Venezuela: Witness Participatory Democracy in Action


Venezuela: Witness Participatory Democracy in Action

November 9th to 17th, 2014

In the past 15 years, the people of Venezuela have participated in 19 free, fair, and democratic elections. After the untimely 2013 passing of President Hugo Chávez, Venezuelans elected Nicolas Maduro to replace him and ratified the ruling socialist party in nationwide municipal elections. But Venezuela’s experiment with participatory democracy isn’t just about voting often. This year, with no election in sight, thousands upon thousands of organized communities decided it was time to form Communes, consolidating their grassroots Communal Councils into larger, more complex, democratic spaces. 795 Communes are now registered with the National Government, and the goal is to build 3,000 by 2019. Meanwhile, the Venezuelan opposition openly rejects the growing “Communal State” and blames the Bolivarian Government for inflation, the scarcity of basic goods, and violence. Deadly protests earlier this year demonstrate that a better understanding of Venezuela’s social, economic, and political transformations is urgently needed.

CRBZ 023

This trip will familiarize participants with the ways and means of Venezuelan democracy, providing a unique opportunity to witness the coming together of popular public policies and grassroots organization. Delegates will learn about, and visit, a range of social programs known as the Misiones or Missions – the National Government’s way of implementing the universal right to food, housing, health, education, gainful employment, information, and leisure. Participants will also meet with members of the country’s opposition, including students and journalists, allowing for an integral understanding of Venezuela’s ongoing struggle to heal wounds of the past.

GC Seguimos en Resistencia

Cost: $1,150 which includes full program in Venezuela, airport pick up and drop off, in country transportation, bi-lingual trip leaders and interpretation, 2 meals a day, background reading materials, donations to Venezuelan organizations, and lodging. $150 deposit due by October 12th, 2014. Airfare to Caracas NOT INCLUDED.


Contact: Witness for Peace Southwest | |  805-669-VIVA | |

Honduras Delegation August 11-20, 2014 “Accompanying Communities in Resistance”


Honduras Delegation August 11-20, 2014

Accompanying Communities in Resistance”

Caribbean coast

Caribbean coast

Witness for Peace Southwest, US-El Salvador Sister Cities and School of the Americas Watch will be hosting a trip to Honduras, from August 11th to the 20th.

This delegation aims to continue the spirit of international solidarity between Honduras and the United States, and in this case with several Salvadorans that will be on the delegation as well. This triangular model of solidarity allows us all to learn from each other and support each other in the struggle against injustice in Honduras.

Since the 2009 coup d’etat in Honduras that ousted elected President Mel Zelaya, communities and movements seeking democracy and human rights in Honduras have come under attack. Hundreds have been assassinated, received death threats, evicted from their communities and beaten by Honduran military and police. Yet during this time a massive movement of resistance has grown from the Indigenous communities of Intibuca, to students movements in Tegucipalpa, to LBGQT movements in San Pedro Sula and campesinos movements in the Aguan Valley. The resistances movements formed the first ever popular leftist political party in Honduras and in only 2 years managed to gain 28 seats in congress and dozens of local level posts in the November 2013 elections. Since the contested November Presidential elections in 2013, right wing National Party leader Juan Orlando Hernandez has taken up the new Presidency, which has continued to see assassinations of journalists and the May 2014 beatings of opposition congress members inside the National Honduras Congress. Continued international solidarity is critical at this time to maintain pressure on the Honduran state to respect human rights and communities fighting for dignity and the right to live. International observers are needed to document human rights abuses, to accompany communities in resistance and to pressure the US and Honduran governments to respect and adhere to international human rights law.

This delegation program will include:

  • Qualified on the ground trip leaders experienced in leading delegations in Honduras.

  • A visit to the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa to meet with youth resistance organizations, the LBGQT movement, members of the Honduran congress and to advocate with the new US Ambassador to Honduras.

  • Travel to the beautiful mountainous region of Intibuca where the Lenca indigenous peoples have existed for centuries. We will stay 1-2 nights with the Lenca community of Rio Blanco where the community has been actively defending their river from being privatized and sold off to a private hydroelectric damn company.

