Organizations Like Bamboo: Trabajo psicosocial en Colombia

May 2, 2013

This post is about three years in the making. More to come next week on www.PorVida.org.

Organizations Like Bamboo: Resilience in Colombia

The conversation on care in US social movements has had me thinking about how we draw lines around what is and is not considered “movement,” or “care,” or “practice.” My own perspective around this was expanded through interactions with Colombian activists who, in their struggles for fundamental rights land, gender justice, environmental and other rights clearly weave together strategies of resilience promotion with base-building, advocacy, direct action and other marcos estratégicos. The conditions on the ground are distinct; death threats, for instance, are routine for many organizers. Still I think it’s worth reflecting on the integration of emotional, mental, spiritual and organizational wellness currently underway insuramérica.

Continue reading at Plan to Thrive or at UpsideDownWorld.org


The Barí & Their Neighbors

March 24, 2010

I forgot to post this last summer, busily helping plan a week of actions on Colombia. Check out the press hits! But I digress.

Nico sent along some helpful feedback that didn’t make it into the published draft, pointing out among other things that state violence is the primary barrier to organizing and partnership. “i think it’s important to make clear that not all colonos have that mentality…  what about the colonos who organized in marquetalia?? 🙂  i think there is definitely a stigmatization of colonos of being very individualistic, but in any given community, you seen signs of people helping each other out.” He also pointed out that there are in fact indigenous guerrilleros, and the FARC aren’t anymore likely to target indigenous or campesinos.

Editors. Editors are important. Preguntando caminamos…

Published in Left Turn (June 2009)

An Unlikely Alliance: Indigenous and Campesinos Build an Alliance for Self-Defense

By Andrew Willis Garcés

To reach one of the Colombian indigenous tribes that overlaps with Venezuela, you first need to get to the town of Honduras, in the municipality of Convención in the Norte de Santander department. It is accessible by a precarious, one-lane dirt road hugging the eastern spine of the Andes Mountains; average speed, about 12 mph. From there you walk or, if you’re lucky, ride a donkey past acres of relatively new coca fields and forest being cleared for that or pasture. After four hours you’ll arrive at the state Catatumbo-Barí Forest Reserve and the small village of Bridicayra, one of the few remaining indigenous Barí settlements.

Though hard to reach, the area is highly coveted by multinationals, some of which sent proxies this past January to a bi-annual assembly of Barí leaders, in hopes of enlisting them in the cause of resource exploitation. Twenty-three of all Barí towns were represented at the assembly in Bridicayra. Also in attendance were lawyers, environmental ministry officials, journalists, and documentarians. However the most unlikely guests the Barí shared space with during the assembly weren’t these urban professionals, but local campesinos.

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Al-Jazeera English report on the impact of US military aid & new bases agreement

December 19, 2009

Great English-language news video reports on Colombia are hard to come by. Let alone reports that feature prominently the voices of survivors and human rights defenders, and cast a critical eye on US military aid.

Fortunately, there is Fault Lines.

Part 1

Part 2


From the other side

June 30, 2009

Yesterday Álvaro Uribe Vélez had his first meeting with Barack Obama. Hundreds of us in the District of Columbia came out to demand that Obama keep his promise to be an ally to victims of state violence. Also present were ten bodies of slain Colombian human rights defenders, chained together on H Street NW. Their message: Remember.



Colombia: Fighting Development Banks for the Human Right to Water

March 31, 2009

Published on Upside Down World

More fotos.

This week five hundred people representing over a hundred social movement groups from across the Americas gathered in Medellín for a People’s Development Alternatives Assembly coinciding with the 50th anniversary meeting of the Inter-American Development Bank.

With the slogan “IADB: 50 Years Funding Inequality. Enough!,” the assembly organizers put forward a program of workshops and spaces for social movement dialogue, combined with public marches and visible denouncements of what they call US neoliberal policies writ large on Latin America.

