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SOA Watch in Colombia PDF Print E-mail
Written by Liz Deligio and Charity Ryerson, SOA Watch Illinois   
SOA Watch visited Colombia in July as a member of the Ethics Commission of the human rights group Justicia y Paz.

The Commission publicizes human rights abuses in a number of specific communities in Colombia, where a brutal war continues to rage.  More than four billion dollars in U.S. military aid, accompanied by military training for the Colombian armed forces at the School of the Americas, is fueling the war.

The approach of the SOA/WHINSEC of “solving” social problems with military violence has left an indelible mark on the country: millions of people have had to flee their homes and thousands have been killed over the past years.  Images of victims displayed by the Association of Family Members of the Detained- Disapppeared (ASFADDES) at the largest gathering of victims in Colombian history in July 2007.The Colombian military has the worst human rights record in the Americas. The military continues a ruthless counterinsurgency campaign that has killed thousands of Colombians and displaced millions (this year, Colombia surpassed Sudan as the country with the most internally displaced people).

Liz Deligio and Charity Ryerson, as SOA Watch members of the Ethics Commission, traveled to Colombia from July 23 - August 1 to visit with impacted communities. The Ethics Commission is a gathering of members from the Colombian and international communities who have joined in solidarity with impacted communities in Colombia. The Commission gathers twice a year to hear testimony from communities about the systematic human rights violations they experience as well as what they envision for reparation. The Commission traveled to the Chocó region in the north of Colombia.

In northern Antioquia, the African palm oil business has forcibly displaced thousands of mestizo, afro-descendiente, and indigenous families from their own lands.  In concert with the police, military, paramilitaries, and local government offices, the palm oil companies have murdered and displaced community members and falsely claimed legal right to the territory.

In testimony before the Ethics Commission, community members expressed a high level of coordination between the 17th Brigade of the Colombian military and the Aguilas Negras paramilitary group.  The complex system of control created between the armed actors, companies, and government offices has created significant legal and political isolation for the communities, leaving them exposed to further victimization.  There is significant evidence that testimony given to the local prosecutor’s offices has been turned over to paramilitaries, often within hours. Unfortunately, this is a reality repeated throughout many regions of Colombia — the collusion of different forces of powers that legitimize their illegal actions and provide impunity for land theft, displacement, assassinations, kidnappings, and torture.

After ten years of displacement, the communities of the collective territories have made some attempts to return to the land.  The construction of a Humanitarian Zone has created a more secure physical space, fortified by the presence of national and international human rights defenders.  This is a step in creating a broader space for the affirmation of collective memory and the victims’ right to define their terms of reparation.

On July 30, the communities took another step toward the reclamation of their land and dignity.   Liz Deligio, and Charity Ryerson pictured with members of the Curvarado community as they gather to cut palm as part of direct action to reclaim territory taken by paramilitary forces.With the support of internationals from Spain, Italy, and the United States as well as members of the Comisión Intereclesial Justicia y Paz from Bogotá, community members from different parts of the region gathered to begin a process of palm eradication.  

The destruction of the palm plants was a creative and life-affirming act that will create a space for residents to grow food to feed the community and potentially to allow more displaced peoples to return.  Clearing the palm is a part of a larger strategy of preserving collective memory and honoring the history of the region’s residents.  The united participation of national and international workers will hopefully lend some protection to the community residents and prevent a violent response.

As a member of the Commission, SOA Watch is helping to support the creative and important work of some of our partners in the most impacted areas of Colombia. At the same time, SOA Watch is gaining valuable insight into the current reality that Colombians face, as residents of the country that sends the most soldiers to the School of the Americas every year.

 

Published in the Fall 2007 issue  

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written by Dan De Vito, January 02, 2010
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