March 2008 Peace Presence Update
- Action: Protect our Activist Colleagues in Colombia
- Soldiers Arrested for San José Massacre
- FOR Cited in Los Angeles Times Feature on Army Executions
- Regional Tensions: War and Its Costs
- Free Trade from a Non-Business Perspective
- Letter from the Field: Youth Delegation in Colombia
- Delegation and Volunteer Training
Tens of thousands of Colombians marched on March 6 in Bogota (Photos here) and many other cities to stand with the victims of right-wing paramilitary violence and to protest violence by all armed groups. Solidarity events occurred in New York, Washington, and San Francisco.
Now, in the wake of accusations by a presidential advisor that the activists in Colombia who helped organize these peaceful marches are guerrillas, they are being targeted with paramilitary threats, kidnappings, and even killings.
Lethal attacks on Colombian labor activists also continue. On March 4 in Washington, President Bush called on Congress to approve the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia, although Colombia is the most dangerous nation in the world to be a trade unionist. As if in response, in the four days following his statement, four labor leaders in Colombia were murdered.
It is crucial that we act to detain the US-supported Colombian government from its threats to nonviolent activists. Please call your member of Congress today and urge her or him to sign a letter to President Uribe and to oppose the anti-labor Free Trade Agreement.
In the days leading up to March 6, José Obdulio Gaviria, a close advisor to President Uribe, went on national radio to suggest that the March 6th rally was "convened by the FARC." In the days after the march, dozens of organizations, including Peace Brigades International, received emails informing them they were military objectives of the paramilitary group “Black Eagles.” Several march organizers around the country were threatened, and at least two were killed.
President Bush says passage of the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia is a matter of US national security, and plans to submit the bill in the coming month despite the opposition of every labor federation in Colombia and the US, indigenous people, Afro-Colombians, the major Colombian opposition party, Democratic Party leaders and human rights organizations. The FTA is more likely to generate displacement than security, just as NAFTA is estimated to have led millions of Mexican farmers going under because the market was flooded with US-subsidized grains. For background, see the the excellent resource produced by the American Friends Service Committee, “Violent Intersections of Commerce and Conflict.”
Representatives Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) are circulating a “dear colleague” letter to President Uribe. The letter calls on the Colombian government to fully investigate these threats and murders and to bring those responsible to justice. The letter also urges President Uribe to take concrete actions to ensure government officials stop making comments that put the lives of human rights defenders at risk.
Please contact your Member of Congress and urge them to:
- Support McGovern-Schakowsky Letter on Recent Wave of Threats and Killings in Colombia, and
- Oppose the Colombia Free Trade Agreement that President Bush is pushing onto Congress.
Call your member of Congress today! Simply dial the Capitol Switchboard 202-224-3121 to be connected to their office and ask to speak to their foreign policy aide. Urge them to oppose the Colombia FTA and sign on to the McGovern-Schakowsky letter on Colombia.
If your member of Congress is interested in signing on, they should contact Cindy Buhl in Rep. McGovern’s office, or Megan Garcia in Rep. Schakowsky’s office, by close of business on Thursday, April 10. As the administration seeks more aid for war and approval of the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement, we have to demand our elected officials take human rights seriously.
FOR joined with twenty-three other groups to send a strong letter to President Uribe also urging him to publicly disavow his advisor’s comments and to express support for the legitimate efforts of human rights defenders. You can read the letter here. Let’s continue to work together to ensure our Colombian partners who speak out and work for human rights are neither threatened nor harmed.
More than three years after a brutal massacre of two families in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, Colombian prosecutors issued arrest warrants for 15 Army soldiers for participating in the killing and for terrorism.
The arrests were based on the chilling testimony of a paramilitary member who participated in the killing. He told prosecutors that he and others had suggested taking the children to a neighbor’s house, but that their commander refused, saying six-year-old Natalia Bolivar and her 18-month-old brother Santiago would become guerrillas. Their father, he said, begged on his knees for them not to kill the children, before he himself was killed and, like the others, his body cut into pieces.
An hour’s hike from there, Luis Eduardo Guerra, his son and girlfriend were also killed – directly by army soldiers, according to a witness.
At the time, high officials – President Uribe, Vice-President Santos and the Defense Minister - said publicly that the army was not responsible, that evidence pointed to the FARC, or accused community leaders of belonging to the FARC.
The arrested soldiers include three lieutenants and 12 foot soldiers from the Velez Battalion of the Army’s 17th Brigade, the brigade accused by the Peace Community of participation in many of the crimes committed in the area. Last November, prosecutors arrested a captain from the same battalion, and earlier called 69 soldiers in for questioning about the massacre.
“The truth that has always sustained the community, a truth of the victims, is once again reaffirmed,” the Peace Community said after the arrests. The community expressed appreciation for all those “who have believed and been with the victims, their dreams and lives for a different world. This encourages us to continue building alternatives of true peace.”
But the community said that paramilitary threats against its members also continue. On March 24 in the city of Apartadó, paramilitary men approached people close to the Peace Community and told them that the community’s leaders “could be sure that sooner or later they would kill them, that they had to carry out a massacre in San Josecito or La Unión [the two largest settlements of the Peace Community], and that everything was already worked out with the police.”
FOR applauds the steps taken to bring to justice those responsible for the massacre, after which our field team accompanied the community in the exhumation of bodies and through their grief. We see these positive steps as the result of persistent and brave actions by Colombians and acts of solidarity by many people around the world who were impacted by these events and acted and spoke for justice.
We also have some questions still with us. How did paramilitaries commanded by the notorious ‘Don Berna’ come to be working with the Army’s Velez Battalion? When will those who killed Luis Eduardo Guerra’s family, an hour’s hike away, also be held responsible? And who will hold accountable the president and other high officials who mounted a cover-up of the army’s responsibility for this and other crimes? Our work is far from over.
Last Fall we reported on an investigation of extrajudicial killings by the Colombian Army that found the problem on the rise, with near total impunity. On March 21, the Los Angeles Times published a feature by correspondent Chris Kraul on the problem and quoted FOR’s John Lindsay-Poland.
The Washington Post followed with a front-page piece, “Colombian Troops Kill Farmers, Pass Off Bodies as Rebels” by Juan Forero on March 30.
The FOR has undertaken a research project into US assistance to the Colombian military, including an analysis of the geographic operating areas of US-supported army brigades, compared to where extrajudicial killings have been occurring. Click here for a list of Colombian military units currently trained and supplied by the United States.
See also “Yankees Head Home,” John’s piece on the unpopularity of US military bases in Latin America, featured on March 6 on Common Dreams.
With the March 1 attack on a guerrilla camp inside Ecuador, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe demonstrated his affinity for the Bush doctrine is several ways. It was preemptive attack in another country’s territory, in blatant violation of international law to which Colombia is party. Although Uribe told the Organization of American States it would not happen again, his ministers continue to defend the attack as a legitimate act in a war on terrorism. Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos also defended the deaths of three Mexican students who appear to have been visiting the camp as civiilians.
The bombing damaged prospects for negotiation – particularly for release of FARC-held hostages - since the guerrilla commander killed in the operation, Raul Reyes, was the leading interlocutor with third parties. Uribe then opened a propaganda offensive with the use of laptop computers reportedly recovered from Reyes after the attack, claiming that the computers show that the same third parties who were meeting with FARC representatives to negotiate the release were in fact supporting the FARC.
Uribe proposed a limited demilitarized zone for negotiating the release of the hostages. When the FARC rejected the proposal, recalled European Community representative Alain Lipietz, Uribe told Lipietz, “If they don’t want to negotiate in Colombia, let them negotiate where they want, even in the Vatican.” Uribe in December fired Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez from his role as mediator in the hostage release negotiations.
