March 2009 Colombia Peace Update
- April 20 National Day of Action for Colombia
- U.S. and Colombian Organizations Call on President Obama: End Plan Colombia and Change U.S. Drug Policy
- Colombia Inviting U.S. Military Operations Kicked out of Ecuador
- More Illegal Wiretapping Uncovered
- School of Americas Graduate Threatens Peace Community Leader
- August 2009 Delegation to 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 (firstname.lastname@example.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.
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.
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 US organizations, national and regional human rights organizations and faith-based institutions urged President Barack Obama to undertake major changes 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 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.
And in a report released March 10, the Inter-American Dialogue said that “It is painfully clear that U .S . anti-drug efforts are not doing much either to cut supply or reduce demand” and called for “an honest, well-informed, and wide-ranging exploration and debate on alternative drug policies across the Americas” and urged Washington to “relinquish its dominant, often suffocating, role in shaping counternarcotics efforts in the hemisphere.”
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.
"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.."
"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.
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.
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.
"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.
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, email@example.com. To download an application, please click here (DOC) .