Webinar: Justice & Solidarity for Berta Cáceres & COPINH

Join us in this webinar on Wednesday – Please note to participate you just need to either call in using the number below or sign in online with the link provided below 


Webinar: Justice & Solidarity for Berta Cáceres and COPINH

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

6:30pm – 8pm (CST)
Hosted by: Witness for Peace, Honduras Solidarity Network (HSN) & SOA Watch

TO JOIN ONLINE: https://www.anymeeting.com/695-383-182

Dial: 213-416-1560

PIN: 122 085 956#

You are invited to a special webinar to mobilize a US campaign for justice and solidarity for Berta Cáceres, our beloved and missed sister, and the organization she co-founded. COPINH is one of the strongest indigenous organizations in Honduras and it is now more than ever, facing incredible repression.

On the agenda:

Summary of context and what has transpired since Berta’s assassination

Key demands from Berta’s Family & COPINH

Campaign actions & follow up

For more information and the latest WfP action alert, please visit:


Webinar: Understanding Venezuela

Wednesday March 19th- 530pm PST/730pm CT/830pm EST

Click Here to Register for this Webinar

CHAVEZ-supporters-_2504378kVenezuela is at the forefront of revolutionary movements in the Americas. This webinar comes one year after the passing of revolutionary leader and former President Hugo Chávez. More than ever the Venezuelan people and countries across the Americas continue to support the Bolivarian and socialist project that he and the people championed. And more recently, this informative webinar comes as an act of resistance and solidarity following the right wing opposition´s violent attempts to overthrow the democratically elected Venezuelan government of Nicolás Maduro and garner international support for foreign, namely US, intervention. This webinar will be an on the ground live report by Caracas based Jeanette Charles, board member of Witness for Peace Southwest and newly appointed correspondent for Telesur-English. Information will be provided on how to join a WFPSW fact finding delegation to Venezuela in May and July of this year. Also we will discuss what we can do here at home in the U.S to stand in solidarity with the Bolivarian process and prevent US interference and US Media misrepresentation of the Venezuelan democratic process.

Presenter: Jeanette Charles is a grassroots educator, writer and youth organizer from Los Angeles, California. Member of the Chiapas Support Committee and board member for Witness for Peace Southwest. Jeanette has spent considerable time in and across the continental Americas with Afro and indigenous communities as well as popular media collectives. Jeanette is currently located in Caracas, Venezuela and recently became a correspondent for Telesur-English. Jeanette will lead the May WFPSW delegation to Venezuela.

Facilitator- Tanya Cole is Director of Witness for Peace Southwest based in the states of California, Arizona and New Mexico. WFPSW will be hosting 2 upcoming delegations to Venezuela in May and July.

May Delegation to Venezuela celebrating Afro-Venezuela History Month- May 17-26, 2014 ( $900)
July Delegation to Venezuela celebrating the birth of Simon Bolivar- July 19-27th, 2014 (price TBD)

Click Here to Register for this Webinar

For more information contact southwestwfp@gmail.com or call 805-669-VIVA.

Webinar-“Understanding Venezuela”

 Wed March 19, 2014 5:30pm PST/ 730pm CT/ 830pm EST

Call and Log in Details

Below are the conference details.

The conference has audio and visual options available.

1. For audio every participant must takes these steps:

From your phone call the conference call number: 1-646-307-1300 (East Coast)
You will be asked to enter an access code. Enter the code : 630087 followed by the # sign. You will now enter the conference. You will hear an announcement that the call is being recorded. (we hope to have a recording available for participants after the call)
All participants will be muted except for the organizers. To un-mute yourself in order to comment or ask a question press *6 on your phone.

2. Visual option available which includes a photos, visual reports and live chat room. (phone and internet required)

To access the visual conference guide click on the link below:


You will enter a website where the organizers will be guiding you through photos and written reports while you listen on the phone conference audio line. You can ask questions via chat and use the “Raise Your Hand” feature to let organizers know you have a question or comment.

