November 2009 Newsletter
- Joe DeRaymond in Memoriam
- Support Congressional Call for New Colombia Policy
- "Expeditionary Warfare" Base Agreement Defies Court
- Letter from the field: The Cumbia of the Disconnected
- Briefs: Join FOR at the SOA Vigil; Conscientious objection recognized; next FOR Colombia team members
Former Colombia team member and a member of the FOR Colombia Committee, Joe DeRaymond, died of a brain tumor on October 1. We grieve his passing.
Only a month before, Joe visited the San José de Apartadó Peace Community on FOR's human rights delegation. Before the delegation he had been in El Salvador, visiting La Loma, and until the last minute, it was uncertain whether he would be able to make it. His participation in the delegation was active and particularly meaningful. In it, Joe gave a great gift: he made it possible for Adrián Martínez, a Salvadoran community leader who had also suffered the horrors of war, to participate. His participation was a great learning experience for Colombian campesinos, human right defenders, Peace Community members and delegates alike.
Peace Community members were extremely happy to see Joe again. He was very dear to their hearts. As one of the first FOR volunteers in Colombia, he accompanied the community in 2003-04, and also rejoined the team immediately after the 2005 massacre, in which three children were brutally killed, as well as Luis Eduardo Guerra, a very charismatic leader.
Shortly after arriving on the team in 2003, Joe wrote: "In this moment, our FOR accompaniment and the accompaniment of Peace Brigades International is welcomed as an important buffer against invasion or envelopment by the armed struggle which embroils Colombia. International eyes, ears and attention [are] crucial to the maintenance of the fragile space within which the Peace Community lives."
Joe also served for five years on the FOR Colombia Committee that has guided our accompaniment project in Colombia since its inception. And he represented FOR at the School of the Americas vigil at Fort Benning, where he was also arrested for "crossing the line" in 2005, an act for which he served three months in prison. His commitment was humbly stated, but fierce and strong at the same time.
Peace Community members were very saddened to hear the news of Joe's death. "He shared our suffering, it is so sad to know he's gone," a Peace Community leader community told us. Two weeks ago, during a visit to the Peace Community there were many conversations about Joe. Many members were unaware of the seriousness of Joe's health condition at the time of his last visit; without exception they conveyed their appreciation for Joe's generosity, making the effort to come all the way to see them one last time.
In honor of Joe's commitment to the San José Peace Community and his work of accompaniment, we have established the Joe DeRaymond Memorial Accompaniment Fund. Please join dozens of others who have already contributed to extend Joe's life work, supporting the courageous volunteers who follow his example of human rights accompaniment in San José.
Please make a donation today in Joe's name. Or send a check made out to FOR to: Fellowship of Reconciliation, 436 14th St. #409, Oakland, CA 94612. Please put "Joe DeRaymond" in the memo line.
From all of us here at the FOR Colombia Peace Presence, we are deeply saddened by Joe's passing, grateful for the opportunity we had to know him, and inspired by his life and energy to continue our work for peace in Colombia.
Support Congressional Call for New Colombia Policy
As of Friday, Congressman McGovern and three other Representatives are circulating a letter in Congress addressed to Secretary of State Clinton calling for a change in US policy towards Colombia -- and the letter's asks mirror those of FOR and other groups during the Days of Prayer and Action last spring. It calls for a decrease in military spending in Colombia and increased US support for human rights and humanitarian efforts.
This letter is a chance to get Congress behind the changes we want to see and an opportunity for our government to stand by our brothers and sisters in Colombia.
We need your support to give the letter the power it needs. Take action today to ensure we get as many representatives as possible to sign on to it by November 25, when it will be sent to Secretary Clinton.
The letter makes a strong case that there is no time to waste in changing US policies towards Colombia. It paints a vivid picture of the Colombian government's failure to protect human rights, raising issues of the killing of civilians by the army, the persecution of human rights defenders, and the humanitarian crisis of more than four million people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes. While FOR believes the United States should terminate all military "assistance" to Colombia, we support the letter's call to "scale down" and "systematically 'Colombianize'" military programs.
The letter also calls for an end to harmful and ineffective aerial fumigations, urging that we invest instead in creating more drug treatment centers in the United States to decrease the demand for illicit substances. To get all the details, read the full letter.
This letter will only have a strong effect if Rep. McGovern is backed up by many other members of Congress. Now is the time for faithful action for a sustainable peace in Colombia. Please help ensure that your congressional representative signs on.
And don't stop there: Tell your friends and family. Make an announcement in your church. Or go ahead and forward this on to your whole address book! We may not get another chance like this again for a long time, so let's pull out all the stops and make our voices heard!
