February 2008 Peace Presence Update
- I Am Colombia, We Are Colombia, Who Is Colombia?
- Colombian High Court Issues Landmark Ruling Protecting the Peace Community
- Berkeley Calls for Ending Colombia Military Aid, Support for Treatment
FOR Calls for Action!
- Reflections on the Conflict In Colombia by Heidi Rhodes
- Letter from the Field by Dan Malakoff
- Join FOR for the Days of Prayer and Action
- Building Peaceful Resistance: A Human Rights Delegation to Colombia
On February 4th, millions of people around the world marched against the FARC, with slogans like: "no more killings, no more kidnappings, no more FARC" and "I am Colombia." Their message was a rejection of guerrilla violence. Without knowing more about the political-social context in Colombia, it seemed to be a noble one: we're tired of this war, we don't want the guerrillas to wreak havoc in our country anymore. But the protest became politicized before it happened. The government gave an official endorsement and all public employees the day off to participate, schools were in session for only a half day and Salvatore Mancusco, a powerful paramilitary boss currently in jail and responsible for numerous human rights abuses, encouraged people to join. The media in Colombia not only gave full coverage of the events, but became part of the organizing effort--in newspapers, radio programs and on websites there were articles, statements and links to the protests that would happen around the world. The result was a march that not only focused on the atrocities of the FARC, but also a rejection of Chavez and an endorsement of Uribe. The left-leaning Polo Democratico participated in the march, but rather than "all sides" joining forces to call for peace, the streets of Colombia became a battle ground for the two opposing parties to insult each other. The anti-FARC protestors shouted pro-Uribe statements and accused the opposing party of being guerrilla supporters (If you speak Spanish, check out this video: "Lo que no se vió en la marcha del 4 de Febrero"). The tensions were not only found in Colombia, but can be seen in this video in New York as well.
Perhaps the most troublesome part of the February 4th message is that it clearly excluded other kinds of victims - Colombia's 40 year old conflict, which has been brutal on all sides, was reduced to the crimes committed by one of the armed groups. The victims of the FARC have been many: some executed and some held as prisoners in the jungle for years at a time in terrible conditions. But it is equally as important to reject the violence played out by the armed forces, police and the paramilitaries, which according to the Attorney General's Office, make up some 90,000 victims.
In response to the February 4th protests, human rights organizations declared that they would hold another protest on March 6th and mobilize people around the world to speak out against state and paramilitary-sponsored violence. Not surprisingly, government officials have said they will not support the March 6th mobilization like they did on February 4th. Uribe's advisor Jose Obdulio Gaviria said the government will not endorse the march because it is being organized by those whom they just marched against on February 4th (i.e. the FARC) and that State violence, "don't exist as a systematic crime in Colombia." Ivan Cepeda, leader of the National Victims Movement Against State Crimes (MOVICE), claims that he and others have been victims of recent intimidations and that "the origin of these intimidations are part of the confusion that has been generated for all Colombians, mainly because of the declarations made by presidential adviser Jose Obdulio Gaviria, when he attributed the organizing efforts of this protest to the FARC."
In their call to action, the National Victims Movement states the case against the paramilitaries and state: the paramilitaries, alone or together with members of the Armed Forces, have disappeared at least 15,000 patriots and they have been buried in more than 3,000 common graves or they have thrown their bodies to the rivers. They have assassinated 1,700 indigenous, 2,550 trade unionists and 5,000 members of the Patriotic Union. From 1982 until 2005, they perpetrated more than 3,500 massacres and stole more than six million hectares of land. Since 2002, after their "demobilization" they have assassinated 600 people each year. Since 2002 until today, members of the National Army have committed more than 950 executions, the majority presented as "positives." Only in January of 2008, the paramilitaries committed two massacres, 9 forced disappearances, eight homicides and the army has committed 16 extrajudicial executions.
According to a recent Inter-Press Service article, Claudia Giron, a psychologist and organizer of the Victims Movement (MOVICE) said, "Saying 'I Am Colombia', the slogan of the previous march, is to say that the Colombia that I accept is the Colombia that thinks like I do. We believe pluralism and diversity are important. It is more important to say that we are all Colombia, whether or not we think alike," she said. In MOVICE "we don't turn a blind eye to the crimes committed by guerrilla groups. But a state that violates human rights is a problem at another level, because it is not just any actor -- it supposedly guarantees respect for those rights. That doesn't mean that the pain of the insurgent groups' victims isn't the same as our pain," she added. "We profoundly take into consideration their pain as human beings and repudiate the crimes committed against them."
