Monday, December 22, 2008

Afro-Colombians fight biodiesel producers

By Jane Monahan Bogota
BBC News
For Afro-Colombians evicted from their land in north-western Colombia and along the Pacific coast, the loss of familiar surroundings of lush jungle and rugged mountains can be devastating.

Read the article here....

Sunday, December 21, 2008

An "error," or "a clear act of war?"

Communiqué from the Cauca Regional Indigenous Council (CRIC), Cauca, Colombia, December 16, 2008

At 4:00 this morning, troops from the National Army fired without pity upon a CRIC pickup truck, a vehicle that had been on a medical mission to the municipality of Inzá Tierradentro, driven by Edwin Legarda Vásquez, husband of the Chief Counselor of the CRIC, Aide Quilcué. Legarda was hit by two bullets, one on the right side of his chest, and he died at 8:00 AM in Popayán's San José Hospital.

The CRIC vehicle, which is widely known because of frequent travels on this road, was attacked on three sides and had 17 rifle impacts, in a clear act of war on the part of the Colombian Army against the civilian population and, especially, against indigenous people. …
The CRIC Counselor, upon analyzing the circumstances of her husband's assassination, has denounced this deed as a premeditated act in which she was the real target. Aida Quilcué has received multiple threats, and her risk increased after having made national and international denunciations [including in Geneva the previous week] about violence against indigenous people, and murders committed during the National Minga [indigenous protests that began in Cauca in October].

Friday, December 19, 2008

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Update on Possible Lame Duck Vote on the Colombia FTA – Human Rights Situation Worsening Despite Persistent Claims of Improvement

We write in celebration of a new political moment in U.S.-Colombia relations. President-elect Obama clearly stated his opposition to a U.S. - Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) as recently as the last presidential debate in October. “The history in Colombia right now is that labor leaders have been targeted for assassination on a fairly consistent basis and there have not been prosecutions,” Obama said. “I think that the important point is we’ve got to have a president who understands the benefits of free trade but also ... is going to stand up to other countries.”

Unfortunately, President Bush considers passing a Colombia FTA such an important part of his legacy that he urged Mr. Obama to reconsider his stance in their first face-to-face meeting at the White House. As Congress considers reconvening for a lame duck session to pass urgently needed economic recovery measures, President Bush indicated to Mr. Obama his strong interest in also having the Colombia FTA passed.

Newly designated White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel challenged President Bush to not focus on the FTA, arguing that the priority is to extend unemployment insurance and healthcare assistance to economically-embattled states. "You don't link those essential needs to some other trade deal," explained Emanuel. "What you have to deal with is what's immediate here, and the lame duck is for immediate things that are important. That's what should be the focus, right now. There's an economic recovery package in front of the Congress. Washington should get it done."

House Speaker Pelosi has shown great leadership on the Colombia FTA, and has not bowed to the President’s pressure yet. We hope that President-elect Obama’s views on the legislation will stand firm in this debate. We need to make sure that Congress will not exchange passage of the FTA for passage of an economic recovery package or an auto industry bailout.

This is especially critical in light of recent events in Colombia, where the situation has worsened. In September, 18,000 workers in the sugar industry in Colombia’s Cauca and Valle del Cauca Departments went on strike in response to the refusal by the Sugar Cane Growers’ Association, Asocaña, to negotiate with them for better working conditions.

Two weeks into their protest, police responded to the strike with violence injuring 40 workers. Government officials tied the sugar cane workers to guerrilla terrorist groups simply because they were exercising their right to organize and strike. Workers continued their strike despite state efforts to criminalize legitimate social protest to improve labor conditions.

Also in October, the National Organization of Indigenous People (ONIC) began a National Mobilization of Indigenous and Popular Resistance across Colombia. The mobilizations drew attention to the dire situation indigenous peoples’ face across Colombia and protested policies which undermine their Constitutional rights including the FTA.

The initial government response to the peaceful marches was swift, violent and excessive. In Cauca, representatives of the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca (ACIN) reported that 73 people were wounded by machetes and unconventional weapons. At least a dozen people were wounded by live ammunition. One person was killed by shots fired into the crowd by the armed forces. Witnesses reported the use of high-powered weapons including M-16s.

On October 23, after weeks of denying that police had fired on protesters, President Uribe acknowledge that the police had indeed fired live rounds into the crowd. The President’s admission was likely prompted by a CNN video clearly showing a masked police officer firing his weapon. Click here to see the CNN video.

The month of October ended with confirmation from the Colombian government that members of the armed forces are involved in killing innocent civilians and passing them off as guerillas fallen in combat. This scandal resulted in the firing of 27 military officers—including three generals and 11 colonels and lieutenant colonels, however cover-up and denial of involvement persist at higher levels of government.

This long list of serious human rights violations from just the last few months is in stark contrast to the claims being made that the human rights situation is improving in Colombia. It reinforces our determination to stop the U.S.-Colombia FTA and end U.S. military aid to Colombia.

We will keep you informed as events unfold. Stay alert in case we need you to take action to stop a lame duck passage of the Colombia FTA!

Monday, November 10, 2008

An Open Letter from the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca, ACIN, to U.S. President-Elect Barack Obama.

Santander de Quilichao, Cauca, Colombia

Dear Mr. President-Elect,First, please accept our sincerest congratulations. We congratulate you for having won because of the noblest aspirations of your people. We believe your election expresses the deep desire for change felt by the majority of the American people: change in the economy and society, change in international relations, and from there, we hope, a change in the relation between the United States of America and the indigenous peoples of the world.

During your historic campaign, you publicly noted some of what Colombians currently face: you acknowledged the murders of trade unionists by the regime and stated your reservations about a Free Trade Agreement with Colombia, which our people have decided against through a democratic referendum, about which we have written before. We thank you for this, and now want you to know about the specific situation facing Colombia's indigenous peoples.

