Invisible Struggles in Colombia



you had the chance to see ‘Traffic’, you know the War on Drugs is a sham.

There’s a good chance you know that its domestic effects are to imprison

thousands and thousands of non-violent offenders who aren’t dangerous, cut them

off from their families and friends, destroy their life chances, destroy social

bonds and devastate their communities, and lock them up in brutal places which

are training grounds for crime. You probably know that the money and arms the US

sends to countries like Colombia to ‘fight’ drugs ends up in the hands of

paramilitaries who use it to produce drugs and kill civilians.

Perhaps you know about Plan Colombia, the violence of which is beginning to take

effect. The Plan that sends $5 billion in military aid to the Colombian

government to fight drugs, which translates to sending the Colombian military

and paramilitaries $5 billion in advanced weapons to fight guerrillas and

progressive social movements. Perhaps you know about the impunity with which

trade unionists and human rights workers, journalists and legal workers are

murdered in places like Barrancabermeja. Maybe you’ve read about the familiar

process: small farmers, or indigenous people, or afro-colombians, on resource

rich lands. Local elites and politicians cut a deal with multinational

corporations to split the resources on the lands– to build an oil well, or a

hydroelectric dam. The only obstacle? The people who live there. So make

refugees of them, and if they resist, murder them.


if you’re like me, you probably haven’t had the chance to hear directly from the

social organizations who are resisting this kind of development. You probably

haven’t had a chance to see the courage, intelligence, and resilience with which

they resist and persist in pressing for a negotiated solution to the conflict

between the government and the guerrillas. You probably haven’t had a chance to

see the diversity of the types of organizations, their strength, and their

attempts to construct real alternatives to the destruction being meted out to



Canada-Colombia Campaign made it possible for some of us to have that chance. It

brought six activists from six different organizations in Colombia to Toronto,

Montreal, and Ottawa to discuss the situation in Colombia, the connections with

North America, and what genuine solidarity between activists here and there

could mean.


mainstream press tells us that North American opposition to the FTAA and

corporate globalization is self-interested and guaranteed to deny the third

world its opportunity. We selfish, greedy north americans don’t want the FTAA

because we don’t want to lose our jobs to the southern countries when companies

relocate there. But as Patricia Buritica, a trade union leader with the Central

Unitaria de Trabajadores said, company relocations from northern countries

causes misery– company relocations to the southern countries cause deaths. It

is to please those same companies that paramilitaries have created a refugee

population of around 2 million in Colombia. To please those companies,

paramilitaries and the army make Colombia one of the most lethal places in the

world for trade unionists– 50% of all trade unionists who are killed, are

killed in Colombia. In other words, the less mobile corporations are, the

better– for everyone.


del Pilar Cordoba, a feminist and peace activist with the Ruta Pacifica de

Mujeres (Women’s Path for Peace), asked North Americans who want to build

solidarity with Colombia to leave their fear behind. "Everyone I’ve talked to

here, when I tell them what I do in Colombia, says ‘oh how frightening’. I would

rather they not be so frightened. I would rather they turn that fear into

something else. We all live with the fear of death, and we have to keep working,

and we want you to do the same." Dora Guzman, a leader of the Popular Feminist

Front, (Organizacion Feminina Popular), extended the discussion of fear further:

"There is not one of us who doesn’t face several threats a day on our lives from

the paramilitaries. What we’ve done is to collect all these fears into one big

fear, and then get rid of that, so we can continue with our work."


talked about the small victories that solidarity has helped bring about, and the

potential for greater victories. Agustin Reyes, a peasant leader with the Peace

Communities and Territories (Comunidades y Territorios de Paz), told a story of

how his organization took a denunciation of a paramilitary threat against his

community to the Attorney General. Shortly afterwards, his organization began to

face threats and harassment from paramilitaries. They then took a denunciation

of this to the Attorney General, and also to the international human rights

network. A letter writing campaign followed, inundating the Attorney General

with mail, forcing him to take steps to guarantee their safety. Maria del Pilar

Cordoba told a story of a mother who used an Amnesty International

letter-writing campaign to force authorities to disclose the location of the

remains of her disappeared and murdered son. Ezequiel Vitonas Talanga, an

indigenous leader with the Indigenous Autonomous and Peaceful Co-Existence

Movement (Proyecto Nasa) told another story of how letter-writing campaigns have

saved lives.


presence of international observers has also done much to deter impunity. While

activists from Colombia face murder, international observers there are

relatively safe. The six activists and their organizations extended an

invitation to North Americans to go to Colombia and see what’s going on, and

help chip away at the impunity there.


asked the Colombian leaders what we could demand of our own governments in order

to complement their struggles. They told me to oppose the FTAA, and Plan

Colombia, and the investments and aid projects that displace and destroy people.

Someone in the audience told them about North American governments’ repression

of the American Indian Movement, the dispossession and destruction of indigenous

people here. Agustin Reyes noted how this showed that we were fighting the same

enemy, and that our struggles really could be complementary.


the discussion wound up, I wondered about that $5 billion figure. I wondered how

much progress could be made against drug addiction with that amount of money. Or

how far $5 billion would go in rebuilding communities devastated by the War on

Drugs, or in rebuilding social services destroyed by globalization. Or how small

a fraction of that money it would take for Peace Brigades International or the

Christian Peacemaker Teams to establish a large, permanent international

observer presence in places in Colombia where it could save many lives. It was

probably idle dreaming, but after listening to these activists, I didn’t feel I

had the right to give up hope.



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