Afterwards we will have the materials and a recording of the call available for participants. The recommended registration fee is $10 but no one is turned away for lack of funds. Payment can be made online or by check here: https://wfpsw.org/donate-today/

A packet of materials with background articles on Venezuela is available. Thank you for joining us!

The Venezuelan People Defend their Revolution from the Opposition´s Coup Attempts

The Venezuelan People Defend their Revolution from the Opposition´s Coup Attempts

by Jeanette Charles

VZ petrol worker march feb 18

17 February 2014 – Caracas, Venezuela – In February, the Venezuelan people celebrate a rebellious and revolutionary history. February marks the 1992 attempted government takeover organized by military and civil society under the leadership of Hugo Rafael Chavéz Frías, inspired by the Caracazo, the 1989 neoliberal economic crisis that drove the Venezuelan poor into extreme poverty and where the military repressed, disappeared and assassinated thousands.

This year, Venezuela honors the bicentennial of the youth movement, a trajectory of independence, communist and ultimately anti-imperialist revolutionary movements. However, the right wing opposition in Venezuela has terrorized the people with an onslaught of violence and threats to topple the democratically elected and self-declared Chavista working class government under President Nicolás Maduro Moros.

Late Sunday evening, President Maduro along with National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello and foreign relations minister Elias Jaua, recounted the last few days of destruction, international media manipulation and violence against the Venezuelan people led by opposition leaders Leopoldo López and Henrique Capriles Radonski, both involved in the 2002 coup attempt against then President Hugo Chávez. President Maduro emphasized, “We are facing crazy people without moral or ethical limits…the people of Chavez have risen up and have decided to be free,” reiterating that Venezuela does not take orders from anyone except the Venezuelan people and is not a US colony, following comments from US State Department official Alexander Lee.

On Wednesday, during the National Youth March, opposition students marched to Parque Carabobo in the Capital of Caracas carrying with them molotov bombs, hardware tools and weapons. They took to the Public Prosecutor’s headquarters and set cars on fire as well as attacked the building threatening the lives of people nearby and workers at this public institution. On Wednesday, three were left dead in the capital including one police officer, a pedestrian and a militant organizer, Juan Montoya “Juancho”, from the barrio of 23 de enero on the capital’s west side, overwhelmingly organized working class and poor. Across the country there have been attacks against known socialist programs and Venezuelan government institutions.

(For more information: http://www.correodelorinoco.gob.ve/politica/%E2%80%9Cjuancho%E2%80%9D-montoya-militante-23-enero-asesinado-este-miercoles-era-un-activo-luchador-por-paz-fotos-y-video/ , http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/10345, and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Es4i37ODi6s)

Since Wednesday, the Venezuelan people continue to mobilize resisting the opposition’s violence. This Saturday was the Peace and Justice March and National Youth March concentrated in Caracas. Music and political chants dominated the city where families, communities and their movements continued to march in the name of their revolutionary spirit in spite of the week’s violence.

There is currently a warrant for the arrest and capture of Leopoldo López. President Maduro has expelled three more US diplomats. They are claimed to have participated in opposition meetings in support of a coup d’etat. They have also been seen at several private universities in Venezuela offering youth visas to the United States. (For more information: http://www.ciudadccs.info/?p=534169)

At the close of January, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC in Spanish) met for their second gathering in La Habana, Cuba. The CELAC is the Latin American and Caribbean union, political, social, economic and cultural initiative to integrate the Americas without the participation of the United States and Canada. This year’s gathering ended with a declaration proclaiming the region free of military intervention in the name of peace and respectful diplomatic relations. The CELAC also opposed the US embargo to Cuba and included a provision to discuss further involvement of Puerto Rico, current US colony, potentially leading to a decolonization process as proposed by the Puerto Rican liberation movements. (To read Spanish version of declaration download here: http://celac.cubaminrex.cu/es/articulos/declaracion-final-de-la-ii-cumbre-de-la-celac)

In light of the right wing violence in Venezuela many nations across the world have declared their solidarity including Ecuador, the Association of Caribbean States and Argentina among others. There is a national march in the name of peace and in defense of the revolution on Tuesday February 18th. The opposition has also called for a mobilization however their march is not authorized.

