By Liza Smith
“I was in my bed when an explosion rocked our house.” FORColombia Peace Team member Isaac Beachy tells of combat on the edge of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, and analyzes how the Colombian military reported on it. Meanwhile, community kids carry on in a party. Filmed on October 30, 2010. Watch the video here.
Applications to join our accompaniment team in Colombia are currently open. This will be the focus of our workshop on Friday, November 19th, 8:00-10:00 PM, in Convention Center Room 210.
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U.S. military aid flowing to Colombia is having a direct, negative effect on the human rights of Colombians. Though the “Leahy Law” prohibits aid to military units that have committed gross violations, the United States continues to support such units in Colombia. Worse, areas where Colombian army units received the largest increases in U.S.assistance reported increased extrajudicial killings on average.
The scale of U.S. training and equipping of other nations’ militaries has grown exponentially since 2001, but there are major concerns about the extent to which the U.S.government is implementing the laws and monitoring the impact its military aid is having on human rights. This report by the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and U.S. Office on Colombia examines these issues through a detailed case study of U.S. military aid, human rights abuses, and implementation of human rights law in Colombia.
U.S. Military Assistance to the Colombian ArmyThe experience of US military funding to Colombia shows alarming links between Colombian military units that receiveU.S. assistance and civilian killings committed by the army. To prevent similar errors in Afghanistan and Pakistan, relevant Congressional committees and the State Department Office of the Inspector General must thoroughly study the Colombia case and implementation of U.S. law designed to keep security assistance from going to security force units committing gross human rights violations.
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Although it had been proven that army and paramilitary forces had patrolled together for several days, including the day when the massacre took place, the judge found that the army could not be held responsible for the killings, because there was no proof that the officers had planned the actual killings in advance with the death squads and that “they did not know nor should have known the risks of their action [of patrolling with the illegal groups]”.
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By Liza Smith
It’s the eleventh day of the tour and we’ve introduced a new word to both the Spanish and English languages — it is a cross between “tranquila” which means “relaxed” and is a pop cultural reference to Transylvania: the place in Romania where vampires originated and the planet where the dancing extra-terrestrial transvestites in Rocky Horror Picture Show come from.
Our new word is tranquilandia and it describes the peaceful world of our van; everything else is a rush between places and people, a different bed every night, new streets and getting lost, loading and unloading our suitcases at each stop. But in the van we chill, take a deep breath and reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re going. Right now, somewhere between Wooster, Ohio and Allentown, Pennsylvania, we just passed a sign that read, “Dusty Bibles Lead to Dirty Lives” and a confederate flag. It’s slightly raining and Jill Scott is playing in our world of Tranquilandia.
I take this opportunity to chat with Paula about her impressions of the tour so far. What has she liked the most? The yellow leaves she says (we’ve taken a number of pictures featuring Paula and the leaves) and the egg quiche that we ate this morning for breakfast. She’s a bit tired (we’ve been packing it in and always seem to be running a bit behind schedule) and she misses Colombia too.
I ask Paula what inspires her about what she has seen up to this point? She talks about one interesting and exciting example of campus organizing: the Coke boycott. A student we recently met at Loyola University described the organizing process — collect as many signatures as possible among the students and present a petition to the university, with information about the human rights abuses in Colombia in which Coke is implicated and then pressure the university to cancel the contract. Paula saw value in this strategy because organizers don’t have to depend on the usual avenues of state infrastructure (like lobbying politicians), but rather can push for a change in their own community and in the process educate and politicize as many folks as possible.
Next I asked her what seemed like the biggest challenge or obstacle to doing this work in the US? She responded that the students at each campus focus on the war in Iraq or Colombia or maybe another crisis in another place, but notices that the tendency is to focus on issues “over there” and that it seems there aren’t local issues that unite them where they are. For example, at Wooster College after talking about the relationship between displacement and militarism in both Colombia and Detroit, we brought the discussion back into the here and now — and talked about race relations on campus. The all white audience at our panel recognized that while there might not be overt racism at their school, there are “invisible lines that divide us.” Paula connects these “invisible lines” to a culture of individualism where everybody has their own computer, phone, house and car and where people don’t step across those invisible lines to be interested in one another’s struggles. During her talks she often shares how the Red Juvenil also fights against the forces of individualism and works to create a horizontal structure based on a culture of collectivity and solidarity.
Paula talks about how students have access to so much information and many possibilities to learn about different issues. She wonders what makes a person take a step beyond their own education and move into action. How can we encourage folks to go beyond just learning about the issues? With these questions unanswered we continue orbiting in our world of Tranquilandia and head to the next stop — Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA.