’t about guerillas, the Afrodes leaders argued, but about land ownership. Land in Colombia equals power.

    The next step that Afrodes is working on is getting the displaced back to their homes in a safe, effective way. A few Afrodes leaders accompanied us to one of the barrios (poor neighborhoods) where displaced Afro-Colombians now live. As we entered the barrio the street went from pavement to dirt and the houses also deteriorated in quality. We then met with some women crafting hand-made jewelry in an attempt to make a sustainable living. After lunch we took a walk through the barrio. As we walked they explained to us that there is no police presence in the area, so at night it becomes a central area for paramilitaries and drug dealers. Many of the young boys are taken by one of the armed groups and forced to join their ranks. If they flee, their families are killed. What these people need from the international community, especially the U.S., is not military aid, but basic social aid. Electricity, running water, and sustainable amounts of food are things these people struggle to receive on a daily basis. We’ve seen that in Colombia’s past the conflict has not been solved through the use of arms. It must be solved by addressing the root problems of socio-economic injustice.

    On May 1st we accompanied our friends in the Red Juvenil de Medellin (Youth Network of Medellin) in the International Worker’s Day march. As representatives of FOR, we didn’t participate actively in the march but rather walked on the sidewalk to support and accompany our friends. I asked a Colombian Zen friend who had joined us how many people were in the march. He said that the traditional media would probably report 1,000 and the activists might report 100,000.

    The energy was electrifying and many shouts and slogans were heard throughout the widely diverse groups. After a couple hours of marching we saw some rocks being thrown at the police and tear gas was set off. At that point, to be overly cautious, we left the march, took the metro back to the hotel, had lunch, rested, and then processed what we had seen and felt with an internal session of the delegation.

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    Announcements

    • Colombia Team Openings and Training
      The Fellowship of Reconciliation is seeking qualified applicants for its field teams in Bogotá and San José de Apartadó, for openings in late 2007 and 2008. Team members must be committed to nonviolence and the goals of the FOR Colombia program, speak Spanish with fluency, and be prepared to serve for at least one year.

      Team members in San José provide protective accompaniment to community members and document events of the armed conflict. Team members in Bogotá work with other nonviolent initiatives, support the team and community of San José, and organize delegations.

      All applicants must complete a full application, have an interview, and participate in a six-day training from August 28 — September 2, 2007. Click here for information and an application, or call 415-495-6334. Applications are due June 29.

    • August Delegation
      Join us from August 4-18, 2007 as we visit Colombian peace movements, including the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, the Youth Network of Medellin, Antioquia Peasant Association, and more.

      By participating in this trip, you come to have a greater understanding of the peaceful resistance growing in Colombia, the "drug war", and U.S. military intervention. The August delegation will inaugurate new efforts in civilian diplomacy by the Colombia Program, including on-line and teleconference sessions for the month previous to the trip. Our permanent accompaniment work allows FOR to assemble a unique and rich delegation experience. Your chance at meaningful formation awaits you!

      Cost is $1400 from Bogotá.
      For more information/applications, contact: FOR, moira(a)igc.org, 415-495-6334

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  • April 2008 Colombia Peace News

    May 1, 2008
    In this Peace Update:

    No Better Defense than an Offense
    Colombian Government Continues Attacking Human Right Defenders

    A Little Letter Creates a Big Flurry

    Representatives Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) circulated a ”˜Dear Colleague’ letter in response to attacks on labor and human rights activists and statements by presidential advisor José Obdulio Gaviria saying that organizers of the March 6 protests were FARC guerrillas. FOR and others issued action alerts, and nationwide grassroots efforts resulted in 63 members signing the letter which was sent to Colombian President Álvaro Uribe on April 14 to express “grave concern regarding threats and attacks against human rights defenders preceding and following the March 6, 2008 nationwide rally against paramilitary and other forms of violence.” Although no major media in the US gave attention to the Congressional letter, it created quite a media flurry in Colombia, where all the main newspapers, some regional ones and a variety of radio stations covered the letter and responses to it.

    Government spokespeople said that Carolina Barco, Colombia’s Ambassador to the US, would officially respond with a diplomatic letter sometime next week. Uribe himself said “José Obdulio will respond to this little letter (using the Spanish dimunitive cartita) with another letter.” But he was criticized for having minimized the importance of the letter by using such language.

    In response, US Ambassador to Colombia William Brownfield advised that the letter be taken very seriously. “A letter signed by 63 US Congressional representatives is very important. I think we should take it seriously. I take it seriously because it represents the opinion of many of my congressional reps.” Hopefully the letter and the flurry will also lead to real results — and Colombian officials will think twice before making these kinds of accusatory and dangerous remarks about respected human rights defenders.

    Take Positive Action: Members of Congress rarely hear from constituents about things they’ve done right. If your Representative signed the letter to President Uribe, please (a) thank her or him, and (b) urge him/her to actively oppose further US military aid to Colombia. A government whose leadership can’t distinguish between guerrillas and civilians shouldn’t be armed for counterinsurgency with your tax dollars.
    See the list of Representatives who signed the letter and how you can call them here.
    Jesus Caballero is one of the latest trade union leaders to be assassinated in Colombia. A labor unionist with the State Training Institute in the Caribbean town of Sabanalarga, Caballero disappeared on April 16 and his body was found two days later, with signs of torture. He was also one of the organizers of the March 6 international demonstrations against state-sponsored and paramilitary violence and in solidarity with all victims. That made him the sixth person involved in the March 6 mobilization to be murdered. Such frontal targeting of the March 6 organizers has been linked to remarks made by President Álvaro Uribe’s advisor José Obdulio Gaviria in Colombian media that protest organizers were guerrillas. In response to the remarks and subsequent attacks, 63 members of Congress told President Uribe in an April 14 letter, “we respectfully ask that you personally reiterate the prohibition on public servants making disparaging remarks about human right defenders— we urge you to publicly reject Gaviria’s statements and reaffirm your government’s commitment to the protection of human rights defenders.”

    So far, the Congress’ request seems to have fallen in deaf ears. Instead of showing signs of support for labor and human rights work, Uribe’s government went into attack mode. On April 18, as Vice President Francisco Santos was touring the US in a desperate attempt to save the Colombia-US Free Trade Agreement, he complained that the Congressional letter was part of a defamation campaign mounted by human rights organizations and labor to sink the FTA. Vice president Santos went on, “The Congress members are lied to. They don’t know. We are investigating the murders and there will be a response to the letter. [The killings] were not related to the mobilization nor with what they claimed happened. They are using [presidential advisor] José Obdulio’s statements to make a bigger fuss.” His comments were made the same day that Jesús Caballero’s body was found.

    President Uribe himself accused human rights defenders of inciting attacks against his family. His accusations referred to a highly embarrassing episode in which the president’s cousin and close political ally, Mario Uribe, tried to avoid arrest by requesting political asylum at the Costa Rican Embassy in Bogota. Uribe is the most influential politician under criminal investigation for links to right-wing dead squads, in what is known as the “para-politics” scandal.

    Soon after the word got out that Uribe was requesting asylum to avoid arrest, dozens of human rights defenders and members of the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes assembled in front of the Costa Rican Embassy —bringing pictures of well known and less known persons killed by the paramilitaries, a coffin, and even a mariachi band. They demanded that Uribe turn himself in to the Colombian courts and respond to the crimes for which he is being investigated.

    In the end, the Costa Rican government denied Uribe’s asylum request and he was arrested, a victory for all those who seek justice for the atrocities committed by the paramilitaries. Some media falsely reported that protesters had thrown bricks at the car in which Uribe was driven from the embassy. But President Uribe’s claim that he feels threatened by human defenders is as credible as Mario Uribe’s argument of that he is a victim of political persecution under his cousin’s government.

    The role of the powerful playing the victim seems to be a theme for President Uribe’s government. On April 24, Ferney Suaza, a demobilized paramilitary leader, claimed that an international non governmental organization attempted to bribe him — with money and promise of asylum- to incriminate President Uribe of having links to paramilitary armies in the Urabá region. The next day, he said the offer did not from organizations at all. Hopefully, a criminal investigation will determine the accuracy of the Suaza’s accusations.

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    Diego Alexander Pulgarin Ossa
    Objector Freed by Army after more than Three Months

    After being conscripted against my will on January 5, 2008, when I enjoyed my right to freedom of movement and I was in the bus terminal, I was incorporated into the military as a peasant soldier. From that moment on, I said that I didn’t want to belong to the military, with the reason that my first choice is for life, that I choose to reach peace through peaceful means, that I have always believed that weapons, instead of making peace, are simply cause for more war and so more deaths. I declared myself a conscientious objector from the moment I was conscripted, and after stating my position, the army took on macho, vulgar and ignorant positions. They received my arguments with ridicule, psychological mistreatment and sometimes with physical punishment. I was also forced to carry various weapons in preparation for war.

    Faced with military orders, my position always consisted of not following military formalities, of maintaining my civilian condition even when forced to wear camouflage. I always put the gun to the side and didn’t carry it as I was supposed to, the same with the camouflage. In the hallways of the barracks I would read, play guitar; I avoided and did not follow the orders of superiors. In response to this, the soldiers began to see me as a problem because they really couldn’t control me. Sometimes they threatened to put me in the hole or write me up; many times they said it was my problem, why didn’t I want to be in the army, that I would have to stay. They said no one got out of there, that I could rot in the army.

    The support for my position was consistent from different places. One of the main ones was the Medellin Youth Network, which from their support as conscientious objectors sent constant letters, they wrote to me; the legal piece was key, human and moral support. From the beginning in the courts there was a motion presenting the arguments for my freedom, which the army didn’t accept, saying that in the army men ready to act at any moment were needed, and that military service was an obligation to the country. Then there was a court action, which was not ruled on, but which they received and which they also said were not enough for my release. Two weeks ago, there was a peaceful demonstration at the entrance to the Juan del Corral Battalion, asking that I be withdrawn from the military. They were surprised by that, because they said nothing like that had happened before, and they asked me who were those ”˜marijuaneros’ out there.

    During all this time of being conscripted, different military commanders called me to ask who I was and what was happening. They even asked me if I belonged to the FARC or if I had something to do with the Polo [Democratic Pole, Colombia opposition Left party].

    When they released me they didn’t want to say what reasons they had, the only thing they said was that a bad influence had called on me to be taken out, that it wasn’t because I am an objector, since that has no validity in Colombia, nor for the other reasons I gave them, since the constitution requires doing military service, and so there was nothing more. They told me that the card for being a conscientious objector was a piece of paper that could be printed on any computer and had no importance.

    It is important to say thanks to all those people who were following my situation. It is one more demonstration that if we are united in a cause and maintain a firm position with character and reason, we can achieve our objective. To all those people I reiterate my thanks. Really there are many and it would be impossible to name them but I make special mention of the Youth Network with their attorneys, War Resisters International, the Conscientious Objectors Movement of Spain, the National Assembly of Objectors.

    Now I want to continue in the activities I was working on, looking for peace through totally peaceful means, continue my studies, and if possible join the work of the Youth Network to continue in the firm purpose of saying no to war.

    TO OTHER OBJECTORS: My case is a demonstration that objecting in conscience is worth it. The important thing is to maintain a firm condition, with character. We are not covered well in the media, and it is important to make this objection grow in strength and be valued as a choice in the face of war and all kinds of violence.
    April 15, 2008

    To write a letter of support for another Colombian objector — who is still being held by the military — click here.

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    US Support for Colombian Army Units that Committee Extrajudicial Killings:
    A Call to Investigate US Military Policy

    FOR and Amnesty International have produced a report (download it here) on extrajudicial killings committed by Colombian army brigades financed by the United States, product of research by both organizations. The report reviews US law regulating military assistance, includes extensive data on US-trained army units, violations, maps, analyzes the extent of army killings in areas of US-supported brigades, and includes recommendations to US policy makers.

