June 2011 Colombia Peace Update


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: