Friday, December 21, 2007

Colombian Journey - The Gift of Herons and Children

Dear friends,

During this season of joy and celebration, I’d like to share with you two of my favorite gifts from Colombia – herons and children.

In February, a friend suffered a very traumatic experience and had to flee from the region. After I heard about her situation, I went up to the terrace roof of the social organizations’ building here in Saravena to seek comfort by watching the sunset. The sky was hazy and there wasn’t much of a sunset; but then, suddenly, white herons started flying by on their way to roost for the evening. I saw hundreds of herons pass within a mile of the building and dozens flew overhead! In the midst of the suffering caused by violent men, it was very soothing to see that Nature was still continuing her dance.

For the next several weeks, I went up to the roof every afternoon at sunset to receive the blessing of the herons. This month of December marks the beginning of the dry season here in the state of Arauca and that’s the best time to see the herons – at dawn and dusk. I took the attached photo on the morning of December 2 - I hope it brings you some sense of the beauty and peace that also exist here in Arauca.

When I was in Bogotá in October, a psychiatrist prescribed an antidepressant (Paroxetine) as a way to deal with the trauma that I’ve witnessed and continue to witness. Fortunately, there’s a very skilled therapist here in Saravena that utilizes natural healing techniques. Alejandra is four-years-old and she prescribed skipping every evening.

As I mentioned before (Colombian Journey – Celebration; November 4, 2007), Alejandra and her family live just a couple blocks from the social organizations’ building. When I returned here last year, she would greet me by shouting “Gringo!” and waving. One evening, as I was returning from my favorite pizzeria, she ran to the corner to meet me. She was so excited that she started skipping back to her home and, fortunately, I had the good sense to skip along with her! That has now become our evening ritual and we’ll often skip along the entire block!

Earlier this month, after skipping with her to the corner, Alejandra told me that she had just had a birthday. On my way back after dinner, I talked with her family and they told me that she had turned four. I returned the next morning and gave her a photo that I had taken of the Canadian Rockies as a present. On the back I wrote, “Thank you very much for skipping with me.” While I was there, I took the attached photo of my skipping buddy.

May the beauty and joy of herons and children be with you during the holiday season and throughout the New Year.

In love, joy, and solidarity.

Community Action for Justice in the Americas

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

A Mother's Pain and Courage

Dear friends,

The last time that Maria saw her son alive was when she left their home on November 26 to attend an event organized by the Dawn of Women for Arauca. A few hours after the event ended, Samuel and another young man were killed by the Colombian army outside of Saravena. The commander of the 18th Brigade declared that the army had killed two “narco-terrorists of the ELN (guerrillas)” in combat and that the army was working to “ensure the December festivities” for the people of the region.

The event on November 26 commemorated the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It was the first time Maria had heard about the Dawn of Women for Arauca and she expressed her enthusiasm during the event. “I felt so strong there” Maria told us, and she explained that it helped her to deal with her son’s death.

Samuel Navia Moreno was 27 years old and was attending night school to finish his high school education. He played guitar and was a member of the Seventh Day Adventist church.

Maria told me that Samuel sang “serenatas” (serenades) for women on their birthdays – especially for the women that live in the poor neighborhoods of Saravena. “They’re not going to receive any gifts” he would say to Maria. During the funeral, various women told Maria “He gave me a serenade for my birthday.” One of them asked her to “open the coffin so I can give him a rose.”

The members of the church put together a video of Samuel for the funeral. It showed him working on projects in the neighborhoods and giving roses to the women for their birthdays. In one segment, Samuel was on crutches and singing. Maria explained that he had torn some tendons in a motorcycle accident. Seeing him sing in the video, “Filled me with happiness” she said. “He was my happiness.”

Jhon Carlos Nocua Rueda, the other victim, was just 18 years old and helped provide for his mother and two siblings. His family filed a denunciation with the Joel Sierra Human Rights Foundation just hours after they learned of his death. As Rosaura, his mother, was leaving the office all I could do was put my hand on her shoulder and say “I’m sorry.” She began to cry and said, “I want my son alive.” The family returned the next day after they had seen his body - they said that Jhon Carlos had been beaten to death.

