Latin American Liberation Series: Colombian Peace Process

Women’s Perspectives on Peace: If Not Now, Then When?
Webinar with Sandra Luna of the Ruta Pacifica 
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The Ruta Pacifica is a feminist pacifist organization.  They have two principle objectives: 1) to make visible the effects of the Colombian civil war on women’s bodies; and 2) to support a negotiated solution to Colombia’s civil war. Learn more about their organization’s perspective on the Colombian peace process.
 
Tuesday April 19 @ 5:30 PST/8:30 EST

Hosted by: Witness for Peace Colombia International Team & Witness for Peace Southwest

For more information about the Latin American Liberation Webinar Series register here

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Peace in Colombia – 62 reps sign dear colleague letter on the Colombian Peace Process

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McGovern-Schakowsky Dear Colleague Letter on Peace, Human Rights and Development in Colombia 

Dear Secretary Kerry:

             We write to express our support for peace, development and human rights in Colombia, and to encourage you to implement a U.S. policy that emphasizes these priorities. With fifty years of conflict, over 5 million internally displaced persons, hundreds of thousands of victims of unspeakable violence, and generations knowing only war, Colombians deserve a chance for peace.We recognize that the road to peace is never direct or easy. We appreciate the statements made by the State Department in support of the Colombian peace process and ask in the months ahead that you encourage the Colombian government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) negotiating teams to stay the course.  As the conflict continues affecting the civilian population, especially vulnerable rural, indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, we ask you to call for a commitment from both sides to respect international humanitarian law.  It would be positive if peace talks were opened, on an appropriate timeline, with Colombia’s remaining guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), in order to bring all armed conflict to a definitive end.

Bird-Dog the New Congress! Take a look at our “How To” guide.

Bird-Dog Your Representatives

Bird-dog (bûrd’-dôg), v. To follow, monitor and/or seek out a subject of interest, such as a public official, with persistent attention to get answers to questions or influence the subject.

Bird-dogging is a tactic that many organizations, and concerned citizens, use to pressure public officialsto take a public stance on an issue, or to question a stance that a candidate has already taken.It usually consists of one or more bird-doggers who go to a public event where a public official will appear. The bird-doggers ask the candidate pointed questions about issues they care about in order to elicit a response. Because members of the media often attend candidate events, bird-dogging plays an important role in getting candidates’ positions “on record.” This is a vital part of holding politicians accountable to their constituents after the elections.

The highest office in America is at stake. Now is the time to ask the candidates what they are going to do about the issues we care about.

Tips for Successful Bird-Dogging

• Know where they stand. Before you bird-dog, check for the latest information about the candidates. Have they taken a stance on the issue? The more you know about where the candidate stands the more specific your question can be. To find out their voting record on certain issues go to www.votesmart.org

• Be assertive. Candidates have very busy schedules and may only take a few questions from audiences during public appearances. In order to be heard, be sure to get in line or raise your hand immediately when it’s time for questions. You also don’t have to wait for public speeches or town hall events. Try for a quick question during a meet-and-greet session or other public appearances.

• Be polite. Most candidates will not take rude people or questions seriously.

• Be direct. Don’t give a long explanation of your question. While you will want to set up your question, the goal of bird-dogging is to force a candidate to respond to an important issue on the record.

• End with a very specific question. Politicians love avoiding difficult issues, so make sure to ask a clear and specific question to ensure that they address the issue you are interested in. Ask open-ended questions that cannot be answered with a yes or no answer. If you feel like your question was not answered, politely ask it again. Here are some sample questions:

Cuba: 

It is estimated that lifting the travel ban on Cuba could create as many as 20,000 new jobs and over 1 billion in revenue for the U.S, and that two-thirds of all Americans including Cuban Americans support lifting the travel ban on Cuba. Will you support efforts in congress to lift the Cuba travel ban and work to normalize relations with our island neighbor?

Trade:

It is estimated over 600,000 U.S jobs were lost after the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement while two-thirds of all undocumented migrants in the U.S today came as a result of NAFTA. In the last 2 years during one of our worst recessions the US congress passed 3 more NAFTA style free trade deals. Now a new trade deal is proposed under the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement including 8 pacific rim countries. How will you vote on this next new free trade deal and will you work to re-negotiate the trade agreements we already have?

