“We must remember this October 15th in all the corners of the planet, wherever it might be possible that acts of solidarity be realized in support of the process of dialogue that is moving forward between the National Government of Colombia and the FARC-EP. This must emerge as our primary task. From the deepest recesses of our souls we make this call so that a people that has not counted in its history one single day of peace might obtain the so longed for peace with social justice of which they dream.” – From the Call to Action for an International Day of Solidarity with the Colombian Peace Process.
An urgent call for international solidarity has been issued by organizations in Colombia that are on the front lines in the struggle to resolve 50 years of armed and social conflict. (For an English translation: http://afgj.org/call-from-fensuagro-and-lazos-de-dignidad-for-a-day-of-international-solidarity-with-the-colombian-peoples-peace-process ) They are asking people to observe October 15 as a Day of Solidarity with the Colombian Peace Process. The Call to Action has been issued by Fensuagro, Colombia’s largest union of agricultural workers, and Lazos de Dignidad, who mobilize support for political prisoners. It has also been endorsed by the Marcha Patriótica (Patriotic March-Colombia’s largest Left movement for a just peace) and the Permanent Committee in Defense of Human Rights (CPDH-Comité de Solidaridad en Defensa de los Derechos Humanos). The day of action has been endorsed by the International Network in Solidarity with the Colombian Political Prisoners (INSPP) and, in the United States, by the Alliance for Global Justice, International Action Center, Latin America Solidarity Coalition and Pastors for Peace.
Colombia is closer to peace than it has been in well over a decade. Yet the peace process is under attack from many quarters. This call to action comes at a vital point. Colombia’s campaign season begins officially in November. An extreme Right political bloc that wants to derail the peace process is being led by former President (and now candidate for Senate) Álvaro Uribe.
Colombia’s oligarchy and President Juan Manuel Santos (who is running for re-election) want to achieve a negotiated settlement as quickly as possible, but one that does not address fundamental injustices that have led to the armed and social conflicts. Polls show that Santos’ approval rating is very low. His hope is that some kind of agreement will bolster his support, given the large majority of Colombians who support negotiations.
At the same time that Santos negotiates, he has authorized acts of brutal repression against social and popular movements in the country, including the deployment of 50,000 troops mainly in Bogotá on August 31 to quell the National Agrarian and Popular Strike. This was preceded by a national crackdown beginning two days earlier that left at least 9 protesters dead and hundreds wounded. Troops have been called out against unarmed demonstrators in Bogotá, Antioquia, the Catatumbo region, and elsewhere.
A number of key conditions have also deteriorated even as negotiations move forward. Forced displacement has gone up by 83 percent, while last year assaults against human rights defenders is the highest it has been in ten years – a 49 percent increase from 2011 – which previously held held the dubious distinction. Likewise, Colombia continues to be the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist. The unions hardest hit include Fensuagro and the teachers union, Fecode, who have suffered a series of assassinations and politically motivated arrests.
It is the rural regions and indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities that are most affected by this repression. For instance, 97 percent of aggressions against human rights defenders occur in rural areas. Why? Transnational corporations and big land owners want to grab as much land as they possibly can before “peace” breaks out. Without fail, displacement, assassinations, and disappearances in rural areas take place where there are active conflicts between corporations and communities regarding natural resource development.
A special concern recently has been the arrest of Hubert Ballesteros. Hubert arranged the Alliance for Global Justice’s first delegation to Colombia in 2009.He is the Vice President of Fensuagro and a member of the executive committees of the Marcha Patriótica and of the CUT (Unified Workers Center), the largest labor confederation in Colombia. Hubert was also one of ten primary organizers and negotiators for the recent National Agrarian and Popular Strike.
Hubert has been an outspoken proponent of peace and negotiations to resolve Colombia’s internal conflicts. Back in 2009, when I first met him, I asked him what was the most important thing we could do in the US to show our solidarity with the Colombian people. He said two things: End Plan Colombia and ask people to speak out in support of dialogue for peace. The kind of dialogue that Hubert advocated was not just one between the government and insurgents, but one that included broad popular participation from all the various popular and social organizations and movements.
Hubert was arrested on August 26, 2013 and charged with “aggravated rebellion” based on sham evidence and the testimony of a paid informant. He has become one of more than 10,000 political prisoners in Colombia. His detention and persecution is an attack against all Colombians who dream of a just peace and real democracy. (Go here to send an email to Colombian authorities calling for Hubert’s release: http://org2.salsalabs.com/o/7315/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=15192 )
What can we do? The Colombian government and business community are concerned about how they are perceived globally. Even when a few of us stand up around the world, notice is taken. More important is the encouragement that comes to the popular movements when they see that their movement is not alone.
In the United States, we are stressing four demands:
No more repression of the agrarian and popular movements!
End Plan Colombia!
Repeal the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement!
Freedom for Hubert Ballesteros!
Will you stand up and be counted? If the answer is “yes”, and if you would like more information about events in your area, or would like to organize such an event, please contact me directly at email@example.com.
Be assured: your support does make a difference.