Archive for February, 2009

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Interview: Former ACVC political prisoner Oscar Duque

February 27, 2009

Here’s an early experiment with no-edit video interviews (thanks to Cecilia from IPO). Shot at the Feb. 17 demonstration in Barranca demanding freedom for ACVC political prisoners.

Thanks to those of you that sent emails and faxes. It was nice to see those click-throughs. This was an important week for that sort of thing – Obama’s budget still has hundreds of millions earmarked for the Colombian military.

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Grassroots organizing in Magdalena Medio

February 26, 2009

Published on Upside Down World

“The ACVC Defends the Territory of Campesinos – We Defend the ACVC”

Campesinos Struggling for Autonomy and Justice in the Face of State Repression

Last week over 200 people held a march and rally in the city of Barrancabermeja, Santander department, to demand justice for two imprisoned leaders of the largest campesino association in the region a day before the beginning of their trial.

Andrés Elías Gil and Miguel Gonzáles Huepa went before a judge for the first time since their 2007 arrests, for their leadership of the Campesino Association of the Cimitarry River Valley (ACVC). Activists from a dozen groups held up banners and placards pledging solidarity, as over a hundred campesino members chanted demanding their release, and sang songs of resistance. They also demanded an end to fumigations, which recently pulverized fields of yucca, banana and plantain outside Puerto Matilde in Antioquia department, and called for continuation of coca eradication by hand instead. They were joined by representatives of student unions, women’s groups, human rights defenders CREDHOS and ASORVIM and local oil workers unions SINALTRAINAL and the USO.

The case has also generated international attention; dozens of UK trade union and parliament leaders sent letters to the Colombian president and local judges last year demanding freedom for both men.

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Two minutes to take action

February 21, 2009

By the time you read this I’ll be hours from an internet connection, part of a team being asked to verify the damage done by cropdusters spreading Monsanto’s glyphosphate product across fields of of what’s known here as “pancoger” – yucca, plantain, corn, rice and other basic staple crops. The fumigations took place last week in areas affiliated with the Asociacion Campesina del Valle del rio Cimitarra, who are notoriously anti-coca production, only days before two of the group’s leaders went before a judge. We were able to shoot video of the actual fumigation, and are going to check out the damage a week later.

After the jump you’ll find a photo I took last night, of ACVC member “Juancito,” who was fumigated while walking home last fall. He still has open sores on his arms, and he asked us to publicize this image.

Also, by this time Colombia’s defense and foreign ministers will be on their way to Washington, DC to meet with Senators John Kerry, Patrick Leahy and Obama Administration officials. They’ll be making their voices heard, as that article makes clear. I hope you’ll also raise yours to amplify the hopes of millions of Colombian campesinos hit especially hard by the parts of the drug war/counter-insurgency funded by US tax dollars.

Here’s a sample letter followed by contact info. It’s not as easy as just entering your name and pressing “send,” but I hope you’ll take two minutes to do it anyway. Remember to replace the word “Senator” if you send it to the two Obama officials.

UPDATE: Hillary Clinton is also to meet with the Colombians

February 21, 2009

Dear SENATOR,

I’m writing to urge you to cut military and aerial fumigation funding for Plan Colombia in 2009. Americans can’t afford to continue wasting money on ineffective Colombian military operations. Last year the GAO found that, despite over a billion US dollars in aid per year, Colombian coca production increased 15%, and 4% more cocaine entered the US from the country over a six-year period. Meanwhile, just last week farmers in Puerto Matilde, Antioquia, participants of EU-funded coca crop substitution programs, had their yucca and rice fields fumigated by cropdusters, while military helicopters kept watch. This was verified by International Peace Observatory, an international accompaniment team comprising American, Spanish, Italian, French and Danish citizens trained in human rights observation. What’s unverifiable is how many of these farmers will have to turn to coca farming as a result – coca is a much more resilient crop than many other staples, and can regrow quickly after US-funded fumigation ends one of the three annual growing cycles. Or the longterm health effects of glyphosphate on local residents. This herbicide has been known to cause premature births, skin rashes and chronic respiratory illnesses, in addition to sterility in buffalo and cattle, also raised locally as a coca alternative.

