April 2010 Colombia Peace Update
April 6, 2010
- Letter: Returning to Mulatos and Resbalosa
- Colombian court reviewing base agreement"
- No FTA under Uribe"
- Ruling in San José massacre
- An army of clowns!
- Briefs: Episcopal resolution, new human rights reports
- Get Involved: Days of prayer and action, special free webinar
By Chris Courtheyn
I remember vividly my first trip to Mulatos, in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, on February 19, 2008. I had only a week earlier arrived in the Peace Community for the first time. The five-hour walk through hills and riverbeds to Mulatos from the settlement of La Unión where FOR's team lives was brutal on my body, exhausting my legs and knees. Arriving at the site of the February 2005 massacre, there was nothing more than a small chapel in what seemed the middle of the bush. In fact, this space to where community members had returned in 2004 was now totally overgrown with tall grasses. The area was subsequently cleared and prepared for the events that would take place two days later: a mass at the massacre site in Mulatos, and a commemoration event honoring those killed in La Resbaloza.
This was the first major event I accompanied as an FOR volunteer in Colombia -- the "return" to the veredas of Mulatos and La Resbaloza. (A vereda is a small rural district of dispersed rural settlements.) The farmers living there had originally been displaced in 1996, along with thousands of others throughout the country's northwestern Urabá region, when paramilitaries swept the area in an attempted takeover of territory. The Peace Community began to return to these veredas in 2004, only to suffer the horrendous massacre, attributed to an army and paramilitary operation, of eight of its members on February 21, 2005. Three years later, the Peace Community attempted to return once again.
I made that first trip with my teammate at the time, Daniel Malakoff. He had been a FOR accompanier previously in 2005, and in the aftermath of the massacre remembered Mulatos as a desolate place. He commented how much had changed in the previous three years, in seeing various farmers along the trails, houses under construction, and the newly planted crops, such as corn. He told me that he perceived that the Peace Community had responded to the tragedy of 2005 with intense resilience and had become even stronger. (Read his February 2008 Letter from the Field.)
Fast forward to 2010. The area that only two years ago was overgrown with weeds is now a settlement of its own: the Peace Village of Mulatos. In the proceeding weeks, Peace Community members from other veredas such as La Unión, La Cristalina, Alto Joaquín and Las Claras, had come to build the village. The new constructions were numerous: kiosks and homes, a kitchen and a dining hall, toilet and shower stalls.
Hundreds of people participated in the week-long commemoration of the 2005 massacre. Peace Community members were joined by representatives from other communities, such as indigenous Colombians from Cauca and Chocó, as well as internationals from Italy, Austria, France, Brazil, and the United States.
Community families have now returned to over ten veredas since its founding in 1997. Mulatos is emblematic of the community's process, illustrating the constant obstacles it faces, where attempts to return are stalled through massacres and threats. Today, guerrillas, paramilitaries and army soldiers continue to pressure these farmers to submit to their command or to flee, yet the community remains vigilant and vows to return to and work their lands no matter how long it takes.
Community principles have evolved over time, as well. As explained by a member: "In the founding of the community, our priority was to return to and remain on our lands through nonviolent resistance. However, over the past two years, our principles have grown from simply not collaborating with any armed group to a focus on not replicating in any way the logic of the armed groups. In other words, to not simply reject violence in order to survive in the midst of war, but to work together even harder to develop a true social and economic alternative of peace. This has meant more harmony with the environment, such as cultivating our crops organically and building agricultural centers where we can harvest medicinal plants available in the region. We are continuing to evolve more and more into a true 'community' with the environment and with each other. This Peace Village in Mulatos is a focal point for this alternative vision."
Many community members and non-members alike expressed similar feelings about the meaning of the gathering. In the words of an indigenous community leader, "learning about the history and resistance here makes me realize that peasants throughout Colombia face similar problems. The dynamic of the armed groups and multinational companies threatening to displace us from our lands is not unique to one place. This gathering shows us we are not alone; internationals are in solidarity with our resistance and your accompaniment increases our security."
People expressed these feelings of togetherness and hope two years ago. Even more powerful is the extent to which the Peace Community has built upon this solidarity since then. A place where five years ago lay blood and dismembered bodies is now a peace village of remembrance and resistance.
El Tiempo, 6 March 2010
Click here for the original version in Spanish.
In an unusual decision, the Colombian Constitutional Court will review the agreement. The court accepted a case that seeks to declare the negotiation nonviable because it was not approved by the Congress.
The debate was thought to be over and, according to Frank O. Mora, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense, the United States would begin to use the bases in May.
Court sources say that the possibilities range from leaving things as they are, to overturning the agreement, to suspending its implementation until a corresponding law has been passed.
The government maintains that this is not a new treaty with the United States, but an extension of agreements signed by the country since 1974. But the plaintiff, Luis Alfredo Sánchez Rojas, believes the Congress must be the one to approve the agreement for use of the bases through a law that had to have been sent to the Constitutional Court for prior review of its implementation.
The court admitted the case on December 10, assigning it justice Jorge Iván Palacio, who asked the Congress to send him a list of the treaties with the United States that have been approved, and invited former presidents Belisario Betancur, César Gaviria, Ernesto Samper and Andrés Pastrana to submit their opinions.
