The U.S./Colombia Coordinating Office invited Luis Alfonso Velásquez and myself, Patricia Buriticá, both members of the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores, to visit the United States. We traveled to more than 17 states, where we met with citizens= groups, including many Colombians, who, organized in community-based committees, are working for human rights in Colombia.
What struck us most about these committees and the people their commitment to solidarity, their condemnation of widespread violence, their constant reporting of human rights violations, their rejection of Colombia=s internal war, and their radical opposition to policies which, like Plan Colombia, designed in the United States, do not contribute to peace, but spur on the war.
Colombia has experienced 50 years of internal armed conflict, with guerrilla groups; paramilitary groups that operate with the acquiescence of the state; more than 1.8 million persons forcibly displaced from their homes (5% of the population); the highest unemployment in the Andean region, at 20%; a high concentration of wealth in which 20% of the households account for 80% of income; 76% of the population living in poverty or indigence; and violence of all types takes 30,000 lives per year, including a large number of political assassinations and killings of trade unionists, with 78% of human rights violations directed against grass-roots leaders and other civilians.
In other words, Colombia has a political crisis that dates back many years, due to the failure of democracy to develop and consolidate; the absence of the state from large areas of the national territory, and its weak performance of its task of protecting citizen rights and carrying out its constitutional obligations. Colombia today finds itself amidst its worst economic crisis ever, as a result of the implementation of IMF policies, the neoliberal model, and the demands of a process of globalization that does not allow us to enjoy the benefits, but to the contrary forces us to buy agricultural goods from the United States, for example, while our fields are abandoned and thousands of peasant farmers--400,000 in the last few years--have found themselves unemployed and without any other means of livelihood.
Plan Colombia, recently adopted by the U.S. Congress, authorizes the spending of $1.3 billion, 70% of which is for weapons purchases, military training in the United States for the Colombian Armed Forces, investment in the judiciary, and the fumigation of illicit crops. In other words, it poses the threat of military, police, and judicial confrontation over the next six years, under the guise of fighting drug trafficking.
This plan was not discussed or approved by the Colombian Congress, the local governments, civil society, or the peasants; in other words, those of who most affected have not even been consulted. The peasants oppose fumigation due to the effects on the persons who live in the targeted zones, and because of the damage it causes the earth; we the workers suffer the consequences of the commitments made by the Colombian Government to the Government of the United States to win approval of the Plan, while the Plan requires that the Government comply with IMF demands regarding fiscal adjustment, reform of the pension system, and transfers to the departments and municipalities on which the health and education of the people depend in large measure today.
One example that it is possible to combat crops by other means is recalled by Colombian writer and journalist Alfredo Molano. In 1985, the price of coca leaf dropped from 300,000 pesos to 85,000 pesos because the peasants in the Macarena decided to grow corn, the State bought the crop, and a high tariff was placed on imports. Today, the U.S. Department of Commerce, with the acquiescence of the Colombian Government, has imposed a reduction in the tariff, which is approximately 20%, and the peasant farmers are no longer able to compete with the imported corn, which comes in at a low cost: There are other ways of helping Colombia.
So the problem is not fighting the illicit crops and drug-trafficking; the objective of the United States is to hand over money for Colombia to step up its military actions, with a view to winning the war, all with a view, no doubt, to having a country safe for its purposes and investments.
We also want the war to end. But it shouldn=t have to cost more lives than have already been lost; Colombia needs social investment, productive development, strengthening of democracy, and a strong state capable of guaranteeing the rights and lives of its citizens, for which we do not need weapons or an Army well-trained for war.
The tour revealed to us that the people of the United States do not want to see their tax dollars financing the war in Colombia; this is the feeling we came away with, and we feel sure that the citizens of the world who believe in peace, not war, are with us. I would like to emphasize the importance of the committees and the support of those who turned out to hear our message in the United States, for we know that what has changed thus far in the debate over the Plan Colombia is due to the campaigns, the solidarity, and the messages sent to members of Congress. But we also understand that the work for peace and justice in Colombia done in the United States is an expression of the social responsibility and the humanitarian bent of the people of the United States, and their deep-seated belief in democracy.
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