                                      -Jeanette Charles is from Los Angeles, CA currently residing in Venezuela. Jeanette is a board member of Witness for Peace Southwest and member of the Chiapas Support Committee.

 For more news in English and Spanish:




“Honduras: Stolen elections, continued assassinations and US antics as usual” Preliminary report by Tanya Cole- December 4, 2013

Honduras: Stolen elections, continued assassinations and US antics as usual”

Preliminary report by Tanya Cole- December 4, 2013


1. pre-election violence

2. International Observer Teams

3. Election Day

4. Election results

5. LIBRE press release

6. Assassinations continued

7. Next steps for solidarity

Honduras: Stolen elections, continued assassinations and US antics as usual”

Preliminary report by Tanya Cole (Director -Witness for Peace Southwest, co-leader Sister Cities/Share Observation Team)

Dec 4, 2013

Witness for Peace Southwest sent three representatives to observe the Honduras elections this past Nov 24th as part of 166 international observers organized by the Honduras Solidarity Network. The elections were wrought with pre-election violence, fraud, intimidation, protests, assassinations and US attempts to legitimize a stolen election. The Honduras electoral tribunal declared the right wing national party candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez the official winner while three political parties claim fraud and demand a recount. The night of the election just hours after the closing of polling stations, US Ambassador Lisa Kubiske called the election “transparent” and called on the Honduran people to peacefully respect the results.

Pre-Election Violence

A Rights Action report showed in the weeks leading up to the elections, LIBRE and Resistance activists were harassed, threatened and assassinated for their political involvement. The homes of Edwin Espinal and Marco Antonio Rodriguez were raided by military police, LIBRE congressional candidate Beatriz Valle received deaths threats forcing her flight from the country and TV Globo cameraman and LIBRE activist Manuel Murillo was assassinated. Our delegation met with Edwin Espinal a week before the elections. (more to come in full report)

manuel murillo

(In the early morning of June 28, 2009, Manuel Murillo was one of the first journalists on site to document the overthrow of President Manuel Zelaya. His body was found exactly one month prior to the elections on Oct 24, 2013 in Tegucigalpa. Photographer unknown.)

International Election Observers

The Honduras Solidarity Network organized the largest international election observation team with 166 credentialed observers by the TSE. U.S delegations were organized by Sister Cities/Share Foundation (of which WFPSW members participated, co-led by Tanya Cole), La Voz de los de Abajo-Chicago, Alliance for Global Justice/Taskforce on the Americas, SOAW, National Lawyers Guild, Cross Border Network and more. Observers were in 10 of the 18 departments of Honduras: Ocotepeque, Copan, Lempira, Santa Barbara  Cortes, Francisco Morazan, Choluteca, Olancho, Atlantida and Colon. WFPSW members as part of Sister Cities/Share delegation observed in the Aguan Valley, Department of Colon where 113 campesino leaders have been killed since the 2009 coup. Other international observer groups also sent delegations: US State Department, Organization of American States, European Union, Carter Center, National Democratic Institute (NDI), International Republican Institute (IRI) and a few more.

obsevation team

Sister Cities/Share Observer Delegation Team-Aguan Valley, Honduras

International Observers were subject to intimidation and harassment in the days prior to the elections by immigration police sent by national party President Pepe Lobo. Several raids occurred in Tegucigalpa and El Progreso. One raid occurred while HSN delegations were receiving observation training from the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE). Another raid in Tegucigalpa was conducted by immigration police heavily armed and faces covered in masks.

immigration police honduras

Honduran Immigration police, some heavily armed and masked, harassed credentialed international election observers in El Progreso and Tegucigalpa.

Day of Elections- Nov 24, 2013

Violence and Intimidation: The eve of elections took the lives of two campesinos while they were returning home from electoral training in preparation for their election duties the next day. Maria Amparo Pineda Duarte was the elected President of her cooperative. Julio Ramon Maradiaga was an active member. The community is the site of an ongoing land struggle in the area, and both victims were active members in the LIBRE party (see video report). In the department of Copan, International Observers from the Alliance for Global Justice recorded reports of LIBRE members who were held hostage the morning of the elections so that they could not serve on their voting tables. Two women also reported being attacked and their credentials stolen.