    Executive Summary

    In 1996, in part because of the deplorable human rights record of the Colombian security forces, Congress passed the first version of the Leahy Amendment which currently states that “no assistance shall be furnished . . . to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible evidence that such unit has committed gross violations of human rights”.

    In 2000, when Congress approved the multi-billion dollar assistance package to Colombia known as Plan Colombia, it established human rights conditions that must be certified by the US Secretary of State as being met by the Colombian Government before a certain percentage of military assistance is released.

    Contrary to what one would expect given the tools in place to ensure that the United States is not funding abusive Colombian military units, initial findings from research by Amnesty International and the Fellowship of Reconciliation show that geographic regions with the highest levels of reported extrajudicial executions of civilians by members of the armed forces in 2006 were also largely regions with the most military units receiving US assistance. Between 2000 and 2003 security assistance to Colombia in the Foreign Operations Appropriations Act was about US$1.5 billion. During the four year period between 2004 and 2007, security assistance rose to US$2.5 billion. During the second phase of Plan Colombia and four years into the Secretary’s certification process on Colombia’s human rights progress, extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances by members of the armed forces rose from 218 in 2004-05, to 267 in 2005-06, to 287 in 2006-07.

    Initial findings also show that the US is providing assistance to individuals from military units that have been deemed ineligible for US assistance because of being credibly alleged to have committed gross human rights violations such as massacres, extrajudicial executions and “enforced” disappearances.
    Army Brigade Jurisdictions & level of U.S. support

    click to expand map

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    What? Colombia, a Presidential Campaign Issue?

    Colombia received unusual media attention this month, as the Obama and Clinton presidential campaigns vied to oppose the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia. The Clinton camp got into some trouble, after chief strategist Mark Penn met with his clients in the Colombian government. Penn heads the Burson-Marsteller public relations firm, which has a $300,000 contract with the Uribe government to lobby for the FTA and US military aid. Penn apologized for meeting with his Colombian clients, but Clinton demoted him on April 6, and Colombia cancelled its contract with Burson-Marsteller.

    What They Said about the FTA:

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    Letter from the Field
    The night of FOR and the tatabra—

    By Chris Courtheyn

    Nighttime in La Unión is usually a time of rest, a space of calm after a day spent working in the fields under a grueling sun or powerful rain shower. Certain nights, however, are more full of energy, such as when everyone gathers in the village center for a game of Bingo. Or, when the gringos are cooking meat caught that afternoon—

    The day began as an innocent Sunday of “rest.” For four men in La Unión, their idea of taking a break from working in the fields, as they had done all week, was to go hunting. They invited me to go, and the five of us set out with a pack of dogs. Along the way, we passed a baby banana field (primitivos), so we ate a few and I stuffed some more in my bag for later. Soon we made it to a certain hill, where we began climbing through the thick vegetation in search of tatabra, a kind of mountain pig found in the region. We split into two groups and the dogs were sent out to locate the pigs.

    Then the commotion begins. The dogs start barking when they encounter a wild pig, and the men respond by yelling at the top of their lungs to communicate their location to the others and to the dogs. The hunters remain stationary until it appears the dogs are chasing a tatabra to a specific point. Then we run through the forest to try and meet them. In fact, on one occasion the dogs led a pig directly to us, but it got away!

    After about two hours, during which the other group had killed one pig, we met up and took a rest to eat some bananas. Then all of the sudden, the dogs ran away and started barking intensely, so we followed them running through the bush. I lagged behind, as I got my feet caught in vines and scraped my neck on a thorny branch— Soon enough, we all made it to the site: a huge tree that had fallen and created a sort of cave within its trunk. A tatabra was inside, encircled by barking dogs and hungry hunters. Once it was killed and removed from the tree, the men cut down a long and thin tree trunk and tied the three-foot long tatabras to it in the middle, one man on each side. It was so heavy! I only carried it for about 15 minutes, but even that wore me out and I arrived our house covered in sweat.

    News passes quickly in a small village, so people immediately started coming by to ask about the hunt and hear my version of events. Since I had “participated” in the hunt (ok, so I really just yelled a few times and followed them around the mountain—), I was told to go pick up my share of the meat. They had prepared the meat by cleaning it, cutting it into pieces, and seasoning it with lime and garlic. I brought back our portion, and since my teammate and I were planning to go to town the next day and there is no refrigeration, it was time to cook and eat!

    Two big tatabras caught in one day is a definite success; often the hunters come back empty-handed. Additionally, it’s rare to see meat being cooked in the FOR house. Consequently, our kitchen became quite a spectacle: full of adults and children watching me cook and waiting for a piece of meat. One of my good friends helped me cut up the meat into small pieces and deep fry it. I added some curry powder and cumin to give it a little more gringo taste (ie, unusual to the locals!). As pieces finished cooking, we handed them out to all those present.

    In the hills and mountains of San José de Apartadó, one is in constant contact with life and death. In this case, the death of an innocent wild mountain pig, which then transformed itself into celebration and nourishment. An afternoon spent running around the mountain in small groups became a beautiful night of community in La Unión. And that lean tatabra meat tasted darn good—..

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    Upcoming Events, Delegations and Trainings:

    Nonviolent Resistance In Action: Human Rights Protection in War-torn Colombia

    Monday, May 12, 7pm @ Make-Out Room, 3225 22nd St (at Mission), San Francisco

    Featuring:

    • The film "Hasta La Ultima Piedra" about the Peace Community San Jose de Apartado
    • Discussion, Food & Drink

    Celebrate and support Moira Birss as she prepares to spend a year in Colombia providing human rights accompaniment to the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó. For more info: 734.834.2356 moira@igc.org

    Creative Resistance: Our Dreams Will Not be Recruited!

    Friday, May 23 @ 6:30-9pm
    Eastside Cultural Center, 2277 International Blvd., Oakland
    $8-20 donation requested (free for youth)

    Enjoy an energizing evening of spoken word, dance, music and community building where we will:

    • Experience awesome youth performances
    • Kick off the BAY-Peace Youth Manifesto Campaign against military recruiting in our schools
    • Participate in an interactive youth report-back from the FOR Arts and Action Delegation to Colombia
    • Silkscreen T-shirts—Bring your own shirt to silk screen or buy one at the event

    Co-Sponsored by FOR, Not Your Soldier, BAY-Peace: Better Alternatives for Youth. For more info: baypeace@baypeace.org, 510-809-7416

    Building Justice Across Borders:
    Community Nonviolent Resistance to Impunity in Colombia

    A Delegation August 2-16, 2008

    • Travel to the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó
    • Meet with people whose family members have been killed by the US-funded Colombian army and are non-violently working for justice for these crimes.
    • Meet grassroots activists who courageously and creatively advocate for truth, justice and integral reparations.
    • Experience unparalleled access to understand both impunity and advances to justice for a massacre in San José that shocked the international community.
    • Understand the U.S. media blanket on Colombia and get a glimpse of the side of Colombian life that rarely arrives to the U.S.

    Cost from Bogotá: $1500

    Contact Liza at 510-763-1403 or liza@igc.org to register by June 20.

    Be a Nonviolent Rock Star in Colombia—

    —We’re not looking for the next Shakira, but we are looking for folks to put their nonviolent training and beliefs into action! We’re seeking:

    Human Rights Accompaniment Volunteers to work with Colombian Peace Community and Other Partner Organizations

    Upcoming Training: July 29 — Aug. 3, 2008 in Nyack, New York

    The Colombia Peace Presence is an accompaniment project that started in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, one of several rural communities in Colombia that has taken an extraordinary stand against war by refusing to support any armed group. We also have a team in Bogota to support other Colombian peace initiatives. FOR seeks committed and skilled volunteers, with sound judgment and proficient in Spanish. Training participants must complete an application for service by June 30 and qualified applicants will be invited to the training. The training is free but applicants are required to pay their way to Nyack, NY.

    For more information and to apply, please go to: www.forusa.org or contact us at: 510.7631403, email: susana@forpeace.net
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    August 2006 Colombia Peace Presence Update

    In this Update:

    Wide Mobilization in Favor of Keeping U.N. Human Rights Representative in Colombia

    Since 1996, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) has maintained a representative in Colombia to monitor the human rights situation there. The representative, among other things, issues periodic written reports and recommendations to the Colombian government aimed at improving the overall observance of human rights in the country.

    It doesn’t come as surprise, given the high toll that the ongoing armed conflict is having on civilians, that the UNHCHR reports have been controversial. Last spring, in its annual report, the UNHCHR documented serious violations to international humanitarian law, including summary executions and indiscriminate attacks on civilians by the Colombian armed forces.

    The agreement that lead to the presence of the UNHCHR representative is set to expire in October. Vice President Francisco Santos, has indicated the Colombian government’s intention to severely limit the role of the UNHCHR office in Colombia so that, in Santos’s words, “it becomes a more useful and less polarized” entity. Such a change of terms would constitute a serious setback for the human rights situation in Colombia.

    To avoid such a setback, U.S. grassroots organizations have undertaken a mobilization effort that resulted in a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signed by 78 members of Congress — including several Republicans — expressing support for the UNHCHR office in Colombia and for the renewal of its existing mandate. The European Union Presidency issued a similar statement on June 26.

    To learn more, go to:

    http://www.lawg.org/countries/colombia/alert_un_mandate.htm
    http://www.actualidadcolombiana.org/archivo.shtml?x=1416
    http://www.delcol.cec.eu.int/es/novedades/boletin_370.htm

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    U.N. Highlights Model Projects for Building Peace in Colombia

    On July 26 and 27, the Caribbean town of Carmen de Bolívar, in the Montes the María region, witnessed the first regional gathering of mainly grassroots and community-based “model projects” for building peace and mitigating the impacts of the war in Colombia. It was an opportunity to exchange experiences, build linkages, and strengthen and inspire one another in nonviolent ways to address the war.

    The anti-recruitment program of the Medellí Youth Network (Red Juvenil), the Mothers of La Candelaria, and the Reconciliation Project of AMOR (Women’s Association of Eastern Antioquia) are among the 250 best practices compiled by the United Nations Development Program. FOR works with each of these three groups.

    A second regional gathering, organized by the United Nations Development Program, is scheduled for the Valle region in southern Colombia on August 10 and 11.

    For more information (in Spanish) see:

    www.saliendodelcallejon.pnud.org.co

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    Objector's Declaration

    The Medellí Youth Network (Red Juvenil) organized the International Gathering of Solidarity with Conscientious Objection in Colombia on July 18-19 in Bogotá. The Red points out that even though the Colombian Constitution guarantees that “no one will be obliged to act against their conscience,” the same Constitution requires Colombians to take up arms when public needs demand it.

    The Red Juvenil has also promoted conscientious objection to military taxes, with an analysis of the country’s huge investment in war machinery. In the weeks leading up to the international gathering, the Red published the personal statements of several Colombian conscientious objectors. (see http://www2.redjuvenil.org/content/blogcategory/8/8/) Here is one of them:

    OBJECTOR’S DECLARATION

    “War is a massacre between people who do not know each other but kill each other, for the benefit of people who do know each other, but don’t kill each other.”

    By Mauricio Montoya, translated by John Lindsay-Poland

    A long time ago I declared myself a conscientious objector, but now that I am of age I reaffirm my position. NO ARMY DEFENDS PEACE.

    Since I was a kid I never liked playing cops and robbers, gunmen [pistoleros] and all the other games that reflected the crude reality of war, since I refused to live out the armed conflict waged in my neighborhood. At that point the only game that possible for me and my family was to be under the bed or on the floor, hiding so no shot from a gun could pierce us in the forehead.

    To hear the shouts of the armed groups, “sons of bitches get down so you know what’s good for you,” “if we get in we’ll wipe out even your bitch mothers”— and the “bitch” mothers praying and lighting candles so that their children would return safe and sound after the being away for the night. [ “pernota”].

    With my little friends, I also played the guessing game, “who will have been the chulo today?" (a chulo is a dead person), we asked. And tomorrow, who is dead now? Maybe we guessed right, but sometimes not, because we never even thought that, one day, one of us would be the chulo.