This year the Joel Sierra Human Rights Foundation has documented 16 cases of “extrajudicial executions” – civilians killed by the army and then presented as guerrillas killed in combat. On November 28, I traveled with the president of the Arauca Peasant Association to their office in Arauquita. Leaders of a rural community in the municipality of Tame came to the office to file a denunciation about human rights abuses in their area this year – including five extrajudicial executions.

In the midst of their pain, Maria and Rosaura found the courage to denounce these killings in an effort to prevent other families from suffering the loss of their sons.

“I disagree with the army’s declaration that my son was a guerrilla” said Maria. “He lived with me in my house and he was never a guerrilla.”

“The only thing I want is justice for my son” said Rosaura.

In love and solidarity.


Sunday, November 4, 2007

Skipping in Solidarity

Dear friends,

In the midst of a very challenging situation, our friends here in Saravena still find time to celebrate the joys of life. During the last week of October, I was invited to three birthday parties for some of our younger friends (see photos).

Fidel Ernesto celebrated his second birthday on October 26. Sonia Lopez was two-months pregnant with Fidel when she came to the Northwest U.S. on a month-long speaking tour in April 2005. She is the president of the Joel Sierra Human Rights Foundation. Fidel had a lot of health problems during his first year but he seems to be doing fine now.

Our friends used the same type of candle on Fidel’s cake as they did on my birthday cake in July – you blow it out and it lights back up again. Fidel was much more creative and persistent than I was in trying to put out the candle. After it flared up again, he scooped up some icing with the knife and used that to extinguish the candle. As you can see in the photo, he was rather surprised and perplexed when even that couldn’t keep the candle out!

Karen was one-year-old on October 27. Her parents, Zulei and Carlos, had to abandon their home because of the fighting between the two guerrilla groups here in the state of Arauca when Zulei was pregnant with Karen. She spent her first year here in the social organizations’ building in Saravena, and she and her parents finally moved into another home on November 1.

My friend Yuri turned six on October 31. In July, she told me how much she enjoyed her fifth birthday party last year. She then told me that her father was killed when she was three and her uncle was killed last year. She concluded, “Bro’, we are so tired of this life.” (Colombian Journey – Mother and Child; July 11, 2007). Yuri and her mother, Sandra, are still living in the social organizations building and struggling to get by on very limited income. However, they both seem to be feeling better now, and Yuri was surrounded by family and friends for her birthday.

There’s a very energetic three-year-old girl that lives a block from here. I often pass by her home in the evening on my way to the pizzeria (which serves excellent vegetarian pizza!). When I returned to Saravena last year, she would call out “Gringo!” and wave as I walked by. Several months ago on my way back from the pizzeria, she ran down to the corner to greet me. She then started skipping back to her home. That seemed like a wonderful idea to me and I began skipping alongside her. That has now become our evening ritual, and two nights ago we skipped along the entire block!

In love, joy, and solidarity.


Community Action for Justice in the Americas

Monday, October 22, 2007

Call for International Solidarity

The following call for international solidarity needs our attention. Please help the people of this region of Colombia. Either as an individual or as an organization copy, paste and then sign this letter and then email it directly to the International Peace Observatory at


Peasant's Association of the Cimitarra River Valley Barrancabermeja, Colombia

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007

We make a call out for national and international solidarity to cease the state persecution of the Peasant's Association of the Cimitarra River Valley (ACVC), an organization that carries out community, political and social initiatives in the rural municipalities of Yondó, Remedios and Segovia, in the department of Antioquia, and Cantagallo, San Pablo, Simití and Santa Rosa in the southern part of the department of Bolívar. They also have a regional office in the city of Barrancabermeja, all of which are within Colombia´s Middle Magdalena region.