Fellowship of Reconciliation's counterpart the Association of Campesinos of Antioquia declared the following about the mobilization: "On the 6th of March we will be there again, present to remember our inconclusive, blinded and manipulated history. In the midst of impunity which dominates our country, we will be there to echo the cries to demand that justice be done, that the truth be told and that the damages incurred be paid by those in powerful positions; there are those who have been blind to pain which is foreign to them because they don't see it or simply because they don't care.
"We will walk on the 6th of March for all those who have been thrown off their lands, for those who continue to resist in their territories, for those who have never been heard, for the disappeared, for the indigenous people of this land, and for the land itself which is also a victim of the voracity of power. We will march for truth, for free information, for the assassinated of exiled journalists who were doing their work ethically and with dignity and in the name of memory during this time as we work to shape our collective history."
In San Francisco, the Bay Area Colombia Working Group, Fellowship of Reconciliation and American Friends Service Committee will have a local event to commemorate the victims of the massacre of San José de Apartadó and other victims of state and paramilitary crimes. To see other events being organized around the world, click here.
Colombian High Court Issues Landmark Ruling Protecting the Peace Community
Last January, the Colombian Constitutional court handed down a ruling advancing the Peace Community's right to truth and justice, and ordering the Colombian government to take concrete steps to end the impunity for the crimes committed against the Peace Community of San JosÃ© de Apartadó since its formation ten years ago. (Download the ruling as an RTF/text document.)
The high court was reviewing a Peace Community's writ of protection demanding that the Colombian Ministry of Defense disclose the names of the military personnel involved in military operations on specific dates when violations against the Peace Community took place. For years, the Ministry of Defense had refused to disclose such information, alleging that it would compromise any criminal or disciplinary investigations. Siding with the Peace Community, the Court rejected the Defense Ministry's assertion saying that revealing the names of the military personnel would not compromise the integrity of such procedures, but instead it was essential to the Peace Community's right to pursue justice, including within the international system.
However, the Court went beyond the specific request and examined the bulk of the violations against the Peace Community over the last 10 years and found that justice, truth and reparation had not been achieved. Echoing something that the Peace Community has been claiming for years, the Court found that "Members of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó have been persecuted and murdered without the state having made sufficient effort for the protection of their rights, without the crimes having been properly investigated, their authors being punished and the victims' rights effectively protected."
Indeed, the Court looked into over 150 murders of Peace Community members and found that in none of those murders has a culprit been brought to justice. Therefore, the Court ordered the Attorney General's office to assemble an inventory of the crimes against the Peace Community identifying the names of the victims; to determine which crimes are not being investigated, which investigations are stalled, to advance them, and to establish priorities, so those responsible for the most serious crimes are punished.
In its ruling, the Court also addressed two issues that are at the center of the very difficult relationship between the Peace Community and the Colombian government: the placement of the police post in the hamlet of San José de Apartadó shortly after the February 2005 massacre, which prompted the Peace Community to displace, and its refusal to provide additional testimonies before the Colombian courts, since many witness have been killed. On the police post, the Court reaffirmed the principle of distinction between combatants and civilian non-combatants embedded in the International Humanitarian Law, and stated that this principle should have been taken into account by the Colombian Armed Forces when determining the location of the police post. Regarding the Peace Community's collaboration with the Colombian judicial system, the Court calls on the Peace Community to cooperate, but sides with the Peace Community on the reasons for their mistrust when it declares that "such cooperation needs to be voluntary, guarded by an effective protection, must not generate retaliation and must respond to a new climate of trust, something that this Revision Court knows is difficult to build." The Court charges the Ombudsman's office with the task of working to restore the trust between the Peace Community and the Colombian government.
Watch a short video of a Colombian human rights analyst explaining the ruling from the Constitutional Court.
The Berkeley City Council passed a resolution on Tuesday, January 29th, 2008 that called for an end to military funding of the Colombian Army as part of the "drug war," and a re-direction of the money to domestic drug treatment efforts. The city government urged Congresswoman Barbara Lee to "step up her leadership to terminate all military assistance to the Colombian Army, and to re-direct these funds" to "substance abuse prevention, harm reduction, and treatment programs."
|Call to Action!
On Wednesday February 20th, members of the Bay Area Colombia Working Group met with Barbara Lee's office staff to follow up on the City Council resolution and explore the possibilities of working further on this issue. If you are a member of Barbara Lee's district or if you have friends or family that are, please encourage them to write a letter (hand-written is the best!) to her office urging her to take a stand on this issue. In your letter encourage her office to:
The city's Peace & Justice Commission submitted the resolution, and supporters included the local treatment center Options Recovery, the peace group Fellowship of Reconciliation, and local Colombian activists. Dr. Davida Coady, executive director of Options Recovery spoke to the council and audience alike. "I am happy that Berkeley is taking the lead in ending war funding to a corrupt and brutal military and putting the money where it can really help people suffering from addiction." Colombian activist Pablo Velez Villegas from San Francisco also offered his thoughts about the many years of war and violence in his country and the fact that US military aid has only exacerbated an already devastating situation. He urged the Council to spend US tax dollars where it would be best used, domestically in the United States for the people who struggle with substance abuse.
Military spending in Colombia was supposed to cut cocaine production in half by 2005. Instead, retail prices for the drug have dropped and purity has increased, according to the Office on National Drug Control Policy. Meanwhile, a recent study showed that killings of civilians by the Colombian army has increased since the U.S. overhauled military training of its forces.
The resolution recognizes Rep. Lee's leadership in advocating reduced military spending, and says that as a member of two key Congressional spending committees, she is "in a unique position to reorient U.S. counter-narcotics spending away from Colombia and towards U.S. social programs." Lee is also co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which each March produces an alternative federal budget.
This is the first resolution of its kind, but FOR hopes to encourage similar resolutions around the country.
El Tecolote, San Francisco's bilingual newspaper, also covered the story.
By Heidi Andrea Restrepo Rhodes
On February 4th, hundreds of thousands took to the streets in Colombia and worldwide to protest the FARC-EP (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del pueblo/Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army). Online and media debates have been rife with arguments that are increasingly polarizing an issue that requires a far more complex attentiveness. We are so quick to point fingers while the binary of "for or against" rings familiar for both U.S. and Colombian citizens, as the rhetoric of anti-terrorism proliferates, particularly in this post-9/11 world, conflating neo-liberal politics with State heroics. The notion of the nation's 'internal enemy' has been amplified in the social imaginary, allowing for 'national security' to extend its reaches into the folds of the everyday, impinging on what once were, for many of us privileged with citizenship in the United States, assumed freedoms. For Colombia, the effects of Uribe's Democratic Security and Defense Policy remain alarming as such polarization mandates patriotic allegiance from the nation's citizenry, and freedoms are also interfered for the promise of the public's protection. And yet, the complexity of this moment cannot be reduced to this alone. A vigilant inquiry would require a more profound exploration of the socio-political histories and present, of Colombia's internal politics, and of U.S-Colombia relations.
But today, as we stand to make something of our present, of the worlds which hold meaning for us, I hope we can ask ourselves, "To whom are we accountable?" In any political act, (and I would contend that no act is devoid of politics,) what are the ethics with which we arrive? When we choose to fill the streets with our bodies and voices, for whom do we march, with whom do we speak? Numerous organizations constituted by marginalized groups within Colombia have already denounced the march as a pro-war injunction towards increased militarization in an already hyper-militarized state. The United States funded 'Plan Colombia' has sent five billion dollars to Colombia since the year 2000, with roughly five and a half million budgeted for 2008. Over 70 percent of this has directly funded State military and defense programs. What could the public be capable of in refusing the reductionism of anti-FARC politics, and instead, attempting an analysis that asks our communities, our States, the world, "what are the structural conditions of history that produced this moment as we each live it differently in the present?"
And "security for whom, from what, and why?" Who are the multiple victims of violence in such a program of national cleansing? It should be noted that the FARC recognize themselves as a collective representative of Colombia's rural poor in a decades-long struggle for land rights, against oppression by Colombia's wealthy ruling classes. Uribe's national support stems mostly from the middle and upper classes who remain intent on maintaining their economic and social privileges: an endeavor which has been justification for the 'parapolitics' of the State, for increased neo-liberal policies and implementation of 'Plan Colombia' which necessarily includes the continued cultivation of international corporate relations and staunch regulation of the body-politic. This is an endeavor which must be marked as classed, as peasants in the ChocÃ³ region have been forced by the Colombian Army and paramilitary forces to flee their homes and over three million Colombian citizens have been displaced internally since the beginning of the 21st century. It must be marked as racialized, as thousands of individuals from Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities throughout the country have been murdered in order to clear land for corporate development. And it must be marked as gendered as women's bodies are raped and mutilated, as sexual violence continues to be utilized as a weapon of war on all sides.