    Even now I remember him — my friend Meme. They killed him in broad daylight, in front of me, in front of others. I don’t blame those who killed him, because they were also my friends, friends who had no chance to get ahead. They had no more to eat than what their mothers could get, whether by selling candy or selling their own bodies. Friends who decided to sell to the highest bidder — not the best, because the only thing they could guarantee was death. Never did that bidder have to stay out for the night. Never did that bidder have to risk his life. Never did he have to see a family member dead from combat of the day before.

    In this society there are many "bidders," whose interest is that we kill each other. That we be their toys, but they’re never interested in what we think, in what we want to build — our freedom.

    What I never forgave or will forgive is that my friends forgot that we were all friends.

    Sometimes I also played the guilty one, late at night or maybe at dawn. We felt the passage of military boots. And we knew they were military because people in the neighborhood didn’t have boots.

    We heard the loud knocks on our doors. The shouts, “open the door it’s the army,” “we’re going to search the house.” The rest of the family and I had to leave the warmth of our beds, as they insulted and threatened us.

    The soldiers checked if we had weapons or drugs under our mattresses. Why did they search, we asked ourselves, if they know all the dark places where drugs are sold spots in the neighborhood? If the army is supposed to be defending us, why don’t they intervene to stop the daily killings of people in the neighborhood. Later I understood why — I understood that the guerrillas [milicianos], the paramilitaries, and the soldiers are the same, but with different clothes.

    These events and many others that I can’t describe on paper made me think: what of my future? I had already decided to not take part in the war of this neighborhood, nor take part in the war of any other neighborhood or society. But I worried even more, when I remembered that according to the unjust laws of this society, I would have to pick up a weapon when I came of age and be a direct protagonist in the war.

    At that point I found a political strategy for non-cooperation with the armed structures, non-cooperation with a state based on militaristic logic. And at that moment I joined that way, which is the Youth Network (Red Juvenil).

    Today as an adult and thanks to the Red Juvenil I have no fear of saying: I am not a toy of war! And I reaffirm my conscientious objection, based on a political conviction, staying firm in refusing to join the military ranks of this society. Because there it’s authoritarian, blind obedience, machismo, repression, inequality, denying the possibility of freedom and of thinking as autonomous being. There you can only be a marionette.

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    Letter from the Field:
    "A Simple Response"

    By Aimee Krouskop

    The last week of June I spent with members of a powerful project that supports threatened campesinos in central Colombia. I was one of two accompaniers traveling with a team of the Asociación Campesino Antioquia (ACA) that is helping the remaining residents of the San Francisco area stay on their land. By our second day, it became clear that the challenges residents there face, represent a variety of the human rights concerns of Colombia today.

    Forced displacement

    We arrived to the town of San Francisco during its “Festival del Bosque y el Retorno” — a time designated for the displaced residents of the area to return to their former land for the weekend. The mass displacements began 5 years ago. In 2003, there were 10,000 inhabitants in the region. By 2005, nearly half had fled. Each year they come from all over the country for this celebration — from the severely violent Chocó, from Bogotá, Medellí, and further north near Panama. So many former residents arrived this year that accommodations were scarce and families slept in their cars. The jubilation of the event was impressive, but I found the event so eerie. I could sense the intense attachment these travelers felt to their former land, but they had come to celebrate where they no longer had a home. It’s that they have assumed the surrender of their land to such a degree that they have ritualized its loss in this yearly festival.

    Fumigations

    In one village, we were hosted by the community leader and his new family. He spoke about the challenges that members of this mountainous region have faced in the past five years. His 18-month-old daughter played with corn kernels at his feet, chickens wandered into the house, and in the background stood several dead trees: "In 2003, the first time the fumigations came it was very bad. We got skin lesions, our eyes burned, animals got very sick; trees died,” he explained. He described how the aerial spraying planes drop chemicals from such a high altitude that they rarely reach their target. The residents in this region live scattered along a valley and the wind catches the fumigation spray, carrying it directly to subsistence crops, trees and homes. Additionally, the land throughout this area has lost its fertility due to chemical seepage. "It’s not that people near here prefer to grow coca," he said. "It’s that the state does not offer an alternative." The leader has tried to contact the local state entities and the local head of counter-narcotics, to relay the concerns, but has had no luck. They are very worried, because they know that the fumigations could come again at any time.

    Anti-personal mines; Guerrilla presence

    I had a long chat with a man working with UNICEF on mine accident prevention for the area. He told me that the previous week a 19-year-old man — a civilian, was the last to fall victim to the mines scattered throughout the region. He survived, but has lost a foot. The UNICEF worker explained that mines are placed underneath enticing trees offering shade or full of fruit, on shortcuts, in abandoned buildings, or near power towers. He is working diligently to prevent injuries, and inform victims of their rights to treatment and prosthetics.

    While the military use anti-personal mines as well, the majority are placed in this region by the FARC. A town official showed us copies of flyers that the FARC distributed throughout the region. The most recent one referred to the last presidential elections, and explained that it was better that civilians not vote at all, and therefore they were going to close the roads on voting day to prevent any travel.

    Military and police presence; Disappearances

    The military and police presence in San Francisco is intense. There are always several police stationed in the center of town, watching all who enter and leave. Men on motorcycles followed us each time we entered and left the town center, and our first night we were intently observed by military personnel. I was told that this monitoring is aided by “reinsertados” — former members of the local paramilitary force, now ‘technically’ disbanded but evidently still active. I learned that the head of the local paramilitary is from the region, therefore asserting a continued, powerful presence and organization.

    We also spoke to a local official who was very concerned about disappearances in the region. The official explained that in order to fulfill a quota of capturing a certain number of FARC members, the military is killing young men from the area, taking them to other regions where they cannot be identified and posing them as guerrilla. The official cited 11 of such disappearances in 2005.

    All these challenges create a great risk of displacement for the communities around San Francisco. In response, ACA’s strategy is to support the campesinos who choose to stay, by improving their agricultural self-sufficiency. Their work is based on the understanding that the cultivation of one’s own food is a human right and they provide community workshops to help protect that right. Simultaneously they offer an alternative to the coca production that is prevalent in the area and are reconstructing the collective memory of ancient permaculture methods lost during the tumult of the war.

    I watched as families gathered from nearby villages — with vigor and excitement. They were met by the grace and humor of the alternative extension agent I was accompanying — as he captivated us all, and helped turn the motivation of the groups into action. The main workshop was on the construction of the agro-nivel — an ancient tool made of three poles, string, and a rock that gages the level of the land in order to design terraces for planting. In half a day, a forgotten hillside was transformed into a cultivable space for subsistence crops that could support 30 families. Workshops also included training on re-fertilization of the soil, ancient uses of herbs and roots — such as how lemongrass can aid the common respiratory problems of their hens, and how they can make their own fencing.

    So my week was spent in both these worlds. Hearing of the horrors and tragedies, then standing in the soil, enjoying the privilege of witnessing such an inspiring response. I was struck by the contrast. Between the sadly intricate and destructive systems of this war — and the joyous simple brilliance of what a community working together can create— and obtain from the earth.

    Join our Team in Colombia. Deadline for Applying: August 31st

    The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) is seeking volunteers for its human rights team in Colombia, for service in 2007.

    The Colombia Peace Presence is an accompaniment project that started in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, one of several rural communities in Colombia that has taken an extraordinary stand against war by refusing to support any armed group.

    In January 2005, FOR opened a sub-team in Bogotá to support this accompaniment and to highlight other Colombian grassroots peace initiatives in order to show positive alternatives that are being built all over the country by people affected by the armed conflict. The current volunteer team has four members who serve for at least 12 months. The San José team shares the lives of peasant farmers striving for a life in peace and dignity, while Bogotá team members visit and report about other Colombian peace communities and efforts. FOR seeks committed and skilled volunteers, with sound judgment and proficiency in Spanish.

    Training participants must complete an application for service and qualified applicants will be invited to a training that will take place in San Francisco, California, from October 12-16, 2006. The training is free but applicants are required to pay their way to San Francisco. Application deadline is August 31st.

    For more information and to apply, please go to http://forusa.org/content/apply-be-part-colombia-peace-presence OR contact us at: spimiento@forusa.org.

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    August 2007 Peace Presence Update

    August 23, 2007
    In this Update:

    School of Americas Instructors Served in Colombian Mafia

    By John Lindsay-Poland

    The Colombian Army’s Third Brigade, based in Cali, was deeply penetrated by drug trafficking mafia, according to a recent criminal investigation. “What the prosecutors’ investigation has shown as it progresses,” reported Semana magazine, “is that ‘Don Diego’ [a drug mafia kingpin] didn’t just buy these officers in exchange for one-time favors, but that many of them belonged to his organization. They were part of the mafia and put their jobs in the Army at its service.” Brigade commander Leonardo Gómez Vergara resigned August 16 as a result of the investigation, and a dozen other officers have been arrested or are under investigation.

    Colonel Álvaro Quijano — who served as an instructor at U.S. Army School of the Americas — was arrested on August 15, while the former chief of the brigade’s operations, Lt. Colonel Javier Escobar Martíez, has also been arrested and accused of mobilizing army units to protect the drug trafficker. Javier Rico Escobar graduated from the SOA in 2003, having studied “counter-drug operations” there. Quijano, former commander of Colombia’s Special Forces en Valle Department, and another accused officer, Major Wilmer Mora Daza, taught “peacekeeping operations” and “democratic sustainment” at SOA in 2003.

    The Valle army ‘special forces’ provided security to the capo, according to the daily El Tiempo, but also guarded drug shipments that left Colombia via the Pacific Ocean from Chocó in the north to Nariño near the Ecuador border. U.S. military officials have claimed that a reason a U.S. military base is needed in Manta, Ecuador is to intercept increased drug trafficking in the eastern Pacific.

    The commander of the Army’s Third Division (General Hernando Pérez Molina, another SOA grad), to which the Third Brigade belongs, was relieved of his post. The Third Division’s command staff had been vetted to receive U.S. military assistance as of July 2006, according to the State Department.

    Last year, Colombian army officers from the Third Brigade ambushed an elite, U.S.-trained anti-drug squad in the Valle town of Jamundí, killing ten policemen. The leader of the attack, Colonel Bayron Carvajal, now under arrest, was also a graduate of the SOA.

    The Third Brigade’s collaboration with the mafia is apparently no isolated case. Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos admitted that more than 150 military officers have been suspended in the last year, accused of collaborating with drug traffickers. Among them was the Colombian Navy’s Rear Admiral Gabriel Arango Bacci, who is suspended and under investigation for helping drug traffickers to evade naval patrols by Colombian and U.S. ships in the Caribbean. Criminal investigators saw a red flag when last year traffickers were found with naval documents showing the locations and operations of Colombian and U.S. ships in the area. The evidence against Arango includes receipts from traffickers for $500,000, with his verified fingerprint and signature. Arango was commander of the San Andrés and Providencia Islands naval area; his unit was vetted to receive U.S. military assistance.

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    Reducing Aerial Fumigation in the Drug War

    Source: Miami Herald, July 30, 2007

    Colombia announced in July it will favor manual eradication of coca crops over the current system that focuses heavily on aerial fumigation. The spray program has been the source of endless legal, social and diplomatic conflicts because of the controversy over the health and environmental effects of the chemicals. The latest estimates of coca acreage — showing little drop — have fueled doubts on the effectiveness of the spray program. And the new Democratic majority in the U.S. Congress is viewed as less friendly toward spraying.

    “Instead of uniting Colombians around the idea of eradicating drugs, [aerial spraying] causes complaints and provokes reactions against eradication,” President Álvaro Uribe said in a July 20 speech in which he announced the shift. He said spraying would remain only a “marginal” part of the counter-drug strategy.

    Many longtime critics of the fumigation policy applauded the decision, including the government in neighboring Ecuador, for whom aerial spraying along the border had become a major diplomatic issue with Colombia.

