May 2010 Colombia Peace Update
- Take Action: Threats to Defenders and Communities
- No Bases Coalition Launched in Bogotá
- Colombia Bases Delegation
- 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
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.
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.
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 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.firstname.lastname@example.org
Ken Crowley 202-423-3402, email@example.com
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.
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, which 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. FOR has already 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
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”.
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.
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 14th 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.
Seeing reality is the first step to changing it. Be an objector.
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.
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! Click here to tell your representative to change U.S. policy towards Colombia. To see more photos of action around the country, click here and here. To 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, click here.
FOR and SOA Watch Event on Military Bases
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.
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
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.