I hope you’ll also let Defense Minister Santos know in your meeting with him that Americans are unhappy with the recent aesthetic changes to the Colombian armed forces, such as the replacement of Brigade 15 of the 2nd Division with Mobile 23, and do not represent an end to impunity. To date no army officer or soldier has faced charges in the official response to the “false positives” scandal, in which thousands of ordinary Colombian citizens were executed by members of the army and made to look like guerrilla combatants.

Thank you for being responsive to my concerns and those of peaceful, justice-seeking Colombians.

Sincerely,

NAME
OCCUPATION
LOCATION

Send an email or a fax to Senator Kerry: 202-224-8525

Send an email or a fax to Senator Leahy: 202-224-3479

Send an email or a fax to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: 202-647-0911

Send an email or a fax to National Security Advisor James Jones: 202-456-2461

Send an email or a fax to Public Liaison Valerie Jarrett: 202-456-2461

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Blog joins the 21st century

February 19, 2009

Thanks to a helpful TSG reader you can now receive an email everytime a new post shows up here.

Click here.

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Report from Catatumbo

February 17, 2009

Published on Narco News

After Feigned Progress, Two Steps Back for Human Rights in Colombia

“New” Colombian Army unit bombards, pillages elementary school in Catatumbo region

A tour of the elementary school La Nueva Esperanza (“The New Hope”) after the army attack

Interview with a resident whose house was hit in the attack

The Colombian Army’s brand-new 23rd Mobile Brigade, persuing National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels, pounded a school and nearby home last Monday, Febrary 2 with bombs, rockets and machine-gun fire in the hamlet of La Esperanza, in San Calixto municipality, Norte de Santander department. The area, part of the war-torn northeastern region known as Catatumbo, is sparsely populated, with less than ten homes within 500 meters of the school, spread out across a perpetually fog-covered mountain.

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Interview: Colombian women against violence

February 4, 2009

Published on Upside Down World.

Alejandra Miller Restrepo, Cauca regional coordinator of Ruta Pacifica de las Mujeres, talks about this thirteen-year-old movement of Colombian women against violence. The group is famous for groundbreaking direct actions joining campesino, black, indigenous and urban women in massive mobilizations or “rutas,” often held in locations controlled by armed groups who target women.

I spoke with Cauca regional coordinator Miller Restrepo in December 2008, a month after Ruta’s most recent mobilization, as the Colombian “false positives” scandal of the army killing civilians and claiming them to be guerrillas continued to generate headlines, along with widespread speculation about changes to come from the new Obama Administration. Her comments on how Ruta has opened space for women in Colombian society reinforced my concern that too many activists in the US and Colombia are setting aside what they know intuitively about the pace of change – that it comes from below, through the steady work of movements like Ruta that can take advantage of moments like this one to push the government leftward only by building on years of grassroots organizing.

Ruta continued that steady work with national demonstrations on February 1st, 2009 in cities across the country, to support the presence of women activists in Colombians for Peace negotiating the release of hostages held by the FARC, and demanding a negotiated end to the armed conflict, which the government opposes, refusing even to recognize the existence of legitimate armed groups.

When and how did you get involved with Ruta?

I heard about Ruta when I arrived in Popayán to attend the University of Cauca in 1999, and got involved then. Since 2002 I’ve been the regional coordinator.

How would you describe la Ruta?

We’re a movement of women against war, founded in 1996. We’re feminist, pacifist and anti-militarist.

We have two fundamental objectives: 1. To make visible the effects of war on the bodies of women. On our bodies because women’s bodies are sites of conflict in war, and it’s historically a particularly grave type of violence. And we must denounce the violence of war.  2. Insist on a negotiated outcome to the war. The militarization of territories creates more war and pain, the only way to end it all is through political negotiation.