Now, Uribe’s government and media are seizing on evidence that Ecuadorian or Venezuelan officials had communication with the FARC to discredit them. Colombian police agents leaked a photo to the daily El Tiempo showing Reyes meeting with a man they said was Ecuador’s foreign minister, then circulated the photos at a meeting of the OAS. The man in the photo was actually an Argentine community leader.
Uribe also acted in George Bush’s style by lying initially to Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, saying that troops had only entered Ecuador in pursuit after being fired upon. Later, he defended the action by saying that rockets were fired at the camp from the Colombian side of the border: a justification that Israelis living near the Syrian border might find interesting, but in any case has no basis in international law.
The war has been internationalized in other ways as well. The Colombian military used Brazilian jets and cluster bombs produced by Raytheon in the operation. Ecuadorian officials called for an investigation of whether the US military base in Manta, Ecuador also had a role. Increased numbers of Ecuadorian troops were moved near the border after the attack; though according to the Ecuadorian consul in Washington, this was in part to address the presence of guerrillas inside Ecuador.
But if war is being internationalized, so are peace efforts. Latin American countries explicitly rejected the Colombian attack. President Correa called that rejection “an end to the attempt to bring the Bush doctrine of intervention, a danger for Latin American integrity.” France has stepped up efforts to find a solution to the hostages’ suffering in captivity. We are in a new moment of the conflict.
By Claudia López, El Tiempo columnist
According to President Bush, the FTA with Colombia has become a matter of politics and national security. It's worth evaluating the FTA from this perspective.
Both President Uribe and President Bush have made the doctrine of security a central component of their governments. They've built this doctrine around the fight against terrorism as the supreme and indisputable goal. They argue that this goal justifies legitimate and preventive defense, which includes invading foreign territory that may constitute a terrorist refuge. The U.S. government also established that this goal justifies torture and supersedes the applicability of any type of International Law. Following this pattern, Colombia legalized the use of the death penalty for terrorists, but since the Constitution prohibits the death penalty and summary executions by State agents, the government pays private contractors who are able to carry out executions as an incentive to raise their “killed in action” body count.
Colombia's embracing of this doctrine and its lone vote [in Latin America] in favor of the Iraq invasion are what makes Uribe Bush's top ally in the region and commits Bush to returning the favor by making sure the FTA is ratified. This is the point, for it's hardly worth mentioning that U.S. food, economic, and international security does not depend on trade with Colombia. The only thing that depends on Colombia is the maintenance of Bush's security doctrine in Latin America.
In light of the recent incident between Colombia and Ecuador brought to the Organization of American States, it has become clear that, with the exception of Colombia, all other countries in the region reject Bush's security doctrine and the way Colombia appealed to it to justify its armed incursion into Ecuadorian territory. I don't recall any more resounding diplomatic defeat in the history of U.S. dealings in Latin America—and this despite the fact that it exerted major pressure and sent its secretary of state to tour the region.
Due to the misuse of the security doctrine that Bush imposed on the world, Colombia and the U.S. are politically isolated on this matter in Latin America. This isolation is, in fact, a threat to national security for both countries. All of Latin America has sent them both a clear message that if they want cooperation in the fight against crime, they will have to bring their policies in line with multilateral rules and not attempt to impose them through unilateral aggressive actions.
In the United States, the Democratic Party gained a majority in Congress by exposing the abuses of the Bush doctrine and its failures, costs, and risks to the security of U.S. citizens. The Democrats' chances of winning the presidency depend in large part on whether they can offer security to U.S. citizens by means of a different policy from Bush's. The same applies in the area of economics. Bilateral FTAs, deregulation, tax breaks, and preferential treatment for the wealthy have been the primary instruments of Bush's economic policy. In this time of economic crisis and uncertainty, the presidential campaign will also be defined by the candidate who is able to reduce uncertainty and bring back stability with a different policy from the one that caused the crisis.