This is not to defend the numerous violences perpetrated by the FARC, but to examine the rampant public and State demonization of rebel forces in Colombia. It is to bring into question representations of the FARC as a resistance movement and contrast them to those of the State and contingent paramilitary groups, mainly the AUC (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia/United Self-Defense of Colombia) which are also responsible for profuse violences within the country. This is an internal war at hand, with documented violences including over 15,000 disappearances in the last 20 years, 40,000 politically-related deaths since 1990, and over three million displaced, making Colombia's internally-displaced population the second largest in the world, second only to Sudan.
While certain territories are occupied, intimidated, and violated by FARC members, so are other regions occupied, intimidated and violated by the Colombian Armed Forces, paramilitary forces, corporate sponsored-private military forces, as well as national and private forces funded by U.S. tax dollars, with the numbers of human rights violations perpetrated being heavily outweighed by the latter contingencies. If one is to be diligent in asking of the effects in the here and now, one must note that the construction of the FARC as the Colombian Nation's internal enemy too often allows this last point to be deserted in the name of the fight for security. And so again, I ask, "security for whom, from what, and why?"
February 21st will mark the three year anniversary of the massacre at Mulatos in the San José Peace Community in the Urabá region, where eight individuals, including community leader Luis Eduardo Guerra and his family, were mutilated and murdered at the hands of Colombian military troops, their bodies dumped in shallow graves. All too often, citizens in rural areas are killed by military and paramilitary forces, their deaths fraudulently reported as success against the opposition. Will our politics allow for violence like this to be forgotten? Will those living on the margins, los de abajo, continue to shed their blood and be silenced for demanding justice?
And, as we take to the streets, or don't; as we make a stand for the freedoms we have inherited, and rage against the injustices we have endured: what does democracy mean to us? Does justice mean self-determination for the privileged few, or for all? In what ways are we holding our governments accountable towards the collective welfare of the body of the nation, towards sanctioning peaceful rather than violent means of governance? And, perhaps in this moment, most importantly, with what urgency are we, as residents within Empire, or as citizens endowed by the state with certain privilege, pointing our gazes inward to question our own collusions and complicities in the violences that ravage our communities, our countries, our world? How can we use the privilege we have to intervene on injustice in all its complexities, to perform action in struggle, in solidarity with those who need it most?
To whom are we accountable?
Heidi is a scholar-activist of U.S and Colombian heritage. She currently resides in San Francisco.
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by Dan Malakoff
|Juan Carlos, son of Luis Eduardo Guerra who was killed in the 2005 massacre, receives a gift of international solidarity from Spain to commemorate the third year anniversary.|
Juan Carlos, son of Luis Eduardo Guerra who was killed in the 2005 massacre, receives a gift of international solidarity from Spain to commemorate the third year anniversary.
Two and half years ago the Peace Community of San José built a small altar on the site where their founder and leader, Luis Eduardo Guerra, his partner Bellanira, and his son Deiner, were massacred. To hike to that spot from the town of San José takes six hours. The mud is deep and the trail climbs over a high mountain pass, yet dozens of community members came for the altar's dedication. As a FOR volunteer, I accompanied them.
That was my first trip to Mulatos, and it occurred six months after Colombian soldiers and paramilitaries killed Luis Eduardo, his family, and five others in the neighboring settlement of Resbalosa. Three of the eight victims were children, one 18-months-old. Five of the bodies were dismembered. Luis Eduardo had been tortured. The massacre was brutal and spared no one and made it clear to every campesino who lived in Mulatos and Resbalosa that they were no longer safe.
And so we met no one on the trail that day. What we saw were pastures beginning to overgrow. Jungle encroached on homes. Tomatoes desiccated. Pigs learned to roam loose and feral, or else died. Everyone had fled. The zone had been emptied of inhabitants. That was two and a half years ago.
Then last week, I had the chance to again visit Mulatos. Three years had passed since February 21, 2005, the day of the massacre, and the Community went to commemorate the anniversary. Well over a hundred people made the journey. Delegations from Spain, Portugal, and Italy came. The mules were loaded with food for three nights. FOR sent a team of accompaniers. And this time, on the six-hour trail to Mulatos, we did meet campesinos. We passed men headed to San José. They had planted corn and harvested it and would sell it in town and return with a month's worth of provisions. We passed whole families on their way to visit neighbors. This time our purpose was not only to remember the fallen but to celebrate the return of civilian life to Mulatos and Resbalosa.
While many families have gone back on their own, the Peace Community is also sponsoring a return. The first house is built and the Community plans to build others. Four returning families have pledged not to aid any of the armed groups and to instead uphold the principles of neutrality and nonviolence.