He also called on the State Council. That court issued an opinion that was given to the government on October 13 and said that the new negotiation included issues -- especially the U.S. presence in Colombian military units -- that went beyond previous pacts. In that sense, the State Council said, it was a new treaty, so that congressional review was unavoidable. It also criticized the imbalance between what Colombia gave up and U.S. obligations.
The opinion was non-binding, and the executive branch decided to go the opposite route. The agreement with Washington was finally signed in October, amidst an intense polemic with several regional governments, especially with Venezuela.
Justice Palacio also asked the Supreme Court and non-governmental groups for their opinions. [The Colombian Commission of Jurists submitted an opinion (PDF) that demonstrates how the base agreement establishes a new Colombian obligation for U.S. use of military bases.] On February 12, the justice sent the case to Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez for his opinion. Nevertheless, the Public Ministry had already submitted its observations on the agreement's terms before it was signed. The delegate for "Preventive Oversight of Public Functions," Margarita Carreño, said that the immunity of U.S. military personnel in Colombia should be reviewed.
Colombian Social Organizations Launch Coalition Against U.S. Bases
More than 150 Colombian organizations, amongst them the coalition of major labor federations (CUT, CGT, CTC, CPC), the United Democratic Coalition, FECODE, RECALCA (Colombian Action Network in Response to Free Trade), and many other important democratic entities within the country have signed a declaration rejecting the U.S. military presence on at least seven Colombian military bases.
The document with all the endorsements will be presented on April 8 at a public event that aims to formalize the establishment of the Colombia No Bases Coalition. This is a democratic, peaceful and pluralistic event focused on coordinating actions to address the sale to the United States of Colombian sovereignty made under the Uribe government through the Defense Cooperation Agreement signed on October 30, 2009.
For more information about the coalition and event: http://www.colombianobases.org or by mail: email@example.com
Colombian Network on Free Trade (RECALCA)
Click here for the original version in Spanish.
No TLC!The Uribe government sees "windows of opportunity" where there are only concrete walls. For a year now and on an almost weekly basis, the government puts out news that some gesture by the Obama government opens the possibility of near-term approval of the Free Trade Agreement. Obama's speech on the State of the Union was a "window," the closing of the FTA with the European Union was another.
The last window was the presentation made by US Trade Representative Ron Kirk on the US trade agenda for 2010. There it was evident that, after all this time, the Obama administration only makes promises to present in the coming months "a list of changes" to make, which will include "norms and labor laws" that must be approved or reformed.
In a Congressional hearing, Kirk revealed that he is worried not only by labor rights or violence against trade unionists, or even the loss of competition with the European Union, but that he would have to "take into account the US worker and the jobs that have been lost through the signing of treaties such as these." In spite of this treaty being closed and re-closed, Kirk, speaking of the agreements with Panama, Korea and Colombia, said that "if these treaties are negotiated appropriately, they are an important part of the agenda for creating jobs."
It was like someone who says that renegotiation of the texts will have to be reopened to satisfy US expectations and repeat the process of including them in Colombian legal regulations. The United States agenda is to double its exports in five years, and Colombia is key for this. These obstacles will not be resolved in the short term, and surely only by the initiative of a new Colombian government and congress, would changes the US promises to present in the future be studied. Even Colombian Ambassador Carolina Barco said that the Obama administration "appears hardly to have defined its strategy for Colombia."
Add to this that in November there will be crucial elections for the US Senate and House of Representatives. On top of that, Charles Rangel, the African-American congressman who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee and friend of the FTA, had to resign his post, and was replaced by Sander Levin, a friend to trade unions. This is the committee that will determine if the FTA gets onto Congress' agenda or not.
It is good news for the country and bad for the government: there will be no FTA with the United States at least during this year. No matter how many visits they make, how many lobbying firms they hire, how many US Congressmen they bring to show them the advantages of our democracy. All will be in vain. But since Uribe wants to perpetuate his policies, surely he will persevere to privatize more, to liberalize the economy more, on the basis now of the FTA with the European Union that is in the process of being approved.
We need to remain alert and incorporate the struggle against the FTA into social movements' agenda, and say good-bye to Uribe in a fitting way. Uribe will no longer be in the government. Now we need to guarantee that there is no uribismo in the country's orientation.
Attorney General not interested in top commander's responsibility
Twenty months after Capitan Guillermo Gordillo pled guilty in the February 2005 massacre of eight people in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, a judge sentenced him to 20 years in prison. This is the first ruling against an army officer for the massacre.
Unfortunately, despite copious evidence linking higher ranking army officers, particularly Generals Mario Montoya and Héctor Fandiño, to the planning (Montoya) and the execution and cover-up (Fandiño), acting Colombian Attorney General Guillermo Mendoza seems determined not to advance investigations of their involvement.
In July 2008, Captain Gordillo confessed that he and his troops had taken part in a joint paramilitary-military operation that resulted in the grisly massacre. He admitted that Phoenix military operation had been planned and carried out with the participation of paramilitary death squads. And he testified to General Montoya's participation in the planning of the operation.