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Hope & change in ’09

February 1, 2009

This is the last of the boring catch-up posts – social movement & human rights NGO visions for a sane US-Colombia policy, as we pass what Jon Stewart called “the Jan. 20 hope and change deadline.”

I had the privilege of attending part of the annual assembly of the largest clearinghouse of human rights groups here two weeks ago, which counts among its members over a hundred groups from many sectors, representing women, indigenous people, political prisoners, union members, and on. The Coeuropa, as it’s known, decided after three days of consensus-seeking debate not to seek any formal dialogue on human rights with the Uribe administration this year. The reasons are complex, but the assessment appeared to be that they would do better to continue to consolidate their energies building their base and with allies, continuing to pressure the government from the outside and call attention to rights violations by the army and official impunity.

The way forward on other matters, like proposing changes to Plan Colombia, was less clear, although that work continues as well. But on the US side of things, several NGOs have laid the groundwork for a big shift — IF we US solidarity activists can get it together to push through changes that might give Colombians a reprieve from fumigations, illegal executions and the like.

In October four US groups — members of the Colombia Steering Committee, three dozen US NGOs committed to a just Colombia policy — launched A Compass for Colombia Policy. PDF Everyone reading this probably understands how rare it is for many separate NGOs to collaborate on a unified policy vision. Unfortunately there isn’t yet anything this specific from Colombian organizations, although there may be soon, and the USOC, one of the authors of this document, is the de facto US delegate to the Coeuropa.

Here’s to hoping we can expand on and consolidate support for the compass.

A Compassdetails seven sensible steps policymakers can take to create a just and effective Colombia policy.”

They are:

1.  Use U.S. Aid and Leverage for Human Rights and the Rule of Law

To address a human rights crisis that continues unabated and a chronic lack of political will to deal with it, the United States must use tougher diplomacy to encourage the Colombian government to strengthen human rights guarantees, protect human rights defenders, and bolster institutions needed to break with a history of impunity for abuses. Colombia’s judicial system is central to the rule of law and must receive strong support.

2.  Actively Support Overtures for Peace

The United States cannot continue to bankroll a war without end and, as the civilian population in the countryside continues to endure immense suffering, should make peace a priority.

3.  Support Expansion of the Government’s Civilian Presence in the Countryside

Militarily occupying territory is not the solution to Colombia’s problems. The United States should help Colombia strengthen its civilian government presence in rural zones to address lawlessness, poverty and inequality, the roots of the conflict.

4. Protect the Rights of Internally Displaced Persons and Refugees

The United States can help resolve Colombia’s massive humanitarian crisis by insisting on the dismantlement of paramilitary structures, supporting Colombia’s Constitutional Court rulings on IDPs, and increasing and improving aid to IDPs and refugees.

5. Protect the Rights of Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Communities

The United States must pay special attention to promoting ethnic minorities’ land rights and guarantee that U.S. aid projects are not carried out on land obtained by violence.

6. Ensure that Trade Policy Supports, Not Undermines, Policy Goals towards Colombia

The United States should insist upon labor rights advances, especially in reducing and prosecuting violence against trade unionists, prior to further consideration of the trade agreement.  The United States must ensure that any trade agreement will not undermine U.S. policy goals, such as reducing farmers’ dependence on coca and ending the conflict.

7. Get Serious—and Smart—about Drug Policy

The United States is overdue for a major course correction in its drug control strategy, which has failed spectacularly in Colombia and the Andean region.  The United States should end the inhumane and counterproductive aerial spraying program and invest seriously in rural development, including alternative development designed with affected communities.   Drug enforcement should focus higher up on the distribution chain, disrupt money laundering schemes and apprehend violent traffickers.  Access to high-quality drug treatment in the United States, which will cut demand, must be the centerpiece of U.S. drug policy.

And here are two letters calling for other specific Colombia policy changes.

Letter (Nov 2008 ) from the Association of Indigenous Leaders of Northern Cauca (ACIN) to President-Elect Obama

Letter (Dec 2008 ) from US NGOs who care about Latin America policy to Obama PDF