Vote Buying- Both the traditional parties (Liberal and National) were reported to be buying votes outside voting centers. Testimonies, photos and video recordings of the vote buying was collected at the majority of voting centers where the international observer teams were present. In most cases votes were bought for 500 Lempiras ($25 USD) and the voter was to make a public open vote in front of the whole voting table (a voting option normally for handicapped or elderly), with the national party or liberal party representative watching through the window to confirm the vote for payment. See video here of vote buying. Also see video sample of open ballot voting.

Election Results

Within hours of the closing of polling stations on election day, the TSE (Supreme Electoral Tribunal), whose President is a well known member of the National Party, began to post preliminary results of National Party Presidential candidate Juan Orlando leading LIBRE’s Xiomara Castro by 5 percentage points. Almost immediately US Ambassador Lisa Kubiske called the Honduran elections “transparent”, said the results coincided with the reports from her observers and called on Hondurans to peacefully respect the results of the TSE.

kubiske and lobo

US Ambassador Lisa Kubiske with current National Party President Pepe Lobo.

Discrepancies in vote reporting- It soon became clear that the vote tallies that were reported from the original voting “mesas” did not match the posted results on the TSE website. See this video description of the discrepancies in vote counts on the TSE website.

LIBRE sweeps in congress and municipalities– Despite discrepancies in vote counts LIBRE candidates still swept in the areas of congress and municipal mayorships. LIBRE went from zero seats in congress to 38 seats holding the second largest majority. Other smaller parties like the PAC also gained seats. LIBRE also swept in many municipalities, winning mayorships and local level positions across the country. Many members of the grassroots FNRP resistance gained political positions. Former President Mel Zelaya won a congressional seat from his department of Olancho.

composition of Honduran congress 2014

The chart above shows the new breakdown of the Honduras congress after the Nov 24, 2013 elections. The LIBRE party (PLR) is the color orange holding 38 seats. The National Party (PN) color green holds 48 seats, Liberal Party (PL) color red 26 seats and the Anti-Corruption Party (PAC) color grey won 13 seats. 2014 will hold a very different Honduran congress, unseen in the 100 year history of 2 party rule between the National and Liberal Parties.

LIBRE refuses to recognize results, shows proof of fraud and calls its base to the streets.

On Friday November 29, 2013, Presidential candidate Xiomara Castro de Zelaya held a press conference in which she stated We do not recognize the legitimacy of any government that is the product of this shameful assault. We will demonstrate that triumph of LIBRE was the will of the Honduran people with its votes on November 24th. And this triumph is being stolen by those who have turned the electoral system into a farce, by falsifying voting records and adulterating electoral results…They have everything. The power to bully us, attack us and to persecute our people. But they will never make us give up our dignity! Sisters and brothers, let us peacefully take to the streets that we came from!” See full english translation here. See video of speech in Spanish here.

Gerardo Torres (Los Necios) speaks in a video interview with the Real News: “We’re going to bring the struggle back to the streets, as we have been doing for the last four and a half years, because Juan Hernández is not the legitimate president of Honduras. The election was won by Xiomara Castro more than 5 percent. People decided that she had to be the president. And we’re not willing to let anybody steal this. On the other hand, Libre Party has now almost half of the Congress, of the people in Congress. So we made alliance with other parties that are also against the National Party. We can make a strong position as a party in Congress while the resistance is keeping on the pressure against Hernández government…we’re not going to stop fighting. We’re going to keep the international pressure, the national pressure, until at some point in Honduras the will of the people is respected.”

LIBRE takes to the streets after elections student protests after elections Honduras

Student and LIBRE protests of electoral fraud.