Drug War:

This year alone the U.S will spend 52 billion on the War on Drugs, mostly on military aid to corrupt foreign governments like Mexico and Colombia and on incarcerating drug addicts here in the U.S. With this strategy we have only seen more drugs on our streets, more drug cartel violence and more people in prison. While 20 million Americans needed drug treatment last year and never received it.  In the next congress will you work to shift Drug War spending away from corrupt foreign militaries and domestic prisons and spend more money on curtailing the demand side of drug abuse by providing community services, drug treatment and de-crimilization of drug addiction?

Work in teams of two or more people and disperse. Bird-dogging can sometimes make people nervous so it’s best to go in teams of two or more for support. Also, if you have two people in a team, one can ask the question while another writes down the response. It’s best if you can get the candidate’s response on camera, but either way, get an accurate quote of what was said so you can pass the information on. The website http://www.birdogger.org is a good place to post candidate responses.

When you ask a question, be prepared with a follow up question – you might just get the opportunity to ask it. And, this way if someone else asks your question you’ll have a backup. If you have a group of people at the event, split them up. Dispersing at the event might allow everyone in the group to ask a question.

Keep it cordial. You are likely to get more of a response from candidates, and make a positive impression on the media, if you are calm and respectful in your demeanor. Hardly anyone is 100 percent opposed to your views, so try and come up with a compliment on a candidate’s position that you can mention before you ask your question.

For a list of congressional races and how much money they have raised go towww.thegreenpapers.com

To find out who contributes to their campaigns go to www.opensecrets.org

For Bird-dogging help contact southwestwfp@gmail.com or call (805) 421-9708.

Past Highlights and Pictures

Highlights and Accomplishments

Southwest Region Witness for Peace

Moving Congress: In theSouthwest region secured 6 of 87 congressional signers on a Dear Colleague letter condemning human rights abuses in Honduras. On the Colombia Free Trade Agreement 4 congresspersons were swayed to vote NO through Southwest region efforts in October. WFPSW rallies were held at 3 Southern California undecided congressional offices a day before the free trade votes. 2 of the 3 reps voted against the free trade agreements the next day. Through grassroots pressure, this December Rep. Berman CA-28, ranking Democrat in the House Foreign Relations committee sent a public letter to Secretary Clinton questioning US funding of state sponsored repression in Honduras. This next year we will be bird-dogging congress during election campaigns to make sure they address the failed Drug War, Honduras human rights violations, the Cuban Embargo and immigration reform. (pictured WFPSW members at Rep. Henry Waxman’s office)

Honduras– The Southwest Region joined protests at the Honduran Consulate in the spring when there was a brutal military/police crack down on teacher/students protests that lead to the death of elementary school teacher Ilse Ivania Velásquez Rodríguez. In March the Southwest region hosted Gerardo Torres, leader of the Honduran Resistance Front, for several speaking events in Southern California. In September the Southwest region sent a nine-person delegation to Honduras that visited the campesino movements of the Aguan Valley, 4 political prisoners, served as international observers for the Sept 15 Resistance marches and met with the brand new US Ambassador to Honduras. The Southwest hosted Afro-Honduran Garifuna Doctor Luther Castillo for a workshop on Honduras at the School of the Americas vigil in Ft. Benning, Georgia. The Southwest continues to be an active member of the Honduras Solidarity Network. In 2012 we plan to send more protective accompaniment delegations to Honduras, push for more cuts in US funding and get a Dear Colleague letter circulating in the Senate.(pictured: delegate Sara Kohgadai with former Honduran President Mel Zelaya.)