  • We will visit the Northern cities of San Pedro Sula and El Progreso to learn about the plight of journalists in Honduras, where more journalists have been assassinated than any other country of the world.

  • Witness the beautiful northern Caribbean coast to hear from the Afro-Honduran Garifuna peoples as they fight to keep their lands from international tourism developers.

  • Spend 3-4 nights staying with campesino communities of the Aguan Valley where campesino organizations are fighting for land rights. Hear testimonies of resistance from campesino leaders and families as they go up against multi-million dollar agro-business companies dominating the landscape with African Palm oil production.

Deadline to apply: July 11th

Delegation Price: $950 not including airfare (includes all in-country transport, most meals, lodging, preparation materials and translation services). **Some scholarships available**

Apply online here.

For more information and for applications, please contact Tanya at or Cori at or

see our list of Frequently Asked Questions about Travel to Honduras

Aguan Valley documenting testimonies

Aguan Valley documenting testimonies

San Pedro Sula speaking with the media

San Pedro Sula speaking with the media

Rio Blanco

Rio Blanco


Upcoming Venezuela Delegations May, June and July 2014

Witness for Peace Southwest and Chiapas Support Committee presents:

Venezuela Delegation celebrating Afro-Venezuelan History Month

May 20–29, 2014

pdvsa march VZ

Venezuela is at the forefront of revolutionary movements in the Americas. Along with worker´s rights, May also celebrates Afro-Venezuelan history month and is full of events marking the significant political, cultural and social contributions of the African Diaspora and the specific struggles of afro-descendents in Venezuela. This delegation 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 delegation 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. Please join us for what promises to be a remarkable time to celebrate Venezuela’s revolutionary spirit, past and present.

Themes: African Diaspora, Current political relationship with African nations, African Descent in the Americas, Cumbes/Comunes, Black organizing exchanges, US policy towards Venezuela, Venezuela’s involvement in political and economic alternatives like ALBA and CELAC and learn about government social programs in education, health and worker cooperatives. Geographical regions: Caracas, Barlovento e Higuerota, Edo. Miranda, Coro, Falcón, Edo. Yaracuy.

Dates: May 17 to May 26

May 25 is the Day of the Marronage, Día de cimarronaje

The term marronage, maroon when referencing an individual, historically speaks to to African resistance to slavery in the America. Enslaved Africans and their descendants escaped slavery to create autonomous communities and cultures in regions away from plantations in forests, jungles, mountaintops and valleys across the corners of the American continent. Often times they also organized with the indigenous first nation peoples of their region and collaboratively led rebellions and offenses against European colonizers, settlers in the Americas and their empires. In Venezuela prior to the independence movement led by Simón Bolívar, rebellions led by Negro Miguel, José Leonardo Chirinos and Guaicaipuro made great strides to challenge colonial empire. In contemporary Venezuelan vernacular, the term cimarronear or cimarroneando, is commonly used in Afro-Venezuelan communities to reference someone who organizes in the name of revolution.

Cost: The price of the 10-day delegation is approx $900 USD. This delegation fee covers all set-up, preparation, 2 meals a day, lodging, interpreters, and transportation within Venezuela. The fee also covers extensive reading and activist tools both before and after the delegation. Airfare to Caracas is not included. Deadline: Application with a non-refundable deposit of $150 due by April 28, 2014. Partial scholarships are available. For a scholarship application and fundraising assistance email

About our Trip Leaders in Venezuela:

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 writer for Telesur-English.

Tanya Cole is Director of Witness for Peace Southwest an organization dedicated to advocating for a more just and humane US Foreign policy towards Latin America. Tanya has led over 2 dozen delegations to 6 countries in Latin America including Venezuela.

For more info and an application Contact: Tanya Cole, Witness for Peace Southwest 805-669-VIVA or or Jeanette Charles



Summer Study Delegation to Venezuela . You are invited!