Two and a half years ago, we found the tiny ribs of eleven-year-old Deiner in the dirt where the altar was built. The government investigators had failed to recover all the bones. Two and a half years ago, we feared that the military would carve new threats into the wood posts. But now we found the altar as we had left it, and the men and women went right to work, clearing underbrush and decorating the structure with the Birds of Paradise that grow wild in those parts. When the work was done, exuberant, the men struck out to hunt and fish while the women set a cauldron of coffee to boil over a fire.
On our second day, we hiked up from the Mulatos River to Resbalosa, where February 21, 2005 the army killed, butchered, and interred the Bolivar family. On my last visit, we counted bullet holes in the plank walls, examined the shrapnel tears in the zinc roof, read the graffiti that the killers had left behind. Now a new family of four lives in that simple wooden house with two rooms and a kitchen. This family had displaced after the massacre, but returned six months ago. Around the house, pastureland for mules and horses had been cleared. Ducks and chickens dug in the mud. And on the walls, the graffiti had faded or been replaced by the charcoal doodles of children: hearts, crosses, and roses.
And Mulatos and Resbalosa aren't the only settlements being repopulated: there's new life in Las Nieves, La Esperanza, La Hoz, Rodoxali, Los Flores. As the U.S. awakes from winter, the district of San José is enjoying its own spring.
The war hasn't let up in these last three years. All the armed groups remain active and at war in the zone and, to them, civilians are but potential collaborators, pawns, and easy targets. None of that has changed, as the four most recent killings in the district demonstrate. The military shot an elderly woman in late December, dressed her as a guerrilla, and planted an assault rifle on her body. In late January, unknown assailants murdered the head of a nearby Community Board. Then earlier this month, the guerrilla assassinated two civilians who may have had links with paramilitaries. In the combats that followed, up to 30 families were displaced. Now the fear is that the paramilitaries will retaliate. Barriers remain. But, by returning, the Peace Community by force of will and rightness is pushing through them.
In Resbalosa, a community leader spoke of the massacre victims and the hundreds of other victims - all friends, family, and neighbors. "We are here, returning to the land, generating an example of life. The pain continues to transform us. Death continues to give rise to our solidarity, to give rise to our dignity."
As I stood listening, two children crouched in front of me. The little boy crushed ants with the tip of a stick. His sister picked at a length of rotten log at their feet. And I felt a wave of relief recognizing their impatience.
If they remember the massacre, they were too young to have understood it. They are still too young to reflect. But the attacks against civilians and the Peace Community will continue. These children will likely suffer them.
But what I hope is this: If these impatient children do have to grapple with the pain, fear, and hate that a brutal crime against them will invariably generate, they like their parents will turn away from violence and toward peace. I hope that the injustices they will be forced to bear will bring out the best in their hearts. This community, these people should have been destroyed a long time ago - yet they have become wise and resolute. All around me I see that's true, and so I too will remember and hope.
Dan Malakoff worked on the Colombian Peace Presence team from March 2004 to March 2005. In January 2008, he returned to FOR's San José team for a two-month stint.
Stand in Solidarity with the People and Churches of Colombia
Calling for an End to the Violence
Join Fellowship of Reconciliation and thousands of people of faith in North America and Colombia as we pray for an end to the violence and suffering in Colombia, and act for an end to unjust U.S. policies in Colombia. On Sunday, April 27, congregations across the country will stand in solidarity with our Colombian brothers and sisters who have endured so much suffering, remembering the victims of Colombia's brutal conflict and praying for a peaceful future in Colombia. Then on Monday, April 28, we will take collective action to ask that U.S. policy promote peace and justice in Colombia rather than military involvement and violence.
How you can participate in the Days of Prayer & Action:
- Ask your pastor to set aside Sunday, April 27 as a special day of prayer for Colombia. Send us an email if your congregation will be participating!
- Organize an educational event, such as a discussion, teach-in or march for your church or community on the effect of U.S. policy in Colombia.
- Organize a lobby day, call-in to Congress day, or a vigil on April 28, the Day of Action, to call on Congress to end funding for Colombia's war. Send in a postcard that asks your Congressional Representative to end US military aid to Colombia.
- Travel to the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó.
- Meet with grassroots Indigenous, Afro-Colombian, Youth, and Women's rights organizations committed to improving the human rights situation in Colombia through cultural expressions against the war and alternative non-violent practices of organizing.
- Meet with Government Officials and learn about the history of Plan Colombia/Patriota, the drug war and US military and economic intervention.
- 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: $1,500.
Contact Liza at 415.495.6334 or firstname.lastname@example.org to register by June 20th.