    Coca growers often replant crops damaged by aerial fumigations, and plants often grow back stronger after fumigation. They also have learned to coat leaves with a sugary substance to protect them against the herbicide glyphosate. Manual eradicators do a more thorough job by chopping off bigger plants, uprooting smaller ones and destroying plant nurseries that otherwise quickly would replace plants killed by the aerial spraying.

    The U.S. government has limited its contributions to previous manual eradication efforts in Colombia, supplying only logistical support for the programs such as aircraft fuel. But Colombian, U.S. State Department and U.S. congressional officials are looking into a major overhaul of Plan Colombia rules that would allow more U.S. assistance for manual eradication efforts, several persons familiar with the conversations say.

    The Senate version of the Foreign Appropriations bill earmarks $10 million of the military aid specifically for operations to provide security for manual eradication, and stipulates that funds for aerial fumigation could only be used in specific areas where the State Department has certified that manual eradication is not feasible.

    This year, Defense Minister Santos said, the government expects to manually eradicate 173,000 acres, and spray 321,000. But Victoria Restrepo, head of the government’s manual eradication program, said she cringes every time she hears Santos announce the target. She told The Miami Herald that with the resources she now has, she barely will make her agency’s original target for the year of 123,500 acres. So far this year, eradicators have cleared just under 60,000 acres.

    Analysts warn, however, that any eradication efforts not accompanied by comprehensive efforts to give farmers a legal alternative to coca growing are doomed to fail. “The farmers have to be taken into account. Otherwise, they will just wait for the eradicators to leave, and they will replant,” said Astrid Puente of the environmental group AIDA, which monitors fumigation in Colombia.

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    The Truth about Triple-A

    Michael Evans, Director, National Security Archives Colombia Documentation Project
    [Published in Spanish at Semana.com, July 1, 2007]

    Colombia's rapidly unfolding 'para-politics' scandal has renewed focus on official links to the country's illegal right-wing terror groups, especially among the armed forces. The flood of recent revelations, stemming in part from the government's paramilitary demobilization program, has also gravely impacted relations with Washington, holding up a trade agreement and jeopardizing millions in U.S. assistance.

    Now, a 1979 diplomatic report from the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá raises additional questions about the paramilitary ties of embattled Colombian army commander Gen. Mario Montoya Uribe. Montoya came under scrutiny in March after the Los Angeles Times published information from a classified CIA report linking him to a paramilitary group in 2002.

    The 1979 Embassy cable, released as the result of a Freedom of Information Act request by the National Security Archive, reveals that a Colombian army intelligence battalion linked to Montoya secretly created and staffed a clandestine terror unit in 1978-79 under the guise of the American Anti-communist Alliance (AAA or Triple-A). The group was responsible for a number of bombings, kidnappings and assassinations against leftist targets during that period.

    The formerly 'Secret' cable, a review of Colombia's human rights record from U.S. Ambassador Diego Asencio, is also the first declassified evidence that a top Colombian military official directly authorized a paramilitary terror operation.

    According to the report, then-army commander Gen. Jorge Robledo Pulido approved the plan by the 'Charry Solano' Intelligence and Counterintelligence Battalion (BINCI) "to create the impression that the American Anti-communist Alliance has established itself in Colombia and is preparing to take violent action against local communists."

    Previously declassified U.S. intelligence reports have revealed that Colombian officers often turned a blind eye to the rightist militias, which are blamed for a large number of massacres and forced displacements in Colombia over the last decade. The Colombian government has long denied official links to paramilitaries, explaining that instances of direct collaboration were isolated and not the result of an explicit strategy. The country's largest paramilitary umbrella organization, the United Self-defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), was added to the State Department's list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations in 2001.

    The Asencio cable confirms that Gen. Robledo was more than simply acquiescent to paramilitarism and actively promoted the military's direct involvement in rightist terror operations even as the modern paramilitary movement was still taking shape. The document also suggests that many of the young officers involved in those operations like Montoya have risen to influential positions in the Colombian armed forces at a time when the institution is supposedly severing ties with paramilitary groups.

    Gen. Montoya, now a top military adviser to President Álvaro Uribe, was assigned to BINCI at the time of the Triple-A operation, according to five former members of the battalion who in 1980 detailed the unit's terror operations in the pages of the Mexican newspaper El Día. The officers named then-Lt. Mario Montoya as the mastermind behind the bombing of the Communist Party newspaper Voz Proletaria.

    The U.S. has examined Gen. Montoya's alleged ties toTriple-A on several occasions as part of a human rights vetting process for recipients of U.S military assistance. In each case, the U.S. found no evidence to support the charges and dismissed them as leftist slander.

    Allegations of paramilitary collusion have dogged Montoya throughout his career. The discovery of a mass grave in the southern department of Putumayo in March 2007 has raised questions about Gen. Montoya's actions as commander of Joint Task Force South, the US-funded unit charged with coordinating counternarcotics and counterguerrilla operations in that region from 1999-2001. Investigators estimate that the more than 100 victims of paramilitary violence found in the grave were killed over the same two-year period that Montoya led the Task Force.

    Click here for the rest of Michael Evans’ article on General Montoya and links to the declassified documents.

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    Quote of the Month:

    “Legal sources on both sides say there was a genuine debate within the [U.S.] Justice Department about the seriousness of the crime of paying AUC. For some high-level administration officials, Chiquita's payments were not aiding an obvious terrorism threat such as al-Qaeda; instead, the cash was going to a violent South American group helping a major U.S. company maintain a stabilizing presence in Colombia.”

    - In Terrorism-Law Case, Chiquita Points to U.S., Washington Post August 2, 2007

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    Emergency Delegation to Respond to Bogotá Robberies
    September 17-25

    Witness for Peace and Justapaz are organizing an emergency delegation to Colombia in response to the burglaries of Justapaz, FOR, Corporación Yira Castro and other groups. We invite you to participate in this delegation that will enable you to stand in solidarity and meet with courageous with human rights defenders, churches leaders and NGOs in Colombia. Hear their stories and experience first-hand the important peace work that is being constructed in Colombia. International support is vital to the protection of these NGOs and an effective means to call for action in response to these violations.

    Cost: The price of the 9-day delegation is $960. The delegation fee covers all reading materials, set-up, preparation, meals, lodging, and interpretation. The delegation fee does not include airfare to or within Colombia. For more information and to register for this delegation, contact Ken Crowley at: 202-547-6112 or ken@witnessforpeace.org

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    FOR Presents:
    Grassroots Civilian Diplomacy: Activists in the Halls of Power

    A Two-day Training on Advocacy for Demilitarization

    WHEN: Sunday-Monday November 4-5, 2007
    (Sunday 1 pm — Monday 3:30 pm)
    WHERE: Washington, DC

    Being able to advocate for a society that uses nonviolent means to achieve its goals is part of the community-based power that will help us bring about the world we seek. FOR is working to demilitarize US policy towards Colombia, the Middle East and among US youth and schools. To walk in this path we invite you to join us with your energy and ideas. In this hands-on training, FOR brings together experienced advocates, issue experts and people like you to learn more, act strongly and create a peaceful and just future for everyone.

    Participants in the training will develop public advocacy skills through practice and through actual visits with public officials. The group will explore ways to:

    • Impact policy through visiting members of Congress (of your area)
    • Organize and build community through strategic policy change
    • Work in teams across faiths, generations, and cultures

    We encourage you to participate in this training with a partner from your local community or group, to strengthen relationships and support each other in using these skills on your return home. Let us know if you would like support in finding a partner from your area!

    Please register by October 15, 2007
    Registration cost: $25 — $75 sliding scale
    To register, contact: Sharon Martin, smartin@forusa.org

    Housing: Participants who are able to should make their own housing arrangements. Contact us for a list of suggested affordable lodging.

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    Letter from the Field:
    Independence Day Event Uses a New Strategy

    By Camila Nieves

    Aren’t independence and freedom supposed to be synonymous? If we assume that this is the case, then according to the Medellí Youth Network — the Red Juvenil — there is no reason to celebrate Independence Day in Colombia, since freedom is one of those luxuries that most Colombians have not yet been allowed to enjoy. This July 20, Colombia’s Independence Day, Medellí youth took to the streets accompanied by various national and international social organizations to tell the state that, until there is an end to the violence of a half-century-long conflict, until there is an end to obligatory military recruitment of youth, until there is an end to massive displacement, there will be no reason to celebrate independence.

    Every year the Red Juvenil organizes an anti-independence day action, but this year the event was organized with a bit of a twist, different from that of your traditional political action. Some might have observed that the main difference this year was the appearance of the march. The theme was of a loud boisterous carnival, of laughter and music, of dancing and acrobats. But the real difference was not in the change of costume, or the chirimia band playing the whole way through. It was a change of feeling, a difference of emotion, a change of strategy for this youth resistance movement. They wanted to see if a tactic different from the traditional angry protesters yelling in the streets would help them achieve their goal of raising awareness in the community. This year they decided to confront the anger and repression of the state with love and laughter.

    This was not simply a change in strategy for the Red Juvenil but it marked a change in consciousness of these young people. They spent months preparing for the event with trainings for youth in the barrios of Medellí, critically analyzing the concept of enemies that had been so accepted before. No longer did they want to confront as enemies these young officers who at one point or another had been forced to serve the armed forces. They journeyed through a long process of understanding the way in which this war has used poor Colombian men and women to fight against fellow oppressed brothers and sisters.

    The Red had always known this, and it has been a central part of their discourse. But now it was about putting it into practice. How could they make their political message clear and yet not alienate many of the people that they wanted to reach? How could they change their image of angry youth rioters so that common people would feel a level of trust and desire to listen to them? They found that way through a cultural expression of resistance, using traditional music and dance to win over the hearts and ears of a community.

    In the end, their mission was successful. During a two-hour-long march through the streets of central Medellí, dozens of passers-by joined them, including private school girls, mothers and interested onlookers. They invaded busses that where forced to stand still because of the protest and filled them with loud music and colorful dance while the entire bus read their pamphlets which were entitled “What Independence? Free your Consciousness.” They danced around highly decorated officers as they tied balloons and streamers to their motorbikes, and even to their rifles.

    The people danced to traditional coastal Colombian music with political slogans as the choruses. “What independence if there is forced recruitment? What independence if even the water is a business? What independence if there is so much unemployment? What independence if poverty is rising? What independence if there is massive displacement? What independence if the state built 11 new prisons this year while they can’t find enough money for education?”

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    August 2008 Colombia Peace Update

    29 August 2008

    In this Update:

    Letter from the Field: Flowers and Bananas

    by Zara Zimbardo

    Zara Zimbardo is a member of the National Council of FOR, an independent media producer, and teaches classes on critical media literacy and the politics of representation. She participated in the FOR delegation to Colombia in August that focused on impunity and the struggles to overcome it.

    We are exploring many interconnected facets of impunity and strategies of nonviolent resistance. Deepening understanding of the tremendous power and bleakness of the forces that create and maintain impunity is overwhelming, and in this context the spaces of hope, courage, persistence, solidarity, inspiration and community shine all the more brightly. As U.S. citizens we are keeping an eye on the role of the U.S. in the Colombian conflict, and two examples in particular struck me ”” the flower and banana trades.

    Two products that for me have connotations of friendliness, comfort, beauty, innocence, expressions of love ”” unlike resources like oil and diamonds which the public knows are implicated in horrifying systems of violence. It was devastating to learn about how companies like Chiquita are intimately linked to state violence and paramilitary terror: a paramilitary leader boasted that a major victory was to get arms shipments through the private port of Chiquita, massive violence is used to forcibly displace communities to make way for plantations, and the mechanisms to hold a company like Chiquita accountable and demand justice and reparation are ineffective and offensive at best. The peace community of San Jose has been affected by banana-trade violence and is working in collaboration with other organizations to challenge the company.