Colombian and US officials signed Pentagon budget document (PDF). The Air Force document describes South America as "a critical sub region of our hemisphere where security and stability is under constant threat from narcotics funded terrorist insurgencies, anti-US governments, endemic poverty and recurring natural disasters." The document flatly contradicts well-publicized claims by US Ambassador William Brownfield that soldiers based in Colombia will "never, never, never" participate in armed operations, and that the base agreement doesn't allow operations outside Colombian territory.
While the US Embassy in Bogota said the agreement enters into force immediately (PDF), a Colombian court ruling (PDF) said the agreement is "broad and unbalanced" in favor of the United States and is not based on any previous treaty, and so must be reviewed by the Colombian Congress and Constitutional Court. The agreement puts no limits on the number of US personnel to be deployed in Colombia nor on the number of military bases they will use.
Colombia's constitution requires legislative approval for stationing of any foreign troops on Colombian territory, as well as for all international treaties. The Colombian State Council, a court created to issue opinions on the presence of foreign troops, found that the agreement gives the US the power to decide what operations will occur, gives immunity to US troops, allows access to bases beyond the 7 bases named in the agreement, and defers the most important questions about military operations to future "operational agreements."
The Council also reviewed 15 prior treaties and declarations cited by the Colombian government as the foundation for the current base agreement, and found that none of them offer a basis for the current agreement on stationing of military troops and use of military bases. It concludes that the agreement is a treaty, and so must be approved by the Colombian Congress and reviewed by the constitutional court. But Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez, in signing the deal, said the government would bypass legislative approval of the base agreement.
The agreement's environmental provisions are extremely unfavorable to Colombia. The accord requires the United States to turn over all facilities in "as is" condition, while there is no obligation by the United States to remediate environmental damages caused by activities carried out under the agreement, such as chemical contamination, unexploded ordnance, fuel spills, etc. Any appeal to international bodies to remedy damages is forbidden. The agreement even contemplates Colombian payments to the United States for improvements, whether or not damages to lands or property have occurred.
Colombian Senator Gustavo Petro called on the government to renounce the pact, a renunciation which he says would improve relations with neighboring Venezuela. In addition, Petro said, "because it didn't go through Congress, the pact is ineffectual, and any occupation by [US] soldiers in Colombia is illegal."
In addition, twenty-seven European organizations called on President Obama to reconsider the agreement (Word document), and urged the president to prioritize human rights in US relations with Colombia. "The militarization of Colombia," the groups wrote, "will lead to an increase in internal destabilization, will involve even more of the civilian population in the war, increasing the violations of human rights and strengthening the resurgence of the paramilitary groups and the receding guerrilla groups."
People representing several organizations, including US activists, raised a banner at the Palanquero base saying "No US Troops in Colombia" and remembered the 17 Colombians killed by pilots operating from the base in 1998. "It will be worse than the School of the Americas, because it will not only be part of a process of training the Colombian army, but now the US army will be able to operate here with impunity. And it will be a threat to Colombian sovereignty," said Gilberto Villaseñor, a former FOR Colombia team member who participated in the presence.
by Moira Birss
Marches in Colombia are often colorful and vibrant, and the Carnival March for Life, Dignity and Popular Identity in Medellin on October 9 was no exception. Drummers, clowns on stilts, clowns in tutus made up the parade, and a band played the "Cumbia of the Disconnected":
I had a full salary
I had many dreams
I paid all the utilities
And nothing was left for food
Nothing was left for food
If you paid the utilities
And want to go grocery shopping
Don't come with that story
You only have enough to pay on credit
You only have enough to pay on credit
Doña Luz was already blind
From saving money
The bill always went up
The bill always went up
The phone in my house
Answering it is always a problem
Because calls appear
To Holland and Cartagena
To Holland and Cartagena
The march, which I accompanied at the request of our partner organization the Medellin Youth Network (Red Juvenil), was the symbolic closing of the Medellin Social Forum, in the tradition of the now-geographically-dispersed World Social Forum. The Forum, held October 2-11, brought together communities and organizations from Medellin, the region and other regions of Colombia. The purpose, as the website explained, was to "address the problems caused by neoliberalism, authoritarianism and privatization, and create alternatives and proposals to transform the situation of poverty and social exclusion in the city of Medellin, Antioquia and Colombia."
As described in the "Cumbia of the Disconnected," a primary focus of the march and the Forum itself was access -- or the lack of it -- to utilities like water, electricity and telephone. In the comunas, or shantytowns, of Medellin, many of the poorest, most of whom are displaced people from other regions of the country, have never had connections to such utilities, or have been disconnected because of their inability to pay the high fees on their scant to nonexistent income.
A primary complaint of the Red Juvenil and other organizers of the Forum and march is that Public Companies of Medellin (EPM for its Spanish initials), which provides utilities in the region, does not fulfill its obligations as a public company supposedly at the service of the public. EPM is only 51% publicly held, and the Red Juvenil and others accuse it of acting very much in the predatory and profit-focused manner of private companies, at the expense of the most needy.