Continued Assassinations of Resistance leaders

Within a week after the elections, two more political assassinations occurred. A day after the elections in the area of Ocotal, Santa Barbara, Gilberto Lara aged 60, a member of the Central Nacional de los Trabajadores del Campo (CNTC) campesino organization and of the cooperative “Sacrada Familia” was murdered. Gilberto disappeared after going to buy some batteries. His fellow cooperative members went to look for him when he did not return and found his decapitated body.  Gilberto is the third member of the CNTC to be murdered with 2 days of the election.  

The next victim was Jose Antonio Ardon known as Emo 2 (for his resemblance to the beloved resistance figure Emo who was also murdered). He was part of the famous motorcycle group Motorizada of the Resistance who always accompanied Xiomara, and LIBRE. He was ambushed by 4 gunmen and hit 4 times, about a block away from his home. See video interview (spanish) of Juan Barahona, LIBRE vice-presidential candidate and sub-coordinator of the FNRP regarding the recent assassination of Jose Antonio Ardon and other resistance leaders. Barahona states that there has never been investigations of the political murders of resistance members, they have been committed with complete impunity and it has been planned attacks with the intent to hurt the morale of the social struggle. Barahona continues to state that “they will never accomplish this…the front and the party will keep going to defend the interests of the Honduran people.”


Jose Antonio Ardon (Emo 2) pictured left red shirt was part of the LIBRE motor brigade. He was assassinated near his home on November 30, 2013 by four gunmen.

 Next Steps for Solidarity

1. Report Backs- Witness for Peace Southwest and Sister /Share delegation members will be completing a full delegation report that will include reports from visits to Rio Blanco, Siria Valley, meetings with the Movement for Diversity in Resistance (Erick Martinez), Los Necios (Ana Rivera ad Gerardo Torres), Edwin Espinal, COFADEH, Hugo Noe Pino (former ambassador to US), Berta Caceras and Aureliano Molina of COPINH, Bartolo Fuentes (new elected congressman LIBRE), OFRANEH (Afro-Hondurans), Wilfredo Paz (Aguan), MUCA-Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguan and much more. There will also be report back events taking place in Southern California and other states and cities. WFPSW will host a webinar report back in coming weeks.

2. Holding the US Embassy accountable- WFPSW and partner organizations will be launching a letter and call in day campaign to denounce US Ambassador Lisa Kubiske’s interference in the Honduran electoral process. Stay tuned for action alert.

3. Honduras Solidarity Network face to face planning meeting-The Honduras Solidarity Network will be holding a face to face strategy meeting in coming months to plan next steps of solidarity in post elections Honduras. WFPSW will be sending representatives to this strategy meeting.

4. Fundraising for increased accompaniment and security protections for resistance activists- WFPSW will continue its fundraising efforts to provide increased accompaniment to resistance activists through speaking tours and delegations in addition to raising funds to assist with increased security measures for resistance leaders under threat. Donations can be made at www.wfpsw.org.












Facebook pages:

(WFPSW) https://www.facebook.com/groups/witnessforpeacesouthwest/

(HSN) https://www.facebook.com/HondurasSolidarityNetwork

(HSN election watch) https://www.facebook.com/hsnelectionwatch

(FNRP) https://www.facebook.com/FrenteNacionalDeResistenciaPopular

(COPINH) https://www.facebook.com/copinh.intibuca?fref=ts

(MUCA) https://www.facebook.com/movimientounificado.aguan?fref=ts

(OFRANEH) https://www.facebook.com/ofraneh.garifuna?fref=ts

WFPSW meets with Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ)

Ana Rivera, Tanya Cole (WFPSW Regional Director) and other WFPSW members had a meeting in Tucson with Representative Raul Grijalva’s office to ask him to send a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry regarding U.S neutrality in the Honduran elections. Rep. Grijalva responded to this ask with an excellent letter to Sec. Kerry co-signed by Representatives Mike Honda and Hank Johnson.

Click here to read the letter

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.)

Cuba Webinar-“From Che to Fidel: Building Bridges with 21st Century Cuba”

Click here to download a recording of Daisy Rojas presentation: cuba webinar recording.mp3

Click HERE to view Daisy’s powerpoint 

Witness for Peace Northwest and Southwest Region were thrilled to host this webinar with Daisy Rojas, a Cuban social justice activist and organizer who is a founding member of the Martin Luther King Jr Center in Havana.

