September 2009 Newsletter

We Need Your Support!

Thanks to the hundreds of you who responded to our call to send a message to Congress about military bases in Colombia and to support FOR's work to put a brake on this new "Plan Colombia."

If you have not made a recent contribution to the FOR, we urge you to do so today. Our work on human rights and U.S. military bases and training in Colombia has had increasing influence. But we don't have large institutional funding, so we rely on you and your networks of support to keep it going.

In last week's New York Times, an article details a massive scandal that has erupted in Colombia about illegal spying on human rights organizations and opposition groups by the government. (See "Spying on Democracy" below in the News Briefs section.) FOR is one of the NGOs that has been the targets of illegal wiretaps and surveillance. Our work is critical and under threat, and we need your help now.

Please click here to contribute to the Fellowship of Reconciliation Colombia Program.


Bases Agreement Still Secret, but Opposition Grows

By John Lindsay-Poland

South American presidents at August 28 summit. President Uribe, on extreme left, had to be dragged into the photo by the Argentine President Kirchner. (Photo: Semana)

More than two months after news of a U.S.-Colombia accord for seven military bases provoked a storm of debate throughout Latin America, including a summit on August 28 of 12 South American presidents of UNASUR, Washington and Bogota were still keeping the unsigned agreement secret. A military official told Inside the Pentagon in early September that the military is "translating it, making sure the translation is a good one. The lawyers are taking a scrub at it."

So when the continent's defense ministers met in Quito on September 15, tasked by their presidents to study U.S. military plans for the region, they may have had only vague and contradictory information to work with. U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield spoke only of the bases' use to combat drug trafficking, while foreign minister Jaime Bermudez said the bases would also address "terrorism and other international crimes." And an internal Colombian report stated that the agreement includes increased cooperation, including for military training. President Uribe said the defense ministers could see the agreement "as long as it goes hand in hand with the OAS," in which Washington plays a more prominent role.

In a joint press conference with Bermudez, apparently convened for damage control on August 18, Hillary Clinton muddied the waters further, saying that U.S. and Colombian cooperation also must address issues from the "economic crisis to the climate crisis to public health concerns, such as H1N1 virus."

In addition, the outgoing commander of the 12th Air Force, Lt. Gen. Norman Seip, told Inside the Pentagon that he supports establishing a series of small U.S. airfields throughout the region to conduct intelligence operations. That arrangement would be consistent with the plan to set up lily pads," as the Pentagon is doing in Africa and the Pacific, as an alternative to large, expensive, and politically vulnerable fixed bases.

Essentially, the Pentagon and Colombia are saying to the region, "Trust our word, we'll only use these bases internally, within Colombia." But this message is not reassuring for those in Colombia who are tired of war, including the millions of people displaced from their lands by Army, paramilitary, or guerrilla violence.

The claim that operations will be limited to Colombia also is not credible. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez read aloud at the summit from the U.S. military report on the Southern Command's interest in establishing "strategic airlift" capability in South America, and using the Palanquero base in Colombia to "cover the entire continent." The report also indicated that U.S. officials have sought an agreement with French Guiana for military access. (FOR was the first to make public the Air Mobility Command's disclosure in May.)

Members of Congress in both the House and Senate were likewise not persuaded. In the House, a September 15 letter from 16 Representatives highlighted the failures of Plan Colombia, especially the drug war, while Senators Dodd and Leahy asked
how the base agreement would impact the Colombian military's political will to address killings of civilians. They also sharply criticized the Obama administration's complete lack of consultation with Congress and Colombia's neighbors in negotiating the agreement.

Meanwhile, Wayu'u indigenous leaders, whose communities straddle the Colombian-Venezuelan border in the northern Guajira region, announced that they would close the border if the military base deal goes ahead. Many trucking companies that move Venezuelan oil into Colombia are run by Wayu'u collectives. Venezuelan oil had been exported to Colombia at lower rates, to alleviate economic conditions in the northern area where Wayu'u communities are concentrated. But a Venezuelan legislator claimed that Colombia was dumping the subsidized fuel onto the black market for use as far from the border as Bogotá. Wayu'u communities also were angered by Israeli authories' claims that the Palestinian Hezbollah are active in the Guajira.

September 15-19, a coalition that includes the National University International Economy Observatory, Colombian Action Network on Free Trade and the Fellowship of Reconciliation, organized a series of public events in Bogotá, Barranquilla, and Medellín, in which the bases in Colombia are being debated.

Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano also commented on the bases in Colombia, saying: "It not only offends Latin American collective dignity, but the intelligence of anyone, because they say
their function will be to combat drugs. Please, for how long! Almost all the heroin consumed in the world comes from Afghanistan... And Afghanistan is a country occupied by the United States. As we know, occupying countries have responsibility for what happens in the occupied countries."

To link to a wide variety of information and documents about the proposed military bases in Colombia, click here.


Beyond the Peace Community...

The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó released three statements in July and August documenting abusive army behavior, an increasingly visible paramilitary presence, and the unexplained deaths of several civilians. Peace Community territories in the further reaches of the district have fallen victim to aggression, in particular in La Resbalosa, a hamlet to which Peace Community members have been returning over the last 18 months. The Community has denounced unauthorized entries into private
dwellings, the theft of crops, damage to property and insulting behavior by soldiers. Soldiers beat and verbally abused Julio Guisao, the work coordinator of La Resbalosa, as he was making his way home on July 20.

Colombian soldiers on trial on August 25 for the February 2005 massacre in San José de Apartadó wore their uniforms, despite no longer being on active duty.

In considering the context for army operations, two points stand out. First, the army has published and distributed a booklet to its field personnel detailing the behavior expected of soldiers towards Peace Community members. Given the recent aggression, we question the
effectiveness of the booklet.

Second, the area has witnessed the introduction of two or three mobile brigades whose mission, according to army officials, is to exert greater pressure on the area's remaining guerrilla insurgents. This is in addition to the standing brigade, which has a base in the village of
San José de Apartadó, in the foothills of the Serranía de Abibe. The different veredas (sub-divisions) of the corregimiento appear full of the military. Troops station themselves within ten minutes´ walk of the hamlet in La Unión (where the international accompaniers are based) roughly every other week, staying in one place for up to five or seven days. However, there has been no violation of the Peace Community space in La Unión since April of this year. We are led to speculate that international accompaniment in La Unión provides a modicum of protection to Peace Community members that is not enjoyed by those living further into the mountains.

A newly-confident paramilitary presence is exerting itself once again in the veredas
close to Nueva Antioquia, a traditional stronghold of paramilitarism. Although official State discourse maintains that paramilitary forces no longer exist following a demobilization process, the presence of up to 200 armed men presenting themselves as Autodefensas Gaitanistas ("Gaitán" Self-Defense Forces, named after the slain Colombian politician) ridicules this claim.

The Peace Community argues that the paramilitaries never demobilized, and that links with the security forces in Nueva Antioquia remain intact. The Autodefensas' activities in La Esperanza and surrounding settlements over recent months have included death threats to Community members and accusations of collaboration with the guerrilla insurgency.

While it has been possible to attribute these aggressions to military and paramilitary forces, the recent deaths of three people within a fortnight in the area remain unresolved. In one incident, a prominent figure was murdered in La Cristalina settlement, where Peace
Community families also reside. A second killing occurred in a vereda shared with Peace Community families. In the third instance, a decomposed body appeared ten minutes away from the hamlet of La Unión. A forensic team was called upon to remove the remains under the auspices of the office of the human rights ombudsman, given the proximity to protected Peace Community spaces. It is not yet clear who committed the murders, or whether they were acts of political or social violence, but as always there is reason to suspect the involvement of
at least one armed group. Furthermore, in the department of Córdoba, which now hosts three Peace Community hamlets, the murder on July 31 of a local civilian at the hands of paramilitaries provoked the displacement of nearby residents.

Instability in San José de Apartadó is compounded by sporadic outbreaks of combat between army or paramilitary forces and guerrillas, which pose a further danger to the lives of civilians. In the midst of this violence, the Peace Community seeks to build and expand its spaces
of life, free from the damaging effects of the armed conflict, as the Geneva Conventions envisage.


Damming Magdalena: Emgesa Threatens Colombian Communities

By Jonathan Luna, Special to CorpWatch

A small path descends from the town of La Jagua, crossing a field and forest until it ends at a cliff overlooking the Magdalena River. Pairs of buff-necked ibis take flight announcing their local name, "cocli cocli." Above the beach where children swim, the rock is carved
by erosion and dotted with small holes occupied by birds. The landscape is dotted, too, every 100 meters, with concrete markers declaring the land, river, and everything else a "public utility" that Colombia has given to the energy company Emgesa as part of the Quimbo Hydroelectric Project.

