May 2006 Peace Presence Update
- Traveling Indigenous and Social Summit Meets Repression, but Continues
- More than 100 Killings by Army's 4th Brigade
- Combining Advocacy with Fundraising
- Letter From the Field by Trish Abbott
Last month, massive indigenous and grassroots mobilization started in southern Colombia on May 15. Despite encountering incredible police and army brutality that left several casualties, the summit, as an expression of civil society peaceful resistance, continues.
Under the name "National Traveling Summit of Social Organizations," more than 15,000 indigenous men, woman and children gathered in the provinces of Cauca and Naria, demanding that the government hold a referendum on whether Colombian should ratify the recently negotiated Free Trade Agreement with the United States. Even the Colombian government has acknowledged that Colombian small farmers will be negatively affected by the free trade agreement, as they would not be able to compete with the highly subsidized American crops. They also demanded the government fulfill past agreements it has signed to transfer titles of indigenous ancestral lands and protested president Uribe's reelection. Last year, President Uribe led an amendment to the Constitution that allows him to run for a second term in presidential elections on May 28.
During the summit's first day, the army and the police tried to prevent an indigenous group from reaching the La Mara indigenous reserve in Cauca, a key venue for the summit. It was a reprise of what the government did last October, when the army forcibly stopped indigenous peoples from Quinda province from marching to attend a rally against the trade agreement.
That was only the first act of repression by the armed forces. Under the false argument that the protests were being organized and financed by the FARC guerrillas, state forces met indigenous people demonstrating in the Pan American highway with brutal and disproportionate force, killing a member of the indigenous guard, an elderly woman and a girl. The indigenous health center and community room were burned to ashes, the community store looted, and the radio station destroyed. The Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca also reported numerous incidents of sexual assault to indigenous women by members of the public forces, including the use of tear gas in one such reported assault. (See nasaacin.net/noticias.htm?x=2199 and www.nasaacin.net/noticias.htm?x=2196.)
Less than sixty miles to the south, also on the Pan American Highway, in the town of Remolinos (province of Naria), campesinos from several villages assembled to protest massive aerial herbicide spraying that is part of U.S.-Colombia drug eradication policy. There, too, Colombian army and police met civilians with brutality, that included firing and deploying unknown gases from Blackhawk helicopters. Such attacks left dozens wounded. Elsewhere in Naria, the bodies of two Afro-Colombians were found on May 24, as protesters began the long walk back to their homes.
Indiscriminate use of force with Blackhawk helicopters also targeted Naria Ombudsman Carlos Maya, who was leading a humanitarian commission to the protest site. Maya harshly criticized the army and police attack. In a radio interview, he denounced "the aggression [and] excessive use of police and military force against civilians. Certainly, the ombudsman's office and the commission were exceptional witnesses to the outrageous aggressions against poor farmers who were gathered in Remolinos from different towns." Blackhawk helicopters have been a key component of U.S. military aid to Colombia.
Yet the brutal attacks did not break the communities' will. The communities resisted, and, paired with national and international attention, such resistance forced of the army and police to back away from the protest. The summit in Cauca continues, now under the name "Permanent Summit for Sovereignty and Life with Dignity," to ensure that "what happened in La Mara is not a preview for the next four years - that must not be our country's destiny." The Summit will operate throughout the country, coordinating with grassroots organizations; working on "truth, justice and reparation" regarding last week's abuses; following up on compliance with the government's previous commitments to communities and civil society organizations and on civil society's peace proposal to end Colombia's armed conflict.
Notes: To hear the interview with Nari's ombudsman: colombia.indymedia.org/radio/cumbre/Turbion_15-18.mp3.
For more on the summit visit: nasaacin.net and .
The lawyers organization Judicial Liberty Corporation on May 16 published a statement citing the involvement of members of the 4th Brigade of the Colombia military in the extrajudicial execution of more than 100 people in the region of eastern Antioquia, located about two hours from the city of Medellin.
The Corporation claims that members of the 4th Brigade killed these farmers in cold blood. They claim that these victims were taken by the military either from their homes or at arbitrary checkpoints in the region, dressed up in fatigues, sometimes given Ã¢â‚¬Å“weaponsÃ¢â‚¬Â and then executed. Their bodies were then moved to a different part of the zone to avoid that family members might claim the body and question the military's version of events. These bodies were then presented by the military as members of the illegal guerrilla groups killed in combat.
Because the bodies have been moved from the execution site and relocated, it has thwarted a proper forensic investigation and collection of vital technical evidence relating to how these killings took place. The Corporation further claims that some of the state officials responsible for carrying out forensic work on these bodies have been pressured by the military not to uncover any information that might point to the existence of an extrajudicial killing.
The eastern Antioquia region is in a state of humanitarian crisis due to the armed conflict that rages in the zone perpetuated by members of the guerrilla insurgency, paramilitary groups and the Colombian military and police. This has resulted in extremely high levels of displacement in the region. In the towns of San Carlos, Argelia, San Francisco, Granada and San Luis, there are now villages that are completely without inhabitants. The possibility of people safely returning to their homes in these areas is made difficult due to the presence of the armed groups. In addition, the area has also been heavily mined with landmines that have claimed the lives of many of the area's inhabitants and have maimed many more.
Earlier this year, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a report on Colombia that cited summary executions by the army, particularly in Antioquia, as among the most serious human rights violations occurring there.
Our ability to maintain our presence in Colombia and our advocacy efforts here in the U.S. is dependent on financial support given by generous foundations and supporters like you. We directly appeal to your generosity at least once a year and we are grateful throughout to receive your donations. Supporting our work is a way of connecting yourself to this important and unique project. In fact, organizing fundraising events for this program is an excellent opportunity to educate your community about the people struggling for peace in Colombia and challenge your guests to advocate for policy change here at home.
To this end, we suggest a few ways to combine advocacy work with fundraising:
- Hold a House Party: Invite friends over for dessert or wine and cheese and present information about the conflict and nonviolent peace movements in Colombia, show some slides and provide literature (our office can provide both).
- Host the Photo Exhibit: Resistance Unarmed: Colombian Communities Building Alternatives to War. Working with a local college or community center to display this educational and moving exhibit is a perfect way to spark conversation and action. To learn more read about it on the web, go to:
- Run or walk a local foot race and ask folks to sponsor your participation, pitch the story to local papers in order to draw attention to your cause.
- Host a spaghetti dinner: Pasta is quick and easy to make in large amounts. Invite friends over, ask for donations at the door and provide information on the FOR Colombia Program.
- Give gifts of peace to family and friends by donating to the Colombia Program in the name of a loved one. You can sponsor a volunteer for a month in the name of a loved one ($345 for food, stipend and medical) or cover the cost of communications a volunteer for one month ($90). We'll send a thank you card to the honoree.
Our office is happy to assist in the planning of these events. If available in your area, we can help to coordinate the presence of a returned volunteer or staff member. Additionally, we are always looking for donated air miles in order to help with the cost of international travel for our volunteers. If you have any questions about this or have other ideas about ways to combine advocacy and fundraising, contact Amanda at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Letter from the Field:
â€œWayuu Refugees Commemorate Massacreâ€
By Trish Abbott
â€œWe are fighting to be able to go back to our land, but I know deep down that I will never get back there.â€ - a refugee of the Wayuu tribe
The land of the Wayuu indigenous people of Colombia is located between the largest open cast coal mine in the world and a wind farm that provides a good portion of the electricity to the country's coastal cities and even as far away as Medellin. Yet the Wayuu people live in straw huts, with no walls. They cook over open flames, and when the sun goes down so too does their only source of light and warmth.
This land is also located 5 minutes from the Caribbean Sea. The scenic view this offers is marred by three large ocean liners that sit on the horizon. These ships are part of a water treatment plant that operates in the area converting sea water to drinking water. The Wayuu used to get their drinking water from natural springs that bubbled up in their land. The new industries in the area have now contaminated the water in these and so the Wayuu are now forced to buy what they can from this company. They have to ride an hour in a half along the road a couple of times a week to pick up the water, which comes in huge blue buckets and costs them so much that these buckets are vigilantly guarded by the elders of the community from children who might waste it in there games. During our stay we were politely asked to only wash when we really had to and with as little "agua dulce" as we could manage.
The FOR Colombia Peace Presence was in the Guajira with the Wayuu indigenous people in order to accompany the second anniversary of the massacre of 9 members of its tribe in April 2004. Over 100 of the tribe had to leave their homes due to this massacre and are now living over the border in Maracaibo Venezuela. They rarely visit those who stayed behind because they are too afraid that those who carried out the massacre of their family members pose a risk to them. The only reason they felt safe enough coming back to commemorate the deaths of their loved ones was because of the accompaniment coming in from outside the region.
On the day of the anniversary of the massacre we took a tour of the houses where the atrocities had taken place. The area that they are in is deserted apart from the military soldiers that mingle awkwardly around the houses. In the first abandoned house we went there was fresh graffiti all over the walls that depicted scenes of fornication and male and female genitalia. On the door of the house someone had painted "Long Live Cocaine!" and on one of the outside walls there was a message from the military demanding respect for the service they provided. The shock of seeing this sacred site so blatantly devastated was too much for many of the returning family members, and the air was soon full of their helpless wails and cries.
We walked to the house next door, the inhabitants of which had also been killed on that fateful day. Upon entering one of the rooms we saw painted on the wall a death threat against one of the Wayuu women that we were with and who is the person with the highest profile in the case the Wayuu are mounting against the paramilitaries who they believe carried out the massacre. She was stood next to me as she read it for the first time and I watched her face turn momentarily soft before she regained her resoluteness and turned and walked outside.
Above the front entrance to this abandoned house was a sticker stating that the inhabitants of this house had been interviewed in the nationwide census at the end of 2005 -- more than a year after they had been killed and the property abandoned. The Wayuu we were with said that this is part of the government's strategy to try and convince people that there exist proper security conditions in this region and that people have returned to their land. Apparently in the days after the massacre Vice President Santos came to this village with TV cameras. With him he brought people from other parts of the region and spoke about how order had been restored in the area and that it was now safe for these people to return to their lands. When the cameras left so too did the people and those who homes these really are remain living over the border in Venezuela; And more than two years later are too afraid to even step foot on their land without the presence of international accompaniment.