And with respect to U.S. interests in Colombia, I don't know if the Democrats are aware that while it's assumed that Rep. Pelosi would be photographed presiding over the signing of the FTA in her role as the Speaker of the House in a legitimate Congress, in Colombia 20 percent of Congress members who debated the FTA and a number of those who helped to pass it would have to be photographed from the jail cells in which they’re being held because of their ties to drug trafficking and paramilitaries, who have murdered Colombian union leaders and prevented the inclusion of much more equitable labor, environmental, health, and trade standards in the FTA. Do Rep. Pelosi and the Democrats mind appearing in the same picture with jailed Colombian Congressmen and women? To legitimize the decisions of a Colombian Congress taken over by criminals and drug traffickers would be, without a doubt, a serious threat to the security of Colombia and the United States. The FTA with Colombia must be evaluated in this context, if it's about politics and national security.
Published in El Tiempo, March 25. Translated by the Mingas Collective
Letter from the Field:
Youth Delegation in Colombia
[Editor's note: Maryrose Dolezal is the Co-Director of FOR's Youth and Militarism Program, and has been participating in our Youth Arts and Action Delegation to Colombia.]
I asked Sharon Lungo from the Ruckus Society, one of the awesome delegation members, to talk to me for a minute about her experience so far with the delegation:
MR: Sharon, will you talk for a minute about the delegation so far, and what happened today?
Sharon: It’s our third day on the delegation, we're getting deeper with ACOOC [Colombian Association of Conscientious Objectors] every day. Every day we get a better sense of the every day reality here, and I think what has started to emerge today are some of the parallels between their military state and ours. I think we've begun to explore some really interesting conversations about tactics and the use of art as direct action. There are a lot of complexities becoming evident, and I am still struggling to digest where the appropriate place is to align. I think that when we get to our presentation tomorrow, we'll be able to have more of a collective thought about how we can simultaneously work at this in a joint way, and have a clear view of how best to apply the learning we're doing to our work in the United States. I'm excited to continue to open doors, particularly excited to take this back to my network, the Ruckus network, and to draw from the lessons learned here.
MR: What was the best part about today?:
Sharon: The best part of today for me is that I am finally coming to a clear understanding about the recruitment process here, the specific methods that ACOOC uses to combat militarism and military recruitment.
Today we spent the morning at the ACOOC office learning about the affinity group structure. Six of the ACOOC members have open legal cases in an attempt to set legal precedent for other youth in Colombia. For example, one of the members is challenging Colombian policy which does not allow students to graduate from University without having a military identification card. Hopefully one of us will write more soon about the other cases, because they are all very interesting.
This afternoon, after an excellent lunch in a local restaurant, we had a very intimate conversation about recruitment and the resistance of the international solidarity network: RANI.
Tonight there is a party that everyone is at, and I've got to get over there. :)
National Delegation to San José de Apartadó and other Colombian Grassroots Peace Initiatives
August 2-16, 2008
Join us to visit and stand in solidarity with the remarkable communities that are resisting militarism, war and impunity in the cities and countryside of Colombia. An excellent and safe introduction to Colombia‚s beauty, struggles, and the ways the United States is connected to and complicit in its condition.
$1,300 covers all travel, food, lodging, materials, guides, from Bogotá.
Contact FOR Colombia Program, 510-763-1403 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and application (apply by June 20).
Invitation for Applicants to FOR Colombia Team
FOR seeks qualified applicants for our long-term Colombia team, to serve for a year in Bogotá or in the rural community of San José de Apartadó. Applicants should be 23 or older, speak Spanish, committed to nonviolence, have good judgment, and some experience relevant to nonviolent protective accompaniment in Colombia. For applications, go to: www.forcolombia.org/apply
The next training will be July 29-August 3, in Nyack, NY
Applications are due June 30.
To discuss volunteering, contact John Lindsay-Poland at 510-763-1403, or email@example.com.