Saturday, December 19, 2009
As we trudged through muddy jungle paths, I mentally checked off the trees I recognized (plantain, lulo, chontaduro) and those I didn't (açaí, palo de sangre). The mud was still pretty much the same as in the northern Colombian campo, as was the resulting need to wear knee-high rubber boots when traipsing through it. They eat a lot of friend food here as well, especially patacones (friend plaintains), but I was not used to, and happily devoured, the multitudes of fish that abound. Words for some things are also different. Here they refer to as peruches the homemade popsicles that in the "interior" (read: every other part of Colombia) they call bolis.
One principal difference is the strong indigenous presence. A big chunk of this section of the Amazonas department is part of resguardos, which are much like Native American reservations in the U.S. Such a strong indigenous influence is not typical in most parts of Colombia, but here it is quite evident: in the faces of the people, or in the Ticuna and Yegua words one sees on school walls.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
URGENT ACTION: GRAVE SECURITY CONCERNS FOR THE SAFETY OF LAWYER JORGE ELIECER MOLANO AND HIS FAMILY
The organizations listed below urgently contact inter-governmental human rights organizations, international organizations and the general public in order to inform about the security situation of the human rights lawyer JORGE ELIECER MOLANO RODRIGUEZ, who during the last few days has experienced increased persecution, including the harassment of his family.
The lawyer Molano Rodriguez represents the family members of the victims of the Palace of Justice massacre; the February 21st, 2001 massacre against the Peace Community of San José de Apartado; espionage by the Administrative Security Department (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad – DAS) of organizations, human rights defenders and magistrates; the extrajudicial executions of Jhonny Silva Arangueren and Alejandro Uribe Chacón; Operation Dragón; false positives in San José del Guaviare, Sur de Bolívar and Sur del Cesar; and the legal proceedings against Fernando Londoño Hoyos, Germán Vargas Lleras and Francisco Santos Calderón. The following individuals, among others, are implicated in these cases:
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
In 2006, Joe DeRaymond served a three-month sentence for "crossing the line" at Fort Benning, Georgia, where the School of the Americas (SOA, now called WHINSEC) is located. Joe spoke about going again this year to the annual SOA vigil, which occurs this weekend. Though his passing last month obviously changed that plan, his ashes will be spread at the vigil in accordance with his wish. He actively participated in the movement to close the school, through lobbying, educating his community, and protests.
We are gratified by the generosity of those of you who have contributed to Joe DeRaymond Memorial Accompaniment Fund, which has now received more than $3,200 - including from the owner of a local landfill that Joe organized to clean up!
Saturday, November 7, 2009
November 11 update: A version of this piece has been published on CommonDreams.org under the title "Signing of Colombia Bases Deal Could Set the Stage for 'Expeditionary Warfare'".
After several months of secrecy and controversy, on October 28th the US and Colombia signed an agreement to allow the US military extensive access to seven Colombian bases, notwithstanding serious concerns about true intentions and eventual consequences.
Despite pledges by Colombian and U.S. governments about the limitations of the agreement, the agreement text and U.S. military documents contradict such assurances. One of the principal concerns raised by regional governments after news was leaked of the pending agreement has been the possibility of the bases’ use for aggressions against neighboring countries. In an interview Sunday with the Colombian daily El Tiempo, Ambassador Brownfield claimed that joint operations aren’t planned outside of Colombia, and that Article IV of the agreement expressly forbids such operations. In fact, a careful review of the text of the agreement reveals no such prohibition.
Not only that, but similar assurances by Colombian Defense Minister Gabriel Silva that the agreement "has no geopolitical or strategic connotation, other than being more effective in the fight against drug trafficking" are even more hard to believe after reading a recently-uncovered Pentagon budget document that expresses clear regional intentions for the Palanquero base. The document describes the U.S. presence in Palanquero as an “opportunity for conducting full spectrum operations throughout South America,” and confirms the fears of Colombia’s neighbors when it discusses the possibility of using the base to confront the "threat" of what it calls "anti-US governments." The most chilling phrase, however, is the discussion of the potential use of Palanquero to “expand expeditionary warfare capability.”
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
I had a full salary
I had many dreams
I paid all the utilities
And nothing was left for food
Nothing was left for food
If you paid the utilities
And want to go grocery shopping
Don’t come with that story
You only have enough to pay on credit
You only have enough to pay on credit
Doña Luz was already blind
From saving money
The bill always went up
The bill always went up
The phone in my house
Answering it is always a problem
Because calls appear
To Holland and Cartagena
To Holland and Cartagena
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
The sparse media coverage of Colombia tends only to give vague descriptions of a violent country with a thriving drug trade. But I’ve come to understand in my 15 months living and working here as a human rights observer and accompanier, that, like many armed conflicts in the world, the war continues because it serves the interests of the rich and powerful, from the Uribe administration to multinational corporations.
Despite its claims to the contrary, the Colombian government’s policies do little to end the violence. Spanning over nearly five decades and multiple administrations, the internal conflict has resulted in countless deaths and over 4 million internally displaced Colombians.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
With that extra bit of reflection and personal space, I realized that I was experiencing a bit of double-reverse culture shock. As I described when I first arrived in Bogotá, I had a hard time adjusting to the big, bad city after a year in the deep campo (to which, of course, I had had to adjust when I arrived there in June of last year). Going back last week, even for just five days, was bit of a shock to the system, as was turning quickly around and heading back to the city. Bursts of mini culture shocks, as it were.
Besides getting the hang again of properly adjusting a mosquito net and using the formal usted verb form, I was struck on my second day by how living outside of a direct conflict zone has dulled some of the senses I had honed while living in the Peace Community. That morning, as a helicopter flew extremely low over the village, folks ran out of their houses and kids out of their classrooms to follow its trajectory. Standing there watching with Community members, I was reminded of the close proximity of the conflict and the way that it is integrated into daily life there. Such a sense has slipped from my consciousness since being in Bogota. Seldom now do I even note the passing of a helicopter, though I have to admit that at times I do still catch myself looking out the window when one passes, trying to ascertain its route as we do while accompanying in the Community.
Now I'm back in Bogotá, and pretty relieved to be after two weeks of work travel. I guess the place must be growing on me...
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Also launched this week is an international campaign to defend the right to defend human rights in Colombia. Coinciding with the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders, the campaign launched yesterday at an event in downtown Bogotá. "In Colombia, being a human rights defender is a dangerous, often deadly job," says the campaign website. "And things are getting worse."
Lastly, we are asking folks in the U.S. to urge their representatives to sign a letter to President Obama. The letter expresses concern about the plan for 7 U.S. military installations in Colombia. Please take action!
Saturday, August 15, 2009
I’m not the first to have used the tough-neighbor analogy when discussing a current proposal for seven US military bases in Colombia, but others have failed to mention all the problematic side effects of inviting the neighbor to stay. This neighbor has a very sketchy reputation and just may try to take advantage of your sister, not to mention raid your fridge and clog up your toilet. His presence will really upset your neighbors, even the ones with whom you have been friendly. Though he says he’s only staying at your house to help with the roaches and maybe intimidate the troublesome folks next door a bit, he always seems to get involved in other things: he traipses around in the neighbors’ gardens and hassles his host’s family members. Besides, his record in getting rid of the roaches isn’t all that exemplary. Is it really worth it?
Perhaps this analogy simplifies matters too much, but I’m not the only one playing with rhetoric. Obama continues to defend the bases proposal, arguing that the U.S. is not establishing bases in Colombia but simply extending existing agreements with the country. Under U.S. military terminology – using euphemisms that call to mind Bush's "Clear Skies Initiative" - the proposals for Colombia would not be bases because they would not be property of the U.S, but instead be called Forward Operating Locations or Cooperative Security Locations. Nonetheless the U.S. would still have control over what happens in those installations, as it does in bases, and is insisting on immunity for its personnel under Colombian law. Argentine president Cristina Kirchner said it well when she joked to Uribe last week, “Come on, nowhere in the world is a General Fernandez going to give orders to a General Johnson!”