    While I was familiar with the hideousness of the history of fruit trade in Central and South America, it was new to learn about the flower industry. We heard from a spokesperson from CACTUS, an organization that provides legal support to women workers in the flower industry, which is a case study in unjust trade policies and lived practices. (Neo)colonial patterns of undermining native economic security and food sovereignty by forcing the creation of export-only mono-crop plantations of commercial luxury items to pay off external debt. Not a new story, but I am seeing it with new eyes in a new context. In this case flowers (shipped to the U.S. and Europe, with the highest demand of course for Valentines Day) are part of the commercial component of the “war on drugs,” “replacing” illicit crops. While this succeeds as an economic model it fails as a development model, and women bear the worst brunt ”” entering the labor market they are discriminated within it, not allowed to organize, denied workers rights, unable to obtain medical aid for work-related disabilities from cutting flowers and being exposed to pesticides. They are demanding trade with justice, and dignity and visibility as workers in this industry.

    Which products do we think deeply about as consumers in the U.S.? While supporting fair trade coffee and chocolate are on the collective radar, it seems that bananas and especially flowers are not understood as emblematic of unjust trade that affects thousands of lives. How do we allow ourselves to be shocked by the familiar? How might flower-flooded holidays like Valentines be a reminder to broaden our vision and compassion and solidarity? The name CACTUS signifies that while a rose cannot be a rose without its thorns, so a cactus always blooms with a flower of hope.

    February 2005 Massacre: The Army Did It

    Ever since the February 2005 massacre, in which members of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, including three children were brutally killed, the Peace Community has signaled the Army’s 17th Brigade as responsible. All along, Colombian officials, including President Uribe, then- Defense Minister Jorge Uribe-Echavarria and the head of the Armed Forces General Ospina vehemently denied the army’s responsibility in the massacre and instead said that FARC guerrillas were responsible. To prove such an assertion, the Colombian state produced false witnesses, maps of military operations and slandered the memory of Peace Community leader Luis Eduardo Guerra by accusing him of being a guerrilla who planned to desert. (They presented this as a motive for the guerrillas ordering Luis Eduardo’s killing.)

    17th Brigade Chief Implicated in Massacre

    Now, more than three years after the massacre, the criminal investigation is showing that the Peace Community was right. Brigade Captain Guillermo Gordillo has accepted responsibility for the massacre and entered in a plea bargain with the attorney’s general office.

    Captain Gordillo has also implicated General Jaime Fandiño ”” commander of the 17th Brigade at the time of the massacre- as having authorized the so-called “Operation Fenix”, a military operation carried out jointly by the Army and Heroes of Tolova paramilitaries troops under the command of Diego Murillo, alias Don Berna.

    General Fandiño apparently not only participated in the massacre, but also tried to cover up the truth. Last fall, a paramilitary known as “Melaza” began telling the prosecutors about army and paramilitary responsibility for the massacre. In November, according to Gordillo, General Fandiño called him and ordered him to keep quiet about participation of paramilitary troops in the operation. “He told me under no circumstances should I say that there were armed civilians guiding nor any other personnel but the soldiers,” Gordillo said. The general said “that there were already testimonies of two informants, of two guerrillas, saying that those people had been killed by the [58th Front of] FARC”. Capitan Gordillo also accused Lieutenant Colonel Espinosa of trying to keep Gordillo quiet.

    Demobilized paramilitaries also involved in massacre

    Before being extradited to the United States, “Don Berna” confessed to prosecutors that his men participated in the February 2005 massacre, despite the fact that at the time, he and his Heroes of Tolova paramilitary troops had officially “demobilized” three months before. This shows the failure of the so-called demobilization process: after laying down their arms, paramilitaries engaged in an atrocity such as this massacre. Yet the demobilization process is hailed by both the Colombian and US governments as a reason to continue military aid and ratify the Free Trade Agreement between the two countries.

    Chiquita case and massacres against the Peace Community

    Another paramilitary leader, Hebert Veloza ”” alias H.H.”” has began to shed light on the ties between the Army ”” particularly the 17th Brigade ”” the banana companies operating in Urabá, including Chiquita Brands, and the atrocities committed by paramilitaries in Urabá. Veloza is in line to be extradited to the United States to face drug-related charges. In a long interview with Colombian daily El Espectador, Veloza explained how the banana companies funded and benefited from killings by paramilitaries. Veloza indicated than when “Heroes de Tolova” demobilized, they turned over some of the weapons given by Chiquita, but not all. That means that weapons that Chiquita purchased and shipped to Urabá were being used by the “Heroes de Tolova” at the time of the 2005 massacre.

    Further strong ties between right-wing death squads and the banana industry have begun to surface after the arrest of banana executive and demobilized paramilitary leader Raul Hasbun, who has admitted to coordinating payments by banana companies to paramilitaries. He indicated that part of the strategy included killings of Peace Community members. Chiquita Brands, Del Monte and Dole appear among the banana companies involved in funding the right-wing death squads.

    Killing Metrics

    By John Lindsay-Poland

    The Bush administration certified on July 29 that the Colombian government of Álvaro Uribe “has undertaken profound changes to its justice system; military doctrine and practices; and government institutions,” and by certifying released more than $180 million in military assistance to the Colombian armed forces.

    The funds, to be used for helicopters, training and other aid, correspond to 18 months of funding that is subject to human rights conditions, including effective prosecution of soldiers for human rights abuses and cutting ties between military and paramilitary forces. During the same 18-month period, the Army reportedly murdered more than 400 Colombians outside of combat, according to data compiled by Colombian human rights groups, including a report presented to the State Department less than a week before the certification was issued.

    The 130-page certification document reports progress in investigations and preventive detentions of soldiers for many human rights crimes committed in the last decade. The pace of investigations has been quickened by the addition of 900 prosecutors and investigators, which augurs well for the struggle against impunity.

    The question is: Given the nearly total impunity with which soldiers have committed their crimes, what level of effective prosecution for those crimes justifies sending hundreds of millions of dollars worth of lethal assistance? Is impunity for every other killing acceptable? Impunity for three out of four killings? For nine out of ten killings?

    For the five-year period ending in mid-2007, human rights groups documented 955 extrajudicial killings by Colombia’s armed forces (nearly all by the army) ”” for which only two cases involving seven victims had resulted in a conviction and sentence, as of last October. There has indeed been progress: the State Department documents criminal convictions and sentences in an additional seven cases of army killings of civilians that occurred during the same period, involving 10 victims. Although soldiers have been detained or suspended in many other cases, and administrative action has been taken against hundreds of soldiers, the total sum of criminal prosecutions and sentences accounts for 17 out of 955 Colombians killed by the army. In other words, the rate of impunity had been reduced from 99.2% to 98.2%. If that rate of improvement holds steady, impunity for Colombian army killing of civilians will end by 2086.

    In addition to certification, legislation known as the “Leahy Amendment” prohibits US assistance to foreign military units that have committed gross human rights abuses. So, could it be that those killings are being committed by parts of the Colombian army that don’t receive US aid?

    That’s not the case. Where the responsible was unit was identified, army units financed by the United States in 2006 and/or 2007committed at least 47% of extrajudicial killings in 2007, according to an analysis we conducted, using data from the State Department and the Colombian Human Rights Observatory.

    The State Department insists that the Colombian military leadership has changed its policies, and no longer measures its success by the number of insurgents killed. Yet, in a remarkable 10-page section on Colombian “operations to restore civilian government authority” required by US law conditioning assistance, the State Department recounts dozens of military operations, highlighting in each the number of “terrorists killed. ” For State Department officials, apparently, the metrics of killing are still very much the standard for success.

    We have another idea. Instead of twisting logic to conform to the desire to continue supporting the Uribe government, the new administration in Washington in January should fully embrace respect for human rights in deed as well as word, and end US aid to the Colombian army.

    Seeking the Truth: An Interview with Guillermo Mateus

    FOR has awarded its Pfeffer Peace Prize to Guillermo Mateus Corredor, an attorney in the Colombian Inspector General’s Special Investigations Unit. The unit is charged with investigating human rights violations committed by members of the Colombian Armed Forces and other public officials. The work carried out by Guillermo Mateus and other investigators at the Inspector General’s office has demonstrated that, contrary to what the government has long claimed, the February 2005 massacre in San José de Apartadó was part of a military operation carried out by the Army and right-wing paramilitaries, and had been planned several days in advance.

    The other recipients of this year’s Pfeffer Prize are the Colombian Mennonite leader Ricardo Esquivia, and Service for Peace and Justice (SERPAJ) in Cuernavaca, Mexico. The prize will be awarded on Sunday, September 14 at the FOR Festival of Peace, in Nyack, NY, where Mateus, Esquiva and Pietro Ameglio of SERPAJ-Cuernavaca will be present. FOR spoke with Mateus in Bogotá.

    FOR: What motivates to you to do the work that you do?

    Guillermo Mateus: Several things. First, to contribute to society through the administration of justice. Second, to give confidence to the victims that through my work, I’ll do everything in my power to find the truth, and to find what happened with their loved ones that were disappeared or murdered.

    FOR: How do you go about your work?

    Mateus: Sometimes I hear about a crime in the news, sometimes from the victim. In either case, I give it the same importance. I look at the facts and find something that doesn’t fit, either in the victim’s version of the facts, or the armed forces’ version, or in the crime scene itself. That is how we create several hypotheses of what might have happened.

    The most important thing in seeking the truth is the knowledge you get through work experience. In a similar manner, as the methods to commit crimes evolve, so does the way to do forensic investigation. For instance, some time ago, the army used to kill peasants and dress them in fatigues after killing them ”” to pass them off as guerrillas killed in combat. But you could easily find out the truth, because there were no bullet holes in the clothing. You no longer see that.

    To me, it doesn’t matter the victim’s condition: whether the person was a guerilla, a paramilitary, or a peasant. The armed forces often use such conditions as excuses, in cases of extrajudicial executions.

    My time in the army helps me in my work, as I am able [now] to understand the context of what the army tells me. [Ed.: Military service is mandatory for all Colombian male adults.]

    FOR: How did you get into this work?

    Mateus: I started in 1991 as a driver in the Special Investigations Unit. For my work, I had to travel throughout Colombia, for instance seeking Alirio de Jesus Pedraza, a human rights defender that was purportedly disappeared by DAS [the secret police]. He disappeared outside Bogotá. Years later, the Colombian state was found responsible for his disappearance.

    In 1993, I became “special agent” at the unit, collecting evidence. I was trained in how to conduct crime scene investigations by U.S. officials, and I then taught the attorney general’s office how to operate some of the equipment. At that time, I was alternating as a special agent and chief of the unit director’s bodyguards. In 1999, I started going to law school and went from just collecting evidence to instructing the investigations. I also participated in an inter-institutional criminal judicial police training.

    FOR: How do you approach people in your work?

    Mateus: There are ways to reach all types of different people. First, never lie to them. Be honest regarding what can you do and what may happen. As a rule, I never promise something I can’t deliver. Some of the people are outlaws while others are innocent; I treat them the same in my process.

    FOR: What has been the hardest part of your work?

    Mateus: The toughest part is that an investigator, to get results, might interview someone and have the experience of that person getting killed. [Ed.: The work of human rights investigators is extremely difficult due to efforts to silence witnesses, and the culture of impunity that exists.]

    FOR: Can you share with us an important achievement?

    Mateus: One of the most important moments in my career came with the case of the El Chengue massacre, in which several navy officials were found responsible and fired, including one general, a colonel, one major, and two non-commissioned officers.

    In El Chengue, paramilitaries arrived into the town at 4 a.m., while people were sleeping. The paramilitaries separated men from women, and took all the men to one side of the road. They sat them down and then killed them, by hitting them with mallets. They did this because they considered the entire town of being collaborators with the guerrillas. In total, 28 people were killed. Their houses were also burned.

    Later on, the attorney investigating the massacre, Yolanda Patermina, was killed. Some of my colleagues working on the investigation from the attorney general’s Technical Investigation Team were also murdered. When we wanted to go to the site, no one would take us there; we had to go in an ambulance, with the mayor of Ovejas (Sucre). When we left, people were hanging from the ambulance, begging us to take them out of there.

