War on drugs, war on people

March 27, 2009

My fumigation post has been in the works for a while. In four months, I’ve traveled from the very bottom to the top of the country, Nariño to Bolívar. Aside from extrajudicial executions and impunity, the fumigation of coca, coca substitute cash crops, staple food crops, pasture, water sources and people has been the number one issue raised, from campesinos in Antioquia and indigenous people in Norte de Santander to student and women leaders in Cauca. Fumigations are the cause of ever deeper poverty and misery. I met two campesinos who lost infant children to the effects of chemical spraying.

My post with awful first-hand anecdotes and photos will have to wait. Witness for Peace is pulling together an incredible effort to stop US funding of fumigations in the next month. Click here to sign their petition, which will be delivered to Congress & Obama by a Colombian & US delegation this week. And go here to sign up for WfP action alerts as this effort moves forward.

Here’s a video the great Witness folks in Colombia have put together, released today.

Journey to the heart of coca country where United States tax dollars have financed the aerial fumigation of 2.6 million acres of land in Colombia – the world’s second most biodiverse country.See cropdusters target coca plants, the main ingredient of cocaine, with concentrated herbicide as part of the U.S. war on drugs. Listen to people on the ground, hear about the impacts, and learn new ideas about how to solve this deadly problem.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Shoveling Water: War on drugs, War on…“, posted with vodpod


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.


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.


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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