Trade- Three free trade agreements came to a vote  for Colombia, Panama and South Korea. The Southwest held face to face meetings with several congressional offices in the spring in which reps committed to vote against the FTAs. During the final votes many reps spoke out strongly against the FTAs on the floor of the Senate and House. In the end 80% of House Democrats voted against the Colombia FTA and most significantly against a specific ask by President Obama to pass the trade agreements. In 2012 election season we will be holding reps accountable for their votes on the FTAs and will push for more congressional co-sponsors for the Trade Act, a bill that will stop any new FTAs and renegotiate all current FTAs. (pictured: rally at Rep. Karen Bass’ office. She voted against all 3 FTAs)

Colombia- In the Spring the Southwest hosted events for the Days and Prayer and Action on Colombia, in July we sent an accompaniment delegation to the humanitarian peace communities of Uraba, Colombia and in the fall we lobbied against the Colombia FTA and hosted Jani Silva, campesina leader from Putumayo, Colombia on a speaking tour that reached over 1000 people. In 2012 we will send protective accompaniment delegations to Uraba, Colombia and continue to raise awareness in the US of the failed drug war model. (pictured Southwest delegates in Uraba, Colombia)

Migrant Rights- In January we hosted the first domestic delegation on immigration and migrant rights in Ventura County, California. We co-sponsored multiple migrant rights forums and participated in campaigns to stop ICE’s Secure Communities Program. In the summer the Southwest sent volunteers to deliver water and humanitarian aid at the Arizona/Mexico border with the human rights group No More Deaths. In 2012 we will return to volunteer on the border, flight for an end to ICE’s S-COMM program and participate in migrant rights forums and Know Your Rights Trainings. (pictured: volunteers with No More Deaths take a break in the Arizona/Mexico desert.)

Cuba– the Southwest has participated in the efforts to protect Cuban family travel. Hardline Cuban Americans in congress twice this year have tried to roll back travel for Cuban Americans to Bush era policy. In December the Southwest sent 28 delegates to Cuba ranging from ages 24-76 and representing 18 states. This coming year we will support the campaign to Free the Cuban Five, organize delegations to Cuba and lobby to end the travel ban and embargo on Cuba. (pictured: International Workers Day march in Havana, Cuba)

Delegations– The Southwest sponsored 4 delegations to Honduras, Colombia, Cuba and Ventura County, CA. A total of 55

delegates participated and the Southwest Region awarded $3,175 in delegation scholarship assistance. In 2012 we have delegations planned for Honduras, Colombia, Cuba and domestic California and Arizona delegations on migrant rights. We also will be facilitating more short term and long term volunteer accompaniment teams in Uraba, Colombia and the Aguan Valley of Honduras. (pictured: Southwest region’s first domestic delegation focused on farmworkers and migrant rights in California.)

TANYA COLE – Letter to the Editor (Ventura County Star) – Drug war spending

In a recent forum for the candidates for the 26th Congressional District, Candidate Jess Herrera was asked if he were elected, would he work to combat the failed drug war by reducing U.S. Drug War spending abroad and decriminalizing drugs at home. By the reaction of the audience, this seemed to be a tough question.

Mr. Herrera said Mexico and Latin America need our help combating the drugs and the police at home are doing a fine job. Perhaps Mr. Herrera is not aware that the “Failed Drug War” is named so for a reason.

After billions of U.S. dollars have been spent in drug war aid to Latin America, we have only seen an increase in drug production and an increase in human rights violations by the militaries we fund, particularly Colombia, Mexico and Honduras. At home we have the largest prison spending and prison population in the world with most people in the system for non-violent drug related offenses.

I hope our congressional candidates do a bit more homework before this election.

During President Obama’s trip to Colombia for the Summit of the Americas last weekend, he received an earful from Latin American presidents about the failures of Washington’s drug war. Of all countries, we should understand supply and demand economics. President Obama should refocus our drug policies to drug prevention and rehabilitation programs. Decriminalization/regulation of drugs will put the cartels and drug dealers out of business. Investment in our communities instead of guns and jails is money better spent.

– Tanya Cole,

Ojai

Published at http://www.vcstar.com/news/2012/apr/18/drug-war-spending/

Video

U.S. and Central America – part 2 – interview with Tanya Cole on Dec. 17, 2010

Part 2 of interview with Tanya Cole, Witness for Peace Southwest District organizer, and Cindy Piester of Pulse TV. Discuss the history of U.S. involvement in Central America and migration and immigration.