    My biggest satisfaction has been to show that at the Inspector General’s office we investigate human rights violations. The country needs to know that there are currently more than 3,000 investigations for forced disappearance being done. My dream is that one day there will be more people investigating such cases. Unfortunately, so many cases remain in impunity. How many more investigations do we have to undertake so the country realizes that indeed there are extrajudicial executions?

    A human rights investigator is not born, [she] is made: by going on foot, riding a mule, traveling in the rain forest, and working under extreme climate and among vultures.

    December 2006 Colombia Peace Update

    In this Update:

    Colombia's "Para-Política" Scandal: Time for US to Cut the Cord
    A widening scandal linking paramilitary death squads to legislators close to President Álvaro Uribe has shaken Colombian society in recent weeks. As Susana Pimiento writes below, the scandal shows that "paramilitarism" is used by key sectors of the Uribe government for money, to eliminate rivals, and to consolidate power.

    The shocking revelations have been detailed in front-page reports this week in the San Francisco Chronicle and Washington Post. The reports show that it is time for the incoming Democratic majority in Congress to fundamentally re-cast US policy toward Colombia. The media attention also opens a window for putting your voice forward, through letters to the editor. Please read on, and click here to send a letter to the editor of the Post or Chronicle.

    Political Scandal Reveals Systematic Methods for Evading Justice in Colombia
    As if taken from a passage of Garcia Marquez' Chronicle of a Death Foretold, in March 2003, Edualdo Díaz, an army major in the small Caribbean town of El Roble (Sucre), spoke to President Álvaro Uribe, at a community council in front of hundreds of people and on national TV. He told how major politicians in the province, including Sucre Governor Salvador Arana, the head of the regional Inspector's office head Tatiana Moreno, and regional police chief Norman Arango, had removed him from his post and would later have him killed. The reason: Major Díaz had accused the governor of supporting paramilitary militias. A few weeks later, unidentified men seized Major Díaz. His body was found five days later with signs of torture.

    What followed also seems as if from Garcia Marquez' fabled town of Macondo: President Uribe appointed the accused governor Arana and police chief Arango to diplomatic posts. Moreno, the regional head of the Inspector General's office, was appointed to the Attorney General's human rights office, charged with investigating massacres. In the investigation itself there were many irregularities: witnesses were actively discouraged from implicating the Sucre governor and the regional inspector's office faxed fabricated testimony to the prosecutor conducting the investigation. Former Attorney General Luis Camilo Osorio himself closed the criminal investigation against Governor Arana. He added that the charges "appear implausible, because one can not believe that someone with the track record and education of Dr. Arana —he is a medical surgeon with broad experience in the public sector and no criminal or disciplinary records — would participate in actions as abhorrent as those that are gratuitously attributed to him."

    The state of affairs took a turn earlier this year, when a laptop computer belonging to paramilitary leader "Jorge 40" was seized. The computer is said to contain chilling documentation of how politicians, high officials from different branches of power and paramilitaries operate. As a result, the Colombian Supreme Court has ordered the arrest, with no bail, of three Colombian Congressmen. More than two dozen current and former officials are facing accusations of collaborating with paramilitary groups, including diverting public funds to finance the creation of death squads.

    One of the jailed legislators is Senator Álvaro Garcia Romero, a close friend and political associate of Governor Salvador Arana, is accused of organizing paramilitary death squads and ordering the massacre in October 2000 of 15 peasants in Macapeyo, who were murdered using machetes and rocks. He also was reportedly involved in the assassination of an election official, Georgina Narvarez Wilchez, in a scheme designed to fix the 1997 Congress election results in favor of Eric Morris. The Supreme Court ordered Congressman Morris' arrest. Garcia's niece, Judith Morantes Garcia, was later appointed to the third highest position in the Attorney General's office.

    Confronted with old and new evidence, the Attorney's General Office had no choice but to reopen the investigation of Mayor's Diaz murder, and now former Governor Arana is on the lam from an Interpol arrest warrant for aggravated murder.

    The scandal exposes the macabre ways in which paramilitary death squads and politics function in Colombia. It shows how impunity operates, not as a byproduct of a weak judicial system, but as the result of a strategy to appoint people in key positions of power to ensure the outcome.

    With just one exception, all the Congress people involved in the scandal belong to pro-Uribe political parties. Two of the congressmen in jail are members of a party lead by Senator Mario Uribe, President Uribe's first cousin and the sponsor of the lenient and controversial Justice and Peace law passed to demobilize paramilitaries. And the lone congressman with a party not closely linked to Uribe, Álvaro Araujo, is the brother of current Foreign Minister Maria Consuelo Araujo.

    Many people are asking how much closer the scandal needs to get to President Uribe before the United States withdraws its apparently unconditional support? Under the so-called Leahy amendment, a portion of the US military aid is conditioned on the Colombian army severing ties with paramilitaries and prosecuting cases of collusion between armed forces and such militias. The recently exposed picture of the Colombian government shows that the political forces in place in Colombia prevent such objectives from being fulfilled.

    It is time for the new US Congress to cut military aid to Colombia altogether.

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    FOR Begins Partnership with Spanish Group Acompaz
    The FOR Colombia program has recently signed a partnership agreement with the Spanish organization Acompaz. As result of this partnership, the Colombia Peace Presence Team in San José de Apartadó will be expanded to accommodate an additional Colombia Peace Presence member, bringing the team to three. The expansion of the team, to begin in February 2007, will provide invaluable help in strengthening international support for the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, specifically supporting the Peace Community's return to lands from which they had been forcibly displaced and establishing Humanitarian Zones there. Additionally, the Peace Community will benefit from increased outreach and advocacy in the European Union.

    Acompaz was formed in 2005 by members of peace and justice collectives and activists throughout Spain to support the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó. In their efforts to support peace communities, Acompaz has focused on: collaborating with other Spanish and European Union NGOs in defense of human rights for the civilian population of Colombia; supporting projects in the community to improve basic health, ecology, sustainable agriculture, community history, and education; supporting the international judicial process that hopes to prosecute the crimes against humanity committed against the Community and end the impunity that has allowed these crimes to continue since 1997; offer support and cooperation with the multiple and diverse collectives in different parts of Europe and the world created in solidarity with the Peace Community of San José, other peace communities and the civilian resistance in Colombia; and participate in the struggle for a nonviolent world and access to land in which peace prevails. For Spanish readers, check their excellent web site: www.acopaz.org.

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    "Free Trade" — or a New Deal?: Free Trade Agreement Update
    In September we asked you to take action to oppose the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which the White House had indicated it would sign and forward to Congress for approval.

    True to its word, the Administration signed the FTA on November 22, but Congress has not been as compliant as the White House would like. Representatives Charles Rangel (D-NY) and Sander Levin (D-MI), who will chair key committees on trade in the incoming Democratic-majority Congress, have called for renegotiation of the FTA, citing insufficient Colombian labor protections as a major sticking point.

    This is good news. But Rangel and Levin's calls for change to the Agreement have been based almost solely on labor objections. They will need to hear from constituents besides labor so that all the problems with the FTA — environmental, agricultural, and more — are also addressed.

    Those problems include:

    • Increased ability for multinational corporations to avoid or change Colombian laws protecting Afro-descendent and indigenous peoples and their land. Mining projects such as the massive Cerrejon Norte coal mine in Colombia, owned by a consortium including an Exxon-Mobil subsidiary, have resulted in the forced internal displacement of entire communities of Afro-descendant peoples. Many of these projects are also polluting rivers, lakes, and rainforests of the Amazon.
    • Rules on intellectual property, privatization and deregulation of essential services like water, health care, and education that would lead to increased costs and reduced access for the poor. For example, these rules will cause a nearly $900 million annual increase in the price of medicines, according to a study by the Pan American Health Organization, leading to increased illnesses and death among Colombians.
    • Lowered tariffs on agricultural products, making the country vulnerable to overwhelmingly subsidized imports from the U.S. and severely undermining local farmers. This very thing has happened in Mexico since NAFTA was implemented 12 years ago, where more than 1.3 million farmers have been displaced.

    As a recent letter from more than 40 Afro-Colombian organizations to the U.S. Congress opposing the FTA states:
    Rather than undermining our local markets, we need increased access to credit and technical assistance for small farmers, we need to improve the systems for transportation and distribution, we need to improve land use and ownership policies, and we need fairer prices for the commodities we produce.

    We must work to assure that Congress either rejects this raw deal, or brings about its renegotiation. If renegotiation happens it must involve a complete reworking of the agreement to fully respect human dignity and environmental sustainability. Next month we will ask you to join us in communicating these concerns to your representative in the new Congress.

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    Mothers of La Candelaria
    Path of Hope Awarded Colombian 2006 National Peace Prize

    by Susana Pimiento Chamorro

    Every Wednesday, in the atrium of La Candelaria church in downtown Medellí, over 100 women meet. They all carry blown-up pictures of their "disappeared" family members. The group that started in 1998 under the name "Mothers of la Candelaria, Path of Hope" last month was awarded the prestigious Colombian National Peace Prize.

    They are mothers, wives, children, and relatives of people forcibly disappeared in the Colombian war. Colombia holds a high number of people forcibly disappeared, between 7,000 and 14,000. According to the attorney general's office, in 2005 alone, 839 people were forcibly taken. Over 80% of cases are attributed to right-wing paramilitary forces, often with the support of the Colombian armed forces.

    Each member of Madres de la Candelaria group carries a tragic story of the loss of a close relative. Like that of Zaira Viviana Torres: "My mom's name was Lilia Maria Torres George. On August 14, 2001, she was at a notary office in Medellín when the paramilitaries arrived and took her. First they said they were intelligence agents, with the police, and then that it was a robbery. My mom was 34 years old when they took her. That same day, my grandmother went to file a complaint, but she was detained at the police station while they took my mom out of Medellín. The next day, my mom called us saying to pick up all the children. She never called again.

    "A week later, on August 21st, a man called us telling us we ought to cooperate, to stop filing complaints because our mother was held by [paramilitary] commander Carlos Castaño. He didn't call again. A week later, a supposed friend of my mother's who was in prison, called to tell us that my mom had been tortured, dismembered and buried in a grave in Medellí. That's all we have been told. I was ten years old; my siblings were five years old and ten weeks old."

    One of the group's purposes is to support each other so they know they are not alone in their pain. Members listen to each other's stories and keep the memory of their loved ones alive. As one member told Fellowship of Reconciliation volunteer Trish Abbott, "[W]e console each other and we are there for each other for support and comfort on important days, like anniversaries of our loved ones' disappearances. It is very important to know that we have friends and to have a space to meet every week. Because at home, we do not cry so as to not distress our family members who are still alive and present with us, so that they don't feel they are not as important to us as those who have been taken. It is important for me to have this space where we can express and show our grief."

    Their work goes beyond providing mutual support. The group also demands political negotiations leading to the release of kidnapped civilians by armed groups, which the state has undertaken for prominent people kidnapped in the past. Current Vice-president Francisco Santos is one of them. Mothers of La Candelaria demand that similar efforts are also taken to seek the liberation of their relatives and point out that difference in class and income should not be a constraint.

    Sadly, most often, the people who are taken are later executed. For that reason, the group seeks disclosure of where the remains can be found. This issue has been a central topic on the implementation this year of the law for the demobilization of paramilitary groups.

    Since 2005, FOR's Colombia Peace Presence has supported Madres de la Candelaria. Each delegation to Colombia includes a visit to the group, a sign of international solidarity. Some of the stories will be featured in the Colombian Women Peace report that will be published by FOR next spring.

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    Letter from the Field
    An Unlikely Prisoner
    By Gilberto Villaseñor III

    "What were your days like in prison?" Janice asked. It was a little odd talking about prison life in Claudia Montoya's living room with her mother and teenage cousins looking on, all of them busily making Christmas ornaments with beads and string. Claudia, a lawyer for the Red Juvenil (Youth Network) of Medellín who is currently under house arrest, had learned this skill in a prison workshop.

