Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Fort Benning 2006: Part Two
Colombia's Struggles

Colombia received $590.9 million in military and police aid this year. The administration has requested that Colombia be given $623.6 million in military and police aid in fiscal year 2007. Much of this aid is directed at stopping the flow of drugs from Colombia to the United States. One of the ways in which this is accomplished is with a fumigation program that is designed to kill the coca plants before they can be harvested and refined into the cocaine that is shipped to the United States by smugglers. The United States also provides training to Colombian troops, in Colombia and in the United States. SOA/WHINSEC, the Interamerican Air Forces Training Academy at Lackland Air Force Base, and the Spanish Helicopter Battalion school at Fort Rucker, Alabama, are among the facilities that offer military training to Colombian troops. The Washington Office on Latin America has estimated, based on U.S. government data, that, in 2006, Colombians make up 42 percent of all students at WHINSEC.

People in Colombia tell a story that is different from the above "official story."
Here are stories, as told by Renato Areiza, coordinator of the Council of the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado, Colombia, and Debora-Barros-Fince, survivor of the Wayuu massacre in the Bahia region of Colombia and founder of Wayuu Munsurat. They spoke at two different workshops that I attended on Friday, November 17: the Colombia Teach-In, sponsored by Witness for Peace, and Human Rights Accompaniment in Colombia, sponsored by the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
Renato Areiza talked about the three million people who have been internally displaced in Colombia because of the violence. He identified the armed actors there as being the Army, the guerrillas (both the PLN and the more powerful FARC), the paramilitries, and the United States. He said that the peace community was founded in March 27, 1997, and that it is dedicated to staying neutral in the conflict in the region and to saying no to all armed actors, including the military. One thousand five hundred people live in this community.
People in the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado are afraid of being assassinated or dominated by the participants in the armed struggle.
But it is hard for the people in this community to avoid the violence that seems to be a daily part of Colombia life. In 2005, military and paramilitary personnel massacred eight campesinos. They included three children, a leader of the community, and Renato Areiza's sister, Deyanira. The group responsible for the massacre was led by a School of the Americas graduate.
People in this community looked to the outside for help, but found none.
"We turned to all parts of the Colombian state. We believed that the state would protect us. We looked for justice. We lobbied and met with vice presidents. The Colombian government denied all of our requests. They didn't do justice for us. We were given no protection."
Renato Areiza said about the political situation: "President Uribe talks only of drug trafficking and terrorism... if Pablo Escobar were the only problem, it would be easy... people are displaced... they are dying of hunger... human rights are violated... all of Colombia is being fumigated with a strong herbicide (including areas where there are no coca plants)... bullets are being shot from airplanes... it's not just guerrillas and drug trafficking... we want social investment, not military aid..."
All armed actors consider the people of the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado to be enemies.
"We're not with any of them. We look to the international community for support... we don't want to leave our land... we don't want to pick up a weapon... we need internationals as shields and as protection."

Debora Barros-Fince said, "I am a common citizen, an indigenous person who has lived war." She spoke passionately about what the war has done to Wayuu land at the Colombia-Venezuela border. She described horrific things that had happened in her community... members of the paramilitary "cutting people to bits to sow terror."
She talked about mining and how it hurts indigenous communities. She said that her community has been offered money to leave their homeland, but that the community would never accept the money. She talked about multinational corporations looking to take advantage of the natural resources beneath the ground. "We don't care about the money. We are a community... we want dignity... we want the paramilitaries off of our land... we want the multinational corporations to go back to their own countries..."
More than 300 members of the Wayuu community have fled to Venezuela, where they are hungry and are longing to "be at home in their own community."
She, too, asked for help from the international community... "Stop the flow of money to Columbia... money that is used to buy arms to kill Afro-Colombians, indigenous people, and others... come to our community and accompany us... this works... it helps to deter attacks by any armed actor."
For more information on accompaniment, check the Fellowship of Reconciliation website at http://www.forusa.org

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