The Magdalena River. (Photo: Jonathan Luna)

Quimbo's developer, Bogotá-based Emgesa S.A. Empresa Generadora de Energía, projects costs at $700 million for the hydro component and $200 million for substations. The Ministry of Environment granted a construction permit in May, and the dam is scheduled for full operation by 2014.

"If completed, it would be the first of multiple Emgesa dams proposed for the river in the department of Huila, along the country's longest and most economically important river," said Miller Dussán, a leader of the grassroots coalition Plataforma Sur de Organizaciones
Sociales and professor of philosophy at the Universidad Sur Colombiana (USCO).

The Quimbo dam would inundate about 8,800 hectares (ha) (34 square miles), displace some 1,500 rural peasants and eight community-owned cottage industries, and flood 842 ha of riparian forests and 2,000 ha of cultivated land, warned Dussán. It would severely cut "Agrado's
agricultural potential, resulting in its gross domestic product decreasing by at least 30 percent."

Discussion has been heated on radio and in the Colombian legislature which, in November 2008, held a televised nine-hour debate. Endangered Huila communities have mounted opposition marches, camps, and local and regional social forums. Plataforma Sur is spearheading the effort,
which includes regional youth, USCO academics, the Regional Council of Indigenous Peoples of Huila, Colombia's largest labor union (CUT), various social and environmental NGOs, autonomous collectives, and politicians including a former governor of Huila.

Continue reading here.


Letter from the Field: A Gentle Land

(with apologies to Michael Vickory)

By Ivan Kasimoff, participant in August 2009 FOR Delegation to Colombia

A few members of the August ´09 Delegation came to Colombia before the official arrival date and have seen a wonderful, lush country, from the rich colonial cities of the Caribbean coast such as Cartagena, to the exciting city of Cali, to several historical towns such as Mompox on the Magdalena River, and to Barichara frozen in its 17th century construction in the Andean highlands. And some of us have walked through the Centro Histórico of Bogotá where the large cathedral stands before the wide Plaza Bolívar named after the great liberator of Latin America from Spanish imperial control.

As the delegation has been through several days of meetings, we have together been able to go to uptown Bogotá to the Parque 93 in a peaceful area of cafes and restaurants, a small area of
respite amongst towering skyscrapers on all sides. We find the Colombian people to be polite, perhaps a bit restrained, but always helpful. The common greeting here is a simple "Buenas" everywhere you go. Their days are busy as it seems that everyone goes to work. Street life is vibrant and there is no shortage of open shops, discos, cafes, and exotic produce on stands and carts on the street. We are dazzled by the jugos naturales with names like lulo, maracuya, mora, zapote, and the list goes on. We get around easily as many Colombians do on the modern transportation systems, one cleverly named the Transmileno. There are also several subway lines in the city of Medellín, not to mention several funicular lines up into the hills of this modern city. After now a week in Colombia, it is fair to say that the delegation has been enjoying our stay and experience in this land.

The image we have of Colombia is of course informed on the one hand by what we see in our travels. There is also the image of Colombia represented by President Uribe and widely disseminated in the media here, much of which is presented in the same way in the North
American media-a country making progress and overcoming its historic problems of terror and drug trafficking. There is another image which we learn about in our own studies of this country and meetings we have with members of various NGOs and activists as you will read by keeping up with the writings in this blog. As in much of the conquest of the Americas beginning in the 16th century, hundreds of thousands if not more indigenous people were killed in Colombia. Then soon after the war for independence from Spain, Colombia had not less than eight civil wars in the 19th century. When the Cold War began, some 200,000 people were killed in the Bogotazo uprising. Waves of political and military battles by a number of armed actors continued on into the '60s, '70s, and '80s. And in the '90s and into our own millennium, the drug wars became a component of the violence of everyday life not only in the country but in many major cities. With the election of President Uribe in 2002, Colombians now live in the state under his firm hand called Seguridad Democrática, which if one wants to look carefully means police and military personnel are present on many, if not every street in the cities. That is not all we can see in this land.

Everyday life is filled with police or military actions. Our bags are checked when we enter buildings and certain streets in the city. We are fingerprinted and photographed when we enter the lobby of the building that hosts the U.N. High Commission on Human Rights and Refugees. Large military personnel trucks are parked at city plazas and parks where uniformed officers comb through the public space questioning military recruitment aged youth to see if their registration papers are in order-if not, on to the trucks these youth go for basic training.

And out of the cities, there are police and military checkpoints on the roads. Passenger filled buses are stopped on their journeys so that the authorities can check over IDs and suspicious behavior. On one 100 mile trip to a major Caribbean city with 3 Colombians in our taxi, we were stopped 3 times, one stop 5 minutes after the other. All of our papers were looked over twice. Us males were frisked on two of these stops, and I had to nearly empty out my luggage for them to see. Perhaps more stunning than these acts ¨for our security¨ was that each time we returned to our seats, not one person commented or even sighed at the intrusive actions of these highly armed men.

Once in the coastal city, on the way back to my hotel, I was stopped on the street by 2 young police officers. They patted me down, and up. They asked me to empty my pockets. The officers then personally went through my pockets from behind me and upon only finding money and an ID which they showed no interest in, accused me of having cocaine. What could I say? There was some back and forth, but again, what could I say. They had no explanations. No probable cause. No logic here. Then they requested a gaseosa, a soda pop. I just starred at them in disbelief. They let me go, let me go with feelings of violation, humiliation, and fear.

None of this is unusual here. In our meetings we learn about arbitrary arrests, police harassment, disappearances, forced displacements of thousands of peasants and indigenous people (about 10% of the 43 million population are refugees in their own country). And there are targeted assassinations, and more recently selective assassinations (where 2 or 3 persons associated with a targeted person are killed). The very office in Bogotá where we meet to learn about Colombia today was recently broken into and its computers stolen in the same month as 3 other NGO offices were similarly robbed. And in a meeting with campesinos in a small town that FOR delegates participated in, heavily armed police officers stood outside the meeting hall while simple people sharing the story of their lives were watched.

There is no gentle land. This is the Colombia Gabriel Garcia Marquéz exposes readers to in the city of Mompoz in 100 Days of Solitude. This is the Colombia of President Uribe´s Seguridad Democrática. This is the Colombia the United States supports with Plan Colombia.


News Briefs

Argentina decriminalizes possession for personal use Argentina's Supreme Court decriminalized the small-scale use of marijuana on 25 August, opening the way for a shift in the country's drug-fighting policies to focus on traffickers instead of users. The high court ruled it unconstitutional to prosecute cases involving the private use of marijuana.

Elsewhere in Latin America, Colombia and Mexico have already decriminalized the possession of small amounts of drugs. Brazil and Ecuador are looking at an initiative to legalize some drug use.

"Each adult is free to make lifestyle decisions without the intervention of the state," the court's ruling said. It did not set a weight limit for what constitutes small-scale and the court said it was not decriminalizing all drug use. "Behavior in private is legal, as long as it doesn't constitute clear danger," Supreme Court President
Ricardo Lorenzetti said. "The state cannot establish morality."

Don't Break Colombia's Heart

Activists laid flowers and crosses on the gigantic hearts placed by the Colombian government around Washington, DC. (Photo: Marino Cordoba)

No More Broken Hearts is a response to the "Discover Colombia Through Its Heart" PR campaign put on by the Uribe administration in Washington, DC, and New York in the month of September. Launched at the close of the summer Congressional recess, and centered on Union Station across from the Capitol, this PR campaign is clearly intended to win Congressional support for the proposed U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. No More Broken Hearts is a coalition of Colombians, Colombian-Americans, and others concerned about human, labor and environmental rights in Colombia, and opposed to the FTA. Read about why here.

We stand with those Congresspeople, and millions of Colombians who continue to publicly oppose the FTA, U.S. military aid, and military bases.

Spying on Democracy

From Washington Office on Latin America, US Office on Colombia, and Latin America Working Group

A scandal far worse than Watergate is unfolding featuring Colombia's presidential intelligence agency, the Administrative Security Department (DAS). Exposed by the Colombian news weekly Semana and the subject of an Attorney General's office investigation, the DAS is revealed to have been illegally spying on many of the varied forces of Colombian democracy: opposition politicians, human rights groups, journalists, clergy, unions, and Supreme Court justices. The operation went deeper than surveillance, employing a variety of dirty tricks, seeking to "neutralize and restrict" the normal activities of human rights groups and any voices
critical of the Uribe administration.

And the scandal is far from over. Indeed, Semana magazine revealed on August 29 that the DAS, despite the media outcry and the Attorney General's investigation, is continuing and even
increasing its illegal espionage, focused against judges, human rights lawyers and, now, presidential candidates and members of Congress. According to a DAS agent interviewed by Semana, "What interests us now? Simple: the referendum [the legislation
allowing a referendum to permit President Uribe to be elected for a third term]. We have to know... what the politicians are thinking." A U.S. Department of Justice official's conversations with a Supreme Court judge were recorded. And even the prosecutors investigating the DAS were illegally wiretapped.

