June 2009 Colombia Peace Update

FOR Latin America Peace Update

Delegation to Colombia: Apply Today!

August 15-29, 2009: Delegation to San Jose Peace Community, Medellin and Eastern Antioquia
Witness the incredible commitment and experience of the Peace Community of San José and other Colombian grassroots initiatives.
Program Highlights:

  • Travel to the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó
  • Meet with people whose family members have been killed by the U.S.-funded Colombian army and are nonviolently working for justice for these crimes.
  • Meet grassroots activists who courageously and creatively advocate for truth, justice and integral reparations.
  • Experience unparalleled access and a rich part of Colombian life to understand both the war's impacts on peasant communities and advances to justice.
  • Convey your experience as a group to U.S. officials

Four decades of armed conflict in Colombia have led to indigenous people, women, union activists, youth, journalists, and human rights workers being subject to killing, displacement, and kidnapping. Now, victims have united in a national movement to demand that the perpetrators of these crimes be held responsible.
How do you build a culture of peace amidst violence? The emergence of peace communities, sustainable agriculture in rural areas, youth-led cultural projects to refuse war, and women's networks taking a lead in organizing for peace, has provided a political space for civilians who find themselves caught in the crossfire of the armed groups.
Join the Fellowship of Reconciliation on a powerful delegation as we visit communities and organizations that struggle for the right to say no to armed conflict and are creating peace and justice from the grassroots up.
Cost includes all lodging, food, language interpretation, travel from Bogotá: $1,500.00.
For an application, click here (MS Word document). Please register by June 30. For more information, contact John at 510-763-1403 or johnlp@igc.org.

Letter from the Field: A Stranger in Our Midst

By Moira Birss

The arrival the other day of a stranger to La Unión reminded me how much this conflict distorts human relations and making people suspicious and fearful of each other.
Those of us in the FOR house hadn't even noticed that a stranger had been hanging around since 10 a.m. until two of the community's internal council members came to the house in the afternoon requesting accompaniment to go speak with the man. Our obliviousness was likely due to two things: we don't know each and every family member or long-lost neighbor in this area, so it's not uncommon for someone who is a stranger to us to pass through, and, despite our training as accompaniers, we aren't as finely attuned to the subtle daily changes.
Around here, everyone pretty much knows everyone, and this isn't exactly an easily accessible place (photo: Zara Zimbardo), so strangers don't just tend to wander by. The stranger's presence here soon raised alarm bells, and a few particularly threatened individuals event went so far as to hide in their beds under the blankets. By the afternoon when he still hadn't left — in fact, he had been wandering around a bit, raising even more suspicion — the council members asked us to accompany them to talk to him in the kiosko (the central community meeting space, covered by a round palm-thatched roof), where he had been hanging out for the previous hour or so. The community members with whom we discussed the incident before heading to the kiosko were quite worried and very visibly shaken up.
Why was everyone so afraid? Colombians are known to be friendly, welcoming folk, and those from the countryside stereotypically even more so. Here in Urabá, however, the conflict has destroyed people's ability to trust strangers or to welcome unexpected occurrences. Around here, one never knows if a stranger is in fact a government official doing intelligence in order to build up a false judicial case against community members, a paramilitary paving the way for a massacre, or a guerrilla with some sinister motive. One can never be too sure, because experience has shown that if you let your guard is down, then you or your family members might not wake up alive tomorrow morning. In the discussion before going to talk to the stranger, one particularly scared community member even suggested tying the guy up and carrying him out of town, so great was the fear that the man might try something. He was only sort of joking.
Because of the unknown and potentially dangerous identity of the man and the community's commitment not to collaborate with any armed actor, the council decided that the only option was the ask the man to leave. Despite recognizing the potentially threatening motives of the man, I felt uncomfortable sitting there as they kicked the guy out, even though they attempted to be nice and explain their reasoning; it didn't help that he was Afro-Colombian, and so may have felt like he was being kicked out because these campesinos don't want a black man around.
In the end, we all left with the suspicion that the man was, in fact, up to something. Earlier in the day he had told a community member that he was a banana plantation worker from Apartadó, and that since they're on strike, he came up here looking for work. Later, when the group of us went to speak with him in the kiosko, he again said he was a bananero, but claimed that he came up as a tourist. Not only had his story changed, but no one comes here as a tourist, particularly if they don't know anyone who lives in the area. This is not a touristy area by any means, and any normal bananero would have heard the rumors about the movement of armed actors in these parts and thought twice about heading here all alone. Regardless of what the man was really up to, I walked away from the kiosko saddened by how the conflict promotes and reinforces the assumption that strangers are enemies rather than friends, and not to be trusted.