Health, Social Policy, and Poder Popular in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela

June 22-July 1, 2014


The UN declaration of human rights articulates a right to health that is inseparable from rights to other basic human needs, such as food, housing, education, gainful employment, social security when an individual is unable to work, political participation, and leisure. The premise is that the promotion and protection of health requires living conditions that assure human dignity. At the turn of the 21st century several governments in Latin America assumed the responsibility to guarantee a life of dignity for all their citizens. One such country was Venezuela under the revolutionary leadership of the late Commander Hugo Chavez Frias. The challenge required a commitment to appropriate the power of the state to turn it into an instrument of the power of the people, i.e., the Poder Popular suppressed in Venezuela despite decades of liberal democracy which granted a right to vote yet in practice suppressed the voice and actual political, economic, cultural and social participation of the majority of Venezuelans in their own society.


Since 1999, the voice, and concomitantly the power of the Venezuelan people have found new and powerful ways of expression through a revolutionary Constitution and an increasing number of people-centered social, economic, and public health policies. This trip will familiarize participants with these policies by bringing to life the historical development of the struggle of the Venezuelan people for a life of dignity. We will learn about, and visit a range of programs that are the expression of the ‘Misiones’ or Missions. The Missions are the Bolivarian Government’s way to implement a universal right to food, housing, health, education, gainful employment, information, and leisure. Our focus will be health, and we will spend a fair amount of time learning about Barrio Adentro, the Mission born from a cooperative agreement between the Venezuelan and Cuban governments to bring health services to every corner of the country. But because health is inseparable from other basic human needs, we will also visit and learn about Mercal (producer-to-consumer distribution cooperatives), Mision AgroVenezuela (resource development for food sovereignty), Mision Vivienda (building of dignified housing), Mision Vacaciones (guaranteed leisure for children), and many other Missions that underpin Venezuela’s contribution to a life of health and dignity.


This delegation is sponsored by the human rights organization Witness for Peace Southwest. Our hosts will be doctors and nurses at primary care centers, community clinics and hospitals, peasants (‘campesinos’) at agro-ecological cooperatives, workers at workers-run factories, agricultural engineers, educators and government officials.


Dates: June 22nd (arrival date) to July 1st (departure date)

Cost: $900 which include full program in Venezuela, airport pick up and drop off, in country transportation, bi-lingual trip leaders and interpretation, 1-2 meals a day, background reading materials, donations to Venezuelan organizations, and lodging. Airfare to Caracas is not included. $150 deposit due by May 20, 2014.


For further information contact: Claudia Chaufan, Associate Professor of Health Policy and Sociology-University of California San Francisco, . Also Tanya Cole-Witness for Peace Southwest, or 805-669-VIVA.,



Participatory Democracy in Venezuela: Celebrating the Anniversary and Spirit of Simon Bolivar.

July 19-27, 2014

 An Altruvistas and Witness for Peace Southwest Delegation

CHAVEZ-supporters-_2504378kWe read about Venezuela in the news but the media most often provides a distorted and biased perspective on this country that is at the forefront of revolutionary movements in the Americas. Come to Venezuela and see the reality first-hand. This is a historic time to bear witness to the dramatic changes taking place in our hemisphere. Please join us for what promises to be a remarkable time to celebrate Venezuela’s revolutionary spirit, past and present.

This delegation offers opportunities to:

  • Understand U.S. policies toward Venezuela and their potential impact on the people of Venezuela.

  • Gain insight into innovative social programs of the Chavez and Maduro governments such as health care, education and cooperatives.

  • Celebrate with millions of Venezuelans the birth of Simon Bolivar, known as the Liberator of South America on July 24th.

  • Meet with labor organizers, scholars, professionals, business people, representatives of the media and activists to understand the economic, social and political issues confronting Venezuelan society.

  • Learn about Venezuela’s involvement regional alternatives models like ALBA and CELAC.

  • Travel outside of the capital to learn about rural and afro-indigenous communities.

Cost: $1700. This delegation fee covers all set-up, preparation, 2 meals a day, 3-Star Hotel, interpreters, and transportation within Venezuela. The fee also covers extensive reading and activist tools both before and after the delegation. Airfare to Caracas is not included. Deadline: Application with a non-refundable deposit of $150 due by June 19, 2014. Limited space available–Apply early!