Video

Tanya Cole: The Brutal Face of U.S. Latin America Policy – Then & Now

Tanya Cole, Witness for Peace Southwest District organizer, and Cindy Piester of Pulse TV discuss the ongoing brutal history of U.S. involvement in Latin America.

Refresh yourself on the CIA’s role of replacing democratically elected Latin governments after overthrowing them, and the brutal campaigns of repression that followed.

Grim history in broad strokes. An update in current ways and means of the U.S. governments continued efforts to control through violence.

Report on July 2010 Delegation to Colombia

by Patrick Bonner

Our 2010 trip to Colombia, sponsored by Witness for Peace Southwest, was partly to the same communities as in 2009, but also different.

A bit of background:

In 1997, a combined series of aerial and ground attacks by paramilitary forces and Colombia’s 17th Brigade, called Operation Genesis, displaced 15,000 people and killed more than 100, mostly Afro-Colombians, from the region of Colombia near Panama referred to as the Bajo Atrato. This region includes the basins of the Jiguamiandó, Curvaradó and other tributaries that flow into the Atrato River.  The army claimed to be pursuing guerrillas.  But when some of the displaced attempted to return, it became clear that the objective of Operation Genesis was to depopulate the area so that logging companies could cut down the forests and agribusiness companies could steal the land for cattle ranching and plantations, especially oil palm.

The displaced people have made several attempts at returning, only to be violently displaced again.  Their current effort consists of establishing a toe-hold by building clusters of houses and calling them Humanitarian Zones, off limits to any armed groups. At the same time, they continue to pursue the return of all their land through the courts. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has told the Colombian government that it has to respect the Humanitarian Zones. The government gives lip service to this right, but the land has not yet been returned and the Humanitarian Zones face constant threats.

The companies and paramilitaries have brought in laborers from other regions.  Instead of paying those workers a living wage, the companies give them some of the land to use, land that is not theirs to give.  Those workers are referred to as repopulators.

In that region of Colombia, Afro-Colombians, as well as Mestizos who live with the Afro-Colombians and share their life-style, have a right under the 1991 Constitution to own land collectively. According to implementing legislation, known as Law 70, which was passed in 1993, the communities elect councils and representatives to be their voice in dealing with the national government and other entities. The communities had begun implementing this process when they were displaced in 1997.

Recently the agribusiness companies have been attempting to take over the process and install their own puppets. Earlier this year, Colombia’s Interior Department recognized the results of a phony election in the Curvaradó region that had been arranged by the companies.  But the Supreme Court overturned that recognition and ruled that a census of the region needs to take place followed by new elections. The communities want international observers for this process.  The agribusiness companies and their allies do not want international observers. It is expected that the census and election will take place soon, but as of August 2010, I have not received notice that it has been scheduled.

The paramilitary allies of the companies make death threats against the true community leaders. They also threaten members of the Interfaith Commission for Justice and Peace, a Colombian organization that accompanies the communities and provides a voice and link between the communities and the outside world.

Jiguamiandó

In the Jiguamiandó river basin, we stayed two nights in the Afro-Colombian Humanitarian Zone of Pueblo Nuevo.

Last year in Pueblo Nuevo, we met two Embera Indigenous representatives who had hiked eight hours to meet with us.  They told us about the Embera’s struggle to save their reserve from devastation by two mining companies. (More about that below.) They invited us to visit the reserve and see their sacred mountain that was being threatened. Our trip this year was a response to that invitation.  It turned out that the logistics of getting to the mountain would be prohibitive.  But we were able to get as far as the Embera community of Alto Guayabal, a two-hour canoe trip from Pueblo Nuevo.

In January of this year, the Colombian army bombed near Alto Guayabal.  A man from the community was badly injured and paralyzed for life.  A baby died a couple weeks later.  The community believes the baby’s death was a result of the bombing. We later met with a representative of the Colombian army’s 17th Brigade.  He said he knew people were affected by the bombing but denied that the baby’s death was a result.  We asked why they bombed the area and he said it’s hard to know when civilians are in an area.