Monday, August 10, 2009
From the moment Peace Community members learned of the massacre, in which 8 Community members, including a 21-month-old baby, were killed and dismembered, they attributed the crime to the Colombian military in cooperation with paramilitaries. The government and the army’s 17th Brigade, which operates in the region of Apartadó, were quick to refute the denouncement, instead accusing the Community of collaborating with the FARC and attributing the crime to the very same guerrillas. It was not until 2008, when paramilitaries and subsequently army officials started confessing their role in the massacre that the government began to admit that perhaps the guerrillas weren't responsible after all.
The testimony of HH, whose real name is Ever Velosa García, however, is key because it not only reconfirms the role of the military and paramilitaries but also demonstrates the lengths that military officials have and will go to cover up their crimes and discredit those who oppose them. In his testimony HH describes how he was asked for money by then-coronel Néstor Iván Duque López to pay demobilized FARC guerrillas: “On that occasion, he went with a bunch of papers and told me that he was defending himself from some denouncements from San José de Apartadó and asked me to give him 2 million pesos [about a thousand dollars at current exchange rates] to give to some witness who were going to testify about the massacre of San José de Apartadó,” Velosa testified to Colombia’s Attorney General’s office.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Other Worlds recently published two reports and an article highlighting some of these exciting alternatives, several of which I helped research, write, and edit. Please read, distribute, and enjoy!
Who Says You Can’t Change the World? Just Economies and Societies on an Unjust Planet
“Who Says You Can’t Change the World” is a groundbreaking report from Other Worlds that introduces nine grassroots alternatives to the current economic and environmental (dis)order, and gives examples of real communities and movements who are living those alternatives every day. The report touches on alternative education, water struggles, the right to health care, environmental justice, and solidarity economies, among other topics, and highlights organizing taking place on five continents and in countless communities. Also included are lists of resources for more information and contact info for organizations working on similar issues in the US. I helped write the sections on solidarity economies and worker cooperatives!
Next is this article I helped research and edit about the gift economy in Mali. One of my favorite quotes from one of the Malian women: “Life is a cord. We make the cord between ourselves, and you have to hold on to it. One should not drop the cord.”
Changing the Flow: Water Struggles in Latin America
This 56 page booklet was produced by Food and Water Watch, Red Vida, Transnational Institute,The RPR Network and Other Worlds. It contains a dozen interviews of cutting-edge water warriors from the region, and documentation and analysis of the many exciting ways in which citizens' movements are safeguarding their waters - both so that all may have access, and so that this precious resource is protected. The report also offers insight into the role of gender, in its relationship both to public control of water and to water movements.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
O'Grady bases her claim largely on the fact that the Obama administration has called for the reinstatement of ousted Honduran President Manual Zelaya, who was overthrown while purportedly trying to change the constitution to allow him to stay in office longer. Hmm, remind you of a leader a bit farther south, in, say, Colombia? But if a coup overthrew Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, who has also been trying to change the constitution to stay in office longer, O’Grady would be up in arms to restore him. Besides, Obama isn't actually too firm in his support of Zelaya.
Putting aside that double standard, however, it’s clear O’Grady hasn’t been keeping up to date with current events. If she had, she would have heard about negotiations underway between the U.S. and Colombia to establish at least 5 U.S. military bases in Colombia. Last I heard, folks on the left tend to oppose increased militarization; it's tough to see 5 new military bases as a move to the left.
Why is the administration pushing for these bases? The stated goal of the military facilities is "filling the gaps left by the eventual cutting of [military] aid in Plan Colombia," according to sources in Washington and Bogotá cited by an article published July 1 in the Colombian weekly news magazine Cambio.
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
State policy of spying and persecution of Peace Community and prestigious human rights defenders revealed
Just after the Semana story broke, subsequent news reports revealed that many files, computer hard drives, and recordings had been destroyed. In response to the reports, the Cuerpo Técnico de Investigaciones (CTI), the Attorney General's Office's judicial police, began an investigation into DAS operations. Despite the destruction of much of the evidence, documents that remained, which covered the years 2004-2005, revealed that a secret group within the DAS – known as the G3 – was responsible for carrying out a systematic policy of political surveillance and even sabotage against dozens of groups and individuals not in complete agreement with the government’s policies.
So far, the public has only had access to the index of the files, but even the index demonstrates the astonishing scope of such operations. According to CTI report, missions of the G3 included surveillance of “people and organizations opposing government policies in order to restrict or neutralize their activities”. The report clearly shows that (a) totally legitimate activities were targeted and, (b) the purpose of the surveillance went much further than information gathering; it was intended to sabotage and criminalize legitimate activities.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
The change has been a shock to my body and soul: to go from living in a tiny village in the middle of mountainous jungle to a chilly city of 6.7 million people is not easy. My eyes smart from the pollution, I shiver all the time from the cold (I know, I'm a wus, but after year of an average 28 degrees centigrade, 15 degrees feels quite cold!), I marvel at my ability to pop down to the corner store, I pine for the vast greenness of the mountains of Urabá. And 9-5 working hours! I am definitely having trouble adjusting to that schedule, and it doesn't help that I arrived just as a scandal errupted about the government illegal spying on members of the poitical opposition, including the Peace Community, in order to sabotage their work, giving us plenty of work to do. I will write more about that scandal very soon, but in the meantime, some photos of my apartment so you have a sense of where I am.
Monday, June 1, 2009
As usual, those of us in the FOR house (read: the gringos) hadn’t even noticed that a stranger had been hanging around since 10am until two of the community’s internal council members came to the house in the afternoon requesting accompaniment to go speak with the man. (Our obliviousness was likely due to two things: we don’t know each and every family member or long-lost neighbor in this area, so it’s not uncommon for someone who is a stranger to us to pass through, and, despite our training as accompaniers, we aren’t as finely attuned to the subtle daily changes around here.)
Around here, everyone pretty much knows everyone, and this isn’t exactly and easily accessible place (see my post on my commute!), so strangers don’t just tend to wander by. The stranger’s presence here soon raised alarm bells, and a few particularly threatened individuals event went so far as to hide in their beds under the blankets. By the afternoon when he still hadn’t left – in fact, he had been wandering around a bit, raising even more suspicion – the council members asked us to accompany them to talk to him in the kiosko (central community meeting space, covered by a round palm-thatched roof), where he had been hanging out for the previous hour or so. The community members with whom we discussed the incident before heading to the kiosko were quite worried and very visibly shaken up.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
That is not to say that accompaniers of color (FOR is unique among accompaniment organizations in Colombia in that it has had several Latinos – and a Sri Lankan-American who looks Latino – serve as accompaniers) don’t have different experiences in certain situations than I do. Several years ago, for example, the road between San José and Apartadó had a paramilitary checkpoint – or at least that’s what FOR heard, because every time accompaniers traveled on the road, the checkpoint was nowhere to be found. Then one day the aforementioned Sri Lankan-American was traveling on the road without his FOR t-shirt on, and the jeep on which he was riding was stopped at the paramilitary checkpoint. Clearly, my blond hair and green eyes do have an effect on the armed actors here, but are neither necessary nor sufficient conditions to be an effective accompanier.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
I fully acknowledge that accompaniment presents a bit of a paradox: my privilege, based on a system of racial and cultural hierarchy that I disavow, helps keep me safe, even while I am taking on a role of solidarity. I do wrestle with this contradiction, and will like write more about it as I carry out my work in Colombia. For the time being, I will say that the role of the accompanier is not to enter people’s lives with an agenda – a way to change, educate, or “help” the community. We come with humility; the community members are the ones who are doing something amazing and we are there simply to support them in their project.