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March 30, 2009

For a long time I’ve been struck by one of the most significant distinctions between US and Latin American social movements, the level of intersectional/interlocking dialogue and active construction between activists in different sectors and working on separate issues. A friend joked to me that Colombia is the country of the “network of the network,” with at least a dozen intersectional networks like the  CONAP, Proceso Popular, COEUROPA, and then sectoral and regional subgroups.

I saw this clearly on March 18 at a demonstration in the capital to support a national referendum that would insert the human right to water in the country’s constitution, the March in Defense of Water. Water privatization has yet to get a national focus in the US, even though Atlanta and some midwestern cities have gone private.  In Colombia, where water is always listed by indigenous and campesino groups in the list of coveted resources available in rural zones, and 50% of the utilities have been privatized in 15 years, it’s a different story. It was a festival of solidarity. Many different public and private sector unions (including local delegations from around the country), the ONIC indigenous federation, environmentalists, water consumers associations, disabled activists, high school and university students, artists, anarchist collectives, feminists – everyone had their banner, and most a rally speaking slot. A TON of youth came out and organized a huge, modified nursery school game in the middle of the march.

Here’s video.

And the music. Aterciopelados have been involved in the fight to preserve natural water sources for years, naming their most recent album Rio (river) and travelling by boat to collect signatures for the referendum. Apparently they played at a different rally last weekend. Here’s their “Cancion Protesta.”

This local all-women hip-hop group played at the March 18th rally. Por Razones de Estado, For Reasons of State.


International Women’s Day, paisa style

March 20, 2009

International Women’s Day was March 8th. It’s a big deal in big cities and small towns all over Latin America. I was in Remedios municipality in Antioquia. Here’s a version of a flyer (the date is a typo) I saw in every town in the region that week, inviting people from each smaller vereda in that part of the municipality to a party in San Francisco.

Surprise prizes for the women and soccer for the men!

Here’s video from the women’s day march on the other side of Antioquia, in Medellin.


Displacement ranchera, “We’re coming here”

March 14, 2009

The unfortunate thing about scheduling blog posts days before they’re published, is that sometimes that means watching Noticias RCN in the jungle, on a community television powered by a generator, and finding out your post about paramilitaries and extradition will be a little dated. (And that your government, the one with a new Attorney General appointed by Obama, is actively sabotaging the reparations process.)

I met Lorenzo Camacho in Puerto Nuevo Ité, Antioquia, known locally as Cooperativa for the longtime artisanal gold miners and lumber harvesters collective store there. Most of the community was driven out and the buildings burned in ’96 by paramilitaries. A community housing project sponsored by the ACVC and funded in part by the EU is now in the process of restoring the village.

He’s from Cundinamarca state, Yacopi municipality, and was forced to flee in’82 after receiving death threats from the army for being an alleged guerrilla sympathizer. Since then, they’ve had to move three other times, displaced by the army or paramilitaries. He wrote this song after coming to Puerto Nuevo a few years ago. I’ve had a few fascinating conversations with campesino and indigenous leaders who talk about the creation of memory and myth, and the use of storytelling and song, which some feel movements here often lack. Just like in El Norte, folks here get submerged in the day-to-day, which in this case includes daily harassment and threats by the army. (More on that soon.) There’s never enough time.

Apologies, the volume is low. Feel free to suggest alternate translations in the comments.