Human Rights Defenders Campaign Launched
In Colombia, being a human rights defender is a dangerous, often deadly job. Those working on issues ranging from the environment to the rights of women, campesinos, the indigenous and
other victims of the armed conflict receive threats to their physical and psychological integrity, and that of their families, on a daily basis.

More than 100 organizations from the United States, Europe, and Latin America on September 9 launched a campaign to change these conditions. The aim of the campaign is to bring sustained and coordinated pressure on the Colombian government to achieve a positive, lasting and significant change for the country's
human rights defenders.

Areas of focus

  • Impunity in cases involving defenders.
  • Misuse of state intelligence against defenders.
  • Systematic stigmatization of defenders by government officials.
  • Unfounded criminal proceedings brought against defenders.
  • Problems with the protection program for defenders at risk.

Individuals can endorse the campaign. Click here to see what you can do.

State Department "Certifies" Human Rights in Colombia

The State Department announced on September 11 that it "certified" improvements in Colombia's human rights record, triggering the release of $32.1 million in military equipment and training from the fiscal year about to end. As of June, Senate officials had place a hold $72 million in other military assistance because of human rights concerns.

The State Department 157-page "justification" for certifying contains curious combinations of statements. "The security situation in Colombia continues to improve," yet "homicides of labor unionists rose" and "reports of extrajudicial killings continued during the certification period", while "investigations into cases of extrajudicial killings are proceeding slowly," and the number of people displaced by the conflict increased (by disputed amounts). If this is improved security, what would worse security look like?


World Summit for Peace: Bogotá, Colombia-October 1-4, 2009

Pacifists Without Borders, with support from the Bogotá mayor's office, will trail blaze the pathway towards the World Summit for Peace, which will occur in the city of Bogotá, October 1-4, 2009. This citizen-led and -promoted initiative is a collective effort towards global peace and against violence, militarization, and injustice. The objective is to
collectively construct a favorable setting for reflection, to exchange ideas and dialogue about peace as a social construction, derived from a system based on the principles of social justice and peaceful coexistence.

The World Summit for Peace will have two dimensions:

  1. The global dimension: It is crucial to lead a cultural process from Bogotá, Colombia and the Andean Region which is comprised of basic values such as nonviolence and pacifism. Bogotá will be converted into a stage from which a worldwide peace process will be constructed, promoted, and led within a global context. Moreover, the global dimension to the Summit will further permit the world community to be informed about the particular dimensions of the Colombian armed conflict.
  2. The local dimension: this proposed process looks to foster spaces for dialogue about the Colombian conflict and to develop strategies with the help from all international participants in order to search for a solution to the Colombian armed conflict. Furthermore, we look to provoke a collective reflection through an ample process of participation that will permit us to create the atmosphere for a solution and a post-conflict strategy.

During the summit, Bogotá will be the arena for artistic expressions. A host of such artistic expressions will permeate throughout the city, including concerts, dance presentations, theatrical performances,
painting exhibitions, and alternative films from all reaches of the world. You too are invited to inundate the city with art in the name of the Global Peace!

The summit will produce five strategic documents. Three of them will be elaborated by well-known internationally recognized figures. These documents will be presented in the summit by their authors and they will be discussed in three large public assemblies. The three documents will address the central themes: justice, culture, and democracy, and their relationship to peace. We will make the effort to establish these documents as the basis for dialogue in the preliminary stages of the summit.

The fourth document is what we call the Bogotá Manifesto 2009. This will be a proposition that will emerge from the summit and will be elaborated by the promoting group and the facilitators of the event. The first draft of the manifesto will be presented and discussed
through a permanent virtual online forum for a period of six months. Furthermore, the World Summit for Peace will project a strategy for the implementation of the Bogotá Manifesto as a post-summit strategy.

The fifth document will be the Pathway to Peace in Colombia: Conflict and Post-Conflict. This will be a collectively elaborated project with the wide
participation of international and national participants. It will be signed by all participants as the first stage of a work in progress in order to achieve a political solution to the Colombian conflict.

There is no charge for participation in the Summit in Bogotá. To register, send an e-mail to:

The organizers want curiosity for the Summit to increase as the main event draws closer and likewise aspire to generate interest among the worldwide citizenry and institutions. Moreover, they hope to unite global support and commitment for this global cause. We hope to create
strong alliances with the international media in order to promote the city's image as a city committed to Peace in Colombia and in the World.

World Peace Conference • • 011(571)368-1999