A Way out for Colombia



didn’t go to Colombia looking for understanding, although it was there for me in

the form of razor-sharp analysts who do their work under fire. I didn’t go

looking for hope either, although I found some of that too, in the very same

people. What I went looking for was credibility, and priorities.

Credibility, because I wanted to be able to face those who claim human rights

workers are tools of the insurgency. I wanted to be able to stare down the

argument that the only solution to the conflict is the continuation of the war,

which isn’t a war between guerrillas, paramilitaries, and the armed forces, but

a war of people with guns against people without them, and a war of people with

power against the earth itself. Priorities, because I wanted to know what

Colombians thought were the most urgent priorities for North American activists.


I found was extraordinary people like those of the Centro Unitaria de

Trabajadores (CUT), a union central who told of the war against Colombian

workers, a war prosecuted by straight violence as well as by the economic

restructuring, privatization, and unemployment wrought by globalization. People

like Afrodes, the organization of the Afro-Colombian displaced, who told of how

they are being displaced from their resource rich lands even as the

constutitional guarantees of their rights to those lands come into effect, to

make room for megaprojects. People like the Organizacion Femenina Popular and

the Ruta Pacifica de Mujeres, who talked about the impacts of the war on women

and their readiness to become authors of peace.


people and their organizations are the way out of this conflict for Colombia.

After hearing, in the villages of Putumayo, that everything is set for a new

round of fumigations of campesinos in the winter, it’s hard to think of anything

but stopping that horror from happening. After reading RAND’s ‘Colombian

Labyrinth’ (http://www.rand.org/publications/MR/MR1339/)

and the nightmare ‘future scenarios’ they lay out for Colombia and Hector

Mondragon’s fear of a ‘humanitarian intervention’, it’s hard to think of

anything but trying to stop those before they start. But we have to think a way

out of this thing.


way out is a negotiated solution with civil society at the table with decision

making power. The Guatemalan peace process gave civil society an advisory

capacity, and some of the problems with that process come from the limited role

assigned to civil society.


negotiations will also have to rehabilitate the armed actors. Impunity will have

to end. Otherwise there will be a repeat of the 1980s, when the FARC guerrillas

tried to ‘go legitimate’ and form the Union Patriotica political party, a

success at the polls that was systematically destroyed by assassinations by the

military and police of about 3000 party members and leaders. The intellectual

and material authors of the crimes against humanity being wrought against

Colombians will have to be brought to justice. Some kind of truth commission

will have to happen.


war on drugs, and the prohibition, will have to end. Prohibition makes the price

of drugs artificially high. A lack of development makes it the only sensible

choice for campesinos. Treating drug addiction as a crime and not a health issue

prevents a reasonable program for reduction of demand. Legalization, control,

and education in the US and true development in the producing countries will

have to happen.


economic model that makes this conflict inevitable has to change as well. The

model of exploitation and exclusion has to be replaced with an economy based on

equitable cooperation and inclusion. There are such models and alternatives

being built in Colombia right now, and the people trying to build them are being


That’s what the CUT identified as a high priority, talking to us in their office

overlooking Bogota– through bulletproof windows. A chance for unionists, who

are killed at a rate of 1 every 3 days, to flee the country for a while when

under threat, to return to do their work later. I wondered whether it might make

the killers think twice if every Colombian unionist who was threatened could go

to North America and be replaced by a North American unionist for a little


Manuel Rozental and Sheila Gruner of the Canada-Colombia Solidarity Campaign

talked to me about short-term tactics for resistance. If we could make

assassinations, massacres, and disappearances counterproductive, we could keep

social organizations alive long enough to have a fighting chance. Manuel

suggested if a community under threat could displace to another community under

threat, make connections, and return home, rather than displacing to the city,

this would be a step to making displacement counter-productive. The Campaign is

going to develop a platform for solidarity to facilitate these kinds of

strategies and actions starting with a delegation to Colombia this August (http://www.yorku.ca/cerlac/minga/




October, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty is planning a mobilization to

force Ontario’s conservative government from office. They are a community

anti-poverty organization that has made the connection between globalization and

the economic model being applied to the world and the poverty, unemployment, and

social devastation occurring in communities all over the hemisphere, even the

first world. They are ready to bring the anti-capitalist globalization struggle

home. The next round of anti-capitalist globalization protests in North America

will be in Washington DC in September. This may not sound related to Colombia’s

struggle, but it is. Because it is unlikely that there will be a real end to the

violence in Colombia as long as capitalist globalization expands. And it’s

unlikely that capitalist globalization will stop expanding until the struggles

are brought home, to fight poverty and racism and destructive development as

OCAP (and so many other community organizations) is trying to do. But if these

struggles do succeed, and if solidarity actions are made strategic as the

Canada-Colombia Campaign envisions, maybe we can make our way out of this mess.


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