The ACVC implements the goals of the community through 120 Villages Community Councils, cooperatives, fishing and mining committees, women's and youth collectives, along with other peasant worker associations, in the framework of integral defense of human rights and land, as well as the implementation of productive projects for food security, coca crop substitution, and the training and promotion of peasant- farmer organizing processes.

On Saturday, September 29th, 2007 officials of Colombia's Adminstrative Security Department (DAS) detained Andrés Gil, the ACVC's Office Coordinator in Barrancabermeja; Mario Martínez, the treasurer of the ACVC; Óscar Duque, member of the ACVC's Work Team in the Middle section of the Cimitarra River Valley; and Evaristo Mena, member of the ACVC through the Village Community Council of the La Poza, Cantagallo – all of which have been recognized community leaders for over two decades in the region of Middle Magdalena. They are currently imprisoned in Bucaramanga (department of Santander). Today, October 2nd, they will be taken to court to enter pleas.

These detentions are part of the new juducial process against the ACVC, which has also included raids of the apartment and the office of the organization in Barrancabermeja, during which three CPU's with 11 years of documentation of the association's projects, accounting, documents, photographs, and other files were taken. These actions comprise a new state attack to dismantle the peasant organizing process of Middle Magdalena region and disintegrate community development initiatives and the defense of human rights in the Cimitarra River Valley.

This offensive is not new. It is part of a series of interventions that the Colombian State has made against the ACVC over a period of many years and has manifested in acts like the government's incompliance with the agreements signed during the Peasant's Exodus of Middle Magdelana in 1998 and its indolence in applying security measures made to protect members of the ACVC, which were requested by the Inter- American Human Rights Commission.

Likewise, the legal designation of the Peasant Reserve Zone of the Cimitarra River Valley – collectively- owned land established under the Law 160 in 1994 (also known as agrarian reform) which is the equivalent to an Indigenous people's reservation or Afro- Colombian's collectively- owned land – was revoked in 2003. This designation seeks to prevent, if not eliminate, large landholdings, and facilitate processes of redistribution and prevention of division of the plots for mega-development. Additionally, it regulates the settlement on untitled land, giving preference to peasants with scarce resources. That is why the Peasant Reserve Zone is seen as a barrier to the execution of resource exploitation projects like the recently signed agreements with AngloGold Ashanti Mines, a transnational gold company, and investment in the agroindustrial monocrop African palm oil.

On top of all of this, the actions of the Colombian National Army in the region have been directed against the civilian population, by means of: murders of peasant-farmers, arbitrary detentions, use of informants (people often pressured to make up false intelligence for Army), alliances with paramilitaries, robbery, torture and other serious human rights violations.

We reiterate our call out for solidarity and invite our friends, allies, and solidarity organizations – in Colombia as well as in the rest of the world – to promote the following initiatives:

- Solicit a hearing in the Colombian Congress regarding the human rights situation in the Peasant Reserve Zone of the Cimitarra River Valley.

- Denounce, accompany and search for political support for the ACVC in Canada, United States, Europe and Latin America.

- Request a hearing of the Inter- American Human Rights Commission of the Organization of American States to review the case of persecution of the ACVC.

- Convene a meeting of the European Parliament and the European Commission to expose the violations and persecution against the ACVC.

- Expose and disseminate cases of murders, violations and persecution against the ACVC before the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations and the International Criminal Court.

Once again we declare that the freedom, physical integrity and life of the members of the ACVC is the sole responsibility of the institutions and government officials who, in the name of the State, should work to guarantee the rights of the peasant population instead of promoting their persecution.

For these reasons, we the undersigned, support the preceding declaration of the ACVC, reaffirming their total legality and legitimacy. We request the immediate release of the imprisoned and suspension of the arrest warrants against the rest of the board of directors.


Saturday, October 13, 2007

Noam Chomsky: American Foreign Policy in Latin America (2)

This is Part 2 of this video. For Part 1 page down.