 Contact: Tanya Cole, Witness for Peace Southwest 805-669-VIVA or or Malia Everette at 415-735-5407 or

To learn more about socially responsible travel opportunities around the world go to

 For a scholarship application and fundraising assistance email


El Salvador “Free of Mining” Delegation-Sept 15-22, 2014


“El Salvador Free of Mining”

International observer delegation: community consultations in El Salvador

September 15-22, 2014

anti-mining marchSince 2005 communities and organizations grouped under the National Roundtable against Metallic Mining in El Salvador, La Mesa, have fiercely opposed attempts by foreign corporations to obtain mineral exploitation licenses to begin industrial scale gold mining. As the national government has failed to guarantee a permanent mining ban, mining affected regions are seeking to assert local autonomy through a process of community consultations that will gauge the desire of local communities in to live in territories free of mining.

This delegation aims to bring international presence to observe community consultations in the department of Chalatenango, El Salvador. Participants in the delegation are expected to:

  1. Observe and verify community consultations on mining led by local organizations in the Chalatenango region of El Salvador.
  2. Become familiar and gain an overall understanding of the impacts of large scale mining operations in El Salvador and the different dimensions of the anti-mining struggle.
  3. Engage in knowledge exchange sessions with national and international environmental activists and members of local communities affected by mining.
  4. Increase long term solidarity with communities leading struggles against extractive industries in El Salvador.


The introduction of mining projects in El Salvador has been met with a public consensus that the country’s fragile environment is not able to sustain industrial scale extractive projects. The size of country`s territory, over-population, high vulnerability to natural disasters, the precarious condition of water resources, and unmitigated amounts of toxic waste already contaminating the natural environment are factors that have contributed to sway public opinion against mining. Public opinion polls have shown that over 60 percent of the population is opposed to mining.

Widespread opposition to mining has made it possible to halt the implementation of mineral exploitation projects so far. However, many challenges remain to ensure that the mining industry is prevented from increasing environmental vulnerability in the country. The Ministry of Economy through the Direction of Mining and Hydrocarbons maintains 29 active exploration licenses, and applications for over 60 exploration projects are currently in process. A law to prohibit mining has been introduced by civil society organizations at the legislative assembly but the government has failed to discuss it, maintaining only a de facto moratorium without legislative backing. Despite of the fact that that two mining companies have sued El Salvador for over 400 million dollars under the ICSID, an international trade tribunal housed at the World Bank, El Salvador has continued to sign trade agreements that contain investor-state clauses that give corporations the right to profit over public interest, and to sue in foreign courts if their rights to profit are interfered with.

The failure of the current government to approve a mining ban has required civil society organizations to sustain a permanent campaign to ensure mining companies seeking licenses to extract resources are held back and to maintain public pressure for a law that ultimately prohibits mining. Organized under National Roundtable against Mining in El Salvador, civil society organizations have led a national campaign against mining and have supported local communities to develop creative strategies to resist the presence of mining.

The communities most affected by the introduction of mining projects in the country are the northern farming communities of the departments of Santa Ana, Chalatenango, Cabañas, Morazán and La union. All these communities have already felt the presence of mining companies in their territories and have developed organized resistance to extractive projects according to their particular circumstances.


Monday, September 15

AM – delegates arrive in San Salvador

PM – orientation and get to know the other delegates

Tuesday, September 16

AM – Travel to la Union and visit the San Sebastian mine. Engage with community members and learn about the environmental impact of a former mine on local living conditions.

PM – Travel to Cabañas

Wednesday, September 17

AM – Engage with local community leaders and learn about the impacts of Pacific Rim Mining

PM – Visit the town of San Isidro and talk to community members

Thursday, September 18

AM – Debriefing session, delegates coordinate for their participation in the afternoon’s event

PM – Forum on worldwide extraction issues with participation of local leaders and of delegates representing their different struggles.

Friday, September 19

Visit Asuncion Mita, Guatemala to discuss the impact of mining on Guatemalans and Salvadorans.