In his ruling against Gordillo, the judge also used as evidence the testimony of paramilitary leader Diego Fernando Murillo, known as Don Berna "in which [he] accepts the participation of the Heroes of Tolova Self Defense Bloc under his command in the acts being judged."
Capt. Gordillo is not the only officer implicating General Montoya. According to Colonel Acosta Celi and Lt. Jose Fernando Castro (also suspects in a separate investigation), General Montoya participated in the design of the military operation demanding participation of guides -- widely understood to mean death squad members -- as it was revealed in the trial for 10 additional army officers. General Fandiño, was the head of the 17th Brigade, units from which participated in the massacre, and he allegedly took an active role in the subsequent cover-up operation. An investigation of Fandiño's role that was opened in September 2008 has only been collecting dust on the Attorney General's desk. Last month, the victims' legal representative filed a petition requesting the arrest of both generals, so they can be heard in the investigation. But acting Prosecutor General Mendoza recently told a Global Post reporter that "we have to be careful not to call on every single general."
For the full Global Post investigative report, see "A Massacre Explored."
These Days Only One Kind of Army is Possible!
Hi! We don't start wars, we come in peace, bringing tenderness to change the world with. Our hope is greater than our sadness! On with our hearts!
We are the real army and the armed forces are deceiving you. They promised that the time for joy would come, but it never did. Time to abolish the armed forces! Time to refuse to serve in the military! These days only one kind of army is possible, an army of clowns! And being a clown is a serious business, it's not all magic, war is no game!
We are looking for people with enormous and rebellious hearts to make up this battalion of buffoons. We recruit male and female clowns, actors and actresses, jugglers, gymnasts, acrobats, magicians, musicians, dancers, storytellers, poets, painters and all other dreamers who are against war and in favor of a more humanized world, ha! Ah, but, we don't want horse tamers!
We have heard a lot about this business of 'bread and circus to the people,' but we have had neither bread nor circus, just a macabre spectacle of death... So many, that we have grown used to death as an everyday thing, and with the corpses lining up one next to the other, the bullet-ridden bodies -- sometimes with the hands tied and their eyes covered -- charred and destroyed by chainsaws, repeated time and again on the TV screen. It is the death of solidarity and sensibility. Subjected to collective intimidation, we inhabit an everyday world of death -- bodies which have been tortured, massacred, tied up, branded, these corpses become voices of a punitive model. Yet, we know that, the more delirious and exhausted society finds itself, the greater the urgency for art, culture, spirituality and youth…
We send hugs, against sadness and in solidarity, full of complicit smiles and shared joys. The plot advances at a steady pace. We are especially grateful to all those who support us.
"Clowns always talk about the same thing, they talk about hunger -- the hunger for food, for sex, but also the hunger for dignty, for identity, for power. They are the ones who ask questions such as, 'Who governs, and who protests?'" --Dario Fo
Punk Collective and Association
Translated from "Alternatives, Organization and Resistance in a Militarized Society," published by Red Juvenil.
Episcopal Church Urges Refugee Aid and Opposition to Military Bases
During its Feb. 19-22 meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church adopted several resolutions, including the following:
"Express solidarity with the Episcopal Church of Colombia, ministering in the midst of Colombia's internal armed conflict; recognize that the resulting social and humanitarian crisis is aggravated by displacement of civil population to the Ecuadorean border; urge the U.S. government to commence a 'generous program of resettlement' for those who cannot return to Colombia and are unable to integrate or remain in Ecuador; to work with the UN High Commission for Refugees and other organizations to assist host countries by providing adequate funding; to press for a political solution to the armed conflict between the Colombian government and opposing forces; and voice the church's 'strong opposition' to the installation by the U.S. government of military bases in Colombia."
United Nations and US Report on Human Rights in Colombia
Both reports are important official statements about the serious human rights violations that persist in Colombia.
Days of Prayer and Action, Sunday-Monday, April 18-19
With nearly five million Colombians forcibly displaced from their homes by a debilitating war, Colombia is now the second worst internal displacement crisis in the world. Between now and April, tens of thousands across the U.S. and Colombia will participate in this year's Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia to call for a much-needed shift in U.S. policies toward the war-torn country. Please join us.
There are three ways you can get involved: 1) Host a Face the Displaced Party in March. 2) Display the faces in a demonstration in April 3) Dedicate a worship service to Colombia in April.
Click here for more information.
US Policy in Latin America
Join us for a Webinar on April 26, 2 PM Eastern
With John Lindsay-Poland, FOR Latin America Program Director
John has extensive experience in and knowledge of Latin America. He will guide our discussion of on the ground activities in Latin America, showing new maps of U.S. aid and impacts, while reflecting on the present and history of US policy in the region.
FOR has been in the forefront of work to end US military aid in Colombia, the country with the greatest human rights and humanitarian crises in the hemisphere, and also the largest recipient of US military training and equipment. FOR has also contributed to informing high-level and grassroots concerns in South America about new US military bases in Colombia. This webinar will explore what our country is doing in Colombia and what we can do to address it.
Monday, April 26, 2010, 2:00 to 3:30 PM Eastern
After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about how to participate in the webinar.