U.S.-Aided Intelligence Unit Accuses Human Rights Groups of Being Arms of Guerrillas

[Ed.: Translation of banner: "In a time of lies, the truth is terrorist."]
A report by the Medellín attorney general's office, based on army intelligence documents, accuses political parties and human rights groups of belonging to the political arm of the FARC, known as the Colombian Clandestine Community Party, or PC3. The most recent report, dated April 2 of this year, prompted the re-opening of a criminal investigation against the citizen groups that had been closed last December for lack of evidence. Those accused include the Democratic Pole — the largest opposition political party in the country; the anti-militarist FOR partner Medellín Youth Network; as well as the Antioquia Peasant Association and Judicial Liberty Corporation, with whom FOR has worked for more than four years. The attorney general's office's report was obtained by the Institute for Popular Training, which was also named in the report.
In February, the Army's Regional Intelligence Center No. 7, based in Medellín, had urged re-opening the investigation, supplying a supposed organizational diagram of the PC3. That Center No. 7 received U.S. assistance in 2005, 2006 and 2007, according to a document released to FOR last year by the State Department.
The Human Rights Ombudsman of Medellín rejected the accusations, and said the situation of the city's social movement is "grave." In a letter to Christian Salazar Volkmann, the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner representative in Colombia, FOR wrote that "We are seriously concerned about this accusation, since it not only delegitimizes the laudable work that these organizations do, but affects their security by making them military targets."
The report comes amid an escalation of threats and attacks on human rights and student groups in Medellín, which have suffered from thefts of information, burglaries of their offices, threats to leaders, and physical attacks — including on Youth Movement activist Yenifer Rueda Cardenas.
Rueda was attacked on May 3 in her home neighborhood in Comuna 13, a poor sector of Medellín, by three men. Since 2002, when her brother was killed for refusing to be involved in an armed group, Rueda has worked to prevent recruitment of youths by the army and illegal armed groups. Last October, she was threatened by men who identified themselves as paramilitaries, as she worked for the Medellin Social Forum.
Four youths were killed and a child was wounded on May 21, in a separate incident in Comuna 13 denounced by the Medellín Youth Network. The sector's neighborhoods "are part of the armed conflict between bands that exercise control, financed by paramilitary and mafia structures present in the whole city," the Network wrote. "Their members are youths also."
On May 21, armed youth pursued three youth who allegedly robbed construction materials, then killed them. Yesid Torres, 13, and his 9-year-old brother Juan Manuel witnessed the scene as they did an errand for their mother. Saying they would be informers, the young gunmen shot at the children as they ran, killing Yesid and injuring Juan Manuel. The previous weekend, the mayor of Medellín — often visited by U.S. Congressional delegations because of his impressive discourse — had visited the neighborhood to inaugurate a soccer field and talk about security improvements in the area.

The Dark Side of Plan Colombia

By Teo Ballvé
[Ed.: The following article appeared in the June 14 issue of The Nation. Photo credit: TedHackett.net.]
On May 14 Colombia's attorney general quietly posted notice on his office's website of a public hearing that will decide the fate of Coproagrosur, a palm oil cooperative based in the town of Simití in the northern province of Bolívar. A confessed drug-trafficking paramilitary chief known as Macaco had turned over to the government the cooperative's assets, which he claims to own, as part of a victim reparations program.
Macaco, whose real name is Carlos Mario Jiménez, was one of the bloodiest paramilitary commanders in Colombia's long-running civil war and has confessed to the murder of 4,000 civilians. He and his cohorts are also largely responsible for forcing 4.3 million Colombians into internal refugee status, the largest internally displaced population
in the world after Sudan's. In May 2008, Macaco was extradited to the United States on drug trafficking and "narco-terrorism" charges. He is awaiting trial in a jail cell in Washington, DC.
Macaco turned himself in to authorities in late 2005 as part of a government amnesty program that requires paramilitary commanders to surrender their ill-gotten assets—including lands obtained through violent displacement. Macaco offered up Coproagrosur as part of the deal.
But the attorney general's notice made no mention that Coproagrosur had received a grant in 2004 from the US Agency for International Development (USAID). That grant—paid for through Plan Colombia, the multibillion-dollar US aid package aimed at fighting the drug trade—appears to have put drug-war dollars into the hands of a notorious paramilitary narco-trafficker, in possible violation of federal law.
To read the rest of this article, click here.
Teo Ballvé is a freelance journalist based in Colombia. His web site is www.TeoBallve.com.