Daisy  traveled throughout Washington and Oregon in October speaking about what daily life is like as a Cuban citizen under the U.S. economic embargo and travel ban. Daisy spoke about what steps we can take in the U.S. to act in solidarity with Cuba.  Her work with the MLK Center includes popular education in the Freire model, organizing with communities of faith, and solidarity work with international delegations. Continue reading

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Nicaragua Delegation Report: March 2010

by Pamela S. Boulware
Kendra L. Kingsbury

A delegation of three men, six women, and 5 delegation leaders of varying ages and backgrounds made up the core components of the Witness for Peace (WFP) Spring Break 2010 Nicaragua group.  Our goals were varying, but all added to the central mission of WFP, “to support peace, justice and sustainable economies in the Americas by changing U.S. policies and corporate practices which contribute to poverty and oppression in Latin America and the Caribbean.”  We arrived at the capitol, Managua and managed to travel along the Northwest side up to Esteli and Madriz and down the Southeast side through Granada during our ten-day stay.

We dedicated classroom time to discuss the history of WFP and Nicaragua, including the cycles of military and economic violence, the neo-liberal model, debt, structural adjustment, free trade agreements including DR- CAFTA, labor, action planning, what the U.S. is currently doing to help out and what we’ve done in the past, as well as investment within the country.  Our trip also consisted of going to Centro Cultural Batahola Norte and taking a mural tour (this was just one of the many community centers we visited on our trip. This one in particular offers art classes to children, scholarships to those wishing to attend college, a library, and practical skills training for unemployed adults http://www.friendsofbatahola.org/), historical sites tour of Nicaragua, meeting with a Humboldt Center environmentalist, meeting with a Nicaragua economist, going to Esperanza en Acción (Hope through Action, a fair trade organization http://www.esperanzaenaccion.org/), and doing a home stay at the camp in El Regadio (consisted of meeting their community leaders, visiting one of their sole job market opportunities- the tobacco factory, and learning about and living with people of that community). We also visited the US Embassy and ProNicaragua, an investment agency that aims“To contribute to sustainable economic development of Nicaragua and facilitate the creation of new jobs in the country through the attraction of world-class foreign investment” (http://www.pronicaragua.org/index.php?lang=en).

Emmanuel Wallerstein said it best; “trade made rich countries richer and poor countries poorer”. In the United States the concept of self is very important, i.e. what can I do to get ahead. Along with the sense of self, there is an abundance of resources, clothes, cars, loans and education. In Nicaragua there is a strong cultural difference in the centrality of community and a lack of choice because of resources. Does the United States take into consideration cultural differences such as these, the ideology of self, community, resources, and choice, when promoting or bringing in long-term development within Nicaragua? Instead of yes or no, reflect on this: The minority within Nicaragua would be the wealthy and government officials, while the majority consists of the poor. When decisions are made about a company being moved to Nicaragua, the minority negotiates with major companies leaving the majority to struggle with the effect of major developments such as the destruction of the forest and the pollution of drinking water within Nicaragua.

As we have seen in Nicaragua, the minority invests a large amount of time bringing in large companies and the majority works hard to get the attention of minority leaders. Maria Ivania, a community leader who helped to start a health clinic in her home, helped her community obtain adequate electricity by going with community members and leaders to government offices as often as they needed to stress the need for electricity in their community. Maria’s community, which is a squatter community, is faced with having the land they live on taken away from them because the land is deemed not suitable to reside because of the danger of possible landslides. As a result of companies moving into Nicaragua, Maria’s community is also faced with the destruction of their woodland and polluted drinking water, in that companies are cutting down trees and leaking oil and other harmful chemicals in their water supply. The community is in the process of taking action against these acts.

In Nicaragua the idea of community and the act of togetherness gives people hope that their way of life will get better. The majority, the poor, in Nicaragua want change so they take action and plan for improvement and there is an ongoing struggle to have the majority voice heard by the minority.