Colombians Gather for the 2nd Permanent Tribunal of the People

As Bush made his way around Latin America promoting neoliberal policies and free-trade in the region, Colombia‘s poor closed the 2nd convocation of the Permanent Tribunal of the People, showing they have a different vision of democracy. 

On February 26th and 27th, community members from Colombia’s Choco region, along with other national and international organizations and NGOs, gathered in Cacarica, Colombia, for the second in a series of trials that are part of the Permanent Tribunal of the People, a process due to culminate next year in Bogotá. The largely symbolic public trial focused on the issue of  biodiversity, presenting cases against transnational companies’exploitation of Colombia’s natural resources as a direct result of neoliberal policies supported by the Colombian government.  

The public trial convened on the tenth anniversary of Operation Genesis, a military operation carried out by both Colombian military and paramilitaries forces, and that led to the killing and massive displacement of primarily Afro-Colombians living in the northeast part of Colombia. The military operation has been largely seen by human rights organizations as paving the way for today’s military mega-projects in the region. During the trial, lawyers and social leaders presented cases against the companies Monsanto, Dyncorp, and Delmonte, as well as, their Colombian subsidiaries.

In the case of Monsanto, lawyers accused it of contributing to the decline of seed varieties through the importation and commercialization of their genetically modified “Terminator” seeds, which increase farmers’ production costs as the seeds commit a kind of plant suicide, focing farmers to re-purchase the seeds after each harvest. Lawyers also accused the company of its direct involvement and complicity in the purposeful and hazardous fumigation of farmlands that use RoundUp, one of Monsanto’s principal commercial pesticides.

The company Dyncorp, commonly refered to as the “transnational mercernary”, was also accused for its role in the fumigations, providing and flying the planes containing the potent pesticide as a service contracted out by the Colombian government. 

The U.S. government did not escape its own responsibility in the matter as another lawyer argued that the fumigations were an integral part of the $4 billion in U.S. aid to Colombian, known as Plan Colombia.

Other companies such as Urapalma and Multifruits were implicated in the forced displacement of 2,500 Afro-Colombians who were threatened, assasinated, and driven out by Colombia’s military and paramilitaries forces so that these companies could later plant between 4,000 and 7,000 hectares of African palm over the once collectively-owned land.

“The palm is paid for with the blood of our friends and families…we don’t have a place to work because the land is covered with palm,” one witness expressed during the trial.

This injustice and the other crimes presented were vindicated at the end when the various national and transnational companies, along with the Colombian and U.S. governments, were found guilty of committing crimes against humanity.

In light of such a judgement, it is difficult to see how George Bush’s “message of hope” translated in the language of free-trade agreements and neoliberal policies in Latin America will win the hearts of Colombians who have already paid a high price for his vision of development and democracy.