“Por Aqui Vamos Llegando”
by Lorenzo Camacho

Por aqui vamos llegando
A estas tierra de Antioquia
De muchos departamentos
De Caldas hacia el Tolima
Caparrapí y Yacopi
Venimos la gente buena
A estas tierras de aqui
En Puerto Nuevo se vive
Pobre pero vivimos
Querido amigo les digo
Debemos de ser tranquilos
Vamonos para el baldio
Y alli pasamos los dias

“We’re coming here”
by Lorenzo Camacho

We’re coming here
To this land of Antioquia
From many departments (states)
We come, good people
To these lands
From Caldas to Tolima
Caparrapí and Yacopi
In Puerto Nuevo we live
Poor but getting by
I tell you friend
We should stay calm
We’re going to baldio
And there we’ll pass the days


Paramilitaries – “Justice & Peace”

March 6, 2009

I recently saw the movie Twilight, which features an awful plot device. The vampire lead wants a mortal woman as a girlfriend. But, as he explains to her, he’s afraid he won’t be able to stop himself from sucking her blood. At one point, as they’re kissing, he yells at her to stop, or else he won’t be able to control his urge to kill her. In case this isn’t obvious to anyone, this is also how the rape of women by men is often treated in mainstream culture. Helpless men are “provoked” into raping by scantily-clad, disobedient, etc women.

“Stop-me-before-I-kill-again” seems to be the logic the Uribe administration has brought to the “demobilization” of paramilitaries, who have been conclusively linked to a majority of elected leaders in his governing coalition in the para-politica scandal. As the documents linked to and excerpted below show, the Uribe government has mostly absolved paramilitary leaders of responsibility for massacres and assassinations, probably to prevent them from telling all about the activities of their friends in government, and have treated them with kid gloves. This contrasts to the treatment of current and former guerrilla combatants; a clear double standard, as Narco News notes.

The government claims paramilitaries no longer exist, although I’ve met at least two dozen people who have been threatened by paramilitary or, as Corp Arco Iris calls them, “emerging armed groups,” just in the last year. Many activists received death threats by groups like the Aguilas Negras following the March 6, 2008 demonstrations against state and paramilitary violence. It will be useful to watch the response to today’s anniversary protests.

To understand the current state of impunity for paramilitaries, responsible for most threats, assassinations and, many say, the bulk of drug trafficking over the last two decades, it’s critical to know the impact of the Justice and Peace Law passed in 2005, three years after Uribe was elected and promptly signed a ceasefire with the AUC.

Here’s an excerpt from the CIP translation of a report by the director of INDEPAZ, “A Balance in the Red.”

Some of the figures are noteworthy: in three years no one has yet been sentenced; out of 3,431 people being processed for atrocities, only 9 have finished the confessions process. As of yet there is not one single victim who has been able to process his/her demands in a reparation proceeding, and not one peso from the perpetrators has been taken away through judicial sentencing… Out of a total of 3.5 million paramilitary victims, only 147,000 were brave enough to enlist for some kind of compensation. Barely 10,500 of them were able to attend a hearing, without any result, and less than 2,000 have legal representation… The 20 paramilitary heads who have given confessions turned in a paltry US$2 million and 99 farms (75% of the total money belonged to the “Mellizo” [narcotrafficker and sometime paramilitary leader Miguel Ángel Mejía Múnera, captured in May]). This contrasts with the US$5 billion accumulated by the narco-paramilitaries via narcotrafficking operations, the expropriation of more than 1.5 million hectares of land, and the appropriation of public funds in alliance with their “para-politician” partners.


  • Declassified documents show the CIA knew about links between politicians and paramilitaries since at least 1994. 15 years later, Obama’s budget shows $419 million earmarked for Colombia’s military and police.
  • The US wants to extradite a top para leader currently cooperating with victims’ lawyers. Last week several Colombian NGOs sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to reconsider: Letter on extradition PDF

Here are a few other links on the “Justice and Peace” / demobilization process.

Cherry-picked excerpts from this comprehensive LAWG report after the jump.
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Interview: University Students Federation of Colombia

March 1, 2009

The ever intrepid Nico did a fabulous translation of an interview conducted in Spain with a Colombian student leader in exile. Please check it out on his blog.

“In Colombia, Every Week They Say That We Students Are Terrorists”

This is my translation of an interview with David Flores, of the University Students Federation of Colombia. The interview was originally done by Anibal and Ana, on kaosenlared.net. Pueden encontrar la original aquí.