    Claudia responded, "Each morning we were awakened at 6:30 am by the guards, at 7:30 am we ate a sensible breakfast. During the day they kept us busy with workshops, anything so we wouldn't think. And we were in bed by 8 pm."

    Had you been walking through her quiet middle class neighborhood that day, that topic of conversation might have been the furthest thing from your mind. Claudia discussed the process of her arrest. "There were security forces everywhere up and down my block and people with guns on rooftops. I was afraid that I would be seen being arrested and taken out of my house but I was grateful that no one saw me. There was so much police, you couldn't see me anyway." There is an aspect of public shaming related to being a political prisoner, a way of making you look guilty even if you aren't.

    As a lawyer for the Red Juvenil, she has been working with conscientious objectors and political prisoners since 2002. The Red works with youth in teaching about nonviolence and conscientious objection to participation in Colombia's civil war. We were all very excited to finally meet her because she had recently been released from prison where she had been held on charges of rebellion since October 18 — one month and twenty days in all. The Red Juvenil, an organization that FOR accompanies, considers her a political prisoner and someone who has been detained because of her political work on behalf of her organization in search of nonviolent solutions to Colombia's civil war.

    Her house arrest continues pending the outcome of the judicial process against her — which may last as long as another six months. According to the testimonies of five former guerrillas, she had been seen dressed as a guerrilla and carrying a rifle. She was moved into house arrest when three of the testimonies were considered to be contradictory.

    FOR's Colombia team been following her case and issued a letter of support for the Red's work in response to Claudia's detention and threats made against other Red members. We were prepared to visit her in prison on a recent trip to Medellin, when we were told about the good news of her release. On December 12, team members visited Claudia at her house in Medellí.

    Claudia isn't the typical image of a prisoner. She is a little more than five feet tall and quite thin. Her face seemed to be chiseled in the way that happens to people when they've been eating less than usual. She is a soft-spoken and articulate person, traits not normally considered to be assets in prison, but in her case made her into an undesirable prisoner. Luckily, Claudia understood very well the legal process against her and knew when her rights were being violated. She protested when she was pressured to submit to being part of a line-up without her lawyer present. Other prisoners with less education or legal experience haven't been so lucky.

    Her mother brought us cookies and coffee as we talked. The sun beamed through the skylight in the middle of the house and illuminated the comfortable living room where we were all gathered. Two loud, brusque politicos wandered in, speaking a mile a minute. What was discernable was that they, too, recognized the injustice of what Claudia had been through and wanted to show their support. Family pictures formed the backdrop of our meeting and Claudia smiled back at all of us, along with the rest of her family.

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    December 2007 Colombia Peace Update

    In this update:

  • Parapolitics Update — Ghosts from Uribe’s Past: El Nuevo Herald reveals alleged ties between Uribe and the 1984 murder of Justice Minister Lara Bonilla
  • Colombian Left Opposition Party issues strong statement against Plan Colombia
  • Official of OAS Peace Mission Threatened in Colombia
  • Rolling Stone Magazine Calls Drug War A Failure
  • Letter from the (former) field — In the Middle
  • Youth Delegation: Make it Possible for Someone Else to Go!

    Trees in the Forest: Emphasis on Humanitarian Exchange forgets Colombia's Ongoing War

    Ingrid Betancourt's dramatic letter, along with the videos sent by some of the other political hostages held by the FARC as "proofs of life," in the aborted humanitarian exchange negotiations being brokered by Hugo Chavez and Afro Colombian senator Piedad Córdoba, caused a commotion both in Colombia and abroad. Such uproar resulted in new claims for a humanitarian accord that would result in swapping hostages for FARC's members who are currently in jail. Unfortunately, such momentum has not resulted in increased interest addressing the larger context and millions of other victims of Colombia's conflict.

    During his six-year term, President Álvaro Uribe has shown no real interest in negotiating with the FARC. Looking at the failed effort led by Chavez and Cordoba, one could argue that Uribe has done everything in his power to ensure that any effort fails. Thus, charging Chavez and Cordoba to pursue a humanitarian accord could be seen as a strategy to diffuse international pressure, particularly from France. All this time, he has pressed for a hard line: a military rescue of the hostages, consistent with his Democratic Security policy under which he wages war against the guerrilla.

    Preoccupied with scoring image points at home, the efforts by foreign leaders such as French President Sarkozy offer little help to the process: Sarkozy's televised address to the octogenarian FARC leader Manuel Marulanda "sure shot," calling on him to free Franco-Colombian Ingrid Betancourt or else "bear on your conscience [the burden] of her death," ignores the context in which the abominable practice of taking hostages takes place: the ongoing armed conflict. While undoubtedly a human tragedy, the guerrillas' practice of taking hostages at random or as political merchandise is one of many manifestations of a war that has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians: some of them brutally massacred, over 3 million internally displaced and an ongoing humanitarian crisis. It is time to exert international pressure for a political solution to Colombia's armed conflict in all of its facets: not only a release of the hostages, but also reparations to the victims of the conflict, the truth about the thousands who have been massacred, assassinated and disappeared, support for the displaced to return to the land that is rightfully theirs, and justice in the cases that remain in impunity.

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    Parapolitics Update
    Ghosts from Uribe's Past: El Nuevo Herald reveals alleged ties between Uribe and the 1984 murder of Justice Minister Lara Bonilla

    President Álvaro Uribe's alleged links to the Medellin Cartel surfaced again this month, according to legal documents obtained by the Miami based daily El Nuevo Herald. Only weeks before his death, former justice minister Lara Bonilla said, "President Álvaro Uribe and his father were models of how Colombia had been infiltrated by drug dealers."

    Lara Bonilla's assertions were based on the fact that a helicopter belonging to President Uribe's father was found in a raid of a gigantic drug laboratory known as Tranquilandia. The raid of Tranquilandia was one of the largest hits against drug traffickers since the beginning of the drug war and Lara Bonilla feared backlash from the operation. Also as reported by El Nuevo Herald, Lara Bonilla told the police Col. Ramirez Gomez, who coordinated the Tranquilandia raid, that he feared the owners of the seized properties in that cocaine laboratory would attack him. When Ramirez Gomez asked him what he meant, Lara Bonilla responded, "the owners of the helicopter and the airplane you captured." Col. Ramirez was murdered a few months later.

    Rodrigo Lara Bonilla unveiled Colombia's first Parapolitica
    Justice minister Rodrigo Lara Bonilla was not just another minister. Friend and political associate of later assassinated presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán, Lara Bonilla was a very courageous and principled man; he waged a crusade against the infiltration of drug money into politics by confronting drug lord Pablo Escobar, at the time a deputy member of the Colombian congress.

    In April 1984, Lara Bonilla was shot to death by hit men hired by the Medellin Cartel. His death caused a big commotion and marked the start of a dark chapter of Colombian history in which the drug mafia used terror tactics, including widespread car bombings in Bogotá and Medellin to avoid Washington's proposal to solve the drug problem: extradition to the United States.

    Number of Congress Members Involved in Parapolitica scandal Grows
    The number of former and current members of Congress investigated under the parapolitics scandal has surpassed 60. This month, two current members of Congress were put behind bars: the Senator, and former president of Congress, Luis Humber Gómez Gallo from Tolima and congressman Gonzalo García Angarita, also from Tolima. Both congressmen were captured in Bogotá on December 10th and sent to La Picota penitentiary.

    Colombian Left Opposition Party issues strong statement against Plan Colombia

    Colombia's main opposition party, the Polo Democratico, issued a strong statement against Plan Colombia. The communique is also a grim assessment of Álvaro Uribe's Democratic Security policy, heavily influenced by Washington. Among the critics of Plan Colombia, the Polo cites the increase of human rights violations and forced displacement among communities targeted for crop eradication. Furthermore, the Polo asserts that under Plan Colombia, paramilitary groups have strengthened, achieving greater political, economic and social control throughout several regions.

    The Polo also underscores the tight links between the military component of Plan Colombia and the economic strategy of pressing for a NAFTA style Free Trade Agreement with Colombia: "the government's so-called war on terrorism incorporates the Doctrine of Integrated Action, based on the new (U.S.) doctrine of the Southern Command Partnership for the Americas, and seeks the coordination of military, political, security and defense actions with state civil actions."

    The statement concludes saying "Plan Colombia Phase II, instead of helping to solve the conflict and bring peace to the country, comes as a war plan that will strengthen the dynamics of the conflict, with ever more blatant intervention by the United States in the affairs of Colombia."

    To see the original full text statement in Spanish click here. To see the version in English click here.

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    Official of OAS Peace Mission Threatened in Colombia

    On Thursday, December 13th an observer who works for an international body set up to monitor Colombia's demobilization process, received a death threat while visiting a poor neighborhood in Medellin, Colombia. Since 2004, the MAPP (Mission to Support the Peace Process), under the auspices of the Organization of American States, has had teams of observers in different parts of Colombia and produces periodic reports about the peace process. The member who was threatened in Colombia was in a meeting when a man on a motorcycle drove up to her car and told her driver that his boss would be killed if she failed to abandon her work.

    This is the first time that a member of the OAS peace mission has received a threat, despite the fact that they have been monitoring the demobilization over the last four years and travel throughout many areas of Colombia. This threat not only puts this official at risk, but other international agencies as well, which have often been protected from the kinds of security risks that Colombian organizations and human rights defenders face daily. In an article by Human Rights Watch, Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at the organization says, "this threat suggests that armed actors in Medellin are becoming so increasingly bold that they now feel comfortable enough to intimidate even international observers. The government should respond unequivocally and conduct full and effective investigations to get to the bottom of this."
    It is also significant that this threat takes place in Medellin, a city that has been lauded for its efforts to demobilize paramilitary fighters and bring down the levels of violence over the last few years. The reality of this death threat proves that Medellin is not safe: not for international peace observers and much less for Colombian organizations who continue to denounce the demobilization process with much stronger statements than the OAS peace mission.

    In an interview on Radio Caracol, Sergio Caramagna, head of the mission, said there was a strange climate in the Medellin neighborhoods: groups of narcotraffickers and demobilized fighters from Uraba and North Valle department are fighting for territorial control. Caramagna didn't say how this struggle for control is connected to the death threat that one of the OAS officials received. He included that 750 demobilized paramilitaries have been assassinated since the process began.

    You can read more in an article by the Associated Press, OAS Observer to Colombia Peace Process Receives Death Threats.

    The Mission's X report was made public on Oct. 31st, 2007. The mission issues a report three times a year to reflect the progress and problems of Colombia's demobilization process. A few of the report's findings are that:

    • Upon the demobilization of paramilitary groups, narcotraffickers saw the opportunity to take over areas with illicit crops.
    • 22 re-armed illegal networks continue to exist, a number which was identified in a previous report.
    • Progress has been made to "deligitimize paramilitarism."
    • Although the authorities have detained mid-level paramilitary bosses, they are quickly replaced by others willing to do the job.
    • There continue to be territorial disputes and vendettas among the new paramilitary organizations, which have resulted in "the assassination of the mid-level commanders and the death and displacement of the demobilized combatants. This happens in times of transition and ends when one of the rival gangs takes over the zone.
    • The guerrillas have increased their influence in the wake of the paramilitary demobilization in specific geographical areas.
    • Serious security concerns continue to affect the access that victims have to the Truth and Reconciliation process: "regarding the participation of victims in the voluntary statement hearings, despite the regulations issued, some problems have arisen in their enforcement. These relate to: victims' misinformation about the process; threats and intimidation; as well as some homicides; poor coordination between agencies responsible for guaranteeing the participation of the victims in the hearings; and insufficient economic resources for the victims to travel to the cities where the hearings are being held."