In the past six years we have lost 1,200 people to assassinations by armed groups, both legal and illegal: right-wing paramilitaries, guerrillas, police, and members of the Armed Forces. These murders have created insecurity, and this insecurity has been used to strip us of our rights with what we call the 'Laws of Disposession', legislation and other institutional norms that legalize the loss of our lands, our fundamental freedoms, and our rights. These 'Laws of Disposession' dispose of Colombia's mines, hydrocarbons, water resources, intellectual property, and national parks – all of these are brought under the ultimate rule of the Free Trade Agreement with the US. The FTA will mean that if Colombia tries to change the laws to allow its people to share in its resources, or take any independent action, then we will be obliged to compensate investors. We will have to submit our laws to international arbitration outside our own legal jurisdiction.

But in our view, the ultimate law is respect for life. In our view, the FTA puts commercial logic above the respect for life itself, not to mention international humanitarian law, and agreements such as the ILO's Covenant 169, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Worldwide. These covenants, as well as the respect for life, have to date been ignored by the government of our country, as well as by your government.

Unfortunately both of our governments, yours with Plan Colombia, and ours with the so-called 'Democratic Security' policy, have done great harm to indigenous peoples and to Mother Earth, while multinational corporations have profited from the petroleum and gas contracts, mining concessions, privatizations, and low wages.

We hope that you will contribute to change all this. We hope that you will listen to our words. We have lost many lives defending these words. Words that we have walked and words we have backed up with our civil resistance. These are the words that we have shared throughout Colombia since October 10th, through the Minga of Resistance, a national mobilization we convened as indigenous peoples, in association with other peoples and processes.

We believe that the spirit of change in your people cannot be contained. We believe it is a powerful force and we hope it will join with the force of our words and with the need for change that has been crying out throughout Latin America. We invite you to come to listen to these words here in Colombia, and we are ready to articulate them there, if you invite us. Here or there, it is the same planet and our mission is the same: to protect it, to save us all.

Finally, we call on you to join with us in fulfilling our responsibilities to Mother Earth and to history. The first one, our collective Mother, has given all of us life. The second one, History, has reflected our growing pains and our errors. History has not matured into systems that reconcile it with the rhythms, pulses and mandates of Nature. We believe the very reason human beings and our societies exist is to create the harmony between History and Mother Earth.

As children of Mother Earth, we speak to you as to a brother or sister. As indigenous, we speak to you as peoples, obliged from creation to seek harmony between History and Mother Earth. To reconcile ourselves with nature is not an option, but an imperative. By transforming life into merchandise, by making sacred the accumulation of wealth, by enshrining greed, we believe our societies have entered a crisis, including the economic crisis currently faced by your country. The destruction of our peoples in Colombia is a consequence of that Historic error that has placed greed before life.

Brother President-elect Barack Obama, we do not write to ask or demand anything for ourselves, because we know that the death of our peoples and the destruction of our cultures for greed, signifies the beginning of the end for Mother Earth itself.

Before we disappear with our collective Mother, we have decided to speak and to walk our words. In the name of life, of change, let us listen to one another and make the effort to find a way to create harmony between our peoples and life. Let us create the conditions for new History. One where the sacred ends of promotion and protection of Life and Beauty can never again be transformed into means for private accumulation of power at the service of greed.

We await you.With great respect,

Association of Indigenous Couincils of Northern Cauca ACIN (Cxab Wala Kiwe-Territory of the Great People) Cauca, Mother Earth, November 10th, 2008 Santander de Quilichao

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Replacement for General Montoya

By John Lindsay Poland

President Uribe announced this afternoon that the replacement for Army chief General Montoya will be General Oscar Enrique González Peña

González Peña was commander of the Fourth Brigade, based in Medellín, from December 2003 to July 2005, when the army reportedly committed 45 extrajudicial executions in eastern Antioquia, according to a report last year by a coalition of human rights organizations known as Human Rights and Humanitarian Law Observatory. (

González Peña also commanded the 11th Brigaade in Cordoba in 2002-03, when the paramilitaries were operating freely in the area and the Army. In 2005, he commanded the Seventh Division, with jurisdiction over the brigades with among the worst human rights records in the Army: the 11th, 17th, 4th and 14th Brigades.

He attended the School of the Americas in Panama in 1980.That General González Peña also brings to the army leadership a history of extrajudicial executions under his command reinforces the observation we made earlier in the day – it is hard to identify Colombian army commanders who have not commanded units committing gross human rights violations. And most of them have received US training or assistance.

"Widespread and systematic" army killings: Who replaces General Montoya?

By John Lindsay Poland

Colombian Army commander Mario Montoya resigned today, in the wake of a scandal over army killings of civilians that a United Nations official on Saturday called “widespread and systematic.” A protégé of the United States, Montoya was an architect of the “body count” counterinsurgency strategy that many analysts believe led to the systematic civilian killings. His record is full of reports of collaboration with paramilitary units, from the 1970s into the 2000s.

The Fellowship of Reconciliation believes General Montoya’s departure because of criticism of his human rights record reflects an important step in the effort to make human rights a central measure for military officers’ performance. We urge Colombian authorities to pursue all relevant investigations of crimes committed under General Montoya’s command. “The Colombian government presumably sought to replace General Montoya with an officer with a spotless record,” said John Lindsay-Poland, of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. “But the reported executions of civilians under General González Peña’s command suggests that such high-ranking officers in the Colombian army are far and few between.” The United States continues to fund the training and operations of these officers. The Fellowship urges activists, journalists, and legislators to ask when the United States will stop the unconditional flow of lethal assistance to the Colombian Army. And we call on the incoming administration in Washington to cease such assistance as criminal and ineffective in its aims.