Noam Chomsky: American Foreign Policy in Latin America (Part 1)

Professor Chomsky looks at the history of the inequitable relationship between the United States and Latin America.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Way Cool

Thanks Jay for setting this up, we can use this site for continuing discussions when we run out of meeting time, for any kind of conversation or article,book,etc.. any member thinks would be of interest, for posting pictures or for staying in touch when we are travelling, whatever. We just want to see the conversation remain civil and hopefully focused on the "project" to which we are all committed.

As a board member I just want to say thatI believe our re-organization of late ( no paid staff, no office rent, membership based funding, etc) will make us a more authentic organization. Authentic in the sense that we don't have to tailor our programs or even ideology to fit the moderate views of foundation donors, we can fight for the kind of change these large entities are uncomfortable with. This deep change is of course what the times call for, it is the historical mission of all who realize the gross inequity built into our social, political and economic systems.(this is Dave,by the way)

Monday, October 8, 2007

Update from Scott in Colombia

Photo of Alonso Campiño (and hundreds of other people!) singing the Arauca anthem at the start of the Senate hearing in Saravena. His shirt has the photos of Leonel Goyeneche, Alirio Martinez, and Jorge Prieto – three renowned community leaders that were killed by the army in Caño Seco on August 5, 2004

Dear friends,

On November 12, 2002, the military and police rounded up more than 2,000 people in Saravena and took them to the sports arena in the first mass arrest in the state of Arauca. On September 27 of this year, more than 2,000 people again filled the arena – this time to denounce the human rights abuses committed by the military and police during the past five years. The Human Rights Commission of the Colombian Senate held a public hearing in the arena that day which lasted for more than six hours.

Bernardo Arguello was the first victim to testify. He described being taken from his home and brought to the arena on that morning of November 12. “We were tied together and forced to walk past a car with polarized windows.” Two paid informants inside that car pointed out the people to be arrested. Bernardo was imprisoned for 15 months for “rebellion.” It appears that his real crime was being a leader of the Saravena Community Water Company – a very inspiring company that is owned and managed by the people of Saravena. Bernardo returned to Saravena after his release from prison and, less than a month later, he was arrested again – this time for “terrorism” and he spent another 26 months in prison. “I will continue working for our communities as I have always done,” said Bernardo, “but I fear for my safety, and I hold the government responsible for what could happen to me and my family.”

Sandra was the second victim to testify. She described the murder of her husband by the military during the La Cabuya massacre on November 20, 1998. The army killed five people in the community that night, including a woman who was seven-months pregnant. “They pounded on the door and my husband opened it – begging them not to kill him,” said Sandra. “They knocked him to the ground and then took him outside and shot him.” She said that as a victim of government repression, she wants the truth to be known and justice to be achieved. Sandra concluded, “I hold the military and police responsible for what could happen to me,” in reprisal for her testimony.

Alonso Campiño read the report of the Arauca Social Organizations. The military and police came to his home early in the morning of August 21, 2003 during the second mass arrest in Saravena. Alonso’s three-week-old son, Marlon, was grabbed from his father’s arms. His twelve-year-old son, Camilo, was forced to the ground and a soldier put a boot on his back. Alonso was arrested for “rebellion” and spent three years in prison and house arrest. It appears that his offense was being a teacher, vice president of the Arauca labor federation, and a leader in the movement to prevent Occidental Petroleum from drilling for oil in the territory of the U’wa indigenous people. Alonso said, “More than 120 community leaders have been kidnapped (arrested) by the government in Arauca, and there could be more arrests prior to the October 28 elections.”

Our friends in Saravena worked really hard in preparation for the Senate hearing, and they were very glad that the arena was filled and people had the courage to denounce the abuses they had suffered. Two hundred people filed complaints, either publicly or in private, during the course of the hearing.

The organization of the public hearing was generously supported by the Lutheran World Federation which is working with four excellent social organizations in Arauca. I returned to Colombia just three days before the hearing, and I’m very fortunate to be working now as a volunteer with the Lutheran World Federation as their representative in Arauca.

In love and solidarity,