Saturday, September 20

Receive observation training for Sunday’s community consultation and meet with the mayor

Sunday, September 21

Participate as international observers in a community consultation process in Chalatenango.

Monday, September 22

AM – Press conference, evaluation and follow up activities.

PM – return home


Delegation fee: $700. Delegation fee covers housing, meals, in country transportation, translation and the entire program from airport pick up to drop off. 

International Flight: $500-$900***

***International flight is to be purchased by each delegate individually

How to Participate

This is a general call for participants that may come from any region and any background and that may be interested in learning about El Salvador, although the focus is on involving individuals who are connected to related struggles internationally, such as the anti-fracking struggle, and Tar Sands pipeline struggle, the First Nations environmental rights struggle, and others.

If you are interested in participating or have questions, please contact: or 805-669-VIVA

The deadline to sign up is August 11, 2014.

If you are interested in participating but are concerned about financial barriers, please do not hesitate to contact us. Some scholarships are available, especially to individuals involved in local environmental and anti-extraction industry work.


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.)

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, 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, 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” (

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.

VENTURA COUNTY STAR: Oxnard teachers hope to raise funds to visit Cuba

By Mark Storer

Francisco Romero has traveled extensively throughout Latin America. From Mexico to Venezuela and from Nicaragua to Honduras, the 34-year old Oxnard teacher has looked to ways to enhance his own understanding of Latin American culture and education.

But at an early spring conference, a chance meeting with Tanya Cole, a Southern California regional organizer for the Washington D.C. based political action group Witness for Peace, gave Romero an unexpected opportunity.

“I was reading a pamphlet about a chance to be part of a delegation of educators to Cuba,” said Romero who is single and teaches special education resource classes at Haydock Intermediate School in Oxnard. “I was really excited by the opportunity.”

Romero and his sister, Alma, 30, an English language arts teacher at Haydock, will arrive in Cuba on July 19 as part of a delegation of 37 educators from across the United States being sponsored by Witness for Peace They will return home July 29.

Witness for Peace is underwriting most of the trip, but there the Romeros are still in need of funds to pay travel expenses.

“We need to raise about a thousand dollars,” said Romero. “We’ve got $200 of that already, but that’s why we’re holding the fundraiser.”

The fundraiser is a concert and art exhibition to be held Sunday at 6 p.m. at Café on A in Oxnard and will feature music by the band Caliente as well as art work from area artists, Andrea Vargas Mendoza, Louie Moreno and Rolando!

National Public Radio affiliate KPFK’s Miguel Paredes, host of “Soul Rebel Radio” will present a slide show with pictures from Cuba where he has traveled. There will also be Cuban food and beverages available.

“The Cuban government provides universal education to all its citizens from pre-kindergarten on up,” Cole said. “This trip is a way for educators to go and learn about a new model and way of doing things.” Cole said that Witness for Peace has been advocating a change in U.S. perceptions of Cuba. “We think the embargo needs to be lifted against Cuba, and with the recent lifting of the travel ban to the island, we think the embargo can eventually crumble.”

Cole has traveled to Cuba numerous times and said that U.S. perceptions are not necessarily reality. “We have no diplomatic relations with Cuba, and it is a failed policy,” she said. “There’s been a lot of opening up of the island recently.”

Still, Amnesty International released an announcement on June 9 that while Cuba had accepted “some” of the United Nation’s suggestions on enhancing human rights, the organization was frustrated that the Cuban government still would not allow Cuban citizens to travel freely where they wished and did not provide fair and speedy trials within their justice system.

“I definitely want to get first hand knowledge of the system,” said Romero. “I want to know what the political and social realities are under the Cuban system.”

Romero said he wants to focus particularly on teaching methodologies in the island nation and focus on their learning disabled population. “I’m very concerned with some of our dropout rates here at home,” Romero said. “A very high number of our students right here in Oxnard drop out of school, and that number goes higher in the learning disabled population. I want to see how Cuba deals with that. The literacy rate in Cuba is something like 90 percent and that fascinates me. I’m anxious to talk to people there on the island and get a first hand look at how this is done and how they work there.”