Curvaradó

After two days in the Jiguamiandó river basin, we went by canoe and four-wheel-drive vehicles to the Curvaradó basin.  We visited Camelias and Caracolí, two Humanitarian Zones we had visited last year. And we ended with a visit to the new Humanitarian Zone in Llano Rico.  That Humanitarian Zone is dedicated to the memory of Argenito Diaz, a community leader who was killed by paramilitaries in January this year.

While in Camelias, we also visited a Biodiversity Zone. The Biodiversity Zones are areas set aside by the communities in an attempt to restore the forest to its condition before the agribusiness companies destroyed it. The task is daunting.  The agribusiness companies drained away much of the water that had sustained the trees and other plants.  We were shown a tiny bit of marsh which at one time had been a navigable stream. The companies introduced invasive plants that displace the natural flora. The community attempts to help the forest restore itself by weeding out some of the invasive species.

Yuca

The agribusiness companies have a problem.  Oil palm is subject to a plant disease that has destroyed many of their plants.  (Thinking butterflies spread the disease, they killed off most of the butterflies in the region.)

Now they have discovered that a type of yuca, known as bitter yuca, can produce oil for biofuel.  It’s called bitter yuca because, after growing for about seven months, it is no longer edible.  Other types of yuca can grow for a couple years and become large while still being good to eat. Yuca is the Spanish word for cassava. It’s a staple food in Latin America and in parts of Africa.

While they have not given up on oil palm, the agribusiness companies are now promoting bitter yuca as a cash crop. Whatever their cash crop, those companies are destroying forests and stealing land.

Lumber

In various places, we saw piles of lumber, evidence of ongoing forest destruction that accompanies the agribusiness operations.

Pan-American Highway

The Pan-American Highway stretches from Alaska to Panama.  And it goes from Colombia to Argentina.  But there is a gap where Panama meets Colombia. This is another part of the Bajo Atrato region, slightly north of where we were. The Uribe government of Colombia made it a priority to close that gap.  This mega-project will include a bridge across the Atrato River.  The communities in the area oppose the project with good reason.  The region where Colombia meets Panama is one of the most biodiverse places in the world.  National parks on both sides of the Panama/Colombia border seek to preserve the biodiversity. Until now, there have been no roads in the area, all travel being on foot or in boats. But we were told on this trip that Uribe convinced the new President of Panama and, in effect, it’s a done deal.  The environmental destruction will be enormous.

Mining and “Free-Trade”:

The Embera Indigenous people are trying to prevent mining companies from invading their land.  The Afro-Colombian and Mestizo communities we visited are also against those mining operations.  They live downstream and know the contamination from the mines would destroy the rivers on which they depend.

The two companies that want to mine copper, gold, and molybdenum on the Indigenous Reserve are Muriel and Rio Tinto.  Muriel is an obscure U.S. company.  Rio Tinto, a British and Australian company, is one of the largest mining companies in the world. Muriel is based in Denver, Colorado.  The U.S. headquarters of Rio Tinto are also in Denver.

Some parallels and personal conclusions:

The Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) was ratified in 2005.  It includes El Salvador along with the other Central American countries, the Dominican Republic, and the United States, but not Canada.  A Canadian company, called Pacific Rim, wants to mine for gold in El Salvador.  But the Salvadoran government, to protect its diminishing supply of usable water, has placed a moratorium on mining operations.  So Pacific Rim formed a subsidiary in Nevada and used that subsidiary to sue the government of El Salvador under the “investor protection” clause of CAFTA, claiming the loss of possible future profits.

The proposed “free-trade” agreement between Colombia and the United States has an “investor protection” clause similar to that in CAFTA and NAFTA.  If the U.S./Colombia trade deal is ratified by the U.S. Congress, I expect that it will be used to undermine the right of the Embera people to protect their home.  It will also further consolidate the land theft by agribusiness companies in the Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó river basins as well as in other parts of Colombia.

Please continue to tell your congressperson, your senators, and the Obama administration that you are against the U.S./ Colombia “free-trade” agreement.