The other day I had an experience that reminded me of my promise to reflect and write about my role as a foreigner here. One of my friends in the community asked me to do a favor for her; she needed someone to pick up a couple of different official forms so she could register her son for his first year of high school (the Peace Community doesn’t have a high school, so kids have to go study in a city, usually Apartadó). She couldn’t go both because the jeep ride to and from town is relatively expensive, and because she had a big corn harvest to attend to. I was going to town anyway, so I agreed to help out.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
Visit the Peace Community and other organizations working to peacefully end the armed conflict in Colombia, and hang out with me! I'll be helping lead this delegation, so can promise that it will be fantastic. :)
August 15-29, 2009
Delegation to San José Peace Community, Medellín and Eastern Antioquia
Witness the incredible commitment and experience of the Peace Community of San José and other Colombian grassroots initiatives. $1500 from Bogotá. For information contact John Lindsay-Poland, email@example.com. To download an application, please click here.
2009 FOR Delegation to Colombia Program Highlights:
- Travel to the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó
- Meet with people whose family members have been killed by the US-funded Colombian army and are non-violently working for justice for these crimes.
- Meet grassroots activists who courageously and creatively advocate for truth, justice and integral reparations.
- Experience unparalleled access to understand both impunity and advances to justice for a massacre in San José that shocked the international community.
- Understand the U.S. media blanket on Colombia and get a glimpse of the side of Colombian life that rarely arrives to the U.S.
Witness the incredible commitment and experience of the Peace Community of San José and other Colombian grassroots initiatives. $1500 from Bogotá. For information contact John Lindsay-Poland, firstname.lastname@example.org. To download an application, please click
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Peter is new to the work, the team, the community, and life in the campo (countryside), and therefore is still adjusting to many of the big lifestyle changes one must make in order to (happily) live here. During our time in the Peace Community, us gringos (originally a term referring to folks from the U.S. but around here used to refer to all foreigners) don’t have many of the things that we’re used to from what I tend call our “normal life” back in our home countries: we don’t have the luxury of a refrigerator, microwave, oven, dishwasher, washing machine, nor a clothes dryer. Our house (pictured at left) is made of wood slats with a corrugated tin roof, each room lit by a single naked bulb. Any groceries, household items, office supplies – anything we buy – we have to carry up the mountain.
Despite all the things we don’t have, we arguably have the best house in the village, and count on many comforts our neighbors don’t have: a seat on the toilet (that’s not to say that the flush system functions, however), a computer, two tanks to collect the water piped in from mountain rivers as opposed to just one tank in most houses (see photo at right of our clothes-washing sink and drinking water filter system), a back porch overlooking the garden, a gas cooking range (nearly everyone else cooks with firewood, though a few have electric ranges). Luxury is relative.
Monday, March 30, 2009
Thursday, March 19, 2009
What I’ve come to understand more deeply since being here is that – like most armed conflicts in the world – the Colombian conflict continues because it serves the interests of the rich and powerful (Iraq, anyone?). The government does not, in fact, really try that hard to end the violence. Instead, it exploits the conflict, using it to further its desires to enrich its land-holding and multinational corporation-owning friends. President Uribe, himself the owner of vast expanses of land in the Urabá region, has been particularly interested in and efficient at such enrichment for himself and his cronies. I think it’s safe to say that the government isn’t even really that interested in completely getting rid of the guerrillas, because they serve the role as the enemy that justifies the war. At the same time, the guerrillas and narco-paramilitaries themselves are often happy to push people off their land in order to cultivate coca and generally control territory.
War is profitable and beneficial in obvious ways for the military-industrial complex: in generates income and employment for the arms manufacturers, the military and police, intelligence agencies and the companies that supply such equipment, etc. In the case of Colombia, though, it also provides a way gain control of another source of vast riches: the incredibly fertile Colombian land and the natural resources – copper, oil, carbon, emeralds etc. – that abound. Displacement (see previous post for more on displacement) of the rural population from its land as a result of the violence is not just an unfortunate accident of the violence. Uruguayan journalist Raúl Zibechi calls it “accumulation by dispossession.”
