Colleen Kattau - 2010 Encuentro Local Updates Print

2010 Encuentro Local Updates


SOA Watch Activist

In 2002 several Central New York activists travelled to Colombia as part of a Witness for Peace delegation and met Marylen Serna Salinas, one of the principle leaders of the Movimiento Campesino de Cajibio (MCC). Their meeting was the seed out of which a Colombia Support Network sister-city community between the Central New York communities of Syracuse, Ithaca and Cortland and Cajibío, Colombia emerged.  Since 2002 four delegations have gone to Cajibio and three representatives of the MCC have come individually to Central New York. Equality in our relationship is fundamental to the integrity and continuity of the partnership and there has been sustained mutual support and learning among and between communities.

An important part of our sister-city relationship is to educate US citizens about US foreign policy and military presence in the region. The partnership puts a face on those directly affected by militarism and violence, and establishes a sustained connection between our two communities. We have had some small but notable successes.  With the MCC our delegations met the mayor and Common Council of Cajibio and were present in the establishment of a declaration of peace and safety in the region. We met with reps from Cartón Colombia - the big multinational that threatens Campesino rights to land and livelihood.  Likewise, the sister-city partnership is also part of system of ¨action alerts¨, an email messaging network that provides updates to human rights crises in the region.  Partnership members send e-mails and letters to government and military personnel both here and in Colombia in rapid response to human rights violations and threats in Cauca.  This network has played a role in assuring the release of illegally held members of the MCC, and sends a message to Colombian authorities that there are international observers watching out for members of the movement. Through the partnership, Popayan artist Jafeth Gomez´s art was twice used as the cover art for the widely distributed Syracuse Cultural Workers Peace Calendar (2006 and 2010).  Dissemination of the artwork gives more visibility to the campesino movement.  Similarly, we regularly host concerts and salsa dances to raise money for and awareness about the region.

U.S. activists are assisting the MCC in realizing the complete expression of their collectivism, while at the same time learning the tools of collectivism from their Colombian counterparts. In no time at all funds from a Central New York land trust were used by the MCC to create a collective organic farm called "La Aromática" - and seeds from a local farmer here are being cultivated there. The first crop already a success! This is a big lesson in organizing to the land trust community, and shows how effective mutual support can be.

Five members of our CNY community are SOA prisoners of conscience, and Nancy Gwinn is currently serving time in prison for her direct action at the gates of Ft. Benning.

My own activism centers around music of social change.  I help organize the cultural aspect of the vigil and protest at Ft. Benning- to ‘sing down the school!  A benefit cd co-recorded with Jolie Rickman called "Sign it Down: Songs to Close the SOA" and a parallel multimedia show of the same name were useful in creating awareness about issues of militarism and the SOA's role in perpetuating that violence.

The SOAW movement has been inspirational and has created a vast community of activists who together can realize the beautiful, peaceful and just world that we all desire.