While accompanying the march and listening to the charges against EPM, I was struck by the irony of the situation. Three weeks ago I accompanied a three-day series of workshops and meetings in Amalfi in the northeast of Antioquia. There, EPM has gotten declared what in Colombia is the equivalent of eminent domain in order to construct a fourth hydroelectric dam on the Porce River. More than 8,000 independent miners and small farmers, many of whom were displaced by the construction upriver of the previous dam, will be displaced by this dam. The community, with the support of FOR's partner organization the Antioquian Campesino Association, is working to achieve fair compensation and relocation in the area, in order to avoid the fate of many of those displaced by previous dams, who for lack of better options ended up in the shantytowns of Medellin and victim to the extravagant rates EPM charges for utilities
Though this seems like a pretty depressing situation, I was inspired by the way that the Red Juvenil and the other organizations of the Forum made it a point to bring the march and carnival to the people in the comunas themselves. So often, forums and marches and other such manifestations of protest and articulations of alternatives happen in city centers, universities, and other sites where shantytown dwellers don't have access. The comuna residents may be disconnected from electricity, but the Red Juvenil and the Forum are making sure they are not disconnected from the struggle for a better Medellin, Antioquia, and Colombia.
Join FOR at the SOA Vigil, November 20-22
FOR will be present at the mass vigil at the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia from November 20-22. If you are planning to go, please join us for a workshop on US military bases in Colombia, on Friday, November 20 at 9 pm in Howard Johnsons Carter Room. It is critical that we are informed about and engaged in opposing the new military bases that the United States will be using in Colombia to increase its capacity for "expeditionary warfare" in South America. Come join us in forging smart and creative activism on this issue.
FOR will also have a table with extensive materials at the vigil, and we invite volunteers to help us staff the table for any length of time. Please contact Colombia Project Co-Director Liza Smith, firstname.lastname@example.org or at our office, 510-763-1403.
High Court Recognizes Colombian Conscientious Objection
The Colombian Constitutional Court issued a ruling on October 15 -- in a writ of protection revision -- recognizing the right to refuse to serve in obligatory military service based on religious or philosophical reasons. Until now, the law granted such right only to those belonging to indigenous minorities, a right that the Constitutional Court reiterated for indigenous and disabled people.
The Court also ordered Congress to pass legislation granting such a "basic civil right." A progressive senator from the left, Gloria Ramirez, last year introduced a bill to that effect in Congress. It was rejected, and she was planning to reintroduce it in the next legislature.
The court heard the case at the request of a research team at the University of the Andes, supported by groups of conscientious objectors and human rights organizations. The Medellín Youth Network called the decision an "important advance," but added, "rights aren't won in courts, which are the places that end up guaranteeing and recognizing them. Rights are earned in people's struggles for their recognition. Objectors must continue to organize and mobilize ourselves, demanding and demonstrating that we're here, that objectors with or without legal and constitutional recognition will continue in the street, on the walls, in statements, and in direct actions."
Next Members of the FOR Colombia Team
By Ashleigh Saheen, Daniel Read, Isaac Beachy, Jenn Svetlik and Marion
A new group of five applicants to FOR's Colombia Peace Presence gathered in San Francisco from September 12 through 17 to participate in a training to go to Colombia in late 2009 and early 2010. Activities and sessions included topics on the history of FOR and Colombian history, accompaniment theory and practice, skill development for field work and information on US policy and advocacy campaigns
The applicants shared a desire to participate in work that is directed by the community and accompanies community members in a culturally appropriate way. "I spent a few months previously in Colombia and it was an amazing experience. I knew I had to come back soon," said Denver, an applicant from Denver by way of Canada and Japan.
The interactive training activities are designed to prepare participants for situations they may confront during their work on the Colombia team, and included relay races, team building games, Jeopardy! sessions, and writing activities that accommodate a variety of learning styles. Given the complexity of the security and human rights situation, the sessions not only prepare the trainees, but also give them the chance for self-evaluation.
"I always feel rather silly during the games," said Marion, a future volunteer from Austria. "But I always like the analysis we do afterward. It's very helpful to me."
The training was led by several FOR staff and former volunteers who have plenty of wisdom to share with the group. They provide a space for applicants to share their thoughts and analysis but also provide insights from their experience in the CPP.
Chris Courtheyn, a former volunteer from 2007-08, returned to be a facilitator. Since returning from Colombia, he has worked in southern Colombia but supports FOR when he can. "Living in San José was one of the most amazing experiences in my life," he said. "I want to continue supporting the CPP team any way I can."
"As we complete each session," Jenn, an applicant from Texas, enthusiastically shares, "I am more and more convinced that human rights accompaniment is an effective and appropriate way for US activists to build relationships with peace leaders around the world."