Sunday, March 15, 2009
The highlight of the trip was a visit to Otovalo, a pueblo about two hours north of Quito. Otovalo is known for its Saturday crafts market, in which indigenous weavers and artisans come down from the mountains with their wares. The place is PACKED with bags, shawls, scarves, sweaters, necklaces, tableclothes... basically anything woven you could ever want. And yes, I did make a few purchases, in preparation for my upcoming move to chilly Bogota.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Less than two months after the interception of FOR's email - along with other 150 email accounts - was revealed, a new scandal of spying on opposition emerged during the last weekend of February. The weekly magazine Semana uncovered a massive wiretap operation carried out by the Department of Administrative Security (DAS), the Colombian secret police that answers directly to the President.
The targets this time included Supreme Court Justices who are investigating members of Congress close to President Uribe, including his cousin Mario Uribe. The Uribe government have fiercely attacked several of those justices, accusing them of "engaging in witness trafficking" and political persecution. Over the past 18 months, the justices and their families have also been targeted for harassment, including one whose home was broken into with just a laptop stolen.
Ivan Velásquez, the justice handling the parapolitica investigation, reportedly had more than 1,900 phone calls intercepted in a three-month period and has been subject to a "man to man" surveillance. In October 20007, "Tasmania," a right wing paramilitary leader, was reportedly bribed to falsely accuse Velásquez of manipulating testimony. No one has been charged for any of the attacks on the justices.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
As the news arrived here to the Peace Community, shock and sadness were accompanied by doubt about the media and government’s attribution of the crime to the FARC. Several community members commented that they figured the Uribe administration wanted to accuse the FARC in order to stymie calls for the negotiation of a humanitarian accord after the recent unilateral release of 6 hostages held by the FARC. Such doubt is not just general skepticism about the government’s constant quickness to blame the FARC for nearly any and all crimes committed in the country. When the Peace Community suffered it’s own massacre of 8 community members in 2005, the Uribe administration immediately blamed the FARC. The community maintained that paramilitaries in collaboration with the army were the perpetrators, and finally, years later, soldiers and paramilitaries are confessing their responsibility for the crime.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Thursday, February 5, 2009
The Peace Community’s most recent comunicado (Community bulletins denouncing actions against them) describes what it fears to be the state’s most recent efforts at using legal means to discredit and weaken the Community. In early December 2008, a former commander (he had just been demoted) of the FARC’s 5th front (one of the two fronts that operates in the region near the Peace Community) turned himself in to the army’s 17th Brigade. Usually when a guerrilla turns him or herself in, the military shouts it from the rooftops (or at least broadcasts it via the major news outlets) as a demonstration of their presumed success in combating the guerrilla groups.
This time, however, there was no news broadcast – only the initial rumors that alias “Samir” had turned himself in, then whispered warnings about Samir and the 17th Brigade planning something against the Peace Community and some of its Colombian supporters. Concern and suspicion continued when it became clear that even as the weeks passed, the Brigade had not handed Samir over to the Fiscalía (Colombia’s equivalent of the U.S.’s Justice Department) as is required for the demobilization process for armed actors who turn themselves in. The Peace Community continues to worry that montajes will be launched based on “testimony” from Samir – likely either under intense pressure, threats, or offers of cash – for use against Community leaders. Recent phone calls from someone claiming to be a colonel in the 17th Brigade offering upwards of 2 million pesos (just under a thousand US dollars) to a community member in exchange for collaborating to destroy the Community confirm many the Community’s fears and suspicions.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
The scandal did not, in my opinion, get nearly enough news coverage, particularly in comparison to the amount of coverage given to the pyramid scheme chaos that also erupted at about the same time. Extrajudicial executions are back in the news, however, with the release last week, by the National Security Archive, of declassified documents from the CIA and US Embassy in Colombia.
The documents record that the US government was aware of cases of extrajudicial executions as early as 1994, and that the first case that the US government documented dates back to 1990. In the documents, US officials describe a “body count syndrome” that "tends to fuel human rights abuses by well-meaning soldiers trying to get their quota to impress superiors". Reports from then also linked Colombian army and paramilitaries in case of extrajudicial executions as well as other kinds of human rights abuses, and attribute the steep rise in paramilitarism in the last decade in part to the “body count syndrome”.