Pentagon Plans Latin America-Wide Intervention Ability for New Military Base in Colombia

Para version en castellano, clic aquí.
By John Lindsay-Poland
The United States is planning to establish a new military facility in Colombia that will give the U.S. increased capacity for military intervention throughout most of Latin America. The plan is being advanced amid tense relations between Washington and Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, and despite both a long history and recent revelations about the Colombian military's atrocious human rights record.

President Obama told hemispheric leaders last month that "if our only interaction with many of these countries is drug interdiction — if our only interaction is military — then we may not be developing the connections that can over time increase our influence and have a beneficial effect."

In this Obama is on point. This base would feed a failed drug policy, support an abusive army, and reinforce a tragic history of U.S. military intervention in the region. It's wrong and wasteful, and Congress should scrap it.

The new facility in Palanquero, Colombia would not be limited to counter-narcotics operations, nor even to operations in the Andean region, according to an Air Mobility Command (AMC) planning document. The U.S. Southern Command aims to establish a base with "air mobility reach on the South American continent" in addition to a capacity for counter-narcotics operations, through the year 2025.

With help from the Transportation Command and AMC, the Southern Command identified Palanquero, from which "nearly half of the continent can be covered by a C-17 without refueling." If fuel is available at its destination, "a C-17 could cover the entire continent, with the exception of the Cape Horn region," the AMC planners wrote.

President Obama's Pentagon budget, submitted May 7, includes $46 million for development of the Palanquero base, and says the Defense Department seeks "an array of access arrangements for contingency operations, logistics, and training in Central/South America."

To read the rest of this article, click here.

To hear the radio interview on La Raza Chronicles about this story, click here.

See the statements by the Medellín Youth Network and the Intercongregational Commission for Justice and Peace .

News Briefs & Upcoming Events

Reasons to celebrate. According to Mingas-FTA, "Public pressure has forced a victory in the fight to stop the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (CCFTA). Sources from Canada's three opposition parties have confirmed that the ruling Conservative Party has removed implementing legislation for the CCFTA, from the government's current legislative agenda— The struggle against the CCFTA is [not] over, but Canadians are having their say and getting in the way of Prime Minister Harper's reckless trade agenda."
In addition, the Colombian Network for Action on Free Trade writes: "Last month marked five years since the Uribe government began negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement with the United States, which they hoped to have ready in a year. Today Colombians have reason to celebrate that, in spite of the colossal efforts to hand over national sovereignty, the U.S. Congress persists in its decision to deny approval of an agreement with the questioned Colombian government."
Called to trial. Former director of the Administrative Security Directorate (Colombian equivalent of the FBI) Jorge Noguera has been called to trial for the homicides of trade unionists, human rights defenders, and politicians who denounced the pact between paramilitarism and the political class in Colombia. Noguera was a campaign director for president in 2002, before running DAS from 2002 to 2005. "Impunity has begun to fracture," writes the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers' Collective. Read the full story here.
A Conscientious Objector speaks. The Medellín Youth Network conveys the story of Cristian Camilo Henao Suaza, currently held against his will in a Medellín army barracks. "It terrifies to know that I returned to bathe in a pool full of subversive blood. I refuse to work for the war in any of its forms. All my life I have refused to be part of violent acts and now, with the State forcing me, very afraid and desperate but sure of who I am, I continue refusing and I will continue to do so as my conscience dictates this." Read the rest of his testimony here.

Please note new office address for FOR Task Force on Latin America:
Fellowship of Reconciliation •
P.O. Box 72492, Oakland CA 94612 •
Tel: 510-763-1403 Fax: 510-763-1409 •
Web: http://www.forcolombia.org