    These are just a few of the report's 70 observations, which can be useful to understand the challenges that exist as Colombia continues with its demobilization process, but the OAS peace mission hardly takes a highly critical stance of the government's efforts. For example, in this X report, the territorial struggles between old and new paramilitary networks and narcos are mentioned numerous times as well as the risks that demobilized fighters run, but the report focuses too much on the fact that these old/new networks are mainly interested in controlling the drug business. They fail to mention that the paramilitaries continue to silence (through threats, intimidation, harassment and assassinations) those who speak out against human rights abuses, the illegal appropriation of land, victims' rights and links between the military and paramilitaries. For example, read the story about the Nuevo Herald reporter Guillen, who received 24 death threats in 48 hours while he was in Colombia two weeks ago for reporting on the links between Uribe and the narcos. Or consider the death threat made to the OAS official. Hardly aimed at controlling drug profits, these threats are carried out with political motives and intended to silence those who attempt to denounce the connections between the government and the paramilitaries.

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    Rolling Stone Magazine Calls Drug War A Failure

    The Rolling Stone article "How America Lost the War on Drugs After Thirty-Five Years and $500 Billion, Drugs Are as Cheap and Plentiful as Ever: An Anatomy of a Failure," is an impressive work of investigative journalism, because it looks at the war on drugs from many different angles: the helicopters in Colombia, the thousands of people who cross the US-Mexican border daily, the conversations behind closed doors in Washington and a couple of successful city-focused projects to combat drug-related violence. At every turn, and from every angle explored, the article demonstrates how US politicians have systematically turned away from an effective course of action and chosen to invest in continual failure.

    The article begins with Pablo Escobar, a likely starting point, but not for the usual reasons of power, influence and smuggling impressive amounts of cocaine into the United States. It begins with him because beating Pablo Escobar (and a handful of other major traffickers) was considered to be the beginning of the end, a way of winning the war on drugs. And when the illusion of victory dissipated after his death as drug flow into the US went unchanged, the first signs of defeat were apparent.

    The scene is set when the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) staff enters Pablo Escobar's ranch in Colombia. "Arriving after the kingpin had fled, [they] found neat shelves lined with loose-leaf binders, carefully organized by content. They were," says John Coleman, then the DEA's assistant administrator for operations, "filled with DEA reports" — internal documents that laid out, in extraordinary detail, the agency's repeated attempts to capture Escobar. Not that surprising — Escobar was surveilling the US government while they tried to capture him.

    The point of the anecdote and a theme throughout the article is that just as police officers and DEA staff are trying to bust the drug runners, the drug runners become more savvy. Maybe more importantly, it is not only the dealers, but the business in general that becomes more savvy. The drug business is like any business — it responds to market trends and drugs are capital, which move according to the best market conditions. For example, bosses are laid off (or knocked off), but the product still needs to get from point A to point B, so whether it is Pablo Escobar or a thousand splinter groups, drugs find their way into the US. According to a veteran DEA agent after Pablo's death "what ended up happening was that the whole structure shattered into these smaller groups. You suddenly had all these new guys controlling a small aspect of the traffic."

    There is not only competition among narco-bosses, but among countries that want to make more money in the industry. The article narrates how the Mexican upstart drug smugglers figured out their competitive advantage with Colombia: "A kilo of cocaine produced in Colombia is worth about $2,500. In Mexico, a kilo gets $5,000. But smuggle that kilo across the border and the price goes up to $17,500." As Tony Ayala, a retired DEA agent and former Mexico country attache, expressed "what the Mexican groups started saying was, 'Why are we working for these guys? Why don't we just buy it from the Colombians directly and keep the profits ourselves?'"

    In sum, the drug business is a dynamic industry, with lots of people invested in making it function as a well-oiled machine and therefore all the more difficult to for the people who are trying to shut it down.

    The article reviews a number of studies which have proven that certain approaches to fighting the war on drugs are effective, while others are not. For example, although the US spends millions to spray coca crops in Colombia, the RAND Corporation showed more than 15 years ago that funding domestic drug prevention and rehabilitation programs is more effective. The US government is spending millions to lock people up for drug crimes: nearly 500,000 people are behind bars, a twelvefold increase since 1980, but no discernible effect on the drug traffic. And the racism inherent in the incarceration rates is shocking: blacks, who comprise only fourteen percent of drug users, make up seventy-four percent of those in prison for drug possession. Ad campaigns were funded to encourage teenagers not to use marijuana, based on the theory that marijuana is a “gateway” drug, even though the Institute of Medicine researchers concluded that marijuana "does not appear to be a gateway drug" and the RAND Corporation found that the gateway theory is not the best way to explain the link between marijuana and hard drugs.

    The reasons our policy makers choose ineffective ways to spend our tax dollars cannot be chalked up to ignorance or lack of better proposals. In some cases, there was a heavy lobby that stalled certain drug controls. In other cases, quality programs that showed real results were ignored, like the Boston Gun Project, which tried to break the link between the drug trade and violent crime. The project tracked a specific drug gang in Boston and after collecting extensive evidence, called the dealers to a meeting and offered them a deal: Stop the violence, or the police will crack down with a vengeance. "We know the seventeen guys you run with," the gang bangers were told. "If anyone in your group shoots somebody, we'll arrest every last one of you." The project also extended drug treatment and other assistance to anyone who wanted it. The results were impressive: the rates of homicide and violence among young men in Boston dropped by two-thirds. Kennedy, the Harvard academic behind the program, says the drug dealing didn't stop, but the gang put their guns down. Nevertheless, Kennedy's program was another missed opportunity in the War on Drugs and according to Rolling Stone, "an experience that made clear how difficult it is for science to influence the nation's drug policy."

    This article is well worth the read and should have us incensed about the blatantly poor choices our government has made when it comes to fighting the war on drugs. While incarcerating African-Americans, ignoring addicts who need access to programs, spraying the pristine Amazon jungle with toxic chemicals and funding a military with the worst human rights record in the hemisphere (Colombia), the US government is wasting taxpayers' money with absolutely no results.

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    Letter from the (former) field:
    In the Middle

    By Sarah Weintraub

    Up, up into the steep green mountainsides, on our way to Toribio, Cauca, our chiva was stopped again. The soldier held his hand up in the air, palm towards us, instead of the usual low flick of the wrist to let us through. "Another checkpoint?" people grumbled. We had already been stopped at a checkpoint fifteen minutes before and had to get out of the chiva while the soldiers looked through people's packages and asked for some IDs.

    This time the soldier with his hand in the air said, "There's combat. You can't go through. They're shooting." There were seven other soldiers gathered with him, one aiming his machine gun up the road the way we wanted to go.

    A few minutes later, the soldiers started to come down. They walked past our bus and back down the way we had come from. One after another after another. Some looked tired, red in the face from the walk; one had a battered, blackened cooking pot strapped to his backpack. Over two hundred soldiers passed as we sat there in our bus.

    "We are right in the middle," a few people pointed out to each other. The guerrilla were up the road and the soldiers, one by one, were coming down, one by one putting our bus between themselves and the enemy.

    We could hear the machine gun fire from up ahead on the road where the soldiers were coming from. A little girl burst into tears. Her mother held her closer on her lap and said to the woman sitting next to her, "They see the adults are scared and they start to cry too."

    Sarah Weintraub was an accompanier with FOR for two-and-a-half years. This excerpt is from a work-in-progress about her experiences in Colombia.

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    Youth Delegation: Make It Possible for Someone Else To Go!

    Our upcoming youth delegation is an exceptional opportunity for youth organizers, conscientious objectors, vets and anti-militarism activists to meet their counter-parts in Colombia and exchange experiences, tools and strategies. However, many of the young people who would greatly benefit from this experience don't have $1,700 extra cash to fund their own way ($1,000 for the delegation and about $700 for the airfare). If you are someone who supports the FOR Colombia Program, who has been on a delegation in the past, or believes that young people should be supported as leaders in the struggle to create a better world, then please consider making a donation specifically towards our youth delegation. We are currently in the process of accepting scholarship applications and will do our best to stretch your donations so that they cover as much of the need as possible. Anything and everything helps! And we thank you so much for your support.

    Click here to make a secure online donation to help make this delegation possible. (Please note "Colombia Youth Delegation" in the Special Instructions area.)

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  • December 2008 Colombia Peace Update

    5 December 2008

    Letter from the Field: Resisting Displacement
    By Julia Nelson
    Of all the unique satisfactions of being an international accompanier, one of the greatest pleasures is visiting the Peace Community members in their homes. These visits provide not only a source of enjoyment and connectedness, but also an opportunity for deeper understanding into the reality of day to day survival within this admirable struggle for peaceful living. Whether seeking a snack of arepas or a friendly conversation, walking into a home here may also open the door to witnessing firsthand the tangible effects of the armed conflict that continues to surround and invade the lives of these peasant farmers (campesinos).
    On the evening of November 8th as I went to visit my friend and neighbor in the Peace Community, I found myself staring into the faces of the latest victims of the war in this region. Having walked all day from their homes in the settlement of La Esperanza to come to where we live in La Unión, this family of four had just been displaced from their land earlier that day, bringing with them only what they could carry on their backs. As they wearily ate their dinner, they shared with me their story of how the events of the past few days had unfolded, having been forced from their homes to flee for their lives. And this was only the beginning.
    When reflecting on the significance of the Peace Community, I think about these campesinos without whom this community would not have been created or could not persist in the face of countless losses and endless threats; I think about their values of non-violence, neutrality and dignity upon which the community has established itself as apart from the rest. And I cannot help but acknowledge and admire the undeniable importance of these fertile lands in the mountains of Urabá on which these farmers have survived and continue to cultivate their lives, despite the armed actors, including the Colombian military, the guerilla and the paramilitaries, who all desire and even combat to take over this space of the Peace Community.
    Amidst this territorial struggle, the community was born. The Peace Community began when hundreds of campesinos were forced from their lands almost twelve years ago by the armed conflict overrunning their homes and the paramilitaries terrorizing their lives. Although distressed and displaced, a group of these farmers would not accept this unwarranted takeover of their fields. Founding and organizing the Peace Community, many farmers therefore started to return to their homes in the conflict-ridden mountain sides. Not only were these returns a display of their courage and strength, but was also a statement of their collective will to live peacefully and neutrally in their land, which they had cultivated for decades.
    Yet to this day, these Peace Community members and the land they have reclaimed are still being threatened by the paramilitaries. Over the last few years and even as recently as this past February, FOR has accompanied the members as they have officially returned to three settlements of the community. However, just this past month the Peace Community once again experienced the devastating effects of the conflict in and around their homes, as a number of farmers in La Esperanza have been displaced from their homes. However, the Peace Community refuses to neither surrender their land nor let these violations go unaddressed; the community has already publically denounced these recent injustices and declared its unwavering position of non-violent resistance to this illegal armed group.
    On November 7th, a large group of armed and identified paramilitaries entered into the settlement of La Esperanza, which is also home to members of the Peace Community. Because it is well-known in the region that the neighboring settlement to La Esperanza is controlled by these paramilitaries, the community acknowledged this invasion as an attempt to spread their authority into this territory. With guns and verbal abuse, this illegal armed group threatened some of these campesinos, saying that they were going to be killed unless they displaced from their homes. Five families immediately displaced from this settlement, which in turn increased the level of risk of displacement for those that remained, including the families of the Peace Community. When gunshots were heard on the following day, even more families from La Esperanza displaced from their homes for fear of finding themselves yet again amidst the presence of paramilitaries, and thus of continued threats on their lives.
    On November 17th, Peace Community leaders accompanied by FOR went to La Esperanza, having heard that the only people that had stayed were the members of the community while all the other farmers had been displaced. In order to maintain a strong presence in this settlement and increase security for these campesinos, the community leaders gathered and met with the remaining families. By encouraging these community members to stay on their lands and to work together, these campesinos would demonstrate their continued opposition to the armed conflict through their collective refusal to abandon their lands. Despite the paramilitary movements around the community settlement, these farmers believe that maintaining the presence of the Peace Community in La Esperanza is a form of peaceful resistance to the control of the armed groups. Recognizing themselves as the